So I’ve been watching the interviews at the Happily Family Parenting Conference. Lots of speakers. Lots of good questions and guidance. Nothing about disabled parents so far.
The advice provided is for everyone and it is very good advice. Great advice. I feel really reassured that it all lines up with my instinctive parenting style but there is no advice for parents with physical challenges. To be honest there never is. No parenting books or blogs or conferences ever address the needs of disabled parents.
It is tricky – we do not all have the same physical struggles so it is difficult to get prescriptive but some advice would be very welcome.
Disabled parents have to get really creative to do practical things. We have to think about how to carry baby out and about, how to get baby in and out of car seats, changing tables, cots, etc. Even something as basic as how to change baby’s nappy.
Everything needs to be planned ahead and scheduled and almost everything that can help us is ten times the cost of the ‘normal’ version.
Top a physical disability with a chronic illness and you’ve hit a jackpot of emotional, physical and financial challenges.
Parenting when you are fit and well is exhausting; parenting when you are not fit and well brings you to tears and pushes you to the brink over and over again.
Are we doing the right thing? How do we know? Are we even capable of raising children properly? How can we teach our children when we need so much help ourselves? How do we get between two fighting kids if we cannot get out of bed? How can we help our children use the toilet if we need help to get there? How can we physically pick up or hold a struggling child if we can’t even change their nappy?
Although I doubted it at the time, we survived through these struggles.
When The Kids were born we suddenly became responsible for these vulnerable little creatures who needed us to care for and love them but who spoke a different language. B and I listened and watched and learned the cues. We listened to other parents and read parenting articles and books and we listened even more to our instincts.
We helped The Kids to understand that all they had to do was ask for what they wanted/needed. We explained to The Kids that if they need us just call and we will come, that if they wanted something they just need to ask.
And we followed through: we kept our word. When they called we were there and when they needed something we were there. They learned that they could trust us. They learned that they just needed to ask and we would accommodate them if we could. If we were unable to give what they wanted we explained why – and I don’t mean made up stuff. We were honest.
“I don’t really want you to have that snack now because we’re having dinner in ten minutes but you can absolutely have it after dinner.”
“I can see you really want that toy but I just don’t have enough money to buy it right now; we can save up and buy it in a few months.”
“I know you’re really hungry; we’re almost home and as soon as we get home we will have dinner.”
Their communication graduated from crying to calling to pointing to using words to creating sentences.
We have always treated The Kids with respect; their views and opinions, likes and dislikes were always valued and it was important that they knew that. We did not dismiss their wants just because they were children.
The Kids are 8yo and 10yo now (time seriously flies!!!) and my advice for other disabled parents will be in My two cents – part 2.