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Differently Abled Parents

Posted: September 30, 2011

People with a physical disability can be parents – and very able ones. Here two parents with disabilities talk about their parenting journey.

By Nayantara Mallya

People with physical disabilities are often marginalized and perceived as being ‘unable’ in all fields. When it comes to raising a child, parents with disabilities frequently face resistance from family and society; it is commonly assumed that they cannot cope with the challenges of parenting.

Nothing could be further from the truth for a few such parents who are bringing up their children successfully and happily. After all, parenting usually requires more mental strength than physical – something any tired parent of a toddler will vouch for, at the end of a day full of tantrums! Two parents with physical disabilities talk to us about the daily challenges of parenting.

Social constraints on parents with disabilities

People with disabilities are handicapped much more by society’s attitudes than by the disability itself. Kavita Sehgal*, who lives in Dehradun and works in a public sector company, is a single mother to 4 year old Nita*. “I do not have fully developed lower limbs, and walk with slippers in my hands,” she explains. Kavita faced a negative reaction from society when she was searching for a life partner.

It was when she found that she liked teaching children that she decided to go ahead with raising a child. She says, “I faced resistance from my family because no one can ever understand that being disabled, I have the confidence to do all things by myself. But now, when the decision has been implemented, everyone has accepted it well.”

Limitations of parents with disabilities

The limitations imposed by physical disabilities on parenting can make it tough, especially while playing with a young child. Vikas Jain*, 38, is a University Professor in Bangalore, and is legally blind. He makes sure that his visual impairment does not come in the way of being a loving father, spending quality time bonding with his 6 year old son, Manas*. Vikas says, “I can’t read out stories to my son from printed books. I get around that by memorizing them beforehand.”

Playing with an active preschooler brings up other challenges. There are ways to get around them though. He gives an example, “I use a ball I can feel and catch easily, and get Manas to throw the ball in only one direction.” Vikas also prefers to play games with Manas that are not sight-dependent, such as play-acting or playing Doctor.

The limitations imposed by physical disabilities on parenting can make it tough, especially while playing with a young child.

When asked how he reconciles with not being able to see his son’s face, Vikas explains, “All my other senses still work very well, you know. My son’s mere presence is enough for me.” Perception is truly the difference between looking and seeing; one doesn’t really require sight to see their beloved child’s face.

Kavita found it tough when her toddler started running around. “When I have to help her use the bathroom at night, or run behind her, it’s almost impossible. I convince her somehow to walk herself, or to come to me, as Mumma cannot walk easily.” Kavita feels that Nita has understood and accommodated her mother’s physical limitations as she grew older, and that has made things much easier.

With a little help from family

My mother cooks for Nita, and I take help from my maid also. Still, I handle a good deal of most daily-care tasks such as homework, mealtimes, bedtimes and getting ready for school.” Kavita stresses that most of the help she takes from family is not so much because of her disability, but because she works a full-time job.

Vikas also feels that his mother and wife take on the vast majority of childcare tasks, mainly because he is away all day at the University. “I still try to do some things, like picking him up from school and helping him with homework.”

Children of parents with disabilities

Children of parents with disabilities grow up surrounded by a different kind of reality. Vikas feels that his son has adapted himself to accommodate his father’s special needs. “Yes, Manas is definitely a helpful and caring child. He helps me a lot, when I’m searching for something, or finding my way around. He holds my hand when I need to be guided.

Kavita says, “Nita is a very sensitive child and she has understood about difficult situations like disability very early in her life.” Kavita feels that her disciplining of Nita is no different from a ‘normal’ parent, “I am strict where required, and affectionate always. I feel my bond with my daughter is a very strong one.”

So far, both Vikas and Kavita have not faced any tough questions about their disabilities from their children.

About differently abled parenting

Kavita is vocal about  the rights of parents with disabilities. “I advise all such parents to go ahead with your decision to raise a child. Solutions to problems come when we face things. Parenting abilities are not affected due to disabilities.

The conditioning by society leads most of us to imagine that people with disability have lives full of only victimization, suffering and misery. “Children bring so much happiness to your life and in return need lots of love,” says Kavita.

These parents with disabilities are ‘standing’ very much on their own two feet and leading meaningful lives. They have unequivocally opened their hearts and minds to the joys and challenges of parenting… Something the more ‘able’ parents amongst us can learn a lot from.

I'm currently a communications specialist in the corporate world, and mom to a teen

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