Tips on How to Survive the Early Years of Parenthood when You Live with Chronic Migraine
Infants, toddlers, and preschoolers require a lot of attention. They’re loud. They’re rowdy. They have a seemingly endless supply of energy. They’re also needy, clingy, and irritable, and they don’t always sleep well – often waking us up multiple times a night well into the preschool years.
This can be problematic (to say the least) for those of us with chronic migraine.
We chronic migraineurs need time to rest. We need quiet. We need regular routines, uninterrupted sleep, and good meals that aren’t a smorgasbord of left over cheerios, dried cheese, and raisins picked up off the floor and consumed while racing across the living room after a naked, peeing toddler. (Come on, we’ve all been there. Right? Right?)
Unfortunately, life with small children rarely gives us the things we need. Worse, not getting what we need not only leaves us with unfulfilled needs it also makes many of us feel guilty for needing those things in the first place. (More than half of us think we would be better parents if we didn’t have chronic migraine, according to a recent Migraine.com piece.) Perhaps even more importantly, it often makes us feel helpless and/or hopeless, thinking this is just our families’ lot in life.
And that, my friends, that belief that we have no control over the situation, can make things far, far worse, for us and for our families. So here are a few tips on how to thrive (or at least survive) while simultaneously living with chronic illness and parenting those adorable little monkeys we call our children:
- Get to know your neighbors, the women at the YMCA, and the parents at the local library’s weekly story time. No, you likely won’t get to know them as well as you would if you weren’t sick. (There are simply going to be too many times you have to cancel a class, outing, or play date because you’re not feeling well.) However, you can know them well enough for your children to become friends. And, once that happens, you can call on them for help when you’re having a knock-down-drag-out fight with a migraine and you have no other options. You can arrange for your toddler to tag along with theirs to story time or gymnastics class or for a coordinated play date at their house for your preschooler. They’ll be happy to have someone new around to entertain their child(ren), and you’ll get an hour or two to nap. It’s a win-win for everyone. Just make sure to reciprocate when you’re feeling better, if you can. As every parent of small children knows, we all need a break sometimes.
- Purchase a small collection of inexpensive, quiet toys that your child or children can enjoy by themselves and keep them stashed under your bed. (Examples: matchbox cars, a small Duplo set, puzzles, dolls, crayons and a coloring book.) On those days when you’re too ill to get out of bed without effort, pull out the bag and give your child one new toy. Let your child climb into bed with you or camp out on the floor near you and play. You’ll be surprised how much entertainment they can get (and peace you can get) out of a single new item.
- Keep other quiet toys and a collection of picture books next to or under the sofa in the living room. On bad days, camp out on the sofa and play quietly with your child for as long as you can. My son is a boisterous 20-month-old, but he loves when I read to him and/or play Legos or trucks with him. On my sick days, I spend a lot of time curled up on the couch watching him play and joining in when he gets bored playing by himself.
- Keep your freezer and pantry well stocked with already prepared meals. Standing in a kitchen and cooking takes a lot out of me when I’m experiencing a migraine attack, but my husband is also often too tired to cook. On good days, I cook ahead and freeze various breakfast and dinner items that can be reheated simply by throwing everything into a crockpot or the oven. I also buy well-made, healthy frozen meals from Costco and keep them out in the deep freezer for emergencies. Dried fruits, cereal bars, yogurt, and cheese sticks are also always on hand for snacks.
- Tell your children the truth. Depending on their ages, they may not understand much of what you tell them, but letting them know you’re tired and don’t feel well does help. My son loves for me to dance and sing with him, but I can’t move around that much when I’m having a major attack. When he pulls on my leg and says “Dance, Mama, dance!” I pick him up, sit down on the couch, and say, “Mama is too tired to dance today, buddy, but I can read to you or you can play me some pretty music and I’ll listen.” He’s usually okay with picking one of these options instead. Of course, your migraine symptoms may be such that neither of these alternatives would work for you, but you’re sure to have something that does. When your child wants to do something you don’t feel up to doing, tell them, and then give them an alternative or two that you could do instead. Sometimes all they need is a little redirection.