How RA Affects My Relationship With My Child
A rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis can profoundly change your relationship with your child. Going through it myself, I’ve learned that honesty is the best policy. Gather as much information about the disease as you can and share it with your kids.
My daughter, Greylynne, was six years old when my doctor diagnosed me with rheumatoid arthritis. Seeing me in so much pain at such a young age required major adjustments on her part. I needed her help in ways that I hadn’t before. It definitely meant she had to grow and learn patience.
Initially, I tried to explain the disease and its effects in ways that a six-year-old could understand. Often this involved spinning mundane tasks, like helping me get dressed, into fun games. Every day, we’d play "Let’s see how fast we can get Mommy’s boots on!" or "Let’s see how many buttons you can fasten in five seconds!"
But the games quickly became old and unnecessary. As Greylynne grew up, she just wanted me to be present; she didn’t need a sugar-coated explanation. Candid conversation clearly won out over attempts to dress up the diagnosis. So, as I became more educated about rheumatoid arthritis, she became more educated.
I still stand by this candid approach, but at my lowest points I was in such bad shape that shielding her was the responsible course of action. I learned to listen to my body, and I put systems in place to protect her from seeing me in ways a child her age shouldn’t see her mother. I didn’t want her to think I was dying. If I felt it was necessary, I could depend on my sisters or Greylynne’s father and his family to take care of her for the day.
I pray that my rheumatoid arthritis doesn’t mean the odds are stacked against her. But, fortunately, I’m the only one on both sides of my family to have the disease, so I’m not too concerned. I just try my best to teach her how to make healthy choices.
Greylynne is 12 now. Dealing with rheumatoid arthritis over these six years has redefined the time we spend together. For one, it changed my priorities. I used to work crazy shifts; sometimes I’d even take a phone call during dinner. The rheumatoid arthritis has forced me to slow down and smell the roses. But it’s also brought us closer in other ways. Now she’s part of the crew at my gym. She’ll come and join me for a dance class or a workout.
I’m very open with her about how I’m feeling. On days when I need her to be a trouper, she understands. It’s these bad days that help us to genuinely appreciate the good ones. We’re doing this rheumatoid arthritis thing together.
Aisha Whisonant lives in Union City, Georgia, with her daughter Greylynne, whose understanding of rheumatoid arthritis rivals her mother’s.
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