Parenting with a Chronic Illness

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Five Ways I have Learned To Thrive and How You Can Too

By Elizabeth Taylor

When most of us think of parenting, it’s normal to assume that we’ll be active in our kids’ lives throughout their childhoods. We picture ourselves chasing them around as toddlers, riding bikes around the neighborhood, or swimming together as they get older.

It can be a devastating blow to receive a diagnosis that would dare to limit our ability to parent well…or so we might think.

I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in 2007, when my oldest child was two years old. MS is a potentially disabling disease of the central nervous system, which is comprised of the brain and spinal cord. I’d already dealt with quite a few episodes by the time my second child was born, and the prospect that this disease threatened to have me wheel-chair bound very quickly, even while I was in the throes of juggling two small children, became more and more daunting. 

I remember feeling so scared about my unknown future, but even more so, about my kids’ futures. I wanted them to have a mom who’d be around for a long time and who would be able to keep up with them!

Having been on this journey for more than 13 years now, I’ve learned a lot about how to parent while personally dealing with a chronic illness. Here are my top five take-aways:

1. Enjoy right now. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Because we don’t know what tomorrow holds, we can only live in the moment we have right in front of us. Live in that reality.

2. Understand that your kids will be ok. I remember talking to an older mom while I was in the middle of an MS episode. I shared how hard it was for me to allow my kids to see me struggle. I wanted to be strong for them, but instead I was weak, and at times, even  unable to walk. She reassured me that seeing my trials would help them grow. By having a front row seat to my pain and watching me deal with my own hardships, they would learn empathy and how to better care for others and navigate their own struggles with success.

3. Be open and honest, both with yourself and with your kids. I had to learn to be honest during particularly difficult moments. I shared with my children how I was struggling through my own crisis, hoping they’d learn new skills as they watched how I responded. And guess what, they have!

4. Choose gratitude. One of the best things I’ve learned to do as a result of my diagnosis is choosing to be thankful, even for the smallest of things! Making this choice has reshaped my perspective of  the world and even how I view my own circumstances. My outlook is much more positive than it used to be!

5. Practice self-care. Parents with chronic illnesses often feel so much guilt regarding their parenting, making it easy to choose to sacrifice their needs for those of their kids. Don’t do it. Your children need a good example of what self-care looks like. Choose to make time for yourself, and you’ll find yourself being a better parent to your kids.

Whatever chronic illness you are battling, I want to encourage you with this: You ARE making a difference in your child’s life. Keep planting those seeds and enjoy watching them grow for years to come!

For further encouragement, check out my chronic illness support group. We meet in Spring Hill, a few times a month. Contact me for more info and to join our thriving community. We would love to have you!

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