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What to Do if You Become Seriously, or Even Terminally, Ill as a Single Parent

Coping With a Serious or Terminal Illness as a Single Mom or Dad

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There's probably nothing more terrifying for a single parent than the thought that your children could possibly have to grow up without you. If you find yourself in the position of being diagnosed with a serious or even terminal illness, you're likely to have many questions about what to say to your children and when. Here are some practical tips for dealing with a terminal illness as a single mom or dad:

Decide When and How Much to Tell Your Kids

If possible, wait to tell your children about your illness until you have a definitive diagnosis. There's no need to upset them unnecessarily. At the same time, it is important that you have someone you can talk with and share your innermost thoughts, concerns, and questions. Don't try to carry this load alone. Make a point of getting together with a friend or family member, and if you need to, tell him or her explicitly that you need someone to listen and let you vent for awhile.

Consider Your Kids' Age and Emotional Development

Keep in mind that your children don't need to know all of the details that you know, at this point. When you're ready to tell them about your illness, share the facts and focus on answering their questions as best as you can. Especially if you've been diagnosed with a terminal illness, it may be helpful to have a close friend or relative there with you when you share the news. In addition, your children may or may not have questions at this point about the long-term outcome of your disease. For now, try to respond to their questions directly with clear, factual information, rather than dwelling on the unknown.

Consider Your Kids' Recent Experiences with Loss

If your children are still recovering from the recent loss of a grandparent, or if your divorce is still fairly new, you'll want to be extra aware of the impact this news will have on your children. Naturally, in the case where a child has recently lost someone, he/she may be even more fearful about the implications of your diagnosis. Again, be honest and compassionate, but also share your optimism and hope.

Surround Yourself -- and Your Kids -- with Support

Don't be afraid to ask for help from those around you, including family members, friends, and neighbors. Your willingness to accept assistance -- whether it's a meal, free babysitting, or someone offering to run errands for you -- will demonstrate to your children that you're not going through this alone. And, most importantly, it will enable you to reserve your strength for the things that matter most to you.

Have a Positive Attitude

Your children will take their cues for how to handle this information from you. If you maintain a positive outlook on the future, they will too. One way to do this is to start a Family Gratitude Journal, where you write down 1-5 things each day that you are thankful for. It's an discipline that can be incredibly encouraging for each of you. And when it all seems too much to bear, surround yourself with loved ones who will be positive and upbeat even when you can't.

Plan Ahead for the Future

When you feel up to it, make plans to get together with your lawyer and financial adviser to discuss how you can best prepare for your children's future physical and financial care. Some of the things that you will need to consider are drafting or updating your will, choosing a potential guardian, and securing any assets you'd like to entrust to your children in the future. As difficult as it is to even consider these details right now, they are a necessary part of your responsibility to your children. Tending to these details won't speed your illness in any way, but the stress of not tending to them could further wear you down. And while you're at it, don't stop there. Make some fun plans with your kids -- things you enjoyed before your diagnosis. Allow yourself to believe that come through this difficult time stronger than ever, and you will.

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