Tips for Parenting Solo with MS
When it comes to parenting alone while living with multiple sclerosis, I admittedly know only about a twelfth of what single moms or dads do. Although I am happily married, my husband leaves every year for about a month and I have to learn how to adapt to being a solo parent. After searching for years for the magic tips, tricks, and tools, I eventually came to realize my kids are much more adaptable than I ever imagined.
Years ago when I was first diagnosed and sometimes found myself a solo parent, I would literally sit and worry about every hypothetical thing that could go wrong before it even happened; I was a tornado working two jobs who was just barely getting by. Additionally, I was in pain, exhausted, and overwhelmed every single day. I needed to tilt my head a little, and look at my life from a different perspective – looking at this season of life as a glass half empty wasn’t doing me any favors.
In the early days after my diagnosis, my friend Jess sent me a blog that encouraged “parenting from the couch,“ which really helped me learn to give myself a break. When I was struggling to move, I learned that I could still parent my kids successfully from the couch and for the first time, I realized that that was OKAY. I am just as present in my children’s lives, and in my own. Reading this article taught me that it was okay to sit down and get creative, and that although there was no magic trick to being the best parent with MS, there are definitely a few tips to pick up along the way.
- Figure out new strategies: After dealing with a mom living with MS, my kids have become just as used to the unexpected happening as I am. Much like I did when I was a special educator, they’ve learned to get creative with my illness whether it’s building forts around where I am laying or using me as a bridge when they’re stacking their blocks. They’ve gotten so creative over the last few years that I even published a children’s book about their ability to adapt my MS into their play time!
- Be proactive: At the end of the day, being proactive is huge when learning to manage MS, with or without kids. I have learned from friends, family, and the Internet that stress will only exacerbate symptoms, and staying calm is the key to success when it comes to solo parenting. Being a tornado running from room to room barking orders is not helping your kids, and it’s certainly not helping you!
- Keep lists: For me, learning to keep lists for myself and my family has been essential. I keep them everywhere! We even took it one step further and painted one wall in our house with dry erase paint so we can write on it. There’s also chalkboard paint that we painted on some of our cupboards in our pantry to jot down quick notes whenever we think of them. Without those tools, I’m positive that someone would always be missing choir practice and probably also their lunch .
- Embrace the slow cooker: Learning to slow down and embrace parenting with MS has also taught me to make the most out of my slow cooker. Many times I am up so early I throw whatever I have that seems like it would go together into a crockpot, and hope for the best! Dinner is always ready on time, I don’t need to cook when I get home AND typically it means everyone has leftovers for lunch the next day.
- Establish a routine: Living with a parent with MS has also taught my children to stick to routines like always setting their clothes out for school the night before, and doing their homework as soon as they get home when I have the most energy in case they need help. Without those set routines, we would all be lost!
- Give yourself a break: As time goes on, I have gotten much better at being alone with my children and my MS. I’ve become more efficient and have learned what works and what doesn’t. After stumbling through a few years of trying to do it all, I finally learned that giving myself a break was the one thing I needed most.
At the end of the day, the most important thing I’ve learned from solo parenting with MS is how precious my time is with my family. Before MS I was in the rat race, I didn’t see as much of my family as I do now, and when I did, I was always worried about work and money. Now, when I am present, I am truly present and loving who is in front of me, always. My children were born watching their mother face adversity, and I find it rewarding that they will grow up knowing how to deal with challenges, however big or small they may be. There’s no doubt that when I go, they will know exactly what to do. They either have to recall what I did, or one of you need to send them this blog. I’m only half kidding.