themighty logo

11 'Harmless' Comments That Hurt Parents With Chronic Illness

For parents who live with chronic illness, the “harmless” comments of others can actually come off as really hurtful. These comments can come from anyone including family members, friends or even doctors. A comment, while potentially meaningless to the person saying it, can have an incredibly negative impact on the parent who is dealing with chronic illness.

A “harmless” comment can be delivered in many ways. It may be offered as a suggestion, but can come across as a slight criticism. It may be just a small observation, but might sound a bit judgmental. These comments often come from those who are trying to help, but the way they are approaching you can sometimes miss the mark.

When a parent who lives with chronic illness opens up to you and shows you their regular daily life, they likely aren’t looking for you to correct them or guide them. Even if their reality looks different than others’, that doesn’t mean one parenting style is “better” or “worse.” It’s always important to practice understanding and empathy rather than making assumptions or offering unsolicited advice.

According to Jodi Taub, LCSW, a therapist who specializes in helping both children and adults cope with chronic illness, these “harmless” comments can hurt because they tend to make parents feel guilty.

“Parents who live with chronic illness have a double hit when it comes to responsibility; having to care for both themselves and their children,” Taub said. “It is common for parents with chronic health care conditions to feel a tremendous amount of guilt. They may not be as emotionally or physically available to their children as they would like. ‘Guilt,’ is parental right of passage. However, parents with chronic illness feel and experience the real judgments of other parents. This added stress can make parents with chronic illnesses feel isolated and alone.”

Being a parent while living with chronic illness isn’t always the easiest, especially when comments from others make you feel judged or exacerbate any guilt you may be feeling. To cope with these challenges, Taub said it’s important for parents with chronic illnesses to receive support, and recommended establishing an “identified support team.” She explained:

The identified support team can include, but is not limited to, significant others, caretakers and family and friends who are on board with helping out. Chronic illness is unpredictable, but if you have a plan that includes available resources, it is not unmanageable. Have a backup plan for when you do not feel well or may unexpectedly need help. Don’t be afraid to ask friends and family members how they may feel most comfortable to assist. You may have a neighbor who can help out with an extra play date, meal plan, or recreational or school pick up.

There’s nothing “wrong” with asking for help – and if you ever need some support or encouragement from other chronically ill parents, our community is always here for you.

To shed light on the reality of parenting with chronic illness, and help explain why the comments of others might be more hurtful than helpful, we asked the chronically ill parents in our Mighty community what “harmless” comments actually hurt them. While many loved ones might think they are giving you helpful advice, sometimes they don’t realize how their words make you feel.

It’s important to recognize that being a parent with chronic illness is by no means impossible; it might just look a little different.

Here’s what our community had to say:

1. “Your house is too messy.”

The cleanliness and organization of your home doesn’t necessarily speak to your parenting skills. Though a friend or loved one may make a comment like this out of concern, or simply as an observation, it can easily come off as judgmental.

“A messy home does not necessarily indicate poor parenting,” Taub said. “A messy home for parents with chronic illness may represent that they are prioritizing other needs.”

“When I was mostly bedridden, a neighbor told me her house was messy but she always felt a lot better about hers when she saw mine.” – Lena H.

2. “Your chronic illness is bad for your kid(s).”

Your chronic illness doesn’t entirely define who you are as a person or a parent. Anyone who insinuates that it negatively affects your child likely doesn’t understand the full scope of who you are, and the overall influence you have on your child.

“We are all vulnerable to limitations at some point in our lives,” Taub said. “All parents are suspect to complications of life that can limit anyone as a parent.”

In fact, your children may learn many valuable lessons from having a parent with chronic illness. “In many ways, parents with chronic illness are better equipped to deal with life stressors and manage unanticipated or acute stress,” Taub continued. “Living with a chronic illness requires a person to be adaptable, flexible and learn to live with modifications. All of these skills are transferable to parenting, and are strengths.”

“I actually had someone say that my child is addicted to video games because I was so lazy when he was growing up. That since all I wanted to do was lay down, I put him in front of the video games just so I could always lay down. (He’s 20 now.)” – Tracy M.

