Parenting provides one of life's most rewarding, yet also most challenging journeys.
To be a parent is to always be concerned about the safety, well-being and growth of another human. There’s nothing else quite like it!
Unfortunately, for many mothers and fathers, this task is made even more challenging by chronic illness.
Many parents are living with thyroid conditions, cancer, mental health issues, endometriosis, chronic pain and rheumatoid arthritis, just to name a few.
Living with chronic illness alone can make day to day life incredibly difficult. When you add the demands of parenthood, life can often feel constantly overwhelming, and at times impossible.
Is there any good news? Even with the typical challenges faced by most parents added to your load as a sufferer of chronic illness, yes, you can still tackle parenthood. You can still be your best, whatever that looks like, for your children. After all, all they really want and need is you.
Here are 10 tips for parenting with chronic illness:
#1: Seek Out And Receive Support From Your ‘Village'
It takes a village to raise a child – this isn't just a saying, it’s a universal truth. It takes more than one or two parents to raise a child while still being able to meet their own needs. Whether a parent has optimal health or struggles with a chronic illness, support is necessary. While many of us don't live in traditional villages, we all need close knit support like that of a village.
When you are struggling with chronic illness, you really need to build your support network. Get involved in mother's clubs and groups. Reach out to your family and friends, find out what support they can offer. If you belong to a church, synagogue, religious organization or any other social organisations, find out what resources they offer. If you don't have anyone reliable around you, consider a postnatal doula.
It can be hard to ask for help, but remember, parenting isn't something that should be done without support.
#2: Remember That Quality Time Doesn't Have To Be Extravagant
It can be easy to jump to the idea that trips, activities and big plans are the way to create family memories. If you stop to think why children enjoy them so much you might realize these events are when they have your undivided attention.
Activities and trips are enjoyable, but don't get stuck on the idea that without them your children won't have fond memories. Struggling with chronic illness might mean you aren't physically up for many outings. It might also mean financial struggles which can limit activities. The good news, children simply want your attention.
You can create lasting memories by reading with your children in bed. You can sit at the table and draw with them. Chat with them, really show interest in their lives, while driving to appointments. There are many ways to create lasting memories even when you're unable to be physically active.
#3: Practice Self-Care
There's a reason flight attendants tell us to put our own oxygen mask on first. When we don't meet our own needs, we cannot meet the needs of our family. As caregivers it is easy to put others first, but the best way to care for others is to first care for ourselves.
Having a chronic illness means self-care is necessary in order to function and tackle the everyday tasks. If your doctor recommends physical therapy, or massage helps with pain, be sure to make it a priority. If you need extra rest, carve out time for it. If you need time to reset and recoup, take time to do so. Caring for a family is a lot. Living with a chronic illness can feel like a never ending marathon. Take time to rest!
#4: Treat Your Pain And Symptoms
Treating pain is an important part of practicing self-care. When we are in pain it is hard to be patient with those around us. It is hard to be present. Make treating your pain a priority. Never feel guilty for taking time to treat it. By treating your pain, or other symptoms, you are making it possible to help meet your family's needs.
You may find some complimentary therapies really helpful along with your usual treatments. Look into acupuncture, osteopathy or even massage.
#5: Eat A Well-Balanced Whole Foods Diet
Having a healthy diet might not cure your chronic illness. For many though, a healthy diet helps them to be their best. Your best health may not be symptom free, but you might find a healthy diet helps alleviate some of your symptoms.
By choosing healthy whole foods you will also be modeling healthy habits for your children. Some chronic illnesses can be prevented or become less severe with a healthy diet. If your chronic illness has any heredity link, teaching your children healthy habits might offer them future protection.
Chronic fatigue can accompany a number of chronic illnesses. A healthy whole foods diet might offer a little more energy to help you get through the day.
#6: Plan Ahead, Stay Organized, Yet Be Flexible
Having a routine and remaining organized can help parents keep on top of everyday tasks. Getting out the door with little ones in tow can be a monumental task in and of itself. Add chronic fatigue, pain or other symptoms and it can feel completely impossible.
Keeping baby bags, school bags and purses packed and ready near the door can alleviate some of the morning rush challenges. Keep toy areas organized in a way that makes it easy for the little ones to clean up after themselves. Have back up meals in the freezer for days you're experiencing flares and you're unable to manage cooking.
Of course life with kids and chronic illness is unpredictable. A routine helps you prepare, but it also allows for flexibility. Sometimes things will not go as planned. Sometimes you will be late, you'll order take out and the laundry will stay in baskets unfolded. Maintain realistic expectations and be okay when things don't go as planned.
#7: Work With A Mental Health Professional
Being a parent is hard work. Managing a chronic illness can be extremely challenging. When the two come together it can feel like a constant struggle to keep your head above water. It can be easy to begin questioning if you can manage both. You might even feel tremendous guilt about the toll your chronic illness can take on your family.
The reality, every family and every individual has challenges in life. You don't need to feel guilty. You don't need to question your ability to parent or be a partner. It is easy to say these things of course, but difficult to process. Working with a therapist, counselor or psychiatrist that you trust can help you process these feelings.
If your chronic illness is related to your mental health, know that this is an issue as real and as physical as any other chronic illness. This isn't something you made up in your head nor is it something you are choosing. Choose a healthcare team knowledgeable about, but also respectful when it comes to treating mental health disorders.
#8: Treat Yourself With Compassion
It is sometimes easier to offer compassion to those around us rather than ourselves. We want to be a perfect parent. We want to be active. We desperately want to be healthy. It can be easy to slip into self-blame, but practicing small and regular acts of self-love and compassion can help you from feeling like this is just too hard most of the time.
No one chooses chronic illness. No one can make this up in their head. You are not lazy, you are simply fatigued beyond your control.
Doing your best, whatever that looks like, is all you can do. It is more than enough. You are more than enough. If you are struggling with self-blame, if you aren't able to give yourself grace be sure to work with your mental health provider to help process these feelings. You don't need to live in blame over something that is beyond your control.
#9: Practice Spiritual Wellness
Whatever beliefs you have, it is important to practice holistic care. Your mind, body and spirit all need care and attention. This is important for everyone, but especially important for those with a chronic struggle. Chronic illness can be incredibly spiritually draining.
Take time each day to pray, meditate or journal. Spend time in nature, get time in the sun. Seek counsel from a religious or spiritual leader that can help you process life with a chronic struggle.
#10: Keep On Moving
Having a chronic illness means a constant journey to find balance. If you are too physically active you are likely to feel worse. If you aren't active enough you might experience more pain or worsening symptoms.
Work with your doctor or physiotherapist to find a safe balance of physical activity. You are likely to feel better mentally and emotionally when you are able to be active.
Following a flare or an emotional time it can be hard not to default to inactivity. When an opportunity for being active arises take a moment to reflect on why you do or don't want to participate. If you are really physically or emotionally unable to do it, listen to your body. If you realize you're simply choosing by default, take a moment to process your feelings.
Life with a chronic illness is hard. Parenthood is hard.
Thankfully, with the right support, balance and self-care, the rewards of parenthood shine passed the challenges.