Opinion: A Parents Health Effects the Child Too

The author, Detroit junior Rhiannon Slotnick, as a toddler, posing with her teddy bear while smiling at the camera. As a child, one doesn't typically experience intense worry, allowing a certain kind of freedom (Photo courtesy of Rose Erin Love).

Content Warning: This article contains content regarding self-harm and suicide. Reader discretion is advised. 

Before I was born, my mom was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a condition that affects the central nervous system. It impacts the way she moves, causes her immense pain and makes her more prone to harsh mood swings. Over the past few years, her condition has been getting progressively worse; it hasn’t been all that easy for me either. 

I’m not saying that my feelings are more important than hers; she is the one living with MS. However, I wish people would look at how a situation like this can affect the child. My mom and I have had many conversations and arguments about how her disability affects us both. Before leaving for school this fall, I got her permission to write this article. 

I never used to take my mom’s condition seriously because I wasn’t the one with the diagnosis. Then, I started high school and she began to relapse. Relapsing is a part of MS, it comes and goes at random. One day my mom would be in a great mood and have only moderate pain, the next she couldn’t even get out of bed. 

Providing for us became a challenge. Her job required manual labor and she was having a hard time keeping up with it. MS made her tired, she hardly ever wanted to do anything, both in and out of our home. So, I started doing things we used to do together, by myself. Suddenly, I was tackling daily household chores, unloading groceries and putting them away. 

But, this wasn’t what had a serious impact on me; it was her short temper. 

Nothing I ever did was right. My grades were never high enough, the dishes were never clean enough – even the way I spoke irritated her. Living with her was hard. We would fight verbally and sometimes even physically. 

About a month after I started high school, she started taking antidepressants as well as a medication that was supposed to slow down the effects of MS. 

Meanwhile, I was slowly slipping into depression. I had no support system at home and I wasn’t allowed to go to therapy. 

At the time, I was a member of the Catholic Church. I went to confession to express my distress but was dismissed every time. It didn’t matter to them that I started to self-harm at twelve. They told me that because I wasn’t the one suffering from the pain of MS, my feelings didn’t matter – that I needed to put myself in her shoes. 

I took their advice and a couple of years later I tried to kill myself.

Our relationship only began to improve around my junior year of high school. Then, I left for college and she lost my support. Although, we talked frequently, mostly because my first-year roommate was horrible, but also because of the dependence we had on each other. The time apart strengthened our relationship. 

At the end of my first year at college, she told me she quit her job. She couldn’t do it anymore – and I understood and supported her in that. 

But my support alone wasn’t enough, she needed a backup plan. After months of trying to get my mom to look at all her options, she applied for Social Security Disability (SSD), after I left for my sophomore year of college Unfortunately, she was denied and, at this point, she was running out of money. 

I worked over winter break and planned to save up all of my money to pay for my tuition. Since I had no bank account at the time, my money was deposited into her account. It was easier to do this – in case she needed to use it.

I called her one day to tell her that I needed to pay my tuition. After I told her how much I had, she told me that some of it had gone towards paying bills. I was upset at the lack of warning but was ultimately fine with what had happened. We kids need to support our parents too, right? Unfortunately, I was forced to take out loans – a line I never wanted to cross – to pay for my tuition. 

In April, she applied for SSD again. I felt a weight lifted off my chest – I was sure everything was going to work out this time. 

In June, she was denied again. 

I was already planning on working two jobs this summer to save money for tuition. What I wasn’t planning on, however, was paying for her gas, water, electricity bills and half of her car insurance. 

As her child, I felt obligated to take over the situation; after all, I was the one who wanted to help. She was adamant at first about not using my money, but I made her take it. I didn’t want her to know how much I wanted to cry under the stress of being the only money-maker.

I tried to talk to my family about my frustrations. All I heard back was: “This is adulthood.”

This wasn’t adulthood: This was middle-class parenting. We’re not even in the middle class, we’re fucking poor. I am still a child – why do I have to take a step back from my life to take care of her? I haven’t even graduated college yet. Why didn’t she seem to care? Why wasn’t she actively taking better care of herself?

Nothing I said ever stuck. 

Now I’m back in college, still paying for things. Hopefully not forever though, she applied to revise her SSD and has an advocate to help her get it. 

I’m not writing this piece to make my mom sound like a bad person, because she’s not. She’s one of the most loving, kind people I have ever met. But, she is struggling. When her condition isn’t bothering her as much, she’s nice to be around. Even when such isn’t the case, she’s still amazing. She is my role model. She is a strong and independent woman. Despite her suffering, she puts on a brave face every morning, not wanting to show her vulnerability.

But while I don’t feel physical pain like she does, my mental health has been getting worse. I have less and less time for myself. 

As children, we are reminded over and over again that our mental health isn’t that important and that we should be grateful for what we have. That there’s always someone who has it worse. But, there’s more to it than that. It’s normal to feel angry with your parents. To feel sad for them, to feel guilty. Your feelings are completely valid.

You are not alone.

About Rhiannon Slotnick 28 Articles
Rhiannon Slotnick is a Junior from Detroit, Michigan. She is double majoring in English Literature Creative Writing and Sociology. She enjoys putting words on to paper for both work and for personal pleasure. If she's not writing, you can find her reading a book or stargazing around campus. You can contact her at rms15@albion.edu

3 Comments

  1. Well written article Rhi.

    I understand your situation—at least somewhat. After my mom got cancer the summer before my Sophomore year, I had to take out more loans than I had expected and had offered most of my paychecks from my college jobs to my parents to pay for the treatments and the rides to Ann Arbor.

    You are an incredible human, and I am thankful to know you.

  2. Rhiannon, you don’t know me, but I used to live in Albion and my friend sent me this article, because I also have MS. I was diagnosed in 1989 and am now 73 years old. My MS is not as severe as your mom’s but I have had many of the feelings that both you and your mom have had. I have always wanted some entity at which to direct my anger, but unfortunately MS provides no such thing. It just IS. Please contact the National MS Society. They have resources specifically for the children of parents with MS that may help. And don’t ever be afraid of verbalizing your hurt and anger. Talking can help. My email is included below; feel free to contact me at any time.

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