Why it is important to Be an example to your children by taking care in how you dress and present yourself to the world
The legendary bodybuilding champion Lee Haney says: “Parents must lead by example. Don’t use the cliché ‘do as I say and not as I do’. We are our children’s first and most important role models.”
I couldn’t agree more. No matter what kind of parent you are, you will forever be one of your children’s first and most important role models – with or without a wheelchair.
So you’re having a bad day …
Most parents want their children to grow up to become independent, capable adults who display healthy behavioural patterns, including appropriate self-care and soft skills. An important question to answer is: How do children learn these skills?
The answer is relatively straightforward: They learn by example. Kids learn from the people around them – most importantly, from their parental figures. It’s physically impossible for any human being to have a good day every day of the week, month or year. We all have a bad day from time to time. It’s normal and no different for a person – or parent – in a wheelchair. But it is important to consider how we deal with these bad days.
I vividly recall many of my bad days following my return home from the hospital. My kids were aged seven and four respectively. In line with a child’s needs, they wanted my time and attention. They looked to me for guidance.
On my bad days, however, the only thing I wanted to do was to stay in bed with the duvet covers pulled firmly over my head. I didn’t feel like talking to anyone, playing with the kids or dealing with homework – let alone getting up and dressing up! Perhaps I need to explain the dressing up part…
Importance of getting and dressing up
If there’s anything I’ve learnt over the past two decades, it’s that self-care starts slipping when a depressive episode sets in. The antidote, therefore, lies in combating the symptoms. Get up and dress up to combat depression and to elevate self-esteem and self-confidence. I’m not saying it’s easy, not by a long shot.
At first, it takes a fair amount of will and stacks of courage to get out of bed and into the shower. But once it’s done and you’re wearing a fresh change of clothes, it’s so much easier to face the day. Don’t think for a minute the kids don’t notice the effort, because if that’s the case, you would be completely wrong.
They notice. They know it’s incredibly challenging to fight the urge to stay in bed, and they know it takes effort to get up and dress up.
By dressing up, I’m not referring to a fashion-forward outfit, layers of makeup or salon-styled hair. No, I mean simple self-care, self-respect and soft skills kids can learn from, model on and take with them into adulthood.
Don’t live up to stereotypes
Over the past 20 years, I’ve had countless people, particularly random members of the public, commenting that I “don’t look like someone in a wheelchair”. Apparently, there’s a “wheelchair look” that doesn’t include fashionable outfits aside from a warm blanket over the knees. There are not many other comments that cause my daughter more frustration!
Our kids see us as parents first and foremost – not as wheelchair parents. Whether we chose to accept the responsibility or not, they look at how we deal with our challenges, including unwelcome and offensive comments and stereotypes.
Admittedly, my style has inevitably changed and my shoe fetish had to take a back seat. But I realise the importance of taking care of myself while maintaining my authentic sense of style, regardless of stereotypes. When I’m cold, like any other person, I may choose to snuggle under a tasselled blanket, but not because people expect someone in a wheelchair to do so.
Claim your power
Like it or not, your clothes, appearance and presentation speak volumes about you as a person. The question is not whether you care about fashion and style, it’s more about what you’re communicating intentionally or unconsciously through your choices.
Do you want to be seen, and for that matter, be treated like an invalid or do you want people, including your kids, to take you seriously as a person? If it’s the latter, choose your personal presentation with care – regardless of your chair.
Your presentation includes your clothes, but also your accessories, hairstyle, fragrance, posture, body language, tone of voice and the level of energy with which you move and speak – even in your wheelchair!
Decide what kind of person – not physically challenged person – you want to be and how you want to be treated. Then get up, dress up and show up in a way that helps you to assume that position. It will be one of the most valuable gifts you will ever share with your kids.
Wanda Boshoff is a wife, mother and qualified occupational therapist who also happens to be a paraplegic. Thanks to her experience in these fields she is able to assist others in similar situations. Before her accident in 1998, she ran a successful private practice specialising in children – particularly those with childhood-development and school-related issues. Over the past 20 years she has been running her own businesses, and become a blogger and the owner of a guest house.