I am a firm believer in not shielding children from life when life’s events are age appropriate for them to be exposed. You may not want to over-expose them to certain things, but getting a little bit wet from reality can be a very healthy thing. It is with that belief that I included my three school-aged children in the care of my parents.
Children of any age are highly intuitive and pick up on our stress and worry. Often, they are also experiencing similar stress and worries to our own when someone close to them, like a grandparent, is ill.
I like to use the muted television example to explain my reasoning for inclusion and transparency. My grandfather would watch movies when I was visiting his house. I was very young, and the movies that were on should not really have been on in front of young children. My grandfather knew this so he would mute the parts that I shouldn’t hear. Well, I could tell that something was coming up based on the crescendo of dialogue and when that mute-worthy part would come on, I would imagine what the actors were saying. I guarantee that my imagined dialogue was worse than what actually being spoken. And because I imagined the dialogue, I believe it took hold in my brain in a much deeper way than if I never had to think about it. If the words went in and out of my head and that-was-that, I believe I would never have had to think about them. Instead, those movie scenes and imagined lines are written inside my memory with indelible ink.
And so it is with shielding your child from the decline of someone they love, be it a parent, grandparent, relative or friend. They know it’s happening even if you are very careful to shield them from the situation at hand. Allow the situation to exist and be experienced, as a family.
My son, when in 8th grade, turned to me one day, when my Dad was in the late stages of Alzheimer’s and said, “Mom, I worry about Pop-Pop.” Hellooooo…. What was I doing? Worrying about my Dad. I answered his statement with the truth that I too worried about Pop-pop. My son was relieved to know that he was not the only one who felt this way. Instead of feeling alone, he felt normal. And normal is a good feeling when everything around us is abnormal. Your children see it, hear it, and feel it. Don’t shield them from it. In sharing, you will gain strength from one another. I promise and swear.
During my time in Caregiving-land, I saw adults who included their young children in the care of an ailing grandparent and ultimately, they were better equipped to handle the passing of that grandparent than the adult grandchildren who were never asked to participate in the care of a grandparent. The uninvolved were the members of the family who sobbed endlessly at the wake and funeral because they had missed out on the opportunity to have connections that now, would never be able to happen.
Don’t deny anyone the chance to connect with the person for whom you care.
If you don’t already, consider sharing just a little bit more with your children regarding the health of your caree. Create openings for a conversation about feelings and questions. Allow them to remove the fears they carry around with the safety of your understanding. Car rides are incredible for this type of conversation because you are not looking into one another’s eyes and for some reason, children often respond to this by over-sharing. (Of course, the trick is to make sure their phones are not in their hands distracting them!)
Give it a whirl and let me know what happens!
If you’d like to hear more about this topic, you can go HERE to listen to a conversation Denise M. Brown and I had about including your children in caregiving.
If you would like a list of activities your child can do when they visit with your caree, click HERE for a printable PDF filled with actionable ideas. Or, read the previous blog post, "ALL HANDS ON DECK! Why Including Your Children in the Care of Your Parent is Healthy".