BY KIMBERLEE RUTAN McCAFFERTY
I’ve found the women of my generation to be more accepting of each other’s choices than articles I’ve read on the subject, and that makes me glad, because what we really need from each other is support and acceptance.
A few months ago, a dear friend of mine lent me “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg. On the off chance you live under a rock and haven’t heard of the book, in her writing Ms. Sandberg used research to explore gender differences and offer practical advice to help women achieve their goals. The friend who lent me the book, the one who left a successful full-time career to work part-time and be home more with her children, said at one point she wanted to throw it across the room.
And while I enjoyed reading most of it, I understand that impulse too. I worked as a full-time educator for a dozen years before I had my first child. At the time I planned on taking two years off to be with him (I was guaranteed my job back, have to love education) and then planned to return to work, after which I’d hopefully crank out another child a year or two later.
After six months of being a stay at-home mom, I began to realize something was very different about Justin’s development. We didn’t receive an autism diagnosis for another 11 months but, that entire year, it was blatantly apparent to me that his differences outweighed his similarities to my other friends’ kids. I ended up resigning my position, and because Early Intervention in Virginia in 2004 was quite frankly pathetic, I ended up being trained in ABA and delivering 30 hours of services a week to my own autistic toddler for the next 15 months.
I consider that “leaning in.”
I only work part-time now, will probably never use my M.Ed and become a school administrator as I’d once hoped. In our family my husband is the one who brings home the proverbial bacon, and since he travels often for work, someone needs to be home to get the kids to school, etc. That someone is me, and due to his work schedule I often say we’re channeling 1950 here, with traditional roles that harken back to my grandmother’s day. And while I will always wonder what might have been, I’m okay with it. And 11 years after my eldest son’s diagnosis, I am still leaning in.
All the “special ed moms” and I know (hell, all the moms I know) are leaning in. Whether we work or not we’re leaning in to IEPS and annual reviews. We’re leaning in to being class moms and serving on committees at school. We’re leaning in when we take on the herculean task to find an appropriate social skills group for our high-functioning autistic children.
We lean in every time we help another family with advice or a connection. We lean in with our writing, and with our public speaking to demystify autism and hopefully inspire other families. We lean in every time we come up with an educational strategy that helps level the playing field for our kids. We lean in with our late nights, reading everything we can about autism. We lean in with our trips to hospitals for overnight EKGs, for seizures, for feeding issues. Hell, we lean in with the amount of laundry our kids generate.
In all the years I’ve been home, I have yet to meet a “slacker mom,” whether these women work outside of the home or within. I’ve found the women of my generation to be more accepting of each other’s choices than articles I’ve read on the subject, and that makes me glad, because what we really need from each other is support and acceptance.
We’re all leaning in—it just may look a little different from mom to mom, just as our autistic children’s outlooks may be different than ours. And as I finish my writing today, it’s time to put that book back on the shelf and get to work.•
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Kimberlee Rutan McCafferty is a regular contributor to Exceptional Parent magazine. She is also the author of Raising Autism: Surviving the Early Years, a memoir about parenting her two boys, both of whom have autism. Her new book is available on amazon.com