Parenting with Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Yes, You CAN be a Good Parent!

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We all want to be the best parents we can be. The demands of parenting, though, present a major challenge for those of us with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome or other chronic illnesses.

Some people wonder if they can be a good parent when they can't even get out of bed some days. We may be unable to commit to the kinds of busy schedules some kids have. We may fear disappointing our kids by having to cancel plans for fun things they want to do.

But does that mean we can't be good parents? Absolutely not! We may not be typical parents, but we can still raise happy, successful kids.

What is a "Good Parent"?

When fibromyalgia reared its head and threw my life off course, my kids were both toddlers. I lost the energy I'd previously had to get down on the floor and play, run around the yard, etc. Cuddling became painful. I'll never forget my two-year-old daughter standing next to the couch where I was laying, asking, "Mommy, can I hug you? I'll be gentle." It broke my heart.

When my son started kindergarten, he wanted me to volunteer for his classroom. I made it twice that year. He also wanted to be a Boy Scout, but I knew there was no way I could commit to that schedule.­ In first grade, he played soccer and it was a lot for me to handle.

Because I had to leave my full-time job and the income it provided, we were further limited in what the kids could do.

I'm grateful that, fairly early in my fibromyalgia battle, I was able to be on an Internet radio show with a woman named Martha Beck. She's a mother with fibromyalgia as well as Oprah Winfrey's life coach. She'd been able to make a significant recovery but had been all-but bedridden when her kids were little.

She talked a lot about raising her kids from a king-sized bed and occasionally crawling around on the floor to tidy up. And guess what – her kids did just fine.

That got me thinking a lot about how our society's perception of "good parenting" is far too narrow. What's really important? First, we need to keep them safe and healthy. Second, we need to make sure they're loved. Beyond that, I believe whatever we can do for them is extra.

Age Can Make a Difference

In conversations with readers here, I've learned that the age your kids are when you're sidelined by illness can make a big difference in how they handle it. If you're sick when they're little, it may be harder on you physically, but easier on the kids because it's all they know. If they're older, and especially teenagers, the transition may be harder on them because they feel the loss of how things used to be. Not known for their selflessness, teens may blame and resent a sick parent.

If your children are having a hard time adapting, you may want to consider individual or family counseling to give them a safe place to vent their frustrations and learn some coping skills.

I've been fortunate to have a supportive husband who's also a hands-on dad. That has allowed my kids to do a lot of things that I'm not able to do with them. Also, my kids are healthy.

If you're a single parent and/or a chronically ill parent with a special-needs child, I know the challenges are significantly greater. Be sure to see what resources are available to help in your community and school district.

The Bottom Line

Believe it or not, I believe my illness has benefited my children in some ways. They've learned to be helpful, understanding of differences and shortcomings, and self-reliant. People have marveled at how much they're able to do for themselves. In late elementary school, my son was chosen as a peer mentor and helped special-needs kids transition into regular classrooms. My children don't shy away from people with obvious disabilities because, to them, it's just a normal part of life.

Do I feel guilty sometimes? Of course. When I have to cancel something they've been looking forward to, when I lose time with them because of a messed up sleep schedule, when I can't be, do, or give them everything I want. It's hard. But I remind myself that they are safe, healthy, and know they're loved.

In the end, no parent is perfect. Sick or healthy, we all have limits and we all doubt ourselves from time to time. Do what you can, and ask for help when you need it.

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