Blind Parenting: But It Feels Like You Can

eddie-in-park-w-kids Recently, a baby from Missouri was was taken away from her parents and only returned after 57 days.  A hospital nurse had decided that the parents, who were blind, could not care for their baby appropriately.

[My father is legally blind. While that affected me in many ways, my mother was in charge of daily care.]

Blind parents have special challenges when caring for their children. The website Parenting without Sight reassures both parents and skeptical professionals, giving practical tips from experienced parents.

  • Infancy. The best way to care for a baby, whether you are sighted or not, is to keep baby close and learn his cues.
  • Diaper rash. A blind parent won’t notice redness, an early sign of diaper rash, although bumps can be felt. A blind mother can be vigilant about applying ointment to prevent diaper rash.
  • Transport. A sling is essential, to keep one hand free for a white cane or guide dog.
  • Toddler safety. Just as in infancy, keeping the child close is key. A blind mother can train children to hold hands outside, and place bells on clothing or shoes to alert her when they are getting into something.
  • Illness. Talking thermometers and raised markings on medicine cups are useful tools for blind parents. A sighted helper can fill up a few syringes, to be used as needed.
  • Learning. Blocks with raised letters, or magnets can be used to teach letters. There are children’s books including both Braille and printed text, for blind parents to read aloud. If blind parents have a system for keeping track of colors of clothes and other items, they can teach their children too.
  • School. All parents of kindergarteners and first graders can get overwhelmed by the amount of printed material that comes home. Children of blind parents may need a helper until they can read  homework to their parents when necessary.

I enjoyed this passage from Parenting without Sight:

Gary Wunder of Columbia, Missouri, is the father of a grown daughter. A young blind man looking forward to fatherhood in a few months asked him for his advice. Gary’s thoughtful response contains wisdom for all blind parents and for the people who seek to understand and learn from us:

My advice is first to enjoy your children at every stage. They’ll pass from one stage to the next, and, as much as you’ll love watching them grow, you’ll still miss the child of a month ago. My daughter Missy is twenty-five and working in a highly responsible job after getting her college degree. I love this Missy, and at the same time I miss the Missy who sat with me in the rocking chair, the one who rode in front of me in a Snugli as I walked her to sleep, the child who listened to me as if I were an oracle when I was saying something important to her. I miss the kid who, learning to think on her own, realized I wasn’t all-wise and didn’t know nearly as much as she once thought I did; and I miss the child who later, as the pendulum swung, again came to realize I knew a bit more than she had thought I knew and flattered me by once again coming for advice. I miss the day we went to buy her a car, and she thought I was the smartest bargainer in the world, and then the drive in which she asked me, “How am I doing, Dad?” and I said, “I can’t really supervise you on this one,” and she said, “Yeah, I know, but it feels like you can.”

Image source: Nebraska Federation of the Blind

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Comments

  1. It’s outrageous that American states are often willing to provide all sorts of support and counseling to truly horrible parents that do drugs or abuse their children, but the state viewed taking the baby away as their only option in a case involving blind parents. Why didn’t they just assign a social worker to the parents to make sure they had the skills and support needed to care for their baby?! It’s so obvious!

    • Fern, good point. Risa, I agree!

    • my 4 yr old daughter is in cps care. yet taken due to the kind of guy i was dating for two months had a history of violence i didn’t know, now after 7 months, still i havent got her back. now they are insulting me the reasons why i am not able to care for her due to my blindness. i fear the worst yet to come.

  2. We all face challenges in parenting. Social services should recognize this and help out where they can. The last thing you want to do is take children away from their parents. Of course, there are times when this is unavoidable but it should be a last resort! How sad.

  3. We have friends who are both blind (the mother is completely blind and the father has very bad vision – legally blind). They have two grown sons, who are lovely human beings. They managed to care for their boys’ needs despite their handicap. One son is an artist and the other is a lawyer. Both sons are married to nice women. It is truly outragous that they removed the baby from the home just because the parents are blind.

  4. Many parents take parenting as a challenge when are handicap in some way. Although some parents condition is more severe, I would prefer not to keep the child away from you. They need you and your love and vice-versa.

  5. What a horror story. It reminds me of all the stories I read about children removed from Russian-speaking families in the early 90’s, with no good reason – in most cases the language barrier was to blame for not clarifying a suspected problem soon enough.

    I feel so sorry for this woman. I vividly remember how I, after over 24 hours of labor and two sleepless nights, consented to leave my daughter in the hospital nursery for one night “so that I could sleep”. I kept waking up because not having her near me left me so anxious. And that was just one night, not 57 days!

    Yes, justice was eventually done, but the parents lost nearly two precious months of their daughter’s life. And, as insignificant this may seem in the large scheme of things, the mother probably won’t be able to breastfeed now, even though she initially wanted to – which is heartbreaking. I won’t be surprised if she opts for a home birth next time.

    And I’m afraid nothing at all will be done against the “professionals” that placed such a mistaken recommendation.

