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Parenting with a chronic illness

Mom with two kids


Stay healthy (within the confines of your chronic conditions, of course!)

Obviously this is easier said than done, depending on the condition, but it is very important that in caring for the family, you don’t forget about caring for yourself. Your children will certainly not benefit, and may indeed be impacted negatively, if you stretch yourself too thin, to the point of being unable to take care of your own health.

In order to help your children through this ordeal, you must first help yourself. Remaining as healthy as possible will result in an increased ability to care for those around you. Examples are eating right, exercising and yoga/meditation; but doing so also involves frequent clinical follow-up visits and a clear idea of long-term health care needs, as well as remaining generally well-informed about your condition. Keeping on top of your disease and your overall health can dramatically improve family dynamics and functioning.


Maintain normalcy, but expect adjustments

Keeping things as normal and unchanged as possible will help children to continue their daily lives with as little problems or interruption as possible. However, with a parental chronic illness, this isn’t always possible, or at least not entirely so. For this reason, it is essential, in conjunction with keeping your family informed, to explain to your children and spouse that some things might change, and what to expect if and when these changes occur.

Changes might alter the way you spend time together, but not that you do. For example, high-energy activities can be replaced or pared back with creative at-home activities that may be even more fun, especially if it means you can fully participate.

Transitions are difficult enough for many kids, so anything you can do to anticipate and explain these changes would be quite helpful. Having an idea of what’s to come — even if it’s that you aren’t sure how you’re going to feel when you wake up each day — and a plan in place for how to adjust when it does, can help children and the entire family better deal with the complexities of a parental chronic illness, and the dynamic changes that occur within the family when a parent is not feeling well.

Above all, family needs change as kids grow up. There will always be good times and hard times, even in families with healthy parents. But every day is a new opportunity to make adjustments that help everyone in the family feel supported and loved.

About the authors

Dr. Rothbard is a professional medical writer and consultant based in New York City, specializing in medical education articles targeted at a variety of audiences, from children through clinicians. After leaving medicine, he worked as a biology and medical science educator for several years, before deciding to pursue writing full time. He may be reached at

Katie Cleary is founder of, a website dedicated to giving support, ideas and information to moms with multiple autoimmune conditions. She lives with her family in Austin, Texas.

This post contains opinions of the authors. is not a medical practice and does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is your responsibility to seek diagnosis, treatment and advice from qualified providers based on your condition and particular circumstances.

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