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Encouraging The Chronically Ill Moms In Your Playgroup

Jan 11, 2008
Mommy moments come in all forms of days at the park, birthday parties with streamers, and gymnastics classes. All of these provide the perfect opportunity for mothers to let their little ones burn some energy as well as share in their latest challenges. As the amount of women who live with chronic illnesses such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, continues to grow, however, so does the ability to always participate in these spontaneous mommy moments.

According to the National Fibromyalgia Association, fibromyalgia (FM) experts estimate that about 10 million Americans and approximately 5 percent of the population worldwide live with this disabling condition of FM, one of the fastest growing auto-immune diseases in the USA. When I recently went to my adoptive moms play date group, even within this niche group, three out of the six of us had chronic illnesses. Being aware of they illness symptoms a friend may cope with, and the daily changes in their limitations and abilities, can make a big difference in how much they are willing to be a part of a mom's group and feel comfortable around other moms who all seem to jump hurdles at the speed of light.

[1]. Don't be hesitant to ask what time of the day is best for play-dates or activities. For someone with a chronic illness, this will vary from season to season (weather can impact it a lot); 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. Heat combined with illness can make it impossible for a chronically ill mom to even be outside for long.

[2] Be adaptable and don't make her feel guilty if she must cancel your plans. When one lives with a chronic illness, one never knows what may change moment to moment. For example, last week I just took a normal step, but it resulted in my knee being locked up for four days. Despite all the medications and therapies, all my plans had to be cancelled and my husband tried to pick up the pieces of my son's schedule while he also worked from home.

[3] Ask her to clarify what she's comfortable doing. For example, you might say, "How far do you want to walk today?" and try to accommodate. Even though you can see the park from your house two blocks away, she may not be bale to make it. Stairs may be impossible, and I won't even take escalators any more because of my knees, so take the elevator with her. Walk at her pace, recognizing that she may have to take rest stops every few minutes even though you've only walked fifty feet. Do her a huge favor and chase after her kids for a few minutes. Standing for longer than a couple minutes may also be a challenge. Despite the pain of walking, it's better for me than standing. Even though the line at the carousel looks like it's only five minutes, she may need you to offer to stand in line and then let her jump in beside you at the last minutes.

[4] Ask polite questions about her illness, such as "what is your greatest challenge?" Avoid telling her about the cures you've heard for her illness; the 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.

[5] Remember that simple things 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. Many people are unable to plop down on the ground, so bring a few lawn chairs so she isn't the only one two feet above everyone else. Sun and heat can bother her so she will need to find shade. Don't expect her to carry three lawn chairs, a cooler and your fourteen-month old daughter, even though you can carry all that and the dog. You don't want to make her feel helpless, and she doesn't want a fuss, but be aware that she may need a few extra considerations.

[6] Don't assume that she can take care of your children unless she volunteers. Watching kids is exhausting and just taking care of her own may be all she can handle for the moment. Plus, if your kids play in the street, when a car comes she's not going to be able to jump three tricycles and sprint to grab their little hands nearly as fast as you could.

[7] Plan activities that she can participate in. While you may love your stroller exercise groups, and mommy-and-me swim classes, these activities may not be options for her. Ask her what kinds of things she likes to do and then join her for these. 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. You're my hero."
About the Author
Get 40 free pages of "Beyond Casseroles: 505 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend" by Lisa Copen when you subscribe to HopeNotes chronic illness ezine at Rest Ministries. Lisa is the founder of Invisible Illness Awareness Week.
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