THE “D” WORD
We have these darling little babies, and suddenly, they can crawl and we have to put a gate on the stairs so they don't fall down. Look out, because they go from walking to running and we must make sure they don't run into the street. Before you can blink, they know how to cross the street. In fact, they are driving down it.
It's a natural process of developmental steps. The challenge of parenting is expecting the next step, letting them practice it, picking them up if they stumble and letting go as they accomplish each new phase. Sounds easy, huh? But you notice I used the word, "challenge." And is it ever, as you well know. Then add something like IBD to the mix, and the word "challenge" becomes a major under-statement.
Somehow, even though it seems impossible before it happens, your child will grow into a responsible adult. Our job is to help them learn the skills necessary to go out into this world. We encourage them in making wise choices and planing for the future. In addition, we hope to teach them skills to take care of their health, how to deal with doctors, how to get health insurance, etc.
It's easier if you think of this as a natural process, just like the rest of growing up. Only our kids will be adding skills to deal with a chronic illness to their repertoire.
So, how do we help them learn these skills? First of all, it may be a good idea to think about what they need to know, how we handle it and how we feel about it. For instance, all of us can make a routine doctor's appointment, but how do we feel about speaking up to our doctors, telling them what hurts, what works about their recommendations and what doesn't work? These are important skills to learn at any age. This is a great topic for support groups.
Children learn from our actions so, perfecting these skills for ourselves is the best help we can give our children. My dad use to say to me, "Do as I say, not as I do." The truth is that children learn by what we model more than what we say. When I go to the doctor and am asked, "How do you feel?" I reply, "Fine." Now, if I'm fine, why am I at the doctor's? This is not good modeling.
Most parents make doctor's appointments for their children. Especially if they are ill, you are going to want to be the one to call the doctor. But for a routine check up, any 16 year old can call and set up an appointment. In fact, they can probably handle a routine check up totally on their own.
Remember though that going to the doctor's for youngsters who are not felling well and will be poked, prodded, and jabbed is scary. In fact, going to the doctor's is scary for many adults too. Expect to accompany your child and offer your support. You can still foster independence in this situation. Teach your child to write down the questions he/she may have for the doctor. Bring this list, along with your questions to the appointment. Also, you might formulate questions the doctor may ask your child and practice answering them with your child before you get to the doctor's.
Let your child learn to speak to the doctor. If your child is shy, offer encouragement by saying, "Remember, you told me..." Forming a relationship between the child and the doctor is important, but your being there to give support and model how to relate in this situation will go a long way toward fostering independence.
Another area to check is how you may be over protecting your youngster because of IBD. For instance, there were many chores that my son was required to do at various ages that I automatically assumed that my daughter with Crohn's could not do. One day, I walked into the kitchen to see her up on the counter to reach something she wanted in the cupboard. It dawned on me that because she was so tiny, I was not requiring her to do things that she was perfectly capable of doing, even if it meant getting something to stand on to do the job. My very tiny twelve year old instantly got some very reasonable chores to do, like her laundry. She could stand on a stool to reach the dials on the washer and dryer.
Chores are being part of the family. Children may grumble, but they learn responsibility, feel like they belong, can take pride in their accomplishments, and have a feeling of self worth as a needed part of the family.
But it is difficult to make hard and fast rules. You do have to acknowledge your child's illness and take steps to deal with the limitations presented. They need to know they are protected and they can have help when needed. On the other hand, you don't want them using the illness as a crutch. You don't want to throw them out the door, nor do you want to be overly clingy. It's tricky to have the necessary balance. Acknowledging this balancing act can be very helpful. In my experience, just when you think you will have to nag forever and they will never grow up, they surprise you.
The summer that my daughter turned 17, she went to a month long summer program held at a college near LA. About a week before she left, I heard her on the phone with the administration explaining that she had Crohn's and needed a room with a bathroom. Could they accommodate her? I was surprised and proud to see that she had developed the ability to take care of herself. The lessons in independence had certainly paid off. But, you know, I have to admit that at the same time, I felt a pang in my heart at seeing my baby grow up.
Copyright 1996 - 2002 Arlyn Serber