One thing that many parents who have a child with additional needs really, really struggle with is working. Combining paid employment with caring for children is hard at the best of times, but throw special needs into the mix, and it can often seem like one hurdle too many.
Children with special needs often have many medical appointments to attend, parents need to attend meetings at school and there can be additional illnesses associated with the child’s condition that require time off school or even a hospital stay. All of these situations need at least one parent to be available to attend and, of course, most don’t – or can’t – occur in the school holidays or at weekends.
Another problem facing parents of children with additional needs is childcare: provision for children with SEND is woefully deficient, meaning parents either have to rely on friends or family, or they can only work during school hours and in school term times.
Finally, many children with additional needs struggle at school, with their condition misunderstood by students and teachers, resulting in sanctions for behavioural issues and, ultimately, exclusions – either temporary or permanent. Is it any wonder more and more families are deciding home education is the way forward?
However, lots of parents do manage to go to work successfully, proving that in many cases (but not all!), it can be done, with a lot of planning and some flexibility.
So, if you’re not in a position to be able to stop earning, but you’re worried about how you can manage working and parenting a child with additional needs, here are some things to bear in mind…
Benefits to Working
Going out to work can have many benefits, and is often worth the struggle! Here are a few…
- It gives you a break – a change is as good as a rest, so ‘they’ say, and going to work gives you a chance to be a different ‘you’ – the professional you, rather than just being ‘Mum’ (or Dad!).
- Socialisation – working with others means you can talk to other adults, about adult-y things! You might even go out for lunch, or after-work drinks and have a Christmas party! You don’t get those when you stay at home, believe me!
- Income – a very obvious bonus of going to work is the income you’ll receive for your efforts. Depending on how many hours you work and how much you earn, you may still be entitled to benefits you might have been claiming, such as Carer’s Allowance.
- A sense of purpose – obviously, being a parent is incredibly important, but for some people, all those years spent training and building up experience in their chosen careers means a lot, and it can be hard to give up.
Things to consider if you want/need to work
- Routines – will your job fit in with your current schedule, or can you make adjustments so that it will? For example, if your child needs to catch school transport, will there always be someone at home to put them on and take them off the bus?
- Distance – will you be working close to home or school, or will you have to commute? How quickly could you reach your child in an emergency?
- Working away – will you have to spend days away from home? Who is left at home and can they reasonably manage alone for the duration? How will your child cope with your absence?
- Flexibility – will your employer allow you time off for appointments, meetings and courses related to your child and their condition? How will they react if you have to take time off at short notice – repeatedly?
- How tiring will it be? – working is hard, both physically (in some jobs) and mentally. Will you have enough left at the end of your working day to be able to deal with whatever waits at home? Will you manage to get enough rest and sleep to be able to carry out your job properly?
- Impact on your own health – it’s a well-known fact that parents of children with additional needs often suffer from chronic stress. Added to this may be sleepless nights, physical stress from lifting and carrying and a general lack of self-care due to lack of time. Can you ensure that you can look after yourself if you’re working too?
So, what can you do?
If you want to work, or you have to for financial reasons, there are a few ways to make life a little easier…
- Consider a career change! Yes, I know this seems drastic, but if you’re stuck in a job you’re not in love with, which finds you trying to juggle your boss’s needs and those of your family, then maybe it’s a good time to start looking into what else you could do. There are many ways you can work from home, for example, meaning that you get the flexibility that you need, but you can still earn and feel worthy. For example, as well as blogging, I now earn by being a Virtual Assistant!
- Talk to your employer – does your employer really understand the pressures you’re under? Have an honest chat with them and let them know if there are any areas you feel you need help with. They may just surprise you and offer you extra flexibility. See if you can come up with an offer for them, such as job-sharing or flexi-working – they’re more likely to respond positively if you can give them a solution to your problem.
- Talk to your family and friends – can they help you out with child care after school and in the holidays? Is there someone you and your child feel comfortable leaving them with for a few hours a week? Can you return the favour somehow?
- See if there are any registered child carers locally who specialise in looking after children with SEND – specialist child carers are, sadly, few and far between. However, there may be some availability in your area, so it’s worth looking into. Try here for more information about SEN childcare. You could also consider employing a nanny with specialist experience.
- Working opposite shifts – not an ideal solution, but it may work for you. I have friends who work opposite shifts or alternate days so that there is pretty much always one parent at home for the children.
Ultimately, only you know if working is right for you. Giving up work is not an easy option by any means, and if you’ve always worked, the adjustment to being at home all day can be hard (I know!). Getting the balance between work and family life is tricky for all parents, but if your child has additional needs there can also be a huge amount of guilt and exhaustion on top too! For more information and advice, here are some websites to check out:
- Help from the government
- Choosing childcare for disabled children
- Contact – information for families with disabled children
Have you found a way to make working work for you? Or have you had to give up your career to care for your child?
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