Single Mom + IBD
This past October, I celebrated the 10th anniversary of giving birth to my son. It was also the 8th anniversary of my journey as a single mother. Becoming a mother as an IBD patient was such a frightening experience. I wasn't sure if I would be able to become the mother I wanted to become while living as an IBD patient. The uncertainty of my disease. The constant fatigue and ceaseless pain made me feel inept, unsuitable, and restless as a mother. That was while living in a two-parent household.
When our family changed and split into two homes, the idea of being alone as a sick person carrying for a toddler who needed my undivided attention all the time. While also becoming the sole breadwinner for our home and in charge of all parenting duties. My condition left me feeling like half of a mother, half of a woman, and half of a mother. Now, this half of a person was charged with the duties of two people.
My first flare at the beginning of our new life ended with the removal of my colon. Through the pain of a breakup, I was trying to navigate a new normal for both of us. There were some necessary foundations I needed to establish to create an environment that we were not only going to survive but thrive. The goal I wanted for my family was to live through it all and come out on the other side with more love than we came in with. Through trial and error, I found a way to create a foundation on which we were able to prosper.
Creating a support system
The most essential to healing and transitioning into our new life was having the support system I would need as both a patient and a parent. It was not only vital for me to know that I was supported, but for my little one to see that he had a village surrounding him. Being the only parent available for school volunteering hours, parent-teacher conferences, extracurricular activities, sports coaching, & volunteering is exceptionally difficult. Then tacking on my doctor's appointments and treatments. I was attempting to do it all on my own.
Beginning to ask for help
Asking for help was difficult. I was shortchanging myself and my child. I couldn't be all of the things, everywhere, all of the time. Which also led to my little missing out on elements, circumstantially. However, there were things he was doing at the same time as friends. I had family & close friends who lived close, willing to help take over some of my duties when I couldn't physically perform them. He would have the comfort of know he could always count on someone at any time.
Transparency and communication with my child
I am very transparent when it comes to my diseases and challenges. For many reasons, I felt that honesty and transparency were going to work in our favor. Constant communication and transparency kept my son from having unnecessary fears about my illness. It kept him being disappointed by the fact that we were unable to keep plans or participate in certain activities.
We have open communication about IBD, it's treatments, and some of my more common symptoms. My child is familiar with my doctors and is comfortable with asking questions. I must respect that my IBD is affecting him. It's also important that my child is not afraid of ulcerative colitis. That he understands one can live and thrive with UC, it's not all gloom and doom. The more communication we have, the more peace we have in our household.
Self-care for a single parent with UC
Self-care is essential at any stage of evolution. It's especially needed as a patient with a chronic condition who is also a single parent. Unlike a solo parent who has unshared parenting duties for a short period, a single parent is providing all the parenting while also providing the economic stability of the family. The family is solely dependent upon one person to provide everything the family needs to excel. The pressure and the physical toll it takes can be overwhelming.
It's imperative to take a moment to check in with yourself each day. And do something for you. Every day you are doing something to care for someone else. It's perfectly fine to take a moment for you. I make sure my LO goes to bed on time so that I can have some time to myself before I go to bed to read, watch television, play a game, or sit still in silence. Whatever it is, that I need at that moment, I do. That way, I am recharged and able to function the next day correctly.
Designate family time
Take time each week to focus on your family. Find something you enjoy doing together and do that each week. For my family, it's often things we can do around the house so that we don't miss family time even if I am not well. We will have a family movie night, a chess game with tea and biscuits (shortbread cookies), a video game session, lego building, or a board game.
Even though there are just the two of us, being together continually doesn't mean we are bonded or communicating. But sitting down and concentrating on each other for a little while allows us to both relax, check-in, and bond with one another. I often feel like a bad cop because I do all the disciplining and the brunt of the raising, and I don't want to miss out on the fun of being a parent. I also don't want my little one to not enjoy his childhood. So, I make sure that we are balanced in our meditation and fun.
Being a single parent with UC is possible
When I began this single parenthood journey 8 years ago, I wasn't very confident or hopeful. I was overwhelmed with worry and heartbreak. I was living with unrealistic expectations of myself and my family. I first had to forgive myself for what I deemed as failures and realize that no one's life is perfect. And the idea that I had ruined my child's life was ridiculous. What was important was my child was loved, cared for, and safe. He was also happy. I was so busy wallowing in my guilt that I didn't see my child's happiness. Single parenthood isn't ideal, but it isn't the end of the world. Families can be complete, happy, and healthy in a single parenthood household led by a person with a chronic condition. Enjoy your journey.
Do you keep a food diary to help manage symptoms?