If you see me at a kids' event and I seem anti-social, it's not what you think. I live with chronic pain and it's an incredible challenge just to be here.
Health Life

I’m the Checked Out Mom on Her Phone But It’s Not What You Think


By Jen Smith of Grace for Single Parents

I’m the checked-out mom at my six-year old’s friend’s birthday party.

The kids are running and screaming at “Bonkers,” a fitting name for the inside climbing playground for young children in my neighborhood.

I’m not sure where my kid is. Most likely, he’s throwing plastic balls or climbing up a slide somewhere.

To my left, there’s a group of five moms from the party deep in conversation. I feel like I’m in middle school, and flippantly consider them to be the popular girls who gossip about all the other moms and consider themselves better than everyone else. Me included.

Today, I don’t care. I don’t try to fit into the “mom group” or explain my actions.

I sit in a family-sized booth by myself, sucking my coffee through a straw, like it’s an IV. I scroll through the same images on my phone and check the time every 5 minutes.

I consider bribing my very strong-willed child out of here early with the promise of a McDonald’s Happy Meal.

My head is pounding, and my migraine medicine hasn’t kicked in yet. I’m unable to think of much besides the pain.

“How much longer until I can take another pill?”  “If I take half of a muscle relaxer on top of the migraine medicine, will I be okay to drive home in 45 minutes?” “I wonder if I can ask the teenager at the counter for a plastic baggie of ice for my head? Would that draw too much attention to myself?” “Should I ask my mom to come take over for me?”

I watch two supermoms do the job of ten of us slacker moms. The supermoms are standing in front of the enormous climbing apparatus and attending to the children.

Pretty soon, the gossipy moms get up and begin setting the table. Crap, now I’m the only slacker mom.

The tremor on my left temple won’t let me stand without fear of losing my balance, so I don’t dare move to help. I don’t risk a smile or words (the last thing I want is someone to talk to me, I need silence right now), so I continue to sit there and appear too absorbed in my phone to help.

If this pain was a rare occurrence, then I’d have a relationship with these other moms and would be able to explain my actions. But, I live with chronic pain.

Unfortunately, parenting with chronic pain looks an awful lot like poor parenting to the observer.

I could turn down all these special events for my kids and stay home instead. And we have a lot. Living with chronic pain and not being the mom I want to be for my kids sucks.

But I grew up with a chronic pain parent, and I know the alternative. I don’t want my kids’ memory of childhood to be “my mom had migraines so, we had to keep quiet, turn the lights low, and we didn’t go places very much.”

So whenever I think I can push myself, I’ll take a chance and show up for my kids.

This decision on my part won’t always paint me in the best light.

Maybe I’m the mom who looks like I’m emotionally checked out at the school play. I’m not, it just took all my strength to get my kids here tonight, and I have to sit by myself in the quietest and darkest spot. Looking at my phone keeps my mind off my pain.

Maybe I’m the friend that won’t try the solutions you offered that worked so well for your Aunt Sally. Right now, I’m trying to accept my limitations. The emotional toll it takes on me and my family to start with another medical professional is exhausting.

I can’t count how many times I’ve made the extreme effort to go out with friends or take my family somewhere, but all I hear is, “you look bored.” I may not be entertaining to you today. But I’m here.

Sometimes my presence is all I can offer. Maybe I seem standoffish or rude to you when we meet. I have an invisible illness. Some days it’s hard for me to make small talk or even smile.

Understand if all I can do is sit. Sometimes it’s all I can do to drive my kids to the park. I can’t play with them, and it breaks my heart.

Oh, how I wish I could be the supermom directing all the kids at the birthday party or even participating with the gossipy moms.

Somedays, I can’t talk to the other moms. My pain is so intense all I can do is sit on the bench.

So, I look at my phone. I listen to music. Not because I’m a snob. Not because I prefer Instagram to my kids.

I’m doing whatever I can to get my mind off the pain so my kids can play for just 20 minutes until I have the strength to drive home.

Please think before you judge that mom, it might be me.


About the Author

Jen writes & podcasts at Grace for Single Parents to inspire single moms to live their best life with trust, faith and grace.  She has written for Her View for Home, Grown & Flown and many other publications. She lives in Kansas with her two teenagers.