Last month we received a comment from a reader pointing out the all-too-familiar challenge of looking for work while also parenting a child with special needs. In our culture, it is hard to be successful in the working world when you are so needed at home. This really struck a chord with me and I wanted to share my story with you. I am a child development specialist and I have three kids, one of whom has special needs.
I’ve always loved my work outside the home, but I also loved shifting to become a stay-at-home mom with my boys.
But being the caretaker at home while they were small also brought with it a shift in my identity and career goals – accompanied by many self-imposed questions and tired tears. I think as parents, we all go through some version of this as we grow our families. This evolution of life comes fast and hard when you have children, and faster and harder when you have children with special needs.
Then there is another shift, one that occurs when your children go off to school.
When your children go off to school, you think this opens up so much time to pursue work outside of the home. For a parent of a child with special needs, however, you are still managing and scheduling appointments, going to those appointments, getting calls from school, picking up early, dropping off late. In between, you’re getting the shoes that fit perfectly with the brace but it’s located on the other end of town.
On top of the logistics, you’re doing the emotional work of trying to stay the course when you suddenly receive an email from your son’s school that makes you want to drop everything and go scoop him up. (On a different day, you might get the same email and want to jump in the car and just drive and drive. But you don’t.)
When life feels overwhelming like this, I think, can I really do this?
I am often distracted, I’m going to be late sometimes, and I’m going to need to leave early other times. Some mornings my eyes will be red and others they will have heavy bags from a long night up. My child and my family will always be my first priority.
But child care is expensive. Therapies are expensive. Going to the special needs friendly exhibit at the museum that your child loves is expensive! Buying the clothes that fit just right and don’t make your child feel “scratchy and yucky” is expensive. Taking time to connect with your husband or friends and hiring a qualified babysitter that you trust…is expensive. Now that my kids are in school, even though I could easily fill my time, I have a need and an opportunity to increase income.
I love being a mom, but my identity is more than “mom.”
I have ideas and value to contribute to my community and to the world. I enjoy my career and I’m motivated for the next step. I’m good at it.
My experiences have shaped me, as they have for us all, and I’m stronger for it. I will bring that strength into my work in the form of determination and perseverance. I have a softness that that’s helps me to feel deep empathy for others and not to make assumptions. I’m a manager and an organizer, and I know what it means to find the positive when people keep pointing out the negative.
Whether you call it a balance or not, we are all trying to do what we need to do for ourselves and for our family. That looks different in different homes, but we should all work harder as a culture to support one another and hold each other up as we continue our career paths and value family and healthy development.
Now you need to find the job. This is no small feat but you can start here: find Parent and Caregiver Support groups in your community and have those conversations about what worked and what did not work for others. Use Respite services to take the time to research employers or go on informational interviews. Gather information and see what works for you and your family. As you search, there are resources that we can access to be sure we are getting all of the financial support that we are eligible for. Good luck on your exciting new journey!