Should Mothers Of Special Needs Children Work? The Eternal Dilemma Of Motherhood!

Do you work? This question has become the second most important question asked after how are you? Or what’s your name? And if one thinks that this is another way of exchanging pleasantries amongst men meeting for the first time then you are mistaken, men don’t really ask this. They take it for granted that the other man must be working. It is mostly the working women asking this to measure the worth of other women.
Picture a new group of Mothers or old friends meeting after a long time and you’ll be surprised that this question makes its way rather too soon in the course of any conversation. At the cost of sounding cynical I feel this to be a really unnecessary piece of information anyone needs to know or better still ask.

Every Mother works. Yes, every one! I am surprised why work is still not made the synonym of motherhood! The choice to work full time, part time or stay at home should remain with the mother. And there should be no prejudices about their choices. We all get it! But is it this simple?

When I thought of writing about what makes women leave a well established career for looking after their child with special needs, I realized this is not what it looks like. The choice of working or not working is not easy and no matter what one chooses they are bound to feel guilty. More than a curiosity it was a need to understand what goes on in the mind of mothers when they take career transforming or life changing decisions of either leaving a flourishing job or juggling it with an ever mounting guilt for the care of their child with special needs.

A lot of mothers put their careers on hold even in case of typically developing children but that is different because once they grow up to be self sufficient these mothers can start afresh or get back to their field of interest, of course the long hiatus does make it difficult but in case of children with special needs this choice is not as natural or uncomplicated.


Lisa Jo Rudy, writer of’s guide to Autism, and the mother of a child with PDD-NOS, Warns about “Parents giving all their efforts and time to their special needs child at the cost of interdicting everything and everyone else.” She further writes,

“Can you really live well (in all respects) if you are completely dedicated to your child? If you give up your career for your child’s needs, will you resent your child? If your child doesn’t respond to your care, treatments, or love — will you feel that you’ve given up too much? If you quit your job, will you be utterly isolated? Think about your needs and your child’s needs not just in terms of time but also in terms of money, sanity, self-esteem, and peace of mind.” 

The exact same emotion was conveyed to me by Ranjan Sharma, a professional photographer and father of a girl with Down syndrome. He writes “Circumstances may or may not be in your control but if you are determined what you want out of your life, no one can stop you from achieving it. Having a special needs child doesn’t change much. If need help ask for it you will mostly get it.”


The question is ‘what do YOU want?‘ The answer should and must not be based solely on the circumstances because there are Mothers who are managing work, home and care for their child with special needs brilliantly. People like Ellen Seidman@ love that Max have given us a great example of balance. Ellen is a magazine editor, web content developer, freelance writer, blogger and a Mother of two. Her son Max has cerebral palsy. She writes across various sites and blogs to make people educate and aware about disabilities.

In one of the posts comparing special needs parenting to typical parenting, she writes, My Catch 22 is one I think many parents of kids with special needs have to contend with. Since Max was a baby, I’ve done full-time work in an office. This is partly for my mental well-being; I love my work, and I need to have that life (not to mention the income). But I don’t know that I’d ever say I wholeheartedly prefer it. I know that my son needs me and I have at times felt amazingly guilty for not being there for him.”  She further writes, “If you ask me what kind of job I do as a parent, I’d say “Good enough.” Because that’s the best I can do, and I have learned to be satisfied with that.”
Another friend, a parent and the creator of “Down Syndrome support group India Shivani Dhillon writes “Working full time for a mother of any child irrespective of disability should be a choice made with no guilt. Even though I lived a fast life being a journalist, I am now so content not working. A decision I have never regretted.Two women with different choices but the fact that the choices they made aligned with what they wanted and not something they had to feel sacrificial or resentful about. The guilt is inevitable and it would creep in no matter if you work full time or are a stay at home mother.
The truth  is, if the big picture is what you believe in, these small guilt trips are easier to deal with. Areva D. Martin, writer of “Balancing a Career and Mothering an Autistic Child” shares how in search of an appropriate balance she met with Dr.B.J. Freeman, Ph.D., a renowned psychologist and got the best advice ever. She writes “Dr. Freeman told me that the key to successful parenting is (to the extent possible) to fit the child into your life’s schedule, rather than completely rearranging your life around the child. Some of the happiest families she saw in her practice were those that embodied and lived by this principle”. I couldn’t agree more.
The choice to work or not work should not be based on right or wrong. It should rather be a personal decision. The decision to be a full time carer should not lead to bitterness and anguish.”Denise schipani” a famous Blogger writes, your children should add to your life, not subtract what’s most essential about you!

Some of the greatest advice by Mothers who are maintaining a great work life balance is here for all of us to read and ponder on…

1. Change Your Career

A lot of mothers find it easier to work in flexible time arrangement or in the disability field after their child’s birth. One, it gives them a new perspective plus an advantage to learn what can be beneficial to the child.

2. Appreciate The Distraction It Provides

In the words of Angela Patterson,’s guide to Dallas and the mother of a child with Angelman syndrome, “Working is therapy for me. When I work, I tend to lose myself in it for a few minutes (or hours). I focus on my current project, not my child’s problems or her school. I write about the here-and-now things. I think working helps me to be a better parent. Just finishing an article gives me such a sense of accomplishment. Well said!

3. Basic Organizational Skills

There are parents who in spite of being at home are not able to devote as much time and effort as some full time working mothers can do and achieve. It doesn’t mean that either choice is bad or good. It just means that with some organizational skills, a lot can be achieved without giving up on your choice of life.

4. Taking Care Of Yourself

Even if you are a stay at home or full time working mother taking care of yourself should definitely be a work of priority. Balancing home, work and a special needs child is not for weak hearted and you should be proud of the fact that you are doing it to the best of your capacity. Pampering and rewarding yourself for the same can bring out positivity and help boost self confidence.

5. You Are Not Indispensable

Understand it, think about it and accept it. You might feel like you are the only hope  for your child and if you are not physically around than your child would never learn the things he would do with you, but the fact remains the same, none of us are indispensable. Try and make them independent and create a network or a group of people that can come handy when you are not there. Prepare your kids and condition them for the same. So be there for your angels but at the same time do realize that they have a life apart from you and you have the same as well. And if you feel that you are indispensable, read this! It will help you put things back in perspective!

The Indispensable Man
(by Saxon White Kessinger)

Sometime when you’re feeling important;
Sometime when your ego ‘s in bloom;
Sometime when you take it for granted,
You’re the best qualified in the room:
Sometime when you feel that your going,

Would leave an unfillable hole,
Just follow these simple instructions,
And see how they humble your soul.

Take a bucket and fill it with water,
Put your hand in it up to the wrist,
Pull it out and the hole that’s remaining,
Is a measure of how much you’ll be missed.

You can splash all you wish when you enter,
You may stir up the water galore,
But stop, and you’ll find that in no time,
It looks quite the same as before.

The moral of this quaint example,
Is to do just the best that you can,
Be proud of yourself but remember,

There’s no indispensable man.

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  1. hi kristi…You are right, we all go through those days and sometimes change brings peace and rejuvenation to work better with our kids.
    Thanks for writing..

    • Thanks for innuodrcitg a little rationality into this debate.

  2. Avatar Providing Support For Siblings Of Kids With Special Needs | Self Help Inspiration

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  3. I work part time. When at work, I feel guilty for not spending time with my son. But still, there are days when I look at the clock and wonder how many more playgrounds I’ll need to go to before bedtime, so I also welcome it. I do think every family is different – and your point “what do you want?” is really the most important.