Thursday, October 23, 2014

Parenting: What To Do When You Realize It's YOUR Attitude That Needs To Change, Not Your Kid's!

As he leaned over the toilet bowl for the sixth time this evening, (a repeat performance of a Sunday night the week before) all I could think was, 'poor Jacob.'

His chronic illness had made a return visit….

If you've ever had to deal with on-going nausea and weakness, you know how hard it is to function and drag yourself out the house. 
My 13 year old had fought off nausea all day today in school, so that he could complete a math test and science quiz. 

He'd studied hard and he didn't want these assessments hanging over him. He'd dragged himself to the nurse twice during the day and asked for some medication for his nausea, so that he could cope in class. 

By 2.30 pm, having completed his assignments, he was ready to give in to his symptoms. I met him at the nurses' office. He looked washed out, exhausted and relieved. Relieved he'd stayed and relieved that he could now go home. 

Over the past year and a half, Jacob has learned to cope with sharp, constant stomach pain, fatigue, nausea and headaches that occur cyclically and lasted at times, up to 5 days. We have recently added the joys of cyclical vomiting to the list. 

He has a diagnosis of a rare, chronic illness called abdominal migraines. He has medication and plans in place at school, if he doesn't feel good. 

Last school year he missed more than 25 days of school in the first semester, with these symptoms. It was a struggle to get  himself round school, when he didn't feel completely well. 

Many things were difficult to face. The 'what-ifs' swirled in his brain.

What if he felt nauseous in school? 

What if he could sit in class but did not have the energy to contribute? 
What if he was suddenly hit with terrible pain?

These were huge psychological as well as physical barriers to going to and staying in school.

Now, thankfully he has more effective medication, greater confidence in his ability to cope, systems in place that all his teachers are aware of,  and are willing to use to support him if necessary. 

And he has built up a tolerance to stay in school even if he doesn't feel 100%.

Today was certainly one of those days.

As I wrote to his wonderful school counselor to give her an update on his health, the words 'poor Jacob' kept drifting  into my mind. So when his counselor wrote back to me, I was surprised by her response. 

"Thanks for keeping me updated. Please give my best to Jacob and please keep me posted on how he is doing!  Jacob is so strong!"

Jacob is so strong. 

I hadn't thought of him in that way, at all.

 I was so preoccupied with feeling sorry for him. With worrying about the number of times he'd vomited, the amount of medicine he'd taken and that he was feeling sick AGAIN, that it had not occurred to me to focus on his resilience and strength. 

Parenting requires us to model and teach many things. Twenty one years since my first child was born I am still on a steep learning curve. I have realized that we need to offer our children compassion and teach them resilience concurrently. A child living with a chronic illness forces us in both directions. 

I took a deep breath and mulled these words over. 

Jacob did not need me to feel sorry for him, right now. It was time to untwist my thinking and to give Jacob a very different message. A message that re enforced these qualities.

I went up to his bedroom and perched on his bed. I smoothed his hair across his forehead and looked into his dulled eyes. 

"Jacob," I said. "You've coped so well with this latest symptom.

Yesterday you were determined to complete your tests, even though you didn't feel great. You  stayed in school even though you didn't feel 100% because you knew it would be better for you in the long run. You are very resilient and tremendously strong, in the face of these on-going symptoms. I am in awe of you and I love you very, very much. "

He smiled as he listened to me, his eyes, heavy and edged with dark circles.. 

He hauled himself to sitting and hugged me. 

I wrapped my arms around him and hugged him back. 

My brave, strong, resilient child. 

Tell me about a time, when you had to untwist your thinking about your child.

Wishing you a week in which you are able to comfort others and find comfort yourself.


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  1. Jacob is strong, his determination is amazing.
    I think as parents our first feeling towards our children being ill is sympathy… we don't like our kids to be in pain or worry. We take on worry like warriors, even when they say… "I'm okay, Mommy".
    Well, at least that's my case. I can keep a running scenario in my mind, when everything is all better.
    All the best to Jacob, and you too Mommy!

    1. Your scenario reminds me of all the times, many of us have left a crying toddler at playgroup/kindergarten or a playdate. Our little ones stop crying a moment after we leave, but we are worrying about their happiness, until we see them again! Kids are stronger than we think and the combination of validating their feelings and believing they can handle a challenge, seems to work to build their resilience and give us peace of mind. Thanks so much for your comment and good wishes! Gx