“‘Are you sure? You may just be a hypochondriac and you might want to stop. That’s bad for your kids.’ Yeah, so is a mom who has an illness that causes her to pass out if she changes position too fast.” – Alys H.

3. “Your partner does more work than you.”

If you are raising children with a partner, it can be hurtful when people assume your partner does more for your children than you only because you have a chronic illness.

“Partnerships are about compromise,” said Jodi Taub. “Couples who live with chronic illness have to learn how to negotiate responsibility and to share responsibilities due to time constraints and physical limitations. Couples who live with chronic illness may have the added benefit of honing these skills, and may in fact become more equitable partners.”

“‘Wow your husband must be exhausted!’ I already feel guilty enough that my husband works and has to pull so much weight at home. I don’t need it rubbed in my face.” – Kari R.

4. “You’re lucky your illness means you get to be a stay-at-home parent.”

Sometimes parents are unable to work due to their chronic illness. This may be difficult for those who wish they were able to work, either for financial or personal reasons. Unfortunately, people might make hurtful assumptions that you’re “relaxing” or “doing nothing” by staying home all day, when in reality you might be struggling to manage your illness while also take care of your kids. 

In an essay on The Mighty, contributor Sharilynn Battaglia explained that any “leisure time” she has as a stay-at-home mom with chronic illness is not usually spent in a “leisurely” way. “The days I spend at home doing nothing, I can’t usually relax. I’m either in too much pain, hence the reason for being home in the first place, or I’m trying to to get some sort of house cleaning done,” she wrote. “If I do get to leisure, it usually gets wrecked anyway. Since my disease is unpredictable at best and comes on quickly at times, I can be out having fun one minute and unable to breathe looking for a chair the next.”

“‘Well it’s not like you have to actually do anything, you’re at home all day, I’m jealous.’ [I’m a] stay-at-home mom and disabled. Yeah, like parenting and keeping house is so easy…” – Brittany R.

“‘You’re lucky to be a stay-at-home mom.’ It’s not luck. I didn’t choose this. My chronic physical illness did.” – Denise E.

5. “You shouldn’t have kids if you have a chronic illness.”

If someone tells you that your chronic illness should stop you from having kids, they likely don’t understand what all a parent with a chronic illness can truly give to a child. While parenting with chronic illness can certainly give rise to some challenges, there are also many positive opportunities as well.

“When you have a chronic illness you live with the added responsibility of having to manage your own self-care while at the same time caring for your children,” Taub weighed in. “Parents with chronic illness model positive self-care for their children. You have to care for yourself before you can care for others.”

“‘Why did you have kids if you knew your health wasn’t so good?’” – EmJ J.

“[I was told] that I was unfit to raise an 8-year-old if I needed a daily nap.” – Julie J.

“‘Disabled people should never have children. They ruin our society.’ Sorry for ruining your perfect world. I didn’t ask for the genes I was born with. (She had no clue I was disabled).” – Julie S.

6. “You should have more kids.”

Those with chronic illness should not have to make decisions that push their bodies or place their health at risk if they don’t want to. Taub said, “Having children and having various options to have children is a decision that parents living with chronic illnesses should make with their partners and their medical care team.”

Suggesting that someone “needs” to have more children can be inappropriate and hurtful, especially if you don’t know the reason behind their decision.

“I was told I was ‘selfish’ and a ‘bad mom’ and that my daughter would resent me for only having one child (we both almost died during my pregnancy and birth).” – Heather W.

7. “You’re not parenting the way you ‘should’ be parenting.”

There are many different parenting styles, and one is not necessarily “better” than another.

“All parents have various strengths and limitations,” Taub explained. “Just because a parent may have a physical limitation, they [still] may be able to compensate in other ways.”

