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4 Lessons My Son Has Learned by Having a Mom With a Chronic Illness

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Parenting with any chronic illness can be incredibly difficult. I’ve even been asked by some people (family, friends, and random strangers) if I would have decided to have a child if I would have known how my health would affect me later on. Despite the difficulties, the answer to that question is always a resounding “yes.” My son gives me the strength to keep fighting when I desperately want to give up.

I knew I’d be struggling with a chronic illness before I had my son; I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis three years before he was born. What I didn’t know was that my disease would worsen tenfold after his birth, or that I’d also be diagnosed with fibromyalgia, anxiety, and depression by the time he turned 4. There are days that I am still incredibly angry at what these diseases have taken from me – my freedom, my energy, and my ability to be the kind of parent and wife that I’d always dreamed I’d be. But I try to be grateful for the positive ways these illnesses have affected the way I parent, and the kind of child I’m raising.

My son is still very young, but I try to be as open with him with my struggles as I can be without frightening him. He had the pleasure of visiting me in the hospital for the first time when he was 10 months old, he has watched me hobble through my days in pain and with intense fatigue, and he has seen me in such bad ulcerative colitis flares that I could barely eat. There have been missed events, more days snuggling in bed than I certainly would like, but the positives still outweigh the negatives.

A few of those positives are:

1. My child understands sickness beyond the typical cold and flu. He understands that some people struggle every day, and that it doesn’t just “go away.” He has been able to grasp at such a young age that not everyone is blessed with good health.

2. He is amazingly empathetic for a child. When he knows someone is ill or hurt, his demeanor changes completely. He is more gentle, speaks softly, and asks how he can help you feel better.

3. As much as it may frustrate him, he understands when I need even more rest than usual. He’s able to understand that if I push through when I’m already having a difficult time, or if I overdo it, that I’ll end up sicker than I already am. He’s never gotten mad at me for having to duck out of an event, or needing to snuggle in bed and watch movies.

4. He knows that while the hospital can be a scary place, it’s also sometimes where I need to be to get better. I feel like that has helped him be less scared when I’m admitted, or even when he’s needed to go to the hospital himself.

He’s always able to brighten even the dimmest of hospital rooms, or make a (deservedly) grumpy nurse smile.

Would I wish a chronic illness on any parent out there? Absolutely not. Parenting is hard enough without a chronic illness! But, through the frustration of what you may not be able to do as a parent with a chronic illness, try to look at the ways your chronic illness is positively impacting your parenting. I guarantee you are raising a caring, sympathetic child through your struggles, and that will serve your child in ways you cannot even imagine now.

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Originally published: May 10, 2017
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