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Why this mum wants you to stop trying to help her parent

By Victoria Owens|

Sarah Hirst wants you to know she's just like any other mum.?

She takes her kids to the park, she negotiates with them when they don't want to leave and she enjoys a much needed glass of wine on the days when parenting feels hard.?

The only difference is, Sarah is legally blind and has been her whole life.

But what she really wants you to know, is that being blind doesn't mean she can't parent her two and four-year-olds C she just does it in a different way to many other mums.

Watch the video above.?

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Sarah Hirst is legally blind, but says it doesn't stop her from much (Supplied)

Just like any other mum?

The 35-year-old says sometimes people "do a bit of a double take" when they see she is blind AND a mum, but she's hoping they can "get their head around the fact that I'm doing things a little bit differently to get things done."

Hirst has told 9Honey Parenting, "there's always ways of doing things outside the box and someone with blindness and low vision is perfectly capable as much as the next person of being an excellent parent and finding a work-around."

The mum-of-two is assisted by Guide Dog Zali who helps her get to work by day and be a pet to her kids by night.?

"Zali's main job is obstacle avoidance, so she's helping me to find things, find the stairs, find the train, find the office, find a good coffee, whatever you want to train the dog to locate."

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Sarah is assisted by guide dog Zali, who can help her to follow her kids (Supplied)

The benefits of a Guide Dog?

Hirst says a "handy quirk" of having Zali is that she's also been trained to "find or follow" her kids when they go out to the park.

"So often if we're out I might be holding one of my kids hands, my partner might have the other one and I can just say 'Zali follow' and she'll follow my partner or follow one of the kids so we can stick together."

But she says the park is also the place she experiences a lot of social bias as well.

"Often at the park I think it challenges [other parents'] expectations when they see me show up with a cane or a guide dog."

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Sarah's guide dog Zali helps her work and parent by day and becomes the family pet at night (Supplied)

Social barriers?

She says often parents doubt her capabilities and try to jump in and 'parent' a situation for her.

"There was one magnificent rebellion at a play group and I'd go after him [her son] and he just kept slithering away from me and I got more and more embarrassed and instead of just letting me parent [the way she wanted], all these people kept calling to my son 'mummy's ready to go, now don't be naughty' so I went redder and redder and I became more frustrated with the people around me than I was with my toddler."

As a mum, Hirst understands comments like this come from a good place, but she wants people to know they also make her feel very uncomfortable.

Sarah says her guide dog Zali is trained to help her avoid obstacles (Supplied)
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"I felt so disempowered by the people around me not respecting me and that happens a lot. But I just try and lead by example, to help people see blindness and low vision differently."?

Hirst works as a presenter for Guide Dogs NSW and is one of the many voices in its new 'Boundless' campaign to help break down the social barriers affecting blind and low vision people.

The campaign comes after the Royal Commission's report on disability, identified segregation between people with a disability and young people.

"It's actually a bit boring in a way with how much [we are] like other families C I find the barriers are very much other people's attitudes to the kids, but generally they see me out there just doing it, and it helps them realise that it's actually fine."

She wants to teach other parents that they've got a role to play "in terms of how inclusive they are and how accessible they make society", particularly when it comes to questioning her abilities.

"If you wouldn't ask it to someone who's fully sighted rule of thumb is, it's probably not a great idea to do it to someone with low vision."

Guide Dogs NSW hopes its campaign can break down the segregation affecting blind and low vision people. (Instagram)

How she does it ?

Sarah says she's very aware of what she is and isn't capable of as a parent and admits her home was actually the cause of most of the anxiety she had surrounding her children.?

"I was worried if they picked something up and they put something in their mouth, but then I got into that Montessori style, where you really just kind of accept that there's kids around and you've got to baby proof and toddler proof [everything]."

Hirst and her partner are now across everything that comes into their house because "it meant that when I was parenting them, I could relax knowing that they were in a safety conscious environment with a lot of things for them to engage with and climb over, but zero choke hazards".

Sarah and her guide dog Zali (Supplied)

Hirst says she's very safety conscious so that she's not held back from doing what she wants with the kids.?

"There's certain contexts where I choose to have someone with me, sometimes it's easier to do things with a friend, [to] just have that extra set of eyes, particularly in crowded areas."?

Communicating with her kids?

And she says while her kids are aware her "eyes work differently", she is having more organic conversations with them about what she can and can't do as their mum.

"The communication is really great and even with the two-and-a-half year old C they'll say 'look at this' and they'll kind of give me a little donk with whatever the thing is because they know that for me, looking at something means that I do it with my hands."

Sarah does sensory play with her kids using blocks and playdough (Getty)

She says the only thing really holding her back from parenting is other people's naivety when it comes to her vision impairment.

"I just want to be seen like any other parent, like I have my fine moments where I'm parenting amazingly and moments where I get super frustrated and I feel like pouring a glass of wine and locking myself in a cupboard."

A sentiment almost every mum can relate to.

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