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Chronically ill child can doom marriage.

While popular image of couples pulling together during a crisis still lingers, the reality is quite different. The strong emotions of frustration, guilt, exhaustion, and anger that haunt parents who must care for their marriage, even when the youngster's life is saved, points out James Wenzl, professor of pediatrics, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

Couples who maintain a united front while their offspring is critically ill often find their marriage falls apart when he or she stabilizes or is on the road to recovery. When the youngster does not recover, the divorce rate soars even higher.

Although many of these marriages already have "cracks," the stress of caring for a chronically ill child tends to bring marital troubles to the forefront much more quickly. Blame often becomes an issue. For instance, parents of youngsters with genetically based diseases such as hemophilia have a higher than 70% divorce rate.

"The time constraints alone of caring for a chronically ill child are very challenging to any marriage," notes social worker Cindy Sturm. "For example, if a child is on kidney dialysis at home, there is a need for highly trained, 24-hour care, which usually means one parent ends up quitting his or her job. Simple fatigue becomes a big problem. Imagine the exhausting routine a couple goes through when their first child is an infant. The situation with a chronically ill child is basically the same thing, but there is no end in sight."

The normal "escape" outlets--such as a simple evening alone--also are limited, as most mothers and fathers are unable or reluctant to leave their ill child in the care of friends or relatives. Whenever possible, she stresses, parents should make an effort to set up an extended support system. If friends and family members are willing to stay with the child--even to the point of learning to use medical equipment--parents should encourage them to do so.

Support groups are another helpful option. Often, they can be the starting point for a couple to begin to communicate their feelings about themselves and their offspring.

Positive approaches should come from the health care providers' side as well , Wenzl indicates. "In our hospital, we try not to drag out the process if a child is facing a kidney transplant or an operation. Our goal is to shorten the periods of indecision and stress. We try to get the child back in school, the parents back at work, and everyone back into a normal routine as early as possible, whenever possible."
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:Dec 1, 1993
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