8 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Mom
by Lisa Copen
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Mommy moments come in all forms of days at the park, backyard BBQs, or meetings at the pool. They are a great time to get to know other mothers and share activities as well as advice. But as the number of women who live with chronic illness continues to grow, so does the spontaneity of the fun of these mommy moments. For example, according to the National Fibromyalgia Association, fibromyalgia (FM) experts estimate that about 10 million Americans and approximately 5% of the population worldwide suffer with FM, one of the fastest growing auto-immune diseases in the USA. I recently attended an adoptive mom’s playgroup and within this niche group, three out of the six of us had chronic illnesses. Being aware of a friend’s limitations and challenges, acknowledging them, and just asking questions, can make a huge impact in their ability to participate and feel comfortable with their peers.
. Ask what time of the day is good for play-dates or activities. This can vary from season to season (weather affects it a great deal); and also from one illness to another. For some moms, mornings are good and afternoons are exhausting; for others it’s the other way around.
 Be flexible and don’t make her feel guilty if she must cancel. Having a chronic illness means each day is unpredictable. Last week I took one step and my knee was locked up for four days. I winced in pain as I did heat and medication therapy while my husband worked at home. All my plans were cancelled and I had no advance notice.
 Ask questions such as “how far are you comfortable walking today?” and try to accommodate. Remember a two-block walk to the park may seem like miles for her. Stairs may be difficult if not impossible so take the elevator with her. When she walks keep a pace with her and realize she may have to take rest stops even while walking small distances. Chase after her kids and let her have a few minutes of rest. Standing for long can also be challenging. What looks like a short line for the carousel may be impossible for her to withstand. Offer to stand in line and let her jump in later.
 Ask polite questions about her illness, such as “what is your greatest challenge?” Avoid telling her about the cures you’ve heard for her illness; the products you may sell that could help her; or about your mother’s cousin’s sister who has the same illness but still manages to raise five children and work full-time.
 Be aware of simple things that may be difficult for her. For example, if you go to the beach, you may want to ask her if she would like to be dropped off while you find a parking spot; she may not be able to sit on the ground so bring a few lawn chairs so she isn’t the only one two feet above the rest of your friends. She will likely be limited in her sun-exposure. She may not be able to carry as much picnic items as you can from the car. While you don’t want to make her feel helpless, nor does she want you to make a big deal out of it, just be aware that she may need some extra considerations.
 Don’t assume that she can take care of your children, even for five minutes, unless she volunteers. Child-caring is exhausting and caring for her own may be zapping her of the little strength she already has. Plus, if your kids are prone to run out into the street, realize that she may not physically be able to chase them.
 Plan activities that she can participate in. While you may love your stroller exercise groups, and mommy and me gym classes, these may not be options for her. Ask her what kinds of things she likes to do and then join her for these. Keep the activities under three hours; while you may spend six hours at the zoo, affirm that you completely understand she needs to get home. Don’t say, “a little more exercise may do you some good!”
 Lastly, tell her what every mom longs to hear: “I don’t know how you do it. I really admire your perseverance and strength.”
Lisa Copen is editor of “HopeKeepers Magazine,” mom of a 3-year-old, lives with rheumatoid arthritis, & author of "Why Can't I Make People Understand? Discovering the Validation Those with Chronic Illness Seek & Why." Visit her ministry at http://www.restministries.org or find out 497 additional ways to encourage a chronically ill friend at in her newest book “Beyond Casseroles: 505 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend” at http://www.restministries.org/comfortzone/item3.htm
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