Parenting with chronic illness–oof, am I right? Parenting at the best of times requires so much of us. And, to be honest, sometimes I just don’t have much to give. Of all the struggles that have come in my health journey, this probably tops the list. I often feel I’m missing out on family time, and I always feel guilty.
When my kids come to me and ask me to do something with them, I often feel an inward groan (which also makes me feel guilty!). I love my kids and I love spending time with them, but on the days when I’m struggling just to stay upright, it feels overwhelming to consider finding an activity to do with them.
1. Look at photo albums
If your kids are anything like mine, they love to hear stories about the past and to see pictures of themselves. My kids even enjoy seeing pictures from my college days, or from when my husband and I were first married. Family history is important to them, and I think it helps them feel grounded and secure.
They love to pull out the photo albums, wrap up in a blanket, and lose themselves in the pictures of the past. And let’s be honest, this is a low-expenditure activity! You can join them by sitting on the couch, or even lying down in bed while they look at pictures next to you. If your hands are painful or weak, let your child hold the book and turn the pages.
Family movies are a great option, too. Load up the videos, curl up, and enjoy the trip down memory lane with your child!
2. Drink hot chocolate or tea by a fire
On a cold winter’s day, is there anything cozier than curling up by a fire? And, let’s be honest, hot chocolate is one of those indulgent treats that just makes everything better. Or, if you are a tea or coffee drinker, that’s fine too!
My kids live for a cozy fire. Unfortunately, we don’t have a fireplace in our house. Instead, we’ve found some work-arounds: we have a small space heater that looks like a fireplace. My husband and I have a wall-mounted electric fireplace in our room. And we also have the ability to load up a “fireplace” on streaming services and have the appearance of a roaring fire flickering on our TV screen. None of these are quite like the real thing, I’ll admit. But on a cold winter’s day, they’re an easy way to spend time with my kids without needing much energy. We can curl up in blankets, watch the flickering flames, and sip warm drinks.
3. Window Snowman Contest
Speaking of snowy days, is there anything kids love more than playing in the snow? If you live in an area that gets a good amount of the stuff (and if your kids have as much boundless energy as mine), it might be a good idea to send them out into the great outdoors! Challenge them to make their own snowman–large or small–using any materials they like. They could use the traditional hats, scarves, and carrot noses. Or they could find whole cloves, rocks, crayons, or other materials to bring their snowman to life. Just make sure they build them within sight of a window you can easily access. Then, when the snowmen are built, take a minute to observe them from the window and choose a winner. You could even assign different categories, such as Best Construction, Largest Snowman, Most Creative Use of Props, Most Personality, or Funniest Snowman. Your kids will have expended some of their energy, and you won’t have spent much of your own!
4. Play a simple game
Brain fog is no joke. And board games like Monopoly or Settlers of Catan are not only mentally involved, they last for-e-ver. While my kids typically prefer more conventional board games, some days I just don’t have it in me. If you feel the same, opt for simple games. Tic Tac Toe, Hangman, and Mad Libs are perennial favorites that don’t require much of you. They can even be played while you are lying down, if needed. If you struggle to write or use your hands, ask your child to move the pieces for you. If you have an older child, they can write for you while playing Hangman or Mad Libs.
These games are also great on the go. If you spend a lot of time in waiting rooms or in the hospital, they’re excellent time-passers (and fun for adults, even if you don’t have your kids with you).
5. Build a blanket fort
Who doesn’t love curling up in a blanket fort? There’s no better place for laying low, resting, reading a book, or just being together. If you’re up for it, work with your child to create the perfect, cozy blanket fort. Make it as big as you’d like, and fill it with blankets, pillows, flashlights, or fairy lights.
If you just don’t have the steam, challenge your kids to build it for you. Even young children can usually put together a small fort. Talk them through the basics, or show them how to drape blankets over a table top. When they’re finished, join them inside to curl up and snuggle. Who knows, they may fall asleep before you do!
6. Read together
Oh, books. It seems one of my kids always has their nose stuck in a book, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. As energy expenditure goes, reading has one of the lowest energy requirements out there. Even so, it can be difficult on your bad days.
