irrational guilt

Giving A Time-Out To A Kid With Cancer: How I Dealt With Irrational Guilt

When our son, Cooper, was first diagnosed with leukemia, it seemed like we got packets upon packets of flyers and handouts. They were full of information about what this disease was and how we could get through it all.

At the time, I didn’t have the mental capacity to read any of them.

But one day, several months later, I was sitting on the floor of our office, overwhelmed and trying to get through all the papers that had built up. One flyer caught my eye, and I scanned through it.

It talked about how to handle the struggle to discipline your child when he is undergoing cancer treatment. One of the tips in the flyer changed the way I looked at things.

The Positive Side Of Discipline

I can’t remember the exact words, and that flyer has long-since been recycled. But the basic idea was: Do not spoil your child, or you might give him the subconscious message that he is not going to survive.

I had never thought of it that way. To me, I was doing Cooper a favor by giving him a break from discipline while he was on cancer treatment. After all, he was already going through so much.

But the logic of the statement on the flyer made sense to me. If I let him get away with things that I didn’t before cancer treatment, it wasn’t good for him.

After all, if there’s one thing all the parenting books tell us, it’s that consistency is key. In a time when things are in such upheaval for our child, it is logical that we should do our best to be consistent with our parenting.

Looking Ahead With Optimism

I tried to start focusing on the fact that we were going to get through this. Life would go back to normal for our little Cooper someday, and I needed to start acting like it with more consistent parenting.

irrational guilt

Like any young child, at first Cooper gave me pushback. But we quickly slipped into our old norm, and to my surprise, adding this little bit of normalcy back into our life seemed comforting to both of us.

Flexibility: Always An Option

Of course there were times when I gave Cooper a little more leniency—when he was miserable in the hospital or out of control because of steroids. I’m not saying I was heartless.

But remembering to treat him like he would survive helped me to be firm when I needed to be—without feeling so guilty.

Now that Cooper is off treatment and a little older, he constantly amazes me with how well-adjusted he is. He even went to school and camp with no tears!

Results That Are Worth It

My friends have commented on how well-behaved Cooper is, acknowledging how hard it must have been to stick to consequences during cancer treatment. And it was hard at times.

But in hindsight, I’m glad that I chose to be consistent with my parenting during Cooper’s battle with childhood cancer.

Treating him in a normal way—like he was going to survive—helped him have a smooth transition back into the real world. Now, we have a happy, healthy, and well-adjusted little boy.

Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Jenni DeWitt
I’ve been a cancer mom since February of 2012 when my 2-year-old son, Cooper, was diagnosed with leukemia. I'm excited to connect with you here at Lionfighters and on

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