I am a parent to three active, beautiful children. I am also chronically ill. Parenting when you have chronic illnesses is very challenging. However, as strange as it may sound, I truly believe I am the best mother I can be because of my health issues.
There was a time in my life when I didn’t know if I should be a parent. I had this idea of what a perfect parent “should be.” That parent was—among many other things—completely healthy. I thought maybe I was selfish to love children so much and to have a deeply rooted desire to be a mother. But in reality, the “perfect” parent doesn’t exist. My husband and I had so much love to give, and thankfully my fears didn’t stop us from becoming foster parents. From there, God blessed us with the ability to adopt a sibling group of three amazing children. So here I am, a mom, who has chronic illnesses.
I cannot say that life has been a breeze and my diseases do not impact our family. The truth is that every day has some level of difficulty for me. A “normal” or “easy” day will still have chronic pain, anxiety, medications, strict diets, and medical bills. Then, there are the “hard” days when there are hospitalizations, procedures, hours lying in bed, unaccomplished chores, and canceled plans. Sometimes the difficult days turn into weeks or even months.
During one of these particularly challenging times, my adrenal glands were not working properly and I was extremely fatigued. My heart would race as I simply walked across the room. My two youngest kids were both in diapers and I realized I was too weak to lift them on to their changing table. I cried as I laid them down on the floor to change their diapers. I was feeling so exhausted and defeated.
At the time, I felt like a failure as a mother because I couldn’t lift my babies to change their diapers. However, now that time has passed, I can look back at this situation with a different perspective. Now, I feel so much pride. I was so sick and I still met my children’s needs. Who cares if it was on the floor? They had clean diapers in the end. Some people push their bodies to the limit as they run marathons, but that day I pushed my body to the limit as I took care of my babies. I was a mama warrior. I just didn’t receive any medal or applause. When you are a chronically ill parent, you sometimes have to fight to accomplish the smallest tasks. These will not be celebrated or acknowledged by anyone, but God knows, and you will know, that you accomplished something amazing.
On the other hand, when you are a chronically ill parent, there will be times when you are too sick to even make modifications to meet your children’s needs. At that point you will need to ask for help. It sounds simple, and I am even blessed to have a great network with a supportive husband, and family and friends, but it can be difficult to swallow my pride and call in backup.
Recently, my older daughter was working on her math homework and was stuck on a problem. I was sitting next to her ready to help, but she didn’t ask for it. Instead, she became frustrated and defeated. I explained to her that it is good to ask for help if it is available to you. I had to laugh though, because I am guilty of doing the same thing. I sometimes do not ask for help when I clearly need it. I’m realizing that asking for help is a healthy skill to model for my children. It is good for them to see me reach out for support when I am overwhelmed.
On the flip side of this, it is beneficial for my children to see me receiving help from others. My husband steps in to do more around the house to allow me to rest. Family from out of state will drive in to stay with us. Friends from church will drop off meals or babysit. My children are learning what it looks like to help and support others. I hope to raise children who will be compassionate and empathetic individuals. I hope they will be adults who will offer grace and understanding to a friend, spouse, or loved one. There truly are wonderful lessons my children are learning from having a parent with chronic illnesses.
My health issues give me a unique perspective as a parent that allows me to appreciate the days when I feel relatively okay. I try to make the most of the “good days” by being active and making fun memories. On the “hard days,” I’m sometimes able to find creative alternatives to make special memories. Just this week I was in a lot of pain. I didn’t feel like I could run around with the kids outside like they were requesting. So instead, we piled into our minivan, rolled down the windows, and blasted silly songs. We drove around the neighborhood getting funny looks from people while the kids danced, sang, and felt the wind in their hair. My older daughter commented that she hadn’t laughed that hard in a long time. It can be such a temptation not to make the most of the difficult days. My faith, having gratitude, and keeping challenges in perspective have been keys for me to find joy and contentment when parenting with a chronic illness.
I am not perfect at finding joy all the time, of course. I do allow myself—and teach my children—that it is normal and healthy to feel sad and grieve hard things. It is hard on kids when plans change. I wish I could always say for certain: “Yes, we’re going to the aquarium tomorrow.” But life with a chronic illness is uncertain and plans can change from one day to the next.
I have to fight to release myself from the guilt I feel when we can’t always have those adventurous, picture-perfect, Instagram-able days. My children are learning to be flexible, and honestly, I believe sometimes we get something even better. Some days, instead of an outing, we end up spending the day with all the kids snuggled in bed with me as I read books to them and they fall asleep on me. Sometimes there are days when I do not have the energy for anything creative, or even reading, and we just watch too much TV. And that’s okay too. I have been fighting the guilt for as long as I’ve had a chronic illness that life is supposed to look a certain way. Authentic relationships and connection mean far more than striving for an image of perfection.
Lastly, perhaps the greatest blessing of parenting children when you have a chronic illness, are the children themselves. God blessed me in immeasurable ways allowing me to be a mother. My children give me strength. They make me laugh on hard days. My husband, my kids, and my family make fighting through pain worth it. When my kids go through difficult times later in life I hope they will come to me, because they will know I understand life being challenging. My older daughter has diabetes. She loves that I also have illnesses because I can relate with her on a level other healthy people cannot relate.
It is always on my mind that I hope I can model for all my kids how to suffer well. By that I mean, that even on “bad days,” I hope they see me doing my best to love Jesus, love others, and live my life with joy and gratitude. I hope they never think the focus of my health issues outweighed my love for them. I hope as adults, my children can look back and find some level of their own gratitude and be able to say that they learned things and grew from being parented by a mother who had a chronic illness.