Hurray…It’s Working Parents Day

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been waiting all year for today.  One day dedicated to recognizing the people who “bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan.”  Only this isn’t a line from an old TV commercial about women but a reality about *every* working parent.  The people who spend their days (or nights) generating an income for baby clothes, school supplies, dance lessons, pediatrician visits, braces, school trips, and the millions of other expenses that it takes to raise their children to adulthood.  And with adulthood coming later and later, often well *into* adulthood as well.

I don’t know about you, but Working Parents Day should be celebrated every day.  It isn’t enough and certainly minimizes the herculean job of working parents who are trying to balance – or as I prefer – integrate two competing roles and responsibilities.  They often say that unless you’re in it, you don’t get it, yet every working parent knows the juggling act required.  Some days work and others are nightmares.  Some days are all about putting out fires at work and at home.  Some days, a 10-minute bathroom break no matter where it may be is likely the only break possible until they fall into bed for a few hours of sleep before it starts all over again.

I don’t know about you, but working parents are the people in our society who deserve the kudos…and more.  They are keeping businesses in business while raising the next generation leading us into the future.  They’re meeting deadlines and making clients happy while making sure that their children are educated, safe, and have a decent breakfast every day.  No combination of jobs or roles is harder or more significant.

So while I don’t know about you, what I do know is that every working parent — married or single, white or blue collar, working days or night shift, raising children with or without special needs…every working parent deserves more than a day.  They deserve support, recognition, decent wages, flexible work hours, paid family leave, affordable child care, support for their child’s education, the ability to step off and step back, and genuine appreciation for a job well done each and every single day.

Business leaders need to stop and consider just where their businesses would be without working parents.  They need to recognize that some working parents need more flexibility and others need specific benefits.  They need to understand that working parents are working hard to be “top performers” yet sometimes the push/pull requires difficult choices.  And they should never forget that the child who needs Mom at home for two days due to the flu or the teen who wants Dad to visit colleges with them are the same people who will be filling the roles in their businesses tomorrow.  So hurray for Working Parents Day.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s 365 days a year.

SIDE NOTE:  My blog is moving to our website — http://www.Education-Navigation.com — shortly so please visit me there.  I welcome your comments and more…

 

Struggling Kids Become Adults … Then What?

Did you know that the costs to incarcerate someone is more than it is to educate them?  I’m sure this is the case in most states as would be the statistics that show that a fairly hefty percentage of the young adults and adults in prison have undiagnosed disabilities – learning, developmental, behavioral, emotional, mental.

This isn’t about scaring parents into thinking that their struggling children are heading to jail.  Rather, it’s about asking parents to look toward the horizon, where high school graduation, driving, college, employment, and independent living comes into play.  It’s about acknowledging that if your child is struggling today, they may well grow into a struggling adult.

No parent wants to know that their 4th Grader has dyslexia or their 9th Grader is bipolar.  No parent wants to think about how their 6th Grader is going to manage through the social challenges of middle school when their child has Asperger’s Syndrome or how their gifted 12th Grader with ADHD is going to handle the demands of college.  But here’s the reality – acknowledge and work to support it today, or know that the gaps grow wider and the consequences far more serious with each passing year.

Over the past few months, I’ve read actual posts from college students asking to pay others to write their college papers or take their online classes for them.  Nothing new as we’ve heard about this for some time.  And while I’ll readily admit that some may be lazy or just not interested in doing the work, others may have been struggling with reading, writing, or math for years.   This creates enormous pressure for the child which morphs into serious challenges for them as adults, and while they learn ways to “smoke and mirror” their deficits, eventually the smoke clears and the mirror cracks.

Ask any college administrator about the increasing numbers of freshman who are taking remedial classes – and more than one or two and often for multiple semesters – because they are woefully deficient in basic academic skills and this tells us plenty.  Ask any college health services department about the exploding numbers of students seeking mental health counseling and this tells us plenty.  And ask any manager about the numbers of Gen Y employees who cannot write a well-developed report or develop a budget and this tells us plenty.   These issues didn’t just appear…many have been hidden in plain sight for many for years.

