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4 Virtues My Daughter Can Learn From My Fibromyalgia

I recently sat with a friend, lamenting over all that had forever changed because of my struggle with fibromyalgia. I missed my former life and how much I used to be able to do. But when I got sick, my whole life had to be revamped, due to the limitations newly imposed upon me.

It’s usually we perfectionists, the ones that give over 100 percent every day, who wind up developing chronic illness. We go until our bodies give out and we are forced to sit down and modestly accept what the rest of the world already knew – that we cannot do everything! The reversal is cruel and ironic. We go from being selfless caretakers to the ones needing care. We go from being gregarious doers to introverted watchers. We were the dependable super heroes; but now some days we can’t even lift ourselves out of bed.

Now, I realize that the world was spinning before I got here. I know there will always be someone at work to cover my reduced hours. I accept that I am not singlehandedly saving the world through my volunteer work. After all, God only asks what I can do, not what I used to be able to do. I also know that I have help at my disposal and I’m learning to ask for it.

But one thing still plagues me more than anything else. There is one role that no one can fill in my stead. I am the only mother that my daughter has. And I’m not the mom I used to be. And unlike my husband who is an adult and can understand why I can’t do what I used to, my daughter just wants her mommy.

There were so many days, especially in the beginning, that I just felt like I was failing at life. Days when my daughter asked me to come have lunch with her at school, but I was too dizzy or in pain to drive. She wished I could chaperone school trips, but making plans is a challenge when you don’t know how you will feel day to day. And a day running around with twenty 10 year olds was sure to trigger a flare that would put me down for days.

As I sat tearfully explaining all this, my friend patiently listened and then offered this advice. Perhaps instead of focusing on what my daughter may have lost, I could focus on what she could learn and gain from this experience. It took me a while to actually see the real wisdom in this. But I’ve come up with lessons and virtues that I pray are she can gain.

1. Patience and resilience. We are both blessed and cursed to live in a first world country. We have so much at our fingertips that we forget that anticipation and patience increases ultimate satisfaction. In this gimme generation, kids are so used to having whatever they want whenever they want it that they fall apart when life does not go as they hoped. Having a sick parent means that life often does not go as one hopes.

I’ve said the words “I’m sorry, mommy just can’t today” more often that I like. It used to make us both feel horrible. But then I realized that maybe my daughter could learn delayed gratification from this. And I see the growth happening. She still gets disappointed at times when I can’t do what she had hoped, but I see a change in her. An ability to bounce back and switch gears. The capacity to accept a change of plans and wait for and work for what she wants. That resilience will serve her in adult life. She’ll turn lemons into lemonade, and she won’t expect happiness to come from the outside.

2. Compassion. Let’s be honest, kids are inherently selfish. It’s not a bad thing. It’s how they survive as infants. But as they get older they can develop genuine concern for others and the ability to put others before themselves. It occurred to me that maybe she could learn through experience at a young age that there really is greater happiness in giving. When she does things for me without having to be asked, and expecting nothing in return, I know we’re on the right track. I never thought a cup of tea would move me to tears, but when your baby girl makes it for you because she knows you had a bad day, it’s a beautiful thing.

The writer holding her daughter's hands.

3. Appreciating the small things. I talk to my daughter about my illness. She’s aware that many things I do take great effort on my part. I tell her these things, not to garner sympathy, but to help her understand why her life might be different than her friends’. But that wound up having an unexpected side effect. She started to thank me for the little things I did for her and the energy it took. Appreciating the effort someone puts forth on your behalf is the beginning of gratitude. All these years we’ve been bugging her to remember to say thank you, and it turns out my chronic illness did the job. So we’ll consider it a teachable moment and accept the win.

4. Many hands make the load light. Families are the foundation of society. A family is a small community and when we work together everyone wins. I couldn’t do it all around the house even if I wanted to. But it’s best anyway when everyone pitches in the keep the household running. We don’t do what we do for each other for payback. We help each other because that’s what community does. The earlier in life a child can learn this, the better chance that they will be a force for good wherever they go. One day she’ll thank us for all the chores we gave her. And I hope it makes her the kind of person who jumps in to help whenever she sees a need.

There’s that old saying that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. While that may not be completely accurate all the time, it is true that attitude is everything. We can take adversity and let it help us grow. I’m hoping she’ll grow up to be a strong compassionate person. One who is resilient and perseveres in tough times. It’s true I’m not the mom I used to be, but I’m still the only mom she has. She tells me she always wanted a mom like me. While that is statement is a paradox, I think I know what she means… she knows I love her and always will. Perhaps that’s the only kind of mom she needs.

Follow this journey on The Dizzy Optimist.

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