Tag: disability

Boys are born competent. Girls have to prove they are

"Boys are born competent. Girls have to prove they are," someone once said to me. I was horrified. Surely that wasn't true?

Last week I attended the junior recipe testers' swimming carnival. I helped with timekeeping, which was both fun and nerve-wracking in equal measure. My juniors swam in their age races, I got to watch and cheer from close quarters, and while neither are currently showing promise as the next Australian champion, they both did well.

My daughter did very well in her age group, recording one of the fastest freestyle times for her age, and the fastest for her house. This qualified her for the 4 x 50m relay. My son also qualified, although not as far up the list as his sister.

When the relays were called up her name was top of the list. She looked panic stricken. "I don't want to go in a relay!" she implored.

At that moment I couldn't have known the what would follow. Over the following few hours she and I would span the emotional rainbow: tears, tantrums, shouting and sobbing. Eventually it came out: she was worried she wasn't good enough and would let the team down.

My son swam for his team without a second thought.

My heart broke. Her anguish was palpable and there was nothing I could say to either change her mind or convince her of her value to her team.

My blood boiled. Why do we live in a world where competent, very young women question their competence, in a way that our very young men do not? As a mother, what was I doing wrong?

"Am I good enough?" is asked by many women: the young and the not-so-young. For the first two years of Dinner on the Table's existence I felt physically ill every time I went into the kitchen. There. I've said it. Out loud.

I am privileged, I am educated and I am accomplished. And for 730 days I was hamstrung by a fear that I wasn't good enough, that I was a phoney, that one day I'd be found out for a fraud. No one told me I was hopeless, as far as I can recall. That was my conclusion. I'm not proud of it, but there you have it.

"Am I good enough?" is one thing. "Are you good enough?" is a different question entirely.

Women with disabilities may routinely be told they are incompetent: they will never hold down a job, could never care for a child, never hope to have a relationship with someone who cares about them deeply. There's no expectation they'll do the things their non-disabled sisters will do.

Women who care for a child with a disability may be told their child is worthless. The competence of mothers like Natalie may be challenged because she loved, and cared for her child. The cruel argument generally goes something like, "What sane woman could love a child like that?"

When Amanda found out she was pregnant with twins I sat with her and helped her understand her ultrasound report. She allowed me to walk with her during her journey from woman to mother. I watched her make difficult, sometimes painful, decisions in the best interests of her unborn children.

Amanda, who has a moderate intellectual disability, is a success story. Told she was incompetent for much of her life, a key few people believed in her when her babies were born. Amanda surrounded herself with people who recognised and supported her ability to mother her children. And they rolled up their sleeves and helped her do just that.

The voices of women like Amanda and Natalie are seldom heard. These women must daily prove their competence in the face of others who assume their incompetence. Those questions may be less an internal demon, and more an external threat.

I continued cooking because I was convinced that we can change the daily lives of vulnerable women, and their families, by understanding their experiences, and supporting them differently.

I remain convinced. 

The over-sharing and the ridiculous...

Legs of a woman in a white skirt, holding a basket of flowers

I assume it's not just me, others too, find themselves in this situation. But there are times in life when you are forced into the most ridiculous conversations. Living with one or more  junior recipe testers under the age of five will mean this is a daily occurrence. But it is made even more problematic when you are forced to have a ridiculous conversation in a very public place.

Now, I realise, I am at high risk of over-sharing here. So if you are prone to embarrassment, please do avert your eyes.

I recently had need to visit the GP....

Read entire article.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Painting of a wonky muffin

We had a special day today in the kitchen, as we were joined by two clients of Northwest Disability Services who came to volunteer their time in the kitchen. They helped us package your dinners, wash up a myriad of pots and pans (you should see the mountain of washing-up we create each day) and they also found time to make you some choc chip muffins.

These muffins don't look like our ordinary muffins. And that's because they aren't ordinary...

Read entire article.

Altruist or other?

Question mark made out of cherry tomatoes on a wooden board, with the question "What if..."

I have a confession. It's something I have known for a while. But it seems to run so contrary to popular opinion, I find it hard to say it out loud.

I don't think gifting dinners is a nice thing to do.

A few months ago, I was offered a half scholarship to study at The Women's Business School. And so a month ago, I commenced. I have just handed in my first assessment. I have never, in all my years working and studying at University, completed an assessment quite like this one...

Read entire article.

We're in the news...

Tomatoes, herbs and apron

We are so excited to appear in the Hills District Independent magazine this week.

Read entire article.

