The Art of Balancing Motherhood and Chronic Illness

motherhood-illnessMotherhood and chronic illness.

If these two words relate to your life, chances are they are enough to keep you busy indefinitely. They can easily become a large part of your identity, and they both fight for control over your energy, time, and some days, your sanity.

I have been working on a book about living with a chronic illness and being a mom for a few years now. It’s about 70 percent done, but something keeps getting in the way of finishing it.

You know what kinds of things: motherhood and childhood. And the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know. As I work on a chapter about the latest lessons I’ve discovered, my house tends to erupt in chaos and I feel tested again.

Was it God trying to stretch me so the book would be better? Or other forces determined to get me to doubt myself? What good mother would ever consider writing a book on parenting while her son plays video games in the other room? Who can write about how to be patient while she loses her own temper over the messes made while she is on the phone?

I have found there is a precious art to balancing motherhood and illness and it’s one that I will be trying to learn the rest of my life, as my son grows up to be my adult son.

A life balancing motherhood and illness will always be chaotic, but it does not have to be frustrating.

How do you find balance?

Here are some of the things I’ve discovered.

Find the humor! When my son stopped eating solid food for 6 months and we had “food therapy” at Children’s hospital, we had to bring McDonald’s Happy Meals to the session, because kids were more likely to eat apples out of McDonald’s wrapper than regular apples. (Studies really have shown this to be true.)

Know your child’s concerns and address them. I was in the hospital for 8 days with the flesh eating bacteria threatening to take my foot, but as long as my son was assured that the hospital has great mac and cheese, my bed moved up and down, and the TV remote worked, he figured I’d be fine.

When tempted to be depressed, think like your child. When I had 4 joint replacements on my left hand and 12 weeks of therapy and wearing an outrigger splint, my son thought the splint was cool–like C3Po’s hand in Star Wars. As soon as the therapist was finished designing it I couldn’t wait for my son to see it.

Look for the benefits of medication’s side effects. Taking a major pain killer in order to sit through your child’s IEP meeting can be helpful if you tend to talk too much instead of listening. I recently explained at the beginning of the meeting that I was paying attention, I just could not turn my head, so I may not look directly at them when they were  speaking.

Someone recently asked me if I thought she could “do it”–meaning “be a mom with an illness.”

“There is no real answer for that,” I explained. “Every mother, ill or not, feels completely inadequate at some time, exhausted, and out of her element. You will feel that too, but it may be just motherhood, not your illness.”

When I was asking myself the same questions, I read a tip: to see if you can be a mom with rheumatoid arthritis, go buy a 10-pound bag of potatoes and carry it around for a few hours.

Uh. . . yeah, right. You wouldn’t lay down your life for those potatoes. You can’t dress them in cute little outfits, or gaze at them and know that nothing else in the world matters because you have them beside you. Potatoes don’t throw a handful of Cheerios across the room to get a reaction out of you, or look at you like you are the most important person in the world to them.

As I explained to my friend, “I have spent years just trying to get through one day at a time, but I’ve also found myself on the top of a slide at the park at 9 AM with my toddler, or on a roller coaster he was scared of just to prove I could still do it.” Like all moms, parenthood ages us and keeps us young at the same time.

So, here are three cheers to the mothers out there who are doing their best to make it through each day parenting while chronically ill.

To the woman who can figure out how to get a stroller into the trunk, but who can barely lift her arm to wash her hair. To the mothers who ask their 7-year-old to help open the child-proof bottles; to those who teach their children about germs and auto-immune diseases using cartoon characters battling it out as examples.

Here’s to the moms who take their toddler to Little Gym classes and pay someone to help wear their children out. To those who find the best reading time with your child is in waiting rooms. To the moms who teach their children that yes, God heals, but not always on our schedule. . . and then living each day so your children sees your joy, and not bitterness, so when they have tough times some day, they remember your perseverance and faith.

Lisa Copen is the founder of Rest Ministries, which she began in 1997. She had been praying about being a mom and it wasn’t happening on her schedule, when she felt God’s calling for a ministry for those with illness. Lisa and her husband were blessed in 2003 with the gift of their son through adoption.

5 Responses to The Art of Balancing Motherhood and Chronic Illness

  1. I have such admiration for mothers with chronic illness. Fatherhood is tough sometimes, but mothers are what really make a home a place to come home to. I’m sure you are an awesome mom Lisa! ~ Peter

  2. Lisa, I just linked to your blog from my post today. See this Maintaining Balance

  3. do you know of any resources for a chronically ill parent of a teen? I am dealing with fibromyalgia that has been very difficult, but trying to show my daughters motivation when I am not an example of that is hard. Let me know if you think of anything. Because of Him (my srtipes are healed) -Sarah

  4. Thank you for this! I am the mother of two lovely, amazing, energetic little girls (3 yrs and 17 mos), and I’ve recently been diagnosed with Crohn’s. I’ve been in and out of the hospital since, and I laughed out loud at your description of teaching about germs and hand washing with cartoon characters. Finding a way to protect immunosuppressed mommy is a new reality for us too! I also teared up a little at your description of explaining healing and God’s timing to your son. It’s hard to explain to them, and it’s hard to understand it myself. But until then, here’s to making the very best of those hospital waiting rooms, to my 4 year old who finds her mommy’s medical procedures “cool”, and to toddlers who have learned to be ferocious and gentle in their affection with me. We can do this! And do it joyfully!

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