Couple who are blind and raising 2 children say society judges them for it

  • I lost my sight in my early twenties after catching a virus. My husband is also blind.
  • We’re raising two kids, and we’ve devised non-visual ways of raising them that work for us.
  • Parenting while blind is difficult, but what is more frustrating is the judgment others have of us.

Bustle swirls around me as I work standing at my desk. The chatter of my two children is a constant buzz in the background. I’m concentrating on my task when I hear an inappropriate noise. It filters through the chaos, alerting me to something. I check on the boys, and sure enough, they sneak into my room to steal hidden treats. I ask what’s going on in a stern voice, and they both stand up and shout “Nothing!” in a chorus.

Parenthood is difficult. Parenting with a disability is no exception and brings unique challenges.

I am blind and have devised several ways to follow the two boys I am raising and ensure their safety. I haven’t always been blind. In my early twenties, I fell ill with a viral infection and pneumonia, which caused me to lose my sight. I adapted and adjusted.

Blindness has its challenges. And once I became a parent, challenges invaded this new aspect of my life.

We are 2 blind parents raising 2 sighted children

My husband is also blind, so we rely on non-visual tools and methods to parent. When we decided to start a family, the fact that we were blind was not a deterrent. We expected a variety of challenges to arise; some we anticipated, but others came out of nowhere, stunning us.

My fingers regularly tap on my laptop while I work. Children having fun in the games room on the other side of the glass wall at McDonald’s. I need to concentrate; they need to blow energy. It’s frustrating not being able to turn your head from time to time to watch them through the window. I have to get up, go to the playroom, and check in verbally and physically every 10 minutes or so.

My eldest has autism and was non-verbal for the first three years. Before we could verbally check in with him, we used a child harness and ankle bells, and even rode with him on play equipment.

But we were never able to sit like the other parents. Even now that they’re older, I have two sly foxes – at some point they need supervision, and I can’t do that visually.

But at the end of the day, this is all an inconvenience, not a struggle – and certainly not an upsetting situation. A major drawback, yes, but just that.

The other parents complain to us

What’s more frustrating are the attitudes my husband and I encounter about non-visual parenting.

Like the woman opposite who asked my grandparents about our ability to become parents. She noticed I was pregnant and wondered if she should call the authorities.

Or the runner I passed while jogging. I stopped after a mile to sit for a few minutes, rubbing my pregnant belly. She walked over and asked if someone like me should have a baby.

Or the fellow mom on the playground following me. When I turned to say hello to her, she asked if my children were safe.

These states of mind are my fight. These mentalities are my obstacle. Dealing with these attitudes every day is like pushing through quicksand.

I become a parent at home. It is our refuge where the outside world does not exist. I am a mom here. And my boys see me as their mother. My blindness is neither surprising nor disturbing; I am no different from them. They would like us to have a car, of course—me too. But here at home, there is no distinction between me and sighted people.

My dewy dreams of parenthood are shattered on the outside, however. Regardless of how I act and present, I am considered to have no agency. I’m not broke. I’m not half a person. I want to step into a space and be accepted as a mom, a woman, and a human. I don’t always want to cling to my agency, forcing others to see me as a whole person.

This is the challenge of blind parenting in a world programmed to assume that seeing is the only way to exist.

About Sally E. Bartley

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