Your body is giving you warning signals to “go rest” or “take a nap,” but life as a parent doesn’t stop just because you feel sick. Parenting with a chronic illness is challenging, but it doesn’t have to be impossible. Here are some helpful parenting tips to use while managing your chronic illness.
1 – Be aware of your chronic illness or pain symptoms
Chronic illnesses vary in symptoms from one person to the next. Your job is to know which ones specifically apply to YOU! This information can come from your doctor, but it is helpful to monitor what your body does on a daily basis. Keep a list of symptoms on your phone so that you can always refer to it when needed. A list helps you (and your doctor) understand your “norm,” provides information to tailor a treatment plan just for you, and prepares you to support yourself when with your kids.
2 – Don’t take yourself too seriously!
Many times parents put so much pressure on themselves to be “perfect.” How many times have you heard someone talk about packing the “perfect” lunch or planning the “most fun” activities for their kids? It’s like there is a “cool” mom or dad reward out there. Please know that there is no such thing! The pressure that comes from wanting to be “perfect” and “cool” will most likely lead to a flare and you feeling sick, so let’s consider other alternatives.
Parenting with a chronic illness requires you to be flexible. That means, go easy on yourself! So don’t be hard on yourself when your kids get PB&J for dinner instead of a Pinterest inspired dinner that takes 3 hours to make. Or maybe you get takeout or a TV dinner some days. Guess what?! They will be fed and cared for, which is ultimately what you want as a parent.
3 – Set healthy boundaries
Have you ever gotten to the end of the day and noticed you made absolutely no time for yourself? How did your body feel after all of that? If you’re like most people, your body probably felt like crap. One thing that you must remember is that you are parenting WITH a chronic illness, which means that not only do you have the fatigue of caring for your family, but you have a lower energy reserve than most people. Your body NEEDS rest and more self-care throughout the day. A boundary is necessary to put yourself first and ultimately allow you to be more present with your kid(s).
Here are a couple of examples of healthy boundaries:
a) Toddler goes down for a nap. Your legs are cramping from playing at the park. You return to the living room and notice that you have last week’s laundry to do. What do you do?! Remember not to take on too much, because while that toddler is napping, it is important to build in time for you to relax as well. If you want to do the laundry, decide how much can be done while preserving your energy. For many people it could be that they fold the clothes while sitting and put them away later.
b) Teenager comes home from school and has a basketball game later. Meanwhile, you have a headache and no dinner is prepared. Reminder: Consider your needs and how to meet them in the most simplistic way possible! Follow the recommendations from your doctor to manage the headache (e.g., drinking water, taking medication as prescribed, eating balanced meals or relaxing). A way to set a boundary here is to only do what will HELP – not make your symptoms worse! Ask for help in making dinner (or maybe pick it up on the way to the game). Also, consider a back-up plan if you are not feeling well enough to drive and/or attend the game.
4 – Identify parenting and chronic illness supports
Parents often pride themselves on being the best they can be for their kids, and that sometimes includes being everything for them. This is nice and all, but it is not always realistic – whether you have a chronic illness or not. Parenting in isolation increases stress, which is not a good combination with a chronic illness. One of the ways to truly be at your best for your kids is to have other people available to help when needed, because sometimes LIFE HAPPENS, and we can’t always be everywhere at all times.
There are many different types of supports (for you and your kids) that could improve your quality of life. Some of the supports include family members, friends, neighbors, therapists, doctors, support groups and babysitters. Phone calls, play dates and requesting help from other trustworthy sports parents can go a long way! Do you have any of these supports available right now? How likely are you to use them? Reach out to someone today. Your mind and body will thank you later!
5 – Avoid making comparisons with other parents
Comparison is a thief ready to take your joy away. In a society where social media takes a front seat in our lives, it puts many images out there of other parents doing specific things for their kids. You’ll see images of family vacations, parents going bike riding with their kids, doing all the “best” craft activities and hosting gatherings in their homes (appearing to be the “perfect” family). Yes, those things are nice, but 9/10 they likely do not show the entire picture.
Many times if not careful, focusing on images portrayed on social media lead a parent to question whether they are doing enough for their kids. Stop it! Yes, that’s easier said than done, but ask yourself this question: What good does it do for you to compare? It doesn’t help you get out of bed on your most difficult days and ultimately, it doesn’t make you feel any better about yourself. As a parent with a chronic illness, you need all of the encouragement you can get. So instead of focusing on what someone else is doing for their family, direct your attention to what you CAN do for your own.
6 – Encourage yourself
Chronic illnesses can bring on some rough days, feeling defeated and frustrated with yourself. It makes sense – your body is doing it’s own thing and you want it to perform differently. As you come to terms with your body in its current condition, take some time to remind yourself of things that are going well. Speak positivity into your day! Look, let’s be clear. You may have days where the positivity is: “I got the kids out the door for school even while feeling sick.” Other days it may be, “I was able to get out of bed this morning!” That’s okay.
Positive affirmations are scientifically proven to improve healing! Here are other examples of positive affirmations:
- I’m a good parent.
- I can do this; just take it one step at a time.
- My health condition doesn’t define me.
- I will let go of the pressures on myself and instead focus on what is possible.
- I’m at my best when I take care of myself.
- I’m listening to my body today.
- I accept that this isn’t the easiest day for me, but I have help available if I need it.
Remember, you are amazing regardless of whether your body feels weak or strong, or you’ve done all or none of the chores! Those things do not define you as a person or a parent. Although the journey is not easy, you can live a life of wellness while parenting YOUR way.
Next Steps for Parenting and Chronic Illness Support
Parenting with a chronic illness diagnosis can be a bit of a rollercoaster, but you don’t have to go through it alone. Speaking with a therapist who is knowledgeable of chronic illnesses and pain can help you feel heard and supported. It can be a much needed space to unpack all of the sudden changes in your life, including ways to stay present with your family.
Adorned with Life, LLC provides mental health therapy to teens and adults who are living with chronic illnesses and the emotional toll that it can bring. We can talk through your personal experiences, build more supports and help you learn components of living a life of wellness. Although you cannot control certain aspects of your illness, your mindset and intentional actions afterwards are big steps for healing and feeling in control.
You can schedule your first appointment with me by booking a 15-minute consultation call using this link.