Survival Mode: Migraines with Toddlers


It starts as a dull ache in my temples, followed by pain in my eyes. The room blurs and often spins. Smells become unbearable and sounds are excruciating. Often by the time this has all set in, half my face and body have gone painfully numb. Here we go again — I’m getting a migraine. I text my husband quickly to let him know the situation. Luckily for me he knows just how it feels and is empathetic.

I go into survival mode, because the only thing that’s worse than a migraine, is a migraine with toddlers. 

Toddlers move constantly, which is horrible when your eyes are killing you. Toddlers smell sometimes good, but not normally. One of the worst things is changing a toddler diaper with a smell sensitivity and nausea. I cannot state how grateful I am that my children are now mostly self-sufficient in the bathroom, but there are still bottoms to wipe. Toddlers are LOUD! There is no escaping any of this. They need me for almost everything. My only saving grace is that the little one still naps and the big one can refill his water cups all by himself. During the times they refuse to self-entertain or sleep, there have been few things that bring some relief while I try to nurse myself back to health.

Here’s what I’ve found that has worked:

Screen time is necessary

On a normal day I don’t have a set limit, but I do try to limit their screen time. It usually last long enough for me to drink my coffee and get ready to leave the house in the morning. When I have a migraine, I don’t bother with limiting screen time. I find the cartoon they can mutually stand and with the most episodes, and I hit play. I turn the volume down to where they can hear it if they want to and I leave that puppy or puppies — hello Paw Patrol — on as long as the show will play. Then I hit play again. Am I proud of this? No, but this is survival. They tune in and out of it, but my youngest likes to get especially snugly during screen time. When she naps, my oldest will gladly sit through some quiet time watching cartoons that he gets to pick himself. This is the start of how we get through one of these days.

Nourishment is basic

Like I said, when a migraine comes to take me out, it punches me right in the nose. Smells are one of the worst things ever. Even some of my favorite smells become absolutely disgusting! If there is a single day I survive without coffee, it’s because I have a migraine. Add to that dizziness and nausea, and food is simply something I don’t care to handle. Bring on the simplest of the simple. I lay a stack of my kids’ favorite snacks and some fruit on the table and they get to chose throughout the day what to eat and when. They bring me packages to open and they leave me an atrocious mess, but I don’t have to smell much, make lunch, or even get off the couch. Like I said, I’m lucky to have an understanding husband. Often when he gets that initial text he knows it’s a plea for him to be home from work ASAP to deal with dinner. This means that as soon as he steps foot in the house and gets any necessary care information about the kids, I head for bed. It also means that no clean up will be done. I will wake in the morning to what looks like the results of “Night of the Twisters” gone through a dumpster inside my house.

The house will not be clean

I have no idea how long my migraines will last. Some can be as short as 24 hours. Do you know what happens when a mom of two young children takes 24 hours off from cleaning duties? Nothing. No one else is going to touch the mess and a week or more of catch up is guaranteed. There are goldfish in my carpet. There are smears of stickiness randomly placed everywhere. There are wrappers and trash everywhere. Dear lord, what is that smell? I am drugged the next day or still hurting, and efforts are usually minimal. I am still dealing with the present duties and flooded with the past I let slide. It’s going take a bit before things feel normal around this place again. The best is when the migraines pile one on top of each other. Which brings me to the next necessity:

A support person who loves you and understands

Again, I can’t emphasize enough how much my husband’s understanding and support mean to me when one of these migraines blindsides me. He can’t always be there right away. There was a time when he was working 12-hour shifts that rotated days and nights every other week. He finds a way to make it home and take care of the kids when it is really needed. He may not keep things up to my standards, but he keeps our minions alive and the house standing. He has always been there for me. He takes orders well and when I really need help, it’s as simple as telling him what I need. Most of all, he could care less if the house is sparkling clean or if the kids are eating quesadillas he had to make for the fourth time that week. He usually gets smart and runs to the store for some frozen options because he’s resourceful like that. He is also not the only one who understands and has helped; during the years, family and friends have helped by watching the kids, dropping off food, and even helping me with the fallout. Support is necessary for survival!

The thing you need the most

All this said, the thing you need the most is to forgive yourself. You need to let that guilt go, mama. There are going to be more days like this, but there are also going to be more good days. Maybe eventually, if you are lucky, you will find a medicine that reduces the frequency or intensity. My doctor told me to hope for one or the other and about 50% improvement in either frequency or intensity. He wasn’t wrong, and has told me that women my age will continue to have worsened issues. You can count on the fact that it will keep happening. You can count on the depression that comes with it. You can count on the fact that you feel disappointed and betrayed by your body.

The thing you can count on the most however, is that your family will still love you. That you will be enough. That even when you have a bad day, you will all survive. You can count on the fact that if you show yourself some grace and forgiveness, you will survive.


  1. You are a brave mama and are blessed by a wonderful support system. Take heart, things will get better, as kids get older. There is less chaos and less hands on with them and so less stress and less intense and less frequent migraines. I know because I went through it and some days are really bad but mostly good and blessed days.
    All the best!!
    Warm regards,
    K. Hyder

    • I’m so sorry for the late response I just saw this! I am very blessed! And thank for your words of encouragement.

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