Using Literature to Help Troubled Teenagers Cope with Family Issues

By Joan F. Kaywell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
Coping with Parental Illness: Family Discord in Ordinary People

Pam B. Cole& Augustus Y. Napier


INTRODUCTION

When emotional or physical illness strikes a family member, the effects on children and other family members can be catastrophic. Families are unsettled; they are torn, and sometimes, when members are unable to cope, the family disintegrates. Though husbands and wives struggle in the wake of a spouse's illness or that of a child, children can suffer more since they have limited experiences dealing with pain and loss. Additionally, healthy spouses consumed by the demands of an ill family member and by their own disparate feelings can, without meaning to do so, lose sight of children's needs, leaving them feeling isolated, afraid, despondent, sometimes even depressed.

In an effort to cope, children sometimes turn to peers or to trusted adults. More often than not, however, they try to cope with the situation alone, and because their experiences are limited, they often make harmful or unwise choices. Well-written children's and young adult (YA) literature which features characters who experience similar losses, pain, et cetera can provide support for troubled children looking for answers. Such literature can aid children in understanding that they are not alone, that many individuals their own age experience similar tragedies and develop good coping skills to deal with difficult family situations. Judith Guest Ordinary People is one such novel.


WHY ORDINARY PEOPLE?

Though a respectable body of literature exists that deals with family tragedies, specifically parental illnesses, Ordinary People ranks among the

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