Childhood cancer is a high-stress situation. That’s pretty much stating the obvious. What isn’t so obvious is the impact the stress can have on otherwise normal relationships, especially within your family.
In my experience, any relationship that was the tiniest bit strained before cancer is a real issue during the hardest parts of treatment. And even relationships that were fine before still struggled under the stress.
Take The Direct Approach.
At some point, even though they mean well, your family members are probably going to say something insensitive.
And thanks to the stress and exhaustion you’re feeling, it’s harder to shrug off things you normally would have overlooked. As a result, the insensitive comments can eat away at you, and you may find you can’t quit thinking about how much they hurt.
It’s no surprise that the best thing to do in this situation is also the hardest: Be honest.
Remind them you are doing your best. Tell them you know they mean well. Then, let them know how the things they said are making you feel.
But being honest about how you feel is hard, even in the best of circumstances. It can seem downright impossible with everything else you’re dealing with right now.
So, when sitting down for an honest heart-to-heart with that person is too hard, here are a few more ideas.
Do Honesty By Proxy.
Let someone you trust be honest on your behalf.
There was one particular time when my husband had to talk to some family members on my behalf. What they were saying was negatively affecting me. And I knew they needed to know the truth, but I wasn’t brave enough to say it to their face.
Luckily, my husband was. He talked to them. And when they heard the truth and understood how their behavior was impacting me, they adjusted their behavior.
The truth is, most people don’t want to make this situation harder on you. So, if they understand how to be more supportive, they will do it.
Find A Bit Of Breathing Room.
Give yourself space. When your child is sick, there are slightly different socially acceptable norms than in regular life. For example, it is perfectly acceptable to ignore your phone for days on end if you don’t have the energy to deal with people.
But when you step away, be careful not to shut them out. Use the time and space to remind yourself that they mean well and care deeply about your family. Acknowledge that you are extremely tired and frustrated, and give yourself permission to feel your feelings.
Then, do your best to let it go. Forgive them. And when you’re ready—when you can stand it—let the person back in.
Start answering their calls. Be honest with them that things were busy and stressful, and you didn’t have the energy to talk. Chances are, admitting how vulnerable you feel will help them ease up on you.
Lean Into Your Grace.
However you choose to handle it when family members are insensitive, try to remember to give yourself grace. This feels hard, because it is hard. You are doing the best you can, and so is your family.
And even though it feels like things will never be easy—or normal—again, eventually they will be. This will pass. And you might be surprised to find that the relationships that had the most conflict during childhood cancer are the ones that have grown the most.