Rainbow Hills



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After attending a Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of American (CCFA) Family conference in San Francisco, I decided to write a column for parents whose children have Inflammatory Bowl Disease (IBD). I have a MA in Psychology, have raised two children, one with Crohn's, and I've read Dear Abby for years. So, I figure that I'm as qualified as anyone.

The purpose of this column is not necessarily advice, although, I will feel fully rewarded thinking my humble suggestions have been of use. But my real purpose is to let you know there are other parents just like you, you are not alone, and you're doing a great job - hang in there.

My first topic is going to deal with the "D" word. Most of my advice is for parents with teens. If you have a younger child, some of it will still pertain, the rest, just file away until needed. If your child is out of teen hood, congratulation, but, surprisingly, some of this may still apply.

The "D" word and other unmentionables.

Diarrhea, the "D" word, or Bathroom the "B" word, yuk! Youngsters may cringe at your blatant, not exactly glamorous, description of the symptoms of IBD. In fact, your teen may not want you to talk at all about IBD. Young teens, especially, get upset. For instance, a 14 year old that may be very late to class, may not explain the truth to the teacher, that he/she was in the bathroom. It is particularly impossible if this explanation is demanded in front of other students. And, here you are, the parent, not only telling Grandma, but all the neighbors too.
I've heard it said that for the first ten years of your child's life, they embarrass you to death. For the next ten years (or more) you embarrass them. This may seem only fair to us parents who have blushed through those first ten years, but on the other hand, how much eye rolling can we take from our teens. We can't just ignore their feelings.

One does not try to embarrass one's child, but it is for sure that using the "D" word in public will turn your child scarlet as she/he drops through the floor in humiliation. So what to do? Try this multiple choice test. It's easy because the answers are included.

1. Do we never say the "D" word? - Not likely.

2. Do we tell our teens this is a perfectly good word describing something everyone is familiar with and it's OK to say in public? - Yeah, right.

3. Do we use euphemisms? What; "loose poop" or "run away #2"? - I don't think so.

4. Do we use a little tact? - This is the right answer.

But even when you're being most circumspect - teens may suffer indignity. Besides, as any teen knows - parents don't know the meaning of tact. Here are some hints.

• Try to think ahead of what to say in situations that will come up. For instance, when you're out and trying to locate a bathroom, just say, "My child needs a bathroom. Could you direct us?" Use the word "child". While still mortifying to a teen, it is not as bad as the "D" word and it works well. I mean, who could deny "a child" a bathroom.

• Resolve to try harder. This one is difficult because we're often surprised that our actions are embarrassing to our children. But, resolve not to tell the check out lady at the super market all the gory details as you ask for the nearest bathroom. Refrain from telling your child's friend's mother results of the last Doctor's visit in the parking lot with children in ear shot.

• Apologize to your child. This may seem like an odd idea when you know your child is being melodramatic, over sensitive, and just plain Victorian about the whole thing, but, well, say you're sorry.

Part of the problem may be you are, what I call, "leaking." This is what happens when we are over-stressed. Talking about what is going on is actually healthy. Being open about what you're dealing with is good. And the sympathy you get, even from strangers, is helpful. But, it may be embarrassing to your child. While seeing a therapist may be handy, it is not the only answer. Find a friend who will be glad to meet you for lunch and listen to the "D" word for an hour - OK, maybe not lunch. On the other hand, you find out who your friends are. Just be sensitive to doing this out of ear shot of your child or his/her friends or siblings. Then listen to your friends complain about their teens for a while. This will give you a great perspective. It is very helpful to realize that everyone is dealing with something.

Even with being as tactful as possible, your child will sometimes have to bite the bullet. You have to tell the teachers. Of course this can be done on the phone at night, not in front of a classroom full of peers.

And your child is going to have to learn to say the "D" word to let you know about his/her health. She/he may have to describe it to the doctor. The "D" word is definitely a fact of life for these young people

You are doing your best, and it helps to remember that this parent/child drama is going on in other teen’s homes, not just those with IBD. I volunteered as a parent helper on a field trip when my daughter was in middle school. She wouldn't give me so much as a "Hello" on the whole trip. The other mother on the trip and I consoled each other because her son wouldn't acknowledge her presence either. That is just the way middle school kids are. They don't need to have IBD to be embarrassed by their parents. It is just a symptom of adolescents, part of the growing up process and, hopefully, they will grow out of it. (Or do we get used to it?)

So, be tactful, be concerned, and listen to your child sympathetically. But you may feel vindicated when you remember when your child was a toddler and he ate that dog kibble at your friend’s home, or the time you wanted to faint when she spilled grape juice on Aunt Sally's new white rug, or the time your little darling ______ (fill in the blank.)

One last note, your child may change his/her mind at any time about how open he/she wants to be with the world about having IBD. Take it for granted that you will always be a step behind your teen. Every parent has had the experience of having their teen do an about face. For instance, they may suddenly love green peppers when all their lives they have acted like they were being poisoned if one appeared on their plates. I have been forced to ask on a number of occasions, "Who are you, and when did you move into my house?"

Well, dear Parents, I pat you on the back for the fine job you are doing, I congratulate your child for putting up with you, I send you rainbows for those especially trying days and I promise you another provocative topic in the next column.


Copyright 1996 - 2002 Arlyn Serber