My 11-year-old daughter frequently complains of stomachache. She hasn’t eaten too much. She doesn’t have a stomach bug. Yet, she complains, again and again, that her tummy hurts.
Suffering from chronic migraines as I do, I know too well how frequently pain can arrive and torment us – even when there’s not a “typical” reason. Yet, as her mother, I am unsure how to react.
My daughter, you see, is notorious for trying to get out of work.
Whether it’s a chore she doesn’t feel like doing or a page of homework that appears at first glance too overwhelming, she’s quick to cry defeat and (quite literally) hide under the table or in her closet. (Yes, I know this isn’t age appropriate or “normal.” No, there isn’t anything to do but wait for her to get her embarrassment and frustration under control.) In short, her intense emotions get to her and she gives up easily – much, much too easily. Though our year of homeschooling has gone a long way toward increasing her confidence and decreasing the instances of such behavior, it still occurs.
So, as a fellow pain sufferer, I want to hold her hand, comfort her, and give her whatever she needs to feel better. As her mother, however, I’m conflicted. I do not want to deny her her reality, but I do not want to let her use it as an excuse. And yet, I know how many of us with invisible illness – myself included – work tirelessly against stigma and the idea that we are “faking” our symptoms so we have an excuse to be lazy. I do not want to make my daughter feel like that.
Often, I tell her that I understand her tummy hurts and that I’m sorry. Then, I say that as soon as she gets finished with whatever it is she needs to do, I will make her soup and get her tucked into bed. Sometimes she takes me up on this. About half the time she decides she is well enough to go out and play after all.
What would you do? I’m sure her stomach does hurt – either from stress and anxiety or abdominal migraine (which can’t be ruled out) – but I don’t know how to respond.