The fear of not being able to help my children in their hour of need haunts me

As a parent, we are programmed to help. 

The minute we hold that baby for the very first time, our desire to do everything we can for this tiny human kicks in.  Whatever is wrong, we want to fix it.

Last week, my youngest daughter who has just turned one, developed horrific croup.  What started as a bit of a cough on Tuesday morning ended up with her being admitted to hospital struggling to catch her breath Tuesday night.  And it’s one of the few times in my parenthood journey that I have felt truly helpless. 

Chess is not old enough to have any appreciation or understanding of what was going on. Of course, she did not understand that the doctors and everyone prodding her were actually there to help – she just wanted to be left alone.  

She couldn’t possibly know at this age that the medicine which was hurting her throat to swallow and tasted so horrible, was exactly what she needed to get better.  And worst of all, she could not understand why I, of all people, was helping to hold her down and constrain her so the medical staff could administer the nasty medicine which she hated so much. 

She is a baby still and when babies hurt, Mummy or Daddy picks them up and make it all better.

Of course, I shushed and cuddled and reassured.  I stayed awake for all but about three hours over three days so that I could hold her whilst she slept instead of making her sleep in an unfamiliar cot in an unfamiliar place when all she wanted to do was cuddle. 

I didn’t leave her alone at all in fear she would wake and be even more afraid, taking her with me to go to the bathroom or to grab a drink even though, as us Mums know, these things are far easier and more efficient if undertaken with two hands and not one! 

And I rowed that darn imaginary boat from here to Australia as ‘Row, row, row the boat’ is her absolute favourite thing to do!  But at the end of the day, it didn’t take away from the feelings of helplessness when my baby needed me most. 

We are now home again and Chess is well on the mend.  I still seem to be her favourite person and have clearly been forgiven for my part in ‘medicine-gate’!  But for me, the feelings of helplessness are not as easily forgotten. 

The fear of not being able to help my children in their hour of need haunts me. 

What happens if I am presented with an emotional challenge in their lives that I do not know how to deal with?  Let alone medical emergencies.  Is it enough for me to know that I will always try my best?  Will my thirst for knowledge which finds me reading the most random of websites dealing with everything from medical diagnosis to signs of depression or drug use be enough?  Will I have read the right article about the right thing…and remembered it at the right time?

Ultimately, I, of course, will never know.  I pray that I will never need any of this knowledge in any event. But we simply cannot be prepared for every eventuality and unless we are qualified in everything that there ever was, there is no possible way we will always have the skills or knowledge we need.  It’s a scary thing to admit that as a parent, you may not be able to help your children whenever or for whatever they might need you for the most.

For now, more cuddles, more kisses, and more rowing of that boat of ours!  And that’s all I have.  And honestly, it is enough.  Whilst I hate that I couldn’t take Chess’ hurt away, I have to remind myself that we did play our part. 

We realised she needed professional help, and we got her exactly where she needed to be at exactly the right time.   And then we scurried around to make arrangements to ensure that I could stay in hospital and look after her and that our other children were also properly cared for and wherever they needed to be too.   We did our bit, we did everything we could do, and we did to the best of our abilities.  And I guess, at the end of the day, that’s all as parents we can do. 

We won’t always be able to fix things, we won’t always have the right words to say at the right time or the exact thing our child might need.  But to do our best is all we can do.  And the feelings of helplessness…they will fade as Chess continues to get better and I realise that doing my bit was actually not that helpless, but in fact, critical to getting her well and providing the love and support she needed.


Sally Hall is mum to four delicious little people, a wife, businesswoman and author. Her debut children's book is Down in the Den.

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