Mothers with MS may be managing fatigue in vastly different ways than well mothers or those with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), say researchers at East Carolina University. Debilitating fatigue is a common experience for people with MS, yet the fatigue that mothers with MS experience was not associated with their parenting.
In a study published in the December 2009 issue of Families, Systems, & Health, the impact of fatigue on mothers with MS was compared to mothers with RA, and well mothers in regard to three components: dealing with the typical daily hassles of parenting (e.g., children ignoring parental requests, struggles surrounding bedtime, or lack of privacy for parents), discipline styles (i.e., being lax or over-reactive in discipline), and monitoring the whereabouts of children.
“Since mothers with MS reported significantly more fatigue than well mothers and those with RA, we expected that fatigue would play a big role in the frequency and intensity of parenting daily hassles for mothers with MS, but we actually found that fatigue plays a small role for those we surveyed,” said Carmel White, one of the study’s authors.
The researchers surmise from this study and other studies that mothers with MS have learned to function in their role as a mother while experiencing regular fatigue by adjusting their expectations about parenting and/or their own parenting. For example, as observed in another research study, mothers with MS reported using more social support ( their partners or their parents), more self-preservation parenting (letting a child play by herself while the mother rests in the same room), and higher expectations of mature behavior from their children (explaining to their children that they are too tired to do an activity) to cope with fatigue while parenting.
Carmel White said, “Other studies with older children and mothers with chronic fatigue tell us that because fatigue is so prevalent in women with MS, many children can easily spot the symptom in their mother and, thus, may adjust their behavior to create less hassles for her. It might also be with these women that they have worked out an arrangement of sorts with their children centering on their level of fatigue.” It also appears that adequate sleep plays a critical role in managing parenting stress for mothers with MS.
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