Parenting through Disability, Art and Feminism

Tag: parenthood

Raising My Kids to be Allies

Raising my kids to be better

I want my kids to be respectful, tolerant and an ally. I am a feminist, a disability activist and an equal rights campaigner. I live my life based on the truth in my heart that every person on this planet is worth of love, acceptance and integration. I truly believe that everyone’s unique differences are their strengths. But I am also aware of my privileges. I am a white person living in a predominantly white area of the UK. At the moment my I just do not know enough about race inequality to be as active an ally as I would like … and that means I also know I am not yet doing everything I can to ensure my children grow up as allies. So, I decided to use this quarantine time to do a little digging and a little teaching. Having a structure for our homeschool provided the perfect basis to begin this work. (You can see what else we have been up to here and here)

Why I was tailing to raise my kids to be allies

How I was going about allyship all wrong

So first up, I was shocked to discover that raising ‘colourblind’ children was not the way to go. It could, in fact, be causing harm. I know, there’s my privilege at work. So, what do I do? Thankfully, I stumbled across Rebekah Gienapp’s excellent blog which gave me a start in my thinking.

Next, I had to think about the ways my kids learn. So, I know my boys respond well to stories. Therefore, I needed to be more proactive in promoting those books that touch on race and other social justice themes. Unfortunately, a couple of my favourites (like Julian is a Mermaid) have been quarantined along with my mum about 15 miles away. A quick googling brought me a few others but I don’t want this to turn into a shopping list. Check out this blog, and this one, to find my inspirations.

How do you start to raise your kids to be allies?

Okay, okay. Books are a good start. BUT studies show that reading alone isn’t enough. We need to actively discuss differences to raise your kids to be allies. So, where to begin?

We started with Aesop’s Fables – the story of the Lion and the Mouse. I found a simple version of the story that was about three paragraphs long. I edited it to make it a little more child friendly. In order to help 6er better engage, I was inspired by the storytelling style used in Godly Play. Godly Play utilises images, objects and other devices to help children engage with the story. I made a few simple devices to help them visualise the story. I used images of a lion, a mouse and a few strips of paper for the net.

I would recommend you read the story out loud at least once to get used to speaking aloud. In the version below, you will also find instructions for moving the pieces in italics. Have a little go moving the pieces around as you speak to see what works best for your technique. I also urge you to really get into character, roaring and squeaking. Sometimes storytelling feels a bit silly, but I usually find thats when it is most engaging for the small ones.

When we reached the end of the story, 6er had great fun helping the mouse remove the net.

Using Aesop's Fable The Lion and The Mouse to raise my children to be allies
The Lion and the Mouse – Aesop’s Fables: An image of a mouse

Once we had finished the story, I used the lion and mouse pictures and the word cut outs. I asked 6er to place the words beneath the animal he felt they applied to – strong under the lion, quiet under the mouse etc. We had a brief discussion about the fact that it was not the appearance of the lion and the mouse looked that helped them in this story. I asked 6er to tell me some things that did help the mouse and lion in the end. He came up with lots of ideas including kindness, ingenuity, compassion etc.

The Family Connection

I didn’t want to just leave it there though. I then placed out some family photos. Unfortunately, there was more than one person in each photo, so I had to tell him which family member to focus on in each photo. I’d recommend using singular portraits. Then I pointed to all the words and said that they could be applied to different members of our family. I asked him to put a word under the member of the family he thought it best described. I then lead 6er in a discussion about what each of the characteristics might be an advantage. For instance, being physically weak meant that other people did jobs so Grandma was always available for hugs and chats. Although, my favourite response was

“Uncle Ben is big so he can hide his sweets where people can’t reach”.

6er

A Confession

Now, I’m going to get real with you. I’ve found this really hard to write. Talking about difference hasn’t come naturally to me. However, I also recognise how important it is for me to become more comfortable. When 6er was a baby, I read the NSPCC guidance on teaching the scientific names for body parts. BUT, like many people I was uncomfortable with lots of those words. I didn’t want my little to pick up on my discomfort. Genitals are not dirty words. To become comfortable with saying ‘vulva’, I said it to out loud every day until it didn’t feel weird.

Race and allyship are obviously more complex than becoming comfortable with the word ‘vulva’. It requires much more self reflection and work, in order to raise my children to be allies. But I also know that my children will pick up on my attitudes as I discuss these things with them. I feel I gained a lot of positives from this session but I know we have a long way to go. I intend to continue working through Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad, alongside our lessons.

Resources

Below you will find the FREE resources I created for this session. There are images for storytelling, alongside a quick version of The Lion and the Mouse. I wrote the version of The Lion and the Mouse, so you can all finally benefit from my professional skills. If you’ve learned from my struggles, or would like to come on this journey of allyship alongside us, please sign up to the mailing list.