  6. Great post. I never knew it was called a white cane. Why is something for blind people named after a color? I think if I were blind G-d forbid, I might be a tad disappointed if my son became an artist. Is that some sort of rebellion?

    I bet the child of a parent who has to touch every letter to read will learn to read faster. I had a friend in elementary school who said she learned to read because her parents always pointed to every word when they read to her. Blind parents are probably good at picking out toys that are fun to touch. And what a joy it must be if touch is one of your main senses and you have a soft squishy baby to take care of.

    You don’t need a thermometer to feel a fever. I can kiss my kid’s forehead and tell within half a degree. I can smell and feel a dirty diaper and I feel her nails scratching my face saying, “clip me.” All the new parenting theories are about baby wearing and keeping baby close. I also think mothers have a real ear for trouble, like when the room the kids are playing in gets suspiciously quiet. I’m guessing a blind parent has to worry more about mischievous older kids who might take advantage of the parent’s disability.

    I wonder, is it a problem if baby’s main caregiver can’t make eye contact?

    • The eye contact is an issue, I suppose, but like Vered said, others will have to make up for it. Just like with children of deaf parents who need to learn to speak.

  7. VeredRoyz says:

    BS”D

    Baruch Hashem that the girl has been returned to her mum and dad! It makes me really happy and relieved!

    Yosefa. The cane is white and therefore called “white cane”. I do not think it is a big problem if the main caregiver can not take eye contact because the baby will have other sighted people around her who she can have eye contact with.

    Best regards
    VeredRoyz

  8. Our blind friends’ son is a glass sculptor

  9. YOSEFA:

    “I might be a tad disappointed if my son became an artist. Is that some sort of rebellion?”

    perhaps his family situation gives him an acute appreciation for aesthetics (or a need to give it expression) that we can’t understand

  10. this was a fascinating, enlightening post. it’s always refreshing to step back and see things from someone else’s perspective and realize how much we can learn from each other.

  11. This is a moving post.

    Parenting with any sort of handicap just adds challenges, to both the parents and the children. In that way, handicap is really more PC than disability. Parents are not disabled by their handicap, rather they are handicapped by their disability.

  12. My father is totally blind, and so he had different rules for us than a sighted parent might — I remember walking next to him holding onto his belt loop on his cane side so that his non cane side was free to hold onto/carry my younger sister. As we grew older, we could be in any direction from him as long as we were within “hearing distance.” And we could never sneak up on him — not only did he know we were coming, he could tell our footsteps apart!

    I think my childhood was the richer for it, especially as I learned to deal with other people’s ignorance (“How could you leave your father home alone?” from a elementary school classmate one week when my mom was away. Umm, he’s the grown-up and I was the kid!!) I never felt that my father was “disabled” or “handicapped,” only that other people were by their ignorance about blindness.

    (And it’s called a white cane because the color white is designated for blind people’s canes by law. White was chosen for visibility to drivers, I think.)

  13. Oh, and just for the record, you have the Image Source info wrong — NOT “Nebraska Federation for the Blind” but National Federation of the Blind. That “of” is very important. (NFB member from 15 months of age, I heard over and over, every time someone got the name of the organization wrong, that it should be of and not for.)

  14. VeredRoyz says:

    BS”D

    I do not think a person can be handicapped or disabled. It is the community who is it when it is not accessible to their citizens. A person can have a physical, mental or intellectual impairment. Oh, it is how I see it anyhow and I am (totally) blind myself. I am sorry this became a bit off topic Hannah! Thank you for a lovely blog!

  15. Anastasiya says:

    This is so insain! We live in the 21st century and people still treat those who are different (especially those with various impairments) as if they’re not even human.
    I have been legally blind since birth and now, at age 20, I am a junior in college and working to earn a degree in Elementary Education. Not only am I visually impaired, but english is also my second language, and I haven’t earned a grade lower than a B- since 9th grade. I have never let my visual impairment slow me down, and there are numerous people with disabilities who are just as successful.
    I do not understand why people are still thinking of us as incapable just because we have to do things differently. It makes me so angry.

    • Anastasiya–
      Your story is inspiring!! Thanks for sharing it with us and I wish you continued success.

    • I am a 25 year old male and has been legally blind for about 10 years now, and girlfriend of 4 years is now concerned about having kids with someone like me. Does anyone have any advice?

      • Hi Josh, it is really too bad that your girlfriend feels this way. You can point her to inspiring stories about blind parents, but she could also be expressing concern about becoming a parent in general. I hope she comes around.

      • Josh,
        I think Hannah is probably right that your girlfriend is nervous about parenting in general, but does she also have specific concerns about how blindness impacts parenting? Is your blindness due to genetics and is she worried about having blind children or is she concerned about how a blind parent takes care of specific aspects of childcare? I know my totally blind father did his fair share of diaper changing! Are you in the states? If so, look up your local National Federation of the Blind chapter and arrange to meet with some blind parents and their children so you and your girlfriend can ask your questions and get some real world answers. I’m sure my father would be happy to talk to you, but he’s in the grandfather stage of his life now.

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