This practical advice helps me calm the chaos when parenting while living with a chronic illness.
Parenting can be difficult. There’s no doubt about that. But what happens when you add in the difficulty of living with a chronic illness like rheumatoid arthritis (RA)?
In this case, the challenges of being a parent often become more extreme. There might be hurdles and difficulties that a parent living without chronic illness won’t face or understand.
After many tears, and trial and error, I’ve slowly gotten the hang of being a single mom with RA. I’m nowhere near perfect but every year I’ve learned how to make parenting go by a little more smoothly.
Despite the challenges, I consistently try my hardest to be a good mom. Here’s what helps me survive, and thrive, as a single mom with RA.
There’s no rule book for parenting — always remember that.
My life became a lot easier and happier when I let go of expectations from societal norms. I held on to the image of the “perfect mom” for too long.
So what if Martina down the street can get her three kids to after-school activities on time while also working full time. Don’t listen when other parents make comments about how you look tired, why you haven’t put your kids in extra activities, or why your house is a bit messy.
What matters is you and your family and what works best for your household. Living with a debilitating illness like RA is challenging enough, don’t let others live rent-free in your mind with their comments.
I’ve learned to accept whatever comes my way, each bump at a time, even if it doesn’t align with a storybook fairytale. In fact, I like to think that I’m writing my own fairytale day by day, one that is more inclusive.
You can’t take care of someone until you take care of yourself first. As a parent, you can’t run on empty.
The importance of self-care when living with a chronic illness is something I can’t stress enough to anyone, parent or not. Self-care is much more than just diet and exercise but also involves keeping up with your treatments, doctor appointments, rest, and what makes you happy.
Self-care can feel like a full-time job by itself and when you’re pushed for time, it may feel unnecessary or selfish.
But when I stop prioritizing my self-care, everything else around me seems to fall apart too. Only by taking care of myself am I able to prioritize the needs of my son.
There have been benefits to being a mom with chronic illness. It has taught my son a lot at an early age.
He’s turning into such a health-conscious little guy who has skills to take care of himself — skills that I definitely didn’t have when I was younger! That is because since my diagnosis I adopted a healthy lifestyle that my son mimics.
I volunteer a lot with different arthritis organizations in my area and I often bring my son with me. So now he loves to be involved each year with advocacy and fundraising events. It has taught him a lot about inequality and caring for others.
And best of all, his teachers often comment that he is kind and sticks up for other students who normally tend to get bullied for their differences.
It took me time to accept my diagnosis and talking openly about it with others made me feel very vulnerable. It might not work for everyone, but I’ve found that sharing my diagnosis with others helps them to understand the hardships I may face.
I’ve told my son’s teachers about my illness, how it affects me, and how it might affect my son too. They have been extremely accommodating and understanding. His teachers sometimes offer him extra time and help on homework exercises or extra credit activities to make things easier for me. I couldn’t be more grateful for this.
It has also helped me to communicate openly with my son about some of my symptoms. It helps him to understand how he can help me and why doing chores is so important.
He helps me take out the compost or do laundry which helps me conserve energy. He knows that simple movements like bending down can hurt with arthritis, so he helps pick things off the ground or grab things for me.
My son reminds me not to blame myself for what I can’t do because of my arthritis. This helps me feel an incredible amount of relief when that nagging feeling of guilt consumes me some days.
Before living with RA I was definitely more social and quite the hostess. I would bake a cake and make decorations for a big party, but now I keep things small and simple. I buy in bulk or order in to conserve my energy and avoid flares in the long run.
It’s definitely a pacing game. But this doesn’t have to mean dull celebrations! I delegate tasks with my friends and we all contribute to create fun events.
To accomplish chores, work, parenting, socializing and self-care with all my appointments I have to spread things out in the week to not overwhelm myself. On a good day, I stick to around three to five big-ticket tasks a day. This can include shopping, cooking, cleaning, appointments, etc.
You will eventually know what you can handle in a day and how much rest you require after a big event. Make sure you develop a routine with rest included in it.
Don’t feel guilty if you can’t always stick to this routine. Chronic illness is bumpy and bending the rules happens. On the bad days, just rest and don’t overthink things.
There’s no shame in asking for help of any kind, whether it be for cleaning your house, completing some errands, cooking, or even for your mental health.
No one is expecting you to be perfect. If you need to distract your kid with more screen time because you’re having an incredibly high fatigue day or you need to cart them to appointments with you, it’s not the end of the world.
It’s also important to remember that if you need help, don’t be afraid to ask around. People may not understand what help you need unless you ask.
Fact checked on September 02, 2022
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