The One Big Positive That Comes From Parenting With A Disability

Despite all the guilt, there's a welcome side effect that I see in my boys

I was starting to come to terms with being a parent who has a disability. I’ve had anxiety and depression since childhood, and that makes for some challenges to my experience as a parent, but I was managing. My kids have never known me as anything different, so my often-subdued nature, fatigue, and excessive worrying is normal for them. Of course, I try to shield them from it, but it exists, and I acknowledge it, and generally, I think I’ve been a pretty good parent despite the obstacles I’ve faced because of it.

Then I became physically disabled by chronic back conditions. Suddenly, I was unable to do things with my children that I have always done with them before. We used to walk for hours to all four corners of the city, and now I couldn’t even take them to the park.

I had to carefully schedule and regulate how much I moved, right down to how often I walked up the stairs. I couldn’t come see what they made in their room because that would take up my stair trip for the hour, and what if I needed to use the washroom?

Outings were out of the question. We stayed home on Canada Day because I couldn’t walk around anywhere. We haven’t been to the zoo, or the beach, or anywhere else this summer because I wouldn’t be able to walk the distance from the car, let alone around the property.

My husband has taken on the lion’s share of the work for our family, and my kids have become little gofers. My oldest frequently makes breakfast for my youngest, and they both get me anything I need when my back is too sore to change location.

I am forever grateful for how amazing and understanding they have been through all of this. They never complain, they never show me anything but kindness and sympathy.

And I feel like I am failing them.

Our kids have put up with a lot. They have a mom who suffers from anxiety and depression. Our family doesn’t have the money to do the things their friends’ families do. And now their mom can’t walk more than a few feet or stand for more than a few minutes. They miss out on so much, and the way they take this slight, with such grace and understanding, crushes me. I can’t help but feel like I am holding them back.

But when it comes down to it, I am being the best mother I can be with the hand I have been dealt. I hope what I am ultimately teaching them is that life isn’t always fair and that sometimes things happen that suck, but that doesn’t mean everything sucks.

My kids rarely talk about things their friends get to do that they don’t. Instead, they talk about how lucky they are to have a family who loves them, food to eat, shelter, safety, and how not everyone is so privileged. They talk about how they can make the world better for others.

They see me struggle. But they also see me trying my hardest to get back on my feet—literally. They see me saying, “I’ve been dealt a blow, I can’t change that fact, but what am I going to do about it?” They see me bend but they don’t see me break. They’re proud of my efforts and they tell me so.

When I start to feel guilty about all the things I can’t give them, I try to think of the things I am giving them instead. A sense of gratitude for the things they do have. Empathy. Kindness. The ability to put the needs of others before yourself, while still having your own needs met. I’ve taught them that courage doesn’t mean never being scared, it means facing your fears. They see that strength can come with a roar, or it can come in quiet perseverance. I’ve shown them what it means to face a challenge with a battle cry instead of a whimper. Most of all, I’ve taught them compassion.

We may not get to Wonderland this year. Or the zoo. We may not even get to the mall. But we are growing, personally, and as a family. We are learning how to turn lemons into lemonade (and sometimes margaritas.) I’m not the mom I planned to be, or even the mom I used to be. But I’m theirs, and theirs alone, and I count my blessings everyday that they are happy to have me.

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