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Losing My Choice

When you are a parent of a child with special needs, often, you feel like the choice to be a working mom has been taken away from you. I am trying to make it all work.

This is not a piece about working mothers versus stay at home mothers.  I know that if a woman has a child, then she is a "working" mother.  I am, however, a mom that works outside of my home.  I always have been.

After college I went to law school and always assumed I would work and pursue the dreams I had when I started law school.  Of course, our paths twist and turn as we grow up and mine was no different.  I graduated from law school and began working in the legal field.  I went to work for a pretty brilliant attorney who specialized her firm's practice in estate planning for individuals with special needs and their families.  A perfect fit for someone who was part of a family who was living this speciality of the law.  I could never have imagined how that start of my career would help prepare me for my role as a mother of a child with special needs.  After some time, an opportunity to lead and develop a Human Resources Department came my way and a new career was born.  I have been in the human resources field for over ten years now. 

After our daughter Molly was born, I started working from home on Fridays.  It has been seven years of being in an office Monday-Thursday and making a home office work on Fridays.  With Molly it always worked out.  We had a routine.  I took her to daycare or preschool every morning and off to work I went.  Her dad always picked her up and she was happy and well adjusted.  Our life worked.  Of course, I had those "working mom" guilt feelings creep up, especially on days when Molly had a class party or was sick or during summer break.  I wondered sometimes if she was missing something or if I was missing out on something while I was at work.  I know I missed things.  I also know that my daughter made friends easily, laughed all the time, learned to write her name, learned to share and knew 20 sight words before kindergarten...all while I worked.  She never came home sad or whined that she "didn't want to go."  Being a working mom "worked" for our family.  Then Brady came along. 

All our plans changed when our Brady was born.  He was sick from the start.  He needed so much extra care.  He failed to thrive and was so slow to develop.  He needed his mom.  He needed to be home.  He needed to be in a safe environment with no germs and so much attention.  He could not go to day care.  I felt like the decision on whether or not to be a working mother or stay at home mom was being made for me.  The choice that I always cherished and prided myself on making on my own, was being taken away from me.  But then my mother-in-law stepped in and gave me my choice back.  She and my father-in-law offered to care for Brady during the day while I was at work.  They offered to help with therapy sessions and drive Brady to doctor's appointments.  They gave my husband and I an incredible gift.  They gave us the gift of choice.  They gave us the gift of financial security.  And in the summer, my own mom offered to continue to care for Brady while she was off for the summer from her own teaching job.  Our parents gave us a gift many are not afforded. I am eternally grateful to them.

It is not to say that I have not questioned my decision to continue to work after Brady's birth.  There were so many days that I wanted to turn my car around and go home and watch him learn to hold his head up and smile and giggle.  There were countless days where I wanted to stop the feeling of chaos that came from rushing from school drop off to Brady's therapies to work, on so many mornings.  But being a working mother is who I am.  It is a choice I made for many reasons.  I never wanted to feel that being a mother of a child with special needs meant I didn't have choices.

When my husband and I signed Brady up for an Early On program for infants with developmental delays, we sat down with our supports coordinator.  She gave us numerous forms and reports and schedules of therapies.  All of the therapies were during the day-during the traditional work day.  I asked about therapy times later in the day so I could bring Brady at the end of my work day and they told me the last class started at 1:30pm.  I said, "what do working parents do?" and she looked at me with such shock and disbelief that I was even considering continuing to work.  She smiled sweetly and said, " over 90% of our moms are stay at home moms.  It is very hard to work when you have a special needs child."  Now I was the one who looked shocked.  I was instantly defensive.  How dare someone would take away my choice to be a working mother.  How dare someone would assume I could not take care of my child and give him absolutely everything he needs, to be all that he is destined to be and continue to do what I need to do as well.  So, I worked it out with my mother-in-law and together we gave Brady all the therapy, care and love he needed during those first 3 years. 

Now that Brady goes to his special education preschool every day, we have worked out a new routine that works for our family.  My in-laws still see Brady every day as they wait for him to arrive home from school each afternoon and I spend every morning with my little one as we wait patiently for his bus to pick him up.  I make sure he is safe and secure on his bus and I am the last face he sees each morning before it pulls away.  We have a beautiful morning routine that leaves a smile on both of our faces before the rest of our day takes over.

But that woman at Early On was not all wrong.  It has been very hard.  I am not all that I can be at work.  I know this.  I am lucky that I have a very supportive employer and team of understanding co-workers.  I struggle each and every day to give all that I can to everyone who needs me.  But honestly, being a mother of a child with special needs is different and more challenging.  There are more doctor appointments.  There are so many more issues that must be dealt with at school.  Your child gets sick so much more than other children.  Quite frankly...they just need you in a different way than other children.  

Many women struggle with the choice to work or not work outside of their home once they have children.  I respect mothers who stay home and give every bit of themselves to their children.  They give up careers, but gain so much in return.  I respect mothers who work outside the home.  They work for many reasons.  Some work for monetary reasons.  Others because they gain a sense of independence and want to follow their dreams, in conjunction with being the very best mother they can be.  They want to show their children that their mom can be a little bit of everything.  My family is proud of me.  My daughter sees that a woman can be absolutely anything she wants to be.  My son knows I work hard so I can help provide the life that he and his sister deserve and need.  My husband is supportive and does so much in our day-to-day life that I hope he knows I would be lost without him. 

But there are so many days I feel like this choice is slipping away from me.  A few weeks ago, when Brady was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, I thought the choice was gone.  I couldn't imagine going back to work.  I couldn't imagine anyone knowing as much about diabetes or my son as me.  I thought it had to be me who did it all.  But as a family, we have all learned a little bit about this new challenge and we have learned how to make it work.  Slowly Brady has returned to a routine...and so have we.  It's a in our house, but routine has returned and with it, I am back to my work schedule.  It is a challenge each and every day trying to make this all work, but it is still my choice and being a mother of a child with special needs will not change that. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Rachael Trieu March 06, 2012 at 04:31 PM
It's comforting to know that all of us moms struggle with the "working" decision and how to balance everything...And to have Brady's needs in addition to everything else. You are amazing Erin!
Mike Ronayne March 08, 2012 at 03:18 PM
YOU,JOE & MOLLY HAVE A LOT OF WORK TO DO HOPE WE CAN HELP AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE I KNOW EVERYTHING WILL BE ALRIGHT LOVE DAD

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