Chronic Illness & Family Adjustment

My husband is working hard toward sainthood by being married to me.  This isn’t a traditional “I love my husband” post.  Instead, this is an acknowledgement post – an acknowledgment that living with a chronic illness within a family member has a significant impact on family functioning.


Depending on how my autoimmune disorder is acting depends on how much I am able to effectively contribute to a successful running of my household.  And, there are times in my marriage where my husband has had to pick up some major slack.  In some marriages, that could lead to resentment; thankfully, in mine, my husband simply does what he needs to get things accomplished – hence, why he’s working toward sainthood.

Throughout my years working in the paid employment sector, I often worked with families struggling with a family member with a chronic illness.  Whether it was a parent who suffered from chronic illness (the most often one I worked with was depression), or a child in the family (more often than not, the illness was an autism spectrum disorder), the impact on the family was palpable.

Much of my help with the families circulated on ensuring the family members got an opportunity to express their frustration, their exhaustion, their unhappiness, their disappointment – in dreams dashed or ones that may not come to fruition, and ultimately, express their love – for themselves and for each other.

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In my family, a lot of our ability to struggle through the lows of my chronic illness are addressed through reviewing The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman.  The traditional The 5 Love Languages addresses the love languages between adults.  The The 5 Love Languages: Military Edition addresses how to meet each others’ languages as military families and couples often separated due to deployments, TDYs, etc.  The 5 Love Languages for Children addresses meeting the needs, as parents, of the love languages for your children; there is also a book written, entitled A Perfect Pet for Peyton: A 5 Love Languages Discovery Book, designed to assist a parent in identifying their child’s love language – the theory behind the “5 Love Languages” is that the love languages don’t really firm up until a child is around 6 years of age – before then, children respond to all the love languages.


So, what are some ways a parent can reduce or prevent resentment from building between siblings, when one sibling is unable to properly do chores?

Simply, the biggest advice I have is to not always put the burden of one child’s chores onto the other child.

That said, our world is not perfect.  Therefore, there are some other tips and tricks I can think of, which include the use of bribes incentives.

With a sibling, I highly recommend adding an incentive to picking up the slack.  These incentives don’t have to be pricey.  This following list is not exhaustive.  And, the incentives can be something simple, such as:

  • A parent/child “date” to watch a special movie together – a movie of the child’s choice, which can be at a theater, or one they choose for a “parent/child movie night” at the house.  Pop some popcorn, everyone else goes to bed early, or settle everyone else into doing some other craft, and get to watching the movie.  The purpose of this is to have some uninterrupted time with the child;
  • Having the child that works extra hard accompany the parent on a shopping trip – to the grocery store works.  Buy a candy bar or Coca-Cola, 0r some small treat as a thank you for all their hard work;
  • Read a special book, picked out specifically by the child who has worked extra hard, to read to the family;
  • If you have a set allowance for the children, add an extra little bit for the chores they have to do for their sibling.  Do not penalize the child with a chronic illness, but let the child without the illness reap a little extra benefit;
  • Have the child doing some extra chores around the house choose the dinner for one night – a special dinner, to be enjoyed by everyone.  Bonus points if your child enjoys helping you cook the meal!
  • Educate all of your children and family members (and friends) on the chronic illness, and reinforce the illness does not make the person “different,” but gives them different abilities, which makes some things more difficult for them, but could make other things easier, too.
  • Point to role models who have championed for rights of those with disabilities – these could be canonized saints, political activists, leaders in the field of care taking, or simply famous personalities like professional athletes.  Discuss how difficult they must have felt their work was, or is, in regard to quality of life issues.
  • Praise your child – you may feel you might be praising and thanking a little too much, but trust me – you are filling up your little one’s emotional piggy bank every single time you get down on their level, look them in the eye, and simply say, “Thank you so much for all the big help you did when you [insert specific action]!  I love you, and love how hard you work for your sibling and for me.”
  • Pray for your children – for your child with the chronic illness of course, but also for the sibling who is struggling with strength during a trying time.  Pray that the child doing more chores has an open mind, open heart, and willingness to openly accept that their burdens will be heavier at times, because of their sibling who may be struggling with health issues.
  • Acknowledge the struggle.  The struggle is real – no matter if the person with a chronic illness is an adult, a teenager, or a small child.  There is a major adjustment, and those not struggling with the health issues struggle with the emotional impact.  Let them know you hear their struggles, you feel their struggles, and it is okay to be angry, mad, sad, or frustrated.  But, as family, we also have to love through our anger, through our sadness, and through our frustration.

Some illnesses are ones that can be seen by the outside world; other illnesses are not visible.  Yet, they all make a serious impact on the functioning of the ecosystem of a family.  When families are equipped to handle those struggles, it allows everyone to feel the “normal emotions” we face – frustration, anger, sadness, and at times, hopelessness.  It also allows families to properly express those emotions, and increases their ability to express the emotions that are happiness, enjoyment, and ultimately, love.


**Have a topic you would like to see me address in my new segment “Readers Asked, I Answered”?  Send me a message at beautifulcamouflagedmess (at) gmail (dot) com.  I’d love to hear from you!**


2 thoughts on “Chronic Illness & Family Adjustment

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this!

    I’ve had a chance to try a few things. Offering “extra compensation” to our daughter for non-normal duties seems to help. I appreciate the encouragement to have special time with our kids who are not sick. So often they do get a little backburner’d. 🙂

    1. You’re welcome!! Thank you for asking some insight. Kids, parents (and in my case, spouses) also get burnt out – family members, in general do! I’m glad the “extra compensation” seems to work – the sky can be the limit with that one!! 😊 Continued prayers for you all…!

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