Making and Evaluating Tough Choices: For Moms Who Sacrifice Personal Dreams to Care for a Child with Special Needs

I remember the first time I grieved for myself (not for my child) after our daughter’s diagnosis with autism.  I was at a wedding watching the young bride walk down the aisle.  Her eyes shone with the promise of love and happiness—her future seemed bright and open with possibility.  As I stood there, the reality hit me that that my life possibilities were narrowing. Tears streamed down my face. I was already sacrificing sleep, my health, and postponing the completion of my education. Later would come resigning from a job and needing to create my own part-time work. I grieved, but always had the hope intention of pursuing my career when my children were older.

They are older now, and I thought it would be relatively easy to return to a more traditional job after taking years off to care for my kids with special needs. Turns out-- it’s not easy.  I’m certainly hire-able, but not for the jobs I imagined as a young professional stepping out of a doctoral program. I missed too many years of full-time experience to re-enter the workforce at a level equal to my education and training.

Something in my story may ring true with you, moms out there, because this situation especially applies to us as the usual primary caregiversYou may be sacrificing other things, if not your career.  Perhaps time with extended family, vacation preferences, hobbies etc.  You may have felt the loss of who you are as a person aside from mother to your special-needs child, or resentment toward your spouse who is continuing his career as planned. I’m making no judgement regarding your situation or the choices and sacrifices you may make in response—I just want each of us to be content with our decisions and their consequences.

While its true that I am grieving the loss of my career plans once again, its important to say that I don’t regret my choice.  It was the best choice for me and my family, and it was life-changing.  My challenge now is to continually reflect on the privilege I had to raise my children in a hands-on way as I also live with the consequences of leaving the workforce. Before I can get to that place of appreciation, however, I need to reflect on the following truths regarding decision-making.  My hope is that they will help you grow in peace as you make or reflect on your present or past decisions.

  1. As much as our world tells women that we can “have it all,” the truth is that every choice we make will involve compromise or sacrifice to someone or something. You can “do it all,” but something or someone will eventually suffer (until we reach heaven). How does this ring true in your situation? What are the potential consequences that could occur depending on your decision? Can you live with that?
  2. Decisions about parenting kids with special needs are especially difficult. As you think about the choice you need to make now or had to make in the past, speak true but kind words to yourself (as a friend might). Know that the decision you make today on an issue may be different from the choice you would make in the past or in the future because we change over time.  However, in all likelihood you are doing (or did) the best you could based on the information you have (had), the circumstances you face (faced), and emotional state you are (or were) in.  Doing our best is really good enough.
  3. Consider that the sacrifice you are making or have made may actually be the best path for you and that’s why God allowed that option in your life. There are things I think I want, but only God knows what is really good for me. In my example, a “traditional” career may not have been  fulfilling for me as I have a “love it and want to try it all” attitude. I have had the opportunity to try out and fill many professional roles because I couldn’t lock in to one full-time job. Is there anything similar going on in your life?  What might God know that you don’t?
  4. Remember that the consequences of your decisions may seem scary now, but God works good out of risky and scary all of the time. Think on Mary who sacrificed her reputation (and potentially her life) to birth Jesus, David who sacrificed his safety to defeat Goliath, Moses who sacrificed peace of mind to be God’s hand in freeing the Israelites, Joseph who chose purity and was sent to jail for his decision, and of course, God as the Trinity, who sacrificed it all. All of these decisions and their consequences were used for good.
  5. Know that every sacrifice you make or made on behalf of your child is God’s work and He commends you for it! The world probably won’t commend you very often so you must immerse yourself in what God thinks.
  6. Know that you, Mom, are important, and God has not forgotten about who you are aside from your child. As you sacrifice dreams now, have faith that God will find new dreams that will redeem the lost ones in His way and time.  Be excited to see what He will do.
  7. Finally, for those of us who are trying to redeem our sacrifices (or to create new dreams), give yourself time and prayer (and maybe therapy) to process the realities of your situation.  We want to make new decisions for the right reasons with a healthy heart and mind, not on an impulse which temporarily masks the pain of a loss.  Ask yourself. “Am I trying to prove something to myself or to the world in my new path—or is this new venture going to improve my life satisfaction?”
  8. Prayer and our attitude are most important to finding contentment in our circumstances and choices.  We need to focus on what our child is teaching or taught us that transcends what other dreams we expected life would grant us. What is your child teaching you?
Dr. Karen Crum brings hope and practical support to parents through her blog and award-winning book, Persevering Parent: Finding Strength to Raise Your Child with Social, Emotional or Behavioral Challenges. Order Karen's book on Amazon or visit her blog via