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8 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Mom

Aug 17, 2007
Mommy moments come in all forms: days at the park, backyard barbeques, or meetings at the pool. They are a great time to get to know other mothers and share activities as well as compare notes on child-raising. But as the number of women who live with chronic illness continues to grow, so does the inability to participate in many of these important spontaneous fun mommy moments.

According to the National Fibromyalgia Association, fibromyalgia (FM) experts estimate that about 10 million Americans and approximately 5% of the population worldwide suffer with FM, one of the fastest growing auto-immune diseases in the USA. Another study confirms that one in three people in the United States have a chronic condition. I recently attended an adoptive mom's playgroup and within this niche group, three out of the six of us had chronic illnesses, and all of us were under forty years old. Being aware of a friend's limitations and challenges, acknowledging them, and just asking a few questions, can make a huge impact in their ability to participate and feel comfortable with you and other moms.

[1]. Ask what time of the day is good for play-dates or activities. This can vary from season to season (weather affects it a great deal); and also from one illness to another. For some moms, mornings are good and afternoons are exhausting; for others it's the other way around.

[2] Be flexible and don't make her feel guilty if she must cancel your plans. Having a chronic illness means each day is unpredictable. Last week I took one step and my knee was locked up for four days. I winced in pain as I did heat and medication therapy while my husband worked at home. All my plans were cancelled and I had no advance notice. There may be times that she is still able to participate, but the plans may need to be adapted.

[3] Ask polite questions such as "how far are you comfortable walking today?" or "what is your greatest challenge?" and try to accommodate. Remember a two-block walk to the park may seem like miles for her. Stairs may be difficult if not impossible, so take the elevator with her. When she walks keep a pace with her and realize she may have to take rest stops even while walking small distances. Standing for more than a few minutes may be challenging. What looks like a short line for the carousel may be impossible for her to withstand. Offer to stand in line and let her jump in later.

[4] Avoid telling her about the cures you've heard for her illness, the juice products you may sell that could help her, or about your mother's cousin's sister who has the same illness but still manages to raise five children and work full-time. Don't comment that the diet she is on is harmful, that the medications are just a bunch of poison or say, "don't you realize those doctors are just out to make money off of you?" She's heard it all and if you can be her safe haven from that it will result in a deeper friendship.

[5] Be aware of simple things that may be difficult for her. For example, if you go to the beach, ask her if she would like to be dropped off while you find a parking spot; she may not be able to sit on the ground so bring a few lawn chairs so she isn't the only one two feet above the rest of your friends. She will likely be limited in her sun-exposure. She may not be able to carry as many picnic items as you can from the car. While you don't want to make her feel helpless, nor does she want you to make a big deal out of it, just be aware that she may need some extra considerations.

[6] Don't assume that she can take care of your children, even for five minutes, unless she volunteers. Child-caring is exhausting and caring for her own may be zapping her of the little strength she has left. If your kids are prone to run out into the street, realize that she may not physically be able to chase them. Instead, offer to run around with her kids for a few minutes and ask her to snap some photos.

[7] Plan activities that she can participate in. While you may love your stroller exercise groups and mommy-and-me gym classes, these may not be options for her. Ask her what kinds of things she likes to do and then join her. For example, volunteer to bring an art project to her house that the kids can do outside or just go the movies. Keep the activities under three hours; while you may spend six hours at the zoo, affirm that you completely understand she needs to get home. Don't say, "a little more exercise may do you some good!"

[8] Lastly, tell her what every mom longs to hear: "I don't know how you do it. I really admire your perseverance and strength." Your encouragement may make the difference in her entire outlook on her abilities and doubts as an effective mom. And remember, Proverbs 11:25 says, "... he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed." Women with chronic illnesses don't have times for all the social circles they once did, but they desperately long to connect with others who try to understand their daily challenges. Through her illness she has likely gained deep insight and wisdom; her friendship may grow into one that blesses you for years.
About the Author
Lisa Copen is editor of HopeKeepers Magazine,mom of a 3-year-old, lives with rheumatoid
arthritis, & author of Beyond Casseroles: 505 Ways to Encourage a Chronically
Ill Friend. http://www.comfortzonebooks.com
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