Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic and often disabling disease of the central nervous system, which consists of the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. The disease damages myelin, a fatty substance that normally surrounds and protects the nerves. It can also damage the nerves (called axons) within the central nervous system.
Results of this damage can range from mild (numbness in the limbs) to severe (paralysis or vision loss). About half of people with MS experience problems with concentration,...
"Having MS made me a better parent than I would have been without it," says Matt Cavallo, who has known he had MS since 2005. He now has two young boys.
What MS Can Teach You About Parenting
Know what's important. Because you live with an unpredictable disease, you understand something about life that most people don't. "Before I had MS, I was someone who worked 15-hour days; my mind always on the next big project," says Cavallo, who is also an author and motivational speaker. "MS makes you aware of how life can change at any time. You learn to focus on appreciating the moment."
Expect the unexpected. MS teaches you to be flexible and adaptable. "Any parent knows that the best possible plans can veer horribly wrong at any moment because of a meltdown or sick kid," Cavallo says.
Be a role model. "Your kids will understand we all face challenges, but they'll see you succeeding despite them," says Cindy Richman, senior director of patient and health care relations at the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America. "Your example will make them more resilient and confident."
Tips for Parenting With MS
Take care of yourself. Give yourself plenty of downtime and rest. "Tending to your own needs isn't selfish," says Rosalind Kalb, PhD, a clinical psychologist and vice president of clinical care at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. If you overdo it one day, it could take you a week to recover -- and that's not good for anyone.
Have a plan B. Your symptoms may act up at inconvenient times, like right before a special outing with your kids. Always be prepared. Have a stash of fun stuff you can dip into at home, such as a few unopened board games or a DVD.
Don't hide your disappointment. Your kids are going to be upset when you have to cancel plans. Let them know that you're disappointed, too, Kalb says. They'll see how important it is to you. Reassure them that you'll feel better again soon.