If your child knows how to read, invite them to read aloud to you. It can be a simple book they know well, or a new book you read together for the first time. If you’re feeling up to it, you can take turns alternating reading with them. But if you need to rest and listen, that’s OK too! If your child is not yet reading, you can still invite them to “read” to you. Ask them to tell you what’s happening in the pictures on the page. You’ll no doubt be laughing by the end of their story!
If your child is a little older and has outgrown children’s books, have a throwback day. Ask them to pull out all the books they loved when they were little, and read them to you. For even more fun, have them hold up the pictures and read the stories like a teacher, or like you no doubt did when they were small. You’ll all enjoy the trip down memory lane!
If there is something that especially interests your child, consider a book run to the library to find books on that topic. A library run will require some energy expenditure, but many libraries offer hold programs, where library staff pull all the books you requested and have them ready and waiting to be picked up. This saves you energy traipsing around the library in search of the perfect book. Some libraries even offer to bring the books to your car. As unfortunate as the pandemic has been, it’s put in place some services that are incredibly helpful to those of us living with chronic illnesses. Take advantage of these, and save your energy for the things that matter more!
6. Listen to an audiobook
Sometimes reading the book out loud, coaching your child through unfamiliar words, or even holding a book in your hand is just too difficult. On those days, consider listening to an audiobook with your child. There are countless services for borrowing or buying audiobooks, and many of them are free. Check with your local library to see if they offer online services such as Hoopla.
Listening to an audiobook also pairs well with other activities if needed, such as curling up in a blanket fort or sipping hot drinks by the fire.
7. Have a puppet show
Kids love to put on a good show, don’t they? If you have creative kids and some puppets or stuffed animals around, why not ask them to put on a show for you? They don’t need a fancy puppet theatre, either. A table or ironing board covered in a blanket makes a perfect stage. They can add props if they’d like, or just act out scenes with their characters. If your kids are a little older and like to be creative, they can make their own puppets form socks and bits and pieces from around the house.
Or, if puppets aren’t really their thing, ask your kids to write a short skit that they can act out for you. They’ll no doubt love coming up with a set, characters, and rehearsing their scenes for the “big show.” And the beauty of all of these options is it fills the time for your kids, and you can enjoy it from the comfort of the couch or your bed.
8. Finger dance party
Have you ever heard of finger dancing? I used to do it all the time when my kids were really little. All you have to do is use two of your fingers as though they were legs, and make them “walk,” “kick,” and “dance” on any surface.
My kids absolutely love dance parties, and on good days, I can enjoy them with them. But dancing takes so much energy! So on days when energy reserves are running low, but dance fever is at a high, why not have a finger dance party? Play your kids’ favorite songs, whether they’re kids’ songs, pop songs, or anything else. Let’s be honest, watching fingers dance is just a little ridiculous, so it pairs well with funny songs. One of our favorites is the Chipmunks’ rendition of “Three Little Birds.” Regardless of the songs you pick, you’ll no doubt all be laughing before long.
9. Go for a drive
Winter has its own kind of beauty, doesn’t it? A walk may be prohibitive because of symptoms and the cold. But a drive is a great way to get out of the house and enjoy the season.
This is one of our family’s favorite activities leading up to Christmas. We frequently go for drives through our city to spot Christmas lights and vote on our favorites. My kids especially love to make the drive in pajamas with a warm drink. But even after the Christmas season has passed, a leisurely drive to take in the snowy sights can be fun and relaxing. To make it even more fun for your kids, you could play winter bingo and challenge them to spot a series of winter-related things on the drive, such as snowmen, ploughs, or lingering Christmas decorations.
10. Try a new take-out food
This idea gets double points, in that it’s low energy but also saves on meal prep! For a new experience, try ordering take-out from a local restaurant you’ve never tried. Be as exotic as possible, and encourage your kids to try the new foods.
If you are ordering from an ethnic restaurant, you could even spend a few minutes talking about that country. Or research it with books from your library run. And who knows, you may find a new family favorite!