Oftentimes when I’m out with my daughters, people think I’m their sister or a friend. Strangers rarely imagine I’m their mom. Sure, I look fairly young. But I think the confusion usually stems from the fact that I’m in an electric wheelchair and have a visible physical disability.
Motherhood is a challenge in itself. Being a mom with a disability adds a layer of difficulty. Two of my goals as a parent and as a woman who uses a wheelchair full time are:
- To prove that the stigmas about parenting with a disability are false
- To show my own kids that I can still be just as active and involved in their lives as I would if I were able-bodied
Many of the typical daily activities that I would do with my children come with barriers I have to overcome. For example, my oldest daughter just started kindergarten this August. (Cue the waterworks – mine, not hers.)
When I enrolled her in our district, she originally wasn’t placed in the elementary school nearest our home. Part of the reason we chose the neighborhood we live in is because it was within rolling distance of an elementary and middle school. I wanted to be able to drive my wheelchair to drop her off, volunteer, and attend parties or lunches. When the district informed me of the school she would attend, I emailed them and asked if I could speak to someone regarding the decision. I actually was able to get a phone meeting with the superintendent himself. When I spoke to him, he completely understood why I needed her in the school near us.
He placed her there immediately and now, I’m able to drop her off, attend PTA meetings and other activities – independently. All it took was a simple phone call. Now I can see my girl’s happy face when I pick her up and have quality mom/daughter time when we roll home together.
My “Dangerous” Wheelchair
While that experience certainly had a pleasant solution, some of the other situations we’ve been in haven’t had the best outcomes. For example, when my oldest was about 3 years old, we went to a local indoor play area. When I went in to play with her, just as all of the other parents were, I was asked to leave because “they don’t allow wheelchairs.”
As I fought back the tears (and the urge to unleash some verbal rage on the employee), I gathered my understandably upset toddler and left. I attempted to reach out to the owner later that evening via social media and was met with even more discrimination. They claim that they don’t allow wheelchairs because I was a danger to the children. Unfortunately, that situation never came to a positive resolution.
But instead of dwelling on the experience we had there, we choose to play at locations that are inclusive of all people. John Venezia Community Park is one of our favorites. It is completely accessible to those in wheelchairs, and also to those who have other disabilities.
We face other barriers that are less apparent, too. From inaccessible playdate invitations, to physical events that I am unable to participate in. The most important concept that I try to actively show my kids, though, is that while some things might not work out how we’d like, we can find numerous other activities that will be just as enjoyable.
Having physical limitations as a mom has been difficult because there are certain tasks that I’m not able to do. I’m not able to get my girls dressed or give them a bath. What I can do, however, is help pick out their clothes or chat with them during bath time. Sadly, I haven’t found any way to assist with diapers… oh darn 😉 I have found ways to make feeding them easier, safer ways to carry them, adapted games to play together, and many more tools and ideas that make mom-ing more accessible.
A few of my favorite adaptations are: a seat I placed on the table so I could feed my babies their bottles, a strap that helps secure them on my lap, and a little wheeled seat that I can attach to my wheelchair for my little one to ride on.
The seat we use on the table is just a basic bouncy seat that can be found at Walmart, Target, or Amazon. I set it securely on a table, and wheel myself right next to it. This allows me to feed her independently.
The strap I use is called a “LapBaby” and can be ordered directly from the manufacturers’ website. Once my girls started to get a bit bigger, holding them safely on my lap was dangerous because they were so strong! I use this strap which wraps around my waist, and also around the baby’s torso. It makes it much safer for me to hold them.
The seat that I attach to my wheelchair is one of my newest adaptive finds but is probably one of my favorites! It allows me to “carry” both of my kids for walks and eliminates the need for a stroller.
It Takes a Village
The phrase “it takes a village to raise a child” certainly holds true in my life. I rely on some wonderful people to help me raise my kiddos. My husband, family, and friends all play such an important role in helping me care for my girls. Whether it’s helping with basic care tasks, or babysitting when I’m sick, they all allow me to be the mom I want to be. I also have many parent-friends who have disabilities themselves and we constantly learn from each other.
Being a “wheel” mom has been both challenging and rewarding, but I wouldn’t change a minute of it.