There is nothing more daunting to a woman who has children then to receive the diagnosis of breast cancer or any other type of serious illness. Our children are our worlds, and we are internally motivated and drawn to protect and raise them. They say there is nothing fiercer than a mama bear protecting her cubs, and when a diagnosis of cancer comes, many women feel deep fear and an unwavering will to live in an effort to continue raising her babies that makes her love her life and her children even more deeply and fiercely than ever before.
5 Tips to Mothering Through Adversity:
1. Provide Facts Only: Be completely open with your children about your diagnosis. It is important for children of all ages to have the facts about what is happening. Having all the information will actually make them less fearful and more prepared to help support you to fight. Give your children age-appropriate descriptions of what cancer is, how this may impact you physically and the ways you may feel emotionally. Allow them to ask questions and provide the space for them to share their fears and feelings. Facts eliminate more fears than does uncertainty. Facts help ground you and your children.
2. It is NOT their fault: Because children are ego-centric, they can take the diagnosis of your cancer and feel they somehow caused it to happen or that it is somehow or in some way their fault. For example, they may feel guilty for ever stressing you. It is important to reassure them, again and again, that your having breast cancer isn't anyone's fault, and that nothing they said or did, past or present, caused you to get breast cancer.
3. Cancer is not contagious: Cancer is scary to all people, but especially children. It can make all people unconsciously feel afraid of catching it, but especially younger children. It is important for both you and them that they understand their health is safe and that hugs, touching and kissing all will and need to continue to occur between you and them. Love is healing for you and them and this kind of touch is important especially in times of ill health.
4. Reassurance: It is hard for children to picture how their lives are going to work if you are really sick because as their mother, you have largely been their supplier of their schedule, lunches, social outings etc. Reassure them that, as a family, you all will work together to make sure everyone's needs are met easily and effortlessly. Extended family and friends will help as well. This gives children a sense of their security back, as they adjust to the diagnosis, that their needs and schedules will not be forgotten and things will remain in some state of normalcy.
5. Love is the answer: During stressful changes, love is what brings people through the most challenging and difficult traumas. Make sure your children know how loved they are and that the feelings of love you all have for each other can only grow from this experience. Because, as their mother, you are such an important stability in their lives, your love of them will help them the most during your healing, just as their love will help motivate you through your tough days.
Breast cancer coupled with being a mother is painful and scary for all involved. This is an incredible opportunity to model resilience and a positive mental attitude for your children. Everyone in their lives will face adversity, for some it is illness and others it may be something else traumatic, but your illness is a great opportunity to show your children how to dare greatly in the face of something scary, and this will also motivate you. It is an opportunity to show them that, at times in life, they will need to ask for help, they will feel scared and vulnerable, and they will have to sacrifice and stand tall with hard work in the face of fear.
Sherapy Advice: Breast cancer is your path back to strength, into strength and into feeling the deepest love for your life and children. Power on my beautiful women and mothers!
Dr. Sherrie Campbell is a veteran psychologist and the author of Loving Yourself: The Mastery of Being Your Own Person.