Inside: 6 tips to manage chronic pain as a single parent. Dealing with a chronic illness as a single parent can be overwhelming and make you want to give up. These 6 strategies can help you parent your children and manage your illness at the same time.
The Pain I Managed For Years
For over 20 years I’ve lived with (sometimes) daily migraines, the last seven years as a single parent.
Every morning I would awake with pain before my alarm. I’d go through some variation of the following each work day: how much time did I have before I needed to drive into work and get the kids ready versus how much medicine did I have and how severe was my pain?
Could I take a migraine pill now?
Could I also take a pain pill?
If I did would the worse of it wear off by the time I drove?
Or should I wait until I arrived at work to take pain medication?
Is this a “2 migraine pill” day?
If so, can I at least make it a half day today so I wouldn’t have to take leave?
I would struggle every morning to make it to the coffee maker and take whatever pill combination I decided was the magic amount to allow me to make it through the morning routine with my children and get me to work.
50 million people in America suffer from chronic pain. This mean, we are not alone.
Here are 6 of the coping lessons that allow me to manage my chronic pain.
6 Steps to Managing Chronic Pain as a Single Parent
1. Accept Help from Unexpected Places
Often as single parents, we are accustomed to doing everything ourselves.
Over the years, I’ve accepted help from my neighbor walking my kids to the bus stop to my ex-mother-in-law coming into my house and getting the kids ready and leaving while I lay in bed.
A family friend has come over to my home at 10 pm with a massage table while my children slept.
Although I’m grateful for their help, it can also be uncomfortable to accept help. We have more than ourselves to consider and must get better for our children.
2. What Kids Do On Their Own Without You
As parents, we do more for children than is probably necessary. When you’re stuck in bed and as a single parent, there’s no one else in the house to help, you’d be surprised how much your child can do.
When my children were in second and third grade, I was unable to get out of bed one morning, but my children still had school. I have no clue how but they made it to the bus stop. When I finally rose out of bed close to lunchtime, I saw they left the front door wide open (I didn’t have a screen door, so I mean wide open), but at least they made it to school.
Now, this isn’t to say you should let your kids get ready alone as 2nd graders all the time. That incident was the only time my kids got out the door on their own at that young of an age.
Since that time, I have also tasked my kids with making dinner when I’m not able, even if it’s just sandwiches or mac n’ cheese, at least they’re eating.
Or often, my daughter will tuck her younger brother in bed at night. They don’t love doing this, but they can see when I’m in too much pain, and they are usually happy to help out.
3. Let Go of all the things
Let go of the guilt.
Most likely you’re feeling an immense amount of guilt for not being the attentive parent you want to be. Depending on your illness, it may afford you extra time to lay in bed with nothing to do but think.
Your guilt isn’t serving anyone, not even your children. It’s most likely making everyone more miserable.
Turn your thoughts to what you plan on doing with your kids when you feel better, or what you can do with them in your bed, such as conversation games you can play if you feel up to it.
Let go of the house.
Face it – your kids are probably trashing the house while you’re down and out. When you feel better, your first task isn’t to clean the house or to yell at them to clean it up. Your first task will be to spend time with them and to take it easy, so you don’t relapse.
A clean house may never be yours, or it may be yours but just in spurts. If you can afford it, hiring a housecleaner, even once a month may be the best money spent for you.
Let Go of Your Schedule
When your illness coincides with your plans or your kids’ schedules, it can be an added stress.
If possible, reach out to whoever you trust to help out with your children’s schedules: your parents, your ex, or another parent. Keeping everything as normal as possible for your kids and keeping them on their schedule is important but to an extent. If you would be making yourself sicker by driving or arranging transportation then let it go.
When it comes to your scheduled activities, there is very little worth your health. But only you can determine what is worth it.
4. Don’t Focus on Your Illness Around Your Children
Your chronic illness is part of your story, but it doesn’t have to be part of your child’s.
Although I have migraines that drive me to bed at times and my children cannot help but be aware of what’s going on, there are other times I’m able to manage them with medication.
When I’m managing my pain, I don’t say anything to my children. I don’t want “mom has another headache” to become part of their regular vocabulary.
I’ve seen this play out in my kids before. While disappointing them yet again because I couldn’t take them to a promised event, my son sighed and rolled his eyes and said, “Yeah I know you have a headache.” And while it was true, as much as possible, I don’t want my illness to rule our lives.
Even when I am in bed in pain, I make a point to ask the kids about their day and let them talk.
5. Prepare When You Feel Good
When you’re feeling good is the time to do a little extra work around the house so you won’t feel guilty next time your illness hits.
Take this time to prepare meals and freeze them, do additional grocery shopping and stock up on snacks or paper products (there’s nothing worse than being stuck in bed and running out of toilet paper), clean the house, and spend extra time with the kids.
6. Keep Researching
If you have chronic pain, you may feel like there isn’t an answer or cure for you and that’s why you continue to be in pain.
This isn’t true. It merely means you haven’t found it yet.
You owe it to your children and yourself to keep researching, keep trying.
I know firsthand it gets depressing and sometimes you feel like there is no answer and you need to stop looking. And it’s okay to take a break for a while but then go back to researching, trying new therapies or medicines, doctors, or alternative therapies.
Over my 20 year journey, I have gone to specialists, been turned away from some because they said they couldn’t do any more for me, tried acupuncture, temporarily found relief from botox for years, drinking green smoothies, magnesium, found some relief with essential oils, received shots in the back of the neck, multiple diets, injections of lidocaine into my nostrils, yoga, meditation, and so many medications that I finally drew the line at the one that would guarantee hair loss.
Today, I find the most relief with a combination of medication, alternative therapies, and a good old ice pack. But I’m not done researching or trying new things. I believe the perfect cure is out there.
It wasn’t until I quit my corporate job and found a combination of medicines and alternative therapies that I began to wake up in the morning without pain being my first and only thought.
Once a daily occurrence, my pain is down to about 4-5 times a month now. I keep hoping I’ll outgrow it, but the fact is, any stress can bring it on even stronger. And when that happens, its imperative I lean on everything in this list:
- I accept help
- Let my kids do more for themselves and me
- Let go of inconsequential things
- Don’t’ focus on my illness when it’s not necessary
- Prepare when I can
- Above all, I don’t give up.