Life With Chronic Illness: Your Kids Can Helpby Cathy Kramer Patient Advocate
Raising a family while living with a chronic condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), can take a toll on your energy and pain levels. Trying to do it all — care for children, grocery shop, cook, and clean — is most likely more than you alone can accomplish. So why not have your children help around the house? Think of them as your part of your health team. Their help means less physical stress on your body and as a bonus: You’ll have more quality time to spend with them.
How do I get my kids to help?
A universal question I hear from parents with and without chronic illnesses is: “How do I get my kids to help around the house?” The tips I am sharing are the same for all parents, but I have added some tidbits on how incorporating your children into the household chores can be beneficial to parents living with pain.
My children are now young adults, but these tips have worked for my family for years … usually. I don’t want anyone to walk away thinking I have kids that clean up after themselves 100 percent of the time or that I never complain that I don’t get enough help — that wouldn’t be true. What is true however, is that my two kids have grown up with a mom who has RA and they know that I need and expect help because family helps each other, and I cannot physically do everything alone.
Children, just like adults, don’t always feel up to household jobs and will often procrastinate, and most definitely will complain about doing the work. They are people just like you and me. Be realistic about what you are asking them to do so that it doesn’t turn into a struggle that defeats your purpose for getting help. Remember, less stress is better for your body. Don’t add to it.
If possible, start early. When my kids were as young as 24 months, I would have them sit on the bed while I folded laundry. Their job was to fold wash cloths. As they got a bit older and could walk around, I taught them to help dust and spray chemically safe cleaning products while I wiped the windows. Believe it or not, they felt quite accomplished and were on the road to being part of my cleaning team.
Educate your kids
Like most young kids, mine wanted me to spend time doing the fun stuff — reading books together, meeting for playgroups, or going to the park. I used age-appropriate explanations to educate my kids about my RA. They have always known that my energy reserves are low and some days I wake up unable to be productive. Taking out the trash, putting dishes away, or walking the dog are necessities so we can enjoy life together.
Work as a team
Before I expected my children to ever take on a job alone, we always did it together multiple times. Working as a team makes things go faster. Plus, chores like walking the dog got me out of the house and moving. If holding the leash of our fast-paced border collie became too much for me, both kids knew how to quickly take over and give my body a rest. Working as a team allowed us to have fun while also getting those pesky chores done.
Don’t assume your children are picking up on how you clean the house. I talked out loud letting my kids know exactly what I was doing, how I did it, and why. I had a friend who made task cards for each room giving step-by-step instructions. Aim to have them learn the job as well as possible so you don’t feel you need to go back and do it again. Remember, one of the goals of getting children to help is so you don’t have to do it yourself.
Know their unique personalities
The personalities of my two children are night-and-day. My oldest instantly sees what needs to be done. At 22, he still helps when he sees I am overwhelmed with life or RA. The other needs more encouragement. If I ask her specifically to help, she will. However, she often doesn’t think about it otherwise. This doesn’t signify laziness or not wanting to help me when I am not feeling well, she honestly just isn’t aware that things are a mess.
Divide and conquer
Allow your kids to assist in dividing up chores. Having input into decisions makes doing them easier for anyone. I often share the tasks that need to be completed along with which ones I feel I cannot accomplish. If my RA is not behaving, the bathtub can be a struggle for me, but I am generally OK cleaning the toilet — something they never volunteer to do. Sharing what I can and cannot do allows them some choices in what they would be more willing to do.
Let them know how this helps you
“Thank you for vacuuming the living room today. Because of your help, I was able to nap today — something I really needed.” Kids of all ages see our pain and want more than anything to take it away. They can’t. But by helping us out, they know they are doing what they can to make us feel a bit better. Let them do that for you.
Make sure you notice
If you are like me, it is easy to let your mind get wrapped up in the pain of RA and not notice what is going on around you. However, pay special attention to the tasks your kids do around the house. If they feel it doesn’t really matter, it is difficult to stay motivated. To keep their help around the house a regular routine, don’t stop acknowledging their part on your team.
Let things go
The hardest tip to follow is letting things go. Somethings we just have to accept that there is still dog fur on the carpet and move on. Also, remember that learning to clean is a process. It takes time. Because of my RA pain, I often only vacuumed in noticeable locations, but by the time my son was around 11, he had mastered the job. He even got into corners and moved chairs! If I had given up on his skills at age 9, his vacuuming skills would never would have matured.
Now that you have learned to work as a team, go play together! Do something fun. My kids loved when we set up plans beforehand, so they had something to look forward to. If my body needed to rest, we might have ice cream and watch a movie together. If I felt better, we might go for a bike ride. You know your body best. Choose fun that allows your body the most care.
Don’t do RA alone
A comment I often hear is: “It is just easier if I do it myself.” True. It may be. But I wouldn’t recommend it. RA is a tough illness to live with. You never know when a flare is going to hit or how long it will last. We all need help and our children are more than willing, if we act with patience and guidance. Plus, it gives you the chance to teach life skills while also having a little fun together. Good luck!