Dealing With Parenting Guilt When You Have Arthritis

Parents with arthritis can experience all types of guilt. How they cope with it can convey a lot to children and affect their own health. Use these tips to overcome negative emotions.

By Maria Z. Leach | April 11, 2023

Raising kids can be emotionally complicated for anyone, but those of us living with arthritis may face intensified guilt. Based on my personal experiences as a mom of three living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and with input from other real moms with arthritis, I want to share some strategies for dealing with parenting guilt when you have arthritis. 

Dealing With Genetic Guilt

The first type of guilt parents and potential parents with arthritis may face is worry over the possibility of passing your diagnosis to your kids. I personally addressed this genetic guilt, in part, by learning more about RA. According to the American College of Rheumatology, first-degree relatives (parents, siblings and children of RA patients) have only a slightly increased risk of being diagnosed with RA (0.8% risk compared to 0.5% in the general population). These tiny statistics helped quell some of my concern. 

But even if the risk is small, for some of us the risk may turn into reality. “I actually did pass my disease to my daughter,” admits Stacey, a mom of two who lives with RA and fibromyalgia. “Do I feel guilty? Yes. But would I do things differently and not have children? No. I wouldn’t change anything.” Sarah, a mom of two living with psoriatic arthritis, agrees. “When we get to know our children and experience that unconditional love and joy of being their parent, it’s hard to say we would change anything at all,” Sarah says. 

I also remind myself that if my kids do develop an autoimmune disease, I have the experience necessary to identify potential symptoms, be a great advocate, deal with doctors and insurance, and make sure they are diagnosed and treated quickly and effectively. Lindsey, a mom of two living with RA, also points out that our kids will likely have access to better treatments than we currently do. “My paternal grandfather was wheelchair-bound with RA,” Lindsay shares, “but with biologics I am in a much better spot than he was 30 years ago. I am hoping and trusting that if one of my kids gets diagnosed, the prognosis will be even brighter for them.”

Dealing With FOMO Guilt

The second type of guilt parents with arthritis may face is fear of missing out on important activities and events. We all know that joint pain often dictates which activities we can participate in, and flares or fatigue sometimes require canceled plans. We may even worry that our kids worry about us.

I make sure to talk to my kids about my arthritis often, so they understand what is happening in my body. I encourage them to ask questions and I try to validate their feelings, as well as my own. Then, my kids and I work as a team to think of alternatives where I can participate. 

Christine, a mom of two living with ankylosing spondylitis, uses the same technique. “I constantly remind myself that people of all abilities have been parenting for a long time,” she says. “There is no one-size-fits-all way to do things. And every time my children hit a milestone, even if we didn’t get there the ‘normal’ way, it reaffirms that I’m doing something right and I can continue to find ‘my way’ of doing things.”

Arthritis also gives our kids the opportunity to learn important life lessons, like patience, determination, compassion and gratitude. Laura, a mom with RA and 4- and 2-year old daughters, provides evidence that even the youngest kids absorb these lessons. “When I struggle to open my daughters’ car seats, my oldest will validate my frustrations and tell me that sometimes things are hard, but you can do it,” Laura shares. “And every time I unclip it, both my babies cheer, it’s the sweetest thing!”

Cathy, a mom of two grown children who lives with RA, agrees that her diagnosis helped her kids learn important life lessons. “When my children were young, I used to wonder if my RA was a burden to our relationship,” she confesses. “It was not. As adults, they look beyond my diagnosis and instead see a strong, capable woman who has loved them through all the ups and downs of childhood, teens and into adulthood. We evolved together.” 

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