The Silver Lining of Blended Families by Bert Burns

marriageladyEditor’s Note:  One of the most common questions we get at LASCI events revolves around relationships, especially marriage and divorce as the issues surrounding these family situations are more complex after a spinal cord injury or life-changing event.

SCI experts will tell you that divorce rate statistics are about the same for wheelchair users as they are for able-bodied individuals.  Regardless of whether or not you use a wheelchair, 50% of people may experience divorce in their lifetime.   This isn’t an issue because of the wheelchair, it’s an issue with marriage in general.

The upside is that people at all stages and phases in life can and do find love again after going through a divorce.  This includes people who use wheelchairs too. 

Statistics show that if you marry someone after you use a wheelchair, rather than before, your odds of success are even better because both parties in the relationship know what they’re getting into.  The chances are too, that if this is your second marriage or long-term relationship, that this one will involve kids or other people from a previous relationship.

So let’s talk about blended families.
Today, LASCI founder Bert Burns shares some things to keep in mind if this applies to your current relationship.

Younger children are often more accepting and intrigued by new friends who use wheelchairs! Take time to let them learn and ask questions.

Younger children are often more accepting and intrigued by new friends who use wheelchairs! Take time to let them learn and ask questions.

Q: Bert, what advice would you give to a person who uses a wheelchair that is dating someone who has children from previous relationship?

A: Obviously, you and your potential spouse are in tune with each other. But if you’re in a chair and she has kids, she has accepted you already but her kids may not have. [This is the case in any relationship that includes children from previous relationships.]

Many times, kids don’t bond with a potential step-parent right away. When you throw a wheelchair in, it may be a little more challenging.

Q:  Can you give us some ideas on some ways to help a child understand and accept your disability?

A: Age is big factor in the understanding and acceptance levels of children.  Young kids are way more accepting than teenagers, as many times teenagers don’t accept their own parents much less adding you to the mix.

Young kids are very accepting, and you should make an effort if your relationship is stable and serious to get involved with them. Showing the child what you can do as opposed to what you can’t do makes them feel like their parent is making a good decision.

Play sports, go to the movies, go to dinner, or just talk with them. Let them know you’re a real person who just happens to use a wheelchair.

Be honest and open if they have questions about the challenges or differences that come with your disability.

Also, young kids are always very excited to have you come to their school and talk to their class. You ARE the “Show & Tell” and this can be a positive opportunity for you to help them – and their friends – to embrace people with disabilities.  That’s more of a focus for younger children, not teenagers.  Teenagers may not even enjoy being caught with their parents, depending on the phase and stage they’re in.

Think you can't have kids if you use a wheelchair? Think again! Bert's kids, Will and Emma, will be the first to tell you that's not true. Bert has been the center of their classroom's show-and-tell on more than one occasion!

Think you can’t have kids if you use a wheelchair? Think again! Bert’s kids, Will and Emma, will be the first to tell you that’s not true. Bert has been the center of their classroom’s show-and-tell on more than one occasion!

One of my friends and co-workers at UroMed, Todd Robinson, is married with a blended family and he also happens to be a paraplegic.  Here are some of Todd’s suggestions for second marriages that involve children.

Todd: When my wife, Melissa, and I married, she had a 1-1/2-year-old little boy who’s now my son. We later decided that there were so many kids who needed good homes, and we adopted a little girl. There are all types of options out there for having children today.

The next question that comes up in a marriage that involves children from a previous relationship is inevitably how to take care of children when you have a disability. I always tell people that they’ll figure it out. I have a friend who’s a quadriplegic. He and his wife have a little girl, and he was concerned about how to hold and change a child without full use of his fingers.

But this guy’s a real hands-on Dad. He’s just figured out a way to do it. He’s learned his limitations and has determined what he needs to do to adapt to take care of his daughter. He wanted so badly to be a dad that he didn’t really care what he had to do to take care of his daughter. He made-up in his mind that he would be hands-on and enjoy every moment with his daughter, and he does.

I was scared to death the first time I held our daughter Lydia, because she was tiny when we brought her home after we adopted her. I was afraid that if she kicked or arched her back, while I was in my chair holding her, she’d throw me off balance.  I made sure I was as stable as I could be, and we never have had an accident.

So, if you have kids, just jump in, and do it. Do all you can, and ask for help if you need it. Enjoy your children and let all of the children in your life know that you love them just like anyone else would. Live life to the fullest and enjoy your family.

Todd believes the key to success in parenting is to actively participate- jump in and do it!

Todd believes the key to success in parenting is to actively participate- jump in and do it!

Q: Bert, what advice would you give on handling well-meaning but intrusive relatives?

A: Relatives, especially parents, of your special someone may have concerns too, particularly if your spouse has had a previous relationship end badly. We touched on this a little bit in our previous articles on dating and marriage.  When you are married, parents will see this as a finality and may have some unresolved concerns that keep popping up.

How do you address that? Again, the decision to be a couple is between you and your spouse, but the more you can have the family be accepting of you, the more it helps with family holidays and other get-togethers.

So with your spouse’s family, try to find points of commonality and things you can bond on, whether it’s Nascar, watching football with granddad, going fishing, etc. It may not be your favorite thing in the world, but it may be theirs, so go along and enjoy yourself.  Your relationships will benefit from it.

familyQ: Do you recommend counseling for help with family matters before and after marriage?

A: Everyone has their opinion on counseling but I think it’s a good idea. Sometimes it may not help but it never seems to hurt. A lot of times, counseling does end up helping your relationships.  So premarital or ongoing counseling may be helpful – even if it’s simply a marriage group through your church. It’s always a good thing, whether you’re in a chair or not.

Talking through issues with a counselor can help nip in the bud any potential problems before they grow, and alleviate any fears you may have about repeating past mistakes in your new relationship.

Today’s story is the third part of a series we’ve published on disabilities and relationships.  We hope you’ll take time to read the first article on dating and the second on marriage if these resources would be useful to you!

About UroMed Catheters
Headquartered in Suwanee, GA [a suburb of Atlanta], UroMed is one of the nation’s leading providers of single-use catheters, urological and disposable medical supplies, including intermittent catheters, closed system catheters, condom catheters, pediatric catheters and continence care products. UroMed is nationally accredited for Medicare reimbursement and most state Medicaid plans, and partners with private health insurance providers and health plans to provide patients with single-use catheters, catheter kits and incontinence products. UroMed also has seven staffed regional offices located in Boston, MA; Columbia, SC; Jacksonville, FL; Dallas, TX; Carlsbad, CA; Knoxville, TN; Richmond, VA; and Baton Rouge, LA; enabling next-day delivery after a customer’s initial medical supply order. For more information, please visit or call 1-800-841-1233.

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