How I Overcame Parenting Guilt and You CAN Too!

A disabled dad or parent or father or daddy plays ball or catch or games with his small child or son or kid
A disabled dad plays ball with his child on the side of a mountain

I think we all know that feeling of momma guilt. You know the one – the little voice that says “you’re not hiding enough vegetables in their food” and “that they’re four so obviously they should be playing violin and speaking mandarin by now“. It was the one that when they were born told you that “if you’re baby is crying you are doing something horribly horribly wrong!” And I’m here to tell you that that little voice is b*ll*cks. Well not entirely, it evolved to make us good care givers – but you know what so often these days it can go a bit haywire and make you feel awful, incapable, scared, depressed. And no one likes feeling those things. Or should miss out on the joys of raising small ones because they’re feeling those things.

And don’t get me started on if you’re a disabled parent. You’ve spent a big chunk of your life (depending on when you joined the ranks of the crips) being told you ‘couldn’t’ and ‘shouldn’t’ and ‘won’t’ ever. And yet when you have a baby suddenly you are deemed by all the professionals an expert in parenting and left to get on with it … Deep Breaths.

But it’s true. Not only are you dealing with all the feels of a new parent, you are dealing with all the feels of disabled parent guilt – “I can’t run around with them”, “I’ve fed them chicken nuggets and chips for the third time this week”, “it’s been four days since anyone had a bath” …. Oh wait, able bodied parents have those issues too. But when you’re on your fifth day of a flare, and you’ve got no spoons left (if you don’t know what spoons are click here) you can really begin to feel like you’re failing as a parent. And it’s hard. I see you. I’ve been there. I still am there on a regular basis. I know.

I am going to preface this story with the fact that I had severe undiagnosed post natal depression spanning the first three and a half years of parenthood, so I would urge you to see a medical professional if any of my story feels familiar.

mum or mom or mam or mummy or mummy or mother in a wheelchair or disabled sits cuddling their child or son or daughter or kid or little one in their chair or wheelchair

When I first had, now, 6er I was 22. I had just finished university, been married about 7 months, and moved to a new town to be nearer my husband’s business. I didn’t know who I was, let alone who I wanted to be as a parent, and having a baby was nothing like Eva Longoria’s experience in Desperate Housewives. I had a baby who refused to sleep in his cot, who woke every hour to feed and whose undiagnosed tongue tie left my nipples red raw. The two legged part of “three legged parenting” responded to our new baby by throwing himself into his business to earn money, so I was basically alone. It was tough. To say I wasn’t coping would be an understatement.

Everything. Absolutely Everything I was reading said that my child needed me. That I needed to be with him 24/7 to create a strong attachment. That crying meant he had an unfulfilled need, and so if he was constantly crying I was doing something wrong. It didn’t matter that that’s not what the stuff I was reading actually said – that was my takeaway. I was at breaking point. My own parents and parents in law were both too far away or busy with their own work to help, and I needed more than anything to sleep. If I could just have one morning a week where I knew I could have a couple of extra hours I would be golden or at least maybe I wouldn’t hate motherhood anymore.

I grew up in quite a poor household so the thought of spending money on something I didn’t ‘need’ was difficult for me. I wasn’t working so I didn’t ‘need’ childcare. Or at least that was what my sleep deprived brain was telling me. Luckily, we live less than a mile from the loveliest, friendliest, most musical nursery in the universe, full of staff who love my kids as much as I do, and with owners who prioritise the children over profits. Enter Do Re Mi Nursery (if you live in Durham, UK and are looking for childcare I can highly recommend them). But for all the relief I got for being able to sleep another three to six hours a week, it couldn’t shake the feeling that I had somehow failed as a mother. Everyone else could be around their baby 24/7 and not go quietly mad. Couldn’t they?

It turns out most don’t. The first baby is especially a shock to the system, and everything you see online, all the blog posts, the tv shows, even your parenting friend you have coffee with are all lies. Not intentionally, but to admit how grim it really can get sometimes, can make it impossible to continue going on. The only reason I can be this brutally honest now is because I am through that stage now, and I have new issues to deal with.

I am lucky enough that a lot of the solutions I came up with to deal with guilt back then, help me when it rears its ugly head once again. And I am going to share with you now, just a few of the things I do when dealing with parenting guilt to pull me out the other side.

A wheelchair using dad plays with his kids and family in a park

Identify Your Guilt

Is the thing you are beating yourself up about in fact a thought distortion? Is it all or nothing/over generalisation? Is it mental filter? Are you fortune telling? Are you mind reading? Are you catastrophising? Are you using should too much? Are you personalising?


Positive psychology
talks through some of these thought distortions a little more detail and even has a handy worksheet if you really want to get down and deep with yourself, and have the time to spare. If you are feeling down most days, have feelings of low self esteem, or find yourself crying a lot then please PLEASE PLEASE talk to a health care provider.

