When a family member becomes injured or ill, other members of the family often take on extra roles. For example, if a father who always did the yard work, is now in the house with a broken leg, the oldest child may do the yard work. These changes are usually temporary, since Dad likes yard work and wants to do it again.
Changes in family roles like the one above occur after spinal cord injury, but they usually are not temporary. Role changes are hard when they involve a spouse or partner. This can create a change in the relationship with one person feeling cheated of the attention, support and help of the other. When one member of a couple gets injured, the other one becomes responsible for the physical and emotional support of the couple.
Some say that taking care of their injured partner shifts their roles into more of a parent-child relationship rather than one between two adults.
It is important to help children learn that the rest of the family will need to pitch in to fill in the gap left by the injured person. If able, give them a list of the tasks that need to be done and let them choose the tasks they like to do (or hate the least!). Sometimes, when things need to be done quickly, give a specific task to everyone.
Praise them for a job well done. Remember they are children and need time to play, be with friends, and not feel like they must act like adults.
While role changes are often hard, many good things may happen as a result. Families may learn to work together and support each other better. Children may begin to have confidence from learning new tasks. Families may find that life can still be fun, even though it is different. It takes patience, understanding and teamwork to get to that point!
Lastly, some families put their lives on hold, waiting for things to return to the way they used to be. Even in the best of times, life will never be the way it was before. Not only the person, but the whole family has gone through a major event that changes everyone somehow. Getting back into daily routines often helps families keep good support that brings pleasure back into life.