How to Be a Good Parent While Having a Disability
How to Parent With a Disability
Someone told me once that disabled people can do anything that able-bodied people can do, for the most part; they just have to work harder at it. I've found this to be the complete truth.
Hi, I'm a mom to a busy two-year-old little girl, and I use a wheelchair most days. I remember wishing that there were more articles out there about disabled parenting when I got pregnant with Olivia three years ago. I've learned a lot since then, mostly from trial by fire. I want to share what I've learned while parenting in a relatively rural area and using a wheelchair. I'm not the world's best mom, but I put my child first, and I make it work.
Advice for Other Parents With Disabilities
When I was pregnant and a wheelchair user, I was petrified. How was I going to do this? I did have help, but—to be honest—I was just plain afraid. It seemed like an overwhelming assignment to be in charge of not only my life but now someone else's. This is what I've learned works:
1. Know Your Support System
Figure out who you can turn to, who you can trust, and who supports you in parenting. It could be family, friends, babysitters, or anyone that can give you support and tips on how to be a good parent. I was very lucky that one of my aides happened to do OT and be a former foster parent.
Go out into your community and start talking to people in parenting groups. Most groups welcome those with questions who just want to be a good parent or a better parent, given the right approach and in the right setting. Set up your support team as much as you can.
2. Find Community Resources in Your Area (and Keep Them Close)
I did this as soon as I found out I was pregnant. I started talking to as many agencies as possible. Being a rural area, there weren't that many, but they were extremely helpful. Churches, child care counsels, lactation clinics, local outreach organizations, and even the health department might have programs in your area for parenting, if not disabled parenting.
Some areas aren't great for wheelchair accessibility, etc., but many will make accommodations if you ask politely and explain your own unique situation. One pastor even came to our apartment to baptize my child. You never know until you ask nicely. If the answer is no, at least you tried, and as they say, "The squeaky wheel gets the oil."
Be persistent but polite, and call as many people as you can possibly think of that could help with parenting hints (and some you might not). Keep in touch with those you're close to for emotional support as well. You can't pour from an empty cup.
As they say, "The squeaky wheel gets the oil." Be persistent but polite, and explain your own unique situation.
3. Read, Research, and Practice Healthy Parenting Skills
This advice is for any parent, really. Tried and true parenting books, articles, and magazines are your friend. I looked for the best-selling parenting books online and bought as many as I could that were age-appropriate to my child. I wanted to know more about her development and try as best as I could to be 2–3 steps ahead when planning out parenting issues that were coming up.
For example, currently we're working on potty training, and up next is preschool (oh boy). There are some months where changes happen in a matter of days. Stay on top of it as best you can, and try to read ahead.
4. Set up Your Living Environment for Parenting
I moved to an open concept apartment that was completely accessible. This might not be an option for everyone, but work with what you've got. Baby-proofing as much as possible is a must. Think about your pets and any dangerous objects, and be creative in where you place things. Make sure that you're able to reach things but a toddler would not be able to (my 2-year-old is 3 feet tall; it's a challenge, but it keeps us busy).
As per your individual situation, you may need different equipment or approaches to effectively baby-proof your home. Brainstorm with your support team or someone from one of the agencies you've contacted in your community.
5. Focus on What You Can Do and Delegate the Rest
My daughter loves it when I read to her; she happens to love books. I love to color with her and sing songs. With help, we also go out for activities. It was very important to me that I be in my daughter's life as much as possible, while not limiting anything in her childhood. This took a lot of planning (like planning out outings and trips with extra hands, finding venues that were accessible like the mall, stores, restaurants, museums, aquariums, etc.—you'd be surprised).
Focus on what makes you and your child happy that you can do with your disability. I delegate sports or, say, hiking to my husband, obviously. But if my daughter wants to go to library, I'm right there. Playgroups in my area also happen to be accessible at my local child care agency. There are baby swimming classes, and my local YMCA has an accessible lift in and out of the pool. Be creative—what do you like to do? Can you do something of the sort with your child?
Be in your child's life every step of the way, but that understand sometimes you have to take a sideline or backseat to some activities because that's just the way it is. I never wanted to limit my daughter in any way due to my disability; I made that promise to her before she was born. Having to sit back is not easy sometimes, but focus on those activities you can do together.
6. Enjoy Raising Your Child, Ignore Discrimination, Be Yourself, and Have Fun
This is the most important. I live in a rural area, and I'm one of four parents I know in this area that happen to use a wheelchair—in this entire area of over 20,000 people. Maybe some others don't go out in public much (I'm not sure), but I decided I was not living my life, or having my child live her life, with her mother in the shadows.
I've been called "the wheelchair" more times than I can count, like I'm not a human being, let alone a mother to my daughter. Yes, I've faced discrimination everywhere, especially around parenting groups, sadly. Not from everyone, but there is that element. I personally just ignore the ignorance and focus on being out in public and being an amazing mom to my daughter, teaching her everything I can.
You can't change people's discrimination or change people's minds with anger. Just take the high road, and be the best parent you can be. Don't take everything seriously, and enjoy exploring and being messy—parents of toddlers will know what I mean.
I decided I was not living my life, or having my child live her life, with her mother in the shadows.
What to Do and What Not To Do
- Do: Try to be independent; however, if you absolutely need help, say so. And accept the help that is offered.
- Don't: Assume people don't know the answers, or where you can find them, or don't want to help you unless they've stated so.
- Do: Ask your doctors, physical therapists, occupational therapists, etc., your specific restrictions and recommendations.
- Don't: Overdo it or assume something may or may not be safe for you. Ask first.
- Do: Have fun and have your own unique spin on parenting.
- Don't: Worry about things, especially other people's opinions.
Every Parent Can Help Change the World
I immensely enjoy being a parent; it's the best profession ever. It's also one of the hardest jobs out there, but it's worth it. I wouldn't trade my little girl for the world. The only way you can change the world for the better is by doing your part, one little step at a time. It's not easy, not at all. But it's completely worth it.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
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© 2019 Susan Bechore