A woman in an online chronic illness support group I belong to recently wrote about her difficult situation with her two small children, who are one and three. Donna, as I’ll call her, said she has a hard time letting them jump and even sit on her, because the moment they touch her she feels shock waves of pain throughout her body. She also said she doesn’t want her illness to affect them and that she doesn’t let them see any pain on her face because she doesn’t want them to think she doesn’t love them.
My heart goes out to Donna. I know I would have had a really hard time adjusting to not being able to play with my son when he was a baby and a toddler.
I wrote to Donna and shared a few thoughts with her. I said that I thought that in spite of her not wanting her illness to affect her children, it already had and would continue to do so. Then I said that the important question was not whether her illness affected them, but whether it was in positive or negative way.
The potential negative affect of our illnesses on our children can be minimized if we let them know that we’re going to have good days and bad days, but that we love them no matter what kind of a day we’re having – and then find some way, even if it’s just a kiss on their foreheads, to show it.
I also told Donna that when children can be told and understand that not they, but an illness, is the cause of her pain, then I think that overall it’s a good thing to not hide it from them. I don’t think that’s a black or white decision when they’re really young, but as they get older, seeing a mother (or father) take care of both herself (or himself) and them teaches children that they can take care of themselves as well as others, and that it’s important to do so.
It’s important to keep letting our children know we love them, but if our illness keeps us from showing that love the way we want to, we can always find other ways.