Making Exclusive Time with Family Part of Your Routine

Elena Schiena

In the midst of treatment commitments, side effects and managing the impact of a parental cancer diagnosis on the family, how does one make time dedicated to just ‘being’ with those you love? Between appointments, trying to keep everyone’s routines as normal as possible, updating friends and family and running a household, it can be difficult to find the opportunity to re-group as a unit and support each other. I often hear parents express their feelings of loss and guilt around the changes in their parenting roles due to the impact of cancer. They can feel a disconnection from their children, due to a reduction in time spent with them. Or feel uncertain about how their children are adjusting to these changes and therefore concerned that they’re ‘missing’ opportunities for additional support.

We all know how important it is to spend time together as a family, without the interruptions of technology, appointments and mundane routine tasks. But in the daily grind of life- and let’s face it, when the daily grind also involves managing a cancer diagnosis, it’s a whole lot busier and challenging- this opportunity for connection can fall to the bottom of the priority list. There’s only so much time in the day, right? Not to mention energy.  However when families have the opportunity to plan this, parents describe the experience as immensely refreshing and invaluable.  Refreshing, because it doesn’t even have to involve any discussion about cancer at all. Play cards, board games, laugh and find joy in the smallest tasks.  Invaluable, because as many parents have indicated, it’s a time where they can connect with their children in ways that may have gone amiss since the introduction of the cancer.  If you choose to use it as a time to talk with your children about the impact of cancer on them, it can often open up questions and conversations that allow you to support them further.  It also demonstrates to your children that they are an important part of this whole experience and that as a family you can still enjoy time together, despite the challenges you are all facing.  This makes for positive shared experiences and memories and contributes to stronger family connections.

So how can parents make this happen?  Keep it simple, it might be just sitting and watching some TV in the evening, or it might involve a weekly walk or coffee at a local café, even seeing a movie.  Of course the level of activity involved depends on how you are feeling at the time.  You might want to make it a specific time each week, or you might work better at keeping it random, but regular.  However you make it work, try to make it a priority.  If possible, re-prioritise or even offload other household tasks to enable you to have that time with family.  Don’t see it as another task to fit into your day, rather see it as part of looking after your own wellbeing, and watch the positive flow on effect to other members of your family.

By Elena Schiena, Parent Support Worker, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre

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