Response to the “Girl Gone Blind” post, “To the Child who has a Blind Parent”
***Updated on 28 March 2017.
Today, Maria Johnson, author of the post that prompted me to write this response, substantially reworked her original article. So while the link to her post which you’ll find in this article still works, the article you’ll see is quite different from the piece that deeply troubled some blind parents, including me.
I’d like to thank and congratulate Maria for amending her post in the way she has. I think she has done the right thing by amending it, rather than deleting it as some want her to do.
As I took pains to convey in my response, we all experience blindness differently. In particular, there’s a huge difference between those of us who have been blind for much or even all of our lives, and those who become blind later in life. That’s not to say that those in the latter category can’t acquire the skills of blindness, but it is a huge life change. Some of us take to change more easily than others. We should also reflect on the impact that blindness has had on Maria’s children and the children of others in maria’s situation. It must be incredibly tough seeing a much-loved parent losing such a significant faculty.
My concern with maria’s original post was that it may be interpreted as reflecting the perspective of all blind parents, when clearly it does not. The new version of her post makes it very clear that she is speaking about how the onset of blindness three years ago has affected her specific relationship with her specific children. Worded like this, I view the post very differently. I view it as a brave expression of vulnerability which perhaps others who are adventitiously blind can identify with.
For whatever reason, Maria did not approve my original response to her blog post, which is absolutely her right as the blog’s author. But I hope those she is willing to engage with can offer constructive hints and tips on how she might overcome some of the challenges that remain.
I want to thank all the parents who have contacted me via private email, Twitter, Facebook and this blog. It just goes to show how precious our kids are to us, and how so many of us have had our parental authority undermined in front of our kids by ill-informed sighted people. That’s why the original version of maria’s post touched a nerve for so many. Although there have been a couple of comments here on this blog that were critical of my post, the overwhelming response has been expressions of thanks for the fact that I tried to articulate what many of us were feeling in a respectful manner. I remain of the view that we can disagree respectfully.
For me, there has been a truly wonderful thing to come out of this discussion. My oldest daughter, whose now a university student and flatting, click through to my post from Facebook. She phoned me, genuinely outraged by Maria’s original post, because it didn’t reflect what having a blind Dad has been like for her. It was deeply moving to know that as my daughter, she sees the impact of having a blind parent the same way that I do as a Dad.
My original post is below, but as stated, the version of the article it links to is not the version I wrote the response to. I am leaving my response up because it contains some of my own reflections on blind parenting that some may find helpful. My invitation to maria re The Blind Side Podcast still stands. With or without her, we’ll cover blind parenting soon.
Here’s the original post.
A friend of mine, who is also a blind parent but of children who are much younger than mine are at present, pointed out a recently published blog post that had been shared many times on social media, including over 1000 times on Facebook. It’s called “To the Child Who Has a Blind Parent”, and features on the Girl Gone Blind blog.
My friend was discouraged by the post, because as many of us who are blind parents know, our competence, and even our motives in having children at all, are sometimes questioned by people. We often receive the recognition we are due. But occasionally, our parental authority is undermined by teachers, so-called social service professionals, and others who feel that a sighted child, no matter how young, must have to take care of us, and that we can’t possibly take care of our own kids if we can’t see.
After talking about this post with a number of blind parents I know, it’s clear that it has really bothered some of us.
I believe that our experience of blindness varies greatly, and that what shapes our approach to blindness is influenced by a range of factors such as when we’ve become blind, the training we’ve had access to and the kind of support we’ve been offered by family and friends.
I felt moved to write what I hope was a respectful alternative perspective in response to the original post, which I submitted as a comment to the Girl Gone Blind blog around 40 hours ago at the time I’m writing this. It’s written not in any way in judgement, but to convey my opinion to the author and her readers that a different style of blind parenting is both possible and desirable.
My comment has not been published, so I’m publishing it as an article here on my own blog to offer an alternative perspective on blind parenting. I do so in solidarity with capable blind parents who have had their skills questioned due to ignorance of blindness. The perpetrators of such actions will feel validated by the article that has inspired me to write this response.
So please read the original article linked to above. Now here is my comment.
Hi Maria, it’s great to read your article and see that you are so eloquently chronicling blindness as you personally experience it.
As a blind parent to four sighted children, I’d like to offer an alternative perspective. I do so because, while I unreservedly accept that what you wrote is an accurate reflection of the relationship you have with your own children, a number of blind parents have told me how disturbed they have been by your post.
I write this response because I believe you may not fully appreciate how damaging your post might be if it goes without an alternative perspective being published with it. I can see that in future, some misguided official in a social services organisation, or a lawyer representing a sighted spouse in a bitter custody battle, will use your post as proof that blind parents are dependent on their sighted children and use them as unpaid home help. So to any official or lawyer who might seek to do so, I make the following points.
I believe that any relationship between a parent and a child, and indeed any relationship in general, is one of mutual dependence. With parenting, this tends to change as children get older. When my children were very young, they were completely dependent on their Mum and me for every need. As a blind parent, I would walk with them, holding their hands, teaching them about pedestrian safety, helping them learn about the world and answering their constant questions.
I would read them a story every night. The Braille books I used included descriptions of the pictures, so I could discuss the pictures with them and encourage them to describe to me what they were seeing. My kids still talk fondly about the stories I told them, both reading from Braille and especially by making them up. I learned, much to my delight, that my oldest daughter just assumed that all daddies read Braille, and all mummies read print.