“There was a post going around about all the school closings for weather and that people need to realize not all kids have their mom waking them up, getting them ready, and at the door making sure they are wearing all their cold weather gear etc… A friend shared it and commented that the problem was ‘some of you parents just suck.’ I used to be that mom, but I’ve taught my kids to be pretty independent from a young age because I knew my heath was declining and I wouldn’t always be able to do it. I still get up and check on them and I know they are capable and I taught them well, but I can’t do all that anymore and it broke my heart.” – Mandy Jo H.

8. “Your child is sick because they’re copying you.”

Kids are just like adults in the sense that they can have chronic illnesses, too. But if your child is ill, it can be incredibly hurtful to hear that your child is “probably just copying you, and not actually sick” – especially when you work hard to take care of yourself and your kids.

Mighty community member Linnéa S. stressed the importance of believing kids who speak up about health issues. She wrote, “If your child says they are experiencing a symptom, especially chronic pain, please believe them. It hurts to not be believed by someone who cares about us. Plus it delays getting a diagnosis or starting treatment.”

“‘Your son is just pretending to be sick because he sees what you do.’ No. We’re both legit sick. Hence all of the specialists.” – April T.

“A doctor saying without doing any tests that my daughter’s issues were either because she doesn’t see her dad or because I’m disabled and she wants to be like me. Assuming she was unfit because I was in a wheelchair.” – Emma B.

9. “Everyone is chronically tired when they have young kids.”

“People living with chronic illnesses, and especially invisible illnesses, often experience discrimination in terms of their abilities,” said Taub. “It can be difficult for others to understand what day to day life really looks like for someone living with a chronic illness. As a result, it is easy for others to make hurtful commentary or to invalidate your experience.”

While this lack of understanding does not make hurtful comments “OK,” it can serve as a reminder that it’s important for us to raise awareness about the reality of parenting with chronic illness. “Try to understand that this lack of understanding comes from ignorance,” Taub said. “Helping others to understand how our daily ailments manifest or what our disease really looks like can help bridge this gap.”

“‘Everyone is chronically tired when they have young kids.’ (Comparing caring for kids to my having [myalgic encephalomyelitis], not to mention my having ME while trying to care for my young kids.)” – Amy E.

10. “You could be passing your illness on to your kid(s).”

The reality is that a lot of parents or future parents with hereditary conditions may already be worried about this – but Taub thinks a lot is possible in the future. “Although individuals living with chronic illness may have genes that predispose their children to potential health issues, medicine and technology is progressing so rapidly that some illnesses may be eradicated and treatments can extend life and limit disease progression,” she said.

Ultimately, it is a personal decision that’s up to you and your partner – but either way you deserve support, not judgment.

“I hope you didn’t pass your autoimmune disease on to your kids.” – Amanda B.

11. “You should do more with your kid(s).”

The word “more” can be harmful on its own if you are already pushing yourself to do a lot of activities with your kids. When someone encourages you to go past your limit, they’re not respecting your boundaries, which can be damaging to your health and well-being.

“All parents have various strengths,” said Taub. “Some parents may be helpful in organization, providing emotional strength, and spending time in various ways. All parents have limitations when it comes to responsibilities due to work and life constraints. Just because a parent has a chronic illness does not mean that they are spending any more or less time with their children. It just may look different.”

“My dad is always pressuring me to do things with my girls that I physically can’t. ‘You don’t want them to miss out on bike riding; it’s only 10 miles.’ It felt like my bathroom was 10 miles away today. I hate that my girls miss out so much but, having to admit I can’t do it to my dad every time I see him breaks my heart.” – Mags D.

“I’ve been told that I’m ‘not as hands on as I used to be.’ It made me question whether or not I’m a bad mom. Endometriosis and adenomyosis have changed almost every aspect of my life except how much I love and care for my children. I just do it in a different way now. Instead of park days, we do craft days, instead of biking, we have family movie days. Low impact activities are no less valuable than high energy ones. We can only do the best we can with what energy we have and what our bodies let us do.” – Jodi N.

If you’ve heard any of these “harmless” comments as a parent with chronic illness, know you’re not alone. Our community is here to support you.

Here are some additional stories about parenting with chronic illness from our community: