Taking Off the Super-Parent Cape With RA

How to be a great parent while managing RA and not over-extending yourself.

Taking Off the Super-Parent Cape With RA

By Lana Barhum Published at October 7, 2015 Views 1,323 Likes 1

You might know Supermom. You might even be her. I am—well, I was Supermom until chronic illness forced me to take off my invisible cape.

My Secret

Once upon a time, I had a secret that few people knew. Behind my perfect façade, I was sick and exhausted. I was losing sleep, setting highly ambitious schedules and goals, and overwhelming myself—all things that aren’t a good idea with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and fibromyalgia.

The natural law of "something has to give" eventually took its toll on me. And I realized I didn’t have the ability to bend time or do things without effort. I was a just a mom with chronic illness and no superpowers.

A Different Kind of Super Parent

Raising children when you are also living with a chronic illness makes you a different kind of supermom or superdad. Every day you deal with symptoms that impact your mood, energy and physical wellbeing—all symptoms no one can see. It might be difficult to give up control of your super-parent duties, but something has to change or your world will come down crashing.

Let yourself off the hook and stop beating yourself up for not always being able to live up to the ideal you once established for yourself. You have to give up the super-parent narrative and the idea that you can do it all. You can't.

Taking Off the Cape

I have learned the hard way that it is okay to take off my supermom cape. I will never be able to do all I want to do, but I am finally okay with that. I won't always have the ability to keep a pristine home or cook meals from scratch every day or join my boys for rigorous physical activities, but there other ways I can be a good mother that don’t require me to be supermom.

I will have my good days and my bad ones. I have will have days that start out downright awful and continue to fall short of perfection.

When did I stop pretending and pushing myself beyond my limits?

Here is how I decide when the cape comes off:

What do I want my kids to remember?

My fondest memories of my late father are of weekend trips visiting the beaches of Lake Erie and taking the ferry to Windsor, Canada to go apple picking in the fall. I'd like my kids to feel what I feel when I remember my dad and those many memories.

My kids will remember the memories we make, like our roads trips to Niagara Falls, the Pennsylvania mountains and our local Amish country, our family game nights, and summer movie nights at our local drive-in. They will never recall lavish home-cooked meals, a spotless home, or the dinner parties I used to host before I got sick.

Will my health pay?

Being a parent is the worst and best job in the world. It is the hardest thing we will ever do and it gets harder the more we try to do it "right." Just remember, doing it right doesn’t mean acting like a martyr. Our kids need us to thrive, not suffer.

I take a deep breath before I make yet another decision to overwhelm myself in an effort to use superpowers I think I have. I have taught myself to find the balance between making good choices for my boys and being obsessed with what mothering should look like. The not-so-clean house, the delivery pizza, or the supermarket cake are saving me from the recovery time I didn’t have time for in the first place. It is also time that can be better spent with my children or a friend, or for just "me" time.

Will I have the option to recover?

If I can't make the time to recover after a particular activity, is it worth doing? If my son's team needs a coach, for example, does his team really need me or will they be fine without me? With all the things I already have going on—my fulltime legal job, taking care of my kids, my writing, getting enough rest, doctor appointments and treatments—I would completely be over my head adding another project to my already busy schedule.

My body wouldn’t forgive me and a fun activity would quickly turn into hard work. I'd be exhausted and in pain but I'd still do what I promised I'd do and I wouldn’t have the luxury of being a spectator who can rest on the sidelines and cheer my kids on. No matter how much I'd like to do something, if I don’t have the option to recover later, then it is not meaningful to my boys or to me.

Redefining My Role as a (Super) Mom

I have learned to let go of my often ridiculous ideas about what motherhood should look like. I now make conscious decisions about what I think my boys will remember from their childhoods and what they couldn’t care less about.

I am past setting the bar so high that I can’t reach it. I am learning that what makes me a good mother is reading together, quality time at the park, or taking a road trip. This could be different for you, but I’m setting my own yardstick, redefining my role as a mom and taking off the supermom cape.

To learn more about parenting with RA:

Helping Children to Cope with a Parent’s Chronic Illness
Parenting with RA: One Mother's Lessons Learned
Unpredictable Health and Parenting—What You Can Do

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