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Dealing with Chronic Illnesses, Part 5: Organization Helps

I’m over at Heart of the Matter Online today. Hop on over and check out our other fabulous posts by our very talented writers.
Before y’all glare at me for suggesting more work for we who can barely manage the basics most of the time, let me assure you that being organized can help us. I promise. The end result of becoming and staying organized outweighs the effort and the time. I understand the overwhelming fatigue that comes with a chronic illness, especially if the one who’s sick is mom. However, having one or more children who have chronic illnesses is enough to sap the energy out of even the most energetic of us.
Benefits
When you feel well, take advantage of it, but try not to overdo it! When you don’t feel well, you’ve got routines, plans, and procedures in place that can just work themselves out. Obviously, the toddler is not going to feed himself breakfast, although he may try, but I’m more focused on school work and perhaps a little necessary housework.
What to organize
The question really should be, “What shouldn’t be organized?” Academics, routines, and appointments can be written down and displayed prominently for all family members to access easily. School supplies, art supplies, and toys can be in labeled containers. For those with nonreaders in the house, try using pictures instead of words, both for putting away toys and for routines.
How to keep it working
Don’t expect everything to get and stay organized with just a snap of the fingers a la Mary Poppins. Start slowly when you feel up to it. Gradually work your way towards a more organized home and a more organized routine. A little at a time, train kids to put stuff back, look at charts, and groove to routines.
Attitudes are everything
The right attitudes can go a long way towards making everyone feel more positively about homeschooling, organization, and chronic illnesses. The book of Proverbs reminds us that “A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance, but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken,” and “A merry heart does good, like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones” (15:13; 17:22 NKJV). Let’s write these encouragements out and post them on the refrigerator beside the chore charts and schedules.

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Dealing with Chronic Illnesses, Part 4: Taking Care of the Kids

Let’s face it: a household need a certain number of things done daily in order to run smoothly (or at least stumble along). And moms with chronic illnesses don’t always have the energy to do them. That means we often have to ask our kids (and hubbies) to step up to the plate. But what’s a mom to do when the kids resent being asked to do extra chore or being told mom can’t do something for/with them?
One of the biggest advocates for Mom’s health and kids doing chores is Dad. A father sets the tone for the whole house. If Dad plops on the sofa every night after work and asks about dinner and clean clothes when Mom is clearly not up to either, he sets up false expectations for the kiddos. On the other hand, if he willingly pitches in and encourages the children to help as well, he’s not only blessing his wife, he’s also exemplifying an attitude of servanthood.
What happens if a chronically ill mom is all your kids have ever known? That’s okay! They’ll learn how to do household chores early on. They’ll learn to be independent (in a good way). Hopefully, your kids will have extra compassion towards those who are physically weaker.
What happens if a chronically ill mom is suddenly sprung on our kids, especially if they have previously not had to do many chores? They’re in for a surprise. It’s all about expectations. In general, change leads to frustration. When a major life change like this occurs, it’s best to sit the family down and address these issues at the current level of expectation. It may be a bumpy adjustment, but don’t back down when the kids start whining about never having to do their own laundry before. They’ll adjust eventually. Promise.
Here’s what one friend had to say, “If Dad is frustrated and complaining, the children will follow suit. My husband never hesitated to clean do dishes, scrub floors, do laundry, etc., when I was down with pain. He encouraged our daughters to serve similarly. There were times when my girls were frustrated (junior high/high school), but they eventually grew to appreciate all I was able to do despite my pain. Also, I feel that my chronic pain was a plus in homeschooling. I was physically unable to hover over them or spoon-feed information. They were on their own. I wrote the lesson plans, and they carried out their work without me. They learned to dig for answers and be resourceful. Community college professors said they had incredible study skills—but that’s because they had no choice but to develop those skills. It’s all good.”
It may take a few years—or more—for our children to appreciate hard work, responsibility, and serving, but it will probably happen. Proverbs 22:6 reminds us, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”
How can we try to keep our children’s attitudes in check?
·         Model servitude
·         Model a good attitude
·         Don’t ask them to perform extra chores when we’re able to do them ourselves
·         Study together biblical examples of people serving others
·         Be patient when they are frustrated and unhappy, but don’t feed into it
·         Encourage them to snuggle in bed with you to talk
·         Let them express their frustrations in an appropriate way
How can we make sure our kids know that we appreciate them and the sacrifices they’re making on our behalf (at least in their minds)?
·         Say thank you. A lot
·         Spend time with them on their terms when we’re able
·         Say yes when possible
·         Take them on special outings when possible
·         Give them little, unexpected treats just because
·         Make an effort to ask someone else to take the teens on field trips and other outings
·         Give hugs and kisses
·         Write them thank you notes for special (or even regular) acts of service
·         Let them hear you praising their actions to others
Of course, kids and teens will be frustrated from time to time, but aren’t we all? It’s that root of bitterness that we have to watch out for. Ephesians 4:31 admonishes, “Let all bitterness . . . be put away from you.”
Bottom line: there’s no guarantee that our kids won’t spend thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours stretched out on a therapist’s couch whining about their forced slavery. But there’s also no guarantee that kids who have been raised in church won’t forsake it, either. While we have no control over how our children choose to feel, I believe our number one defense against the root of bitterness in our children, especially as it concerns how our physical limitations affect them, is prayer. 

