I am always curious about how other couples manage their lives with kids. Add PD and I'm inclined to become downright nosey. So I thought I'd share some of the ways we have made a go of PD and kids. Mind you, this is not a How To guide on raising kids with PD. I realize that much of what we do may not work for other families, but this is how we roll -
1. Read, read, read to the kids! As any PWP knows, PD often causes the voice to become softer and quieter. Voice exercises are recommended, but who has time for that? Reading to your kids will allow time for those annoying voice exercises while spending quality time together. Keith spends a great amount of time each evening reading to the girls, using exaggerated facial expressions and voice inflections. Singing has the same effect and works well in the car. Age doesn't matter either - kids of all ages love being read to. Reading the Bible or school assignments aloud works well with my teenage son, as does learning the lyrics to and singing along with his favorite songs.
2. Co-sleep. Keith and I are natural parents, following our instincts rather than the latest books. Some call it Attachment Parenting, but we prefer to describe it as Natural Parenting. Part of our natural lifestyle is co-sleeping, or sleep sharing. Our girls, ages four and one, sleep in the bed with us and have since birth. We have queen and full mattresses pushed together to make room for everyone. This allows for some much-needed physical bonding between Keith and the girls. Thanks to PD, Keith just isn't able to hold weight for any significant length of time, so holding either one of our girls proves difficult. Co-sleeping, however, gives him that extra snuggle time that the girls seem to thrive on, making Keith one happy dad.
3. Home school. The main reason we now home school is because we need the flexibility to have quality family time when Keith is home and is responding to his medication. In the old days when my son was in public school our time as a family was limited to evenings, after Keith had put in a good ten hours at work and Joe had spent almost as many at school. By the time homework and dinner were through any chance of good quality time was buried under tremors, muscle soreness, fatigue, and the endless waiting for the medication to kick in. Now that we are homeschooling, if Keith is home and active, then we are home and active with him. If he is out running errands, then we are running errands with him. If he is off work, then we are on a field trip or at church together or just hanging out at home being a family. When Keith needs a nap, we take a nap together. Our quality of life and the quantity of time we have together have greatly increased, all due to homeschooling.
4. Bicycling. Biking together is something that we don't actually do yet, but really want to do once we are able to get a couple of tandem bikes. Studies show that tandem bicycling can drastically reduce PD symptoms. Our kids love riding their bikes, so what a great way to spend time together doing something the entire family can enjoy!
5. Purchase PD approved clothes for the little ones. Fortunately for us, most clothing for babies and toddlers comes in styles that are easy for PWP to use - Velcro shoes, stretchy elastic tops, wide bottom pant legs, zippers instead of buttons. It's easy to want to purchase those cute grown-up looking clothes, like the zipper and snap blue jeans for a three-month old, or the button down flannel shirt for a two year old, but I always try to remember that if my child can't get them on herself, Keith probably won't be able to either. We usually go for the elastic, wide legged pants, Velcro or slip on shoes, loose over sized tops. As a father Keith needs and wants to be able to help with the daily child rearing chores, and simple choices like these can make all the difference.
When it comes to raising kids with Parkinson's, the bottom line is that you have to be able to think outside the box. Do whatever it is you need to do in order to spend a large amount of quality time with your family. PD doesn't have to impair the relationships you have with your children if you are willing to find and seize those opportunities when they are available. If you can find some way to combine PD exercises and time with the kids, by all means, do it! Your kids will appreciate the time together while you are fighting the progression of the disease.