Children’s Roles In the Home with Chronically Ill Parents


We all have found out that our chronic illnesses not only affect us, but our spouses and children as well. When just one person in the household is sick, the entire family suffers. In our house, both my husband and I are chronically ill so our son has been hit with a double whammy. I have discussed before on here the fact that I often feel guilty because I can’t physically do for him all of the things I would like and neither can my husband. But this is all our son has ever known so he doesn’t really know what he’s missing. It’s not as though we were healthy and then suddenly became ill. We both have been like this since before he was born. It still doesn’t help me feel less guilty, however.

In our household, we do give our son chores:  he has to make his bed everyday, keep his room picked up and he puts away his own laundry.  When I am having really bad days he will help me put things away and throw things out so that I don’t have to get up from lying down.  If he does his chores without me having to harp on him too much, then he gets a small allowance each week.  As he gets older, he will get additional chores and he will be expected to help with the lawn and helping his father take care of the outside duties.  

But I don’t believe that children of sick parents should carry the majority of the load around the house.  I think children should be allowed to be children and I could never put such a huge load on my son because I can’t do a lot of things.  It’s not his fault, he didn’t sign up for any of this and, in my opinion, it would be like punishing him for my illness.  That’s just my opinion, so please don’t anyone get offended (and no nasty emails, please!).  Everyone has to do what is best for their own family and for some families maybe this works but for ours it doesn’t.  My husband and I both agree that what we are not able to do on our own we will hire someone to do.  If our son is still living here while he’s going to college or for a while as an adult then he will be responsible for a lot, and he will have to help with the bills.  But right now he is a child and I feel he suffers enough by not having siblings his own age to play with and by not having healthy parents to play with him.

Our son is the type who likes to help, he wants to help and I do teach him things and let him help.  I am very proud of the fact that he is mature and thinks about his mom and dad and not only himself.  It makes me feel good to know that we are doing something right with him and that he is learning now what will one day make him a great man.  But if he were to say to me, “Mom, I want to do all of the laundry, do all of the dusting and vacuuming so you don’t have to and so you can rest”, I would not let him do it – not at this age.  I would let him help me and I would be working along side of him, but I could not lie on the couch or in bed knowing my 7-year-old is picking up the slack.  I wouldn’t allow it and my husband wouldn’t either. 

Their childhood goes by too quickly as it is.  I don’t want his memories to be that his whole childhood was spent taking care of sick parents.  What are your thoughts?  Do any of you share my feelings?

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  1. Sandy, You have an excellent sense of balance with the expectations of your son. I guess if there is a silver lining to both of you having a chronic illness, it is that you are fostering self-esteem and confidence in your son’s ability to be a helping member of the family, without burdening him with unreasonable tasks. Sometimes I think the attribute of “guilt” just goes with the territory of being a Mom. Perhaps not everyone, but I know even in my more healthy years when my sons were much younger than they are now, I was always evaluating how good of a Mom I was or was not being to them both. I had exceedingly high expectations of myself. All in all, my motives and actions were of a Mom who wanted to raise well-rounded, self-motivated, confident young men, and after alot of work (it is the hardest job out there with an endless job description), at this point they are doing well. That does not mean obstacles and difficulties won’t cross their paths; in fact, because of some of the challenging situations they have faced, they see what they are truly capable of doing and thinking for themselves. We provide the foundation for them to be the people they are meant to become. You’re doing a great job.

  2. Thanks, Nancy. I appreciate that. There isn’t any area of my life where my perfectionistic tendencies don’t creep in, I guess. I have seen people whose children have had to grow up so early and in all of those situations it wasn’t necessary for it to be that way.

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