While there are no prerequisites for the job, parenthood is a lifelong responsibility. It is also one of the most fulfilling and important roles a person can have in life. Brain injury, unfortunately, impacts individuals without regard to their roles and responsibilities.
Persons with brain injury are challenged in their ability to care for themselves, much less others, making parenting more difficult. Yet, in order to achieve long-term success post-injury, family reintegration, including parenting, is imperative. And the best way to achieve this is through skill redevelopment during postacute rehabilitation.
The Basics Still Apply, Before and After Brain Injury
Parenting requires the ability to not only care for oneself, but to do so often in deference to caring for children. Parents are frequently required to subjugate their needs and wishes to the importance of providing for the well-being, nurturing, education, safety, development, and future of their children.
This requires a mindful approach, planning with a spouse or partner, or managing alone with family and friends to provide for housing, food, clothing, and education all the while seeking to instill family and societal values. Most parents want their children to be safe and to have a future that is the same as or better than their own.
Raising children presents a range of personal challenges to most parents. It may require developing a willingness for selflessness while acquiring skills as a teacher, mentor, role model, and disciplinarian, at least. Many couples acknowledge that arriving at a parenting style can be arduous and the source of conflict in their relationship as they negotiate stylistic differences and determine and articulate behavioral, educational, value, and moral expectations for their children.
Relearning Parenting Skills is Vital to Family Integration
After brain injury, however, individuals tend to become more focused on themselves, and fail to provide the same kind of parenting approach/skills as they exerted prior to injury. They are likely to be much less involved in child rearing, in general, failing to participate in determining, communicating, and facilitating goals for their children. These responsibilities either are not met well, or fall entirely to a non-injured spouse, partner, or family member.
Active discussions must be undertaken with an individual and/or couple to raise awareness of the importance of assessment and intervention for parenting skills, and to actively intervene to redevelop such skills and focus within the family. Family members must be relied upon to build an understanding of parenting skills and styles prior to injury as well as parenting-related family dynamics so as to serve as goals for treatment.
These efforts must focus not only on reacquisition of parenting styles and skills, but also on parental engagement with children in accordance with the manner in which they engaged prior to injury. Finally, teaching must include knowledge of common reactions children may have to the temporary or permanent loss of a parent to injury. Counseling can be extremely effective in raising awareness of these issues and changing behaviors within a family system. Counseling can incorporate other family members such as spouses/partners, children themselves, or key extended family members with meaningful insights such as close aunts/uncles or grandparents. Re-engagement within a family system to the various roles one played prior to injury is critical to the long-term success of family reintegration.