Relationships with children

My wife was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and is currently undergoing treatment. She has so far had a mastectomy and then a further operation to remove the lymph glands and we are now waiting for the first appointment to start the chemotherapy.

We have had wonderful support from our friends and family and as a loving husband I am doing my utmost to support her. She is fantastic!

However, we have three young children aged 10, 8 and 5 and I am worried that her relationship with them is becoming strained. This is of course understandable with what she is having to cope with as they are of course demanding and give her no time for herself. I do what I can when I am around, but I do have to go to work 5 days a week.

Recently I have noticed that she is becoming very impatient with our oldest and snaps at him at the slightest thing. She has also become very intolerant with the children just being children.

I want to talk to her about this, as I am worried that she will turn them off her. I have tried broaching the subject with her, but she told me not to pursue the subject unless I wanted an argument - I don’t.

I am therefore between a rock and a hard place. Should I confront her on how she deals with the children at the risk of damaging my role as her main supporter and the obvious upset that this may cause, or should I let things carry on, patching up where ever I can and hope that things improve?

I would appreciate any advice, particularly from mothers with children of a similar age who may have a view on how they might have liked to have been dealt with in this situation.

Hello Angus,

My three boys were 11, 8 and 6 when I was diagnosed 18 months ago and although I only had a mastectomy and recon, I too was very snappy with my children. I think it’s because you’re almost in shock about what’s happened to you and it happens so quickly too. However, I was a bit different and was a single mum at the time, but I had some wonderful friends who would have my children over after school and for sleepovers quite a lot which really helped - and the boys loved it too.

The thing is with children, that they love you whatever and are very forgiving. I also gave my oldest the hardest time and we are VERY close now. I have a great and normal relationship now and they were very understanding that I wasn’t very happy then.

We’re now living with my new partner and his three children and, pretty much, all is well. Personally, I wouldn’t say too much to her - try to explain to your children why their mummy is being like this and that it will get better. Maybe she has some friends who could help out after school etc? Also the start of the school term might help her have some space during the day.

Best wishes,

Sally x

Firstly I am sorry to hear of your wife’s diagnosis. Given that you say she has had her surgery but is awaiting the start of chemo I take it that the diagnosis is very recent.

Your wife and yourself will still be trying to come to terms with what has happened and will both be very upset about it, as will your children, I am assuming of course that you have told your children what is happening. At the ages your children are obviously they will have varying degrees of understanding and even the eldest will not fully comprehend the seriousness of the situation.

It it understandable that your wife will not be as tolerant with the children, or indeed anyone at the moment. She will be worried, scared, physically and mentally tired, so dealing with 3 young children, which is challenging at the best of times, will be very stressful for her at the moment. Her refusal to discuss it at this point may well be because she knows she is less tolerant and sees this as one more thing to have to deal with.

Give her time, assure the children that their Mammy still loves them but she is sad and poorly at the moment and that is why she is snapping at them sometimes.

My child was 18 when I was dx and I know he suffered a few times with me snapping his head off for no good reason in the early days, lord knows what I would have been like coping with 3 little ones.

Good luck to you all.

Hi Angus
I think you are being brilliantly supportive to her by coming on this website yourself and asking for help on her behalf. My kids are 9, 7 & 5 so not that much different to yours. I was diagnosed in Jan. It is really hard on the kids without a doubt and I have definitely felt guilty over being impatient with the kids. It’s really really hard when you feel crappy from the chemo and they are too young to understand. Also I have found it hard to be patient and offer the kids emotional support on days when I have been struggling to get my head around it myself. I would say my OH has been the most amazing rock I have, telling me I look lovely even when I feel crap with no hair/eyelashes, wonky boobs and covered in surgical scars. My advice to you would be to offer her your support as much as you can. Even though you are working 5 days a week you can still help with the dishes/ washing etc in the evenings and most importantly tell her she is doing a great job with the kids and ask her what you can do to help?. Can you pull in help from family and friends as much as you can so she can get a bit of a break during chemo? especially help with the school runs, making their packed lunches etc. I have found most people genuinely want to help and I have learnt to pull in those offers of help. If you can support her as much as you can you may find that she is less exhausted/stressed with it all and more patient with the kids. On days when I am feeling strong and upbeat I make a special effort to spend time talking things through with my kids, especially the oldest one who has found the whole thing really traumatic, the main thing I have found helpul is to try and keep communication channels open so they feel they can come to me and ask questions in their own time. Also my kids school and their teachers have been a brilliant help, and of course this website is a great channel to vent feelings and get useful info,there are alot of mums on here dealing with this with young kids.
Sorry I have waffled an essay for an age.
Good luck with everything

