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5 Good Things My Chronic Illness Taught My Children

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Chronic illness in a parent can create a unique dynamic between them and their children. Whereas in most homes, the parents are carrying the heaviest load in running the household, in chronic illness homes, the kids often have to pick up a much more significant amount of that weight. Despite the fact that the chronically ill parent may want to shoulder the load alone, or even experience guilt and depression that they can’t, the simple fact is that a chronic illness parent doesn’t always have the capability to do it.

I learned a long time ago that if I want to be there for my kids in any sort of functional way, they had to be there for me. I have limited energy, so I have to spend it wisely. If I spend my energy doing dishes and folding laundry, I will be in bed when my kids want to play or go to the park.

I used to have serious parental guilt over the quandary that my chronic illness put me in. I felt like I wasn’t measuring up as a mom. If I made my kids shoulder my chores, I felt bad for them, but then if I did them and had to skip making great memories doing things together, I also felt bad. There is no way to win!

Chronic illness taught my kids some great lessons that have shaped them into wonderful, beautiful people. Here are five good things I believe they’ve learned from my chronic illness.

1.  Empathy

My children have developed a truly amazing grasp of empathy. They respond to the pain and suffering of others with great maturity and insight. They know, from having a parent with a chronic illness, the practice of how to care and be supportive.

They have also seen what it is like to have people judge a struggle by what they see and have also seen what suffering was hidden from those judgmental eyes. As a result, they have learned to consider that others need mercy, and to give it to them.

2. Patience

We live in a world of instant gratification. Patience is quickly becoming a dying trait. This makes me especially grateful that my chronic illness helped my children to learn this better. Because my energy is so limited, my children routinely have had to wait. Plans to do things and go places have to be spread out for me, and even then, sometimes they are delayed further.

The habit of waiting has developed the character of patience in them. Their whining and complaining don’t give me energy — only time does that — and consequently, they have learned that patience reaps rewards. If they give me recovery time, they get to do more than if they try to force me to keep up with them and I crash for weeks. As a bonus, they are also learning great time management skills by watching me manage my energy levels through scheduling.

3. Self-Discipline and Responsibility

Try as I may, to avoid crashing into the wall of my limitations, there are times when my chronic illness flares up and gets the best of me. When this happens, my children are more on their own than usual.

I can’t always physically can’t stand over them and make sure they are doing what is expected. Nor will I try to recover while yelling orders and threats from bed all day long. I need to rely on them to have the self-discipline to take care of things because they know they should be done. They have to be responsible enough to know what is expected and self-disciplined enough to do it on their own sometimes. My chronic illness has forced me to teach this quality to my children for my own sake, and I believe it has been a great benefit to them.

4. Courage

My children have watched me struggle with my health. They have observed the good and the bad of chronic illness nearly their entire lives. As a result, they’ve learned they need to stand up for themselves sometimes — not because they can change someone else, but because they need to be true to themselves. They have also learned it is OK to be different because whether you see it or not, everyone is dealing with something.

They have learned this courage by observing the courage it takes to live with a chronic illness. They have even learned courage from their own set of adversities they face in dealing with my chronic illness.

Sometimes they do miss out on things because of me. Sometimes they see me really, really sick. They’ve been there when I’ve been in the hospital and when I’ve needed scary emergency surgery. They’ve heard the doctors talk about scary complications. They’ve read facts about autoimmune disease that would make your hair stand on end. I know, and they know, and still we smile and live well. That’s courage, my friend, and they learned it firsthand through my chronic illness.

5. How to Take Care of Their Health

If there has been one major focus that chronic illness forces, it is on health. In my battle with chronic illness, nearly everything in my life has become related to how it affects my health.

My children do not see food, medicine, toiletries, travel, exercise, cleaning products or more through the lens of someone who has never had to deal an immune system that causes them to have a negative impact on health. When they make their plates, they are as aware of nutrition as I am because it has become an everyday thought to help my chronic illness.

They have learned that health is not an unlimited resource we don’t have to think about, because their shining example reminds them of that every single day. My chronic illness has taught them their bodies are precious and need to be taken care of. They have learned to take care of their health by having a parent with a chronic illness.

If you are a parent with a chronic illness, the tendency is to feel that it only takes away from what you have to offer your children. That is not true. The truth is, our kids need character, which often times comes from just the kind of diversity our chronic illness can offer.

No, your chronic illness may not allow you to offer your children the idyllic life of pleasure you envisioned for them, but I believe it offers them something far greater. It offers them the chance to develop real character and the stuff that makes greatness.

So stop feeling guilty. I, for one, am grateful to have children I can watch grow in a deeper understanding of empathy, show patience, behave responsibly and with self-discipline, be courageous when it’s called for and who know how to take care of their health.

That, to me, is far greater a reward than being able to always carry the load I feel guilty about sharing.

Follow this journey on Autoimmune Mess.

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Originally published: March 17, 2016
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