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Q&A: How has your relationship with your son or daughter changed?
Parent-Child Relationships After a Spinal Cord Injury
The relationship with my son was probably the scariest aspect of learning that I’d become disabled, that I had a spinal cord injury. Because as you grow up, you think about your future, you paint a picture in your mind of what your future is going to look like. And as you obtain aspects of that, you effectively are checking off your list of pursuit of happiness and obtaining joy in your life. Right, “I summitted this mountain.” “I beat my best lap time at this track.” “I fathered a son,” and in the fathering of the son, I taught him how to do the corner kick in soccer. I taught him how to bend it like Beckham, I taught him how to play ping pong and how to do jujitsu. And In your mind, you’ve got this vision of doing all these things and all very physical things. And in that instant, I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to play that role that I had envisioned for myself. So, it ultimately challenged me because I knew that role wasn’t obtainable as I had foreseen it, so I needed to paint it in a new way. I needed to come up with a new way to play all of these roles and still be the best possible father. And, what I learned along the way was that it’s not so much about the corner kicks, and the wrestling or those things. It’s more about understanding who he’s destined to be anyway because he’s his own person. And he’s not necessarily trying to bend like Beckham. He is not necessarily trying to be the best wrestler. So, while it was difficult for me in the beginning to understand how our relationship was going to play out and the role that I was going to play as his father, I think that we’ve landed in a much more positive place where he gets to be loved for who he is. I help him pursue his personal goals rather than all the things that I had foreseen for my life with my son and I let him shape the painting of our future together.
I have a very hard time remembering my son is going to be a 29-year-old man. When he goes out at night, I still wait up, like when he was a teenager. Because, we were empty nesters, and he came back, and it was just a total shock to us. Before we could always eat dinner when we wanted, or if didn’t want to eat dinner, we could go someplace. We’re a little more tied down. The first weekend we went away was like a big giant leap off the cliff. You just have to jump off the cliff and know that the parachute is going to open.
It has. For a while they were traumatized, they were very young. As they got older, they had a lot of anger, but they’re so strong. They’re, now they realize like I said, they don’t take things for granted. They are very strong in their faith. They’re very strong in they believe their dad can do anything. They believe that they can do anything because they’ve watched the things that their dad has done. And they’re honestly our best friends, too. It’s crazy.
I try not to be a mom so much, but it’s not easy. I catch myself, you know, doing—my husband, he’s good because he says, you know, “stop it, you need to let him be more independent and not do so much for him.” Because sometimes I find myself going, “do you want this?” “Do you want me to fix that?” And I should back off more I think, you know, and not…
I wouldn't have known the joy that my son can actually be now. I love my son dearly. He was a joy before, but I know him in a whole new light now, a whole new different area, he is so strong.
Our relationship is basically the same, but we're a little bit closer now, I think. Because of her injury, I give her a lot more care and I spend a lot more time with her, and, yes, we're best friends too now. We're roommates and we're best friends, you know, she's my daughter, I'm her mom but we're also best friends. So, that's how I get, we get along.
I have two relationships, well actually probably three. I'm mom, I am his caregiver, and I'm also his assistant at work, which is hard because I find myself being, now that I'm working with him, being more his assistant and caregiver. And sometimes I have to say, "I'm still mom," you know, "don't talk to me like that," or, "hey, let's do something when I come over or let's plan something so I can be mom again."
We butted heads a little bit before her injury, which I think is pretty typical of a mother and a teenage daughter. We got a long well, but we did butt heads. Everything totally changed after her accident because I was her caregiver, so she needed me, she needed me for everything. And that created in some ways a bond, in other ways, there was some friction. She hated not being independent; she hated having to need me, and having to ask for things. There were days when after the 20th request for help, or the 10th time that something wasn't adjusted quite right, I would get exasperated. Or sometimes I would see her and I would start crying, I would just be so overwhelmed with what she had to deal with. I found out later, and I found this out through a paper she wrote for school, that she felt a terrible sense of guilt at being such a burden, and would look at me feeling bad and then she would feel bad that she was making me feel bad. So, we had, we had some difficult days. Once we got to a point where she was more independent and we got some help with caregiving, that got a lot better. And hope she would agree, I think we have a great relationship.
