Struggling to Parent While Recovering From Breast Cancer

There’s nothing like sitting in a chair after surgery, feeling horrible – in pain and, to be honest, feeling sorry for yourself, and then having your child come into the room and just completely melt down. The mom guilt over not being able to get up and help them is something else!

During my recovery time I watched my kids go through a variety of emotions and behaviors. I watched helplessly as they cried, yelled, threw fits and struggled. There was a battle going on inside of me over wanting to help them and comfort them and just wanting to check out and sink into depression and anger over being stuck in that damn recliner.

I don’t think I realized what it would be like to be so incapacitated. Trying to parent in that state wasn’t something anyone had talked to me about. I had no idea how hard it would be to show up for my kids when I was barely holding it together emotionally, let alone physically. All of my energy was so focused on getting better, going to doctors’ appointments and dealing with my own emotional turmoil.

As the weeks and months have gone on, my boys and I have found more stable ground. We have been able to get back to our routines and have happy moments completely outside of the chaos of cancer treatment and recovery.

In looking back, I can find moments that I did well, and moments where I could have done better. Overall, these are the lessons I have taken away from that time that I will share with any of my mom friends if they ever find themselves in that same awful place:

Lesson 1: Help your kids find a structured support system

So much energy is put into finding ourselves the support that we need – doctors, friends to bring meals, childcare, help with rides, etc. One thing that I wish I had done, was to spend some time finding similar support systems for my kids and communicating clearly about these support systems.

For example, my youngest son had a field trip a week after my surgery. I wish I had found a neighbor that would go with him. I can still remember the tears in his eyes as he told me that I could just use the walker that the hospital had sent home so that I could come with him.

They also needed people to go to their sports games and cheer for them. People to take them out to do fun things and have a break from all of the cancer stuff at home. They needed to know who they could call or go to when they were feeling sad or angry or scared.

Lesson 2: Talk to your kids about openly sharing with their friends and classmates

My youngest son has always been a talker – he had no problems sharing with his whole class and all of his friends that his mom had breast cancer and had to have surgery. My older son, on the other hand, had a lot of doubt and confusion about what he should share. I wish that we had had a conversation and that I had thought to coach him a little on what to say and how to explain things, as well as letting him know that it was completely fine to share, or not to share, whatever felt comfortable to him.

Lesson 3: Expect your kid’s emotions and behaviors to be all over the place

I wasn’t surprised that my kids felt a lot of sadness. Or that they struggled with having their routines thrown off. What did throw me for a loop was that there was a lot of anger as well as some regression in behaviors.

I don’t think there is any way out of this – in looking back, it makes total sense that my kids would feel anger and act out in ways that they hadn’t done since they were younger. I do think, though, that if I had been prepared with the knowledge to expect this, I might have had more patience and understanding. I also might have set up more resources to help me deal with it in those moments that I just couldn’t.

Lesson 4: Have grace for yourself and your kids

Let’s face it, this is probably one of the hardest times that you or your kids will go through. There isn’t an instruction manual or a magic pill to get everyone through all of the upheaval and emotions. Be kind to yourself and your kids. Be forgiving. Allow yourself to let go of that mom guilt and just do your best in each moment given the circumstances.