To the Chronically Ill Parent Who Feels Like a Failure
Parenting – it is the most important job on earth. Even for the healthiest person, parenting is not for the faint of heart. Add a chronic illness into the mix and a difficult job can seem impossible. That’s why when
I, the mother of four, became ill with chronic Lyme disease and co-infections, starting intensive treatment for those illnesses, I found myself feeling like I was failing at the most important job assigned to me… being a mom.
The pain, exhaustion, brain fog, rage, and confusion caused by the diseases made it impossible for me to be the mother I once was. The fun, outgoing, energetic, type A mom had shriveled into one that could barely get out of bed and take care of herself much less four other souls. I was devastated because I was sure that my kids were better off without me. I was sure I was destroying their childhood and causing them major trauma because I could no longer do the things I used to do. I was sure that when they grew up the only thing they would remember about me was that I was sick and tired.
One day I opened up and told a friend how I was feeling. Her response to me was one of the greatest gifts I’ve received and, for me, it created a paradigm shift about parenting while healing from a chronic disease.
Her advice was to stop thinking about all the things I couldn’t do with my kids right now and focus on the character traits I was helping them develop because I had a chronic disease. It was extremely helpful advice, so I’m passing along to you five things you may not realize you are helping your child learn, even while you are in bed. I hope this helps you feel confident that you are, indeed, not failing as a parent.
You probably can’t do things as fast as you once could. Pain and exhaustion are sure to slow you down, but that is OK. You are teaching your child patience when he has to wait a few more minutes for a request or need. Sometimes he may even have to wait much longer for a want (such as wanting to do something active like going to a playground). Learning deferred gratification is a valuable lesson in this instant world.
2. Commitment and Dedication
You are teaching your child commitment and dedication every single time you take your medications, stick to your anti-inflammatory diet, and keep your doctor’s appointments. It takes a strong sense of commitment to heal from this terrible disease and you are showing your child first hand what it means to be dedicated to a cause.
3. Responsibility and Self-Reliance
Passing on some age appropriate chores to your child that you are struggling to complete not only teaches them responsibility and self-reliance, it also allows them to feel like a contributing and valuable member of the family. It’s OK if you can’t do all the chores you used to. Depending on age, kids can pitch in by doing laundry, cleaning, cooking, babysitting younger siblings, taking care of pets, collecting trash, packing lunches for school and other various chores. Rest is paramount while your body is fighting off infection. Save your energy by enlisting the help of your child.
4. Empathy and Compassion
By allowing your child to see you in a vulnerable and needy state, and by allowing them to help you, your child is exercising his skills of empathy and compassion. Explain how you feel on an age appropriate level and let him “take care of you.” Accept his small gifts of kindness such as handmade get-well cards, cups of water, and band-aids with an open heart. Even if it doesn’t make you physically better, it should ease your heart knowing your child is developing a sense of empathy and compassion for others.
5. Lifelong Healthy Habits
Many chronic illness patients live a healthier lifestyle than they did before they became ill. All of those things you are doing to help yourself heal such as eating healthier, doing gentle exercises such as stretching or yoga, and taking quiet time to yourself to rejuvenate sets a positive example to your child that taking care of yourself, both mentally and physically is important. Let him stretch with you, nap with you, eat healthy with you. Soon your good habits will be integrated into his life as well.
Hanging on to the guilt associated with thinking you are not parenting well does not help you in the healing process. Let those negative thoughts go and start focusing on the beautiful qualities and traits you are fostering in your child without you even realizing it. You are enough. Your child needs you just as you are. Even though some days you may not feel like it, you are succeeding in the greatest and most difficult job in the world… parenting.
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