Being a parent can be tough at times, and being a parent with chronic illness can be even tougher. I absolutely love being a Mum, but symptoms such as pain and fatigue definitely make parenting life more challenging. As a Mum of one (soon to be two) who lives with multiple chronic illnesses, I’ve had to learn to adapt in order to be the best Mum possible. Here are my best tips and hacks for managing life as a parent with chronic illness.
1. Create an awesome play space
We didn’t have a room we could turn into a playroom, so instead, we created a play corner. We used a combination of items we already had and secondhand items. The space being penned in meant when my son was younger it was a secure, safe area for him to explore. Now that he is older the gate is left open so he can come and go as he pleases. We’ve adapted the space to grow with him, changing the toys and layout periodically. We rotate the boxes of toys to keep things interesting and have designed them so he can reach things himself. The play corner means that I can sit in a comfy chair on days when I am struggling, and he can bring things to play with me or play independently.
2. Batch cook
On days when you are able, batch cooking can be a lifesaver. I don’t have many days where batch cooking is manageable. What I do instead is cook extra portions whenever I am well enough to make a meal. I then portion, label and freeze the extra. This means on days when I am not well enough to cook I have a stash of healthy, easy, microwavable meals for the family.
3. Accept help
I cannot stress this one enough, please accept help. It took me juggling too much and crashing health-wise to finally realise that it is okay to accept help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help too! Let your support network know what you need and how they can help.
4. Buy smart
When preparing for the arrival of our first I became acutely aware of how important it was to buy smart as a parent with chronic illness. There are so many products that can help make day-to-day life that bit easier. Two of my favourite items that made life easier when my son was a baby were a nappy caddy (everything in one place and easy to transport) and a no tie, no fastenings baby sling that I could put on and off like a t-shirt. Don’t be afraid to get creative if they don’t sell something suited to your needs. We couldn’t find a changing station that was suitable for my height and needs so we created our own. Another top tip is to check the weight of larger items, such as pushchairs or car seats, and opt for lightweight items.
5. Create a “bad day” box
Put together a box of things to make life easier on days when you are having a flare or struggling. Fill the box with easy activities for your child to choose from (no-mess crafts, easy games, puzzles, a list of movies to watch, some books). It can also be useful to add some long-life snacks such as popcorn. Don’t forget to add items to help you manage your symptoms too, such as a heat pad, To Better Days Pain Patches and some coffee bags. Pop the box away in a safe place and grab it on the days when you need it.
6. Be smart with activities
There are so many ways to adapt activities and games to make them more accessible. You would be amazed how many activities can be adapted so you can play them from the floor or a comfy chair. You create “normal” in your home, and children really don’t mind if you need to adapt the way things are done, they just love spending time with you. My favourite fun activities tend to be easy clean-up or no mess to conserve energy. Painting with water or no-mess finger painting are two of our favourites.
This concept can be applied when out and about too. If you want to plan a family trip look for ways to make it as accessible as possible. A great example of this would be a recent trip we took to the zoo where I hired a mobility scooter as the walking required wasn’t manageable for me.
7. Be open and honest
It’s okay to talk to your child about your health and the impact it has on you and your family. The most important thing is to do it in an age-appropriate way. My son knows that I need to take regular breaks, have a comfy seat, take medicine to help me feel well and use various aids such as walking sticks to help me with daily activities. He also knows that I always have time for him and strive to be as present as possible. He knows his Dad will do the more physically demanding activities such as explorer walks and football but that I will always be happy to play with him even if it’s from a chair. I don’t think he misses out, even though our day-to-day may look different to families where chronic illness is not a factor.
8. Look after yourself
Your health has to be a priority. Think of what they tell you on aeroplanes, put your oxygen mask on before your child’s. I always think of that analogy when I feel guilty for prioritising my health. If I take care of myself, I am ensuring I am the best Mum I can possibly be for my son.
Don’t compare yourself to others and don’t sweat the small stuff. You are enough for your family, and you always will be. You’ve got this!