Career change is a key theme that emerged from my recent special needs marriage focus group. When couples begin to raise a family, adding children to the household brings about big changes. Juggling two careers plus a family comes with challenges. Responsibility and roles within the household cannot help but shift. This happens even within typical families. When special needs are present the impact to household roles and careers can be even greater.
According to statistical data evaluated by Dennis Hogan in Family Consequences of Children’s Disabilities, mothers in particular are less likely to return to full-time work if raising child with special needs than if raising a typically developing child. The more severe the disability, the greater the likelihood that one parent will stay home. The parent who remains in the workforce often works two jobs or moves into a position that includes much travel due to those jobs offering a higher salary.
These trends within special needs households were reflected within my focus group. At least half of those participating gave up highly specialized careers in sales, accounting, medicine and performing arts. Several changed from full-time to part-time employment, switching to less demanding jobs in order to be more available to their child and spouse. These career changes were not part of the plan when having children and parents felt the impact deeply. Issues of identity, purpose, and self-worth all came to light. These are major life changes and cannot help but have an impact within a marriage as roles and responsibilities are resorted. Each parent found great value and rewards in having more time with their children. There were very positive blessings that came with that career shift. Those greatly helped balance some of what was missed, such as a dearly loved job, colleagues, and a higher income.
Much of our discussion boiled down to a sense of purpose. Our purpose in life changes right along with careers and roles. I recall on my own journey with special needs parenting that I needed to re-arrange my career as my son’s needs became more clear as he grew from being a toddler and into pre-school and beyond. I gave up a full-time career and stayed home for several years, gradually adding back part-time employment and eventually full-time. In the process it felt as though I was continually recreating myself, fulfilling different roles and purposes. My experience is highly typical based on research as well as my recent focus group.
How can couples stay on track in the midst of these changes? Here are a few suggestions:
Agree as a team about division of labor inside and outside the home. Work toward an understanding that both spouses are equally valued and equally necessary within the household, even when contributing in different ways.
Communicate about needs and expectations, especially when roles change.
Maintain a healthy sense of purpose in the midst of transition. Focus on the positives that come with changing roles and responsibilities and acknowledge what you miss.
Explore your interests and abilities. What are you good at? What do you like to do? How can you use those talents in different ways to fill something that you may miss from a former career?
Create a long-term plan that includes personal goals for both spouses and look at how those plans can be fulfilled as your child grows and develops.
Caring God, we give thinks to you for the children in our lives and for the ways that our lives are blessed through them. As they grow, we grow right along with them, learning to fulfill a new purpose. Help us to discover new paths and walk them in a way that is pleasing to you. Amen
The rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.” Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. (Genesis 2:22-24 NRS)
Golden Wedding Ring by Danilo Rizzuti courtesy of FreeDigitalphotos