A Special Kind Of Juggling Act

If you’re a working parent or a stay-at-home parent who has a child with special needs, you experience untold challenges in balancing responsibilities. But are our lives really much different from any mom trying to have it all?

When I learned my unborn son, Charlie, had Down syndrome, I was working full time doing PR for a Fortune 50 company and just days from marrying my soulmate. I huddled alone in an empty office, listening to our genetic counselor share the news.

In those first few moments, I felt blindsided. A friend at work hugged me while I cried and whispered my overwhelming fear: “But I have no patience. How can I do this?”

Two years later, I realize I should have been praying for organization skills instead of patience.

Constant chaos, constant guilt

Things are much easier now, but the first year of Charlie’s life was constant chaos. I was a first-time mom who returned from maternity leave to dive into brand-new responsibilities. (Clearly, I was insane.)

The resulting zip-line through each work week was exhausting.

Three days a week, I had Charlie’s therapy scheduled first thing in the morning, so I could participate and then dash into the office. I was determined not to be one of those parents who shoves a child into the hands of a therapist and takes an hour off from parenting.

We had play therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech therapy. My child may have Down syndrome, I thought, but by God he is also going to have every helping hand along the way!

Five days a week, I made deals with whatever devil was causing 5 p.m. requests from colleagues and 6 p.m. traffic — both keeping me from getting home by 5:30 so our nanny could have dinner with her family.

Most nights, I logged onto my laptop and tried to stay ahead of a growing to-do list. Some nights, I actually made progress.

I was a mess. I knew it, and everyone around me saw it but pretended it would get better. They wanted me to succeed and I wanted so badly to be able to do it all. To have it all.

Cheating my children

Then I learned I was expecting my daughter. As gestational diabetes kicked in and my legs and ankles swelled to beach ball proportions, I recognized I had chosen my priorities poorly. I had been cheating Charlie, my unborn daughter and my career by trying to juggle each equally.

Today, thanks to company leadership that is willing to think outside the standard-issue 9-to-5 career model, I have regained confidence in both my mommy skills and my work skills. A part-time job share allows me to dedicate a full weekday to Charlie’s therapies, keep up with laundry (or pretend to) and actually put dinner on the table without using a takeout menu.

I spend half my week in yoga pants and a pony tail, and the other half in business casual that, by comparison, feels like prom wear. It is the perfect balance — for me.

Every woman in America has heard the rally cry to “have it all,” but what’s life like for those women who have a child with special needs? Is it harder to have it all? Or just different?

Next: Another mom's decision

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Comments on "Moms of kids with special needs weigh work vs. staying home"

Katie November 16, 2012 | 4:09 PM

I agree that no matter what it's a big decision to work or stay home. I've realized that you have to prioritize, and give your kids the attention they need when you're with them. I work from home, but a lot of times I'll work in the evenings once my husband is home so he can take over child duty.

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