Kids with Special Needs and Your Career - Making Hard Choices
One mother offers helpful, real-life tips for harried parents who work outside the home while raising kids with special needs.
By Ann Christen, M.A., M.F.T.
The phone call came at about 4:30 that afternoon, in the middle of a staff meeting. The receptionist called me out of the meeting with a concerned look on her face. "It's your babysitter, Ann, and she sounds upset."
I raced for my desk, heart pounding. What could have happened now? I picked up the phone and was greeted by my babysitter, whose voice was obviously distorted with sobs or tears.
"I'm so sorry, Ann, but you have to come pick them up right now. I just can't manage. They're too wild." They were my three darling daughters, eight-year-old twins and a four-year-old - all wonderful, loving girls, all with the hyperactive type of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD).
As I gathered my things and headed for the sitter's house, I thought about my options. This sitter was not the first who had quit in frustration. Others had done the same. Everyone agreed that my girls were bright and fun, lively and pretty, but everyone also thought that they were too "hyper." Their energy wore out everyone, from their teachers and their grandmothers, to their dance teachers and their sitters! The pediatrician had little help to offer. None of the girls did well on Ritalin or any other of the stimulant drugs we had tried to calm them down and help them concentrate and focus.
It was with a heavy heart that I picked up the kids that day and consoled the apologetic sitter. My kids were a handful, no one knew that better than I! I think the thing that hurt the most, and that haunts me to this day, is the image of those three sitting on the sitter's couch, looking bewildered and ashamed, not sure of what they had done to get the sitter so upset.
That evening, after a long talk with my husband, I made a decision that changed my career forever. I decided that I had to be at home when my girls were at home, so I quit my job. For many years after, when the school day was over, my work day had to be over, too. My decision to be a "stay at home" mom was made for me by the special circumstances that my girls' AD/HD created in my life.
The decision about whether to work outside the home or not is one faced by many parents. So many factors play into that decision, and every parenting magazine discusses the issue from countless angles. What those articles seldom mention is the very pressing, everyday reality of parents of kids with AD/HD. Kids have special needs, homework is almost always a special challenge, and childcare is often problematic, too. Childcare issues for kids with AD/HD are complicated by a host of problems other parents can't imagine. Even the most understanding of bosses grows tired of an employee being called away on family crises again and again! How many babysitters have to quit before mom has to quit?
My girls are all grown now, and I can work whenever I want to. In thinking about those years, I grow wistful, remembering the wild little girls they were. It was hard to worry that whenever they were invited to play at a friend's house they might be sent home prematurely. It was hard to know that every fall, as the school year opened, I would have to spend lots of time with their teachers, ensuring that they knew about AD/HD and were willing to work with the girls and me.
So often I wished it were different, that there were no "special accommodations" to be made, no explanations needed! But whenever I would get overwhelmed with all those "hard" feelings, I would look again at their wonderful, alive little faces and active bodies and feel reassured. They were just the girls they were meant to be, and I was thrilled to be their mom.
In time I figured out how to combine home life and my career. It was critical for me to be at home after school and through dinner time, but that left plenty of time for work while the girls were at school, and in the evenings after homework was done. My professional degree allowed me to be self-employed, and in time my private practice flourished. Clients were routinely pleased to discover that I had evening appointments available, and I missed the commute hours by working at such odd times.
I discovered that the local university had an excellent teacher training program, and for years I recruited women from the program to provide childcare when I had to work. Those young women were eager to learn about AD/HD, both the challenges and the rewards. They had loads of energy and were delighted to have a job that gave them valuable experience and training for their future careers. More than one novice teacher wrote her senior thesis on useful interventions with youngsters who have AD/HD.
Best of all, those young women enjoyed my daughters and were wonderful role models for them. I still shudder when I remember the day my last regular sitter quit, but the solutions we found were, in many ways, far more satisfying than I would ever have dreamed they could be.
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