For the best, I think. Maggie was such an independent child, in third grade I never helped her with homework, never saw her undress, you know, her body image. Now, it’s that depth of closeness, the intimate—we know, there’re no secrets. I bathe, I dress, I do everything for her in that way, but also there are so many things, secrets I mean, we don’t hide. I mean, just our closeness of love and bonding, I mean, it really is something. I can’t even explain the closeness we have.
My youngest son has since moved here, he’s currently transitioning from Ohio to Atlanta, so he lives with me. And he went home for a week, and every day, “mom what are you doing? Why are you at the doctor?” So, they’re very kind of involved in my day-to-day activity, wanting to make sure I’m okay. And everywhere I go, my son literally picks me up. You know, like I can transfer from my wheelchair into the car when I go get my hair done, things like that. But my son goes with me, and he literally picks me up, and puts me back in my chair everywhere we go. So, it’s like the best thing, they’re so supportive.
Before he was injured, I wasn't sure what direction he was going to go. And after he was injured and began to take hold of his life, I became very supportive and very encouraged and proud of the way he handled himself. The tough question is: what would he have been if he hadn't been hurt? I have no idea.
My boys, they understand. You know, before I used to coach their team, or coach them, and help them with their sports and stuff like that. I can’t be as hands-on with it as I used to be. I do still go to the parks with them, and they play soccer, and basketball and football. So, I still go to the park, I can still throw the ball with them, I can kick a soccer ball—I don’t try very hard because I don’t want to fall. But you know, I still do go to the parks and hangout with them. And they’re old enough now, they’re 16 and 14, and they practice with each other. And, I’m just there to be with them during that because I’ve always done that. I’ve always been hands-on, playing hide and seek, or I’ve always been one of the kids. The kids I the neighborhood would play hide and seek, and I was always playing with them. You know, I’m really just a big kid and that’s continued. As far as my mindset, nothing has changed as far as that goes.
This has brought us closer; they’ve really had to step up to the plate. I have two 14-year-old boys, they’re twins, so mom can’t take out the garbage like she used to, mom needs help getting the laundry out of the dryer. So, they’ve kind of had to grow up quickly, and they really have, they’ve really stepped up to the plate. And you know it’s funny, they don’t see me as being disabled, they really don’t, and that’s a good thing. But it’s also sometimes I want to remind them like, “hey, you know, we’ve been through this tragic event, and I’m wheeling around but it doesn’t.” They just, they think I’m the same me.
I honestly feel that you get closer to the person, because you’re seeing them in a time of great sadness and weakness. And, you can’t help, especially if you’re a parent, to have sympathy for your child. But then you also want to see them still succeed. So, you have to balance sympathy with motivating them to continue with life. Our relationship now, everyone that interacts with us doesn’t know if we’re mother and son, brother-sister, they don’t know what our relationship is. We laugh at that because that’s kind of the way we want it. We don’t want people to know, because we do have so many different facets to our relationship now.
It couldn’t help but change just because the dynamic changed. But the daughter that used to not be so protective will stand up and fight somebody for a parking place. So, it has changed, and in good ways and it certainly helped raise their level of awareness for people with special needs. So, but we’re still close.
When she was injured, the relationship had a complete 180. And, all of a sudden, I was the person who she turned to all the time. I stayed with her through her rehab, and was there to put her to bed, to get her up in the morning and just to be her complete support in the hospital. And, eventually, that got old for her, and she needed to branch out on her own. So, I was happy to see that, although I did feel rejection. You know, sometimes it’s nice to be needed. And, as time as has gone on, our relationship is very good. I think that we’re good friends. I think that we can argue on an equal plane, but we can also make up and be mother and daughter again.
Well since he was just growing up then, it would have changed anyway. I mean, it just was, he was kind of a brat, not a brat, but, you know, he had difficulties as a kid, and he's grown up, that's all. And I think I respect very much, what he's been able to do. It was a problem for a long time thinking maybe he wasn't going to leave our house. Well he got married, so that took him out of our house, and I think one of the best things that has ever happened to him were the two step-daughters that he acquired with that marriage. They were 5 and 7 at the time, now they're in their 20's. They're both out school, and in graduate work and they're devoted to him.