Jed writes that his two young children lose patience with his physical inability to keep up with them, specifically their speed going through toys in the basement. Kids are wonderfully unaware of our struggles. I think we have to do all we can to keep it that way, to preserve their childhoods for as long as possible. They should live carefree and play their hearts out.
That raises the question, when and what do we tell them about a sick parent? Ask five shrinks and you will get six answers. There are no pat answers, no roadmaps for sale at your local gas station. I think parents intuitively know when it is time to talk.
For us, the moment arrived when the kids saw me fall down the stairs and land on my head. Ben, our oldest, waited until he was in bed with the lights out to ask blunt questions. That was the moment of truth that shook hard truths from the tree. Ben was only five, so this moment came more than twenty years ago.
We decided that this had to be the start of an era of openness. We quickly came to believe that the only way to make children secure in their own homes was to open lines of communication and simply tell the truth. There would be no drama, no grim faces. We all know that kids are the smartest ones in the house. They can smell trouble.
When cancer showed up at my door, we just sat them down and told them the facts.
Gabe, our middle guy, asked two questions. Are you going to die? Do we still get our Christmas and Hanukah presents? He had his priorities straight. We had showed calm. Kids take their cues from parents. They saw that we were not freaked out and adopted the same attitude. We had not presented the situation as nothing to worry about, but let them know we thought everything would be okay.
Our children are grown and gone now, living in various places in the world. We give them the news when there is a health issue or anything else. When the three of them are home for a visit, together or one at a time, they watch out for me when we do anything outdoors. It has become second nature. I would like to think they see others in need of assistance, on the street or in other public places. Helping an elderly person cross the street should be automatic.
So, Jed, give it time. Then teach.