Parenting While Managing a Chronic Illness
Last updated: January 2020
Whether or not you have a child, most individuals would agree that parenting is hard. Although there is no right or wrong way to raise a child, new trends, latest research, and frequent comparisons to others can make a parent question how “good” of a job they’re doing. The stresses and demands of parenthood can be a lot for anyone to handle, especially those with a chronic illness. Chronic conditions can bring along fatigue, physical limitations, mood instability, brain fog, healthcare appointments, and financial burdens, among other issues. Navigating parenthood with a chronic illness can be challenging for everyone for a variety of reasons, however, some common concerns and considerations are highlighted below.
Struggling with guilt from not being the parent you thought you’d be
Before having a child, everyone has a vision of what kind of parent they think they might be. Maybe it’s an active parent, coaching the soccer, basketball, and football teams. Maybe it’s a parent who wants to limit screen time and serve only organic, homemade meals. However, what you want to do and what you’re able to do may be two different things. Physical limitations, emotional health challenges, and physician appointments may limit your ability to be everywhere and do everything you thought you could.
When you can’t provide or support your child in the way you wanted, it may lead to feelings of guilt, depression, or loneliness, especially if you start to label yourself as a “bad parent”. It’s important to remember though, that there is no right or wrong way to parent, all that matters is that you try to show love in whatever way you are able. Just because you aren’t able to play catch in the yard for an hour every day, doesn’t mean that you can’t watch your child and a friend play and root them on from the sidelines. Navigating your expectations versus your reality can lead to feelings of guilt and lack of fulfillment, however, it’s important to remember that as long as your trying your personal best, and showing your child you care in whatever way you can, you are being a good parent.
Fear of the future
In some cases, a chronic illness may lead to an uncertain future. Even when a condition doesn’t have an impact on an individual’s life expectancy or physical abilities, it can still have emotional and mental impacts on both the person with the condition, as well as their family. Many parents may feel concerned about physically being around to see their child grow up, graduate high school, get married, and be a part of all of their child’s milestones.
Even for those with a condition that doesn’t impact their lifespan, it can be easy to worry about how their illness might impact their children. Will their kids resent them for not being able to make every baseball game or cook a homemade meal every day? Will their child grow up angry because they had a “sick” parent with limitations when their best friend didn’t? These are common anxieties and concerns for a parent with a chronic illness.
On top of these fears for the future, there are also financial concerns and health concerns. Chronic illnesses can be expensive, and may also impact an individual’s ability to work or provide in the way they used to. Concerns for the financial stability of the family, especially when it comes to trying to provide for your children, can weigh heavily on the mind. Further, if a chronic condition has a genetic component, parents may worry that their children will end up in a similar situation as theirs.
Determining when to tell the truth
Keeping open lines of communication with others is a great way to set realistic expectations, receive grace from others, and find the support needed to make it through the day. While it may seem easy or obvious to disclose aspects of your health to a partner or spouse, it can be much more challenging to open up to a child about what’s going on. Specifically, deciding when to be honest with your child. Just like parenting in general, there is no right or wrong way to approach this task. Some may choose to introduce it early on, letting their little ones know that mommy or daddy isn’t feeling well today, while others may wait until their child is older and might better understand the full picture. It also may be hard to manage expectations once you do open up, especially with older child who might want to help. Accepting help, while still ensuring your child has their own independence and space to grow can be its own minefield to navigate.
While parenting with a chronic condition may be incredibly challenging, it is not impossible. It’s important to remember that there is no right or wrong way to be a parent, as long as you are showing love to your child in whatever way you can. For ideas on how to prepare for some of these challenges, check out our article on tips for parents with a chronic condition.
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