Irritability, Migraine, and Practicing Patience while Parenting

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I always wanted to be one of those mothers who never yells at her kids. The sweet-faced mother who speaks in low whispers to get attention and never loses her patience. The one who gets results by leaning in close and repeating herself once. Just the once.

Unfortunately, I’m not.

Patience is not my strong suit. It never was. And, though my children have definitely granted me more than I ever had before they came along, it never seems to be enough. Especially when I’m experiencing a migraine attack.

In the first stages of my migraine attacks, I am irritable beyond measure. Everything annoys me. Everything is too loud, too bright, too intense, too much. And that feeling extends, no matter how hard I try to keep it in its own box, to my kids.

To my delightful, gorgeous children whom I love with my entire self. My imaginative, creative kids who create stories and games that impress me even when they’re driving me bonkers. Even when they won’t listen no matter what I say until someone, usually me, starts to yell.

I hate yelling, but it works. Sometimes, it’s the only things that works, and when I’m in the midst of a migraine attack from hell I simply do not have the resources to try something new. Something that likely requires more patience than I am blessed with at even my best moments. So I’ve done the next best thing I know––worked to rein in the irritability that comes with my attacks.

Because, usually, I’m a pretty easy-going mom. I have rules, but there aren’t many of them and they make sense to both of my kids. Following them isn’t difficult. Most of the time, we have a fairly harmonious household, even with a teenager, a preschooler, a step-dad with a 50+ hour work week, and a work-at-home mom with three jobs. Usually, that is, unless migraine irritability rears its ugly head and wreaks havoc on the peaceful environment I’ve worked so hard to create and maintain.

I recognize this now. So I breathe when I realize I’ve been annoyed by two different things in three minutes or by both my children in the span of five. I count to five, and I tune into my body, feeling for other symptoms of migraine. Almost always, I find them.

And when I do, if I do, I take a break.

I explain to my kids that I’m getting a migraine, and I walk away. I take a bath or go to my room. Breathe some more. Do a few gentle stretches. Let my adrenaline and anxiety taper down.

Then I return to my family. A little less stressed, a little less irritable. Still with a migraine attack, but with a few more resources to deal with it, including, usually, a little more patience.

Watching for Signs of Migraine in Our Kids

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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.