This has been a very hard year at my house. We have had to help our children through one family crisis after another. Lots of scary medical things have happened. It would have been easy for my children's faith to become battered and torn.
It truly has been a family crisis of epic proportions. It has had everything you never want to say to your children…
Momma has a tumor, needs surgery, and could die; Momma has a rare genetic disease; Momma has cancer and will have to have her thyroid and a bunch of lymph nodes removed; Grandma also has the rare genetic disease; three of your siblings also have the disease.
Pretty much lots of hard stuff for children to take in, and all within 5 months. We were in a family crisis of epic proportions. In fact, we are still not completely out of it.
So we were faced with the question: How should we go about helping children through family crisis?
I suspect there is no one perfect answer to this important question. I can only talk to you from my experience and what I have witnessed in my children in the midst of our family crisis. To make it even tougher, we have one child in college, two finishing high school, one in middle school, and one just starting second grade. How do we help each one right where they're at?
God was faithful to guide us through every step. We kept none of it from the kids–including the part where Momma could die during that first surgery.
Helping Children Through Family Crisis
Looking back, I see a few essential practices for helping children through difficult times.
1) Be honest.
It's important for children to understand what is happening. We can't really hide our stress from them, so they may as well know where our anxiety or worry is really coming from rather than trying to figure out what is happening. Imagination is normally worse than reality.
2) Keep it simple.
While telling them the truth about what is happening, it is not always necessary to give them all of the confusing details. Of course, age is a factor here. My 7-year-old did not hear all of the details at first, just the most important ones and in language that was simplified for her understanding. My 12-year-old heard all of the hard details. Was it difficult for my teens to hear what we were facing? Most definitely! But we faced it together. Our faith, our fear, and our growth was out there for them to witness.
3) Pray together.
Our children were important allies in prayer during our family crisis. It was quite real to them. They felt the urgency. They prayed with faith, and they saw God answer their prayers in big ways. I made it through the first surgery despite the doctors fearing I would not make it off the table. The thyroid cancer was found to be only at stage 1 and had only spread to 5 lymph nodes, so at this point they think we have gotten it all. My 3 oldest children all have this same cancer-causing disease, but none of them have medullary thyroid cancer, nor adrenal tumors. (Praise God!) The children have seen and understood the miracles that all of these reports truly are. Their faith has grown!
4) Keep communication open.
Because the children knew all of these hard truths, it was very important that we keep the lines of communication open at all times. If they had a question or a hard moment, we needed to stop what we were doing and talk it out with them. We talked until they had clarity. We addressed their fears with honesty and prayer. We could not afford to wait and let imagination and fear overwhelm the child. Most of the time, it was just additional details that were needed–like what the thyroid does or that you can live without it–to calm the fear.
So I guess that brings us to the real question…
On the other side of the crisis, how is their faith? Was it battered?
From what I see, their faith may have been banged around a bit, but it was certainly not crushed. (2 Corinthians 4: 7-18 certainly applies!) In fact, I have seen only growth in them. Of course, these practices are not magic. Every person reacts differently. We can't predict how the story will end.
But we do know that God is trustworthy.
He will build each child's faith story, whether easy or hard.
We can trust our difficult times to Jesus.
He will care for our children in the middle of any storm.