Faith, Family, Suffering, Worth

How Kids Can Be Our Best Therapy – What I’ve Learned Parenting With A Handicap

Your child will teach you more than you will ever teach them.

I used to be ashamed of my handicaps as if they were a choice. I still am in some ways. Close to ten years ago, a stroke-impaired my dominant hand, I lost all hearing in one ear, and my face was partially paralyzed. Returning to life as I knew it with newfound deficits after the accident was frustrating. Becoming a parent with those handicaps has been a whole different level of frustration.

I had learned to sit on the side of the table where I could hear better. I had learned to smile minimally to avoid highlighting facial asymmetry. I had learned to write with the non-dominant, left hand in public rather than make people wait allll day for me to make a spastic scribble with the right. But then, parenthood.

Close to three years after the accident, we delivered our first healthy little one in the front seat of our car, because of course. Our second little girl came a year and a half later.

Parenthood Is All-In

As parents, we innately recognize that our weaknesses or anxieties about parenthood come second to caring for our children. The first time I babysat, I had no idea how to change a diaper. Looking back, now three babies in, I’m 100 percent that I either put it on backward or not tight enough, but I did it anyway. I didn’t let my fear of not knowing how to properly use a wipe stop me from caring for my friend’s little one. With kids of my own, this same sense of prioritizing them above my insecurities has left me no other choice but to let the handicaps out of the bag…

    • My daughter is the last one on the dance floor after the tap shoe change because laces are a struggle.
    • Until they learn how their hair is never going to look cutesy in school or family pictures.
    • I always have to flip my babies around so I can change their diaper with my left hand.
    • The teachers and administration see my chicken scratch font on every permission slip, homework question, and volunteer form. 

“And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness. Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me…for when I am weak, then I am strong”
-2 Corinthians 12:9-10

When the rubber meets the road, I choose them. I refuse to let my insecurities hamper their involvement. The love of my children has required me to own my weaknesses, which has been both the most humbling and rewarding therapy.

Parenthood Is Therapy

Last year my oldest started Kindergarten. The summer before, we worked on learning to read and I was so proud of how well she picked it up. During the year, she worked on handwriting and keeping the letters between the dashed lines.

As I attempted to show her how, I realized that my handwriting came far more naturally and was neater with my stroke-impaired dominant hand, regardless of how slow. As I used the lined Kindergarten notebook paper to teach her, I saw that my handwriting between the guided lines was looking as close to normal as it had in eight years.

First column props to the right hand

Last year I decided, “If my child can do it, so can I,” and I started to use my right hand again. Just as I go to her violin lessons to learn music, I could re-learn how to polish my handwriting with my new set of hands. I wrote notes to teachers, filled out forms at the doctor’s office, took notes at a conference, and tried to journal with the right hand as long as I could until it cramped up.

Teaching my daughter to write taught me to use both hands again.

Parenting Imperfectly Gives Them Freedom to Struggle

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t 
walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving 
forward.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

My handwriting will never be what it was. I will never be able to hear my kids perfectly while driving as they are, quite literally, talking into a deaf ear. My smile will never look “picture perfect.” But I am still smart. But I am still capable. But I am still beautiful.

But I am still their mom.

Their mom that tries their French braids again. That sprays sunscreen into my impaired hand before covering them at the pool. That wobbly highlights books and signs credit card kiosks. That is no longer afraid to smile naturally in family pictures. That lets them into my struggle.

📷: Toni Pohlen

Owning my weaknesses lets my girls know it’s hard, that it’s humbling, but that you never give up. And, more importantly, that I am not defined by my handicap. That I am not ashamed to let others into it because vulnerability is ALWAYS greater than shame.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
– Philippians 4:13

We are all fighting handicaps. I’ve found that having the humility to let our kids see them is one of the best ways to love our children…and ourselves.