Sometimes you feel like sitting down to count the ways your life has twisted and turned away from what you thought it would be. But for most single parents of chronically ill children, now is not the time. There are bills to pay and care to manage. You can be absolutely certain that without you, these things won’t get done. Usually when I write about mental health, it’s in the non-absolute language of “you may be feeling” and “perhaps it would be useful.” Of course your situation is unique and of course so, too, are your needs. But for single parents of chronically ill children, there are some things that are almost non-negotiable. Here are 4 things that I feel strongly will help you be the best person and parent you can be, for yourself and for your chronically ill child:
1. You Need Help Managing Care
“Chronic illness” is a broad term that encompasses everything from cancer to developmental challenges. This means that the day-to-day mechanics of your child’s care may look very different than the care needed by another “chronically ill” child. But “care” is an equally broad term. In addition to medical care and daily care, your child may need educational, emotional, or even spiritual care. I see the tendency in some parents of chronically ill children to coalesce around their child to the exclusion of others – to isolate with their child in a way that almost seems like hiding from the world. This isolation and sense of sole responsibility are not healthy. Not for you and not for your child. Be it parents or friends or social services or paid members of a care team, please consider seeking help to manage your child’s overall wellbeing. You will find that people really want to help.
2. You Need Help Managing Emotions
Again, the temptation is to be an island. Besides, who could really understand what you’re going through? Your job is to find the courage to allow someone to try. Your trapped thoughts and fears will eventually eat away at you from the inside – very literally, parents of chronically ill children tend to have higher rates of stress-associated health conditions. Your emotions are too big for you to hold on your own. Again, whether it’s family or friends or social services or paid support, you need help releasing and managing the very real entity that is your emotions.
3. You Need “You” Time
No matter how tight your time and financial resources, no matter how desperately it seems as if you are needed every minute of every day, going through life without “you” time is unsustainable. Sure, you might be able to do it for weeks, months or even years…but eventually living only through need and not through want isn’t good for you or for your child. Really, parents who take time for self care result in better health outcomes for their chronically ill children. Take a second to reread that. Being selfish is actually selfless; taking time for yourself is something that you can do for your child. This can be anything – getting a massage, going for a run, binge-watching Netflix, indulging in a hobby – but whatever and whenever it is, carve out time to do the things that you love.
4. You Need Hope
Most cars run on gasoline, but hope is what fuels the human psyche. For parents of chronically ill children and especially single parents of such children, hope can be challenging. What do you see when you look into the future? Your job is to discover the silver linings. Hope doesn’t have to be huge – no need to keep buying Powerball tickets! But small hopes can give you much-needed sparks of enthusiasm, which will keep you going. Imagine a future where your hopes become reality, and keep this in mind as you move forward in life. And remember, hope is not stagnant—you should always be adding new things to hope for, for your child and yourself!