The challenges of lone parenting

Minna Hong, disabled parent from Atlanta, Georgia, USA, writes about her experience of lone parenting.

Three is complete

My life as I knew it came to an abrupt halt four years ago. My family and I were returning, in our Land Rover, from a skiing trip. Suddenly, we swerved to avoid an 18-wheel truck, hit the central reservation and flipped over nine times. My husband of 12 years was ejected from the car and died instantly of a head injury. I incurred a spinal cord injury. Luckily, my children only sustained minor injuries; Megan was nine and Kristopher six.

Before the accident, I was a stay- at-home mother. After the accident, needless to say, I had many fears. Howwould I support my children? How would I be able to run a household in a wheelchair? Would my children respect me? I had more questions than answers.

There were some days when I just wanted to close my eyes and never wake up. I asked myself: ‘What did I do to deserve this fate?” I have never known anyone disabled and widowed at my age. My only motivating factor was my children.

In the beginning, I pretended that nothing had changed. I did all the basic routines for my kids. I made breakfast and would pack their lunch with a fake smile and faked enthusiasm. I was a good actress. But while they were in school, I was back to the cruel reality of being paralysed and alone without a guide map. Menial tasks became a production. I can’t tell you how many times I fell out of my wheelchair reaching for a piece of lint or paper on the floor. It would take another hour or so crying and feeling sorry for myself as I tried to get back on the chair. Then, one day, I got fed up with my pride and self-pity and got real with myself. How dare I think that my kids were dumb enough to believe that everything was just like it used to be! They had lost their father - and their mother is paralysed from the waist down! It was time for me to acknowledge that my children were people, with real feelings and emotions of their own. That had to be honoured. That’s when I explained my personal struggles to them in terms they could understand. Communication was and is the key to our relationship.

Because of our family situation, my children are a lot more responsible than most of their peers. My time is better spent helping them with their homework, playing with them and enjoying each other’s company rather than trying to clean their rooms like before. They now clean their rooms. If it’s not done to perfection, it is not the end of the world. Bringing groceries in and putting them away is a family thing and they understand that the food is for all of us. I also make sure they understand that I do not have a ‘maid’ sticker on my forehead. I have also let go of many things that I thought were important before the injury. I ask for help when I need it. I try to remember to thank them for all that they do.

I know this to be true: my children will grow up with much compassion and tolerance of people with diversity. This is not to say that we don’t have our internal struggles, but I think the struggles we face are very similar to those faced by other families.

Yes, three is complete and we are not broken.

First published in Disability, Pregnancy & Parenthood international, Issue 43, Summer 2003.

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