Parenting During Scary Times

Audrey Haller, HFP Parent

Like so many parents right now I am daunted by how to parent my children in the face of so much uncertainty. This is like nothing any of us have dealt with before. The only experience I have to relate it to is being a parent while having, treating and healing from cancer. Both situations involve parenting while very stressed, in the face of deep sorrow, unpredictability and pain, slowly over months or longer. 

When I got sick with cancer, I couldn’t even imagine how scary it would be for my kids. I tried desperately to protect them from something that seemed like it was too big for them to understand and deal with, too much for any kid to have to deal with. As the months of tests and surgeries passed, my kids knew something serious was wrong, but I was scared to voice it to them or really explain what was going on with me. I said a lot of vague things like “I’m sick, but it’s going to be ok,” which wasn’t really true. I didn’t know what would happen, but didn’t want to tell them that. I felt this distance between us growing, especially my older son who I have always been very close with. He could tell I was keeping things from him; he felt a little rejected and he acted out to get attention. I didn’t understand why he was misbehaving when I was already dealing with such a hard thing. We hit a breaking point and I freaked out and decided to switch tactics. 

I told my kids how deeply frightened I was. I told them how hard it was for me everyday. Still, I knew a part of me deep inside would always fight to survive. I didn’t get into details or logistics, just my feelings. They could understand it from my emotional perspective even if they were too little to understand the rest, especially Casi who was just three. It shifted both their attitudes and we were somehow on the same team again. My older son Marcello was able to understand what I was going through emotionally. It seemed he felt close with me again, even though I thought the knowledge would be too much for him. 

While I kept my kids out of the details, tests, medications, future projections or fears, I let them into what is going on with me emotionally.  It might have been scary for them sometimes, but they didn’t feel confused by my actions and emotions or feel emotionally isolated themselves. We healed together over the next couple years.

When my father-in-law had a heart attack this December and my husband flew to the east coast to be with him, Marcello, who is almost nine now, said to me, “We’re going through another hard time aren’t we?”

Like many families during this covid-19 crisis, we are going through a hard time again, but sharing and communicating so that my kids feel like we are going through it together makes all the difference. My family knows that we are in this together. No matter how bad things get, we’re a team. I don’t know what hard times my kids will face in their lifetime, but I want them to know that no matter how difficult things can be, they can always tell me; they will always have me on their side. So I have to give that same honesty to them now, not to scare them (even though it might), but to trust them with my heart so they trust me with theirs.

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