Parenting isn’t an easy job, but it can be a rewarding and joyful one. Multiple sclerosis doesn’t change that. But if you or your partner has MS, there will be an impact on your family life. After all, everyone is affected when one parent has the disease.
How you address and manage MS as a family can have a major influence on your relationship with your kids as well as your family’s happiness as a whole. Here are some smart ways to minimize stress, encourage communication, and keep your family bond strong in the midst of MS challenges.
Don’t Hide Information
Children are smart. Even very young kids can sense when something is wrong or there’s stress or tension in the house. If you or your spouse are going through a diagnosis or dealing with MS issues, it’s best not to keep secrets. Often, children imagine a situation to be much worse than it actually is.
What and how much you tell your children will vary depending on their age or maturity level. For example, most teenagers can deal with complex medical information. Being open and honest with your teen can create trust and allow him or her to express feelings and ask questions. On the flip side, telling your young children that Mommy or Daddy isn’t feeling well, but should be much better soon may be all they need to know to ease their concern for the time being.
Many kids whose parent is diagnosed with MS believe that somehow the disease is their fault—either through issues in childbirth or as a cause of stress to the parents. They also often fear that the parent is going to die soon. Although your child may not have expressed these concerns, take the time to sit down and talk. Reassure your child that the disease is in no way his or her fault. Tell your child that you will mostly likely live a long time and may have a normal life despite the disease.
Get Outside Help
If one parent is unable to perform regular activities during a flare-up, it’s normal to ask children to pitch in a little more. Setting the table, helping with dinner, or throwing in a load of laundry is fine. But when kids begin to feel the burden of being a caregiver, it can breed resentment and anger. It’s important to have kids participate in age-appropriate activities and events. Although their family life may be different because of the disease, it shouldn’t be overtaken by it.
To lighten the load, look to friends and extended family members. Aunts, uncles, and cousins may be able to help with grocery shopping or driving the kids to activities. Neighbors can drop off an occasional meal. Don’t feel guilty asking for help. Not only can it make your life easier, it’s something you can do for your children as well.
Spend Quality Time
Dealing with doctor appointments, bills, and other responsibilities can be overwhelming, so be sure to spend quality time with your kids. Help them with their homework, play a game, or watch a movie. Taking a break from MS-related issues can benefit everyone.
Offer Ways to Cope
It’s important to talk with and listen to your children. But sometimes it can be hard for them to open up about their frustrations, anger, or worries. To give them an outlet, connect them with other kids who have parents with MS. Many support groups are available for children of people with MS. To find a support group near you, call 800-344-4867 (800-FIGHT-MS).