In identifying the feeling you have (eg. guilt) and the thought attached to it, for instance, I feel guilty because everyone is a better mum than me (over generalising) allows you to see the route to disproving it. In this example a truly open conversation with a parenting friend, or your own parents would show you they have many of the same problems, worries and feelings of inadequacy. And if you don’t have anyone you can trust watch season 1 of Desperate Housewives, in particular ‘Guilty’ Episode 8 and reach out to a health professional. You are not alone with these feelings, I promise.

Practise Daily Forgiveness

“Loving people are compassionate towards others. However, if that compassion doesn’t start at home and doesn’t include self-forgiveness, it is incomplete and lopsided.”

Annette Villaincourt


Forgiveness is a thing that has to be practiced and learned, and even more so to learn to forgive yourself. To begin the process acknowledge the thought (the guilt) out loud, or if that feels too much or you can’t find a calm moment alone, try writing it out – by hand with a pen and paper. It’s important if you choose to write it you do it with physical pen and paper in order to connect you to the process.
Reflect on what you wish you had done differently and explore whether it is possible with where you are right now. And if not put a pin in it for now.
Apologise if you need to, the might be to yourself, or your littles, or your partner.
Adopt a Mantra, if you are really struggling to believe you are worthy of forgiveness and being guilt free. Look into the the mirror and tell yourself – I am enough. I am trying.


Identify your strengths

An amputee using a leg prosthetic weight lifts


So you’re not going to be the one taking your kids to play football at the park? What are your skills? What are the things you want to share with them? Maybe you’re a great photographer? Or you are the best at completing your physio? Or perhaps you know loads about all the suitable materials for straws? All of those things are important to a learning child, and more so because your child recognise they’re part of your world. Visit my post on teaching Japanese with Pokemon when you don’t know the language if you’re stuck for inspiration.


Reflect on the things your kids are learning


When you’re a parent, and particularly a disabled parent, it can be easy to dwell on those things you feel you somehow ‘lack’. When 6er had his two year check and was a little bit ‘behind’ it was easy to blame my inability to demonstrate ‘two footed jumping’ (hello personalisation) and that my disability was going to have long term effects on my kids and how could I be so selfish as to have children … etc. etc. etc. You know, rather than the fact that children hit certain milestones at different points which was actually what was happening there.

But you know what my kids are learning from me? They’re learning how to pace themselves and why it is important. They’re learning that creativity is an important part of daily life. They’re learning that people are different and that disabled people are fully human beings, who are NOT lacking rich inner lives.

And for me those things are far more important than being able to jump with two feet.


Utilise Support


It’s a long journey, this parenting lark. And trying to pretend you can do it alone, disabled or not, is leading you down the path to mummy or daddy burnout. I’ve already touched on the types of support all parents could access – friends, family, home food delivery, paid childcare etc. but as a disabled parent there is also a need to recognise a few things within yourself.

Have you been avoiding using that mobility scooter because physios and occupational therapists and doctors and all sorts of other people involved in your care told you it was giving up? Yup, I thought so. Sometimes using mobility aids isn’t giving up, its opening the world up. When I finally allowed myself to use the mobility scooter to take 6er to school, not only could I feel better about my impact on the environment (goodbye short car rides twice a day) and not worry about exercise for my kids (hello 1 mile of walking every day). But the best part was an unexpected positive. I was also able to have quality time on each journey to talk with 6er and hear about his world, as well as have time on my own after drop off and before pick up to move from mummy to writer and back again. And I must say, in this current Covid-19 world, it is the part of my day that I am really missing.

Rest


You are the expert in you, of course, and I am not trying to tell you something you already know about yourself. But sometimes it just needs to be said by someone else out loud.

YOU ARE ALLOWED TO REST!

The washing up, or the tidying, or even cooking a meal from scratch can wait. If you need to rest that’s okay. It has taken me five years and two children to move into a place where I naturally prioritise rest. Yes, that means some nights I am asleep by 8:30pm but what am I actually missing out on? Not much, and there will be other things, and other days to sort washing, catch up on Grey’s Anatomy or have a romantic evening with my other half. Plus a well rested parent can more easily manage all the other things that life throws at them AAAAND has more patience and better health outcomes. Quick, turn off the internet and go to sleep.

I hope that this post has either given you some new insights, or reminded you of things you may have forgotten, and I hope as you implement some of these ideas you find yourself feeling a tiny little bit less guilty. I do respond to all emails and comments, so if you are a disabled parent finding it all a bit much, do get in touch and I can talk with you and find some potential solutions to the issues you may be facing. It would also be great to have you sign up to my newsletter so we can start to build a great community and support each other! Follow me on Pinterest so we can share tips and ideas together too.