By Trudie Mistchang
As the mother of a teenage son, I often feel overwhelmed by the job I’m tasked with. At 14, my son is pulling away from my influence and increasingly allowing peers and the media to shape his world view. Our conversations are often combative; he loves throwing controversial topics at me to see if I will take the bait. Many nights, I go to bed feeling defeated, wondering if I have what it takes to help this “man child” develop into a caring, compassionate, productive young adult.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot more about the joys and challenges of parenting teens. We recently launched our IGL Teen website, and I am both inspired and humbled by some of the awesome kids we’ve come in contact with as we developed this project. I’ve also been thinking about the parents of teens with chronic illness; these brave moms and dads deal with the usual amount of adolescent angst, plus a laundry list of challenges that I can barely fathom.
According to recent statistics, 27 percent of American children have a chronic illness. That means 27 percent of American families are navigating this “new normal.” Like all parents, those with chronically ill children assume a wide variety of roles: healthcare advocate, teacher, chauffeur, cheerleader, ATM machine and relationship counselor. The difference is, dealing with the illness itself impacts every area of day-to-day parenting. A study from Johns Hopkins Children’s Center outlines some of the major hot-button issues:
Emotional exhaustion: The roller coaster of emotions exhibited by hormonally driven teens can leave the most stalwart among us emotionally drained. Parents of chronically ill kids are encouraged to develop a strong support system of extended family, close friends and neighbors. Local and online support groups can also be invaluable. You can’t - and should not attempt to - do this alone. At IG Living, we provide support through our skilled patient advocates who can answer your questions, direct you to the right resources and lend a supportive listening ear.
Financial strain: Many parents of chronically ill kids feel overwhelmed by mounting medical bills and complex insurance policies. Depending on the child’s illness, parents may also need to make financial provisions for long-term care. Indirect expenses - such as time off from work, transportation and child care for siblings - can quickly add up. Many hospitals offer financial counselors who can help parents develop a fiscal strategy, and employers sometimes offer free financial counseling through their benefits programs.
Family dynamics: When a child is chronically ill, the family’s routine is greatly impacted. Healthy siblings may feel ignored, and parents may have less time to devote to their own relationship. Finding a balance is important so that all family members feel loved and supported. Some families have found sessions with a hospital social worker or counselor helpful. Joining a support group for families of chronically ill children can also provide a much-needed peer network.
Caring for a chronically ill teen (or any teen for that matter) requires flexibility, organization and a positive attitude. With the right support system, the challenges can be turned into opportunities for a family to grow even closer together.
For more helpful resources, visit the new IG Living Teen page.