Five Strategies for Parenting With Arthritis 

Parenting is one of the hardest jobs there is. Use these tips to make the job easier on your arthritic joints and overall health.

By Maria Z. Leach | April 10, 2023

Parenting is not an easy job — from diapers to homework there are always new challenges. Raising kids can be even more complicated when one parent (or both) lives with a chronic illness like arthritis. Since being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) at the age of 25, I’ve gone from planning my first pregnancy to juggling the needs of three active kids. While there’s no one-size-fits-all answer for how to parent while living with arthritis, here are the five best strategies I’ve learned along the way.  

1. Fill your own cup first. 

Finding time to take care of yourself, both physically and mentally, should be a priority for any parent, but it’s particularly important for parents living with arthritis. If you don’t take care of your own health and well-being, you won’t be able to take care of anybody else. I have certainly tried putting my kids’ needs above my own, but the result is always negative for all of us. So, I try to remind myself: You can’t pour from an empty cup. It also helps to remember that taking care of myself is taking care of my family, because my family doesn’t function well without me. Plus, I know I’m modeling the importance of self-care for my kids. 

2. Accept help — or even ask for it. 

Parents have so much on their plates. We’re trying to raise happy, well-adjusted kids while juggling careers and messes and meals and errands. Parents with arthritis also have doctors’ appointments, prescriptions to fill and therapies to attend. For me, learning to ask for help has been a process. Asking for help felt impossible, so I started out by accepting any help that was offered to me. When my mom would offer to unload my dishwasher, instead of my gut reaction “No, I can do it,” I started saying “Yes, thank you.” As accepting help got easier for me, I started figuring out how to specifically ask for help, too. I’ve found that there is strength in recognizing that I can’t do everything alone. 

3. It’s OK to do less. 

Kids today are busy with sports and lessons and instruments and more. It can be really overwhelming, especially for parents dealing with pain and fatigue. But I’ve discovered that it’s completely OK for my family to choose to do less than other families. One thing that helped me with this realization was a book by Brené Brown called, “The Gifts of Imperfection.” The book gives 10 guideposts for whole-hearted living, and guidepost number seven encourages readers to cultivate play and rest in their own lives, while letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth. Now, by intentionally leaving blank space in my family’s schedule, I have time for self-care and my kids have time to play, read, get creative and even to be bored — which I actually think is good for them! 

4. Plan in advance. 

Arthritis flares can be unexpected, but planning in advance can make it easier to parent with more pain and less energy. For example, in my house we use a system of toy rotation. Only a fraction of our toys are on the shelves in the playroom; the rest are stored in a closet. This makes it easier to pick up day to day and, when I don’t feel well, I can pull out “new” toys that will hold my kids’ attentions longer. Planning in advance is especially important for bringing home a newborn. Make sure you can operate the buckles on the car seat (there are tools for unbuckling if you need help), consider the ergonomics of your changing station, and buy pajamas with zippers instead of snaps (trust me on this one!).

5. Don’t be afraid to change your mind.

My friend Stephanie, who is also a mom living with RA, taught me this very important lesson about self-compassion and having a growth mindset. “I think most people have a list in their mind of what they’re going to do and what they’re not going to do as a parent,” she told me. “I think it’s important, if you’re a mom with a disability, to be open to that list changing as you go and as your child grows.” Just as your kids are always growing, the challenges of parenting are always changing. As useful as it can be to plan in advance, keep in mind that it’s always OK to reevaluate the situation and change your mind about how you want to parent going forward.  

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