How Special Needs Parenting Compares To Typical Parenting

The Pew Research Center just came out with a major poll, Modern Parenthood: Roles of Moms and Dads Converge as They Balance Work and Family. It’s based on a survey of 2511 adults around the country. I read the results with much curiosity about how other parents’ lives compare to mine. I have one child with special needs, who has cerebral palsy, and one child with an attitude (who is sometimes a lot more challenging than her brother).

While my life is similar to other moms’ in many ways (juggling work and family and trying my best to hold it all together), it’s very different, too—exactly what occurred to me as I read through the findings. These are some facts based on my own non-scientific-but-very-real experiences.

Poll stat: 53 percent of working moms and dads polled with kids under age 18 say it’s difficult to balance job and family responsibilities

Special-needs parent fact: Given the additional medical appointments and therapies moms have to manage, I’d say that work-family juggling challenges are significantly magnified for parents of kids with special needs. Not a day goes by when I don’t think “Wow, this is hard”—and marvel that I haven’t run screaming down the street because I’ve finally lost it.

Poll stat: Mothers spend an average of 12 hours a week on childcare 

Special-needs parent fact: Our kids need more hands-on help, even as they get older. Max is 10 now. He finally potty-trained this year (THANK YOU, potty-training gods!) but still needs help with his pants, as well as hands-on care with feeding, dressing, bathing, eating and even at play (fine-motor skills are a challenge for him).

Poll stat: 73% of moms say they are doing an “excellent” job as a parent

Special-needs parent fact: I’m a good parent and yet, I never think of myself as doing an “excellent” job with Max. This is because there is always something I feel like I could be doing with him—some therapeutic exercise, say, or trying a new app that could help improve his reading skills. With so many parenting resources these days, perhaps a lot of mothers feel this way—but when you’re the parent of a child with significant delays and challenges, you truly never feel like you are doing as much as you could. So 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.

Poll stat: 37% of employed parents say they “always” feel rushed

Special-needs parent fact: If you took a look at the to-do lists of parents of kids with special needs, you’d probably feel rushed 100% of the time.

Poll stat: 32% of working moms with kids under 18 say they’d prefer to work full time

Special-needs parent fact: 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.

Poll stat: 43% of married moms say they are very happy with their lives

Special-needs parent fact: The world may perceive us as being unhappier than other parents. And yes, we may very well have more pressures and stress. But the truth is, we get just as much bliss in our children as other parents do from theirs. They may have special needs, but they are not “defective.” They are our children. In fact, our happiness can be that much greater because our kids work so hard for their achievements. The first steps my son took at age 3 weren’t just milestones—they were miracles.

From my other blog:

A different kind of special needs: Helping siblings of kids with special needs

Breaking news: Special needs mom’s head explodes!

A day of freedom


Image of mother and child holding hands via Shutterstock

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  1. [...] How special needs parenting compares to typical parenting. ( [...]

  2. by NoAdditives

    On March 19, 2013 at 10:02 pm

    There are parents who think they are doing an “excellent” job? All the time? I think I’m a pretty darned good mom, better than a lot, but even I don’t consider myself to be excellent. I know there is always something I could improve upon.

    I also can’t imagine feeling like I’d rather work full-time than be with my kids. I’m in school right now and it’s the first time in 4 years that I haven’t been a SAHM exclusively. I hate that I have to leave my kids for 9 hours a day and I only have to do it two days a week. I always planned to go back to work once my kids were in school, but even then I’ll only work part-time if our financial situation allows it. I know not all women are cut out to be SAHMs, and that’s fine. We’re all different and I think it’s great when anyone can recognize their strengths and weaknesses. But to say that given the choice you’d rather spend 9-10 hours a day away from your family is something I just don’t understand.

  3. by Noor

    On March 20, 2013 at 3:14 am

    Loved the article on Special needs Parenting.
    I am a mother of 4 year CP child and i have a 1 year old who is just the opposite of the elder (hyper active child. Its tough for me even though i am a full time mom.Though i long to do a job but am not able because of the requirement of the kids.The list of To do list for these kids is just never ending.

  4. [...] How Special Needs Parenting Compares to Typical Parenting (Parents Magazine) [...]

  5. [...] can read the rest of Ellen’s comparisons at How Special Needs Parenting Compares to Typical Parenting. Then come back and leave a comment about how you think special needs parenting compares to typical [...]