Balance artistry: the healthy parent's role in the family when the other parent is in the palliative phase of cancer--challenges and coping in parenting young children

Palliat Support Care. 2014 Aug;12(4):317-29. doi: 10.1017/S1478951513000953. Epub 2013 Oct 9.


Objectives: The aim of this review was to provide a systematic overview of knowledge on how advanced cancer in a parent impacts the healthy parent's role in a family with children aged 6-12 years, and the types of help that they require in order to cope. Despite the large number of families living with a parent affected by cancer, the literature is limited concerning the needs and outcomes for the healthy parents and their need for support in managing their children's needs, when the partner is seriously ill or is in the palliative phase of cancer.

Method: Comprehensive literature searches were undertaken by systematically searching for qualitative articles published during the period 1989-2009. The quality assessment was evaluated using a predefined "checklist to assess qualitative research."

Results: Seven articles met our eligibility criteria. Four distinct themes emerged that describe the healthy parent's role in the family, whose life is now characterized by uncertainty and who is attempting to maintain a balance between the needs of their children, the patient, and themselves: (1) new roles without a script, (2) attempting to maintain a safe and normal life, (3) feeling alone even within the family, and (4) support to help young family members.

Significance of results: The present review provides new knowledge and insight into how healthy parents manage the challenges in parenting young children, coping with their everyday lives, and taking on new roles when their partner has advanced cancer or is dying. The healthy parent cannot balance the needs of all family members. To reach the goals of palliative care, nurses and other health professionals are encouraged to offer the patient, the healthy parent, and the children practical and emotional support.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Palliative Care*
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Role*
  • Spouses / psychology*