As a mother of three children, ages 9, 5, and 3, who happens to be blind, I have heard a litany of “disadvantages” or “difficulties” being a blind parent must present my husband and me. I have come to believe however, and this has been confirmed over and over by talks I’ve had with other parents who happen to be blind, that many of those “disadvantages” or “difficulties” actually become advantages and opportunities to experience the world with our children in ways other parents might not think about, or take advantage of. So, here is a list of just a few “disadvantages” I have been presented, and the ways in which they have become advantages for my family and me.
Difficulty: “It must be so difficult to change diapers!”
Advantage: My husband and I never had to worry about turning on a light late at night when our babies woke up needing a new diaper. We were also easily able to use our other senses in order to make sure our babies were completely clean before putting on a new diaper.
Disadvantage: “But, you can’t drive!”
Advantages: Our kids walk more places around our neighborhood than many kids their age. They are also learning to pay more attention to their surroundings because my husband and I often talk about different landmarks along the way, the names of streets, what direction we are traveling, etc. On these walks, we have lots of time to talk together and to play games such as “top ten favorite”, “top ten least favorite”, Twenty Questions, etc.
Our kids also take more public transportation than most kids their age. That means, for the most part, they are comfortable riding a bus, taxi, or Uber, and often enjoy the experience. They are not afraid of using these types of transportation. It’s sad the number of sighted people I encounter who are genuinely frightened to have these types of experiences. Do public transportation and walking have their disadvantages? Of course—but so does owning and maintaining a car!
Disadvantage: “You can’t see your child point to things!”
Advantage: Increased verbal skills. Our children were fairly early talkers, and I believe this is because they realized early on that pointing did not get them the same results that vocalization of some kind did.
Difficulty: “You can’t see to keep track of your child! How do you know he or she is safe? How can you tell what he or she is doing?”
Advantages: Bells on shoes. Walking conversations. Fun interactions.
Let’s take these one at a time. I cannot tell you the number of parents who have said “Wow, what a great idea, putting bells on your child’s shoes! I should try that with my child!” This is particularly true at a playground. Sighted parents need to have their child in their line of sight in order to know what they are doing. My husband and I could hear our kids and follow after them, even if they were under or behind something which would make seeing them impossible.
We held our children’s hands a lot when they were toddlers, and also used a child leash—especially with our oldest child. As our children got older however, they wanted, and needed, more independence while walking with us. Of course we still need to keep them safe… So the obvious solution has been to make sure we are interacting with them when we are out and about. More opportunities for conversations. If we are talking, we know where they are and know they are safe. Of course now they often talk to one another, which is equally as fun to listen to.
Finally, especially when our children were younger, my husband and I shared a lot of experiences directly with them. We needed to climb up the playground structure because we needed to know our children were safe. We were the parents on the floor with all of the kids at the library because we wanted to be able to answer questions about toys, know they were playing nicely with other children, and again make sure they were safe. In these situations, and more, we have seen many other parents sitting on the sidelines and only watching their children from a distance. There is nothing wrong with this approach, but I also think there is something to be said for being in the moment with children, touching the same things they are touching, sliding down the slide with them, climbing on the same structures… All of these things build opportunities for communication and bonding that are unique and very valuable.
Other Advantages: My husband and I can read stories in the dark. Our son loves to tell the story of the night we were traveling on a bus and the light above the seat was broken. He wanted to hear a story, and I was able to read to him even though the bus was dark.
Canes: Canes are extremely cool things for babies and toddlers. They are fun to hold. They are fun to chew on. They are fun to swing. They are fun to walk around with so you can be just like mom and dad. They make cool sounds. And, they can be used to retrieve toys and other things that are out of reach under the couch or the bed. Canes are just so cool!
Recently, my husband and I both had similar conversations with our nine-year-old, Austin. Austin told us he feels special because he has blind parents. He said he feels that way because he knows a lot of things other kids don’t know about. He knows about braille, canes, guide dogs, talking phones and computers, and that blind people can do whatever they want to do and live the lives they want. Obviously that conversation made my husband and me smile.
Is being a blind parent hard? I would say yes, but only because being ANY type of parent is hard… A young parent, an older parent, a single parent, a tired parent, a stressed parent, an unemployed parent, a working parent, a stay at home parent… Being a parent is the most difficult and most rewarding job there is. All parents have difficulties. All parents have strengths. And, as parents, we are all in this together. Let’s use each other as resources, learn from one another, and find ways to turn disadvantages and difficulties into advantages and opportunities.
In this post, First Lady of the National Federation of the Blind and President of the Maryland Organization of Parents of Blind Children, Melissa Riccobono writes about how the perceived disadvantages of being a blind parent are actually advantages for her family.