Sometimes shouting at people can be quite therapeutic, family life isn’t usually all sweetness and light is it? Despite what the rosy picture we have of the happy family

I loved shouting, cursing and hurling things round when I was diagnosed.


My 2 were 8 and 6 when I was diagnosed Dec 05, and I pretty much kept very calm with them thru surgery and chemo, it was my husband i took out my frutrations on, was so damned jealous at the thought of him seeing the kids grow up and I wouldn’t.

However lately have been more short with oldest now an 11 girl going on 15 but she certainly does give more reason, I think its us sharing the same personality more than anything and I do know deep down she was more affected than my son so I tried to include her as much as possible and I do organise us days out together.

Diagnoses is very frightening and I think more so when you have younger children, the fear of not being around to watch them grow up is unbearable at times and we all act differently. I would have a chat with the kids first, are they trying to help more round the house or giving your wife some space, the older 2 should be capable of looking after the younger one or basic house work, mast and FNC do quite limit simple movements, its also the end of school hols I think most parents are pretty much at the end of their tethers around now and when you are ill kids do still push you to the limits and peeve you off, family life will always go on.

Debbie x

My kids where 11,8,5 when i was diagnosed Oct 2006, id just moved into a new house, after divorce and his business being insolvent,ie high court divorce that took 3 years…thay loved the old house, eldest just started secondary school, their dad a manic depressive…my b/f at the time didnt care!..MY mother in law died of BC in 2002, same year as my dad died suddenly…and my mum had a momomogram last year…had mastectomy on day due to have op…this year zoom went bust day before travel…are we doomed?

but since found a lovely man…MYLES I LOVE YOU xxxxxxxxxxxxxooooooooooooooooooooooxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx


Thank you to all of those who replied to my call for help!

Your comments have really helped! What a wonderful way to communicate.

To answer a few questions - yes we do have friends to call who can help. We have been very up front with the children and tried to explain what is happening (without scaring them) and the younger ones do need reminding! I do keep telling them that they need to be patient with her and that she still loves them (sat round the dinner table is best I have found). They have been very good and are all doing their bit to help with the housework - even found the 5 year old washing up without being prompted the other day. I do as much as I can to help as well and my work have been very understanding in letting me have time off for appointments, attending hospital etc.

I have now resolved to shut up and carry on doing whatever I can to help. Also when reading your experiences a lot has rung true with our situation and I now realise that whatever I was doing before isn’t enough and I must endeavour to do more.

Chemotherapy starts tomorrow…

Thank you again. Hope your lives continue from strength to strength!

Folks I know exactly what you are going through, to help us we got our children involved with the Ulster Cancer Foundation CLIMB project, which stands for Childrens Lives Include Moments of Bravery. If there is one nearby get them on it, its fantastic at explaining cancer and giving the kids an outlet.Try the UCF website or google CLIMB


Hi mat01,

Im in Northern Ireland too, Ballynahinch, but really a Belfast girl,work and socialise there! I havent joined a support group. I am being treated at BCH, but i find there is very little info re groups ect.

Thanks for links,



Im from Belfast too, but now living just outside it. You are right, the information isnt always to hand and put in front of you, but if you contact UCF they will point you in the right direction. I’m almost sure they have a group in Newcastle, not that far and a lot easier to get to than Belfast.

If you have children I have the number for the girl who looks after the CLIMB project. She is on her own but they are trying to get her help the demand is just so great. She has one group in Portadown and a couple in Belfast