By Lee Woodruff, author of In an Instant: A Family's Journey of Love and Healing
“Tell the truth,” we always say to our kids when faced with their little transgressions, white lies or downright omissions of the facts.
Yet when a bomb in critically injured my husband, and my children needed some answers, I found myself in the difficult position of deciding just what they needed to know, what to withhold, and how to tell them.
Naturally, every parent is the best judge of their own child and knows intrinsically how to speak to them. But rocking a child’s world with bad news or fearful information was new to me. I have learned a great deal on my journey during the past two years about dealing with difficulty and I wanted to share some of my wisdom.
1) When speaking to your children about difficult or uncertain situations, hold hope and realism in equal measure. My husband was in a coma that lasted 36 days and during that time there were many question marks. I vowed I would never lie to the kids or fill them with false hope. But when they would ask me what Daddy would be like, or how he would recover, I said, “We don’t know exactly what Daddy will be like but I believe in my heart he will be OK.”
I found a phrase that held out some hope while sparing them the intricate details and some of the possible outcomes for their Dad. Most importantly, I wanted to protect my kids from all of the bumps and sharp turns I myself was going through with the roller coaster medical situation.
2) I frequently asked my children how they were doing and sometimes they asked questions. It was important for them to know that I was always ready to listen and patiently answer their questions, even if I was feeling like I didn’t have one ounce of energy left in my body to do so.
3) I offered my kids the chance to talk to a psychiatrist, minister, someone other than me. They never took me up on the offer but I wanted them to know there were other outlets if they felt they couldn’t express their pain or fear in front of me. There were well aware of how much I had on my plate. I never forced the issue and always followed their lead.
4) Hide your fears. My kids took every cue from me and I knew it would be harder for them if they saw me breaking down or railing at the world or worse yet, terrified. I knew my children needed to see me as strong and in control, especially with a parent out of the picture indefinitely. It’s ok to cry in front of them—you are human, but histrionics are not going to have any positive effect.
5) Keep as much to the daily routine as possible. I was separated from my children for 5 weeks, seeing them on weekends. It was extremely hard to be away from them, but what I realized was that bringing them down to Washington to be with me would be the worst thing I could do. They needed to stick to their routine, see their friends, keep their after school activities in place—all of that was “normal” to them.
6) When the going is rough—help your kids live hour by hour. That was some of the best advice I got from someone else. At certain critical points in a crisis, even day-to-day is too long. Keep their focus off their fear of the future. I tried to stay in the present and help my children focus on their day, their homework and their busy schedules.
7) Sometimes it does help to visualize the future. At bedtime, when they might be especially sad or tense, I would have my kids picture us all together as a family that coming summer, or imagine how great it would feel when we got Dad back at the dinner table. I tired to help them find small moments that didn’t over promise too much.
And lastly –
love, love, love—shower them with love. You can err by
smothering, hovering and over-indulging, but I don’t believe
there is any such thing as too much unconditional love.
Lee Woodruff is a
public relations executive and freelance writer.
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