This post also appears over at Heart of the Matter today. Go check out the other fabulous contributors!

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Dealing with Chronic Illnesses Part 3: Dreading December

I’m over at Heart of the Matter Online today. Check out the rest of our wonderful writers!

December is my favorite month of the year because it includes my two favorite holidays: Jesus’ birthday and my birthday. I love the presents (giving as well as receiving), the wrapping, the sights, the sounds, the smells, the anticipation, the caroling, the baking, the planning, the partying—all of it. At least, December was my favorite month until I was diagnosed with two chronic illnesses that have left me overwhelmed and gasping for air with a regular schedule before even adding holiday duties. I hate that my favorite season has become a series of duties.
So, what’s a mom to do? Cancel Christmas? Not likely! Go full bore and pay a heavy health price in January? Not a good idea. How ’bout a balance that falls somewhere in the middle? The following measures can help us experience a more peaceful nativity.
Ten Steps to a dread-proof December, even with a chronic illness:
Think about what really matters. What’s at the top of your list that you just can’t give up during the holidays?
Make a list of the top five items on your what-really-matters list and brainstorm ways to make those happen this year.
Let go of the rest. Yes, I know that’s the hardest part!
Delegate everything possible. The cookies will be just as good if your 13-year-old makes them.    
Simplify the decorations, the baking, the gifts, and most of all your expectations.
Be happy with what gets done and try not to focus on what’s left undone.
Pace yourself. Don’t try to complete your entire list in one afternoon just because you start off feeling great.
Take naps.
Rest often.
Remember the real reason for the season: Jesus. Nothing else really matters.
Now, all I have to do is follow my own advice, and I can return to enjoying my favorite season instead of dreading December!

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Taking Care of Mom, Dealing with Chronic Illnesses, Part 2

In last month’s article, “How to Bless Homeschooling Moms Who Have Chronic Illnesses,” I listed a few things that other homeschool moms could do to help a fellow mom in need. The list was hardly comprehensive, but it was a start. This month I want to address a few ways that families can bless their own moms who have chronic illnesses.
As if homeschool moms don’t feel enough guilt already about not being perfectly patient, perfectly knowledgeable, and perfectly organized, those who are chronically ill also add in a hefty dose of guilt for not always feeling well enough to participate fully in family and homeschooling life.
Younger children don’t understand why mom is on the couch—again. They don’t understand why mom can’t play tag—again. They don’t know why mom can’t pick them up—again. They just know that they’re sad because you’re sad. Younger children can still help mom feel better, though. Little chubby arms encircling mom’s neck and sloppy kisses are the best therapy. Chronically ill moms can let their kids know that the best way they can help is to dispense that kind of medicine. Mom would probably feel better with a blankie and a stuffed animal to snuggle with, too. From a very young age, children need to feel needed; we have a chance here for a win-win situation.
Older children and teens also have a difficult time understanding why they need to make dinner, watch the littler ones, and skip the youth group party when mom’s not feeling well. Oh, they may understand the words pain, limitations, and lack of energy, but they don’t get how it applies to their lives. The solution is to train them to be godly servants as Paul advocates in Philippians 2:2–4 (MSG), “Do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.” If I figure out an easy way to get this concept through a thick-skulled teenager’s brain, you’ll be the first to know. But, we’re all on the faith journey together, so maybe we need to offer up a bit of grace with our training.
Children can be trained to do just about any household chore, including cooking simple meals. Of course, as they get older, they are capable of taking on more responsibilities. The trick is to utilize the times when you’re feeling good to teach these types of skills. Rather than feeling guilty for making your children help, think of it as home economics training for their futures.
Instead of sounding like I’m preaching to the husbands, I’ll just encourage the wives to let their husbands know what they need. I will also encourage the husbands to be sensitive to their wives’ needs. There, that wasn’t too preachy, was it?
Moms, I bet you thought you were off the hook, didn’t you? Nope. How can you best take care of yourself? By letting go of the guilt. I know, I know, that’s easier said than done. Use the following Scriptures on grace to combat the guilt. “At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me, ‘My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.’ Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift” (2 Cor. 12:8–9, MSG). “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Eph. 4:7, NKJV). “But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble’” (James 4:6, NKJV). “Grow in grace and understanding of our Master and Savior, Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18, MSG).
Many blessings of grace to you and yours as you struggle through homeschooling with a chronic illness.

This article also appears over at Heart of the Matter Online.