I closed the door on my wailing toddler and left her standing in her crib, reaching out for me. Her cries intensified, like the siren of an ambulance getting closer and louder until its howl drowns out everything else. I walked away and broke down crying. My daughter was sick, and I desperately wanted to soothe her. But I just couldn’t stand and rock her for one more minute to help her get to sleep. My broken body had reached its limit.
I’ve had back pain for much of my life caused by scoliosis, a curvature of the spine. And that afternoon, I felt my back would break if I cradled my daughter’s squirming 25-pound body any longer. I had to give up. My miserable best was to leave the room.
Because of my pain, I was causing my daughter additional suffering—and if recent research is right, this may be only be a harbinger of what’s to come. Experts from Kent State University in Ohio recently did a review of scientific literature examining how children are affected when their parents are in chronic pain. The results, published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, are, well, painful to read. It turns out that children whose parents experience chronic pain are at increased risk for adjustment problems and behavioral issues, and are more likely to complain of pain themselves. The whole family suffers.