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Raising Children as a Chronic Pain Patient

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The pain does not have to interfere with raising good humans.

I am a chronic pain patient. My pain is manageable, which means: it will never go away or be cured but can be reduced enough to allow me to move and walk up to two miles on a good day, with some modifications and rest. No matter what type of pain or disability one has, it does not have to interfere with raising children and can, in fact, leave your children more prepared to leave the nest when the time comes than if you were perfectly healthy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that life is all rainbows – it isn’t. But we have to play the hand we are dealt, and it is in our best interests to play it well.

I have three children, ages ten, thirteen and nineteen. All three children live at home, although the nineteen year old has a full time job. When they were toddlers, they often enjoyed playing in the day-care area of the local YMCA four or five days a week while I attended group exercise classes. I lived for these classes- the music and the sweat and the challenge were invigorating to me. When these classes ceased to be a possibility for me, my children’s lives began to change. We left the house less often. Instead of hopping on the roller coasters with them at the local amusement park, I’d wait by the exit sign. It took a lot of therapy for me to get through the disappointment of this major life change that I did not ask for and that I could not change.

Many of us do not want to worry our children or cause them undue stress, and we suffer in silence. I personally have to deal with a lot of pride and really do not like to ask my spouse or children for help, ever. I had to get over that. In order to raise my children to be the good people I wanted them to be, I had to show them my vulnerability. That means that when I am in pain and I can’t finish a chore, I tell them that I’m in pain and I need some help with a chore. I want to raise adults who have compassion and empathy for others. I want to raise children that are not afraid to be vulnerable to the ones that they love. I want to raise children who will lend a hand readily if a loved one needs it. The best way I can do that is to simply be honest.

Children will learn how to interact with the world by watching their parents interact with the world. By admitting to my children that I’m in pain and I can’t carry this big basket of laundry up the stairs, I’m showing them that it is ok to admit that you are struggling. We no longer live in a world where we have to bear our suffering silently in order to be shown respect. My children see me get up every single day and work as hard as I can, despite significant setbacks. That is good for them to see. They will someday face adversity and they will have had a lifelong example of how one can live a full life even when they’re dealt a poor hand.

In fact, teaching children to perform tasks around the house that are difficult for me is good for them. My children know how to clean, how to cook, and how to do laundry. They will go out into the real world with skills that will make their lives easier. This is part of our jobs as parents – to teach our children that every member of the family has a responsibility to pitch in where they’re needed. When they grow up and choose life partners, we all want them to choose people who will share life’s burdens equally with them, as well. Young adults who are raised in a cooperative household will likely find it off-putting if someone they’re considering a future with sits back and expects their partner to do all the work.

This last weekend, I planned a day trip to a state park about two hours west of us, where sixty-five million year old dinosaur tracks are fossilized in a riverbed. The riverbed is rocky, with several trails varying in length from a quarter of a mile to several miles long. I knew that this terrain wouldn’t be the easiest thing for me and that by the end of the day I might be a little worse off than usual, but I went anyway. I wanted to see these dinosaur tracks, and just because I will feel pain does not mean that I can not find a way to make it happen. Twice, I had to stop and rest for a few minutes. Once, I had to take a different route from my family because I couldn’t climb over the rocks of a certain height. My children saw me face these roadblocks. They saw me see the dinosaur tracks I’d come to see, as well. That’s what they’ll remember, and that is the kind of life I want them to live.

Life always gets in the way of our plans and what we expect our future will look like. Patients with chronic pain can show our children that we can live good lives, even if they aren’t the lives we’d planned. We can teach them that it is smart to know your limits. We can teach them that they do not have to suffer in silence, and that it is ok to advocate for their own needs. By making the best of our situation, we teach them to make the best of theirs.

Life is about the journey, not the destination. That journey is not pre-defined for us, and it does not have to follow any specific path. My journey includes some roadblocks, but my children’s journeys will, too. When they face those roadblocks, I want them to shrug their shoulders, change direction, and keep going. So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to lead by example and keep going.

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