Looking after three children and a dog can be a handful at the best of times but doing it while suffering from arthritis makes things a real challenge. Ericka Waller is the brains behind Mum In The South which offers a host of inspiring parenting ideas from someone who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis. Here Ericka shares her top eleven tips for parenting with arthritis.
1. Start the day slowly
Set your alarm so you have enough time to 'come round' a bit before the mayhem of packed lunches and getting the kids ready starts. Flex your muscles for a few minutes before you get out of bed. If you can, a hot shower helps. Make sure you keep bare-feet warm with slippers or fluffy socks.
2. Nap when you can
The housework is not going anywhere (sadly) and it's much better to do it refreshed after a nap, than when desperate for a rest, that is where injuries happen. Write a to do list and focus on one house goal a day.
3. Cereal for dinner is absolutely acceptable on bad days
Or fish fingers. I remember meeting a nurse once who was also a child nutritionist and she told me that on difficult days things like porridge are perfectly good for kids. If you’re feeling terrible, the thought of cooking can be too much. Don’t put that kind of pressure on yourself.
4. Don’t be a hero
My husband often works in London so is home late. On days when I’m feeling bad I’ll eat dinner with the kids and go to bed with them. So we’d all lie down in the bed together, I’d read them a story and we’d all fall asleep. It never bothered me that I was in bed with the kids. If I’m having a rough day they can be a huge comfort and never had an issue with me crying it out with them. When you’ve got RA it can be really hard getting in and out of your bed to attend to crying kids, so if it helps let them sleep next to you so you can get some sleep.
5. Try and keep to an anti-inflammatory diet
I say that loosely because I’m not very grown-up when it comes to food. But I’ve managed to find a diet that is pretty healthy and it genuinely tastes nice, otherwise I wouldn’t eat it. It’s small changes you can make like cutting down on dairy, sugar and bread but without making it so you don’t have anything to enjoy. It makes a huge difference to your energy level. As any parent will tell you, having energy while looking after kids is crucial. If nothing else get a NutriBullet and throw in loads of greens, whizz it all up in the morning because it does make you feel better.
It might seem contentious to say this because people assume you can’t go running and other such activities if you have RA, but you can. And you should. Once you’ve got your illness under control you will find you have been inactive for a while and your joints will have locked. If you don’t start to move your joints and warm them up they’ll lock in time forever. So the best thing to do to keep your joints warm, supple and moving is to exercise. I’m a runner so I fought to get back to running, it does hurt my feet afterwards but I chose to do it. You can swim, do yoga, get on a bike, do pilates but exercise is not just for your joints. It’s for your brain, the serotonin boost and the endorphins you get from it are key. They’re as essential as anything you’re taking to treat the RA and it lets you keep up with the kids that little bit more.
7. Keep stocks in your car
I always take a warm jumper, my slippers and a blanket, a bottle of water and an energy snack. Drive to and from places in slippers. Take a blanket out to the park in case the weather changes. It's much easier to have stuff with you than try and source while out with kids.
8. If you relax, they relax
Watching TV with your children does not make you lazy, and they love it. Ask them about the show, cuddle up together on the sofa (prepare snacks and drinks before doing so, and then you won't have to get up for a while.) They enjoy having you share in their TV and you get to sit and rest.
9. Make the most of your energy
On good days, plan for bad ones. Make energy bars, or prep and freeze food. Recycling, mail, school letters etc can all pile up quickly. Keeping on top of this stuff can help you feel more in control over-all.
10. Find a support network
This can be online, or a group you meet up with. Knowing you can check in with people who 'get you' is a real life line. I am part of various groups on Facebook and it's great to know I'm not the only one flaring up due to the weather (for example) on that day. Sharing photos, advice and even the odd joke makes a huge difference.
11. Learn to say no
My kids would like play-dates every day, and swimming every night. They'd like to make dinner from scratch and do arts and crafts till bedtime, but it's not always possible. Explain your condition to your kids and mum-friends. Sometimes play-dates are too much. Sometimes after school activities are too much. Ask for help, and also space, when you need it. Cancelling plans and playdates last minute does not mean you are rude, or flaky. It means you have an autoimmune disease and are living the only way you can, day-to-day.