Change of Plans
By Patti Hermes – Parent to Parent
It can happen at any time, to any family.
Many of us expect our kids to suddenly get sick, or wipe out on a bike, or have some sort of accident that sends us to the emergency room, and requires an extended recovery period. And we deal with it, and eventually all goes back to normal.
But what about when it's the parent that suffers an injury or illness? You can't exactly arrange for babysitting and get on with your schedule when it's your spouse that's lying on the sofa with a remote glued to their hand. And the almighty schedule that you have carefully prepared in order to get the kids to their activities, and school and homework, and chores… it all goes flying out the window. But that doesn't have to be a bad thing.
Most families never even consider the possibility that Mom or Dad could get hurt at work and have to be home for a few weeks or months. While construction workers are most likely to lose time from work due to injuries, frankly, it can happen to anyone. You'd never think an office worker could miss three weeks of work after dropping a book on her foot, yet that's exactly what happened to me several years ago (it was a really heavy book!).
And work injuries aren't the only thing that can throw a wrench into carefully laid plans. When Dad can't mow the lawn all summer because he tore a muscle during a weekend softball game, who's going to pick up the slack? It still has to get done, whether Mom or the kids can do it, or you end up paying for a service. And so do the myriad of other chores the injured party habitually took care of, whether you noticed or not. Is your family ready to cover if one of you is suddenly sidelined?
How is your family going to eat if the cook has to have knee surgery? Someone is going to have to step up to the plate, and if you have any children who are tall enough to reach into the freezer, maybe it's time they learned to cook an emergency meal? And even if they're not normally required to vacuum the house, if they're big enough to push it, they're big enough to help out.
Our family's recent experience has helped push the boys into more responsibility around the house and yard, and also, I think, made them more compassionate. A few days or weeks of complete servitude, waiting on their invalid parent's every need, will do that. It's okay to just stay home and play cards when your dad can't drive you to the movies. And when other favorite family outings have to be canceled or re-scheduled, you'll just appreciate them all the more.
While it's nearly impossible to plan for such disasters, there's still a few things you can do to prepare your family for such an occurrence. It's a good idea to teach your children to help prepare meals, taking on more responsibility as they get older, so that suddenly being in charge of the kitchen won't scare them. If you have several children, maybe shuffle chores around so that everyone has a chance to be good at something, and to see what else needs to be done to keep the home humming along.
Flexibility, in these situations, is paramount, and small children can be challenging when their routines get bent a little. If you expect Grandma to help out with bath time in a pinch, it helps if she's done it before. Likewise, they're not likely to love Grampa's scrambled eggs as much as you did as a kid, if they've never had them cooked "that way" before. We expect our children to outgrow some of that rigidness as they get older. Unfortunately, some never do.
Talking to you family about handling such events can help to prepare them. It'll be better if it never happens, but sometimes a "what would you do if" kind of discussion can help you to understand where your children are, as they mature. And having talked about it, they won't be so traumatized when they find out they have to clean the bathroom for the next couple of months.