Ah, the start of summer. Time to kick back, relax, and vacation. Slow down and open the windows after months when everything and everyone was insulated. But wait…what voices do I hear? Is it coming from my head or the mouths of others? Took me a nanosecond to realize it’s others saying, “Not so fast about the leisure days of summer.”
School is not quite over yet the planning — and worrying — about how to play “the kids are home but I have to be at work” game has long been underway. Sure, there are camps and playdates (although no middle or high school kids would *ever* have these) that can be and have been scheduled, but many working parents have far more to focus on than making sure there’s extra sunscreen in Jason’s backpack or confirming that Annie’s friend’s mother can pick her up from camp.
HR may not be aware of it, but there is a huge number of working parents facing extra distractions and less productivity during these summer months even if casual dress extends until September. And the reality of these pressures, while parents cognitively know them, hasn’t even “hit the fan” yet since there are still a few days of school remaining. It’s like watching the sun set…you know it’s happening yet you are savoring every last minute of light.
A manager in your organization or the administrative assistant to a C-suite executive has a child with autism who has been receiving services and therapies in school. Some every day. Some for 7+ hours per day. This working parent has had nine months of school meetings, calls from the principal or teacher, and therapies to juggle and now, along with everything else, their child *may* receive 6 weeks of services, from 8:30 – noon. That’s late June through early August. What about the day after school ends? What about August through September? What happens after 12:00 noon each day during the 6-week program? Sure, there’s Grandmom or the neighbor but at what cost (and I don’t mean financially)? It’s a moving target … you think you have things in your sight when suddenly the target turns, or speeds up, or disappears entirely. It’s unpredictable and makes “livin’ on the edge” more than the title of an Aerosmith song.
Some companies allow for summer flexibility — perhaps slightly shorter days or working from home on Fridays. Others provide for back-up child care. All great solutions to some problems. Yet for others, it’s not enough and not what’s needed. For working parents of children and teens with autism spectrum disorders, the needs intensify over the summer — hard to believe since the school year itself is fraught with chronic and crisis issues and needs. Trying to piece together a three-month schedule that often includes private programs, extended school year services, tutoring, in-home services, and therapies — each costing $$$ and requiring parental support and time, is nothing short of another full-time job. Plus, IEP meetings still happen over the summer, progress monitoring still requires parental supervision, and transition planning for September — whether to another grade or school — should be well underway and needs to continue through the summer.
Employers can help make the summer for these employees more manageable with work-life supports. Offer schedule flexibility if you do not do so already. Provide financial assistance to offset the cost of specialty summer programs and therapies. Offer a vacation bank so employees who do not use all their vacation time and wish to donate it to a co-worker can do so. Extend the option of telecommuting half-days. Establish an on-site resource room for working parents to privately handle telephone calls from clinicians and therapists. Provide on-site summer workshops and special education clinics to help employees prepare for the next school year. There are cost-effective solutions that can offer much-needed (and valued) support.
It’s hard being a working parent from now through early fall. It’s even harder when the child or teen needs more than swimming lessons or an art camp. Summer is when the need for assistance, flexibility, and support is high. Employers play an instrumental role in supporting working parents and by recognizing the intensified needs during the summer months, these exceptional parents may well be able to take that vacation. Or, at the very least, kick back just a bit to regroup and prepare for September.