Last month I started a new job. I am eager, excited, and I want to advance. It is important to stand out and shine.
So far everything is going well. I am getting to know the staff and I am learning the company’s policies and procedures. I am settling in.
And . . . I am filled with dread.
Right now my company sees a stellar employee. They see a dynamic leader. They see a hard working professional.
But just beneath the surface is the other part of my life.
I need time off for family therapy.
I need time off for home passes.
I need time off for our upcoming IEP meeting.
And while everything at home is currently stable, I secretly hold my breath anxiously awaiting the next shoe to drop.
Yes, I am a rock star employee.
And yes, I am a special needs mom.
My eighteen year-old son suffers from bi-polar disorder. He has been sick for most of his life. Our journey with mental illness has taken us through a maze of psychiatric and residential hospitalizations, calls to police, and hours of advocating for help and services.
By the grace of God, I have managed (not always well) to maintain the demands of a full-time job while simultaneously meeting my beloved son’s needs.
But today I find myself in an all too familiar and uncomfortable position.
How much of my family’s story do I share?
What will my boss and co-workers think?
How understanding and compassionate will they be?
How do I start a brand new job and immediately put in requests for time off?
This, my friends, is a reality of special needs parenting.
And this, my friends, makes me want to drink.
But instead of busting out the bottle of wine, (which sounds heavenly right now) let’s put together a positive strategy.
Here are some lessons I have learned (and am learning) when juggling special needs parenting and work:
When interviewing for a new company or position, be honest. Your child’s special needs are a priority and it is important for the people you will be working with to be aware of your situation.
Confidently tell the interviewer there is something they should know. Explain that your child has some special needs and there will be times that you will need to attend important school meetings or medical appointments. Assure the interviewer that your work history is solid and that your situation will not interfere with the quality of your performance. Tell them they can count on you to do a great job.
Be honest, open and confident and don’t be afraid to use your “Special Needs Mom/Dad” status as a strength!
In one interview I was asked how well I can handle a crisis.
Are you kidding?
It was a perfect opportunity to talk about my son, share a bit of our story, and highlight my superhero, multi-tasking, crisis conquering strengths. Your role as a special needs parent has equipped you with an amazing skill set.
In seventeen years, I have never been turned down for a job because I am a special needs mom.
Beginning The Job
Go in strong! Yes, you will be stressed and yes, you will be thinking of all the things that can go wrong. But conquer your fears with faith and give the new job your all. It is important for your new boss and co-workers to see you as a solid, confident team player who is willing to pull your weight and willing to learn. Be humble and admit your mistakes. Show up for work early or on time and stay until the job is done. This is a critical time as you are establishing yourself as a member of the team. In this phase, your job needs to be a priority.
When they see how much you are willing to give, they will be more inclined to give back in return.
Get to know your co-workers and let them know you. This is a time to let them see your stellar personality. Take an interest in them and most likely they will begin to take an interest in you. If they ask about your family, be honest. You have nothing to hide. In fact, they will often see you as authentic (which is refreshing) and deserving of great respect.
Just the other night I was talking with a co-worker. I asked her about her family and she told me about her husband and her two kids. She lit up as she shared their accomplishments. And then, she asked about my family.
I told her about my son.
By the end of our conversation she had tears in her eyes. She told me that a friend’s son suffers from severe depression. She asked if I would be willing to meet with her friend.
In that moment I built a new relationship and I may be able to use my situation to help another family.
You never know who else may be struggling.
Requesting Time Off
This is my situation right now and I’m not going to lie… It stresses me out.
I have an IEP meeting in two weeks and while my son is currently in a residential treatment center, he is now eligible for two monthly home passes. I work in retail so I am required to work a lot of weekends. How am I going to juggle it all?
For the past month I have poured my heart into work. As a result my team has seen what I am all about. I have come in early, stayed late, and jumped in whenever needed.
And now, I need help from them.
I requested the time off for the IEP meeting and my request was approved.
I requested one full weekend for my son to come home but I put my request in too late. It was denied.
PANIC!!! NOW WHAT DO I DO??
I politely pulled my manager aside and explained my situation. Once she understood the circumstances, she was willing to take a look to see if we can work something out. I have not yet gotten approval, but I know my manager will do the best she can and I may have to be flexible with my son’s home passes this month. I also know I have to get my requests in earlier.
I thanked my manager for her help.
Always say, “Thank You”, put your requests in ON TIME and be flexible. Be willing to make adjustments and be honest about your need for the time off. Experience has shown that people are willing to work with us if they can.
Dealing with a Crisis
Yep! There will be a crisis. Let’s just name it. As much as we want everything to go perfectly, it won’t. So let’s have a plan.
Once you have established yourself as a valuable asset to your team, in most cases your employer will be sympathetic and understanding in a crisis. Use your sick time and any benefit time that you have accrued. You have earned it and it is there for a reason. This is the time to cash it in.
If you have to be out for more than a day or two, stay in constant communication with your employer. Make them aware of the situation and tell them you will return to work as soon as possible.
This is where the juggling act really comes in. Do the best you can to meet the needs of your family and check in with work. In the midst of it all, remember to take care of YOU.
(Tip: Don’t start a new job if your family is in crisis. Beginning a new job while things are unstable at home is a recipe for disaster. Don’t do it. )
The reality is, there are a lot of unknowns when starting with a new company. We can never know how people will respond or if they will be willing to accommodate for our families unique needs. But, after seventeen years of navigating these challenges, I have found that honesty really is the best policy and most (not all) but MOST people are filled with compassion and grace.
With prayer, hard work, and open lines of communication your role as full-time employee and special needs parent can be a success.