For mothers, the diagnosis of an adult child’s serious illness is confusing and heartbreaking. We expect to become ill way before our children do, and we deal with feelings of guilt if things don't happen according to that time frame. It doesn’t seem right.
That’s just how Sharon Osbourne reacted when her 26-year-old son Jack was recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a serious autoimmune disease that has the potential to damage the brain and spinal cord and cause vision loss. Sharon said that she asked herself what she did wrong and what she might have done during her pregnancy to have caused the illness. The normally ebullient TV personality sobbed as she talked about her son’s condition. “I feel that it’s somehow my fault.”
That understandable reaction probably crosses the minds and broken hearts of mothers everywhere who find themselves staring in the face of an adult child's serious illness. They may also ask "why him?" and wonder what the child did to deserve this.
And yes, most mothers will tell you that they would prefer that the illness had struck them rather than their child. That is simply the way mothers think and feel when it comes to their children.
Once they have accepted the diagnosis as much as a mother can be expected to, they tend to move into "mommy mode." But it should be a "mommy mode” that’s appropriate for dealing with an adult child who’s got a life of his own rather than a young child who continues to live under the same roof.
Sharon Osbourne said she was trying not to "coddle" her son. My best guess is that she is trying to be nurturing and supportive without overdoing it and infantilizing her son. And she helped her son in practical ways: She reportedly spent nights in the hospital with Jack so that his partner could go home and spend time with their new baby, Pearl, now 2 months old.
My suggestion is that mothers talk with their adult children and ask them how they would like to be supported. This is certainly not a time to overwhelm your child with your own fears. Those should be discussed with your partners and your friends.
To the best of their ability, mothers should not only be supportive emotionally but should also show faith and hope in their children and your children's support system, which may include the medical team, family, friends, and anyone else who is there for your child. The serious illness of a child is devastating, but as mothers we have to do the best we can while dealing with our own feelings effectively.
Barbara Greenberg and Jennifer Powell-Lunder are authors of the hit book, "Teenage as a Second Language: A Parent's Guide to Becoming Bilingual." They've set up an interactive website for parents and teens to listen, learn and discuss hot topics and daily dilemmas. You can find it at www.talkingteenage.com.