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Raising Children During a Health Crisis

Scottie Summerlin

Bethel Guest Blogger

Scottie Goodman Summerlin is known to many Chattanoogans for her time as a TV news anchor/reporter. She later transitioned to a communications career advocating for education with nonprofits. Scottie was chosen as the Tennessee delegate for the Parenting magazine “Mom Congress” in Washington, D.C. She is a Leadership Chattanooga graduate, a Junior League of Chattanooga sustainer and a Chattanooga Woman of Distinction award recipient. Scottie has 14-year-old twin boys, Jack and Jake. Her late husband, Dan, passed away in 2017 after a 14 month battle with cancer. Scottie has founded a support group for widowed moms with the help of her church, First Christian Chattanooga.


When my husband Dan was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer, our twin boys were 12 years old. We learned a lot through trial and error about the way a serious health crisis and the loss of a parent impacts children and family relationships.

 

Since Dan’s passing in 2017, I have found healing by helping others who are walking this same difficult journey. Here are some tips, based on our experience. While every family is different, there are many things that are common. I hope this information will help you, or a family you know who is raising children during a health crisis.

 

1. Kids are more resilient than most people realize.

2. Keep their schedules (school, sports, etc.) as normal as possible.

3. Keep your rules consistent. Kids still need boundaries and it makes them feel safe for things to stay the same.

4. Kids need your love and approval. Give that to them and they’re going to be okay.

5. Accept help from friends and family for meals, to take kids to do things, etc. so you can all get breaks from the stress.

6. Be honest with your kids in a positive way but don’t overshare. Answer their questions and then stop. Be aware that sometimes, patients and caregivers have different versions of reality.

7. Be careful about what you tell others and post on social media. Things don’t stay a secret and your kids will hear information from their friends, friends’ parents and relatives.

8. Be careful about what you say on the phone when kids are in earshot.

9. Apologize to kids when you make mistakes.

10. Counseling, support groups, connecting kids with children in similar situations, attending special events for kids/parents in crisis are all helpful.

11.Let their teachers, school counselors, coaches, pediatrician, etc. know what is going on and ask for extra help.

12. Find new family activities you can do so you can bond, like piling into bed to watch a movie.

13. Take care of yourself. Caregiving is hard and the patient and kids are depending on you. Running yourself into the ground doesn’t help anyone. You especially need your sleep. And you have got to find ways to relieve your stress. Stress can make you sick and dangerously distracted.

14. It’s okay to model different types of grieving. Kids need to know that it’s normal to be mad or sad. It’s also okay to feel happy and laugh and they don’t need to feel guilty about that. They look to you for cues on appropriate ways to express emotions.

15. Humor goes a really long way in lightening the mood.

16. Reassure them that everything is going to be okay no matter what. Kids are very observant and they worry more than they let on.

17. Teenagers developmentally can be selfish, so try not to take that personally.

18. Kids may google information on their own.

 

Finally, realize that is okay to seek out help and support. If you have experienced loss of your spouse during this child-raising time of life, you may find help through a support group for widowed moms I have founded with the help of my church, First Christian Chattanooga. For more information, contact me at scottiepta@gmail.com.