How to Beat Mommy Migraine Guilt

It’s time to go back to school which means more headaches for kids and parents. Dealing with headaches is hard. Dealing with migraines as a mom is even harder. You want to be there for your kid and when you’re knocked on your back with a migraine, the guilt nearly eats you alive. How do you bear these two unbearable conditions? Follow our prescription for mommy migraine guilt. It is simple, though likely difficult, and 100% necessary to your family’s happiness. 

I. Accept

You will miss things. It’s not your fault.

You will feel like an inadequate hunk of meat. You are not.

You do not have the time/energy/capacity to do all you would like. It’s okay.

Accepting both 1) that you will not live up to your own expectations and 2) that that’s okay is key. WIthout planning this from the beginning, you are setting yourself up for emotional and psychological stress, which may induce more (and more painful) migraines and bring more tension in your family. And if you wanted more stress and tension, you wouldn’t be reading this prescription for mommy migraine guilt. So go ahead and accept it now: you will fail. You are not a failure. Remind yourself of this often.

II. Commit

Parenting school-aged children brings a jungle of commitments. Bake sales and parent organizations and carpools and field trips. You want to say yes. You often, against your better judgment, sign up anyway and inevitably wind up not meeting your own expectations and feel lousy as a result. Or, you’ve learned by now not sign up for the volunteer opportunities, but you still beat yourself up for not being able to do it/be like other moms/live a “normal” life.

The trick to defeating migraine guilt is to reframe commitment. Instead of appointments, commit to quality time and keep track of it with tallies. Maybe the most challenging part of this is it has to be spontaneous. In the car or at dinner or betime, it’s just you and your kid. Don’t worry about what you’re not doing or who you’re not with. Take the interactions one at a time and give yourself a tally for each. Watch those tallies grow. Remember them when you have to say no to an afternoon at the playground.

III. Relax

The impulse to work after you’ve been down a few days is normal. Add on that a heaping dose of mommy migraine guilt and you’ve got a recipe for burnoutor, probably, another terrible migraine.

We’re not telling you to relax to be kind. We’re telling you to relax because it’s an effective strategy. You’ll be more productive, less stressed, more able to give to your family, and better able to sleep

You can try the usual recommendations: yoga, meditation, massage. But relaxation just means removing tension. You may feel that your shoulders (for example) are tense or tight, but it’s basically any kind of stress you feel. Some people release it through painting, others through music, through reading or cleaning or getting outside (when the sun isn’t too bright).  Do what it is that makes you feel a little lighter and brighter.


Accepting, committing, and relaxing is your new life mantra and your cure for migraine guilt. These things aren’t too small, and they do count. You give people credit when you know they’re trying. They do the same for you. Think about any time that a friend or relative has been so burdened by their own guilt or pain that you two couldn’t even enjoy your time together. Think about how busy you get running the family that you forget to even enjoy it. Think about how good it feels when you connect with your loved ones.  It feels good for them, too.

Don’t say “Well this is what I should be able to do every night.” Or, “Other parents [anything].” You have the painful, debilitating condition, and migraine guilt on top of it. What works for you and your family, what is fun and high quality for you all, is the only metric that counts. You count it as often as possible.

Your Pain Demands To Be Felt

Man with head in one hand. the visible half of his face looks anguished

Do you know what the word refractory means? It’s from the latin word refractarius, meaning stubborn. It is typically used to describe things that are resistant–like the way an illness resists treatment, or a painful migraine resists resolution. It has to do with being difficult and unmanageable, making it an apt word for the migraine that won’t quit.

But the best use of the word may come from chemistry which explains a refractory material as one that maintains its strength even at high temperatures. Put another way, a refractory migraine can be thought of as more than simply resistant and difficult. No matter what treatment you throw at it or what medication you douse it with, it remains strong.

Debilitating Means to Make Weak, but Only the Strong Can Endure a Debilitating Migraine

We’re not going to pretend there is any virtue in suffering or value to sugarcoating it. Migraine is pain, and lots of it. And yet. Consider for a moment that you and the refractory migraine actually have something in common. No matter how excruciating the migraine is, how long it lasts, or how often it returns, no matter how exhausted you are physically and emotionally, you endure. It’s awful to withstand, and somehow you do it. Every time.

Often migraineurs themselves feel like they are difficult, resistant, stubborn. Nobody said that; they didn’t have to for you to feel its truth. There’s a terrible guilt one feels when down with a migraine. It’s a mix of hopelessness, helplessness, shame mixed with a bit of should and if only. Surely you must be doing something wrong. You should have done X or avoided Y. If only you could get up off this bed, or if only you could live your life like everyone else does. Why you?  It isn’t your fault. There’s a perception of weakness in American society—and many others as well—about those who show pain. Pain is not for displaying. It is to be hidden away in a dark room.

Anyone dealing with chronic pain knows what we’re talking about. You’ve felt that awful darkness, the heaviness, the personal humiliation at having to stop your life and to not only be rendered unable to care for anyone else, but to be entirely dependent on another person, and to miss out on fun, on family events, work, and a normal life.

It’s Not One You’d Ask For, but You Do Have a Superpower

With the refractory migraine, it is easy to see what you lack. Maybe it’s a job, maybe it’s energy, maybe it’s a sense of confidence in the day ahead. It’s hard to feel good when there may be pain waiting for you just around the corner. 

In focusing on the guilt and wishes and shoulds, you fail to see your own incredible power: You aren’t weak for having pain; you are strong for having endured it. You not only survive the crippling, humiliating, torturous pain, but you did it again and again. And every time, you look for a new solution, a new treatment, a new way to beat it. The reality of a life with migraines is unbearable, but here you are fighting, searching, always pressing forward.

Remember that. Next time you’re alone in the dark, paralyzed by the pain, thinking how you can’t bear it a moment longer—remember that you’ve done this before. Remember that this is a refractory migraine, not you. It feels all-consuming, but it can’t consume you. Because as the pain rises, so does your strength.

So do you.

Post title inspired by The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

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