For today’s blog, let’s talk disability positive parenting. Now anyone who knows me may be raising eyebrows at this point, because I am not yet a parent. But that’s not the subject of this blog. I am, instead, talking about the parents who raise disability positive children, and who foster an environment that celebrates difference. Basically, I am talking about the lessons that I took from my parents as an activist and a person.
Firstly, a bit of a disclaimer. I am incredibly lucky in my family life. I had two loving parents, still together after 35+ years, and two brothers who (despite a fair amount of sibling rivalry) love me. I grew up with enough food on the table, a roof overhead and a strong familial support system. So I know how fortunate I am to have this family dynamic, and I am fully aware that this fortune has had a part to play in my disability positive upbringing. But it is not the whole story, far from it. I firmly believe that there are more ingredients in this recipe than stability and love.
The fact is that raising a child with a disability is different. Not necessarily better or worse or harder or easier, just different. When I came into this world in the 1980s, disability was still viewed as one of the ultimate tragedies in parenting. Society was, and to some degree still is, so focused on the struggle that will befall disabled children that they indoctrinate parents with buzz words; like protect, help and caution. Often, parents of disabled youth will go the extra mile to support their kids. Sometimes, the extra mile is too far. Over protection, or too strong a guiding hand, is something I’ve seen all too commonly over the years.
As I am sitting here writing this, I am thinking about the one value that is the key to disability positive parenting, and I keep returning to the same thing…letting mistakes be made. Did my parents support me? Absolutely. But they also let me screw up. Did they lend a hand? Yup, but they also forced me to push my own boundaries and discover my own limits. They were always there, but not always right there. Those lessons, more than any others I’ve learned in 30 years, made me the man I am today. Whatever my missteps were, I was allowed to make them.
So many parents want to protect their disabled children because life is so different and potentially challenging. Out of love, they want to help. Out of love, they want to do stuff on their behalf. And while I cannot judge anyone’s parenting decisions, I believe that there is significant value in letting choices, good, bad and suspect, be made. That, in the long run, will prepare children – disabled or non-disabled – better for what lies ahead.
And finally, to my own parents, thanks for being there, but not too close, for the good, the bad and the ugly… you’ve taught me so much…including when I’ve messed up!