When a parent’s migraine interferes with family life

The family prepares for a summer vacation

It’s a humid summer day and an approaching thunderstorm triggers a rapid change in barometric pressure.  Inside the house, Christine feels what will become a full-blown, two-day migraine that  will put her family’s life on hold, just as they are about to start their annual summer vacation.
Instead of packing the car while anticipating lazy days on the beach, Christine struggles to manage the pounding in her head.   At the same time she desperately tries to rearrange the family plans and manage her teenage daughter’s reaction, which has just boiled over into anger.  Christine feels overwhelmed by guilt about “ruining another family event.”

Migraine and family life

Christine’s family eventually went on their vacation, but she arrived 2 days late, not wanting “to spoil things further.”  It’s not just big events that get disrupted by headache, it’s normal day-to-day tasks, like making school lunches, driving a family member to activities, cooking and doing laundry, that can quickly spin a family’s life into chaos if left undone.  In families where more than one member gets migraines, the disruption to family life can be even greater.

These disruptions are not uncommon and may lead parents with migraine to withdraw from family activities.  One way to try to minimize disruptions in family life is to think ahead and plan to avoid known migraine triggers.  While you can’t change the weather, you can choose dates on the calendar when you are less likely to have a migraine, request non-smoking rooms in hotels, avoid stores with strong odors like perfumes and candles, and say no to foods that can be triggers.   If there is an important event coming, plan to get enough sleep and relaxation.

You may want to prepare for disruptions by having a back-up plan for how specific tasks will get done if the responsible family member has a migraine.  A parent with migraine can’t do it all, all of the time.  Trying to get everything done with a migraine is not realistic.  Planning ahead and deciding who can help is realistic.  This may be hard for parents who put great value in being independent and feel guilty if they ask for help.

It is important for parents to be cautious about placing too many added responsibilities on teenagers, even when they may seem like the next best person to take on a task.  Some teens will rise to the occasion, and feel proud and accomplished by helping.  Others may feel pushed into uncomfortable situations and feel inadequate or resentful.  Parents need to be sensitive about which tasks are given to which family members, and pay attention to how each one manages the change of roles and responsibilities.

A family may have to make decisions about priorities.  Perhaps there will be times when a family can’t do what they want because of a family member’s headache.  It may help If they can think together about what is most important.  It is likely though, that this may be different for each member of the family.  For example, for the teenagers the most important thing may be to make sure they stay connected with their friends.

It can be a challenge to find the right balance of thinking ahead, without worrying too much. If you spend too much time thinking ahead about headaches, it may seem like living is just waiting for a headache to happen.  Ask your family members if they think you “worry ahead” too much, and how much they think your headaches interfere with family life.