“Single” and “Special”

Of late there has been yet another crop of articles and discussions in parenting magazines, parenting websites and blogs discussing the difficulty of working and raising a child.  It seems to be an annual tradition.  Many of the magazine articles and the comments quickly degrade to a competition of which mom is better, the one who stays at home or the one who pursues a career.

The discussions and articles often are replete with comments to the effect that “I am a better mother than you because I quit my job and stayed home with my child” or “my husband doesn’t help with the child so I am practically a single mother” or “I work part time and that’s practically as hard as working full time.”

What is lost in these arguments is that (a) most single mothers cannot quit their jobs since there would be no income for food, housing, health insurance and other basic needs of the child, (b) having a husband who doesn’t participate in day to day childcare may stink, but that husband does provide (in most circumstances) financial assistance for the food, housing, health insurance and basic needs that require money and (c)  well, no matter how you cut it, working 2 or 3 days a week and being a stay at home mom the other 4 or 5 days a week is not the same as working 40 to 50 hours a week and knowing there is no second income to make up the difference (whether that second income be in the form of a partner’s/spouse’s paycheck or a child support check).

Add in the fact that you are the single mother to a child with special needs and you have entered a whole new realm of why you have to work.

I belong to a number of parenting groups for parents of special needs children.  Some families are fortunate to live in countries that have generous paid maternity leaves (a year or more), but most live in the US where employers and the government expect you to be back at work 6 weeks after giving birth.  Assuming you have a typical child, this would suck anyway.  Most mothers don’t want to put their infants into day care at 6 or even 12 weeks old.  Some families are lucky and have an endless parade of grandparents, aunts, uncles and neighbors to watch the baby at little or no cost.  Other single moms, like myself, would be lucky to be able to rely on the building superintendent, or hell, even UPS guy with spare time to watch Eliza between deliveries.

Child care becomes more difficult when you have a special needs child since daycare is often not an option because either (a) daycare centers won’t take children with medical or special needs and (b) your child cannot medically withstand the germs in daycare centers.  Finding a nanny is not so easy either since not every nanny would actually be able to operate an oxygen concentrator, read a pulse oximeter, administer a half dozen medications day, work with three or four therapists each week or frankly, and simply not be afraid of your baby.

As a single mom in the US, having to work provides for the basic needs of the mom and the child:  food, home, insurance, clothing and if you are lucky, cable TV.  In addition, the single parent of a special needs child has to work since there are the additional costs of the endless co-pays for hundreds of doctor appointments (yes, hundreds in 5 years), medication co-pays (no generics for these kids), durable medical equipment, co-pays for thousands of hours of therapies, the endless list of things your insurer thinks are uncovered or unnecessary (like special formula, or compounded medications) and a nanny since daycare is not an option (see scary baby scenario above).

So perhaps before voicing your opinion and denigrating a working single mother, think about what you know (even in its most basic form) about the family unit before you spew off some invective about how the mother should be home with the child. I have been told over the years, and very recently,  that “I asked for motherhood” (by spending years and an ungodly sum of of money on fertility treatments) so I had therefore abdicated my right to occasionally complain about the realities of life.  It is an interesting position for people to take, since last time I checked, the married women I know who are mothers also actively sought out motherhood.  The more disturbing thing is that most of these comments come from married women, or women who are at least receiving a child support check.  Rarely have I ever heard any of my male friends or acquaintances make such comments, but then again I’ve never heard any of the men I know criticize another dad for working to support his family.

So come on ladies, can’t we all just try to get along and not make this a competition?  And before you criticize a woman’s decision to work, realize that this decision may not have been a choice, but the only option to be able to provide for her child.

Getting off my soapbox now.


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“I used to think that becoming an SMC was my plan B, but it was the best decision I ever made. My son is my pride and joy. I can't imagine life without him. I am thankful that I had support along the way through the SMC community. I no longer consider it my plan B.”

– Anonymous