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. Over the years of having a chronic illness – and of working with other mothers like myself – I’ve developed several key strategies for maximizing your parenting journey. And I want to share those with you.
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. 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 you want. 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. Read more about self-care and download a 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 it's a journey. 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 all over again.
But it’s important to accept the roller coaster ride will happen and to plan for it. Cancelling scheduled plans is disappointing and it’s very common to experience feelings of guilt and overwhelm when you can’t fulfill your children’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!
Looking for more support? Check out my services page here and be sure to download the free Self Care Guide below. Take care mama!
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Jennifer Howard, LPC
I am passionate about helping tired moms thrive and healing the stigma of postpartum distress and mood disorders. I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (Virginia/DC) and Nationally Certified Professional Life Coach specializing in perinatal mental wellness, marriage/partnership strength and infant sleep and soothing.
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