Canceled date nights, missed soccer games and dance recitals… when you’re a mom or dad who has migraine, it can feel like you’re being airbrushed out of your own family portrait. Living with migraine is hard enough, but parenting with migraine poses a whole other level of challenge. Fortunately, there are ways to cope.
Step One of Managing Migraine as a Parent: Acknowledge the Problem
If you’re scheduling family life around migraine, you need to talk to your doctor about starting or changing treatment. Lots of people with migraine believe that if they aren’t missing work, their migraine isn’t bad enough to seek medical treatment. Not true! Work is often the last part of our lives to be impacted since it’s easier to cancel dinner plans, put off household tasks, or skip a family event than to take time off of work.
Family and friends are an important part of living a full and happy life. If migraine is taking a toll on those realms, it should be treated. So when considering how migraine affects you, don’t just count the days of work you may have missed; your home life matters, too. Think about school plays and family barbecues you may have missed, the vacation you’re wary of planning, or the nights you’ve literally told your spouse “I can’t, I have a headache.” Then call your doctor.
Step Two: Don’t Hide the Problem—Discuss it
Talk with your partner. Communication is key to all healthy relationships. It can be difficult to discuss your migraine experience—not only putting it into words, but also letting yourself be vulnerable enough to admit you need help. But think about this: If (heaven forbid) you were stricken with diabetes, heart disease, or cancer, you wouldn’t think twice about confiding in your partner! They want to help support you, but can’t do so until you tell them what’s going on.
When you do see your doctor, consider inviting your partner to an appointment. It will give them an opportunity to learn more about episodic or chronic migraine, ask questions, and also understand just how common it is to live with a loved one with a chronic disease.
Talk with your children. Many people with migraine feel guilty about not always “being there” for their children, and even worry about migraine making them a “bad mom.” Some moms compensate for “mom guilt” by trying to hide their migraine. Don’t fool yourself—kids pick up on everything, whether we like it or not! They’ll know something’s going on, but that no one is telling them what it is. That secrecy erodes their trust, which can ultimately damage your relationship.
Be honest with your children about your health: Let them know that Mom or Dad has migraine.
Talk to them in an age-appropriate way that lays out the facts and opens the door to any questions.
Deal with your own feelings. No one asks to get a migraine, nor deserves one. Nevertheless, people with migraine tend to feel terribly guilty. The emotional weight of knowing your family is depending on you—and that you might be letting them down, or that they aren’t being properly cared for, or that you’re falling short of your own expectations—can be a significant source of distress. That filter can warp your perspective, making you feel as though the situation is even worse than it is.
The impact of migraine on family life is real. However, a study found that people with migraine imagined the burden on their family as being larger than their partners did. Want more of a reality check? Ask your spouse how they think your migraine impacts your household. You might be relieved to hear their perspective.
Feelings of guilt and shame are common among people with migraine. If you’re having trouble managing these feelings, therapy can help you reframe negative thoughts.
Step Three: Creating A Resilient Family
Many studies have examined how children cope with a parent’s chronic illness. They found that kids are adaptable when mom or dad has migraine, and can handle it well, even if they must sometimes take on some care-taking responsibilities—like doing household chores when the parent isn’t feeling well, or keeping younger siblings occupied with a quiet activity during a migraine. Help your children thrive with these pointers in mind:
- Don’t burden children with “emotional caretaking.” In studies, adolescent kids became distressed when they had to act as emotional caretaker of their chronically ill parent by acting as a confidant or a mediator. Parents need to remain emotionally available and offer emotional support to their children.
- Make sure kids are staying engaged in school and activities. Good quality friendships with peers was linked to lower adolescent distress. Kids need to have and maintain a network of friends.
- Therapy. If kids need further support, a child psychologist or family therapist can help them learn coping skills for the emotional impact of migraine. The same goes for your partner. Also, if there is significant family impact, family therapy is another helpful option.
- Family involvement in advocacy. Through migraine fundraising and advocacy organizations, you can get involved in events (like a Miles for Migraine “fun run”) that can help involve and educate family members, creating opportunities for family bonding and making memories while also increasing their knowledge.