MS can't stop you from being a great parent. The key is to focus on your strengths and learn creative ways to work around your symptoms.
Your condition will shape your outlook and approach to parenting. And that could be a good thing.
"Having MS made me a better parent than I would have been without it," says Matt Cavallo, who has known he has 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 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, 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.
Be honest. Shielding your kids from your MS doesn't work. "Kids are so perceptive, they'll know something is going on," Richman says. If you don't tell them what's happening, they fill in the blanks. What they imagine may be much scarier than the truth.
Match information to your child's age. With little kids, explain symptoms in concrete ways. "Say that Mommy has a headache and needs to rest," Richman says. They can understand that. As they get older, tell them more about your condition. Encourage them to ask questions, and let them guide what you discuss.
Get help. Don't wait until you're overwhelmed. Ask friends and family to help with specific tasks. Contact MS advocacy groups to find out about resources in your area. If you have a support system in place, you won't rely too much on your kids for help.
Be there. If MS slows down your career, take advantage of the extra time with your kids. "Many parents who are physically well are so busy, they aren't really available to their kids," Richman says. Being a parent isn't just about doing stuff -- it's about being there. "Just holding and hugging your kids means so much, or letting them climb into bed with you to talk," she says.
Focus on what you can do. Kalb says many parents with MS dwell on specific things they can't do for their kid, such as not being able to sew a homemade Halloween costume or coach the soccer team. In your mind, those things may be symbolic of being a good parent. Talking with other parents with MS can help reset your expectations.
"Parents with MS discover new ways to connect with their kids and spend time with them," Kalb says. "They find things they never would have thought of if MS hadn't forced them to think differently, to be more creative."