So one of the main reasons that I set this blog up in the beginning was as a way to help educate & inform all of the people who I interact with about life as an amputee. So far I’ve had a great response & I’ve had a lot of people support me & tell me that between my blogs & constant social media posts that they have really had their eyes opened to what life can be like living with a disability & I’m very grateful & I thank you all for all of the great feedback.
In todays blog I wanted to cover a subject which I don’t talk a great deal about but it’s something that is a huge part of my life & something I think people don’t ask me a lot about through fear of offending me (which by the way is very hard to do) and that is parenting with a disability.
Now parenting is a hard job no matter what your situation but with a disability it brings a few extra complications & challenges which if you don’t choose to confront them can seriously reduce the amount of joy that you can get out of being a parent. This blog highlights a few of the challenges that I have faced as a disabled parent.
Back when I first got injured (24/12/07) I only had one child, my daughter Kezia. Back then Kezia was only 3yrs old & although I only saw her occasionally when I would return home from rehab (she is from a previous relationship) I found trying to be a good parent to her was one of the hardest & most frustrating parts of my entire recovery. Back then in 2008 because I hadn’t healed yet I was unable to use prosthetics so I was temporarily restricted to using a wheelchair, I only had the use of one arm & most of the time that arm was occupied pushing my chair around to get to where I wanted to be & if I’m being honest as a parent I felt completely useless. Being restricted to a wheelchair & only having one arm made me feel more like I had lost all of my limbs & being in the situation that I was in made me feel not only like a failure as a father & a protector but actually like a danger to my daughter as I didn’t feel I could look after her in the way an able bodied Dad could.
I always remember one of the hardest things for me to deal with back then was if my daughter would for example fall down & hurt herself. Because I was stuck in a wheelchair I was often unable to get to her so someone else would have to, then when they did for some reason they didn’t think to bring her straight to me which made me angry because I wanted to comfort her & so I would loose my temper with whoever wouldn’t bring her to me & it used to make me feel completely worthless as a parent. As she got older & wanted to do things like play hide & seek, go swimming or go bike riding I was restricted as to what I could do because of the wheelchair & also the lack of knowledge I had back then about what I was able to do. Things like going to the beach or taking her to the park in a wheelchair on my own weren’t really possible & so I’d have to stay at home while other people got to take her out because I didn’t want her to miss out on enjoying herself & I didn’t want to be a burden to other people pushing me around in my wheelchair. That was an incredibly difficult period from a parenting point of view & one that I’ll never forget, I felt terrible physically, mentally & emotionally but what it did do was force me to be a bit more creative & figure out ways to compensate for my perceived lack of parenting. It also made me push harder in my rehab to try & reclaim my independence & some of those things I thought I had lost as a Dad.
With my wife Becky by my side & lots of support from friends & family together we worked things out so that I could be more included. My wife was an incredible support to me especially as she was dealing with a lot of stuff herself including adjusting to being in her early 20’s with a disabled partner & a step daughter!
Now fortunately for me the wheelchair & the problems that I faced with it were only temporary, I know others aren’t so lucky & I have friends who have to deal with these issues for the rest of their lives & they will forever have my upmost respect for the dedication & commitment they show as parents despite the difficulties they face.
Soon after I decided to leave my wheelchair behind for good I was able to get fitted with prosthetic limbs & start on that long road to recovery learning to walk again & regain my independence. Because now I was starting to get free of the wheelchair it gave me more options & although in terms of my recovery that was a huge positive in terms of being a parent it brought a whole new series of challenges with it.
Now that I was up & (semi) independent it opened a few more doors for me & enabled me in my mind to be a bit more of a hands on Dad but now with a daughter who was probably 5yrs old at this point came the inevitable finger pointing & questions from other children asking her why her Daddy had funny legs & a hook as a hand.
Although I was able to I started to shy away from going to collect her from school because I didn’t want her school friends asking the same kind of questions that the kids in the street did or potentially bullying her because her Daddy was different. There was a point where I thought about completely avoiding her school altogether because I couldn’t handle the thought that she may have a difficult school life because of me & that my appearance may have caused other children to pick on her. Again this was another tough period during my recovery not just for me but for everybody involved because just as I thought I was about to get over the hurdle of being stuck in a wheelchair & unable to do certain things along came this new challenge of using my prosthetics to be a Dad but without affecting my daughters life in any negative sort of way.
When I look back on this period of my life I think the biggest mistake that I made was not giving my daughter enough credit in terms of her resilience & ability to handle whatever anyone may throw at her. I also think that I may have been basing my assumptions on some of my own childhood experiences & worst fears.
When my daughter got a little bit older I sat her down & had a conversation with her & even at her young age she assured me that she didn’t care what I looked like & she didn’t care if any of the kids said anything & that she still wanted me to pick her up & drop her off to school & so I did. Anyway after a few months it started to happen, whispers started, the fingers pointed & the questions started coming. To her credit she handled it very well but one day it all got too much for her & she told me how upset she was getting from all of the questions. Now having since resolved all of this the one thing I need to make perfectly clear is that the other kids were not picking on Kezia because of the way I looked they were simply asking questions because they were curious, the reason she got upset was because so many of the kids were asking the same questions day in day out.
After sitting down & thinking again about staying away from the school to try & makes things better for her we came up with the idea that maybe I could go into the school & do an assembly in front of the entire year group & tell them the story of what happened to me so that I can answer all of their questions in one hit & hopefully stop them having to ask Kez, so that’s what I did.
Now I’ve spoken in front of 1000+ top level managers in a multi-billion dollar company before & I was fine but the thought of speaking in front of a year group of school kids scared the hell out of me, not because they were kids & I thought I couldn’t relate to them but more because I thought if I did well Kez would be a hero but if I screwed it up it might make things a lot worse for her. Luckily I managed the former & it was a success & she was over the moon. Ever since that day there have been no more questions & she’s doing great at school & now just getting ready to leave primary school & head into secondary!!!
Now as I type this a lot of you will know that I have two more children Mason (3) & Evelyn (2). Although I haven’t had quite so many physical challenges with these two because I’m a lot more mobile now I think I may have to do a few more school assemblies in the future to make sure that I don’t cause any problems for them going through school as I know it can be tough enough anyway without anything extra to deal with.
I’m a strong believer in that you are shaped by your environment. If you hang around with negative people that’s who you’ll become, if you hang around with driven, motivated & successful people ultimatley that’s who you’ll become & its my hope that as my children grow up they’ll see me just getting on with things & sticking a middle finger up to adversity & to them that will be the norm. They’ll embrace challenges, go after what they want & make no excuses for not getting what they want out of life, if those are the lessons I can teach my children as they grow then it makes all of the challenges of being a disabled parent worth while.
Anyway these are just a few of the challenges I‘ve faced as a Dad with disabilities. I think the main thing that I’ve learnt from this firstly is that if there are certain things I can’t do physically to interact with my children then I just have to be creative & find alternatives to bond with them. Secondly my children are a lot tougher than I was at that age, my daughters resilience throughout everything has been inspirational & I’m sure it’ll be the same with my other two kids, I don’t give them enough credit for that but I certainly will in the future.
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