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4 Ways Having Cystic Fibrosis Helps Me Be a Happier Mom

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mom with two daughters

I am almost 42 years old, and I have cystic fibrosis. While I am fortunate to have enjoyed good health for most of my life, the past few years have brought some unexpected dips. There are times when I have needed to drop everything and focus all of my energy on getting better, though as a mom of two with self-diagnosed “can’t-sit-down” syndrome, this certainly hasn’t been easy!

However, I began to notice something that really surprised me. Focusing on taking care of myself during bouts of sickness actually allowed me to enjoy my life more because I was able to be relaxed, creative and more patient with my kids. At times when my lungs were healing and I felt healthy enough to tackle my daily itinerary of the busy mom, I became stressed and grumpy, with an attitude that said, “I don’t want to be doing this.” And my kids picked up on that. That’s when I had a wake-up call.

Tired of the tension and resentment, I began to study how my approach to life differed when I was sick. Here is what I discovered:

1. I give myself (and my family) the gift of rest and self-care.

When I’m healthy, the supermom drive kicks in. Even when I’m getting worn out, I push through it, driven to “get things done.” As I grow more exhausted and frustrated, my stress becomes contagious. I yell at my kids. Daylight runs out before I can take that nice walk in the sun I wanted. Anxiety and depression creep in because it feels like I’m just a get-it-done robot. Ring any bells?

Unless the hospital is my destination of choice, I have to rest when I’m sick. I have to take time to do my extra breathing treatments and see my doctors, which only tires me out, meaning even more rest. But it also means I get to watch a funny movie with my kids or spend a few moments sitting on the porch while they play, just listening to the wind in the trees. It’s like giving myself and my family a gift: “I know that this is what you need right now. Here you go – enjoy.”

2. My relationship with my to-do list becomes more realistic and in tune with my needs.

Do you know what my first reaction is to being sick again? Well, besides, “Oh no, not again,” my first thought is, “Whew! I get to take a break from my to-do list!” Seriously.

So what happens with all those incredibly important to-do’s? Life goes on. Some things just get put on hold, like dishes. I felt inordinate glee the last time I broke out the paper plates. I let other things go altogether – chaperoning field trips, for example – in favor of bonding time with my two kids. As for the rest, I’ve learned it’s OK to pass the to-do list to someone else.

3. I ask for and let myself receive help.

When it comes to asking for help, I am always concerned about “keeping it even.” If I ask for help, I can’t ask for help again until I’ve repaid it equally. I don’t understand where that comes from or why I’m so stubborn about it because help is absolutely golden when it comes.

On one occasion, after absurd resistance, I let grandpa move in to help for a few days. Laundry? Done. Kids fed and driven to and from school? Done. Me? I was taking naps, reading picture books with the kids, sketching… and I couldn’t remember the last time I felt so relaxed. Life was suddenly a joyous celebration. Why did I ever fight this? To prove I’m supermom? (Please see Item #1 for a refresher on how fun that was.) This leads me to my last revelation.

4. My life becomes more exploratory, enjoyable and connected with those I love.

So that’s the magical part: when I take time to rest, relax about my to-do list, and ask for help, it’s as if all these layers start peeling off – expectations, self-imposed deadlines, etc. – and I can feel me again. And I like her — she’s playful, funny, enthusiastic and she likes her kids. Instead of endless checkmarks, my life feels like a choose-our-own-happy-adventure book. What should we explore today? How about I just lounge on the couch – without any laundry to fold – and simply be present with my kids as they embark on another fantastically messy (and wonderful) project? It’s in those moments that I realize how much I want to participate in my life as a parent, in sickness and in health – not just get through it. After all, who knows what magic will unfold?

This post was previously published on MetroParent magazine.

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Originally published: June 10, 2016
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