Taking Care of Yourself When Your Child Is in the Hospital 1

When your child is sick in the hospital, it can feel like you’ve entered an alternate universe that combines the intense care and worry over your child with the physical hospital world. If you are sleeping in the hospital with your child your world becomes the hospital floor and room, with days passing before you Hospital Bedsee the outside world. Time moves at a different pace in the surreal framework of the parade of doctors, nurses, therapists, and staff amidst keeping a child’s needs met.

Whether a one-time surgery or longer term situation such as a chronic disease, the stress can be overwhelming. It is physically and emotionally exhausting taking care of a sick child, so be kind to yourself. From my experience with my son’s illness, I know it is easy to say, but to make it through the caregiver marathon, you do need to try to keep up your strength and pool your energy.

Here are suggestions for keeping your spirits up and taking care of yourself as the parent. My articles on pragmatic strategies to help your child through a hospital stay and tips for when your child is having surgery might be helpful as well.


Getting Support

  • Turn to the family and friends you are closest to who are truly supportive. Be honest with yourself about who will be really helpful and make you feel better vs. inadvertently make things harder.

  • Welcome offers to help with food, keeping an eye on your home, running errands, taking care of your other child(ren), etc.For food, politely mention food allergies or being vegan or vegetarian or keeping kosher so that people don’t unknowingly prepare food that your family cannot eat. If someone asks how can they help, mention some specific ideas that aren’t too huge, like would you mind bringing me a salad or picking up a couple of things from the grocery store.


Taking Care of Yourself

  • Try to find a time each day to leave the hospital floor when someone else will be with your child even if it is just to take a walk on the hospital main level. Exercise can be very cathartic and clear your mind.

  • Sleep is at a premium in the hospital what with those endless middle of the night vital checks and background sounds and beeps along the hallway. So sleep whenever you can, taking turns if you have a partner to switch off with.


Coping Strategies

  • This is the perfect time for a mindless novel, streaming a favorite show, or playing a fun game to distract yourself in the short pockets of time you might get in between entertaining your child and talking to doctors and nurses.

  • Try to find humor wherever you can. Your sense of humor and positivity can relieve stress, keep your perspective, and help your child cope. When my son kept getting re-admitted to the hospital multiple times, I would make a game of coming up with the silliest jokes and wisecracks on the first day to help us both keep our spirits up. Just laughing is very therapeutic. This might be the perfect time to stream a goofy sitcom or an old Abbott and Costello or Three Stooges movie.

  • On the flip side, if you are processing difficult news, see if you can take a walk down the hall to find a quiet place to think and to cry without your child seeing you upset. I asked my child’s nurse to keep an eye out for my son or do it when my husband was there so he would not be alone. I wrote down the top things worrying me and questions for the doctor. It helped to get the sadness out, take a deep breath, and then go back to his hospital room with a clearer perspective.

  • If you are dealing with a specific illness or chronic disease, connecting with other parents who have coped with the same thing when their child was a similar age can be very helpful and reassuring. Once I shared what we were going through with our son I was grateful to some of our friends who connected us with people who had walked the same path. Whether as simple as emailing, facebook messaging, chatting on the phone, or meeting for coffee, hearing from parents who had got through a similar journey was invaluable. Nonprofits dedicated to the specific condition can also be fantastic sources of information and networking.

  • Whether deep breathing, spirituality, praying, or meditation give you comfort, use them to keep your spirits up and get some rejuvenation and keep your sense of peace and hope, If you belong to a church or synagogue, let them know your child is in the hospital so the clergy may visit you and give you support. This has been so important to our family. The hospital might have therapists and/or social workers who specialize in helping families cope with a hospital stay.


What strategies have you found most helpful to take care of yourself through a hospital stay?


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