Four ways to cope when your child is in hospital

Girl in hospital

Having a child in hospital is every parent’s nightmare. It’s a worrying time for the whole family, not knowing when they might come home. And the financial and emotional stress can put a lot of strain on everyone. But it doesn’t have to be that way. From being smart with money to asking friends for support, there are steps you can take to try and ease some of the pressure.

Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) provides free family accommodation right by specialist children’s hospitals. We've teamed up with them to share practical tips and advice from Mumsnet users, who've been through it all first-hand, to help you cope if your child is hospitalised.

Establish your support network

  • “If you need practical help from friends and family you might need to ask for it. If you seem to be coping, most people don't bother offering help so you need to be explicit about what support you need.”
  • “Lean on friends and family as much as you can. People genuinely want to help with cooking or shopping, so let them. Don't try to take it all on yourself.”
  • “Drop not-awfully-subtle hints to family and friends about them making meals for you once you are home. Offers of meals, shopping and housework should be gratefully received.”
Establish your support network

Shuttling back and forth to the hospital while your child is ill will probably use up your time and energy. You're likely going to need support from your family and friends. Don’t feel guilty about asking for help. Wouldn't you do the same if the roles were reversed?

Talk to work about new arrangements

  • “The first thing to do is check your company’s domestic leave entitlement. You should be entitled to take reasonable time off to visit your child in hospital."
  • “Most HR departments should support a parent taking time off for their child’s emergency hospital admission. The key thing is to communicate with them.”
  • “I had compassionate leave when my son was having operations in hospital. I now tend to work flexi-time around his regular appointments.”
Talk to work about new arrangements

Another area where communication is everything. A recent study by RMHC found 81% of parents said they wouldn't want to leave their child alone in hospital overnight. That will disrupt your work but, if you're straight with them, most employers should be understanding. Just make sure you let them know.

Prepare for long distance trips

  • “When I had to take my son up to Sunderland (from London) every week for a while, I took a day a week as unpaid parental leave from work.”
  • “I know there are some Ronald McDonald flats in Bristol linked to the children's hospital. I've often thought of offering a room to people who are stranded hundreds of miles from family when their kids are in hospital. My son had a fair bit of heart surgery when he was younger and I was just so grateful we lived in the same city as the hospital.”
  • “I work with families in this situation and know having somewhere to stay is the most important thing for them. We provide a house next to the hospital where families can stay as long as they need, some for many months.”
Prepare for long distance trips

In 2018, RMHC found that families using their homes lived on average 76 miles away from where their child was in hospital. This is why the charity wants to provide homes at every hospital.

Plan the financial impact

  • “My child recovered from a long critical illness. We are still picking up the pieces financially, emotionally and physically.”
  • “Having a child with a chronic disease makes it very difficult to juggle work and all the hospital appointments as well as trying to have a normal a family life as possible. It’s very disruptive and expensive.”
  • “The financial impact of caring for a very sick child is indeed tremendous, not just the loss of salary, but all the additional costs in trying to keep the child as well as possible and trying to keep the family together.”
Plan the financial impact

Neonatal care statistic from BLISS charity*

Illness is expensive and, if you need to travel a long way to be with your child while they're treated, the cost can be in the thousands. RMHC's survey found 69% of parents said they don't have the savings to cover the cost if their child fell ill. Free accommodation near the hospital can cut a significant part of that cost, and in 2018, the charity saved families from spending over £10 million in such out-of-pocket costs.

Ronald McDonald House Charities has been providing free family accommodation nearby specialist hospitals for 30 years, but its houses are always full and their waiting lists long. We want every hospital to have a Ronald McDonald House close by, so that no matter what other choices families have to make, time together is a given.”