By Lisa Copen
A popular office supply store commercial shows mothers and fathers riding shopping carts around the store to the tune of “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” (typically heard at Christmas time.) For decades mothers have been made to feel that we should all be crying as the bus stopped at the corner and our little ones (and not so little ones) climbed on and drove off for hours of “edu-tainment.” Only “bad moms” rushed inside the house, called their friends, and relished being able to finish an entire cup of coffee. Good moms cried and wanted just one more day.
The first day my then three-year-old son rode the school bus off to some school district occupational therapy (where he learned to hold a pair of scissors and cut so well he could take on Edward Scissorhands), I buckled him into the bus seat and then followed behind in the car. The bus drove over five miles to pick up a couple other children and go to the school. I wanted to make sure that he arrived safely. Translation: that the adventure was trauma and tear-free. But when he started kindergarten last year, a full day from 8 a.m. to 2:20 p.m., I quietly celebrated.
As a mom with a chronic illness, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia, I had reached my goal of getting him into school before my body crumbled and required many episodes of surgical repair. I used my first few weeks as I had planned, organizing National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week, which my ministry sponsors. I had surgery scheduled the first of October, following my fortieth birthday. God had other plans.
Instead I ended up with edema in my legs, then cellulitis, then a staph infection in my ankle, which required many trips to the wound care center. By November, my wound had developed the flesh eating bacteria, and my hospital stay–my first one ever–ended up being seven days. It was February before I was back to about fifty percent of my self and abilities and then I was playing catch up, trying to figure out where my son’s academics needed help and trying to become his advocate.
Why is okay for our kids to be in school . . .
and we shouldn’t feel guilty
Children don’t have the physical burdens of our illness
For the parent with a chronic illness, school is a place where the children can be themselves. They are not defined by what our abilities are or are not. (“Don’t run ahead, mommy can’t keep up with you.” “Yes, we’re going to ride the rides at the fair, but first mommy has to get a wheelchair.”) They can run and play and learn about spider webs, or struggle over those mathematical story problems like we did at their age.
A good mom realizes that although she needs to be aware of what her children are learning, it is okay to celebrate that other people can teach our children something too. Whether it is the Sunday School teacher talking about God’s faithfulness or the science teacher getting your child excited about studying volcanoes, it’s okay that you are on the only source on what they learn in this world.
Children don’t have the scheduling burdens of our illness
Their days are no longer filled with our doctor’s appointments, lab work, phone calls to the insurance company, or even our tears when it all gets to be too much. The selfish side of us may want to hold them close and not let them go out into the world. But we have to admit that our world isn’t all that terrific sometimes, right?
A good mom recognizes that following an ill person around to waiting rooms with depressing scenes or letting your child watch you get a shot in the back of the head (been there, done that) can be too much sometimes. Good moms know that children need to have a world filled with cupcakes and bugs and not IV bags and 15-year-old exam room copies of Highlights magazine.
Children don’t have the emotional burdens of our illness
Our children should not live with the burden of having to take care of us, hear us describe in detail our latest symptoms with four different nurses, or accompany us to all of the doctor’s appointment and pharmacy lines.
We can raise our children to become sensitive and compassionate adults and this comes from a well-balanced amount of exposure to our symptoms and our struggles.
A good mom can acknowledge the fact that she occasionally says, “I’m tired, I can’t do that right now, maybe later, that is a big project I can’t take on today,” just to name a few. School can provide children with a chance to let it be all about them for a few hours, rather than about your energy level.
So, is it okay if I am “glad” my child is back in school?
Yes! Does that mean schools are perfect? No! But neither is your home, right?
If you are a mom or dad with a chronic illness and you want to jump up and down with joy that your child is heading back to school, you have my understanding and you don’t need to feel guilty about it. A good mom recognize that all we really want is what is best for our children. Sometimes, that means bumping them out of the nest so they can fly—especially the days when we need the nest to lay down and take a nap.
Lisa Copen is the founder of Rest Ministries and she lives in San Diego with her husband and son. She is gradually learning how to balance motherhood, family, illness, and ministry, but she still knows it will be a lifetime lesson. You can see the books she has written, including, Why Can’t I Make People Understand? at the Rest Ministries shop.