Parenting Young Children After Stroke
Photo courtesy of Paul A. Olsen
Amy Edmunds, Founder & CEO, YoungStroke Inc.
Parenting gets complicated when the parent also has to manage the dynamics of stroke recovery. Juggling the calendar of family activities with personal medical appointments is just the beginning challenge in this lifestyle. Peer support may be a pathway to personal success.
For Jamie Hancock, the mother of 3-year-old Blythe and 20-month-old Andrew, there was no greater incentive for stroke recovery than to return to the daily routine of caring for their needs. “I was unable to care for the children alone when I got out of the hospital,” said the young mother. “My children still had to go to full-time daycare while my husband, Ken, was at work. I couldn’t cook, walk, type or pay bills, grocery shop or do the laundry.”
Six years ago, Jamie of Sacramento, California, experienced two transient ischemic attacks the day prior to experiencing a major stroke. “I vaguely remember trying to lift my arm and could not. I had slurred speech and was unable to walk as I lost complete function on my right side from the neck down,” she said. But Jamie clearly recalls longing to pick up her children as before. Three months passed before she relearned to walk or care for herself.
Responding to their children during the middle of the night without her help was taxing for Ken. “We were fortunate to have the support of our families during the initial weeks,” Ken said. “But soon it was my responsibility to shuttle our kids to daycare, work full time and prepare simple meals.”
Today, Blythe is 9 and Andrew is 7. “It took four years to get back to being myself,” said Jamie, now 37. She is still concerned about the impact of her post-stroke deficits on her children’s development. Since her stroke, Jamie daily manages diminished analytical ability, loss of time perception and short-term focus. Sometimes her speech is slow or repetitive.
“I don’t want the kids to focus on mom being sick,” Ken said. However, he noticed Blythe continually wanted to help. And, she was exceptionally well-behaved. “Alex was too young to understand, he merely needed his mother’s attention.”
“Since the stroke, I can’t seem to filter anything out, so then I can’t focus on the task at hand,” Jamie said. “Then comes the frustration, anger and frequently tears. I am fully aware that any 37-year-old mother with a 7-year-old boy and 9-year-old girl will frequently be tired, exhausted because of the dynamics with school, after-school activities, normal sibling fighting and house chores. However, what is normal for the mom next to me in the same situation without a stroke history?”
One clue that she’s taken on too much is that she breaks down. When that happens, she has learned to pull back. “I usually apologize to my children and husband for my actions or words of anger directed at them,” she said. “In my heart, I know it results from my overstimulation and stroke fatigue.”
With a counselor, Jamie and Ken found help by realigning the family’s daily organization. “Most importantly, the counselor helped me to refocus on what I am good at now,” Jamie said.
Jamie’s daughter, Blythe, attends a school where there is a teacher whose husband had a stroke. As an engaged parent volunteer, Jamie met the teacher and became aware of their families’ stroke experiences.
Initially, Jamie and the father joined a stroke support group, but quit after several sessions because the geriatric focus of topics discussed did not match their needs. Although the group meetings gave them perspective about how to live with stroke in later life, they found much of the feedback depressing. However, the two survivors continued to meet on their own, offering each other strength and support as stroke survivor parents of young children.
As we younger survivors seek support to recapture our family roles, sometime our needs are well served by the thoughtful compassion afforded by a single friend.