There is no manual for how to be the perfect parent. There is a mountain of advice out there, with experts committed to theories and parenting styles backed by studies. In the real world, parenting isn’t more than the skill you learn from a book; it’s an intuition that comes from within.
That’s what makes it so challenging for most people, but parents with disabilities can face even more obstacles when raising a child.
Parenting depends on the dynamic between parent and child, a relationship that can change day by day. For a parent in a wheelchair, with limited hearing or vision, struggling with a mental health condition or physical disabilities, caring for a child requires extra steps, considerations and modifications. Many of these adaptations come with added emotional stressors, though these parents have an extremely powerful love for their children. That love, combined with practical and creative ways to adapt your home, can support your abilities as a parent and the ways you interact with your child.
Parents come from all walks and rolls of life
Parenting from a wheelchair may seem daunting at first — how do you chase after toddlers, put an infant carrier in the car or pick up your baby from a crib? These are all important questions; however, and more importantly, they all have answers and solutions.
Home modifications can be easy for the whole family to adapt to, starting with cribs. Being in a wheelchair doesn’t mean you have to miss out on putting your baby to bed. There are beautiful, affordable custom cribs that come raised with the front of the crib on a hinge, like a gate, so that you can roll up to the side, open the door and easily put your baby in or take your baby out.
Many parents in wheelchairs find that they have a special way to bond with their children — kids love crawling up into their laps and riding around with them. There is more time for physical bonding, like cuddling, and one-on-one educational attention, like reading. You also have ample opportunity to teach your children problem solving skills such as using tools to collect things out of reach.
In addition to wheelchairs, there are several other physical conditions to note:
- While, your kids are developing fine motor control and you might need to try too, if possible. Make sensory boxes, or treasure baskets, and play with your kids if you have cerebral palsy or limited manual mobility.
- Put rubber grips on items you open often.
- Install custom-height stoves, extinguishers and smoke detectors so that you can mitigate any issues that arise from smoke or fire.
- Fence in your backyard to keep your kids safe in areas where you can’t reach them as quickly.
Parents have something stronger than sight — insight
Parenting with low vision or vision impairment comes with a unique set of challenges, with even more extraordinary solutions. If you have limited sight, dressing your home to assist your vision could help you be a more effective parent. Painting rooms and furnishing with colors and contrasts you can see may help you identify what your child needs. Of course, there are many more everyday visual effects to consider, so do your research and find the adjustments that help you most.
If your sight has more significant issues, try using textured items to help you navigate your child’s room. Add carpet swatches above places of importance, like the bed, a toy box or a play area. If you use walls to maneuver around your home, avoid hanging pictures or placing furniture at levels that might get in the way. A few other ways you can modify your home to enhance your childcare skills include:
- Installing grab bars in areas like tubs and showers to assist in bathing your children.
- Removing tripping hazards, like eliminating worn carpet that’s peeling up and teaching your children the importance of picking up toys and clutter lying on the floor.
- Using non-slip rugs and mats so you don’t have to worry about a fall during playtime.
- Labeling your children’s food with textured tape or braille labels so you can plan and prepare meals.
In addition, encouraging your children to take part in the modification process can help them build critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills.
Parents making sense of a mental illness
Talking with your kids — at an appropriate maturity level — can reduce the stigma that often accompanies having a mental illness. Answering questions as honestly as you can will enable you to get a few things off your chest, while also ensuring your kids are not uncomfortable being around people with these kinds of disabilities.
Be sure to keep any medications and other supplies far out of your children’s reach. Set up a solid support network, one that will come to your side when you need support during a low period. There are many ways you can get your children involved with creating home improvements, such as:
- Designing an area that is decorated to help you feel relaxed and calm.
- Meditating or practicing yoga with your child.
- Letting your child know it’s OK to ask for answers.
Purchase adaptable products
Did you know they make car seat attachments for wheelchairs? This allows adults to push their child in a wheelchair without fear or hesitation. Other products you can purchase and install in your home include:
- Chairlifts, or you may choose to keep all bedrooms and main rooms downstairs.
- Soft-structured baby carriers can be helpful for people with spinal injuries.
- Modified sinks and faucets, so the child can learn to brush his or her teeth right next to you.
- Raised toilet seats, which can help you teach potty training.
- Velcro baby bibs, shoes and accessories, which have easy on and off access for parents with limited hand mobility.
- A low counter for changing diapers, or you can perform this task on the floor.
- Low hanger racks in the closet.
- Large hardware on furniture with drawers, which can make them easier to open.
There are so many products and DIY projects out there, and many people feel they can install these modifications all on their own at a budget that suits them. Sadly, though, from wheelchairs to walkers, there are some people who struggle to pull together the funds to make these modifications. There are several grants out there you can apply for, as well as nonprofit and government assistance. Looking for gently-used items can also bring down the costs of adaptable products.
It’s also important to remember that children are naturally observant and curious — especially when it comes to wheelchairs and other modifications. If they notice their mommy or daddy is different from other parents, they will want to know why. In their innocence, they may not ask or point out these differences in the most tactful way, so it’s important to talk to your children about any disability, not just your own. Not only will this help your child adjust healthily to your special needs, but it will also help him or her develop compassion and empathy for people who are different. If there’s a child in a wheelchair in their kindergarten class, your child will be able to set an inclusive, caring example for the rest of the students.
Remember, you are not in this alone. There are a lot of parents out there experiencing similar situations. Making your house accessible for all is an important way to turn a house into a home.
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