I was the one who sat by my oldest daughter’s bedside after she had fallen off the monkey bars and broken her arm, regularly getting her drinks and being there when she called for me.
I taught them how to play piano, took them to the zoo by myself, entertained their friends and helped manage the organised chaos that was their birthday parties.
I helped them with countless hours of homework.
I am an IT professional, so I do the tech support around the house. Only yesterday, I spent three hours helping my teenage son configure a new and complex software package.
My kids usually think it’s pretty cool that I’m blind. When they were little, they would often come home and proudly announce, “we’re doing blind people at school this week Dad,” and take me along to school as a show and tell, where I’d read a Braille story and talk to them about blindness. Their friends usually find blindness fascinating.
I would like to address a few of the specific clauses in your post.
If an older child picks up their siblings, it may be true that in some household that is a parental function, but it could just as equally be true that this is a chore they are assigned, just as chores in any busy household are allocated. Perhaps a blind parent compensates for this in other ways.
We can’t give our children rides, but there are many households where people don’t own a car, or where there is only one car that isn’t available to everyone at all times. Many parents, not just blind parents, make allowances for this through a budget for transport such as Uber, or public transport. A blind parent will be mindful of the need for good access to public transport, and will whenever possible choose a house close to good transportation. I accept that this isn’t an option for everyone, but blindness is no excuse for making us dependent on our sighted children for transport.
When using sighted guide or following effectively, a child should never need to say “curb”, and I would be annoyed if mine did. I mean no disrespect when I say that if you presently need your children to do this, then it might be useful to consider additional orientation and mobility assistance. The same applies to stairs. With good blindness skills, a sighted child does not need to count them. Please know that I am not faulting you for not having blindness skills if this is your situation, I’m merely pointing out that such training is available, and it would make the need for such vigilance on the part of your children unnecessary.
As mentioned earlier, as an IT professionals, I have spent countless hours getting my kids’ devices out of jams, including completely reinstalling content on their mobile devices. I completely agree with you though, there are, on occasion, times when our assistive technology fails us, and we just need to know what the heck is on the screen. I truly appreciate it when one of my kids gets me out of a serious jam in this way, and this comes back to the mutual dependency that emerges when they get a little older. But how different is this, really, from what goes on in houses with sighted parents? When I was a kid, even though I was blind, I was the one in our household who could set the timer on the VCR. So when my parents wanted something recorded, one of my chores was to set that up, and I got in trouble if I didn’t do that chore. Reading the screen is one such chore we can assign.
Also, if you have an iPhone, apps like TapTapSee, Be My Eyes, KNFB Reader and others can be of significant value to the busy blind parent.
Again, I’m wondering whether, if you need a child to tell you that your sweater is inside-out, how well you’ve been served by the blindness system where you are? It’s very easy as a blind person to tell when something is inside-out, because you can feel the seams on the outside. I must say though that I’ve been rescued by one of my kids telling me that I have two shoes on from different pairs, but I know of sighted people who make that mistake too.
Regarding the dinner that’s a disaster, does blindness really have anything to do with that? We all try things in the kitchen that go wrong sometimes, but if they’re going wrong on a regular basis because of blindness, then this, again, to me suggests that you may find additional blindness training of real value.
A number of the clauses in this post suggest that your children may have had difficulty accepting your blindness, and that perhaps you’re having the same difficulty. This is something I’ve not experienced, and can’t relate to, because I was born blind, but I readily acknowledge that becoming blind must have been a massive adjustment, both for you and them. My kids have never wished I could see, probably because I’ve never wished I could see. Blindness has never stopped me from achieving all I’ve wanted to in life, and having never seen a thing, I haven’t ever wished I could see my children. I say this not in any way to invalidate how you feel, or how your children feel about your situation, that’s not my place. I’m merely offering my very different perspective by way of contrast, so your readers may realise that some of us see these issues differently.
Maybe our kids have to grow up quickly, but I would reframe that same point and say they learn empathy, which is just one advantage of having a blind parent. Empathy seems in very short supply these days I’m afraid, so they are blessed to learn it.
You write of the child who needs to protect us because we’re blind. I’m really troubled by this. it is not a child’s job to protect a parent. it is a parent’s job to protect a child, and blindness, given the correct training, is no reason to reverse that relationship. Even though my children are older now, I still do all I can to ensure they’re safe, that they know not to travel with people who might have been drinking or worse. If they’re dealing with anxiety due to a heavy academic course, I hold them close, help them to gain perspective, and give them the help they need. If they break up with their boyfriend/girlfriend and it seems like the world is ending, I’m there for them. I protect them, that’s what parents do.
I know that I might have to have a very large flame-proof suit on after writing this comment, but I mean it very sincerely when I say I am not seeking to belittle your situation, judge you, or invalidate how you feel personally. But since your post is entitled “to the child who has a blind parent”, rather than “a letter to my children”, there is an implication in your post that all blind parents feel the way you do. I can tell you emphatically that they do not, and that some find what you have written inaccurate and even offensive.
Thank you for writing such a clear and thought-provoking post. I host a podcast each week that talks about a range of issues from a blindness perspective, and I would love to have you on the podcast along with a couple of other blind parents to discuss these things further, if you would be willing.
Take care, all the best to you on your journey, and thank you for the opportunity to comment.