There are few times when you feel as helpless as when your child is sick. You probably feel most powerless if he is too young to verbalize and (according to you) too young to understand what you are saying. You would do anything to make him feel better, but there isn’t much you can do beyond follow the doctor’s instructions and soothe him as best you can.
Even if your child can speak and understand what you say, it is very hard to see your child fretful and suffering due to illness. Something as mundane as the common cold can unman you.
More serious illnesses and diseases obviously take a lot more out of you. There is the heartbreak of seeing your child suffer, your powerlessness to do anything to alleviate his suffering beyond a point, the stress of ensuring he stays on his food and medication schedule, ensuring others in the family are as little disrupted by his illness as possible (including preventing your other child/children from catching the infection, if it is an infectious illness), urgent and important professional household and personal tasks that need to be postponed or completely given up, the financial strain of his treatment (if this is applicable), rescheduling your and others’ routines, and so on.
And there is the guilt. Were you too harsh with him when he showed you the assignment on which he got a ‘B’ and you were sure he could have got an ‘A’? (If only he’d worked towards it instead of handing in the scrappy effort he’d put in at the last minute…) When he was irritable the day before yesterday and you read him the riot act for misbehaving, was he already down with the flu bug but you didn’t recognize the symptoms? When he said he was very tired and asked to be excused from doing his chores, and you refused because you were sure he was just making an excuse to avoid doing them, was he already sick and you ‘helped’ him get more sick (!)because you insisted he complete his chores?
As a parent, you already feel that you don’t do enough for your child – you’d like to do more, spend more time, give more… (Of course, you are also sure that you do too much for this same child, who is completely spoilt and doesn’t appreciate – or deserve! – what you do for him 🙂 ).
So when she is ill, you set the rest of your life aside. Your guilt spurs you to do so – you don’t spend enough time with her when she’s well; the least you can do is be around for her when she’s sick. Societal expectations encourage you to do so – what kind of parent would go merrily on with his/her own life when their child is sick? Your child demands it – she is restless and constantly wants you around: to sit with her, talk to her, amuse her, cajole her to eat, bathe her, help her to/in the loo (obviously, some of this depends on the specific illness, its virulence, and the age of the child), hold her hand, pat her back, sing to her, give her a drink of water…
And you do it all with good grace and as much patience as you can muster up: you are, above all, a loving parent.
I don’t do all this when my child is sick. Am I heartless? You might think so. When my child is sick, I keep things as ‘normal’ as possible. I expect her to be sensible – ill or not. Let me give you some instances.
She must have been 3, and had a blocked nose. She was very good at blowing her nose, but woke up one night, crying, because both her nostrils were blocked, and she didn’t like the feeling (who does?!). I told her to stop crying, and she said she was crying because she was very uncomfortable because of her blocked nose. I said she had to stop crying because it would make her nose more blocked. She had to bear the discomfort quietly: she couldn’t give in to tears, sobs or wailing. She had to be calm – it was the best and the only way to feel instantly better. Of course I held her while telling her all this, but I told her in a no-nonsense manner; I didn’t plead with her, or baby-talk her. She got it, and it’s stayed with her.
Another time, she had chicken pox. “Don’t scratch the boils.”
“But it itches, Ma.”
“I know. But if you scratch, it’ll get worse, and it’ll leave marks. Let’s think of other things you can do with your hands, which will keep your hands and mind distracted.” Reading on her own was no good, because it is the easiest thing in the world to unconsciously scratch an itch while you’re engrossed in a book. She did fine, and I am blessed, above all, to have her for a child.
With allergic asthma, or any other illness, for that matter, I don’t mollycoddle her. She must get out of bed, get herself water (and maybe breakfast too), make me coffee (I love the coffee she makes me! 🙂 ), finish pending school work (from the last day she went to school, if she’s sick enough to stay home), do her chores (those that don’t make the condition worse), and live her normal, regular life as far as possible.
I continue to go to meetings, work from home without checking on her (as I would any other time she was not sick and I was working on something) – I carry on with my normal, regular life.
It might seem monstrous, but I believe this way, she has the least incentive to stay sick, and the maximum incentive to get well soon.
Most parents do the opposite.
You are at your nicest, kindest, most helpful, most understanding, most solicitous, most loving, most indulgent when your child is sick. You spend the maximum time with your child when he is sick. You give in to any and every whim and fancy of his (so long as it doesn’t affect his health).
“I can’t bear to eat food, Dad, but I could manage some chips.”
“I’m so bored, could I please watch the movie …?”
“Could you read me the entire set of Roald Dahl stories? Not all at once, but little by little…?”
“Can you sit with me and hold my hand?”
Your child milks this illness for all it is worth; for everything he can get out of it – and you! 🙂 And the next time around, he’ll be a little quicker to say he has a fever, or his head aches, or he has a stomach ache…
Are you encouraging your child to be sick?