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Occupational therapy and parenting

October 30, 2012
An icon illustrating a parent and child

An icon illustrating a parent and child (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As an occupational therapist who works with children and their families, I find that my occupational therapy suggestions often become suggestions on how to parent a disabled child.

Most of what I learned about infant mental health intervention (when I was studying to receive my certificate in infant mental health from York University) was about how to change how parents parent.  I am not implying that this is inherently a bad thing.  However, I believe that it is very important that any parenting advice I give is supported as being effective by research.

I tell people that talking with parents about how they parent is almost as personal as talking about sex.  Because parents love their children and because most parents believe that parenting is the most important job that they will ever do, we can become very defensive if we perceive that our parenting is being found lacking. 

Before I was a parent, I had very clear ideas about how to parent.  I apologize to all those parents that I judged negatively.  I had no idea how exhausting parenting can be.  I had no idea how many times in a day, a “good” parent has to say no to a toddler.  I had no idea how terrifying and long 5 minutes can be when your child is lost in the MacDonald’s or the park.  I had no idea how much really, really bad behaviour a parent can forgive to keep their child safe.

Now that I am a parent, I give parenting advice much less often.  However, I still struggle with giving advice about how to parent a disabled child.  I have five children and more than one of them have diagnoses that can make their and my life challenging.  However, I can’t say that any of my children are disabled.  Yet, I do give advice to parents about how to parent their disabled children.

I guess this post is just an opportunity for me to share that I am uncomfortable with this aspect of my job.  I also find this aspect of my job very rewarding.  That contradiction is odd but true.  In many ways, parenting a disabled child is like parenting a child who fits into the mainstream.  In addition to any added work or worry, many parents of disabled children will describe how parenting a disabled child enriches their lives – how they learn things they would not have learned otherwise.

My husband once said “Our lives would be easier if we hadn’t had kids but we are better people because we have kids.”  I agree with him.  I am a better person because I am a mother.  My life is enriched further because parents of disabled children allow me to intrude into their lives and give them parenting advice.  I believe that these parents and their children have also made me a better person.  However, if I ever go too far with my advice, I hope they will feel safe enough to tell me to back off.

So, I guess this post is also a thank you to the parents with whom I have worked over the years. 

Thank you.

Sheila

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