For Many Working Parents, Summer Isn’t A Picnic
The arrival of spring. Summer is close behind. If you’re like many working parents, you’ve either spent the past few months cobbling together summer camps, childcare, and vacations or you’re still struggling to figure it all out. The work/life challenges of two+ months without school can ruin summer before it even starts.
For parents who have a child, teen, or young adult with an autism spectrum disorder, ADD, learning differences, or mental health issues, plans that look great on a refrigerator calendar often turn out to be a combination of last-minute changes, crisis situations, cancelled plans and more. Summer isn’t always a picnic, whether you're a senior executive or a staff member in a department.
PLANS VS. PRACTICE
For working parents, the juggling act can be nothing short of overwhelming. Even those fortunate enough to have a spouse or partner who may be handling many of the day-to-day details, the stress is very real. And for single parents, parents who work odd hours, and those without family support, the needs can cause relentless work/life struggles.
What quickly becomes clear is whether plans on paper are translating into practice and if not, what then. Are there last-minute solutions available? Do you have services available though your company to help? The broader issue is this...waiting until the last-minute to talk to your manager or CEO about what could turn out to be pressing needs, or not having some contingency plans at the ready can make difficult turn to disaster. And fast.
If you're an executive or business leader who has a child with special needs, your disclosure and organizational advocacy will change perceptions and help to increase services and supports for employees. If you're an employee, now's the time to talk about this. Having this conversation serves many purposes including helping to "normalize" the issue and to prepare for the “what if’s." Facts need to replace assumptions.
Here are three key areas that can help:
Your child’s needs in July are often the same as they are in November with one major difference…no school. Even if you’ve secured extended school year services, they typically last only hours per day and almost never run from the last day of school in June to the first day of school in late August/early September. This means gaps in services and supports which leads to a domino effect -- increased challenges for your child leads to you being on-call and available (more than usual) which further complicates your ability to juggle.
SOLUTION: You need to request flexible work hours if not already provided. If they are, it's time to use them. You need to discuss that vacation time may need to be used in hours or partial days vs. full days. If you’re a business leader and can more readily utilize flexibility yourself, it’s time to make it a company-wide initiative and make it known that you, too, have similar needs. Last-minute and crisis needs will arise so prepare now.
If your child is attending a camp program, will be shuttling to and from therapies, or will be starting a new home-based program, you need the ability to schedule and attend appointments, handle transportation, and more. And these activities usually happen from 9-5. Even if one parent typically handles these needs, two working parents makes this even more difficult.
SOLUTION: Ask your company to designate an office or private space to allow you to make telephone calls, check-in with camp staff, Skype with your child, schedule appointments, and confer with doctors, clinicians, and others as needed. It will reduce your time away from the office and will help you monitor things. And if such a space does not already exist and you can make it happen, do it. It not only demonstrates your company’s understanding of the needs, but the recognition that exceptional caregiving responsibilities are year-round.
If your child's needs require daily structure and predictability, it's often difficult to achieve and maintain over the summer. You prepare as best as possible, yet situations develop that require you to adapt and adjust quickly. A particular camp may not work. A childcare provider may leave. A therapist may request additional evaluations. These situations mean that you need time and resources to help.
SOLUTION: Make sure your communications department conveys to all employees that services are available through your EAP or work/life programs to assist with these issues. Whether locating a last-minute child care provider or providing recommendations for a tutor, providing working parents with access to resources and tools should be a priority. And if no employee assistance or work/life programs or services are available yet, now’s the time to start.
One of the things I consistently hear from parents regardless of their child's age or diagnosis is that they need more...services, support, and assistance. And that the lack of these resources takes a tremendous toll on their work performance, families, and health with many leaving the workforce entirely.
Whether the services provided help parents navigate special education (my specialty in working with senior executives and that of my company, Education Navigation, which provides these benefits to employees) or addresses back-up care, whether it's accessing resources for academic support or evaluating specialized therapies, the needs are real and continuous. And because working parents up and down the organizational chart struggle with these issues, strength in numbers applies and now's the time to be talking about them.
The first step is always the hardest yet the goal of having a little summertime regroup and recoup time is within reach. Your company, job, family, child, and you will benefit now and throughout the year.