Although multiple sclerosis (MS) occurs most commonly in adults, it is increasingly being diagnosed in children and teenagers. Of the 400,000 diagnosed cases of MS in the U.S., 8,000 to 10,000 are in children up to 18 years old. Neurologists think there are probably many more children with MS that have not been diagnosed.
"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.