Balancing Parenting with Cancer Treatment
Last updated: January 2020
Being a cancer patient does not counteract parental duties, though I often wish it would. Many times I have had to drag my child along with me when I was feeling less than optimal. And there have been many times when pushback from my child has resulted in responses that were overly authoritarian. There have also been times when she has been given more leeway than probably was deserved because I could not bring myself to be more strict.
The value of balance
Parenting, even in the best of circumstances, is all about balance. But when the scales are weighted with parental responsibilities on one end and cancer treatment on the other, things can quickly go out of equilibrium. I am fortunate enough to have a partner in the parenting role, and we are more often than not in relative sync about our goals. I am also fortunate in that I only have one child to think about; were I co-parenting a larger brood, or doing it solo, these issues would be so much more profound.
Facing the challenges of parenthood
They are, however, still issues with which I must contend. Every. Single. Day. And it does not matter how I am feeling or what physical changes my body is going through or how my medications are jerking my emotional responses back and forth -- although those things do all matter, and, in fact, matter quite a lot. Because part of finding that balance between parenting and treatment is an understanding of what is going on within that drives my responses.
Figuring out and being in touch with what is going on inside is important to do before the response comes, but that is not always possible. It would be nice if it was, though, because that would save a lot of damage control. Especially from those days when I was still adjusting to steroids and, frankly, had little handle on how to contain my emotional outbursts. Those were not fair to anyone, and it took a lot of getting down to my child's level and talking as equals, something I was not really trained to do, to figure out how to make that right.
Watching my child grow
As treatment stretched into years, I could see our dynamic change. The pushback now did not come so much from anger at not understanding, but from concern for what was being witnessed. My body would go through sometimes rapid changes, even more so than my better-controlled moods. And the older a child gets, the more perceptive that child becomes (though it is important never to underestimate what a young child comprehends). Much of the more recent pushback has been a result of creating a necessary distance; not so much a protective shield, this little bubble is more about preserving identity and privacy and creating room for a sense of self.
Striving to be my child's hero
There are boundaries here to respect, and I struggle with those every day just as I struggle not to over- or under-discipline. And there are plenty of urges to go in both directions. I want to be the hero, the one who lets my kid get away with all the "cool" stuff and spend hours on screens and skip the homework and eat junk all day long -- and there are times when I probably let it go that way, especially when fatigue rules my day. But more than that, I want to be the hero, the one who provided stability and set limits that were healthy and was a voice of reason, the one who will be remembered as a role model and talked about fondly when my child is balancing parenting with whatever challenges that future may face.
Editor’s Note: We are extremely saddened to say that on October 21, 2018, Jeffrey Poehlmann passed away. Jeffrey’s advocacy efforts and writing continue to reach many. He will be deeply missed.
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