I don't want to get run over by a garbage truck

Image of green rubbish bag against a wall

I don't want to get run over by a garbage truck. My guess is, neither do you. And for this reason, if no other, we need to realise the importance of dinner.

Really.

The other week I was chatting with someone about how daily life happens in her house. She has a son with significant disabilities. In amongst the usual afternoon and evening activities found in a busy household, was dinner. No great surprise there. Except, as this woman explained, her son with disabilities needs to be fed. He is unable to eat his dinner on his own.

Read entire article.

Who cares? Carers Week 2016

Pegs on a clothesline

The week just gone was National Carers Week in Australia. It's a chance to say thank you to those who provide care in all sorts of ways, and to recognise their valuable work. Informal carers save government in this country over $1BILLION each and every week: over $60billion annually. That's a lot of dollars in anyone's language.

Read entire article.

None of us are islands

Three children on a New Zealand beach

These three are important to me. I'm their mother, and I look after them. But not every second of the day...

Read entire article.

Guest blogger: Marjorie Aunos - Becoming a parent with a disability and what dinner means

Marjorie with her son in an apple orchard

A few weeks ago I wrote about my friend and colleague, Dr Marjorie Aunos, from the West Montreal Readaptation Centre in Montreal, Canada. Marjorie recently visited Sydney and gave a lecture about her experiences from leading research into parenting with a disability to becoming a parent with a disability herself.

 

Read entire article.

Outsider to Insider: Rethinking mothering support

Image of Marjorie walking with her young son  Image of Marjorie cuddling her young son while seated in her wheelchair 

This week I had the great privilege of attending a lecture given by Dr Marjorie Aunos. Marjorie is both a colleague and friend, from the West Montreal Readaptation Centre in Canada. She has made a huge contribution to what we know about people with intellectual disability (ID) who are parents, and is a world expert in the field of parenting with ID.

In January 2012, on her way to work, Marjorie's car slipped on black ice into the path of an oncoming truck. In a quarter of a second she became a paraplegic. And her life changed.

There were skills to learn, and skills to relearn. There were long weeks in a hospital bed as her body recovered. One of Marjorie's greatest concerns was, "How will I care for my son?"

Women with disabilities are vulnerable for a number of reasons. Mothers with disabilities are even more so. Support services for people with disabilities are typically ill-equipped to deal with the complexities brought about by parenting.

Children don't always follow the rules. They are unpredictable. What meets their needs one minute, might create a meltdown in the next. Marjorie's son was 16 months old when she had her accident. She is, by choice, a single mother.

Women with disabilities and significant mental illness are significantly more likely to have their children removed from their care. Very often this is not because of evidence of abuse or maltreatment, but because child protection services can't believe that a woman with a disability can provide good enough care for her child.

When a woman with disabilities is also a mother, questions are often raised. For example, how can a mother properly supervise an active toddler from a wheelchair? Or, how will she recognise what her child needs if she has an intellectual disability? But the answers, rather than seeking solutions, are often couched in prejudice and assumptions about what she is unable to do.

For Marjorie, this meant weeks lying in a hospital bed, watching the door and waiting for a child protection worker to walk through it. She had all her answers prepared. She was ready to fight for her ability to mother her child.

I was deeply struck she drew on my own research to describe her experience. In 2012, with Prof Llewellyn, I published an article describing research into the experiences of women with intellectual disabilities who had their children involuntarily removed from their care. I have since been involved in some research about the experiences of mothers with significant mental illness who have had their children removed.

The women who shared their experiences with me faced significant socio-economic disadvantage and some struggled to provide everything they wanted to provide for their children. All loved their children deeply and wanted the best for them. None doubted themselves as mother of their children. When an authority took their children from them they suffered paralysing grief and loss.

Before her parenting was even questioned, Marjorie described her fear that an external agency would deem her an unfit parent and take her child from her care. How could she prove her parenting competence from her hospital bed? The imbalance of power between mother and decision maker was never more stark to her.

Context and support play a huge part in how we all care for our children, and manage our daily lives. Few of us are islands, nor should we be treated as such. Very often it is women who are primarily responsible for meeting the needs of others in their households, particularly when it comes to children. And very often, it is the support of those around us, who enable us to do the daily juggle.

Marjorie is a fantastic mother to her son, now 6 years old. He was never taken from her. She mothers as the rest of us do: with support from those around her, including, at times, professional services.

At Dinner on the Table we think there's a better way to support women made vulnerable by disability. Women should never be asked how they will care for their children alone. We're creating a cost effective way of meeting the needs of women, as well as the needs of those they are responsible for. And, you know what? We're meeting your needs too.

And that changes the disability services game.