Parenting While in Pain
There are so many unanticipated aspects of parenting. Having to figure out how to parent while in pain was something I hadn’t given much thought to before I had kids. When my endometriosis symptoms returned after birth, I suddenly realized that I would have to learn how to balance chronic pain management with family (and all other) responsibilities. I could no longer just lay down, slow down, or walk away if I needed to. It wasn't easy to do this before kids, but now I have more people relying on me to be there during the difficult times.
There are definitely days when parenting while in pain feels intolerable. My mood is more negative, I have fewer cognitive resources, and my physical activity is limited. All of that can make me less patient and kind, even with those I love the most. Knowing that I am going to be experiencing endometriosis symptoms affects what I can do with my kids. For example, will we be close to a bathroom (and will I be able to manage all 3 kids in the bathroom with me!)? Will we be on our feet too much, or not enough? I have to think about whether there will be a place I can sit and rest if I need to and what my kids will do during that time.
My kids are aged 5, 5, and 2.5, so I’m sure this will change as they get older. But right now, being out and about while experiencing endometriosis symptoms takes a lot of planning. Despite the hardship, as with many other challenges, having to manage pain in the throws of parenting presents opportunities such as learning new coping skills and demonstrating adaptive coping for my kids.
The importance of planning
First and foremost, planning as best as I can has been really helpful for me. This actually starts with tracking my period (using an app), so that I know when my symptoms are likely to flare up. I use this information when planning activities or before making commitments. I take a look at where I am in my cycle and where I will be for the event. If I can’t think of a reasonable plan to handle my symptoms during that activity, I plan something else, or simply say no. I also try to be creative about what activities I can do while experiencing symptoms, and try to dismiss the guilt I sometimes feel for what I cannot do. There are some days we will need to choose puzzles, books, and coloring instead of dance parties and long walks. I will sometimes need to be the play observer instead of taking on the role of superhero.
The effect of self-compassion
Another tool is practicing more self-compassion, which does not come easily to me. Mindfulness meditation has helped me a great deal with this process (I love the Calm app!), and trust me, I’m not perfect at it. But I’m really trying because I know that meditation helps give me the fuel I need to get through the parenting challenges. I’m also finding it helpful to communicate how I’m feeling to my kids. I’m hopeful that when I tell them how I’m feeling and what I need, it helps them know that it is good for them to tell people how they feel and what they need. I want my kids to know that it’s good to take care of yourself. I need to do the same if I want them to believe it.
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