Parenting with a physical disability: challenges and rewards
Having a physical disability doesn’t mean you lack parenting skills or that you can’t parent as well as other people. But it probably does mean that you face some particular challenges.
One of the biggest challenges might not be your physical disability, but the assumptions or judgments that people make about it.
You might also have some physical restrictions or limitations. For example, if your upper body movement is restricted, it might be hard to hold your child without help or do some daily care tasks, like feeding and cleaning. If you’re in a wheelchair, it might be harder to chase toddlers around.
And there are social and financial challenges, like finding it harder to get a job or access services that can help you be the parent you want to be.
But there are many rewards of parenting with a physical disability, and these often come from the ways families and children adapt to the situation. For example, you might find that you’re raising children who are more caring and kind, sensitive and responsive to the needs of others, tolerant and compassionate, mature, appreciative of their own health, responsible, independent and empathetic.
Also, your family circumstances might help your children develop healthy self-esteem. That’s because they get a sense of their own worth from learning about responsibility and understanding what a big contribution they make to family life.
When the children were young I got by through designing and modifying things to suit my needs. When they were babies I had them on a sheepskin with two wooden handles so I could pick them up. When they started crawling they’d wear a little harness or I’d dress them in overalls. I had a change table and bassinette modified to suit my chair, and used a bath that supported the babies well.
– Anita, mother of two children
Managing life as a parent with a physical disability
If you have a physical disability, you’re probably very good at finding creative and practical ways to overcome any challenges that you face.
You might find that you rely more heavily on verbal instructions than physical guidance in your daily interactions with your children. Even your younger children probably know that they’ll be safe if they listen to you and do what you say. And as your children grow older, open communication gets more important in every area of family life, including discipline.
It’s a good idea to talk openly and honestly with your children about your disability. This will help them understand any physical limitations you might have – for example, why you’re in a wheelchair, or why you get very tired. Children are very good at adapting to their surroundings, and your children will change their behaviour to suit both their needs and yours.
It’s OK to ask for support to carry out daily care tasks like feeding, bathing and dressing. The type of support you need obviously depends on your disability, but there are many technologies and assistive devices that can help with daily family life.
Support workers can give you more information about what’s available. Occupational therapists can give you ideas about how to adapt your physical environment to your particular needs.
Our disability services article
can help you find support. Sharing your idea and experiences with others in similar situations can also help, especially if you feel isolated.