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Our working lives have changed
What is happening? 

The extra time spent caring for their child means those parents with disabled children often have to reconsider their work decisions. Some feel the need to drop their hours, change their career path to be more available to their family, or leave their job altogether. Although it depends largely on the complexity of a child’s disabilities, between 34% and 54% of parents reported leaving their usual work in order to take care of their child [1], and 81% said their work decisions were affected by their child’s condition [1].

Parents sharing these decisions may struggle in coming to terms with what’s happening and reaching agreements might prove difficult.

Why are we struggling to make decisions? 

There’s a lot of personal value and identity wrapped up in our careers and our jobs, so this is certainly understandable and even to be expected.

There may also be certain social and cultural expectations coming from different places, which can also put strain on the relationship. It’s recognised that parents with disabled children often end up in more traditional roles than parents that do not. Compared to mothers, studies have shown that fathers made fewer changes to their careers following their child’s diagnosis [2]. Fathers also spent significantly more hours working outside the home [3]. If it feels like the decisions you’re making as a couple are largely influenced by this traditional view, this could be a source of conflict.

How can I help sort this? 

If either one of you are not in complete agreement with the work arrangements that are being discussed (childcare vs. employment), then it’s likely that this will be a stress point for you later down the line. So it’s certainly worth sticking with it, and going over the options carefully while hearing each other out.

If you feel that you or your partner are influenced by traditional roles or cultural or social pressures, then this will require a focused conversation where you unpack the reasoning behind your decisions. This might sound laborious, but it can be helpful to do. If, for example, the mother wants to return to work as the breadwinner and would like the father to stay at home, this may make the father uncomfortable if he has already adopted a more traditional view. Twenty years ago it was barely heard of, whereas now the attitudes towards this bias are changing. Only around one in three mothers and fewer than one in four fathers agreed that the mother should be in sole charge of caring [4]. As many as one in five dads are now in sole charge of childcare at some point during their week and dads represent one in ten of all parents who stay at home to care for their children full time [5]. In other words, things are changing.

There is no evidence to suggest that children will have a better start in life if it’s with the more traditional setup or not. In fact, the research simply suggests that the most important thing for your child is the frequency and quality of care provided, regardless of which of you provides it [6].


[1] Caicedo, Carmen. (2014) Families With Special Needs Children: Family Health, Functioning, and Care Burden. Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association 20(6), 398–407.

[2] DePape, Anne-Marie, and Sally Lindsay. (2014) Parents’ Experiences of Caring for a Child With Autism Spectrum Disorder. Qualitative Health Research, 25(4), 569-83.

[3] Bemister, Taryn B., Brian L. Brooks, Richard H. Dyck, and Adam Kirton. (2014) Parent and Family Impact of Raising a Child with Perinatal Stroke. BMC Pediatrics, 14.

[4] EHRC, 2009

[5] Lammy, 2013

[6] Cabrera, et al., 2007

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