Capable, Until Proven Otherwise

There are lots of parents out there — with and without disabilities — who have no business being parents. Plenty of people who should have their children taken away, no doubt about it. But how do we, as a society with laws and regulations to protect families, decide who is or is not a fit parent, and when to intercede on a child’s behalf? If a criminal suspect is considered to be innocent until proven guilty, it would make sense that we would extend at least that much respect to a parent whose abilities are in doubt. But it’s not that way. Parents with disabilities are not seen as “capable, until proven otherwise,” by many of their peers, or tragically, their government.  In much of the United States, simply being a person with a disability is the only reason needed to have your children taken away. We’ve all seen the headlines lately. Legally, it is more difficult to keep custody of our own biological children than it is to lose custody. It is unfortunate and terribly unjust that people like me have to fight to be the parents that we are. Fight to show society we’re adequate. Fight against such deep-seated  bias that rears its ugly head as self-righteous concern. Discrimination is alive and well.
My son was born three years ago, before I’d ever heard a single story about a disabled parent losing custody of their children. I was oblivious to the complete failure of our justice system in  dealing with so many families just like mine. Even so, I was terrified to take my son in public alone. I was so scared to make a mistake in front of the staring passer-bys that I wouldn’t take the risk. All my life I’ve had responsibilities and opportunities yanked from me because some well-meaning person thought I couldn’t handle it. People often think they know what I am/am not capable of. People are often wrong.
On the day my son was born, I didn’t even know how to hold him. Or burp him. Or get him in a car seat. Or bathe him. Or swaddle him. But within about a week of being home together, he and I worked it out in our unconventional way. I thank God that no one decided to save my son from my frail little arms before I got the chance to fumble my way through the obstacles. Because no one on this earth is more interested in protecting him than I am. No one.
We all want our children to be safe. As parents, that is the instinct that drives almost every decision we make. Parents with disabilities are no different, and every one that I’ve ever spoken with would not hesitate to ask for help rather than let their child be in danger.
We know what we’re capable of, but it’s a little nerve-racking to attempt to reach our potential while under a microscope. By all means, if a parent’s disability causes a child harm, step in. But until that point, I think we deserve the respect to be assumed capable, unless proven otherwise.

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