Making sense of Mom Labels

It was right around Owen’s first birthday when someone suggested I look into the Pacer program as a resource for our family.  When I went to their website, I was surprised.  This wasn’t a website for preemies or sick children; it was a website for families of children with disabilities.

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Mom, with pride.

Tuesday, Kellen was participating in a child language development study at the University of Minnesota and as he was in the study, I was asked to fill out some voluntary demographic information.  I always catch my breath a little when I can no longer check the 25-34 age group but the question that really threw me for a loop was “Mother’s Occupation”.

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Career Mom to Special Needs Mom: How a MBA helped the transition

When I sit back and really think about the last several years, I’m shocked that so much of what I valued and many of the things that I thought were the foundations of who I am have been tested or are no longer part of my life but still, I look in the mirror and I see the same person.  My nightmare of losing my identity did not come true.

Okay, there are a lot more wrinkles, gray hairs, the eyes look much more tired, the wardrobe is not nearly as new or fashionable, the frequent flyer miles no longer matter and the personal bank account no longer exists.  I am seeing those things didn’t define me nearly as much as I thought and instead my priority is clearly family.  I have much less conflict with what I should and shouldn’t be doing with my time and I take comfort when I  recognize the personality and strengths and weaknesses and approach to life and problem solving.  I am surprised to see that everyday I use the skills that I learned getting a MBA and years working in Corporate America and their mpact on how I manage as a mom, especially a special needs mom.

Now I’m not suggesting having a MBA should be a requirement to be a mom and I’m most definitely am not suggesting I’m any better at being a mom than anyone else.  It’s more that my style of coping with issues and working with Owen on his development mirrors how I would have problem solved or managed a business in my work life. Using the same skills that I used in my career has really helped me with the transition.  I’m not going to say there isn’t a little bit of an identity crisis since my life was so singularly focused on career for such a long time, but I do know that it takes a smart, multi-tasking, persuasive and hard working person to be a mother.  This is by far the hardest job I have ever had and I have no doubt that all that I worked hard for in working towards past goals has helped me in motherhood.  Here are just a few of the skills that I’m so thankful to have in being a mom to both boys.

Objective thinking:  There have been so many times in Owen’s life that I had to step back and take the emotions out of decision making.  Like business people, doctors and parents need to make decisions based on risk/benefit analysis.  My business experience made me more comfortable making big decisions.

Negotiation skills:  I can’t believe how much my life is a negotiation right now.  Besides the obvious constant negotiations with a 3 year old (I can promise you that Kellen will go far in life with his negotiation skills!), there is constant negotiation with doctors on scheduling frequency, requests for testing or referrals, getting discharged from the hospital, when to administer drugs, how much and when to change dosages, when to go to surgery, etc..  There is very little that is cut and dry in the medical field – nearly everything can be negotiated.

Not afraid to become the Bull in the China Shop:  I’m actually probably using this skill a little more judiciously in my career as a mom than I did my past life, but there have been plenty of times when I have put my mind to wanting something and became the biggest PITA until I feel like I am heard and some sort of compromise is reached.  There were several occasions that I’ve heard “we just don’t do that” and then it’s happened.  It hasn’t required yelling or degrading – just lots and lots of persistence.

Quick at adapting to new industry languages:  In my career I’ve worked on underwear, motorcycle clothes, boat parts, credit cards, many food varieties and phone apps.  With each new sector, I had to learn new languages and often worked closely with the engineers and developers.  This made it so much easier for me to pick up on medical jargon and speak to doctors in their own languages.  It’s amazing how using their language gives instant credibility and more quickly conveys our wants and needs to doctors.

Product/ Project Management:  Kyle cringes when I say this, but I really believe it’s true.  Managing Owen’s care is just like managing a (really important) product.  I need to be able to take information from many, many different experts and make decisions on my sons care.  I discuss things like goals, outcomes and objectives with his care providers and need to understand who needs to know what pieces of information.  Instead of talking to all the different parts of the business; R&D, Operations, Finance, Agencies, Sales and Senior Management, I now talk to all the different parts of the medical field: Pediatricians, Pulmonary, Infectious Disease, Renal (Kidneys/Blood Pressure), Audiology, Ophthalmology,  Speech, Physical Therapy and Neonatology.  As Owen’s main caregiver, it’s my job to understand when one area affects the other and to bring all the key decision makers together to give him his best care.

A lot of people have asked if it’s hard to have put my career on hold indefinitely and yes, it is.  My identity was very linked to my career in the past and being a stay at home mom was never a personal goal.  However, I am far from bored and I’m still mentally challenged and stimulated and I believe that when I do go back to working I will be more competent in these important business skills because of this experience.

Now, I’ll just need to make sure I’m able to convince a future employer of that some day – or who knows, maybe I’ll be my own personal employer.  I’m certainly getting a lot of entrepreneurial skills from being a special needs mom and entrepreneurship has been a lifelong personal goal.  There are so many ways that being Kellen’s and Owen’s mom has made me a better person.  I certainly never thought this is where my life would lead but I’m slowly starting to figure out it really isn’t a backward step, it’s just a different path.