Parents are stretched thin, often struggling to balance work and family with a host of other responsibilities.  And having just one more thing to do is often enough to tip the scale beyond being able to manage.  Yet I would bet that there isn’t a parent who doesn’t want their child to be able to live and function as a competent, self-sufficient adult.  For many, however, this is a goal that comes with additional requirements in order to achieve it.

Maybe your child won’t be posting on Craigslist or a college Facebook page for someone to write their Sociology paper, and maybe your child won’t find him/herself struggling with emotional issues that makes keeping a full-time job impossible.  But maybe they will.  Wouldn’t it be better to look the needs in the face now, while they’re young, instead of hoping they’ll go away when they become young adults?  We give our children roots as well as wings to fly, but for many, they need far more.

The Juggle & Struggle Of Work/Life

The supermarket is a great place to tap into the pulse of people’s lives.  I don’t eavesdrop, but discussions often occur in such a way that I’m sure the people doing the talking must think they’re in a bubble and can’t be overheard.  I could write a book on the things I’ve heard while shopping for bread and grapes.

Standing at the deli counter over the weekend, I heard two women — who had not seen each other in a while — sharing their respective “tsoris” (Yiddish for suffering or hurt).  One was doing most of the talking about her elderly father who needed to move into an assisted living facility while her pre-teen child was going through different angst.  I could relate (and wanted to say so) since I went through the independent living/assisted living/nursing home/hospice nightmare with my own father several years ago while my child was dealing with bullying in school.  I could see in her face — and I only glanced quickly — that she was barely functional.

There was no way to know whether this woman was also working outside of the home but if so, her candle was not burning at both ends but was about to be extinguished.  Issues of this magnitude have a significant impact on the job.   Anyone who has a life knows all too well how family issues impact all else.  And because life isn’t linear nor do these life situations present themselves in succinct packages where you deal with one thing, complete it, and move onto the next, chaos becomes a way of existence.

Work/life is a “juggle and a struggle” but just as importantly, it’s not an either/or scenario.  While every employee at every life stage is dealing with different issues, one thing is for sure … it’s a rare individual who is facing just one work/life challenge.  Rather, issues often arise together or back-to-back, creating a push-pull ripe with conflict and forcing a rapid shift in priorities, all while taking a daily toll on the individual in every aspect of life.

A single person vs. a working parent.  Someone with medical issues vs. someone facing retirement.  An employee with financial pressures vs. one with elder care needs.  Every need and situation is different and “best” companies are constantly searching for ways to respond.  Yet it’s essential that organizations also recognize that it’s not an either/or scenario … that many employees are dealing with more than one issue and many times, more than one at a time.

Easing the pain requires a combination of solutions and an understanding that when one thing abates, another may quickly take its place.  Or that some issues are never discussed and fly under the radar.  Sometimes an employee can barely catch his/her breath before it hits the fan again and while the fan keeps on spinning, so does the employee.

There’s really no difference between the ebb and flow of business and the ebb and flow of life.  With one exception.  I’ve yet to hear anyone in the supermarket talking about profit margins or sales quotas, but do hear plenty about marriages, children, parents, divorces, foreclosures, and the need for vacations.  It’s not that people aren’t thinking about work deadlines and projects, but they’re certainly not discussing them at the deli counter.

A Discussion Whose Time Has Come

I love pets.  Dogs, cats…wonderful creatures.  They share our homes and make us laugh in YouTube videos.   They’re special members of our families.  I used to have pets so I get it.  Truly.  And I know that comparing a Collie or short-hair to anything else is probably unfair.  But life isn’t always fair.

In the world of work/life where companies are striving for employees be happy and productive, many are offering “pet insurance” to ease the financial pressures pet owners face.  The thinking is that employees will worry less about the vet bill and more about the looming client deadline.  I’m in favor of anything that helps an employee balance — or better juggle — their often competing life responsibilities.  Which brings me to the comparison.

