When kids head back to school and the fall routine kicks in, some parents may be thrilled. Others may find adjusting to the new routines challenging. Kate Milliken, founder of an online support community called MyCounterpane and mom of two, has found ways to excel at managing this transition while also living with multiple sclerosis (MS).
“I was diagnosed with MS 10 years ago, when I was 35 years old and single,” said Kate. “My symptoms came on suddenly, and by the time I called a neurologist, I couldn’t walk. My doctor told me, ‘I have a hospital bed waiting for you… don’t even pack.’ This was right before Christmas, and it was a very lonely time for me.”
At that time, Kate believed her life wasn’t going to go the way she had hoped. But a blind date after her diagnosis unexpectedly changed that. Soon after, Kate got married and had two children— the first when she was 38 years old and the second at 40.
Today Kate finds great joy in balancing work and family. She shares tips for managing the back to school transition and adjusting to new routines that help with her five and six year old. These tips can be helpful for all parents, not just those living with a chronic autoimmune disease.
Consciously reduce your stress.Cornerstone symptoms of MS, such as fatigue, can strike unexpectedly, making any parent more stressed and less productive. What helps Kate manage that is to do her best to plan ahead. For example, knowing that her daughter was going to be starting kindergarten in the fall, Kate bought her a backpack in June.
“Try to handle everything that is predictable in advance,” she recommends, especially since MS can fill the day with unpredictability.
Don’t be afraid to ask for support.“I believe it makes you stronger to depend on other people,” Kate said. “When my MS flares up, my husband asks for an MS number between 0-10. When I am at an eight or higher, we see if we can call a babysitter to give us an extra set of hands and help us get everything done at home and at work.”
Give your kids the opportunity to help.After celebrating her oldest child’s sixth birthday, Kate told him he was now big enough to make his own lunch every day.
After a tutorial on some kid-friendly recipes, he was a pro at making his own lunch. He never forgot to pack his lunch and learned a lesson of responsibility, while Kate took one to-do off her plate.
Connect with others.After school starts and the family is in a new routine, it’s a good time for parents to take a step back and think about how they can get more connected to one another. Whether online or in person, Kate recommends using fall transitions as a time to find or re-connect with your support network.
Connecting with others was one of the reasons Kate began MyCounterpane, a site where people and support partners managing chronic illnesses like MS can connect and share experiences. “I want to help others minimize the loneliness that can come with being diagnosed and give people an opportunity to share what it is like to live with illness,” said Kate. “You can help to heal others by telling your story.”
Put chaos into perspective.Posts on MyCounterpane can be tagged with an emotion, and one of the most popular ones is happiness, especially when talking about family.
“The greatest benefit to having MS and kids is that it puts chaos into perspective,” she said. “I want every MSer to realize that they can have an incredible life and be wonderful parents, even when they are stressed by things like changing routines that come when the kids head back to school.”
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