When my twins were born three months early with special healthcare needs, I found myself at a career crossroads. With an average of eight appointments to attend per week, it seemed like my new mothering responsibilities would make maintaining a 40+ hour work schedule impossible. I wondered if I should give up the career I loved to be a full-time caregiver or if there was another way to grow professionally while still being there for my twins.
Fortunately, I found a middle path that allowed me to be with my kids most of the time while continuing to grow professionally. What was the answer? Starting a small consulting shop where I worked remotely around my twins' schedules.
Through my experience, I realized that there were unspoken assumptions made around mothers of special needs children that deserved to be dispelled. Let's dissect them.
1. If you really loved your kid, you would stay home and be a full-time caregiver.
In the popular book Wonder, the mother (played by Julia Roberts in the movie version) puts aside her graduate work and career for a decade to care for her son with Treacher Collins Syndrome. Often, the pressure to follow her martyrly, albeit fictional, example can feel overwhelming.
But when it comes to making this decision, it is so important to know yourself. Confession time: on a slow week of client work, I can tell that I am actually a less engaged parent. On the more full weeks, I tend to happily spend more quality time reading or singing to my kids, because I'm less starved for intellectual stimuli.
Also, sometimes the most loving use of your time is to make money for your family's future. And that is 100% okay. You'll find a balance that works for you.
2. You are the only mom doing this, and there are no other role models out there.
When it comes to blazing your own trail, it is immeasurably helpful to find similar professional pioneers. I'd strongly suggest finding at least one other working woman that is farther along in her journey who can offer you some guidance.
This mentor doesn't need to be in the same exact industry, on the same exact career track, or even have a child with the same exact diagnosis as yours. She just needs to be willing to help you brainstorm solutions to problems and encourage you along the way.
Don't know where to look? Wolf + Friends is a great platform where you can meet other special needs mom friends and mentors.
3. Asking for flexibility will stall your career.
Chances are, your employer would rather not lose your skills and talents and would prefer not to have to recruit someone to fill your position. Turn this knowledge into a case for flexibility. If your employer retains you, you will continue to contribute to your employer's mission.
Flexibility can make the world of difference for your family, so don't be afraid to dare to ask for more than you feel you're "permitted" to. And if your current employer refuses to be flexible, don't lose hope. Technology advancements and culture change are encouraging more and more employers to step up to the plate in the flexibility department to compete for top talent.
4. Being a special needs mother makes you a less desirable employee.
For generations, women have been apologizing for having a special needs child. But why? It is not like your hard-won professional skills have evaporated overnight the moment your child received their diagnosis.
Indeed, I would argue that all of the advocacy, organization and negotiation you practice in your home life can actually make you an even better employee than before. It's a mindset shift we all need to make.
Let's reject the myths that disempower us and embrace the strengths we've gained as parents. Together we can change the narrative on what it means to be professional mothers of special needs children.