I just read an article where the focus was parents talking to parents about what to expect when their child is diagnosed with autism.  Nothing new, as I’ve spent 14 years *listening* in corporations, online forums, parent support groups, and a host of other places where parents come together to share the “real scoop” on life pre and post an autism diagnosis.  I’ve heard most of it and with every story heard, I find myself shaking my head both in disbelief and admiration.

In this recent article, one parent said: “Be prepared to go into debt, borrow from family, increase your mortgage, take out a line of credit to pay for interventions…”.   Go into debt.  Borrow from family.  Take out a line of credit. Can you imagine being a parent who needs to take out a loan to get your child what he or she needs?  Sitting down with your parents to ask them for money so their grandchild can learn to speak … or make a friend?  Trying to decide whether you can keep working to pay off that loan or repay your parents (not to mention pay for all the *other* needs) when the time you’ll need to orchestrate your child’s daily and weekly schedule will take far more than two weeks paid vacation or short-term family leave?

Which brings me back to pets.   I realize this may not be popular with the “pet set,” but if — as a former HR Director with a choice to make — I had to choose between supporting the needs of employees with children or pets, children win.  Hands-down.  Before the barbs are tossed, it’s important to say that in an ideal world, every employee’s needs would be supported so that everyone would be fully productive and engaged.  But this isn’t the ideal world and choices are part of the equation.  Companies grapple with decisions about where to put their limited benefits dollars and how many choices to offer employees when benefits options are included.  But — and my shield is poised — there’s a huge difference between helping an employee pay for a flea treatment vs. helping an employee raise a child.

Children who will attend college, work in companies, pay taxes.  Children who will make contributions to science, technology, performing arts.  Who will move from dependent children to independent adults poised to purchase the products and services your company produces or provides.  No one would ever want less for a child.  And no one would ever dare limit a child by a diagnosis.  Yet the future for these children rests on their parents — current working parents facing choices that defy description.

So it’s baffling to me that smart, forward-thinking companies seem to place more importance on helping employees care for their pets than to raise their children.   Is it a lack of understanding or a reluctance to get involved?  Or is it a preconceived idea that children with autism will not reach the expectations that many consider to be “typical” of children moving into adulthood so why bother?  No, it can’t be that.

A number of years ago, I worked with parents who sold their home and moved into a small, two-bedroom apartment turning their second bedroom into a therapy room for their child.  They also sold their second car and carried their “change of season” clothes packed into large plastic containers in the trunk of their car.  And just recently, I met parents who are in the throws of bankruptcy because they used every penny they had and maxed out their credit cards to support their child’s needs.  Life-altering choices are being made by employees every day to help their children.

Companies play a pivotal role here.   The same subsidies offered to employees trying to adopt should be offered to employees to help offset the staggering costs of therapies or home-interventions.  Discounts on legal support should be extended to employees in need of a special education attorney to secure a private school for their child.  On-site health fairs should include experts in special needs and special education to enable employees to access supports and resources easily and more cost-effectively.  With health and stress-reduction being core areas of focus in the workplace, few things compare to the financial, family, work, and personal pressures on an employee raising a 6-year-old or 13-year-old with autism.

I have nothing against pets.  Really, no problems at all.  But a problem does exist when supporting tails that wag or fluffy balls that purr seem to take priority.  A disconnect exists — companies are striving and competing to achieve “best company” status yet are overlooking the growing number of working parents desperately needing a lifeline.  Pets and children can live together beautifully both at home and in the workplace, however when a choice needs to be made, the child has to win every time.

Questions Are The Way To Answers

Why are people so afraid to ask questions?  Is it because they don’t know the questions to ask, don’t want to hear the answers, or are reluctant to question people with expertise they may not have?

This isn’t being posed as something simply to consider, but is being directed to one particular group of people — working parents.  Not just any working parents, but those who have children who are struggling in some way and are receiving any type of services to support their needs.  While many working parents are truly desperate for knowledge, many are reluctant to open the door to access answers.  But before you say, “Hey…I ask plenty of questions,” allow me to elaborate.

