I often hear migraineur mothers express fears that they are not giving their children what they need because of migraine attacks. I can promise you this: if you fail as a parent it will not be because of migraine. How can I possibly know that? Do I have a crystal ball? No, and I’m not clairvoyant either. I can speak with confidence because I have raised two children. I wasn’t a perfect mother. I made a lot of mistakes. Having migraines wasn’t one of them.
I was recently reminded of the outcomes when one parent has migraine. I was with my daughter and granddaughter when I was suddenly exposed to a strong trigger. At first I was stunned and tried to make accommodations to offset its impact. Within minutes I heard my daughter quietly explaining the risks to those responsible for the trigger. She respectfully asked them to remove the trigger. These young people were considerate and quickly eliminated the trigger. I was pleasantly stunned. My own daughter stepped up to advocate for me. She didn’t have to do that. I was quite capable of self-advocacy should I choose to speak up.
How did I get so lucky? It certainly wasn’t intentional. However, I can tell you there were a few things I did that I think made all the difference. You can do these, too.
Even very small children can understand the basic concepts of a migraine. Children have great capacity for empathy, too. This education can become even more important if one or more children become symptomatic as migraine is hereditary. Everyone in our family experiences migraine, so understanding what they are, how they manifest, and what to do about them was essential.
Children worry about parents, especially if one is chronically ill. They have active imaginations that can trigger unnecessary fears if not addressed. Assure your children that they will be taken care of, that the adults are still in control, and that you are still the parent. This can be critical when your children reach the teen years and feel the need to step in as your caregiver. Kids just need to know they will be safe and that their needs will be met.
On good days take the time to train your children simple tasks that build their self-sufficiency. When my kids were small kid-friendly foods and non-breakable dishware were stored within their reach in case I was too ill to prepare snacks and meals. We also practiced “clean up” and “quiet play” so they would know what to do. As they get older, you can also teach them how to recognize the signs of an emergency and how to get help. This was a critical skill when I had my first cluster attack. My daughter (then 7 years old) was tasked with calling 911.
It helped to prepare the children for my frequent attacks. But I also needed to prepare myself by having easy access to medication and comfort measures so I wouldn’t need to burden my children for caregiving duty unless absolutely necessary.
And finally, I enlisted the help of an army of family and friends who were willing to help out if I became too sick to look after my children. I don’t know what I would have done without such a long list of emergency play dates and personal shoppers.
By taking good care of myself, I set an example for my children, who would eventually both need migraine management skills. They were familiar with my triggers, symptoms, and the signs that I was getting too sick to play. I didn’t lie to them about my condition or try to minimize the problem. I also made sure they knew I was doing everything within my power to be as healthy as possible.
There is no way to predict how your children will respond to your chronic illness. If you are concerned about their ability to cope, it never hurts to get a consultation with a children’s therapist who specializes in chronic illness. Watch for changes in mood, stress tolerance, developmental regression, nightmares, or changes in appetite. Any of these can be a sign that your child is having trouble coping.
In the long run, most children of parents with migraine grow up to be compassionate, tolerant individuals…with a 50% chance of developing migraines and needing all those good self-care strategies you modeled for them.
So teach your children well.