Parenting with Migraines

How to Be the Best Parent, Despite Your Pain:

Six-thirty a.m. Monday morning, you roll over and pre-empt the alarm clock because you wake up – surprise – in agony. You’re bewildered on two levels: first, what in the world triggered today’s familiar pain, and second, how in the world are you going to get the kids ready and off to school on time?

For too many years, I struggled to be the Dad I wanted to be despite chronic pain. I invented all kinds ways we could hang out together quietly, in the dark together during one of my frequent Migraine Attacks. I created all kinds of systems and contingency plans to prepare for the inevitable morning or night when I’d be forced into parenting with Migraine.

Caring for kids when you are suffering yourself is hard enough when you get sick with a cold or flu twice a year. But when your disorder or disease disables you twice a month or twice a week, it’s an ongoing challenge. Parenting with Migraine isn’t for sissies.

The brutal reality is that chronic pain tests even the strongest of adult relationships. Kids simply don’t understand why Dad is in pain again, or why Daddy can’t come when they call. And there are no easy answers to this dilemma.

8 Secrets to Successfully Parenting with Migraines

Be Candid About Your Illness:

They may be too young to understand, but they need to know at least three things:

1) your body works differently than other people’s

2) what you have is not contagious, and

3) what you need from them to get better.

In the case of Migraine, darkness and quiet are all you need from them.

Think about ways you can incorporate them, partially to destigmatize the experience so it doesn’t look as scary to them and partially so they’re still part of your life and they’re still interacting with you. Let them help.

Find a Pain Pal

Whether or not you’re married or have family nearby, it can help to have a Pain Pal so you don’t feel guilty asking for childcare help during an attack.

Plan for the Inevitable

Whether it’s preparing five lunches at a time, the week’s clothing, doing homework days before it’s due, planning in advance is essential. If you wake up in pain, they may be able to handle much of what they need if it’s turnkey.

Minimize last-minute decision-making and urgencies.

Instill Self-Sufficiency Early

It’s empowering, and it builds self-esteem when they can do it themselves. They will be confident, capable adults one day if they know how to make a meal, dress themselves, feed the pets, do their homework and chores.

To an age-appropriate degree, teach them to care for themselves. Some of the most self-reliant young adults I know had parents with some level of disability.

Prepare an Attack Plan

Parenting responsibilities like transportation, childcare, homework help, and meal preparation don’t stop because you’re in pain. You can have a simple signal to send by text to your family member or Pain Pal. I’d text my Wife an “M-Alert” telling her I was headed home with a Migraine and needed her to handle dinner and the kids.

And your Pain Pal knows the plan. If you’re constantly relying upon the same person, stock up on restaurant gift cards, keep “mothers helpers” on a weekly on-call retainer, or offer favors in return.

A lot of people don’t like to accept help but it makes everyone else feel better. Let your spouse help; let your parents help, let your co-workers, your friends, your family, and your neighbors help. When they offer to drive your kids somewhere or bring over a Meal say, ‘Yes. Thank you!’ Write them a thank you note. It makes them feel better and makes your life easier.

Give Kids a Job or a Role

When they see you in pain, they naturally want to help, but don’t know what to do. A job or a role helps them know how to relate to you when you’re down for the count.

They can fetch an ice pack or your Meds. Bettter yet Your CBD. Fill your water glass, warm up your feet, feed the cat, make a sandwich for themselves, and so on. I keep a Migraine Kit with me every where I go. (Medications, Earplugs, Eyeshade, warm socks, menthol, etc). You can even give the kids a doctor, nurse, chef or medical assistant title. A sorta fun dress-up opportunity.

Freeze Prepared Meals

Whether it’s bagged salad and cooked chicken in the fridge, or single servings of frozen lasagna, school-aged and older kids can retrieve and prep meals themselves.

Breakfast for dinner? Pizza delivery? Whatever works. You can also have a Takeout menu book you’ve prepared with choices and phone numbers highlighted.

Create a Quiet Camp-In

Depending on their ages, have an activity box near your sofa or bed to keep the kids busy that’s a treasure trove they only get to open on your pain days.

When I have a Migraine attack, we turn on a dim solar lamp or black light in my bedroom and we “fly into space.” Or we make a tent from the Bedding and Camp Out! As they got older, if the attack wasn’t too severe, we’d have a movie night in my room – the only time they could eat snacks in the bedroom. It was a good distraction from my pain, too.

The Take-Away

Whatever you do, do NOT feel guilty about how you handle parenting with Migraines. You didn’t cause your disability, and you’re doing your best to control it, right?

The good news is: children are really resilient, and children grow up just fine with parents with all sorts of health limitations, financial limitations, and all sorts of challenges in their life.

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