Parenting a child with a chronic medical illness poses unique and enduring challenges. Two mental health professionals marshaled their clinical and personal experience and insights to create a book for parents with a chronically ill child. Frank Sileo, PhD, and Carol Potter, MFT, answer questions about writing When Your Child Has a Chronic Medical Illness: A Guide for the Parenting Journey. This is part two of their interview.
Magination Press: Is there a need for mental health wellness for families that have continuing medical issues to address?
Frank Sileo: Absolutely! That’s why we wrote this book! In our book, we discuss many mental health concerns for all who are affected by chronic medical illnesses. When parents or individuals receive a medical diagnosis, they seek out the best medical care. What’s common is that they may have strong feelings and other mental health needs that are treated as normal and expected and are often minimized or dismissed as less important than medical concerns. This may be true for parents but also for the child with the medical issue and their siblings. In our book, we present the research, our clinical experience and speak about the importance of not neglecting the mental health of a parent or child.
MP: You use a driving metaphor of going on a journey throughout the book. Why did you choose that?
FS: I love the images and metaphor of a journey. When I was organizing the book, I spoke with Carol and the development team at APA to use a journey as the backdrop of the book. We are all on some type of journey. When you have a child with a chronic medical illness, you begin an unplanned one. It begins with the diagnosis and the journey can follow many roads. Some are straight and relatively smooth, while others are bumpy, curvy, and at times frightening. In our book we discuss all aspects of parenting a child with a chronic medical illness such as feelings that arise, engaging in self-care, dealing with siblings, grandparents and other caretakers, and how to communicate with the school and medical staff. We discuss how to handle difficult procedures and hospitalizations for a child. We touch upon when the journey may end in death and how to cope. Just like a snowflake, we emphasize that no two diagnoses are the same, no two journeys are alike.
MP: Carol, you have also had a career in Hollywood, starring as mother Walsh on the hit long-running series Beverly Hills 90210. What was it like juggling an acting career and a professional one in therapy?
Carol Potter: My school schedule was very flexible, so I was able to continue auditioning and working while I was at school. Post-graduation, as I was getting the 3000 hours of experience required by licensure, I was very fortunate to work on another Spelling production, a daytime soap opera called Sunset Beach. They were able to work with my schedule, so that I had enough advance notice to let clients know when I wouldn’t be in. When I was working on the set, it was all about me — my feelings, my motivation, my wardrobe, hair and makeup. And when I was in the room with clients, I could leave all that behind and let it be all about them. It was truly a wonderful balance, and I might have done that the rest of my life, if the show hadn’t been cancelled just before I got licensed. Some clients actually recognized me, which was odd and fun, but once their guess was confirmed, they moved on quickly to the issues they were hoping to address in their own lives. The character actually lent itself well to the persona of being a therapist — fans will remember that they eventually sent Cindy to grad school in “counseling”. Sometimes life imitates art.
MP: Frank, you have written many acclaimed children’s books. How was your writing process different for nonfiction aimed as adults?
FS: It was night and day! When writing any book, there is always some degree of research that needs to be done. In nonfiction writing, the research and writing are so much more. This book allows me to speak directly to parents. I have been speaking with parents for over 25 years! Both types of writing have their challenges and joys. When writing children’s books, I have to think like a child and write things children will understand and hold their interest. Some of my picture books rhyme which is completely absent in this book. When I write children’s books, it is much more visual. I am imagining characters and scenes. There are none of these elements in writing a parenting book. Both types of writing require time, patience, and discipline.
MP: What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?
FS: When I am not writing, I love to travel, exercise, and spend time with family and friends. The current pandemic has curtailed some of those activities, but I have found ways to workout and visit with family and friends in a safe way. I cannot wait to start traveling again! Also when I am not writing children’s books and other pieces for the media, I work in my private practice six days a week seeing kids, teens, adults and families. I really enjoy my work!
CP: I have too many hobbies! I love reading widely, both fiction and nonfiction, including politics, spirituality, psychology, and memoir. Spirituality is central to my life, and I am currently doing a deep dive into the Christian mystics through the Center for Action and Contemplation. Many years ago, I took up writing (aka painting) sacred icons with a local group, and about 8 years ago I added oil painting. I particularly enjoy doing landscapes en plein air. I have also played the piano since childhood and enjoy doing staged readings of plays and other material. Lately, I have gotten involved with the Poor People’s Campaign.
MP: Is there a fun fact about you that readers might not know that you’d like to share?
FS: I am a HUGE I Love Lucy and Lucille Ball fan and collector! I have some very rare items from the show and personal items that belonged to Lucille Ball. I have one room in my home dedicated to my Lucy collection. I also collect other Hollywood memorabilia such as rare scripts, autographs, and props.
CP: My father’s name (and grandfather’s) was Harry Potter. That is my newest claim to fame.
Read part one of their interview here.
Related Books from Magination Press
When Your Child Has a Chronic Medical Illness: A Guide for the Parenting Journey
Written by leading mental health professionals, this warm and accessible parenting book for children with chronic medical illnesses offers clear, practical guidance for all aspects of the journey.
For all its joys, parenting is a complex job, and when your child has a chronic medical illness, the stress can feel overwhelming. When your child is diagnosed, you begin a parenting journey filled with strong emotions, difficult choices, confusing words, and interactions with numerous professionals and specialists.
You’re focused on ensuring your child gets the best possible treatments for their symptoms, so it’s easy to overlook or dismiss the impact the medical illness can have on your relationships and emotions. This book places your psychological well-being front and center, so you can be the best caregiver possible for your child.
Along with suggestions for making laughter and mindfulness part of your daily self-care routine, it offers guidance for choosing the right therapist for your family, should extra support be needed. Every family’s journey with chronic medical illness is unique, but you don’t have to go it alone.