With Heidi’s breast cancer diagnosis, these past weeks have brought with them a series of lessons in parenting. We are still at the front end of a long journey and anticipate many more lessons along the way. Today we discovered Heidi will need a second surgery, only weeks after her first, to test more of her lymph nodes because the sentinel lymph node was positive for cancer. This afternoon we will let our kids know.
Our daughter Anastasia is 9 yrs old and our son Zachary is 7. People repeatedly ask: “How are your kids doing?” Often those same people are a little surprised to hear us respond; “fine…we think.”
Here are some things I’m learning (caveat: I’m no parenting guru…this is our own experience and may not relate to yours):
1. each kid is different – take the time to speak in ways each one understands. This is not always easy. Simply overhearing concern in the voices of people on telephone calls, can lead Ana to worry more than Zac. Not only is she older, she also is a worrier. She needs to know what happens to someone else may not be happening in her own body or her dad’s. Zac on the other hand, may need to get lost in the distraction of a street hockey game. Both of them need to be assured God is totally aware of them, he knows what going on.
2. enjoy, even laugh, at those interesting questions – “can I have my lump removed too?,” said Zac referring to the somewhat unsightly mole on his wrist. The next day, we laughed hard watching Ana grab her own armpits while mommy described what happened in the surgery. I am convinced we don’t witness the half of what is going on inside those active little minds.
3. check in with them often – Initiate conversation throughout the day, ask how they are doing. Also tell them regularly that God is always ‘online’ and more than willing to listen when mommy or daddy is not around to talk to.
4. remember they are your kids – for the past 9 years we have been Ana and Zac’s parents. No one else understands what they need better than us. Parenting advice has come from many sources. Choosing to ignore some of the less than helpful suggestions, is our prerogative. We will make mistakes but we do need to continue on with a style of parenting we think works best for our family.
5. down play the drama – Keep life as normal as possible. Believe me the “c” word creates enough of its own drama. On the day of Heidi’s surgery our kids went to school like it was any other day. We have chosen to minimize unnecessary adjustments to life. Having Zac’s teacher say that his last week was no different than any other, was the biggest reassurance to Heidi and me that we are doing things right – at least for now! We will not let cancer and the unknown rob him of the joys of school and learning.
6. be realistic – use words like ‘cancer’ when describing what is going on so that older kids won’t freak them out with statements like “your mom is dying.” We want our children to hear it first from us – yes we even say “booby” a little too often these days. It is a challenge not to deny reality. However, we want them to know the TRUTH and be set free by it. The truth is ‘cancer’ is a disease that many people survive. This is also true: God is a healer and has given some pretty smart doctors some pretty amazing skills to take care of that cancer.
7. get ready for unexpected explosions of emotions – Our kids seem to be emotional all the time…maybe that’s normal still we have seen, as children, they are sometimes unable to adequately express themselves. And so, they have shorter fuses and exhibit more outbursts than usual. Piano lessons seem a little more daunting and even losing a Wii game can seem like the end of the world. I guess this is to be expected…we just weather these storms as best we can.
8. recognize my kids take their cues from me! I have always defined patience to our kids as “waiting without whining.” How wise was that? Now I have to daily eat those words. If I whine, it entitles others to whine. It is not that our day’s are completely stress free…NOT IN THE LEAST, but we are taking life as it comes.
We choose to remember life is still beautiful. We celebrate our friends, our grand parent visits and springtime.
The reality is our kids are doing fine because mommy and daddy are doing fine. These challenges have resulted in STRONGER relationships with both our children. And while somewhat ironic given the tough circumstances…I will take this as a gift to be cherished!
When your family experiences adversity (maybe a learning disability, a sports injury, or tragedy) how do you maximize teachable moments with your kids?