Parenting with a physical or mental illness

It’s not easy, no one said it would be easy. The second you become pregnant you suddenly have a million and 1 negatives about parenting thrown at you. Rather than to tell you all of the amazing and positive perks of being a parent, people swiftly feel somewhat obligated to warn others about how hard having children can be. I cringe every time I hear those warnings, you know, the ones telling you to ”enjoy your sleep while you have it” type of remarks?  But no one told me how hard it would be being a parent who has an illness.

 More often than not I contemplate with the thought that my illnesses are more of a child than the ones I give birth to!
Illness is needy, it will nag at you until you’re so exhausted that you can barely feel your feet, it will wake you up at all hours of the night and suck the life out of you, it will beg you for attention and give you signs to do as it wants, especially if its tired! and if you don’t do what it wants, the flaring tantrum will come out..

Just – like – a – child!
So how do you manage being a parent whilst battling an illness?

Number 1 : Acceptance 

No one chooses to be sick, and sometimes we can’t do anything about it. In order to be the parent you want to be, you must first accept that you’re unwell and I’m sure I don’t need to tell you to NEVER compare yourself to other parents. We all have our own version of limitations before we crash and burn and accepting our limits is important. Once you learn to accept your health you will realise that sometimes it rules everything, and that’s Okay! Because it is only when you accept your conditions that you gain your true power back!

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you look at it”

We must be open to the fact that sometimes life does not go the way we planned, and the only way to manage that our plans are not quite going the way that we had hoped for is by accepting our reality . By accepting your situation for what it is you will not only allow yourself to grow a little more patient, forgiving and adaptable to your conditions, but you will learn to work around your illnesses knowing that sometimes you do not have a choice. Rather than pushing and working against your scattered mind or aching body (which will only cause more pain)  you’re accepting, listening and working WITH your body.
By listening to your body, you’re putting your children first. Because lets face it…You can’t parent well if you’re bed ridden for 5 months straight after forcing and pushing yourself to run around a water park for the whole weekend when you knew your body wasn’t up for the task, but as most parents do… you did it anyway just to make your kids happy.
Learn to forgive yourself and accept your limits.  Just like a domino effect, when we are unhappy the whole house is unhappy. Carefully consider the price you and your children have to pay when you know you’re pushing your limits. Know that putting yourself first also means that you are putting your children and family first.

Number 2 : Compromise 

Depending on your pain levels or how you’re coping mentally, if your kids are bored but you’re having a shocking pain day/mental health day, take your meds to help the pain, cook some popcorn, bring out the junk food, turn off all the lights, close all curtains and set up your living room like a mini cinema so that you can excite your kids when you tell them that you’re having a movie day! Or maybe a picnic in the house? Put the food on the bench and let their imagination run wild by allowing them to set up a picnic area on the living room floor or wherever you’re most comfortable. You could fold plain pieces of paper in half and ask them to write or draw you a story book, or you could tell them that they can make these pictures or books to send in the mail to a family member or friend (kids love waiting by the mail box for their own letters) If you’re having a good pain /mental health day, plan ahead with your children like so. “Okay kids, let’s go to the park! But when we get home from the park we need to have a rest by playing quietly so that we can recharge our batteries
Children thrive on structure and your kids will know that after your park visit or activity that it is rest time. By planning ahead with the children involved they are more acceptable of the day planned before them. My “recharging batteries” statement is how I helped my son understand my limits, sometimes I have days where I am straight out honest and tell him that I am not feeling too good and my battery is low. Just like a battery on the tv remote or iPad, our bodies need time to recharge. Sometimes we need a small charge by just having a quick drink of water and a few deep breaths after running around with our friends, or when we eat some fruit to fuel our bodies, when we sleep at night that’s when our batteries charge the most, and sometimes, mum’s body just needs to recharge more than others do. This concept has not only helped my son understand but I now commonly refer to it when I am feeling drained. It is a way to remind myself that although I often feel like a living robot, even a robot needs to charge its batteries!Never fall into the trap of thinking you need to have it together 24/7.

If you have younger children, you are still able to compromise. Although the younger ones need more attention and supervision there are plenty of things you can do instead of having to run around the house pretending to be a race car  or a unicorn with them. Depending on the weather you can watch them outside while they play with bubbles, they can draw on the concrete with chalk or paint the fence with a brush and a cup of water. These are all things that require little effort and mess. The above activities will allow you to sit, watch & rest whilst your child is playing.
You can also have some activities in place for when you need to recharge for a bit, kind of like an illness parent survival kit! A box of things they can play with that only come out when you need it most. Putting your survival kit aside only for when you need it most, will make your children feel like this is something new and exciting rather than something that they do everyday and get bored with quickly. I have a puzzle that I put away and when my 2-year-old daughter is driving me to the brink of insanity, I pull that survival kit out and she acts like it’s a brand new toy. I love how easily a toddlers mind can be distracted!
You may be surprised at how understanding and supportive your kids can be if they know that you’re recharging your batteries. Having children occupied is important, but I urge you to not forget that your children are more than capable of coming up with their own things to do too. I’m not sure if the making slime phase is happening where you live yet, but this making slime phase is what I like to call an epidemic! The mess, OMG the mess!  Kids love to explore and experiment and that’s okay, it’s a part of learning. You can sit down whilst guiding them do crafts or slime making, or if you have older children, you can set some boundaries for the activities that they choose to do.
“You can make the slime but you must clean up your mess after you’re finished, and if you do not clean up the mess that you have made, you will not be able to make it again”
Setting boundaries is important but following through is key!  By letting your children occupy themselves you are guiding them into their own independence and prompting them to use their imagination without you having to think for them.

