As a mother of a child with a disability, my ability to work full time is extremely limited. I am very lucky that I am one of the few who can. And who can not only work, but work doing something I love— teaching and writing.
The statistics for all working women suck. We are paid less. In fact according to the US Congress Joint Economic Committee, on average, we are paid $10,800 less than men for doing the same work.
For mothers, it’s worse. Because regardless of our call for equality, we still do most of the work. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (https://www.bls.gov/news.release/atus.nr0.htm)
- On an average day, 83 percent of women and 65 percent of men spent some time doing household activities. Women spend an average of 2.6 hours on such activities, while men spent 2.1 hours.
- On an average day, 19 percent of men did housework–such as cleaning or doing laundry–compared with 49 percent of women. 42 percent of men did food preparation or cleanup, compared with 68 percent of women.
For working mothers, there is much more to the picture than any of these stats can illustrate. We have to do more to prove we can both be wonder moms and wonder working women. It’s a ridiculous expectation.
It’s no wonder so many of us drink.
My academic research of mothers of children with disabilities clearly supports that as with all families, mothers are the primary caregiver. And in my research with mothers, all of them note that they miss working. A woman with a degree in psychology serves tater tots at a school cafeteria so she can get her kid on the bus and be there when he gets home. Another mother had to leave her social work job she loved to care for her son and then years later, when she tried to go back part-time, that also failed as his needs as he got older increased instead of becoming easier.
According to the US Labor Stats (https://www.bls.gov/news.release/famee.nr0.htm)
- In 2016, 95.6 percent of employed fathers worked full time, compared with 76.3 percent of employed mothers.
According to Caregiver Statistics (http://caregiveraction.org/resources/caregiver-statistics)
- 14% of family caregivers care for a special needs child with an estimated 8 million caring for special needs children under 18 years old.
- Caregiving families (families in which one member has a disability) have median incomes that are more than 15% lower than non-caregiving families. The poverty rate is higher among families with members with a disability than among families without.
- 47% of working caregivers indicate an increase in caregiving expenses has caused them to use up ALL or MOST of their savings.
- 66%have had to make some adjustments to their work life, from reporting late to work to giving up work entirely; and 1 in 5 family caregivers have had to take a leave of absence.
- Women who are family caregivers are 5 times more likely than non-caregivers to live in poverty.
According to the Sloan Work and Network on Work and Family (file:///Users/darolynjones/Desktop/Child_Disability.pdf)
- Having a child with a disability is estimated to reduce maternal employment by 6.5% for wives and 10% for female heads of household.
- In a national survey of families with children with special needs, 18% of mothers reported that they provide 20 or more hours of in-home health care to their children each week.
And finally from my own research and dissertation on mothers of children with disabilities:
- Most mothers then have to remain at home to care for their children, those mothers are deprived of the satisfaction of being employed.
- Social isolation for any mother staying at home to raise a child may be typical, but much worse for mothers of children with disabilities.
- Because the level of care required for children with disabilities is greater and occur for a longer time, mothers are more often excluded from the workforce or have unsatisfactory employment patterns such as working only part-time or work in positions we do not like or are overqualified for. This leads to further isolation and stress.
Even though I consider myself lucky, I also consider myself unlucky and I’m not alone. I was on my way to becoming a leading school administrator when my son was born. I had to quit to care for him. Determined to keep in the teaching and professional game, I consulted, wrote, and published part time and completed my doctorate which was more flexible than my once 10 hour work days, five days a week.
With my doctorate, I sought a career in higher education, but quickly realized that a tenure line position was not possible for me. While you may only have classes two to three times a week, the committee work and publishing expectations are very rigorous. I had this vision that professors just taught, hung out with students, drank coffee, and periodically wrote. This career in higher education that I thought would provide more flexibility was really no different than the career I had left and not possible with the caregiving my son requires.
Because my husband is in a science field and makes more than I could ever make in Liberal Arts, he moved ahead while I, despite having a terminal degree in my field—of which I had obtained while caring for a severely medically fragile child and working part time— I was going backwards.
I accepted a contract teaching position and teach on a ¾ time contract that pays me over the course of 10 months. As a contract faculty member, I am afforded an office that I share with a fellow contract faculty member, a laptop computer, and access to university services. As a ¾ time, I am supposed to work 30 hours a week, but like most people in education, that number is fantasy. I work 40 to 45 hours. And I make a whopping $32,000 a year. When I left K-12 in 2003, I made $65,000 a year and was moving up. And now a doctorate degree that costs thousands and medical bills and extra caregiving expenses that are always rolling in, I make $32,000.
And yes, I’m bitter about that. I’m not going to lie. And I am fortunate to work in a good department with good faculty, but certainly there are some that do not treat me as the professional I am, who see me as “less than” because I am a contract and not a tenure line.
As a mother to a 14-year old child with a severe disability and as a kid who grew up in poverty, stigma and isolation aren’t new to me, but it still stings and hurts.
I only know of three other mothers at my university whose children are similar to mine. One is a single mother who has to work, and she struggles to keep up with her department’s requirements and her own health has been significantly impacted. The other has a husband who has more flexibility and can home more with their child. The last one is a librarian and opts to work the lesser paid and least attractive to any professional university librarian, the overnight shift. She opted for so her daughter can be cared for by her husband while she is at work. When her daughter goes to school, she sleeps and then is home for her until her husband arrives. She really only sees her husband and other children on the weekends.
But when I review the statistics and these stories, I am fully aware of how privileged it is that I get to teach, that I even have a job. Yes, my entire salary goes to medical bills and equipment for my child, but at least I can do that.
And I have been an educator and writer for 25 years. And I love teaching and writing. Teachers and writers aren’t in it for the money. It’s like air for us. We have to have it.
So, yes, it’s a privilege to get to teach.
If you are a mom to a kiddo with a disability and reading this, please comment and share your own story. And share this blog post with others.