Family dynamics challenging when a parent has cancer: Want to connect

Posted by john5825 @john5825, Aug 28 8:51am

My husband was diagnosed with Stage 4 kidney cancer three months ago. We have three teenagers-13,17,17 in the home. The family dynamics are challenging. I am interested in connecting with other families who are/have gone through this to better understand how to navigate unique challenges of a family unit.

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1) How much/how little to share with your kids about prognosis? If you tell too much, they will take it very hard and worry. If you tell them too little, they don’t take the situation seriously.
2) How to get teenagers to step out of their self centered focus (100% normal) to focus more on their Dad (twins will be leaving for college in a year so this could be their last year with their dad)
3) how to get kids to have more empathy and step up in new roles/responsibilities /chores within the household (they continue to be 100% not helpful leaving Mom with an even higher amount of stress/workload)
4) how to deal with the mental needs of the kids- be proactive or wait for signs? they act like nothing is different but are they suppressing stuff? Pediatrician indicates yes.
5) Kids try to connect with father but he feels so poorly that he does not reciprocate/doesn’t seem interested in connecting. This makes them feel bad and makes them not want to connect with him.
6) Husband is not working due to cancer so family has lost 1/2 their income. How to help kids understand/adjust to a new lifestyle and budget.

REPLY

@john5825, these are great questions. I've got a few thoughts that I'll share a bit later when I'm back at my desk. In the meantime, allow me to tag fellow members who will have some ideas having been where you are now, like @loribmt @lisman1408 @lisaok @melbee22 @wifemom3 @ventibug @caracello22 @IndianaScott and others who have kids and are going through cancer either as the patient or the partner of the patient.

I'll just start off by saying, as the mom of a teenager, detecting the empathy of a teen can be like looking for that proverbial needle in a haystack. They may not show it they way we want them to. And they are hardwired to be self-centered at this age. They may be dealing with this in a way that isn't visible to you.

But you need help and need them to step up. I might suggest that most people (not just teens) don't know what to do to be helpful. It is often left to the patient or the main caregiver to spell it out. That's hard to understand. You're drained enough. Can't they see what needs to be done? The answer is often "no, they can't." It might be teenage self-absorption that blinds them, but it may also be fear.

Might it be possible for you to spell it out and, at the same time, give them some choices? For example, make a list of things you need help with. Be specific, what, when, how often, etc. Share the list with them at a family "meeting" and get them to choose their top 3. What do you think?

REPLY

Hi, @john5825 I'm Scott and I was my wife's caregiver during her 14+ year war with brain cancer. We have two adult children and wondered about some of the same things you bring up.

In our case, one of the things we did was add our children to my wife's HIPPA approvals so they were able to talk directly to my wife's care team and vice versa. That did a lot for us in that they got exactly the same information I had and also took me out of the function as "family communications hub", which I appreciated many times over.

In the case of others helping and/or expressing their empathy, support, etc. I have no magic suggestions. As much as we might wish others would be as supportive as we need them to be or would like them to be, they often aren't, can't, or just don't have it in them. Personally, and this might be only in my case, but I quickly found you cannot force someone to care or help meaningfully if they simply don't want to. Someone told me early on in my wife's illness "you'll be surprised by all those who ghost on you, and even more surprised by the few who stay and help" and I found this very true.

In the case of our two children, they both handled their mom's disease and needs totally different than one another. They still process the experience far different than each other. Again, perhaps just my case, but I found with them one size did not fit all when it came to their reactions to and emotional handling of their mom's disease and needs.

As much as we might wish it, I found we cannot make others respond to life-altering changes as we desire or on our timeline. I found this especially true of our children. They are in far different places than adults at times like this and the center of their universe is often far different than ours as a spouse or partner. Plus, of course, even though they may not express it at the time, they are most likely incredibly sad and possibly scared to death of the changes they are witnessing.

One of the mantras I kept repeating to our children, grandchildren, and sometimes to friends was "it's the disease, not your mom" when things would take a turn for the worse in communications, how my wife reacted to something they did, or how they took in things my wife would say to them.

I hope these insights from my experiences help somewhat.

Strength, Courage, & Peace

REPLY
@john5825

1) How much/how little to share with your kids about prognosis? If you tell too much, they will take it very hard and worry. If you tell them too little, they don’t take the situation seriously.
2) How to get teenagers to step out of their self centered focus (100% normal) to focus more on their Dad (twins will be leaving for college in a year so this could be their last year with their dad)
3) how to get kids to have more empathy and step up in new roles/responsibilities /chores within the household (they continue to be 100% not helpful leaving Mom with an even higher amount of stress/workload)
4) how to deal with the mental needs of the kids- be proactive or wait for signs? they act like nothing is different but are they suppressing stuff? Pediatrician indicates yes.
5) Kids try to connect with father but he feels so poorly that he does not reciprocate/doesn’t seem interested in connecting. This makes them feel bad and makes them not want to connect with him.
6) Husband is not working due to cancer so family has lost 1/2 their income. How to help kids understand/adjust to a new lifestyle and budget.

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Hi John, I found a few more resources for you and for your teens.

– Helping Teenagers When a Parent Has Cancer https://www.cancercare.org/publications/51-helping_teenagers_when_a_parent_has_cancer
– Support for Teens When a Family Member Has Cancer https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/coping/caregiver-support/teens

How are you doing?

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