Every parent has hopes and aspirations for their child. From the moment they see that image at their very first ultrasound, they have a picture in their head, an entire storyline of how that baby’s life will play out. From their first steps, to halloween costumes, to family vacations; from the career they will have, to finding the love of their life, to having kids of their own. Every parent wants their child to be smart, independent, successful; to find love and happiness. So what happens when this smart, independent, successful child finds love and happiness with someone in a wheelchair? How does a wheelchair fit into the life our parents have envisioned for us?
Just recently we received a message from a woman who was concerned with how her parents would react when she told them that she was in love with a man in a chair. How would they feel when they found out that their little girl’s life wasn’t going to be exactly how they had envisioned it? We weren’t really sure how to answer. We had never considered how, or if, our men being in wheelchairs had affected our parents and families; so we asked them.
SAM’S PARENTS SAY…
Will he be able to take care of you?
How will he earn a living?
Are you going to have to take care of him?
Can he have kids?
Will he have a lot of medical expenses?
We wanted you to be with someone who could step up to the plate and be there for you and offer assistance when you just couldn’t do it on your own. Someone that accepted you for the strong (stubborn) person you are and work with you as your partner without holding you back. At first I thought you would be the primary care giver; opening doors, helping him in and out of vehicles… but then he bought that darn huge truck and he can get into it easier than I can. That guy can do more and does do more than most able bodied men. Will you struggle? Absolutely, but not all your struggles will be because of Shawn’s wheelchair. With each struggle I’m certain that you both with find a way to make it work or to make it better. I’m so very impressed and proud.
CHELSEA’S PARENTS SAY…
When Chelsea came home and asked my thoughts on dating someone who she had met who was paralyzed, I was a little apprehensive. I had worked at GF Strong on the spinal cord unit for 13 years so had encountered all levels of injury. Our vision for her future was much different than what she was presenting to us. Although I was not fearful of her dating someone with a spinal cord injury, I was concerned as I knew it involved a huge commitment. I brought forward to her the challenges it could bring, bed sores, bladder infections, bowel issues, along with sexual issues and the difficulty she would encounter if they were to want children.Without ever expressing it to her, I had secretly hoped that she would encounter a few of these problems and then realize the commitment would be just too great and that would in turn make her back away from it, but that was not the case.The relationship just grew stronger and deeper and I new at that point that she was going to need our support and strength and that our vision that we had for her was going to change. And so the new vision was born.
What do I think now? As I watch Chelsea and James on their path that the universe so perfectly laid out for them I can’t help reflect back to the days that I questioned if they would be able to sustain the relationship. Those days are distant memories as I watch them empower each other to be the best they can be. Their love for each other is unstoppable and there commitment to each other impeccable. As they move forward through two worlds of disability and ability they do so with grace and conviction. So now, these days, James comes and goes and we don’t see James as the guy in the wheelchair, we just see James, the guy who gave us a new vision.
We can’t say that we are entirely surprised by our parent’s answers. In the beginning there was awkwardness and opinions that went unmentioned. Not only has it been a transition for us, it has also been a transition for our friends and family. But over time and through many experiences (like Chelsea’s dad carrying James up the stairs at their place for dinner, or Sam’s mom realizing that no, Shawn couldn’t go up two stairs at her front door) they have grown to see our men the same way we do. Ultimately, our parents just want us to be happy. They have become more enlightened about spinal cord injuries as the years roll on. We are amazed watching the way their relationships with our men have changed from ones of doubt to ones of acceptance and love.
So, if you’re concerned about a new relationship with someone in a wheelchair and the reaction you will get from your family, remember that you are asking them to change the vision they have had of your life since the day you were born. This will take time, but be patient, because your happiness will be the light that leads them through the change.
So, how does the wheelchair fit into the life that our parents imagined for us? It fits perfectly.
Sam & Chelsea