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Information central for parenting with breast cancer.

Taking Care of Your Family

Preserving Continuity and Routine

Children thrive on routine. It makes them feel safe and secure. Lots of change, on the other hand, can make kids anxious and agitated. When you have breast cancer, maintaining a routine can be difficult at a time when your kids need it most. You can help keep your kids feeling safe and secure by minimizing change, reassuring them, sharing control, and limiting surprises.

Minimize change. Disruption in family routines is inevitable when a mother has breast cancer. Treating this disease is much like taking on a second job, so moms need help carrying on with the family’s daily activities. Here are some tips for minimizing the changes to our children’s routines:

Transportation - Try to keep some continuity in the people who help transport your children. For example, instead of having a different person drive your children to school every day, try to have one person drive the kids to school for a week.

Meals - You can help keep mealtime familiar even when friends and family members offer to cook for you. Many moms are reluctant to give people direction about cooking for their family because they fear offending the cook or appearing ungrateful. Yet most volunteer cooks will be happy to have some direction. They want your family to enjoy the meal they prepare for you. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Be frank with volunteer cooks. Tell them what your children will (and won’t) eat. You can say, “I am so grateful that you’ve offered to cook for us. You should know up front that my kids are very picky eaters. I don’t want you to go to a lot of trouble to prepare something they won’t eat. Would you like some suggestions about what to make?”
  • Suggest food combinations that your children are used to eating. You can say, “Tacos would be terrific. My kids love them! They would be especially happy if you would include some corn. I always serve corn when we have tacos, and I know that familiar touch would make them especially happy.”
  • Offer the brand names of specific products. You might say, “If you’re making a special trip to the store, my kids really like Prego Traditional spaghetti sauce. That would be a great choice.”
  • Post information online. If you use the internet to communicate with your helpers, you can give them information about meal suggestions, brand names, food allergies and intolerances, and even some favorite recipes. See Online Communication in the Resources section of this website.

Of course, don’t get carried away with making demands on people who are kind enough to cook for you. Only you can prepare familiar meals exactly the way your children like them. Your kids will get used to trying new or differently prepared foods. If you’re up to it, consider thanking the cook by phone, e-mail, or with a brief note in the mail.

Bedtime - Routines make bedtime easier for the whole family, and they help your child feel safe and secure. If your illness prevents you from carrying on with your normal routine, try changing either the routine or the person who does it (such as your partner, a grandparent, or a babysitter).

In other words, it’s easier for your children if Grandma does her best to follow your child’s regular bedtime routine. Alternatively, come up with a temporary routine that you’re capable of doing yourself, such as reading to your child in a chair instead of reading to him in bed.

Reassure them. Reassure your children that their needs will be met, that you still love them, and that most of the changes related to your illness will be temporary. While this may be obvious to adults, children need reassurance about these basic facts. They have rich imaginations that can attach mistaken meaning to changes in routine. Your children may need to hear reassurances like these:

“I love you as much as ever, even if the way I show you my love changes for awhile.”

“I will make sure that you have everything you need, I just may not be able to do it for you myself.”

“Some things might change for awhile, like who drives you places or what you have for dinner, but this won’t last forever.”

“I can’t put you to bed tonight, but it’s not because I don’t want to or don’t love you. My heart wants to, but my body just isn’t up to it right now.”

Besides talking to your kids, you can reassure them with your actions. Put an unexpected note in their lunch boxes or send them periodic e-mail messages. You can even send younger kids a note in the mail. They will be thrilled to tear open a letter addressed to them, even if it comes from someone in their own house.

Share control. Being in control helps people feel secure. You can share this feeling with your children by giving them some control over the changes in your household. You can share control by offering choices and by inviting open-ended discussions.

  • Offer choices. You can include younger children in decision-making by giving them limited choices. Only offer choices that are realistic and that you can accept.

You might say something like this: “I can’t take you to practice tomorrow because I have an appointment with my doctor. Would you rather have Mike’s mom or Ben’s mom drive you?”

Your child might not want to make a decision, or he might insist that you drive. You can say, “I really want to drive you, too, but it’s just not going to be possible tomorrow. Would you like to decide or should I decide for you?”

  • Invite open-ended discussions. Older children can be included in open-ended conversations about some changes that will affect the family. Be sure to discuss the issue with your partner first, so you agree in advance on what outcomes will be acceptable to you both.

This is an example: “My doctor doesn’t want me to go on our hiking trip later this month. Dad and I talked about it, and we had a few ideas. We could postpone the trip until next year or you could go without me. We could also go somewhere closer to home instead. What do you think we should do?”

Limit surprises. While it’s not always possible, informing kids about changes in advance makes the changes easier to accept. (Be cautious with telling younger kids about potentially scary changes, like upcoming surgery. By giving them too much notice, they have a lot of time to worry.)

Giving your kids a calendar will help reduce their anxiety. A calendar keeps them informed and shows them that changes are temporary. Some kids will enjoy making a calendar with you, and some kids will want to cross off each day that passes. They’ll also have activities to look forward to, like sleepovers, playdates, and birthday parties.

Here are some suggestions for making calendars for your family:

  • Tell your kids that events on the calendar will likely change, but that you’ll do your best to make sure they know about the changes in advance.
  • You can buy a paper calendar or a wipe-off calendar for the wall, desk, or bulletin board. You also can make one yourself. If you’d like to make a calendar, you can download one for free at www.calendarsthatwork.com or click on Calendar in the Tools section of this website.
  • These are some items to consider including in your calendar:

- After-school activities
- Babysitting
- Playdates
- Sleepovers
- Birthday parties
- Carpool
- Holidays
- School programs
- Hot lunch days
- Religious school
- Field trips

  • If you choose to make a calendar, consider using clip art for young children. Calendars are helpful even for children who cannot read. Just seeing repeating patterns of pictures, like a soccer ball indicating soccer practice every week, is reassuring. You can find free clipart at the Microsoft website. You can also find clipart for some common children’s activities in the Tools section of this website.
  • If you make one calendar for the entire family, consider using different colors or symbols to indicate which family members participate in each activity.
  • Consider sharing the calendar with babysitters, family members, teachers, carpool drivers, and anyone else who is involved with the daily care of your children.
  • Minimize confusion by indicating when your calendar was last updated by writing “Updated on [date]” in one corner.

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