Part of parenting is taking care of your sick child or children, right? But is single parenting a sick child so much tougher? YES. You cannot split the physical and emotional exhaustion.
In the beginning of a child’s illness, there’s this instinctual softness that overwhelms you. You want to soothe your baby with warm baths, whip up hot soups. Awe… the snuggling. You can’t beat the snuggling and rubbing your fingers over those curls and waves while they fall asleep.
Sounds lovely, peaceful and filled with hope. It reads like a commercial story board for a baby bath time product. But there’s another side, especially for single parents.
First, I’d like to share some truths. Then, I’d like to offer a little encouragement and a few tips for you, your family and friends to ease the stress of caring for a sick child as a single parent.
The Truth. When you’re a single parent, on an island of you + 1, caring for a sick child is sometimes like being in the “Sunken Place.” Here’s a description by USA Today’s Brian Truitt: “One of the more supernatural aspects of Get Out [new movie] is the ‘Sunken Place,’ a vacuum of space where Chris’ consciousness is taken and forced to watch his life unfold, unable to take action.” My sunken space is filled with guilt and fear, resentment and resilience, and exhaustion. That is the truth.
Single parenting a sick child is all the physical and emotional exhaustion of two people.
You’re doing this alone. Panicking over high fevers, bathing them when they’re too weak or sick to move, playing time keeper for the next perfectly poured dose of medicine that might ease their pain. The psychology of it all is quite a bit to handle.
You can’t split the pressure. You want them to heal quickly, mostly because the world won’t stop long enough for you to be that commercial story board for a baby bath time product… the one I mentioned earlier. There’s nobody to split the pressure of meeting other obligations and responsibilities.
You feel like a failure. They get sicker, your nights get longer, you lose more sleep. The worry turns to deep anxiety and guilt. You’ve tried everything. Now Grandma won’t stop calling you about taking your baby to the doctor (read the Emergency Room on a Saturday night, or on the morning of a Super Bowl party, or the day before your Christmas Eve flight or the afternoon of the job interview you so eagerly schedule just yesterday).
WAIT! There’s light at the end of the tunnel. You have to know that there is light at the end of the tunnel. All things work together for those who love God and are called for his purpose (The Holy Bible, Romans 8:28). You were predestined to take care of this child at this time. It’s a tough, gross and exhausting task when there’s nobody around to help on your island. But, you can win this battle.
Now, some tips for you, your family and friends…
- Pat your self on the back for reading this blog post all the way to the end. Right?!
- Listen to your child, your gut, then call the pediatrician or your insurance nurse’s help line. Wait it out, take him to the ER, up the medication? Trying to figure things out on your own can only lead to more stress and anxiety. It’s okay to not know what to do. There are people who get paid to help you figure this out. Call them.
- Be honest and comforting, not scary and out of control. Apparently, there’s existing research that says one of the greatest contributors to a child’s response to illness is how the parent handles it. Most children aren’t excited about the ER or swallowing pills. Offer gentle honesty. Detail what will happen at the doctor’s office. Walk them through the healing process. EMPATHIZE WITH THEM. Be positive and give them room to process their emotions. Don’t down them for feeling scared or frustrated.
- Have some fun. It’s not over yet. If you can take a sick day, then do something fun with your kid! Watch a silly movie, have a drawing contest, take out the stroller for a nature walk and some fresh air, or join them on the floor to play a favorite game.
- Find time for yourself. Some of us are dealing with intense or extended illnesses that are far more grueling than a flu or stomach virus. Take a few moments at the end of the day to indulge in something uniquely you. Stretch or eat a full meal. Lose your self in a chapter of your favorite book or take a long shower.
- Pat yourself on the back again. By the grace of God, you powered through and can take your child that much closer to whole healing! ; )
FOR YOUR DEAR FRIENDS & FAMILY
- “Hey! How are you and that baby?” Send an email, text message, or chat. It means a lot to some single parents to know someone else is concerned about you and your sick child. It’s a nice gesture and ups the positive vibes. Be sincere about it though.
- “Want me to pick anything up?” Offer to help however you can. If you live close by, pick up some medicine or bring some extra Kleenex or cough drops the next time you see them. Single parents are often stuck between a rock and a hard place. Dragging a sick child around to pick up prescriptions and other items can be a heavy lift (literally) without a second person around.
I’m done. This is already too long. Hope it helps!
Got some additional tips or resources? Please share!