3 encouraging things I’ve learnt being a mum with chronic illness
You don’t need me to tell you that being a mum is hard! You already know that it involves sleepless nights, days of feeling helpless and an awful lot of sacrifice. There are joys, that’s for sure, but there’s also a good deal of feeling like you can’t cope. This is true for every mum, but often even more so for mums dealing with chronic illness, whose energy and time are depleted by health problems.
I have a condition called ulcerative colitis, an auto-immune disease where my immune system attacks my digestive system. There is no cure, and it’s highly unpredictable. I don’t know when a flare up is going to come on, how long it will last for, and when it will settle down. As far as I know, I will have it for the rest of my life. There are definitely people who are worse off, but it does make being a mum harder!
Having said that, I know that all mums have things to deal with. Whether it’s illness or loss or housing situations, there are always extra pressures. That’s why I’ve decided to write this post. I don’t think I have the magic answers, but I’ve learnt a few things dealing with illness and being a mum that I think could help every mum out there. I hope these encourage you!
1. I’m not in control
Without getting too graphic, ulcerative colitis can cause me to need to run to the toilet any second! And if there’s one thing that’s going to teach you that you’re not in control, it’s that. Yet it’s just one of many uncontrollable things. If you’ve been a mum for any length of time, you’ll know that pretty much everything about being a mum is out of control.
When Clem was first born, I worried that I needed to be in control of everything. I thought things would fall apart if he didn’t sleep at exactly the right time, or if I couldn’t get him to feed. I worried that he wasn’t the right temperature. I worried when he hit his milestones a tiny bit late. Then my first flare up hit, and I didn’t have the chance to be in control. There was too much else on my plate to think about keeping everything in place. And do you know, things weren’t as bad as I thought! Clem still developed as he should, smiled regularly and showed all the signs of being a perfectly happy and healthy little boy.
Even more than that, when I let go I could tell that he was more relaxed too. My stress about being in control had been indirectly making him feel worked up. Kids are so sensitive to how their mums are reacting to the world, and it’s often said that a contented mum will have a contented baby. I found out how true that was!
2. I don’t have to be perfect
I’m a recovering perfectionist. I spent the first 26ish years of my life always striving for perfection, to the point where I’d stress myself out over tiny details and push myself beyond healthy limits. When Clem came along, I applied all the same things to him. I wanted to be the best mum, to do all the best things to help him grow up in the best way possible.
And there was fear there too – fear that people would think I was a bad mum if I wasn’t hitting that impossibly high standard. And I’m ashamed to admit it, but I also struggled with looking down on other mums who weren’t meeting my ridiculous standards, even though I myself wasn’t managing to.
Enter that monster colitis, and everything changed. There was no room for perfection anymore, I had to switch into survival mode. When this changed, two things happened:
Firstly, I realised that people weren’t judging me for not being perfect. Being more open and honest about my own failings encouraged other mums to be honest too. I noticed that I was far from unique in struggling to get everything right.
I realised that I don’t have to be perfect to be a good mum. Counterintuitively, some of the times where I am ‘worst’ at looking after Clem are really good for him. People comment on how independent he is, when really he has just learnt to entertain himself because some days I simply can’t entertain him. And if you want a comedy example, he’s learnt a lot about potty training already simply from spending a bit too much time in the toilet with me …. !
We don’t always have to think of times where we’re a ‘bad’ mum as ‘bad’. Of course, we keep trying to look after our little ones well, but being imperfect can be a wonderful way for them to learn too.
3. It’s ok to ask for help
This goes hand in hand with perfectionism. If you’ve ever known a perfectionist, you’ll know that generally they hate to ask for help. I was like that. I’m so ashamed of it, but I felt like asking for help was an admission that I couldn’t do something and therefore that I was failing.
What a ridiculous thing to think! We are social beings, we live in families and (see above!) we are imperfect. We are designed to help each other out when we can’t manage alone. I’ve realised that, counterintuitively, asking for help is a sign of strength, a recognition that I’m not perfect and that I can’t do everything alone.
And asking for help is excellent for your little one too! Clem has been able to spend more time with friends and family. He’s comfortable being looked after by people other than me. And best of all, he will learn that it’s ok for him to ask for help when he needs it too.