When I’m not feeling well, it can be hard to take care of me AND all of the responsibilities that I take on, including parenting two young boys. Because chronic illness requires a life-long dedication, I don’t always have the option to ask for help when things get a little tough. If I did, I wouldn’t always have someone available when things are REALLY bad. It’s a judgement call.
So, I have to get creative in my planning and parenting, to make sure that I can still keep things running smoothly even when I’m not. Here are a few tips that have worked for me.
1. Plan ahead for sick days.
Get in front of your kid’s needs by putting things in place to have at your fingertips when you need them.
Secret toy kit: Whenever I’m feeling well, I gather a stash of secret toys to have on hand for when I’m not. This is not meant to be an expensive endeavor, I just get a small plastic bin and fill it with 5 – 7 items from the local dollar store. I get a puzzle, stickers, a new coloring book, and usual some sort of cars (bonus if they light up or move in any way). This box is kept hidden in my closet where prying eyes can’t find it.
Couch Games: I-spy, Go-fish, “hospital,” Checkers, you name it! In my house, we don’t typically play these games on “good” days, so that these games will still seem new enough to be exciting for the kids when I need to play from the couch. (Bonus: If it’s snowing and you can’t get yourself outside, bring the snow to your kids by putting it into a bowl on the counter with a few baking utensils and let them go to work!)
Special snacks: As with the secret toy kit mentioned above, I keep a box of special snacks that are new to the kids, so that I can keep them in line to earn a snack in the afternoon. My boys are… busy. If I’m anything less than 100%, I swear that they know it and get extra amped up. If this is something that you deal with as well, having a fun snack to earn may keep them in-line while you take it a little slower that day.
Scavenger hunt: Thank Pinterest for their easy-access solutions to taking care of kids on slow days. I’ve preloaded a kid’s scavenger hunt board here with some in-home scavenger hunts that my kids love to take on.
2. Always prep two meals at once.
This one is pretty obvious, yet it takes quite a while to get into the habit of doing it. Keep a stash of meals in the freezer, and you’ll be able to pull them out when you really need them.
And while we’re talking food, try keeping your “easy-to-eat” food options available, too. It’s like buying cold medicine before the cold seasons starts, because you know you’ll use it eventually and won’t want to go get it when you’re under the weather.
During the holidays, sign up for desserts or side-dishes that you can make and freeze in advance, so that you aren’t trying to prep and bake food when what you should be doing is power napping before an event.
3. Don’t forget your other resources.
Maybe you can’t get help every day with the kids, but you could get help with other household things:
Delivery groceries – enter your favorite foods now and give it a try once or twice before you really need to use it. It usually doesn’t cost anything once the order reaches a certain total – the basic shopping cart of a hungry family, I’ve found. Could someone pick this up and unload it for you?
Delivery meals – keep menus around for local restaurants and use these days to let your family indulge. We keep ours in a binder in the cabinet, so that it’s quick and easy.
Automatic delivery for basic household items – Again, load your favorite items into a store’s profile in advance, and order your items from home when you need them. Or, even better, set them on automatic delivery during the holiday months (this is especially helpful for diapers and wipes!).
Friends and Family – This post is written because I can’t ask everyone to use their vacation time to help me during the day, but there are smaller ways to help that sometimes get overlooked. Maybe your mom can’t help with the kids because she works during the day, but could she drop off a meal after work? Would your sister or brother be interested in giving the kids dinner and a bath for you one night when things are especially tough?
Could someone pick up the kids for weekend story-time at the library so that you or your partner could throw in some laundry and get the dishes done?
4. Plan down-time around planned activities.
Especially around the holidays! After an especially difficult Christmas morning two years ago, I put a foot down and stopped doing at least 1/3 of what we had been trying to take on. Now, I plan to start later in the morning, and end earlier in the evening. I try to make sure that my family doesn’t agree to too many parties, which sometimes means we need to visit family every-other-year, to make it fair. I schedule this down-time on the calendar, and force myself to take it. Overall, I miss less activities and events this way.
5. Set realistic priorities.
What can you really let go? Maybe flex the tv-viewing limits this afternoon? Maybe it’s not the day to worry as much about what the kids are eating – instead let them pack their own picnic lunch to bring into the living room? Give yourself some realistic accomplishments for the day, and let go of anything that isn’t “essential” to keeping your days moving forward. While you work with your doctor to get through this flare, your family and house will be OK, even if things aren't running quite as smoothly as you'd prefer.
Parenting is hard, but parenting when unwell can feel unbearable. Take good care of yourself, reach out for help when you can, and be gentle with expectations – remember that you are your own worst critic!
Do you have tips? Share them for all of us to use!