First comes the crying and the sleepless nights, then there’s the troublesome toddler years, and then, before you know it, your house is shaking from the door-slamming of a surly teen. Parenthood, whatever stage you’re at, is never easy, and definitely never dull. But when you’re attempting to raise a child while coping with the unpredictability of MS, it throws up a whole new set of challenges.
Here are five top tips for juggling parenthood and MS.
This one could prove tricky in today’s social media-obsessed world. We’re constantly bombarded with perfect images: perfect children in their immaculate uniforms, perfect nutritious meals, perfect family day trips and perfect homes, but in reality, family life is always going to be perfectly imperfect. Everyone’s life is different and everyone has their own challenges to overcome, so there’s no point even attempting keep up with the Jones’s. It’s OK to give your kids fish fingers and chips every now and then; it’s OK to send them out with toothpaste down their school jumper, and it’s OK to have a living room carpet covered with crumbs and toy cars. That’s life.
MS fatigue can smack you in the face. It’s completely debilitating and can make everything a struggle. On days when it’s particularly bad, don’t be afraid to take shortcuts to make things that little bit easier. Maybe use a slow cooker to save time and effort at teatime. Shop online if you can’t face lugging a basket around a busy supermarket. Get the kids to do some chores (hanging up washing can be a surprisingly fun game, you know!). Stick on the TV and let them watch their favourite show while you rest for 20 minutes on the sofa. And, most importantly, NEVER feel guilty about doing any of these things.
If you’re struggling, tell somebody. Build a support network around you and ask friends and family to help out when you need them to. If you’re finding it difficult to manage certain symptoms, contact the MS Trust’s free enquiry service for information, or get in touch with your MS nurse (use our Map of MS services to find yours). There is an increased risk of having a relapse during the first three months after your baby is born, so if you’re a new parent it’s worth making contingency plans with family and friends, just in case.
Family time doesn’t have to always be something which will leave you feeling completely exhausted. Ditch the day trips for something a little more low-key but no less fun. It could be snuggling up on the sofa to watch a film, messing around in the garden or at your local park, playing a board game or reading a book. Sometimes life’s simple pleasures are the most rewarding.
It can be difficult to open up to your children about MS, and naturally you’ll want to protect them from the same worries and fears you’ve experienced coming to terms with the diagnosis, but keeping things hidden can put a strain on the family. How they react can’t always be predicted, but often children will surprise you with just how supportive they are. There’s no right or wrong way to talk about it, and you may want to wait until they are old enough to completely understand the condition, but the MS Trust has some resources which might give you some tips on how to approach the subject. You can order free print or digital copies of our books Talking with your kids about MS and Kids' guide to MS in our shop.