Balance Your Rheumatoid Arthritis and Family
Even without a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), many people find parenting to be the toughest job in the world – and you need to be fit and well to keep up. But managing a chronic condition such as RA may add to the load and make childcare tasks even more challenging.
The good news is that raising children in a home environment where everyone feels free to talk openly about your condition can help you to work around these difficulties and bring your family closer together.
You can meet the challenges
Diapers to change, bottles to make, and babies to feed—all these activities are exhausting, even more so when you're coping with RA. That's why it is important to think about the most energy-efficient ways of carrying out daily challenges when you balance rheumatoid arthritis and family.
Choose your equipment carefully
There is plenty you can do to make family life with RA a little easier, including thinking about the equipment you'll need to enable you to care for your children. Choosing equipment for a young baby can be daunting, so remember to try before you buy – you might love the looks of a fancy stroller, but is it easy to open and close?
Reliable sources of information on the best equipment available include midwives, occupational therapists, and other parents. Midwives can advise you on what equipment might help you perform tasks with greater ease. Occupational therapists can visit your home to help you determine what potential problems you might have, advise you on how to carry out daily tasks, and help you with adaptations that might be necessary. And other parents are great sources of new ideas that may help you.
Re-learn how to carry, lift, and feed
Living with RA can create difficulties when lifting your baby or child from their crib or the floor, running around with your toddler, and preparing meals. In fact, RA can make routine tasks feel seemingly impossible, and it's normal to feel anxious about meeting the demands of parenthood, especially the expectations and needs of your children. Some parents with arthritis may find it easier to do these tasks by:
- Lifting their baby using their larger joints, such as the elbows or forearms
- Using carrying slings when a baby becomes too heavy
- Using special supports (bean bags, cushions) when feeding, as it can mean sitting in the same position for a long time
Talk to your children
When you are living with rheumatoid arthritis and less able to perform parenting tasks, you may experience negative feelings such as guilt. It is important to speak openly to your children and partner or spouse, because open communication can prevent problems.
Let your children know how your rheumatoid arthritis affects you, and help them to recognize those times when you might need extra understanding or support. Involve your children right from the start, as even young children are incredibly perceptive and attuned to your limitations. Children will soon recognize what you cannot do and learn to adapt very quickly.
Likewise, help your children understand how your RA symptoms may sometimes limit your physical abilities. But also reassure them that having RA does not change how you feel about them, even if you are unable to do some things they are used to.
When talking with your children about your RA, its effects, and your feelings, try to keep a positive attitude. Change can be a frightening thing for a child, and your RA can sometimes seem complicated to them. Focus on the positive things you will continue to do together and be honest about your feelings. Explain this in an age-appropriate way, and reinforce your love for them, and the important role they can play in helping you.
You may even find that your relationship with your children grows stronger as they get old enough to understand your condition better.
Talk to others
In trying to understand how parents living with RA feel about raising a family, researchers have identified that more support from healthcare professionals can be helpful. In addition, research shows that having a network of relationships and resources is beneficial to those living with RA. These relationships lend emotional support, information, and tangible assistance, and people with RA who have access to this kind of support exhibit better daily functioning, mood, self esteem, and psychological well-being.
Like many parents with RA, you may sometimes be frustrated or feel inadequate because daily chores are sometimes overwhelming. You may also worry about how people outside your family view you as a parent. Talking to other parents in support groups can help you overcome such challenges and celebrate learning to cope with RA.
Look after yourself
Like many parents today, you may have to juggle being a mother or father, spouse, employee, and caregiver for other family members. But it is important for you to remember to take care of yourself, so you can also look after those who depend on you—your children. Taking your RA medications as prescribed, getting regular sleep, maintaining a healthy weight, and building and maintaining a strong support network are essential steps to managing your well-being.
In addition, make good use of aids and devices that can make everyday tasks easier. Exercises for rheumatoid arthritis can strengthen the muscles around the joints; this will help improve your functionality and make you feel more in control.
There are many strategies parents living with RA can use to minimize the limitations of their condition on parenting, and maximize the joy of parenthood. Here are a few examples:
- Change diapers on a changing table rather than on the floor to avoid kneeling
- If you have difficulty getting onto the floor to play, create a safe, raised play area
- If you can't run around much, enjoy other activities with your children such as singing, watching TV, or reading
- Take each day as it comes
- Ask for help with tasks such as getting children in and out of car seats
- Delegate or share tasks such as taking children to school
- Make the most of “good days” to prepare for the more difficult days (for example, cook and freeze in advance, stagger heavier or more tiring tasks)
- Organize and plan childcare activities well in advance
- Look at the design of equipment before buying it and buy RA-friendly devices
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