Parenting is tough. Parenting with a chronic illness can feel downright impossible. As a mom with a chronic illness, I know the struggles you face. I know the feeling you get deep in the pit of your stomach when you have to say, “I’m sorry honey. Mommy isn’t feeling well today.” For the 6th day in a row. I know the guilt you feel when you try to weigh what you can and cannot handle each day or when you have to cancel plans last minute. I know the fear you feel at night when you lie awake worried that your illness is negatively affecting your children. And when it’s all just too much. I know.
But - as challenging as it can be - we know it isn’t all bad. While there is likely more complexity in your motherhood journey, it can also be full of hope, happiness - and lots and lots of love. There is certainly something to be said for having the ability to really take advantage and enjoy the good days....to no longer take it all for granted like you may have done before. I didn't start motherhood with a chronic illness, but I've managed the last several years with one. It's been through this journey - and that of working with other mothers like myself – that I’ve been able to develop several key strategies for maximizing your parenting journey. I know it can be really tough to make it through the day sometimes, but I also know it can be done with as much grace for yourself as possible. Read below for the lessons I've learned.
Here are 5 tips to help you navigate motherhood with a chronic illness:
Make Yourself a Priority
As a mother, it’s in our nature to put our children’s needs before our own. If you're like me, it’s not unusual to find yourself skipping breakfast while you pack lunches or rushing to your baby in the middle of the night without taking a second to pee first and then finding yourself immensely uncomfortable while trying to get your baby back to sleep... No? Just me? :)
But, it’s impossible to maintain your health unless you do take time to put your needs first. If your health declines or you have a flare, you cannot be present for your children in the ways that I know you really want to be able to do. So, take time now to prioritize your needs and try to engage in self-care weekly. Even if it’s really small, it will make a difference. Make room in your schedule for yoga, meditation, going to bed early, making healthy meals for yourself or reading a book/binging Netflix alone.
Not sure how to make your needs a priority or even what would help you feel cared for? Don't worry! I wrote an entire post about self care AND created a free challenge guide to help you explore what really helps you feel recharged. There is an entire page with self care ideas listed to get your mind churning. You can read more about it and download the free weekly planner here. Your body will thank you!
Accept your Limitations
As a mom with a chronic illness, accepting that you cannot mother how you imagined can be the sharpest pill to swallow. But acceptance is important - even if your acceptance feels more like it's own journey. The truth is, we cannot begin to cope and thrive until we’ve acknowledged our realities. And, when you are diagnosed with a chronic illness, you may need to revise what you thought motherhood would look like for you.
Personally, I had so many ideas about the mother I would be. And I haven’t been able to fulfill many of them. But I’ve created new ways to show my love and be present. For instance, I often can’t run around the yard after my children, but I can be the best snuggler there is - and we make time for that every day. It’s ok to mourn what you wanted motherhood to look like (I still do!), but then brainstorm new ways to fulfill those needs for yourself and your children. Your journey may be different, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be rewarding and special.
Embrace the Roller Coaster
Chronic illness can make for a cruel nemesis. Each morning when you wake up, you truly don’t know whether it will be a good day or a bad day. The uncertainty of it all can be unnerving. You may go weeks in a flare and get a surprisingly good day. Or you may be in remission for so long that you forgot how bad you felt before - and then wake up one day and be in the mix of it all over again. It's a total mind f*ck, right?
But often we have no control over what leads to a flare or doesn't, so it’s even more important to accept the roller coaster ride will happen and to plan for it. Cancelling scheduled plans is disappointing. And it's so very common to experience feelings of guilt and overwhelm when you can’t fulfill your children’s/husband's/friend's desires. But you didn’t ask to have a chronic illness – and I am certain you would remove that obstacle if you could. So, instead of letting that guilt eat you up, do what you can, when you can - and accept help or reschedule when you need it.
It’s so important to find support for yourself – both physically and mentally. That support can come from your significant other, family members and friends. But, many individuals with a chronic illness also find it helpful to find a support group of other like-minded warriors. There are some things that just can’t be understood without having been through them yourself, and a support group or friend with a chronic illness can provide that nurturing environment for you to just be real - and raw - for a bit.
Additionally, seeking a therapist who has experience with chronic illness can be quite cathartic. A therapist can help you develop coping strategies and process your feelings about your illness and it’s impact on your family life. Because depression is one of the most common complications of chronic illness, having a care provider who understands can be immensely helpful in getting you the support you need. When seeking support, be sure to check out the “Therapists + Coaches who Get It” directory. It was created by the host of the “This is Not What I Ordered” Podcast, Lauren Selfridge and is full of care providers who get it!
Take care mama - you deserve it!
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Jennifer Howard, CLC, CHBE
As a maternal mental health and pediatric sleep expert, I am passionate about helping tired mamas thrive throughout the many seasons of motherhood. I'm a Nationally Certified Professional Life Coach and Masters Level Therapist specializing in parental mental wellness, marriage/partnership strength and pediatric sleep and soothing.
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