Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Parenting During Crises: Same or Different?

My husband and I were recently involved in a vehicular accident. We were both injured - on the way to the hospital where my father was prepping for a quadruple bypass after a heart attack. We had dropped the kids off with my in laws, so thankfully they weren't involved in the accident. We got home about six hours later than we had planned, me in a cast and my husband with a head wound. The children had been put to bed without knowing if we would be back. And for the next week, we traveled to and from the hospital - an hour away - to be with my father during his recovery.

This kind of thing takes a great toll on children. You could almost hear them asking question. Why does Mommy keep leaving? Why are they so upset? Why are these people I don't know well taking care of me? Why can't I nurse before bed? When will things be normal?

We explained to our daughter, 2 1/2, what had happened as best we could. She seemed to understand that we had crashed, and that that meant we didn't have the car anymore, and it had hurt Mommy and Daddy. She also seemed to understand that Grandpa was sick, and this made Mommy sad. Our six month old couldn't understand, of course.

Children are resilient, and our daughter handled the situation as well as could be expected. We could tell how stressed she was, and we spent as much time with her as we could. Our son, although also stressed, seemed less bothered and was able to acclimate to his temporary home and "parents" as well as could be expected. I was extremely grateful he was eating solids (and that I have a steady milk supply), since that meant he didn't have to go with us to the hospital every day and miss his naps.

How did our daughter react to the stress? She acted out. She rebelled against routine. She did those things children always do when they want to be reassured. But instead of sticking to her routines and being all the more steady in our expectations, we felt pressured into "taking it easy" and "letting it go".

That was exactly the wrong thing to do. She didn't need us to be relaxed and let her do whatever. She needed something normal amidst all the craziness. She needed to know that bedtime would be the same and that the expectations for her behaviour were the same. Instead, we and those watching her tried to make things easier for ourselves. And I definitely regret it.

Hindsight is 20/20, and as we look back on the situation, we wish we had done things differently. Unfortunately, we can't change the past, but we can do better in the future, and hopefully this can also help you in the midst of your own crises. Yes, your child is upset and stressed, and you want to make it as easy as possible for her, but she doesn't need you to change; she needs you to be the same.