“What it’s like to be a parent: it’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever do, but in exchange, it teaches you the meaning of unconditional love.” - Nicholas Sparks.
Parenthood is often embraced as one of the most rewarding experiences life has to offer, but almost every parent would agree that it is also one of the most challenging. For wheelchair users, raising a family brings an entirely new and unique set of challenges. But, with a little creative thinking and planning, many of these hurdles can be overcome with ease.
Disability does not define a person's ability to raise a child, and it is important to remember that people with disabilities can, and do, make wonderful parents. As with all families, parenting can sometimes be tough and having a strong support network is vital. Your network may comprise family and friends, but it could also include community members such as doctors, therapists, teachers, babysitters, and neighbours. Every family is different, and so your support needs will be different, too. It can be beneficial to identify any possible avenues of support early in your parenthood journey so you will have a network in place should you ever need it.
"It takes a village to raise a child." - African proverb.
Many new parents learn on the go as their child grows and develops, leaning on their experienced friends and family to share tips and advice. However, wheelchair users may sometimes have difficulty finding other parents in their community facing similar challenges. Thankfully, there are many educational YouTube videos aimed at people who are raising children from a wheelchair, and the internet has made it easy for people in the disability community to connect and share parenting tips and tricks online.
First Hand Accounts
In her video Raising Children From A Wheelchair on the Spinal Cord Injury Alberta YouTube channel, Brittney gives insight and tips to empower parents with disabilities. She shares her best advice for placing a child in a crib, changing diapers, and how to use jolly jumpers, swings, harnesses to get around safely outside of the home.
In her Parenting From a Wheelchair series on YouTube, Gem Hubbard chats about parenting toddlers while using a wheelchair, and how to cope with your own little bundle of love and energy. Gem explores tips, tricks, and hacks as well using the naughty step, how to install and use car seats, and best practices for safety in public.
Attitude, an online collection of documentaries that tell the stories of real people with disabilities, shines the light on Jai and Rebecca Waite in Quadriplegic Dad: Parenting with a Disability. In this short documentary, Jai and Rebecca talk openly about parenting with a disability.
Tips for Parenting From a Wheelchair
One of the most important things to remember throughout your parenting journey is that you are strong enough to overcome any hurdles you face. Raising children is hard no matter your physical health or capabilities, and many parents have unfounded insecurities from time to time.
“There is no such thing as a perfect parent, so just be a real one.” - Sue Atkins.
Tips for Raising Babies and Toddlers
Adapted equipment, such as strollers that can attach to a wheelchair, will be invaluable when raising a baby or toddler. It may be beneficial to reach out to your local disability association to find out more information about local suppliers of these accessible items. Otherwise, your local nursery furniture store may guide you in the right direction.
A local parenting group or club with regular meetings can be a wonderful source of support, information, and social connections. Other members in the group may have faced similar challenges and could provide unique solutions that will help your family, too.
A scarf or shawl can be an indispensable tool when you are lifting or holding your child. A few simple twists and knots can transform this simple accessory into a secure sling to hold your baby safely in your lap when you are using your wheelchair.
It is vital to plan ahead and ensure your toddler's play spaces will be accessible. This may involve setting the play area up in a secure and safe elevated place such as a bed or even investing in a wheelchair accessible playpen.
When baby proofing your house, make sure you are installing accessible products. For example, baby gates will need to be wide enough for a wheelchair to travel through. Instead of investing in a conventional baby gate, a retractable fabric safety gate might allow for better wheelchair access. Gates similar to the Dreambaby Retractable Gates pull back to sit snugly against the wall and do not feature a bumper at the bottom, taking up far less room and removing the need to roll over the plastic bar that more traditional gates have.
Once your baby is learning to crawl, you may need to find a space for them to practice that you can reach from your wheelchair should you need to pick them up. A bed is not only a soft surface for a baby to land on if they fall while crawling, but it will also elevate them to your level so that you can easily supervise and assist. For additional safety, you might consider adding child safe railing to the sides of the bed so that your baby can't slip or fall.
Tips for Raising Children and Adolescents
Although most schools are wheelchair friendly, it can be a good idea to check that your child's school is accessible so that when it comes to presentations, parents' nights, and assemblies, you will be able to attend without worry.
Some families are concerned that having a parent with a disability might make their child feel uncomfortable, or even cause their peers to treat them differently. Never be afraid to discuss these concerns with your child's teachers so that they can be aware of any challenges, and you can be assured that your child will be happy and comfortable at school.
It can also be a rewarding experience to talk to your child's classmates in an educational setting at their own level if you are concerned about your child fitting in at school. If you feel comfortable, organize with their teacher to come in during a show and tell time and talk with the class to answer questions they may have. Not only can this help to spread awareness, but also to educate young children can diminish some of the stigma that people with disabilities experience.
Speak to your local council or information center about parks in your area which are accessible and are specifically designed to accommodate children who use wheelchairs so that you can also access the play area and equipment. Having a range of these parks available will increase the quality of your time out together, and will come in handy for holidays and birthday parties.
Parenthood, although challenging, is a very rewarding experience for parents with disabilities. Wheelchair users can, and do, face a unique set of obstacles when raising children, but with perseverance and some creative thinking they can be overcome.