The demands of either MS or parenting can be challenging, but when experienced together, it is not unusual for people to feel stressed and overwhelmed. Add to this, unpredictable and fluctuating MS symptoms that can interfere with fun activities and make it difficult to carry out your daily responsibilities (even disciplining your children). The good news is that there is a lot you can do to limit the impact of your symptoms on your life and the lives of people you love. Keep in mind that in order to take good care of others including your children, it is important that you take good care of yourself. You can start by engaging in behaviors that are associated with general wellness including good sleep, healthy eating, regular exercise and stress reduction. Managing your MS symptoms effectively is another part of taking good care of yourself. Symptom management combines lifestyle and behavioral changes with medication as needed.
The management of fatigue is a good example because fatigue is the most common MS symptom and can negatively affect your physical activities, mood and mental functioning. Effective management of fatigue is likely to include the strategies that you are already using for wellness along with some new ones such as setting priorities, energy conservation, use of adaptive equipment, asking for and accepting help and possibly medication. When you consistently use these strategies, you are likely to feel better. As a result, you are likely to accomplish more and engage in more fun activities with your family. In addition, you will set a positive example for your children about how to cope when faced with life’s inevitable challenges. If you don’t know where to start to make these changes or find yourself quickly falling back into old patterns, talk with your provider for suggestions and possible referrals to professionals who can be of additional help.
Many parents with MS are unsure whether or not to tell their children about their MS because they don’t want them to worry. This is understandable, but, in most cases, children are already aware that something is going on with you. If you choose to not talk about your MS, your children are apt to fill in the blanks on their own, sometimes with information from the Internet or from people who are less knowledgeable than you. In this situation, children’s conclusions tend to be worse than the reality. When provided developmentally appropriate information, kept in the loop about changes in your condition, and given regular opportunities to ask questions, children tend to be less anxious and emotionally healthy.
Strive for balance when possible. For example, balance the care of your children and others with care of yourself. Balance the attention you give to your MS with the attention to give to the non-MS aspects of who you are. Include your children in your MS experience without overwhelming them. By combining a healthy lifestyle with effective symptom management and open communication, you can achieve wellness and successfully parent with MS.