Q: We recently learned that my elderly mother has only a few months to live. Our whole family is shaken, but I'm especially concerned about how to help my young children process that their beloved Grandma is dying. Do you have any advice?
Jim: It's tough on everybody when a loved one is suffering from a terminal illness. But the emotional needs of young children often get overlooked entirely. It's easy to think that they're not as impacted by sickness and death since they don't fully understand it. Yet even little ones can experience fear and confusion in these situations.
To support your children when someone they know and love is dying, keep a few things in mind:
First, get your kids ready for what's coming. You'll want to use age-appropriate language, of course. But introduce them to the concept of death before your loved one actually passes away (examples from nature will likely resonate with little ones). That'll give your children an opportunity to make sense of what's happening.
Second, keep it simple, but tell your children the truth about dying. Some parents try to soften the reality of death too much. They say, "Grandma went on vacation" or "Uncle Fred became an angel." In the long run, an overly soft approach doesn't help children grapple with the real pain of death. This is also a great time to highlight your faith and the spiritual aspects of these matters.
Finally, prepare your children for the emotions they're likely to see all around them. They may wonder why everyone is crying and upset. Help them understand that death makes people sad -- and it's OK if they feel sad, too. Encourage your children to ask questions and to talk about what they're feeling.
Focus on the Family's counselors would be happy to help your family walk this path; call 1-855-771-HELP (4357) weekdays.
Q: I meet with some other guys for breakfast every week. We've all gotten married in the last three years. Do you have a good suggestion to help us all strengthen our marriages?
Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: Here's a visual for you. You know those grooves cut along the shoulder of the road that make a loud noise when you drive over them? Those are rumble strips; they're designed to warn you when you drift too far outside of your lane.
Rumble strips can save your life. They can save your marriage, too.
Good boundaries help you govern important areas of your relationship -- things like money, conflict and friendships with people of the opposite sex. With money, for example, sit down with your wife and discuss how well you communicate about things like budgets and credit cards. Put some rumble strips in place that safeguard how, where and when you both spend your money.
Good boundaries will also help you engage in healthy conflict. Fight fair. Don't call each other names or demean one another. Speak to each other with love and respect and listen carefully to what your spouse has to say.
It's also wise to have clear boundaries regarding the opposite sex. Put up safeguards that protect how you interact with relationships at work, church and community gatherings.
Don't forget other parts of your relationship that would benefit from good boundaries, like who you talk to on social media or the amount of quality time you spend together.
The first priority is always to protect your marriage. So, set up some rumble strips that will keep your marriage in its proper lane before it can drift too far.
And here's a bonus "pro tip": Involve those breakfast buddies in the process. Let them hold you accountable about your rumble strips.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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