Parenting with sight loss: Mary's story
Mary, a mother of three children, shares her experiences as a blind parent.
It took time for the children to grasp the fact that my eyes did not work properly: that I was not the same as other mothers they knew. Or perhaps it was the other way around - my children thought everybody else was like me! They were surprised to find out that other mothers could not read braille storybooks. As my children learnt to talk my life seemed to get easier. I enjoyed the interaction of verbal communication - I could call out a name and hear my children chirping back with "here"!
They copied me just as every other child does. My eldest child always took the toy broom as well as a basket when she played shopping. When questioned about this by an observant adult, she answered "it is like what Mummy carries". Yes, I suppose the white broom handle did bear some resemblance to my white cane! Fourteen years later my youngest daughter was asked why she was dragging my guide dog around the house. Her answer was, "I am going to work, Mummy always takes the dog when she goes to work."
Attitudes of other parents
I wish all adults could accept me as a parent with a sight problem in this matter-of-fact manner. As with anybody else with a disability, I have found reactions very varied from the general public. I have had both good and bad experiences. I have been rejected from babysitting circles and others have not understood the limitations that I set myself. It has been extremely distressing for the children when parents have told them that a precious daughter or son cannot come to play at our house because I am blind. I found it hard to believe at first. Then I started to invite the Mums and Dads for tea as well as their children. I had to prove my capability to them and then they tended to allow their children to come and play at our house afterwards. I resented all this extra work, but the effort did pay off generally.
I have always preferred to look after other people's children in my own home. I feel more in control there and know well all the possible hazards. Meeting other families in a crowded playground seems to show me in a poor situation. Children seem to recognise the confidence I have in my own environment and can adapt more easily to any boundaries I impose. For example, I have strict rules about no toys on the kitchen floor or on the stairs. Drawing is a table activity so I can keep a track of crayons, and not crush them into a carpet. Issues of safety and practicality are the framework of my thinking.
I have had sight problems for many years and have devised strategies to deal with any impact on my family life. Many people who are horrified by the thought of a blind woman being a mother have closed their eyes for a short time, come to the conclusion that they could not cope and then presumed that it is just not possible to be a good enough Mum and be blind. I know that I am far from perfect, what I try to do is utilise my strengths and ask for help when I cannot find a solution by myself. Children cannot always work out how I manage but they do not express a lack of confidence in my capabilities. One day cooking in the kitchen I overheard a conversation taking place in the sitting room. My son told his guest, "Don't do that!" His guest replied, "Nobody can see us." My son warned, "Mum might be blind, but somehow she is able to see through walls."
Helping out at primary school
I have enjoyed helping in my children's primary schools. This has usually involved quite a lot of negotiation and planning. I learnt braille quite late, so I have not felt confident enough to read stories to children. I have helped with practical counting and arithmetic using cubes, played games using tactile dice and helped with learning spelling lists amongst many other activities. I have approached the teacher, asked about current projects, and gone away and devised an activity I am confident about handling, and which fits in with the given themes. Working with small groups of children in a corner of the classroom has enabled the teacher to be aware of how well I have been getting on.
Time and experience have enabled me to build a good rapport with the teacher and the children in the class. This in turn has been very helpful in the playground as children approached me. I usually avoided offering to help on trips outside school premises, as I felt less capable. I shocked people by offering to help at fairs. I always liked to work on stalls where there was one fixed price for all items, like tombola stalls. Again, this was a great means of meeting people in the school community. The general point being I have often had to take the initiative, this has taken some pluck, but it has usually been worthwhile.
One of the most frustrating times has been when the children bring notes home from school. Once I had made friends with parents waiting at the school gates, they used to read them to me. One school secretary used to record onto tape letters she typed that she knew related to my child's class. The school my youngest child attends currently is very good about sending information via email. Parent-teacher meetings have been a good opportunity to have reports read to me rather than having to use a reader.
Each school I have had dealings with over the years has been different. I have found it necessary to establish my needs afresh each time we have moved to a new place. Difficulties have been reduced with effort and my willingness to contribute to the community. I hope that this active participation will help to contribute to the gradual breakdown of prejudiced feelings towards blind and partially sighted parents.
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