Imagine going to the park with your child. They’re excited to run and climb and jump and swing, and you're ready to prove that you're the kind of mom who's willing to get in the sand, go down the slide head first, and scale precarious playground equipment. Except you can't be that mom... because the physical pain is just too much. You live with this pain every single day, and the guilt it brings sticks to you like glue. That's what it’s like to parent with chronic pain.
According to the National Institutes of Health, over 25 million people live with chronic pain, which is described as pain that lasts roughly three months or more. I’ve lived with chronic pain for several years now and thanks to a number of medical issues. I rarely enjoy a night of uninterrupted sleep due to a condition called sacroilitis, which also makes it difficult to climb or stand for long periods of time. I also have back pain that prevents me from bending over comfortably. My legs often go numb, and sometimes that numbness extends to my arms. I’ve dealt with other forms of chronic paint too, and I’m not the only person, or mother, who lives with this type of debilitating pain day in and day out.
I hate not being able to be as spry and flexible for my child. I hate that I don't always have the energy or patience to match his. I want to make his childhood a magical time, but I rarely, if ever, can engage in any kind of physical activity with him. There are many other mothers like me out there who deal with the anxiety and guilt that comes with not being able to do more with their children. I spoke to several and they each explained their conditions and, moreover, how it impacts their parenting.
“I've had neurologically involved migraines since age 10; severe dysmenorrhea, endometriosis, and PCOS since mid teens; and my spine collapsed at age 39 pinching every nerve and leaving me partially paralyzed and bedridden for a year. [I’ve been] in pain almost constantly. Kids are now aged 19, 17, and 11 [my youngest is autistic].
It's affected so many things. My kids have always known me as sporadically unable to do things, and once my spine collapsed (when I simultaneously had kids in elementary, middle, and high school), it severely limited things I was able to do even more. Driving a car was agony. Sitting for long periods (a recital, waiting for robotics class to let out) was torture. I had to say no to so many things.
It's the guilt and regret that are worst. I tend to overcompensate at times as a parent because I think about all the things I can't do for them. Thankfully my kids are kind and empathetic and loving, and step up to help and be as understanding as they can be. I wish this wasn't the experience they have had, but it is what it is.”
“I get very tired [and] my medications make me drowsy sometimes. I also feel like my temper may be a little short on days when I’m really not feeling well.”
“Every day feels like running a marathon with a broken foot while carrying a basket of eggs. There are fleeting moments where you say to yourself, ‘I'm doing it, I'm really doing it!’ but then you remember how much your foot hurts, and you fumble the eggs and hope to god you catch them before they smash and you trip and fall down. Then you have to get up and stand on your broken foot again. And then you notice you've only made it about 100 yards in the past 24 hours. You cry, and your babies sometimes notice and give you a giant hug that heals your soul... before demanding a snack and asking to go play outside, where you have to stand on your broken foot.”
“In a word: depressing. I have horrible back problems which leave me sidelined on so many fun things my family does. It’s so sad watching my kids run around laughing and smiling while not actually being a part of it.”
“I have several herniated discs. I feel pain pretty constantly to varying degrees. I definitely have a lot less patience with the kids on days when the pain is bad. I have made a conscious decision to engage in intense exercise four times a week and that helps my mood and helps me be a more present parent, even on bad days.”
“Naps and being irritable are the two biggest things my chronic pain and illness cause that affect my parenting. It's gotten easier to take care of myself with the kids being teens. I'm glad (for lots of reasons) that my husband was home for all of (my deceased daughter) Lily's life, and able to help so much.”