Solo Parenting Through a Medical Crisis
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Strategies for getting through a seemingly impossible situation
In November 2010, ANGIE RICKETTS, SOLO MOM AND AUTHOR OF NO MAN’S WAR, suffered a heart attack. Her husband was deployed to Afghanistan, and Ricketts was caring for their three young children alone, as she had done many times before.
This scenario is every Solo Mom’s worst nightmare. What happens when taking care of your kids is 100% your responsibility and suddenly you need someone to take care of you?
For Ricketts, it wasn’t an easy time. Plus, she hates asking for help: “Asking people for help is right up there with pap smears on my list of stuff that makes me queasy.” Exacerbating the situation, her support network comprised military spouses whose husbands were also deployed to Afghanistan. Still, she had no choice. In the hospital and facing surgery, her friends provided transportation for her children, made meals, and kept things running smoothly.
Something that made accepting help a lot easier? “Mostly no one asked me what I wanted or needed—they just did it. Not having to ask made all the difference in the world,” she said.
In addition to practical help, she and her kids needed emotional support. “The kids were worried sick,” Ricketts said. “When you hear ‘heart attack’ as a kid, you think one thing: dead. They didn’t understand. But again, my support system did a magnificent job of keeping the kids occupied, fed, and laughing.”
Perhaps Ricketts’s most powerful takeaway from her scary experience was a lesson in self-care. “I learned that as cliché as this sounds, that life is short and that women (mothers, in particular) do a crummy job taking care of their own health. We put everyone else first.”
There’s no way of predicting if or when you’ll find yourself in a similar crisis. Or perhaps you already are in that situation. Here are a few takeaways to make a nightmarish situation a bit more manageable:
- Cultivate relationships and create a network of social support. It is easy to get overwhelmed with the daily grind and neglect social relationships, but in a time of crisis, friends can provide emotional and practical support.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Most people are happy to help. They just don’t know what you need. Ask, ask, ask! And, more important, accept offers for help. If you are too overwhelmed to pinpoint what would be helpful, say that. Often the default response is, “I don’t need anything,” when, really, you need everything.
- Avail yourself of support within the community. When my family was going through a medical crisis a few years ago, I let my children’s school know. Complete strangers provided help for my children ranging from transportation to meals.
- Keep your kids in the loop. Medical crises are terrifying, especially for children. Let them know what is going on in a way they can understand. Many children appear just fine when on the inside they are consumed with anxiety and fear. Talk to your medical provider about resources for your children or look for mental-health counselors in your area.
- Empower your kids without parentifying them. Your kids shouldn’t feel like your caretakers or parents. That is unhealthy. On the other hand, if you are depleted because of illness, your kids can help you while learning valuable life skills. Chores can be a drag, or they can be empowering. Kids feel a sense of pride and accomplishment when they contribute to the household and, as important, can provide you some relief.
- Take time for yourself. Women, particularly mothers, often view self-care as an act of selfishness. When a medical crisis strikes, it is important to focus on healing and surviving. Napping, having other people watch your kids, and being less active is not selfish: it is necessary. Reframe your outlook on self-care. You are a better mom when you invest time in yourself. This is especially true if you are experiencing a health crisis, but it’s an important lesson for Solo Moms no matter their health status.
A medical crisis is hard on anyone, for Solo Moms even more so. We hope these strategies help and we’d love to hear about a medical challenge you’ve had to face alone. Email MEDICAL@ESME.COM or submit your story to PERSPECTIVES.
Danielle Bostick, a former Solo Mom and ESME’s Well-being/Health & Fitness Guide, is a Latin teacher, an advocate, and a mom to six kids in Winchester, Virginia. When not working as an educator, Bostick writes about the National Football League for various sites and sexual assault and child sexual abuse for the Huffington Post. You can find her on Twitter: @danibostick, and on Facebook: Dani Bostick.
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