Parenting with a physical disability: rewards
Parenting with a physical disability has many rewards.
These rewards often come from the ways families and children adapt to the situation. Families are more likely to develop resilience and become very good at solving problems and being resourceful.
Children who grow up with a parent with a physical disability learn about accepting and respecting people of all abilities. They’re often tuned into the needs of people with disability. This can mean they’re more likely to be compassionate, empathetic, sensitive and responsive to the needs of others.
Also, family circumstances might help these children develop healthy self-esteem. That’s because they get a sense of their own worth from learning about responsibility and understanding the 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, parent with a physical disability and 2 children
Parenting with a physical disability: challenges
All families navigate challenges as their children grow and develop. But parents with a physical disability might have extra 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 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 use a wheelchair, it might be harder to chase your child around.
And there are social and financial challenges. For example, it might be harder to get a job or access services.
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 child. Even if your child is younger, they probably know that they’ll be safe if they listen to you and do what you say. And as your child grows older, open communication gets more important in every area of family life.
It’s a good idea to talk openly and honestly with your child about your disability. This will help them understand your physical limitations – for example, why you use a wheelchair or why you get very tired. Children are very good at adapting to their surroundings, and your child will change their behaviour to suit both their needs and yours.
Support for parents with physical disability
You can get support to carry out parenting tasks like feeding, bathing and dressing. The type of support you need depends on your disability.
If you have an NDIS plan, you might be able to get support for your parenting through the NDIS. Speak to your local area coordinator or NDIA planner about having ‘support for parenting’ as a goal in your NDIS plan.
You can talk to your GP about local support services and health or disability professionals.
Social workers can help you find local parenting programs, child and family health nurses and other services.
A disability advocate can help you say what you want for yourself and your child. These organisations can help you find an advocate:
- Australia wide: Ask Izzy – Disability advocacy, Disability Advocacy Network Australia, People with Disability Australia (PWDA)
- Australian Capital Territory: ADACAS Advocacy, Advocacy for Inclusion (AFI)
- New South Wales: ACTION for People with Disability, Disability Advocacy NSW
- Northern Territory: Disability Advocacy Service Inc. (DAS)
- Queensland: Disability Advocacy Pathways, Speaking Up For You (SUFY)
- South Australia: Disability Advocacy and Complaints Service of SA (DACSSA), Disability Rights Advocacy Service Inc. (DRAS)
- Tasmania: Advocacy Tasmania
- Victoria: Disability Justice Australia, DRC Advocacy
- Western Australia: Advocacy WA, Explorability, People With Disabilities WA (PWDWA)
Other professional people
Other professional people who can support you with your parenting include the following:
- An occupational therapist can help you with parenting tasks. For example, they can give you ideas for adapting your physical environment to your needs.
- A counsellor or psychologist can listen to you and help you when you’re feeling worried or anxious about parenting.
- A support worker can help you make appointments for your child and take you to the appointments.
You might have to pay to get support from these people. Or you might be able to get support from a community health service.
Online and telephone services
You can also get support from online and telephone services, including:
- Triple P Positive Parenting Program – a free online parenting course
- the parenting helpline in your state or territory.
Sharing your ideas and experiences with others in similar situations can also help, especially if you feel isolated. A great way to do this is by joining a face-to-face or an online support group.
When you look after yourself, you’re better able to look after your child. It’s good to make time for things you enjoy and spend time with people you trust. It’s also good to have someone you can talk to. If you’re struggling, your GP can help you find a psychologist or counsellor. If you need to talk to someone urgently, call Lifeline on 131 114.