When you think of parenting, so many images probably come to mind, but how many of these include people with chronic illness or disability? The day to day challenges, and victories, of parenting are well documented, but rarely does society see what it takes to parent when you have a long term health condition.
My name is Rachel, I’m in my early 30s, with a two year old little boy, and a baby girl on the way. I am a parent, a writer, a wife, a fantastic cook and I live with rheumatoid arthritis. While arthritis does not define who I am, it does impact every aspect of my life, including how I parent. I want to share with you what a typical day looks like parenting with arthritis, including some tried and tested tips for overcoming some of the challenges.
There are many types of arthritis, but they often share overlapping symptoms including pain, fatigue and decreased mobility. Parenting while living with these symptoms can be challenging. However, there are lots of ways to make parenting not only manageable but enjoyable, while living with arthritis.
I have rheumatoid arthritis, which means my symptoms are often worst in the morning and evening. When my son wakes he will come and get into bed with us, we will chat and watch some children’s TV while I wait for the stiffness in my joints to ease. Like most toddlers, my son is hungry from sun up to sun down, therefore I tend to keep breakfast items such as cereal bars in my bedroom. This means he always has some breakfast and a fresh drink to hand without me having to go downstairs, which can be very difficult when I first wake.
Once I am able to, we get up and start the day. My husband and I share all parenting duties, and tend to alternate bath and bed times. If it’s my turn for bath time, I do this in the morning as by evening my pain and fatigue tend to be a lot worse. My son loves water so I turn bath time into a fun activity. We have lots of bath toys and games that I can play with him. It requires minimal energy on my part, but is very fun and stimulating for my son.
When it comes to getting dressed I plan my sons outfit for the day based on how my dexterity is. Buttons and fastenings can be a real challenge with arthritis so I always bear that in mind when shopping for clothes. One of my top tips if you have arthritis and a baby is to opt for zip up sleep suits; it’s a game changer!
Once we are dressed we head downstairs. We have adapted our home to have everything I need for the day on one floor which saves doing the stairs multiple times. How we fill our day varies based on how I’m feeling. Some days we go out to do activities, and other days we spend at home. It’s important when living with arthritis to adapt and make the best use of resources that you have. We’ve turned our small garden into a really fun, safe space for our son. This means on nice days when I’m not able to take him to the park, we can still enjoy time outside. Some great low energy, high fun activities we have for the garden include an interactive water tray and patio chalks.
When the weather isn’t on our side we have a great selection of fun indoor activities too. We love crafts, but I have had to find ways to make crafting more accessible. One of my favourite discoveries has been “paint with water books”. These require zero set up, leave no mess, and are really fun!
In terms of activities outside of the home, my best advice is to research, plan ahead and advocate for yourself. When planning a family day out I research things like walking distances, where there are seats for breaks and parking options. Most places are really helpful if you call up to enquire about accessibility.
Towards the end of our day, we have our evening meal. My arthritis means that cooking can be a challenge. I, therefore, do batch cooking when I can so that I have a stack of meals in the freezer. This means we can still share a healthy family meal on days when I’m not well enough to cook.
Our bedtime routine involves reading stories from a comfy chair while my son goes to sleep in his bed. I tend to use my phone to access stories as I find it easier to hold than a book. There are many great resources available online to access children’s books, including through local libraries.
Once my son is asleep I tend to make rest a priority. It is vital that I take care of myself because pushing myself to the breaking point doesn’t help anyone. I manage household tasks by breaking things down into small, manageable chunks. I have had to learn to pace myself and make managing my health as much of a priority as everything else.
Parenting with arthritis can be tough, but I’m still a great parent. It’s easy to be hard on yourself when you’re parenting with arthritis, and worry about what your child may be missing. I’m here to tell you that you’re doing an incredible job, and your child has everything they need in you! Don’t be afraid to talk to your child, in an age-appropriate way, about your health. I’ve noticed that by talking to my son about things such as my walking aids, and why we do some things differently, he has become an incredibly compassionate little boy. He accepts people for who they are, without focusing on their abilities, and I think the world needs more of that!
Other great resources/support for parents living with chronic illness: