7 Practical Tips for Parenting with a Disability

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Inside: Current research reveals that there are 4.1 million parents with disabilities in the United States, roughly 6.2 percent of all American parents with children under the age of 18 — so where are they hiding? Keep reading to discover why we need more visibility into the life of parenting with a disability and tips for disabled parents.

Have you ever noticed the minuscule amount of information available for parents with disabilities?

You’re not the only one—that’s why I started this website.

I have a rare, neurological disease where I’m progressively losing muscle in my arms (not great for when you’re trying to lift a baby). Upon becoming pregnant, I searched online for any information regarding parenting with a disability, but it seemed like no matter what I did, I came up empty handed.

It’s been noted that the lack of information for disabled parents is due to the misinformed stigma that disabled parenting shouldn’t exist.

Many times, parents with disabilities are seen as incapable of raising children; therefore, either people with disabilities forego having kids altogether or just they don’t talk about it. 

Below I’ve gathered the best tips that I’ve learned through what limited information there is and my own experiences as a disabled mom.

7 Practical Tips for Parenting with a Disability

1. Forget the Critics

2. Get Creative

3. Ask for Help

4. Stick to a Routine

5. Focus on your Strengths

6. Openly Talk with you Children

7. Know You are Not Alone

hi haters scrabble tiles on white surface

First and foremost, forget all of the people who say you can’t do this—that’s a lie. I have a neurological disease that makes my arms paralyzed, and I’m still able to care for my child 24 hours a day, even without someone at home. 

Am I tired? You bet.  

Is it hard? No doubt. 

Is my son in danger? Absolutely not. 

With research showing that parents with disabilities are overrepresented in the child welfare system, I’m hyper aware of the consequences if something were to happen to Asher (even by accident). I’m vigilant about his safety, and if, even for a second, I thought he was in danger or didn’t feel comfortable handling some part of his care, then I would ask for help.  

Related: 7 Practical Tips for Parenting with a Chronic Illness  

But the fact is, I rarely have to ask for help. People with disabilities are so much more resilient than we’re given credit for and that includes parenting. 

Unveiling Disabled Parenting

With 4.1 million parents in the U.S. alone  with disabilities, why isn’t there more visibility into this segment of people? 

Related: Missing the Old Me

I’ll admit, it can be awkward opening up your home and showing others the non-conventional ways you take care of your kids. But unless we bring more awareness to this issue and show that it’s not only possible, but that there’s a huge market of people wanting to buy products specifically made for them, then we’re going to get left hidden behind a curtain wondering if the next knock on the door is a representative from Child Welfare Services.  

2. Get Creative

Top view of black and white typography that says get creative

Unfortunately, there are limited products on the market adapted for parenting with a disability. It goes without saying you’ll have to get creative. To see some of the tips  suggested to me from well-meaning, able-bodied people, read my post: Tips I Tried for Parents with Disabilities that Don’t Work.

Related: To the Nurse Who Left a Lasting Impression

A lot of products will need to be adapted to your particular disability. For instance, here are a few of the ways we’ve customized our products to make sure they work for me (as a reminder, I have limited use of my hands and arms):

  • We bought the Babyletto Lolly 3-in-1 Crib, because it was one of the shortest cribs on the market (under 35”). We also left the feet unattached. 
  • We added handles to our baby bottles for extra gripping ability. 
  • We almost only use Magnetic Me clothing. 
  • We only use bibs that attach using Velcro. 
  • We attached keychain rings to any of my son’s things that have zippers. 
  • We use an Alexa-enabled lamp in the nursery for nighttime diaper changes. 

As my six-month-old gets bigger, I’ll need to find additional ways to adjust. A lot of it is learning as you go, but it’s helpful to come armed with at least some ideas of how you’ll modify your products to meet the needs of you and your child. 

3. Ask for Help

Mother helps son button shirt

Depending on when your disability developed, asking for help may be hard for you. As an incredibly independent person who became disabled later in life, I’ve had to let go of my preconceived notions on what it means to ask for help and learn to accept it – something I still struggle with today.

When my mother-in-law first mentioned getting additional help, I immediately rejected the idea and was insistent on raising Asher myself. To me, having a nanny, especially while being a stay-at-home mom, felt like a failure. It wasn’t until he was born that I realized I had to do what’s best for him, which meant having someone around at all times who could immediately tend to his needs. 

Related: 7 tips for Stay-at-Home Moms Living with Chronic Illness

When parenting with a disability, it’s important to have a plan for how you will care for your child. For instance, after calling numerous state agencies in Tennessee, we found that there were no governmental options to help parents with disabilities.

This led us to Plan B, which meant we would need additional at-home help while my husband was at work. We decided that the best option for us was to hire a Mother’s Helper for 35 hours a week.

Obviously, help is going to look different for everyone depending on your unique family situation and disability. One thing is for sure: you will have to problem-solve. Try to not get discouraged, as it can be stressful.  

4. Stick to a Routine

Double bell alarm clock sits on top of a pink and blue background

I cannot stress enough the importance of sticking to a consistent routine. This will be one of the most important things that you can do to successfully parent with a disability.

For tips and tricks on getting your baby on a consistent schedule, then check out my post on The Ultimate Baby Awake Time Chart by Week.

As you may know, living with a disability requires an enormous amount of planning to prevent any circumstances that may arise from living in a world that’s not adapted to you. The last thing you want is your child having a meltdown when you’re out in public and trying to be as discreet as possible. 

Related: What’s Next After a Misdiagnosis?

To set yourself up for success, you will need to develop and stick to a consistent routine with your child. 

Sticking to a Routine Means:

  • You can predict when your child will be hungry.
  • You can predict when your child will be tired.
  • Your child is more likely to have regular bowel movements.
  • Your child is more likely to sleep better at night.
  • Your child will intuitively learn to wait based on his/her routine. 

Sticking to a consistent routine eliminates the guessing game when trying to figure out why your child is crying or cranky. Since your child is accustomed to a certain schedule, you can plan ahead; thus, reducing stress on your family and minimizing the chances of being caught off guard in public with a wailing child. 

Think of it this way—if you don’t have a routine set in place, then you’re less likely to predict when and why your child is upset. 

Read Next: Eloping in Italy

Furthermore, children crave routine. They need structure and predictability. With all of the changes going on inside their growing bodies, they need to feel secure in the consistency of their external surroundings. 

Benefits of Sticking to a Routine:

  • Adhering to a consistent routine helps expose children to healthy habits. 
  • It helps establish independence in children.
  • It creates a calmer household.
  • It helps alleviate the power struggles between the parents and the child.

It’s important to note that sticking to a consistent routine does not mean implementing a strict regimen without room for flexibility. Creating a consistent routine means following a general guide for the way you will incorporate habits into your daily life.

For tips and tricks on getting your baby on a consistent schedule, then check out my post on The Ultimate Baby Awake Time Chart by Week.

5. Focus on your Strengths

When parenting with a disability, it’s important to focus on your strengths rather than your limitations. Identifying your unique set of strengths will empower you to feel confident with your children and reduce the chances of spiraling down a hole of negative thoughts. 

For instance, I can’t cook dinners for my family. Instead, I meal plan for the week and purchase all of our groceries online, saving time and stress on my husband. 

Related: The Best Baby Product for Parenting with a Disability

Alternatively, I can’t pick my son up and swing him around in my arms. Instead, I hold him in my arms while sitting on the bed and tell him imaginative stories. 

It’s always going to be hard watching my son do things that I would love to do with him, but focusing on my limitations wouldn’t be good for either of us. Instead, I think about all of the things that I’m good at and how to incorporate those things into our daily lives. 

It’s important to offer your child alternative options for bonding and let them know that you want to be with them in whatever capacity possible. Through watching you excel in other areas outside of your disability, your child learns that a disability doesn’t someone is as a person.

6. Openly Talk with you Children

mother lays on bed and talks to her son

Be open and honest with your kids about disability and the ways in which you’re different from other parents. Kids are naturally curious and will ask a lot of questions. Responding to them in a matter-of-fact but positive manner will let them know that it’s OK to discuss disability and that it’s not something to hide. 

Related: The Dangerous Effects of Heavy Metals on the Body

Always use appropriate terminology and emphasize the similarities between able-bodied people and someone with a disability. Let them know that someone’s disability doesn’t define them and they may share a lot of things in common with others who have disabilities. 

Furthermore, one study at Israel’s Bar Ilan University found that adolescents who had parents with an auditory or visual disability, such as blindness or deafness, were found to have higher emotional skills, compared to the progeny of adults without a disability.

Parenting with a disability means having an impact on your child’s empathy. Through watching you struggle to overcome obstacles, your child will inevitably learn how to  show empathy. You have the advantage of teaching your children firsthand how to respond to people who are different and develop an important, lifelong skill.

7. Know You are Not Alone

 Woman In a wheelchair Cuts an avocado with a knife and her kitchen

Although it may seem like you’re the only one parenting with a disability, there are others out there who are not only struggling but excelling just like you. It’s important to not seclude yourself in isolation for fear of other’s opinions. 

Examples of People Parenting with a Disability

Don’t let parenting with a disability make you feel like you’re alone in this. Follow my Facebook page Disability Dame to find updates and discussions on what’s happening in the disability community. 

Final Thoughts on Tips for Parenting with a Disability 

I’m here to tell you that living with a disability and raising a child is absolutely possible. There will be ups and downs like any other parent, but you’re going to creatively adapt to the challenges and overcome the obstacles. 

The biggest hurdle to overcome is your self doubt. Don’t listen to the close minded people who tell you that it can’t be done. They’ve never been in this situation, so how would they possibly know? Reach out to as many people that you can find who have a similar disability and come up with a plan.

Are you parenting with a disability? What adjustments have you made? Comment below and share your tips to help other parents going through the same thing.  

Psst – I have so many great tips for parenting with a disability that I couldn’t fit them all into this post. Check out my other articles on how to cope with stress, parenting and living with a chronic illness. 

7 Essential Tips for a Stressed Out Stay-At-Home Mom

How to Deal with New Mom Anxiety

7 Practical Tips for Parenting with a Chronic Illness

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Allie Schmidt
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Allie Schmidt is a rare disease advocate and disabled mom living with motor neuron disease. She founded Disability Dame in 2020 to provide tips to other moms living with disabilities and chronic illnesses.

In her spare time, you can find her traveling with her husband (she's been to 38 states and 16 countries!), watching reruns of Survivor, or tending to her near-constant sunburn from spending too much time outside. You can follow her adventures here.

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