In middle-class families these days, parents tend to
solve their kids’ problems rather than let them work
things out on their own. But in families with MS, the
kids learn to deal with problems themselves.
depression, sadness, loneliness and isolation. They
are also more likely to actively manage stress.
Communication is key
“Success can be defined by how a family
communicates and collaborates to solve the
problems MS creates,” says Rintell. “Often the
individual feels guilty for bringing MS into the
family, that they’ll be a burden or that they need
to protect the rest of the family from MS—so they
may feel they should deal with the situation by
themselves. They don’t communicate, they don’t
give others a chance to help. The person with MS
needs to share what’s going on, but in a balanced
way, not talking only about MS, but not taking
their condition off the table wholly.”
“As MS has changed our lives, our family gets
closer,” says Cheryl Rosser. “We communicate
better, we talk about our feelings. I want to know
what’s going on, and can we make the situation
better? I want to empower the children to speak
out and not feel that they’re isolated.
“It’s a family illness, very much so,” she adds. “And
how it affects the family should be addressed. It’s
not an isolated situation.”
Roles within the family may change, with people
switching tasks traditionally thought of as
“Mom’s” or “Dad’s” job. Rintell suggests that as
male-female roles become less distinct in society in
general, it has become easier for families to cope.
“In a family where everyone is specialized, there’s
not a lot of working together,” he says. “With
MS, they learn to work together and become
more generalist. MS is unpredictable, so you can’t
schedule when a role or response can or can’t be
taken on by a particular family member. Being
flexible makes that easier.”
Tre’ Rosser, a Society Scholar, confirms this in
his own family. “My parents’ roles have kind
of switched. You’d think of Mom helping with
homework or cooking, but now Dad does that.”
Spending enjoyable time together helps, too,
even if that time may “look” different than it did
before. “As people take on more responsibility,
they need to nourish and replenish,” Miller
comments. “But there can be a struggle if the
person with MS can no longer do something that
had been a big deal for the family. It might mean
that you still go on ski weekends, but you take
turns staying with Mom or Dad in the lodge.”
Rintell suggests an “MS-free zone” for families.
Time spent helping with homework, talking
about school or friends or watching movies helps
strengthen bonds and normalize life with MS.
“You don’t want the family to feel defined by the
illness,” he adds.
A parent at core
Male-female roles are not the only ones that
change. Parent-child roles may change, as well.