If you have a child in the hospital and other children at home, you know without a doubt you will need help. Hopefully you are in a community with strong ties of family or friends or a church community. Depending on the age of your children, you may need round the clock presence at home with little ones or someone stopping by to make sure things are under control in the case of teenagers. Over the course of our youngest son, Gavin’s, long illness and multiple hospital stays, we had other children ranging from 6 and 8 years old when he was first admitted to a hospital, all the way up to 18 and 20.
Each age has its own challenges. What do the other children understand about what is going on? How will they interpret mommy and daddy being pulled out of their daily lives? Will they fall off the rails emotionally or in school? Will they try to take advantage of their parents’ absences? Each child at each age will of course act differently and it is really hard for parents to keep an eye of them when their focus is on the sick child.
First thing to do once you have coverage for your children and know their basic needs are being met by family or friends is to contact their teachers and counselors at school. Lay it out for them what you are up against and ask for their help. If homework slides you want the teacher to be understanding. Your child in the hospital will also have to deal with the schoolwork they miss (Missing school will be another blog post.)
Depending on the length of the hospital stay it may be a small blip in their lives or a giant hole. Try to set up a new routine of Skyping or calling on a consistent regular basis, if you are not able to pop home. Hopefully one parent will be able to remain at home and come and go from the hospital as a way of keeping the children in their regular routine as much as possible. Even when we were at the local hospital and not hours away, my husband would come straight from work to the hospital and rarely get home before the boys were in bed when they were little. We relied heavily on their grandparents who lived locally and moved into our house for weeks at a time to care for them. We got complaints from the children that, “Granddaddy won’t let me…” but we were so appreciative of their help. In some ways the relationship between the grandparents and grandchildren changed from nice fun visits to rules and laying down the laws about bedtimes and screen time, but they stepped up to the challenge which is what we needed from them.
Anyone who has been a teenager and raised a teenager knows that it is a tricky time in their lives. They push limits and boundaries (at least mine did) and they often take advantage of parental absence. Even with grandparents playing a roll, teens can see what they can get away with and be completely self-centered at times. I recall the phone call from the Principal of my oldest son’s school a week after I arrived home following a 3-month hospital absence with my son Gavin (ICU for 4 weeks, regular floor for 4 weeks, rehab hospital for 4 weeks). He was being suspended. I could not believe I had to deal with this problem and was furious at my son for laying yet another thing on my plate. After some reflection, I decided that in the grand scheme of things I should not be surprised that he was acting out and a suspension was, after all, not life and death, which I had just lived through with Gavin. Sick children tend to put your life into perspective.
Family and friends stepped up to try to be a presence in my middle son’s life, but he found himself on his own much of the time. My oldest son was, by this time, in college on the other side of the country and not living in the day by day stress. However, not being there is stressful, too. It is hard to concentrate on a lecture with this kind of family drama going on.
In what ways has your family coped when there are other children at home?