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Tips on Parenting When You Have MS

Caia Images/Paul Bradbury/Getty Images

Communicate openly and share knowledge about MS with your children

By Colleen Doherty, MD

Just as you are not defined by your multiple sclerosis, neither is your parenting. That being said, MS is a part of your life, and so it will play a role in raising your children.

The good news is that children are mostly resilient and do well within a loving, supportive, and happy home. Still, having multiple sclerosis does pose an additional challenge to many families.

Here are a few tidbits to mull over as you navigate the beautiful journey of parenting.

Telling Your Child You Have MS
Of course you want to protect your child from experiencing the pains of life, including the emotional pain of knowing that one of their parents has multiple sclerosis. But you may be surprised to learn that even if you try to keep your MS a secret from your child, he or she is probably clued into the fact that something is awry. Children are smart and perceptive—they know a lot more than we think.

Experts believe too that it's best to open from the start about your multiple sclerosis. This is a gentler approach, as opposed to sitting your child down when they turn a certain age to discuss the big reveal. That being said, every child and every family situation is unique. Follow your gut, and seek out professional guidance if you are unsure about how to proceed.

Communicate Openly About Your MS
Open communication is also important. If your child asks questions about your multiple sclerosis, answer them so they feel included.

Research suggests that children who have knowledge of MS (appropriate to their developmental level) are better adjusted. How your child learn about MS will vary too. Some may respond better to talking and others to books or videos.

The bottom line here it to make it OK for your child to talk about MS with you or another family member—a green light topic in the home that he or she can discuss whenever they desire.

Children Will Have Different Reactions
Your children may experience a range of emotions like compassion, indifference, even laughter—some children may joke or giggle at your MS-related symptoms as a way to cope. In fact, a sense of humor can be a healthy way of coping for the whole family. Try not to react negatively.

That being said, if your child is expressing more worrisome emotions like anger or sadness, or exhibiting concerning behavioral changes at home or at school like withdrawal or acting out, talk with his or her pediatrician. This would also a good time to seek professional help—do not feel like you need to carry that burden alone.

It's also important to know that children may change their reactions as they reach different stages of life. Fo example, a younger child may ignore your MS symptoms or ask lots of questions. As your child gets older, especially in adolescence, he or she may become frustrated and even say things that are hurtful.

Remember that your child is processing the fact that their parent has a debilitating, chronic illness, so try to be understanding and remain calm.

It May Not All Be Multiple Sclerosis
Speaking of the teenage years, remember that even though MS plays a significant role in your life, your teenager is experiencing many other obstacles. Your MS is likely playing a backseat to their other worries surrounding friendships, puberty, and schoolwork. With that, do not assume that a change in behavior or mood in your child or teenager is from your MS. In these instances, seeking out advice from his or her doctor would be helpful in teasing out these changes.

Multiple Sclerosis Is Not All Bad
Children of parents with MS tend to cope and adapt well. In fact, many people who have grown up with MS in their homes believe that having a parent with MS has allowed them to develop into more empathetic, caring adults with a deeper perspective on life and what really matters. In addition, your MS can provide a living example of how to effectively manage physical and psychological obstacles in life.

Care For Yourself
Depression is common in MS and maternal depression is linked to maladaptive coping strategies in children. So while you strive to be a loving, flexible, and present parent, remember to care for your own needs. Eat healthily, take time to enjoy a good book or television show, and engage in some form of daily exercise.

Also if you do have depression, be sure to address it with your neurologist or primary care physician. Likewise, if MS-related fatigue weakens your patience or your ability to engage in daily activities with your children, talk with your neurologist about how you can combat it best.

Encourage Healthy Coping Strategies
While it may be hard for you to get out of the house due to MS-related walking or fatigue problems, it is important for your child to have some sort of outlet or activity. Invest in a babysitter or ask a friend or loved one to drive your child to a sports practice, a park for exercise, or a friend's birthday party.

Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by VERYWELL
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length

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