11/01/2017 Steph Anderson

The bumpy path of special-needs parenting and growing a career

Meet my little hero, Griffin!

Being a working parent is difficult. Life is hectic, often starting before the sun rises and ending only after a flurry of to-do’s are completed. Because you’re so busy, you never really feel like you can give 100 percent to anything — not to your career, your kids, your partner and certainly not to yourself.

Millions of working parents struggle with parenting challenges, but for those with a child with special needs or disabilities, it becomes infinitely more complex. Add into the mix managing mental and/or physical health issues, and the prospect of developing a thriving career while raising a child seems virtually impossible.

This hits close to home because I have a baby with spina bifida. I love him so much, but I also have a full-time job and I love my career, too. Being a working mother while balancing endless demands of a child with medical challenges can feel like a crushing weight that never leaves my shoulders.

It’s not surprising that many special-needs parents sacrifice their careers in order to attend to their children. Many don’t work or are only able do so part time. It’s also not surprising that the stress of raising these kids means we face a higher divorce rate than other married populations. It’s difficult to give your relationship the attention it needs when other things take priority.

There are some positives though. Working allows me to provide financially for my beautiful family and also allows me to maintain a sense of self. However, I’ve found trying to balance my career with my family demands requires patience and a proactive approach.

When you have a child with special needs you join a sort of club. It’s the kind of club you never want to belong to, but if you are thrust into membership, it can provide you with a support network that helps at the toughest of times. I’ve met so many amazing parents through spina bifida support groups that share both their joys and frustrations. Not everyone is a working parent, but those who are experience similar challenges.

Childcare: It’s difficult to find the necessary care for your child when you work. In fact, it might be impossible depending on your child’s needs. If you can find care, the next hurdle is being able to afford that care, and costs can be astronomical.

Appointments: My son has a neurosurgeon, urologist, physiatrist, physical therapist, occupational therapist, pediatrician, optometrist, and early-intervention education teacher. We’re lucky to have an amazing medical team, but it means endless appointments to juggle.

Needs: My husband and I have to invest time into our son’s daily physical therapy. For other parents, it might be spending time on occupational therapies, homework, or other important efforts to ensure little ones make progress.

Guilt: Having it all is an impossibility. One of the most difficult things working parents of special-needs kids will feel is guilt because they aren’t able to commit 100 percent to any of their responsibilities.

Anxiety: Having a little one with a disability can consume your thoughts and overtake your life. Every day is different, but some days managing the worry and anxiety is completely overwhelming.

There’s no magic formula for making it all work, but a few things can help smooth your path so your journey is a little less bumpy.

First, build your support network. Having folks to talk to (friends, family, medical professionals) is so important. I have many people — both virtually and in real life — who offer amazing support. I also have incredible partner in my husband. This network can help tremendously, whether it’s assisting with appointments or helping maintain your mental health. Never be afraid to ask for and accept help.

Next, staying organized can feel impossible when juggling a career and kid demands. Create a system that works for you so you don’t get lost in the chaos. Sync online calendars, use color-coded folders, set reminders and go “old school” with checklists.

At work, reach out to HR and explain your needs. Your employer can’t reasonably accommodate needs if they aren’t informed. Maybe you can figure out a flexible schedule or remote work arrangement. If you’re struggling, try finding employment with a family-friendly company that might be more understanding (and use LinkUp for your search!).

Additionally, know your rights. FMLA may be an option for up to 12 weeks annually of unpaid leave. You can use it consecutively or intermittently. Even if your employer isn’t subject to FMLA they may honor it, but you need to ask first.

Most importantly, be kind to yourself. Being a super parent doesn’t mean having to be superhuman. You’re doing an awesome job. Make time for yourself, even if it’s just a few minutes a day. You deserve it.

Finally, I want to give a shout out to my amazing colleagues at LinkUp who make me happy to come to work every day, and are supportive when parenting duties call.