The Struggles of Being a Mom with Chronic Pain
Guest post by Andrea Wool of AutoImmuneStrong.com
“Mommy- can you play tag with me?”
“No, sweetie- I am so sorry, but my body really hurts today and I feel so tired.”
“Mommy- can you play a game with me?”
“In a minute, sweetie, Mommy really needs a nap.”
“Mommy, I want to give you a big hug!”
“Ok, sweetie, but don’t hug too hard- it hurts.”
As a mom to 2 boys struggling with fibromyalgia and multiple autoimmune conditions, these conversations happened daily. After I got sick, nearly 6 years ago, I became the mom who “couldn’t”. I couldn’t play, I couldn’t engage- even cuddling was painful.
Sure, there were times when they were happy about it- like when my husband was away on business and I would give them mac n cheese for dinner every night because I was too exhausted to cook. Or when I would be too tired to play with them and let them watch TV for hours.
But this was not the kind of mom I wanted to be and not the kind of life I had envisioned for my kids. I truly wanted to play with them, tackle them, tickle them, laugh with them and hug them. But no matter how much I wanted it, I had to deal with the reality that I was just not capable. My body just couldn’t do it. And my boys were so little at the time- toddler and preschool aged- there was no way they could possible understand.
And frankly, during this time, it was hard for me to hang out with them at all. This was the hardest thing for me to admit- that my children overwhelmed me- and that parenting was just too much for me. As much as I loved them with all of my heart, I was often unable to connect with them, mostly because I was too wrapped up in my own exhaustion, fatigue and pain.
The cycle would begin- I would be too tired to listen to their needs or properly parent them, so then they would throw a temper tantrum because they weren’t being managed properly, and then I would lose my temper because they were stressing me out, and after it was all over, we would all end up feeling horrible. It even affected the way my husband would parent the kids- he was exhausted too, from managing the bulk of the household duties on top of his job and business travel. We were all a mess.
Somehow (thankfully!) we managed to climb out of that very deep hole- and we were able to find some methods to coping with the stressful situation. Let’s face it- life with kids is hard already- but adding a parent with chronic pain and illness into the mix makes it so much harder. So, here are some successful tips that I have used to manage my chronic illness and still be a good and loving parent.Chronic illness doesn't mean you aren't a caring and loving parent. #parenting Click To Tweet
1 . Communicate with people around you. The first step is to explain to your friends and family how you are feeling. Chronic illness is an invisible disease, and so most people don’t see that you are struggling.
Human connection is an incredible stress reliever, and will help you not feel so isolated. Finding an emotional support system was a critical component of managing my own parenting stress.
I rely on my family and my friends. My husband and I talk almost every day- we check in- and I make sure I communicate with him how I am feeling- so he can step up when I need him to. I talk to my mom, dad and sister often about what is going on in our family.
And since my kids were little, I have been gathering monthly with a group of women I met at the daycare. We talk about everything- and even though they don’t have any chronic illnesses, they have been able to sympathize with my struggles and have always made me feel supported. They are moms too!
Just having these connections- people who understand my struggles and listen to me with compassion- helps me relieve the stress of feeling alone.
2 . Set up a helper system. As parents, we often try to do everything ourselves, and only ask for help when we are at our wits end. As a mom with chronic pain, I have learned to incorporate help into my every week schedule, to prevent myself from getting to my wits end.
Stress aggravates my pain, and so keeping that stress from parenting in check is super important.
There are many low cost ways to incorporate the helper system into your week. Since the people around you now know about the struggles you face- don’t hesitate to ask them for help. I do things like trading a weekly playdate- so every other week, I have an afternoon of quiet without kids, where I can focus on myself.
But there are other systems that can help too- without having to rely totally on the kindness of others. Finding conveniences can be critical- for example, most grocery stores now have some method of pre-order (and some even have delivery!) so you don’t have to do all your shopping. So make things easier for yourself and get some help!Making use of your support system is a vital part of #parenting with #chronicillness Click To Tweet
3 . Get your kids involved. Now that my kids are older (5 and 8), I make sure they are helpful around the house. I talk to them about my situation and say- “My body can only handle so much in a day. So, if you want me to be able to play with you, help me do these chores so I will still have energy left to play.”
They do chores, so I don’t have to do as much (especially when my husband is away for business). They make their own breakfasts and pack their lunches for school. They pick up their toys and put away the laundry. We have become a team. Remember- they love you more than anything- and if you ask them for help, they will step up.
4 . And when you do play with them- stay focused. It’s not about quantity of time spent with your kids- it’s about quality. So when you do have the energy and the gusto to snuggle and cuddle and tackle and tickle- make sure you stay engaged and focused on them. Even if it’s just for 5 minutes- those are the times that are meaningful and will keep you and your kids connected.
5 . Finally- take good care of your body. I am very strict in my diet and lifestyle to make sure that I have the best chance of being as healthy of a mom as possible.
I eat an organic, nutrient dense diet of veggies and meats. I go to bed early, as sleep is essential for managing my chronic illness. And I move my body every day- which helps me control my pain. I get my kids involved in the movement piece- often they do my workouts with me! I use my program- Autoimmune Strong– and my kids love feeling Automimmune Strong too!
Andrea is a health coach, a mom, and the founder of Autoimmune Strong. To learn more about the Autoimmune Strong program, as well as more of Andrea’s story, please go to the website www.getautoimmunestrong.com