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Parenting is hard. Having a chronic illness is hard.
Parenting with a chronic illness can be Sisyphean at times. We work our way through the day, just hoping to make it into bed without completely crashing only to pray that we make it through the next day. It’s all rather frustrating.
The job becomes doubly difficult when we are looking at or experiencing an illness attack. Then we count it as a miracle each time we make it through the day physically intact.
Parenting & Chronic Illness
For some parents, the diagnosis of a chronic illness came after having children. For others, such as myself, I was fully aware of the difficulties I would face and adding in my life.
Toddlers and MS? My MS symptoms are triggered by stress and toddlers are stressful, therefore toddlers can trigger MS symptoms.
The truth is actually far from this.
If you became a parent prior to getting your diagnosis, I can imagine there was some relief. All that fatigue? Previously explained by a child not sleeping through the night. Pain? When the little one made you pick them up in an awkward way.
Knowing the truth about your situation can be freeing, but it can also be confining. We may not recognize our limitations prior to a diagnosis, but afterward, we have literature telling us what we can’t and shouldn’t do.
There are moments where I am tempted to call it a day with the whole parenting thing because of my MS. On occasion I’ve popped Jai in the crib with some toys that he won’t hurt himself with and gone back to bed to rest for an extra hour or so because I just couldn’t manage it.
On those days where my chronic illness takes precedence over my parenting, I feel like I am one of the world’s worst mothers. I wish I didn’t need to leave him in his crib.
It’s “Okay” to Show your Illness
Another temptation we might have with our chronic illnesses is to hide it from our loved ones, especially our children. I don’t want Jai to ever feel the need to take care of me, especially when I am in the middle of a bad flare-up. That’s not his job.
I also don’t want him to see my limitations as a means of preventing him from doing what he loves. Sorry, Jai, mommy can’t take you to the park today because I don’t have enough energy to drive. I am tempted to push myself harder than I should to avoid saying “no” to a favorite activity.
But he does need to see that there are days where I am not able to do everything he wants. Jai experiencing disappointment is a good thing because it teaches him to be adaptable and self-soothe. He learns to deal with the disappointment in a healthy way.
Additionally, I am teaching Jai how to be sensitive to people who might look healthy like him but have limitations beyond their control. A huge issue in the autoimmune community is how invisible the disease is and the frustration at the lack of understanding from those illness-free. By raising a person to understand that abilities and disabilities come in all forms, he’ll be more empathetic as an adult to those around him.
It is humbling to show my illness to Jai, but that’s why I’ve had to embrace self-acceptance.
Parenting & Self-Acceptance
Acknowledging that you are going to have bad days with your illness isn’t admitting defeat. It’s saying that you have limitations and you respect them.
Learn to say “it’s okay that I am taking some time for myself. I need to take time for myself.”
That’s one of those easier said than done moments, but it’s worth taking the time to make that a personal mantra. It will alleviate the stress and pressure you put on yourself. I want to be the perfect parent for Jai, but my MS reminds me that that will never be possible.
Regarding that, I needed a chronic illness to remind me of a life truth: there is no such thing as perfection. If I didn’t have MS, I don’t know if I would remember this and work towards being more self-compassionate.
Unfortunately, especially as a parent, expecting perfection for yourself is not sustainable. By accepting yourself as you are now will help alleviate the personal stress you might feel.
It will also help get you in a better place to make any self-improvements you want to do because self-compassion is a huge part of the whole process. But more on that later.
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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton