It's One Big Happy Family season here at This Writer's Life. In celebration of the book's paperback release I have asked a number of the writers from One Big Happy Family: 18 Writers Talk About Open Adoption, Mixed Marriage, Polyamory, Househusbandry, Single Motherhood, and Other Realities of Truly Modern Love, to reflect upon how things have changed (or remained the same) in their own lives since they wrote their essays over a year ago. Further, I've also asked various writers I admire to discuss their wild, messy, loving, non-traditional families as well. Below, Areva Martin talks about her happy family:
Balancing a Career and Mothering an Autistic Child
By Areva D. Martin, Esq.
Is working outside the home even a remote possibility for a mother with a child with autism?
For many women, working is less of a question and more of a mandate. With the high cost of housing, gas, food and basic essentials, both parents have to work.
After years pursuing advanced degrees and carving out their own niche in the business world, very few professional women want to spend their lives at home full-time--even for a child they dearly love.
Working is their way of making a contribution to the worlds of business, government, community or politics; it is their way of fulfilling lifelong dreams and aspirations. And they take pride in their accomplishments.
When I learned that my son, Marty, had moderate autism spectrum disorder I never dreamed of ending my career as an attorney. But within months, after being immersed in the world of autism, I had to totally reevaluate my career and my new obligations as a caretaker.
Depending on the nature and severity of the disability, the prospect of coordinating services, arranging for child care and providing an appropriate educational setting can be overwhelming. Even parents who have the resources to hire a staff or have family members who can help, often struggle to care for autistic children.
When there are other children in the family, the balancing act is even more intense. It's simply impossible to give everyone in the family equal attention, when one family member has legitimately heightened needs.
After working all day and spending every free moment scheduling medical or therapy appointments, attending IEP meetings, and addressing the constant demands of the child, it's hard to have enough left for the rest of the family.
The trouble is, that reality does nothing to soothe the real or perceived slights to siblings, who have every right to expect their own quality time. Even the maturity and understanding of a spouse has limits, when month-after-month, their own needs are neglected. (The divorce rate among families with disabled children is reportedly 84 percent.)
Whatever choice a parent makes about working full-time or staying home, it won't be easy. Mothers who decide to--or have to--stay home as full-time caregivers should do so with no expectations. Those who choose to work instead should do so without any feelings of doubt, remorse or shame.
For some mothers, continuing to work is the best thing for them and their family. When a woman feels good about herself, she is in a far better position to bring home her very best parenting skills and patience.
Making the choice to work while raising a child with autism is not a matter of right or wrong; it can only be a completely personal choice. If they so choose, mothers can have it all. I can personally attest to the fact that it's very possible to love, nurture and care for a child with autism while running a gratifying career.
Once I realized that continuing my professional involvement with my life actually helped my son, I was able to let go of any doubts. When family members or even strangers presumed to tell me I had an obligation to stay home full-time with my disabled son, I could confidently tell them I had made the best choice for me.
Like many other high-achievers, I would have floundered had I stayed at home. Instead, I have not only continued my law practice, but become actively involved in the autism community. In my legal practice, I represent families in educational matters; I co-founded a non-profit that provides resources to other families with autistic children; I sponsor workshops and present at professional conferences on the legal issues involved in raising a child with autism; and I serve on a statewide commission for autism.
Helping others in the autism community, as well as my son, allows me bring my best to this unexpected turn my life has taken as a result of having a child with autism.
The key to success is setting well-informed goals, keeping expectations realistic and seeking help. My book, The Everyday Advocate: How to Stand Up for Your Child with Autism, can help mothers identify family, friends, community resources and agencies to provide assistance with every aspect of a child's care, from babysitting to driving. Practical solutions like these can lift the burden of some of the daily tasks that mothers' shoulder when they have a child with autism.
Areva Martin, Esq. is the author of The Everyday Advocate: How to Stand Up for Your Child with Autism. She has appeared on Dr. Phil, Good Morning America, and FOX News, and has counseled hundreds of parents of autistic children. A graduate of University of Chicago and Harvard Law School, she is the founding and managing partner of Martin & Martin, LLP. Additionally, Martin is the president and co-founder of Special Needs Network, Inc. (SNN), a non-profit launched specifically to support families with special needs children. She lives in Los Angeles.