For mothers with disabilities, parenting presents its own unique challenges, as well as very special rewards for mom and child. Many mothers with disabilities are able to adapt and overcome the challenges of their disabilities to be successful, loving parents. I know this, because I am friends to these mothers. Mothers with disabilties are, first and foremost, parents. Despite a disability, mothers have many of the same concerns as other mothers without disabilities as they raise their children to be well-rounded adults.
According to statistics from The Looking Glass (TLG), a Berkeley, California-based nonprofit organization that focuses on helping families where one or more family members has a disability, nearly nine million parents in the United States have a disability. Across the U.S., that's about 15 percent of all parents. Studies also indicate that more than half of those parents are mothers.
The types of disabilities included in these statistics span the gamut of intellectual issues and physical limitations such as paralysis from such disabilities as spina bifida or cerebral palsy. Other parents may experience disabilities such as blindness or hearing impairments and deafness, while others have health issues like arthritis, cancer or lupus, like my friend Debbie, who is known to many as Mama Capps for her supportive ‘Mama-style’ role in all our lives – from step and birth children, to online and offline, nurturing friendships.
Despite the challenges of chronic illness and pain, many mothers with chronic illnesses or disabilities manage to focus on raising their children from infant to adulthood, like Debbie and my own mother who lives with chronic fatigue syndrome, Fibromyalgia and diabetes. Their experiences have prompted me to search out agencies and resources that support parents with disabilities, particularly mothers, have met and read about many others like Debbie and my mother, and still others with more involved challenges, who have integrated their disabilities into their lives as successful mothers.
There are mothers with no arms who diaper, feed and wash their babies each day, independently and with a little ingenuity. There are mothers with spinal cord injuries like my friends Monique and Erika who also work full-time, manage their own healthy bodies and chase around more than one child in their households. They receive the support of their families, like any mother would, to help them figure out ways to be the best mothers they can be as they juggle work, homes, jobs and more like any other woman on two legs. They joke that the wheelchair makes it easier to chase the kids around better, so there’s humor and ingenuity to help mothers and disabilities as well.
Do you want to be a mother or make your life as a mother with disabilities or chronic illness better for you and your family? Learn all you can about your disability and how it impacts your health and the raising of your family. Use the information you discover to make educated decisions that positively influence the development and welfare of your children, whether you adopt or have one naturally.
Being a mother is a unique balancing act for any woman, and a particularly creative pursuit for women with disabilities. Taking care of you is also taking care of your children, so stay as healthy and active as possible for everyone involved and don’t be afraid to seek the supports necessary to make the best life possible for you and your children.