Parenting A Child While Coping With Chronic Pain
I have a chronic pain condition which has not responded to a variety of treatments. Chronic pain affects most aspects of your life, including parenting. This hub talks about what I have learned about doing a great job raising my kids while dealing with near constant physical pain.
Chronic pain and small children
The most difficult time to have a physical pain condition as a parent is when the kids are small. Before school age the physical demands are highest, and the child’s understanding is most limited. For many people lifting and bending aggravate pain, and so does exhaustion, all common to the parent of a preschooler. My kids were older before my pain kicked into high gear, so I didn’t have to face this myself, but I have known a few people with chronic pain who still chose to have babies and did a good job caring for them. Here are some necessities:
- Plenty of Help. One family I know who chose to have a third child in spite of the mother’s severe back pain relied on an older daughter to do much of the lifting and carrying of the baby. The sister was very responsible, and the parents always nearby when she had the baby.
- An Understanding Spouse. The other parent is just going to have to shoulder more of the work of infant care than he or she would with a perfectly healthy partner, and going into this with eyes open is critical.
- Resources. One family I know hired a full time live in nanny to do everything the mother couldn’t. She prepared meals, carried the baby when the mother couldn’t, even addressed envelopes when the mother had bouts of arm weakness. The help made a second child possible for the family. This family had the money to do it – resources can be monetary, or they can be a large extended family or a network of friends.
My condition caught me off guard a little later in life, but even physical problems when you are young don’t have to spell the end of your dreams of a family. But you must be realistic and consider the above before starting out your parenting life with a serious physical limitation.
Know yourself, know your limits
Chronic pain forces you to prioritize. For most people the whole to-do list will not get done, and for the chronic pain sufferer even more so. I get unexpected pain spikes, and when one of these happens I have to just take care of myself for awhile and not expect to get things done. This forces me to do important things now if I feel alright. One result is homework in our house gets done earlier in the day rather than later, since my pain generally worsens as the day goes on. My kids balk, but I’ve figured out balking is going to happen regardless, and I can deal with it better at 4pm than I can at 8pm. I also have to be proactive about homework help, reminding my night owl teenager that I would like to help with that essay, but I need to do so within the next hour.
Me and my son
Letting go is painful, but powerful. Your life has more space for something new.
There are many things I can’t do anymore. Chaperoning field trips and helping out in the elementary classroom are two. I am also limited in my ability to drive outside our little town, population 10,000. I used to do a lot of day trips with the kids – the three of us went all up and down the Northern California coastline, discovering hidden beaches and out of the way farms. That vagabond part of my life is in the past, and I’ve had to make peace with it.
My husband has never been one for these car adventures, so he doesn’t replace that part of my parenting life automatically. But this past Christmas I reflected on the fact that I had hoped to do more “city adventuring” with the kids when they got a little older, and I asked my husband if he would mind driving us all to San Francisco for an overnight. I planned the trip so that the physical demands on me were minimal, and we had a wonderful time.
My family in San Francisco
Identify things you can still do
Everyone specializes as a parent. Cooking, traveling, involvement in the arts, home decoration, reading everything in sight, sports, a full social calendar: you were never going to do it all in the first place. When chronic pain enters your life, some things you planned to devote parenting time to will have to be dropped.
What can you still do? Maybe you will discover something new.
One thing all of us can do is give focused attention and eye contact. There have been times I have been flat on my back in bed with a heating pad, immobilized with pain. I was still able to listen to a child, still able to focus on his or her concerns. I've even helped with essays in this condition.
Don’t let your family life be about your pain
Chronic pain puts you on a rollercoaster. A clanky wooden one, that feels and sounds like it may fly off the splintering tracks. Do all you can not to strap your kids into that coaster with you. This is a piece of advice that would be pretty obnoxious coming from someone who hasn’t experienced the misery of chronic pain – but it’s coming from me, and I have been in the depths. Just because I am in pain right now doesn’t mean I won’t say, “Hello, my little princess!” when I pick my daughter up from school.
I've been tempted to say I don’t want her friends coming to our house after school because I don’t feel well and don’t want the added stress of more shrill little girl voices. Instead, I’ve become vigilant about setting limits with my kids’ friends. More than once I’ve sent kids home for whining and begging. I don’t have the stamina for this behavior anymore. (I made the rules and consequences clear first - that's only fair.) Oddly enough, this has resulted in well behaved visitors, and hasn’t made anyone avoid our house.
Best book I have read on practical ways of communicating love to a child.
Kids are resilient – what that means and what it doesn’t
Kids’ ability to adjust to unexpected situations amazes me. Because children are naturally self centered (see the world as all about them), a parent can think this means they are selfish, in the way some adults are selfish. When my condition worsened, I began to fear my children would lose interest in me, maybe even not love me as much. This is an awful fear for a parent to suffer. I’ve discovered my children mind very little all the things I am not able to do. There’s been some whining, especially from the younger one, but they have adjusted very well to a disabled mother.
What neither one takes well is when I take out my pain, frustration and broken dreams on them. This is turning my emotions concerning my adult life on someone who can’t handle it. A parent’s anger affects a child deeply. Don’t be fooled by their cool exterior. If they know their behavior deserved your flared temper, they can accept it. But anger from a parent over circumstances the child cannot control (your health) frightens them, and can result in a deep seated resentment.
I wish I could say I’ve never been guilty, but I have. The best thing is apologize, the sooner the better. They deserve to be safe with you.
What are your kids going to learn from this?
I wanted my life to teach my kids that hard work can make all your dreams come true. Instead, my kids will hopefully learn that you can make it through whatever adversity comes your way, and happiness and love can be part of any life circumstances. Maybe this is a better lesson.
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