Now before I finish this number let me tell you, my 10-year-old boy does not recall one single time that I did not do something with him that he wanted to do. That time spent bonding and simple conversations/attention given to him overlaps any short disappointing moments that he may have had. Disappointment is inevitable, it is a part of life and we will all have to face disappointment in our lives, our children will need to learn how to healthily manage disappointing times as they grow into adults. Acknowledge your childs feelings whilst also knowing that your children are far more resilient than you think, they will not hold your bad pain/ mental health days against you.
You can still attend to your children whilst working around how your body and mind is treating you. Compromising is a win, win for all.

Number 3 : Ask for help

Even those without illness have those days where the tv and gaming units/iPads become our baby sitters. Even those without illness will organise for their kids to go visit a friend or family so that the parents can have a break. Never be ashamed to ask for help. If I have learned anything through my own journey, it is that asking for help is not weakness, it is a strength of its own.
Now I know all too well that asking for help is a hard thing to do for many of us, my guess is that the people who have continues reading this are the rock and foundation to their families, but being the rock to your family does not mean that you need to wear yourself out to a point that you’re hiding in the toilet as you weep just to have 5 minutes to yourself.

 I feel like becoming a parent as well as having an illness automatically comes with the guilt and a burden type of feeling.
But know this my friends, you are not a burden and you have nothing to feel guilty for, and this subject is why rule number 1 (Acceptance) is so important. Do you really think your kids will remember that 6 months ago you didn’t go for a bike ride up the street with them? These are not things that your kids will remember. What they will remember is you not being around at all. You don’t have to be active to be present. Be kind to yourself, remember those limitations and if your battery is running low, ask for help. Because you f*#k$%* deserve it! You are not a robot and you are not a burden. You did not choose this illness, and when you learn to ask for AND accept the help offered to you, you will again be surprised at how understanding & supportive both your children and loved ones may be.

Number 4 : Perspective!! 

 For as long as you’re trying you are succeeding.
Sure you have been on the couch all day, sure your kids had cereal for lunch again, sure your kids were bored so they decided to pull out all the sheets and make a fort in the living area, sure your kids had a bath, however you haven’t had a shower in 2 days now and dinner isn’t even ready yet.
Now let’s reverse that thought process for a moment and watch what happens.

“Today I am having a rest day, my kids are fed, my kids are bathed. My kids are using their imagination to play today and screw it, I’m ordering take out tonight .. yum pizza!!”
this is the very same situation as the above, only the perspective is different.

Perspective makes all the difference.
And no matter how despondent you feel, if you consistently make the effort to twist your thoughts in your head into a positive perspective ( and yes, even if you don’t believe it) I promise that eventually you will believe it. It will become your new normal. It will become a new habit that will enable you to automatically look at things in a positive light without even trying. Our brains are a very powerful tool and only you have the ability to train your brain into jumping to the positive rather than the negative. Fake it until you make it! Pay attention and catch yourself when you are thinking a negative, and in your mind, twist those thoughts into a positive perspective, again, even if you don’t believe it.
Persistently try this for 3 – 4 weeks and see what happens, the change you notice within yourself will be well worth it.

Another thing to remember is that your parenting is not the issue, the deeper issue is your illness. The reason you’re so hard on yourself and your parenting is because you feel downhearted, it is because you are second guessing every move that you make. Not your kids, but you. We see things in a whole other light compared to our children and it’s important to remember that the things we want, the what we prioritize and worry about, the things we see and how we feel are not the same as what our children see, feel and worry about. You do not have to follow the steps of a mother blogger who appears to have no flaws and takes her kids out every single day while they live in the perfectly clean house and do activities 24/7. Trying to reach those standards is impossible, why?  because they are simply not real! Own your truth and go with it. We all live different lives and only you can own and take charge of the life that YOU live. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT let social media trick you into thinking you should or shouldn’t be parenting a certain way.

Studying children services and Social work I learned a few things. One case study showed that the happiest child was the one who came from a lower class family, but this child was one that had affection and love, these children had compassion and empathy. Whilst the other children from the financially stable family who had everything they wanted given to them, grew irritable, dependant on others, unhappy, lacking imagination and creativity as well as trust issues, and craving attention and affection.
You see, your finances also have nothing to do with your success as a parent, but your time does.
Your children do not need fancy things all the time, they don’t need to be taken to Disney world or have expensive outings/vacations, they do not need to do constant activities with you to be happy. Letting them be bored and encouraging them to use their imagination in today’s society filled with high-tech gadgets is healthy! Maybe you remember the times you felt that you let down your children, but your kids will not remember the mistakes you made or the days that you have rested. For as long as you’re conversing with your kids, for as long as you are giving them affection, boundaries, attention, persistence, stability, encouragement and love…. your kids will be happy.

So above all else, to all parents and care givers with children that are battling with their health, whither it be physical or mental. Your children are most happy when you are happy, and if that means you need to rest, then you rest like the mother bear that hibernates through the winter!

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