At the age of 23, I had a four-year-old, a 15-month-old and a newborn. My last pregnancy catapulted my migraine into the early stages of becoming chronic.
With three very small children and a new form of migraine that I was not familiar with, I felt extremely overwhelmed.
As my children grew, so did the migraine. Motherhood took on a whole new meaning for me, and I had to parent differently due to the pain and symptoms I was experiencing.
What I realized is that although being a mom with migraine has its challenges, it’s still possible to raise healthy and happy children.
Even if I’m bedridden some days, managing the household can still be done. Within my marriage, there were new parameters because pain was the third wheel.
Yet, we figured out a way to make it work. My children are now 20, 18 and 17 years old. My husband and I will be celebrating our 22nd wedding anniversary this September.
Over the years, I’ve developed a set of management skills that helped my family thrive despite the intrusiveness of migraine. If you’re a parent living with migraine, consider if incorporating these tools and suggestions into your life can make each day a little easier.
Children are smart and resilient. When my kids were in preschool, kindergarten, and grade school, I experienced migraine attacks that were very frequent and interrupted our lives. They noticed that mommy acted differently than other mommies.
It was important that I was honest with them about why their mommy couldn’t be in bright lights or why strong smells would make me sick. No matter how old they were, I used terms they could understand to explain what migraine is and how it made me feel.
If I couldn’t play with them, help with homework, or go on a field trip due to a migraine attack, it was important that they understood it didn’t mean I loved them any less.
When they saw me in bed, covered up by my blankets in a dark room, they knew that mommy was sick and needed quiet and rest. My children developed empathy and compassion. Most importantly, they didn’t see me as any less of a mother.
This was one of the hardest things I had to do. But once I let go of the idea of what I thought my life would look like, it got easier to accept the reality of my actual life.
Embracing my new normal was most difficult when my children were younger. Who doesn’t want to be a supermom or superdad?
We all strive to be the best parents we can be. Having migraine takes away that dream little by little. How do we lean into what this new normal looks like?
Here are some ideas that can help.
Stick to a routine
Since migraine is so disruptive, one way to feel like things are “normal” is to keep to some kind of routine or schedule.
Even if it’s just getting up each morning, walking the dogs, and emptying out the dishwasher — those tasks make you feel productive. The small victories we achieve every day have as much value as the big ones we strive for.
Give yourself a break
We all have bad days. Accept that it will happen. When it does, it doesn’t make you a bad parent, spouse, or employee.
You’re not the reason that you have migraine. Try not to blame yourself for being sick. It’s OK not to be OK, and it’s not a reflection of who you are as a person.
Build a migraine toolkit
Gather the things that help you during a migraine attack and keep them in a small case or bag that can be transported easily.
For example, some essentials to keep in your toolkit include:
- eye mask
- ice pack
- medications and container for them
- rescue/abortive medication
- ginger chews or candy for nausea
If you use essential oils, salves, or balms for neck pain or tension, throw those in there too!
Enjoy the small things
Take stock in the little things because those are the moments in life with the most value. For example, you can:
- Invest in board games and have family game night once a week, if you can.
- Spend time doing one thing you love, whether it’s cooking, reading, gardening, or another favorite hobby. Investing in yourself is an important part of self-care.
- Plan date nights with your significant other.
If you can’t get out of bed and need a date night, it’s time to get creative. Have a bed picnic! Order from your favorite restaurant, put on a movie, and enjoy date night in bed. My husband and I do this a lot, and it beats being at a restaurant any day.
Preparation is my middle name when it comes to managing family life. I prepare in advance as much as I can on good days. This lessens my daily burden and helps me handle bad days.
Delegating chores became routine as the kids got older. Pacing myself was key in order to avoid overexerting myself. Sticking to only a few tasks a day limits how much stress I put on myself.
Here are some ways to do this.
Preparing and cooking a few meals over a day or two relieves me of having to cook multiple times a week.
I stick with easy to prepare and inexpensive meals that can be made in large portions and freeze easily. Slow cooker meals are awesome because you can start them in the morning and dinner will be ready that night.
As kids get older, they can help out more in the kitchen. If you have children in high school, they can take over the kitchen once a week for Taco Tuesday, Meatloaf Monday, or Spaghetti Saturday!
Share the chore load
One of the best lessons my mother taught me was delegating chores. She taught me and my sisters to do our own laundry when we turned 10 years old.
Every Saturday we also had chores to do that rotated between the three of us. I did the same thing with my three children, and it has made life a lot easier! This is great for every parent regardless of having a chronic illness or not.
Utilize shopping delivery services
If your local supermarkets offer grocery delivery service, use it! Doing my shopping online when I’m unable to physically go to the store has saved me from having an empty refrigerator many times over the years.
It’s great in a pinch, and you can schedule deliveries for later in the week if you don’t need it the same day. I’ve even used it when I was in the hospital to treat an intractable migraine. I was able to have groceries delivered at home for the family.
Don’t try to do it all! Pushing yourself past your limit only hurts you in the long run. You run the risk of making your pain worse and possibly harder to treat if you do too much.
Give yourself a few tasks for the day. You don’t have to do all of the laundry in one day. Do one or two loads and feel good about it!
Managing family life with migraine isn’t easy, and these tips and tools are options that may help you find a balance that works for you and your family.
No one asks for migraine. Remember to practice self-care, especially when you encounter setbacks, and always be kind to yourself.
Jaime Sanders has had a lifelong journey with migraine and lived most of her adult life with depression. Through her advocacy work and blog, The Migraine Diva, Jaime’s mission is to make a very invisible disease visible to the rest of the world and validate the real pain of millions. She works with several nonprofit organizations in a collaborative effort to educate, empower, and uplift migraine patients and their caregivers. As the Migraine Patient Advocate Coordinator for Global Healthy Living Foundation, Jaime’s role is to help recruit migraine patients into the advocacy role to change legislature and insurance policies to improve their access to care on the state level. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.