How to support the children when a parent is life-threatening ill

A friend called me a few days ago, and she could hardly speak, as her voice kept breaking down: "Susan, the cancer is back, and this time it is everywhere, what do I tell my children." 

We had a long talk. About life and death, gratitude, about living in the moment, and how she could prepare her final stages. The importance of leaving a legacy. 

I told her about that the time I was diagnosed with cancer and had to tell my four children. My youngest was two years old at the time, and the other children very young.

While it’s true that in many cases, “Mom knows best” is the rule, I wanted to make sure I was doing the absolute right thing for my children. The stakes were just too high. 

A friend had recommended a renowned psychologist, and her advice helped me to clear my head. The time I spend with her was one of the best investments I could have made. She gave me the confidence to discuss the worst case scenario with my children honestly and openly. It also helped me to know I could reach out for help throughout my illness. That this wasn't a time to be a "superhero mom."

Here are some of the psychologist advice, tips I wrote down and that worked for our family:

  • Children should know what you are going through, but you must carefully select the words and concepts based on your child’s age.
  • Tell the children not to blame anyone for what has happened. Also, make sure you don’t blame anyone, either.
  • Let them know that all thoughts and emotions are ok.
  • Give them hope. Tell them that you love them and that they will care for no matter what happens.
  • Be available to answer questions, give extra hugs and support, or just to listen. Make sure your child knows they can come to you at any time.
  • Let the school administration know so that teachers can give extra care to your child and contact you if help is needed.
  • If a child develops depression symptoms, always contact a medical expert.
  • If the sick parent is too weak, or both parents are in too much distress, look for someone compassionate to stay with the children or spend some time with them.
  • As a survivor of life-threatening illnesses, and living through my third "second chance," I learned that:

" All we have is now, and all we can do is to live in the moment."

Florida greetings

Susan Binau

Some of the "selfhelp" books my family and I have written:

Parents Guide, how to support a grieving child.  

Mummy, can I call you in heaven: how we coped with cancer in our family

The Super Dog ZAM, Grief selfhelp books for children ages 3-5, 6-8, 9-12.

About Susan Binau
Susan is a motivational speaker, published author, and survivor of cancer and other life-threatening illnesses that changed her perspective on life. 
Her mission is to inspire others through "hands-on tools," educational programs, coaching and self-help books.