It’s difficult to balance a fulfilling career with raising children, particularly special needs kids. in fact, work-life balance is an illusion for many parents raising children with autism and other special needs.
The demands of raising the children alone can be overwhelming. How much more trying to combine it with a good career. It takes a lot of mental jujitsu and emotional toughness to be able to pull it off.
Every autistic child is unique in the sense their triggers and tantrums can be vastly different. So you often have to cater to everyone’s needs and do so as quickly as possible. This is why many parents tend to quit their jobs so they can just focus on the child.
But how about those who just have to keep their job? After all, treatment protocols, education costs, and lifestyle requirements for autistic children don’t come cheap.
Is it Possible to Have a Work-Life Balance?
Well, that depends on what you consider a good work-life balance. What works for a person with 2 non-special needs kids probably won’t work for someone with 3 autistic children. This is why it’s important to set expectations when talking about work-life balance.
Your situation is unique, so forget about everything you know about work-life balance that’s based on what you’ve seen with other people. You’re going to have to come up with a realistic plan that works for you and the kids.
Ultimately, it can be done. It will be tough, but it’s possible to be able to manage both. However, your ability to balance both important aspects of your life will depend on many factors.
But to get started with attaining that very rare balance, the tips in this post will help.
Take Periodic Respite Sessions
Taking care of ASD or special needs kids all day can be physically and emotionally exhausting. Do this for too long, and without any breaks, and you’ll burn out soon enough.
This is why you must periodically take some respite. Respite involves taking temporary breaks from the person you’re taking care of to rest and recharge. This way, you’ll have enough emotional, physical, and mental strength to better serve them and take care of them.
Parents who don’t practice respite will often find themselves overwhelmed, and that can lead to depression, a sense of lost identity, and despair. These are states of mind that no parent or caregiver wants to be in. So, start practicing respite as a part of your self-care routine.
Depending on your kids’ ages, their needs, your partner, and your work schedule, respite can be anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 days or even a week of just taking care of yourself and your needs.
And before you think it’s selfish to want some alone time for yourself, it’s not. If anything, it’s selfless. Think of it this way: you need to be well so that you can care for your kids.
Meticulously Plan Your Meals
You and the kids need to eat. The last thing you want on your hands is a malnourished or hungry autistic kid. This can trigger their tantrums –and we don’t want that. So have a meal plan ready for the week.
Do your grocery shopping once a week, cook and store the meals if you can. Doing this frees up your time and mental bandwidth for more important things.
It will also make your life so much easier as you’ll be able to get right into cooking what you’ve already pre-planned, instead of coming back from a hectic day at work to start thinking about what the kids will eat.
Automate Your Home
Find ways to automate some or all of the recurring chores in the home. For instance, you can use robotic cleaning gadgets like Roomba to keep the house perpetually clean. Or hire a house cleaner to clean the house 2-3 times a week. This means you never have to worry about that.
Load the washer in the morning and time it to wash and dry the clothes. This way, you won’t have to deal with that in the evening when you get back. Clean up any extra mess –usually takes no more than 15-20 minutes– at the end of the day so you’ll wake up to a clean house the next morning.
If you can afford it, automate as many things as possible so you don’t have to devote time and energy to them.
Make Arrangements for Childcare During School Holidays
If you have to go to work, it is important to have someone you trust, take care of your kids while you’re away. It doesn’t have to be just during holidays.
Childcare professionals can come in handy when you and your partner want to go out to dinner in the evening or when you need some space to get some work done, submit or defend a proposal, or do other important things.
Just make sure to identify a good caregiver that you can drop or leave the child with whenever you need to go to work or focus on getting some work done at home
Automate Most of Your Business Processes
If you run your own business, you need to find ways to automate a lot of your processes. If you own a website, for instance, you need to hire or outsource some of the tasks that aren’t in your wheelhouse or tasks that aren’t critical to the business’ success.
For example, if you need to drive more traffic to your website so you can generate more revenue, it’s better to hire a paid ads specialist or an SEO expert to take care of your online marketing. If you need to answer or attend to many inquiries from prospective customers, you can add chat to website and install chatbots.
These can be preloaded with all your FAQs, and other essential information that customers are likely to ask. This way, when they start the chat, the bot will answer all their questions as if you were doing it in real-time.
If you need to run your books or do your taxes, just hire someone to do that for a fee. As entrepreneurs, it’s difficult to trust that other people can do a good enough job –even better than you would have. But you’ve got to just trust that they can.
Speak With Your Employer About Work Flexibility
If you’re working for someone, you should talk to them about a more flexible working arrangement. Explain why you need this arrangement.
Flexibility can be anything from asking for a couple of days remote working arrangement, or being able to come in later than most employees –it all depends on what your needs are– to being able to change plans because of the kids.
As long as your deliverables are being met, there’s no reason why they wouldn’t grant your request for flexibility.
Start Looking for a More Flexible Job
Most employers are reasonable and won’t have any problems with your request for flexibility if you’re reliable.
But if for some reason, you couldn’t reach a favorable arrangement with your employer, it’s time to start looking elsewhere –preferably somewhere that offers the perks of a flexible working arrangement.
It won’t be easy, but you can do it. The financial requirements for raising special needs kids are huge. Start exploring your options and seeking interviews in other companies. Thanks to the pandemic, some employers are fine with offering you full-time remote positions, good pay, and great benefits. You just need to keep looking until you find something that works for you.
Prioritize Your Child’s Needs
Because you’re focused on what’s truly important, prioritizing your child’s needs and support will help free up your time for other important things. This is time you can spend on other activities that bring you joy, allows you rest, get some work done, or help you have a good work-life balance.
Have Multiple Reliable Backups
Imagine that you’re in the middle of a life-changing job interview –one that’ll finally help you have enough money to take care of the kids to the best of your abilities– and you get a call that your autistic kid is having a meltdown. What do you do?
This is where having multiple backups can make all the difference. These individuals have to be people –your spouse or partner inclusive– who are not only familiar with the children but people that the children themselves trust.
You can easily call one of them. And if they’re unavailable, you can contact another one until you find one who is available.
Find and Join a Support Group
Most parents of special needs children tend to think that they don’t have time for support groups. Yet, a support group can be the very thing they need to maintain their sanity and help them get through the really difficult days.
A support group doesn’t have to be a formal or official organization. It can also be other special needs parents or an online forum there are many Facebook groups that parents of special needs children can join– where you can trade “war stories”, get and give tips about how to better handle your child, get some encouragement and occasionally find the strength to continue soldiering on.
At the end of the day, you may not have a work-life balance in the ideal sense of the word. So, remember that even if you have a particular picture of what your work-life balance should look like, it may play out differently.
Just have an open mind, and be amenable to changes. Raising and caring for special needs children, while having your career is tough. But it can be done. Just do what you can. Good luck and may the fates be with you.
This is a contributed post and therefore may not reflect the views and opinions of this blog or its author. ☺