Hospital Orientation

Guilt... When children become "patients", parents become anxious. No wonder. We all grow up believing that childhood should be carefree, happy, playful, healthy. And as grown-ups, we hold ourselves personally responsible for the well-being of our children. So when children are sick, or injured, or disabled...and those categories represent a significant slice of the demographic pie of childhood... parents suffer, too. 

There's an unfortunate yet pervasive myth that whispers "if you play your parent roles well, your children will be protected from all harm." Parents who believe that myth believe that when Amy gets sick, they are to blame, and that her hospitalization makes visible their inadequacies as parents. As they admit Amy to the care of strangers, they see in the event a reflection of their failure. 

And there's even more. If her parents believe themselves responsible for six year old Amy's hospitalization, they'll want to somehow make it up to her. They'll want to absolve their guilt. So here's what they do: 

  • *buy her presents. 
  • *crown her the princess, with her every whine becoming   their command. 
  • *stay right by her side, at all times. 
  • *leave discipline at the hospital door--appropriate at home, but not while she's in the hospital. 
  • *do things for her that she can do for herself.
They do all of these things with the best of intentions, but with outcomes that aren't in the best of Amy's interests, and not in the best of their own. Remember that guilt is one of the roots of that iceberg, where anger is often its visible face. Masquerading as other emotions and behaviors as well, guilt is as sneaky as it is destructive. 

Here's what they can do to bring it out to the light of day, where it loses its power. When Amy needs surgery following an injury, they could talk to themselves, acknowledging that bad things do happen to children, just like they happen to adults. And that there are many events in life that are beyond their power to control, despite how much they'd like to change their course.They could remind themselves how powerful their role remains as her parents, her protectors, and that the strength of their support is a powerful buffer to the tough things that she may be exposed to during her hospitalization. 

Reframing how they perceive such realities as illness and injury and disability will help them to parent Amy successfully, by communicating their: 

  • *support of her distress. 
  • *belief that she can manage things with their help. 
  • *expectations about desired behavior. 
  • *understanding that she can do most things for herself. 
  • *certainty that she'll be OK when they take breaks.
Joan Fleitas, Ed.D., R.N
Associate Professor of Nursing, Lehman College, CUNY
Bronx, New York 10468

Last updated: November 14, 2004

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