What is it like to be a blind parent? Over the next couple of weeks 2 of my colleagues and I will give our experiences of how we do the same job that every parent does, and how we adapt to the job in our individual ways. Our first post comes from a father of 2.
My experiences of being a father of 2
In truth being a blind parent is no more hectic in my opinion than being a sighted parent, you just have to adapt and find work arounds. These become so commonplace that you tend not to notice until they are pointed out, and my kids are just as happy and cheeky as any other parent’s. My little girl askes for a puzzle, and when I can’t find the right one I just lift her up to pick her own. It really does work and with the great family network we do have for the odd bit of support, such as family trips where a car is required we have lots of fun. Interacting with the kids in relation to my sight has given me some of the funniest moments I can remember, for example when asking my nearly four year old “Is the baby in here?” I received the answer “No”, only to find that he was sitting right behind her after searching most of the house growing increasingly frantic! Saying that my daughter usually is fantastic with the fact that I cannot see, and really puffs out her chest when Daddy takes her to school.
Luckily for me my wife has some sight although is visually impaired, this can make some things difficult for us with the kids in particular as neither of us drive. On the whole we do cope really well with some adaptations for my part. Generally I tend not to use any assistive technology on a day to day basis, this is largely because my wife is able to do such things as bottles and other measuring tasks, while Daddy gets the fun of nappy changing for the baby and dishes. Feeding time is fun for obvious reasons if Daddy can’t see the baby’s mouth. Daddy has to feel for it while trying to hold the bowl, and get food on the spoon while the baby moves. Although messy it’s really fun and I have found that the older the child gets, the easier it tends to become.
Although I do not use any technology for food or bath time, I do use my iPhone or iPad to do a range of activities with the kids. I have found Spotify incredibly useful to play music both of the soothing and kids variety, not to mention the children’s stories that occur on this platform. I also use Audible on my phone to enable the kids to cuddle up with Daddy for a classic story such as the Tiger that came to tea, although for bedtime I tend to find that I tell the stories myself. I am lucky enough to have a good memory and can adapt many fairy tales to the purpose of the occasion, meaning that my little girl is used to having Daddy tell a story without any book to look at, although on nights where Mummy takes her up there’s always a picture book of some kind to read. Otherwise no technology is used that all parents of young children have not encountered, namely the television!
In terms of the support generally available this is trickier to define. I would not say that the support is not out there, but the people who give the support do not always understand disability and subsequently treat the parents differently and as unfit to look after their child. This is of course not true for all professionals in this sector, but on more than one occasion we have discovered that we have been treated differently from other people that do not have a sight impairment. For example during my wife’s first pregnancy our midwife insisted on repeatedly offering support without listening to our answers of what a great family network we had, before proceeding to send us to every consultant she could reach even though there was no medical need.
There was so much red tape surrounding that pregnancy that my wife was scarred for a long time, and did not believe that she could be a Good parent when of course she was. When we discovered we were expecting our second child, I had to go to significant lengths to avoid the same midwife because there was the constant fear that we would be pressured into support we did not at the time require. I do not believe that this was through malice but due to a significant lack of knowledge surrounding visual impairment. I am not trying to say that support should not be offered as in many cases it is needed and is often welcome, but the person with the impairment does need to be listened to and the support does need to be given on a case by case basis according to the persons needs generally in all walks of life. It was clear in the case of me and my wife that the midwife had a pre-conceived opinion of what disabled people would be able to achieve as parents, and carried on that opinion regardless of any evidence to the contrary, causing both harm and a prejudice towards any form of support which could be dangerous for some people who really do need it. I’m not saying support should not be offered, in fact I’d be worried if it wasn’t; it just shouldn’t be forced on people.
In terms of society there are a thousand anecdotes I could tell that would amuse those hearing the stories, but what I’ve found is to expect the unexpected and to never stereotype anyone in society. I’ve had people stare at me in shock and ask “Is she yours?” This is perhaps the most shocking as it is clear they really don’t think you could have children, let alone should have them. When I walk my daughter to school, there’s the other end of the scale. In a small community everyone knows us and it’s surprising how many people will both greet and help in the mornings, and although often not required it’s always nice to know that people are looking out for you. I’ve found that in general people shy away from myself and my wife as parents, I think this is because they are afraid and it’s something they don’t often encounter. Like working in the world of assistive technology, the world of blind and visually impaired parenting isn’t on the radar of most members of the public, so when it is encountered it is often scary.
Many people can get over this barrier and are absolutely fantastic, but sadly many people avoid me and especially my wife once they learn that she has a sight impairment. This is a shame and can often leave you feeling isolated, although for me as long as my kids are happy and healthy I don’t mind this too much. I’m happy as I am, my kids have grown up with my lack of sight, and are adapting really well to the point where my daughter asks why the man with glasses doesn’t have a cane if he can’t see very well!