A woman sits in a kid's chair explaining something to two stuffed teddy bears.

Parenting While Managing a Chronic Illness

Last updated: February 2022

Whether or not you have a child, most people would agree that parenting is hard. Although there is no right or wrong way to raise a child, new trends, the latest research, and frequent comparisons to others can make a parent question how good a job they are doing.

The stresses and demands of parenthood can be a lot for anyone to handle, especially those with a chronic illness like thyroid eye disease. Chronic conditions can bring fatigue, physical limitations, mood changes, brain fog, healthcare appointments, and financial burdens, among other issues. Navigating parenthood with a chronic illness can be challenging for everyone for a variety of reasons, however, some common concerns are highlighted below.

Struggling with guilt for not being the parent you thought you would be

Before having a child, people may envision what kind of parent they think they will be. Maybe it is an active parent, coaching the soccer team, and attending every piano recital. Maybe it is a parent who wants to limit screen time and serve only organic, homemade meals. However, what you want to do and what you are able to do may turn out to be 2 different things. Physical limitations, emotional health challenges, and doctor appointments may limit your ability to be everywhere and do everything you thought you wish.

When you cannot support your child the way you want, it may lead to feelings of guilt, depression, or loneliness. This is especially true if you start to label yourself a “bad parent.” It is important to remember there is no right or wrong way to parent. All that matters is that you try to show love in whatever way you can.

Just because you are not able to play catch in the yard for an hour every day does not mean you can not watch your child and a friend play and root them on from the sidelines. Failing to navigate your expectations versus your reality can lead to feelings of guilt and lack of fulfillment. However, it is important to remember that as long as you are trying your personal best, and showing your child you care in whatever way you can, you are being a good parent.

Fear of the future

In some cases, a chronic illness may lead to an uncertain future. Even when a condition does not have an impact on life expectancy or physical abilities, it can still have emotional and mental impacts on both the person with the condition and their family. Many parents may feel concerned about physically being around to see their child grow up, graduate high school, get married, and be a part of all of their child’s milestones.

Even for those with a condition that does not limit their lifespan, it can be easy to worry about how their illness might impact their children. Will their kids resent them for not being able to make every basektball game or cook a homemade meal every day? Will their child grow up angry because they had a “sick” parent with limitations when their best friend did not? These are common anxieties and concerns for a parent with a chronic illness.

On top of these fears for the future, there are also financial and health concerns. Chronic illnesses can be expensive, and may impact your ability to work. Less work or no work may mean you can no longer provide in the way you once did. Concerns for the financial stability of the family, especially when it comes to trying to provide for your children, can weigh heavily on the mind. And, if a chronic condition has a genetic component, parents may worry their children will end up in a similar situation.

Determining when to tell the truth

Keeping open lines of communication with others is a great way to set realistic expectations, receive grace from others, and find the support needed to make it through the day.

While it may seem easy or obvious to disclose aspects of your health to a partner or spouse, it can be much more challenging to open up to a child about what is going on. Specifically, decide when to be honest with your child. Just like parenting in general, there is no right or wrong way to approach this task. Some may choose to introduce it early on, letting their little ones know that mommy or daddy is not feeling well today. Others may wait until their child is older and might better understand the full picture.

It also may be hard to manage expectations once you do open up, especially with an older child who might want to help. Accepting help, while still ensuring your child has their own independence and space to grow can be its own minefield to navigate.

While parenting with a chronic condition may be incredibly challenging, it is not impossible. It is important to remember there is no right or wrong way to be a parent. As long as you are showing love to your child in whatever way you can, you are doing your best.

Are you a parent with thyroid eye disease?

What parenting challenges have you come across while contending with thyroid eye disease? Have you found a resource or strategy that has helped make this easier? We would also love to hear about your parenting wins, and challenges! Share your experience in the comments below.

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