March 15, 2024

Parenting Through a Family Crisis: 3 Vital Steps Every Parent Needs to Take.

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When you decide to become a parent, you envision a future with dreams and desires of the kind of life you’ll have together.

Even if you like to be prepared, it’s unlikely that you spent a great deal of time getting ready to parent through a crisis. This is not something most of us put on the to-do list.

When a crisis strikes, it can really rock your sense of safety and security in this world. For my family, our crisis happened when I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. This was a true test for our family of four.

Our most pressing concern was our kids. How would they cope? What did they need from us? Sitting with their loss of innocence was heartbreaking. It felt daunting to figure out how to parent, especially in the beginning.

As a psychotherapist, I’m skilled at supporting my clients through crises. When it came to helping my own family, I knew I needed to learn from others. I did not want the stress of the situation to compromise my perspective.

Here’s what I learned.

1. Be honest with your kids and use accurate words to describe the problem. Research shows that the most important thing a child needs is a secure, trustworthy attachment to their caregivers. Your kids need to believe that you are telling them the truth. Using accurate words to describe the problem is best practice because it offers clear information.

Children are perceptive. If you skirt the truth, they’ll sense that something is off. This can rupture the trust and secure connection they have with you.

My mom died from breast cancer, which was something that my kids knew. Initially I worried that if we told the truth, my kids would immediately think that I would die too. I quickly realized that this attempt at protection was not helpful. Once they knew, my kids did share their fears with us, which gave us the opportunity to support them.

2. Let their questions guide you toward what they need for information and support. One question I often get from my clients is, how will I know what my kids need? Underneath this query lies the concern, how can I tell when it’s too much?

I suggest starting the conversation with a brief description of what the crisis is. Give your kids the chance to ask questions. They know instinctively what kinds of information they need to better understand a situation.

Your kids will continue to ask for answers as you move through the crisis. These inquiries reflect what your kids need. The more you’re able to listen, the better attuned your support will be. This enhances the secure attachment they feel, which decreases their stress.

3. Respect and respond to your needs. Hold space for your thoughts and feelings as they arise. Just like the airlines tell us, you need to put your oxygen mask on first so that you can help your child. In the midst of a crisis, it may feel impossible to do so, but taking care of your needs is imperative to be an effective caregiver.

Journaling, creative expression, and breath work are all examples of how you can hold space for your thoughts and feelings. I recommend practicing them daily, even if it’s only for five minutes so that you remember to use these tools.

When you hold space for your thoughts and feelings, you’re less likely to react to them in ways that undermine how you want to respond. When you let them be without judgment, you experience how quickly they can pass. Once the intensity has lowered, you can more accurately assess what you need and make a plan for how to address it.

Being hit with a crisis is always a challenge for families, but they can help you feel closer and stronger as a unit. Let clear communication, secure attachment, and compassion be the beacons of light that guide you through the storm.


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