With the new school year well underway, parents are already up to their necks in challenges particularly if they have a child with, for example, autism or a learning disability.  They are struggling to figure out what to do (i.e. what interventions or therapies are appropriate), who should do it (i.e. should they push for these services in school or secure them privately), and how to balance these ongoing needs with their other responsibilities (e.g. their workplace job and managing their families).  It’s a boatload of pressure any way you slice it.

But here’s where the “questions” issue comes to a head.  Parents are reluctant to ask the psychologist who just completed their child’s testing to explain the results in “lay language” that the parents can understand.  They are reluctant to ask the tutor to show them exactly what skills are being addressed, to ask their child’s teacher for data to support progress, and to ask the school district staff sitting around the table at their child’s IEP meeting to repeat things that are unclear or are not making sense.  Questions are not asked when answers are needed most.  Often times, it’s because parents see these people as “the experts,” therefore it would be — fill-in-the-blank — wrong, disrespectful, insulting, etc. to question them.  But isn’t this precisely how we learn?  By questioning people who may have insights we do not?  Yet what’s truly puzzling is this — if you take a similar scenario into the business arena, questions abound and the hesitation to ask is minimal.

I’d like to suggest that working parents take a new approach to their children and begin to view things like business.  In other words, ask yourself whether you’re getting a return on your investment.  The goal is to determine whether your time (often hours away from the office or reducing your work schedule) and resources (often tapping into savings or borrowing from family) are yielding positive results.  How do you know?  Questions and answers.

Working parents are mired in a “life mural” that requires unmatched work/life balance strategies.  This is particularly true when there is a child with special needs in their lives. So many parents find themselves overwhelmed yet fail to utilize the same strategies that they use in their jobs to manage their child’s needs.  Asking questions (even of “the experts”) and getting answers.  This approach yields powerful results … and isn’t this exactly what you’re looking for?

Train To Sustain & Retain

I count myself among those who believe that organizations can adapt and respond to fast-changing employee needs.  And indeed, many organizations do provide a range of programs and supports geared toward meeting some of these needs and keeping their employees happy or, at least, helping them to better manage their work/life responsibilities.

Yet there is a critical piece of the equation often lacking yet it surfaces periodically in articles and commentaries about today’s work environment and deserves more focus — the importance of training and supporting those charged with actually implementing many of these programs and supports.  Take flexible work options, for example.  Policies may be in place for employees to be able to work flexibly yet many state that they do not take advantage of these policies for fear that it will preclude them from … fill-in-the-blank — being considered for the next promotion, being assigned the upcoming project, or being asked to travel unexpectedly to a client site.

Policies that are not utilized need to be examined and more times than not, there are obstacles both on the “giving” and “receiving” side.  Without question, the obstacles are rooted in a lack of understanding, familiarity, and skills to enable both parties to have a win/win so that the programs and supports — often touted as being a critical part of the organization’s retention efforts — are actually used.  With the ever-increasing competition to be recognized as a “best” company, organizations need to move beyond the offering stage to ensure that what’s offered in writing is being used in practice.

If a manager has never managed someone who is telecommuting two days per week, they need training to understand how to do it.  This makes the policy sustainable because, well…it’s being used.  If an employee needs or wants to utilize a program or service yet is reluctant to do so for whatever the reason, internal communications vehicles need to assess this and determine three things:

  1. What is the obstacle (or obstacles);
  2. What is the reason for the obstacle/s; and
  3. What do we need to do to remove the obstacle/s to generate and increase usage.

It usually falls to an employee’s manager to give the “go-ahead” whether verbally or otherwise to proceed.  And while the words can be “yes,” more times than not it’s the non-verbals that convey otherwise.  Organization-wide training is essential when any new program or service is offered and the training needs to go well beyond describing what it is, who can use it, how much it will cost, and when it begins.  The training needs to continue well into implementation for there’s a huge difference between offering something and using it.

Value-added training drills down into the culture of the organization to understand the opportunities and barriers.  It enables organizations to know how change needs to be introduced and what adjustments need to be made along the way.  As we all know, change often comes slowly and this is definitely the case when an organization is providing employees with an opportunity to do things differently.  Even with the good stuff, it’s essential to train in order to sustain and to retain.