Balancing Life as a Single Parent to a Child With CF

As the single parent of a child with cystic fibrosis, life is a difficult balancing act. That's why, sometimes, I feel a bit like Jean-Claude Van Damme.

| 5 min read
Elise Free

In 2013, there was a Volvo commercial where Jean-Claude Van Damme balanced his body between two semi-trucks as they slowly drove backwards down a desert highway. As the trucks sped up, they also drove apart, until Van Damme was literally doing the splits between both trucks. It was equally terrifying as it was thrilling. That is what it is like to be a single parent of a child with cystic fibrosis.

No, wait … that's just being a parent.

This time, imagine Van Damme calling his health insurance company, requesting a pre-authorization, filing an appeal for a medication that costs $7,000 a month, administering 40 medications a day (including tube feeding), writing up a 504 plan for school, checking in with seven different specialists, reading everything about CF, joining a support group to emotionally handle the stress, grocery shopping, and financially providing for an expensive medical condition -- all while doing the splits between two semi-trucks driving in reverse down a desert highway. That is what it is like to be a single parent of a child with cystic fibrosis.

No, wait, that is what it is like being a married parent of a child with cystic fibrosis.

Now, imagine Van Damme doing all of the above, while also going to court for child support; ensuring that your child receives the correct medications while at the other parent's house; helping with homework; driving to soccer, swimming, gymnastics, and Girl Scouts; feeding the dog, cats, and guinea pigs; trying to maintain normal relationships with friends; balking at people who suggest you could actually date; doing all of the paperwork, yard work, and life work that everyone is required to do; plus, exercising every once in a while because your doctor gave you the “take care of yourself” speech -- all while balancing a Jean-Claude Van Damme split between two semi-trucks driving in reverse down a desert highway. And that is what it is like to be a single parent of a child with cystic fibrosis.


Parenthood is not a competition, and I'm not saying all of this to be, “Woe is me.” I am also not Jean-Claude Van Damme, rocking a six pack and buns of steel. (I wish. I can't even do the splits on solid ground.) But, I do believe that single parents of children with chronic conditions are in a situation that is damn near impossible. Or Damme near impossible. Forgive me, I love puns.

There is no batter on deck, no actor in the wings. No one is there at 10 p.m. to run to the store for milk, take the garbage out, read bedtime stories, or take the dog for a walk. So, more often than not, dinner dishes are left in the sink, the yard isn't mowed, the laundry sits in the wash until it smells like stinky feet, and the very last person you take care of is yourself.

As a single parent, instead of enjoying the journey, we are sometimes too busy staring at the pavement, concentrating hard on not slipping, because one move, one breeze, one slip, means that you fall. And, your child falls with you.


I didn't even realize how much I was balancing until when, at the age of 38, my daughter and I moved in with my parents for a year. My mother, after a long day of work, brought home milk. She'd noticed we were out and took it upon herself to run that simple errand. That little gesture took my breath away. I thought, “This must be what it is like to have a partner.”

When you are a single parent, you don't have a backup, a safety net, or a stunt double when you're too tired to find your own balance. The gesture of picking up milk made me profoundly grateful and, at the same time, profoundly sad. I suddenly realized what I was missing.

I struggle every single day to find that balance. I'm equally terrified and thrilled. I know that if I waver, look down, look up, or think too hard, it could all be over. So, I try to only look forward. I pretend I'm a martial arts master -- the Jean-Claude Van Damme of single CF parenthood -- and try every day to make the impossible possible.

This site contains general information about cystic fibrosis, as well as personal insight from the CF community. Opinions and experiences shared by members of our community, including but not limited to people with CF and their families, belong solely to the blog post author and do not represent those of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, unless explicitly stated. In addition, the site is not intended as a substitute for treatment advice from a medical professional. Consult your doctor before making any changes to your treatment.

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Elise is a contributor on What the Flicka?, Scary Mommy, The Mighty and Mamalode, and has had essays featured in Los Angeles Parent Magazine, Literary Mama Magazine, and on KPFK's radio program, Motherhood Unplugged. She currently lives in Iowa with her teenage daughter, Adelaide, who's thriving and living life to its fullest and funniest, despite having cystic fibrosis.

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