Childrearing

Mom’s Sick: Explaining Illness To Kids Without Terrifying Them

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Being sick is absolutely no fun. Being hospital-admitted, bed-bound, surgery-required sick is the very worst of no fun. It’s horrible, scary and sad. Then, I learned that there was something that could make it even worse for me; trying to explain it to my toddler.

This morning on our sister-site Blisstree, I discussed my miscarriage and the resulting hospital stay while I had surgery to remove my ectopic pregnancy and Fallopian tube. To put it mildly, it was an awful experience.

During this traumatic process, my husband and I had to rush to the hospital in the middle of the night because I was in extreme pain. Even though we have family living close by, there was just no time to wait for my parents to come to our house and stay with my three-year-old daughter. That meant that at 11pm, while she was bundled up in Tinkerbell pajamas and baby blankets, we had to drag Brenna out of bed and into the car with us. She was confused and a little scared. I was laying back in the front seat with tears streaming down my face and moaning in pain. It was a nightmare.

Thankfully, my father met us at the emergency room rather quickly and took Brenna right back to bed. But it wasn’t the last that she had to deal with mommy being sick. Even though my surgery was laparoscopic, I still had incisions on my stomach and a hard time moving around. For a toddler, that’s pretty difficult to understand.

Even with her young age, my husband and I decided that honesty (or semi-honesty) was the best policy. Once I got home, we sat our little one down for a nice heart-to-heart. Without ever questioning it, I let her see my stomach and the multiple bandages covering up my wounds. We explained that the doctor had made me all better, but that it would take time for mommy to recuperate. We tried to focus on the ways that this change would affect her life, so that she wouldn’t be confused later on. “Mommy can’t pick anyone up right now,  so I won’t be able to carry you for a little while,” I tried to explain gently.

I was prepared for my daughter to be scared or uncomfortable. I thought that she might be nervous to touch me, worried about hurting her now-fragile momma. I was prepared for talks about sickness and what might happen if I didn’t get better. I thought my surgery wounds would freak her out and my crying would traumatize her for years to come. In my own head, I thought that this experience would be really hard for my daughter. She wasn’t used to her mom being… bed-ridden.

You want to know what happened? That adorable little girl crawled in to bed with me the day that I got home from the hospital. She slept curled up in my arm, rubbing my shoulder and mumbling that it would all be alright. Brenna put a hand on my cheek and wiped my hair out of my eyes. And the very first time I picked her up, just a week ago, she threw her arms around me and said, “Momma, I’m just so happy that you’re all better.”

It turned out, my daughter wasn’t scared by her mother being sick. She wasn’t freaked out by my stitches or uncomfortable with our doctor. She was fine. She did what young kids tend to do, she adapted to her situation. And now that I’m feeling better and spinning her in circles like I used to, all she says is, “Mom, just try not to get sick again, k?”

Turns out, talking about illnesses without terrifying young ones isn’t that hard after all.