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…

 

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When One Small Step Is Anything But Small

People tend to believe that it’s the big things in life that have the most significance, but I don’t necessarily agree.  Small things often make the greatest impact, and one group of people know exactly what I mean.

If you’re the parent of a typical child, there are so many “firsts” and accomplishments that the small steps often get lost in the shuffle.  Not so for parents of children with an autism spectrum disorder.  For these parents, life is all about watching for the smallest possible step.  About knowing the minutes, days, and months of effort that went into making this step happen.  It’s often only those closest to the child who can understand and appreciate what this is all about.

Ever sit and watch a flower bloom?  You rarely see anything, but look away for a day and the changes are often amazing.  Parents of children with autism spend much of their lives closely watching for that bloom to happen … for that “one thing”, that small step that will show them that their child is learning to speak, respond, play, understand.  And they see it when it happens.

This past week, I spoke with a parent who was sharing how her child was finally able to tolerate something that had been – up to that point – intolerable.  For most parents, this would have been seen as a “get over it” moment, but not for this parent.  It was a huge obstacle that impacted her child’s ability to function and the family’s ability to function as well.  Anyone who would say that a small step isn’t a major milestone is someone whose life hasn’t been touched by autism.

Think about it this way…most people stand back and look at life like admiring a huge mural painted on the side of a building.  But for parents of children with autism, they’re standing right up close, seeing every single stroke of the brush.  When your child struggles on a daily basis in a world that assaults their senses and challenges their abilities, every step forward is anything but small.  These parents know what they’re looking for and even if they don’t, they still see when something changes or some progress is made.  That’s because they’re always looking and hoping for it.

That infamous line…”One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” are words that ring true for each and every parent of a child with autism.  Every small step their child makes is a leap indeed, for it paves the way for a future of possibilities.  And possibility is that wonderful thing that keeps parents moving forward.

Life is about giving and receiving and I don’t know any single group of individuals who give more than parents of children with autism.  So isn’t it wonderful that one of the things they receive is the ability to see these small steps happen right before their eyes?  Whoever said that you can’t watch a flower bloom never knew what they were looking for.

Trust Me…It’s A Crisis

I’ve always struggled with numbers but not this one…

From the CDC comes this statistic – 1 in 50 children under the age of 17 holds an autism diagnosis.  Even for me, someone who has worked with parents of children with autism for years and suspected for quite some time that even the most recent statistic of 1 in 88 children was low, seeing this in print was simply startling.

Ask anyone whose life has been touched by autism and they’ll tell you that it changes everything.  It strains marriages and finances.  Overwhelms resources and time.  Shifts priorities and plans.  Every day, in every possible way, autism overtakes life and the expression …”let me count the ways” doesn’t even scratch the surface in terms of the impact an autism spectrum disorder has on parents, families and well beyond.  Trust me, I know.

At a time when school budgets are being slashed and families are truly hurting by an aching economy, these numbers equate to a huge wake-up call for those who may have been napping.  The need for early intervention services is critical as the earlier supports and services are secured, the greater likelihood that the child can make and sustain progress.  The need for broader and more complex supports for teens has never been greater with social deficits and bullying defining a huge part of life for high school students.  And the need for college-level support is enormous, as the expectations and freedom that accompany the foray into young adult independence brings with it enormous risks.  Trust me, I know.

Working parents have the greatest challenges and if both parents are employed full-time outside of the home or if it’s a single parent household, all bets are off.  Therapies, evaluations, research, school meetings, crisis situations…the strain on working parents and their time, finances, and health are beyond what employers and colleagues understand or even recognize. And as I say ad nauseum…behind every child with an autism spectrum disorder is a parent (or two parents) of a child with an autism spectrum disorder.  Trust me, I know.

Autism is complex and multi-faceted, leaving even the most “on” parents buckling under the strain.   Parents find themselves leaving jobs because any hope of work/life balance is greatly compromised if not impossible.  Parents find themselves on Google at 3 a.m. or spending weekends sifting through books and journals.  Parents find themselves remortgaging their homes, borrowing from family members, and altering their way of life beyond what those on the outside could fathom.   Trust me, I know.

Autism is a crisis.  Plain and simple.  It was a crisis five years ago and is even moreso today.  And while many are researching causes and developing new therapies, the reality is that exploding numbers of children and teens are struggling on this very day from wake-up in the morning to sleep (if sleep even happens) at night, in 2nd Grade and 11th Grade, in public schools and private schools.  And standing behind and beside each of these children is a worn, overwhelmed, frustrated, and confused parent – or two parents – trying in herculean ways to find answers and make things better.  Trust me, I know.

When a crisis hits, people mobilize.  Only in this case, it isn’t a natural disaster but rather a national crisis impacting not only families in their own homes, but employers as well.  Employers must offer assistance, whether through flexible work options, funds allocated for an employee to use for therapies, private school, or legal counsel, or employee resource groups so working parents can share information and offer support.  Because even with internet research in the middle of the night, what working parent with an 8 or 14-year-old with Asperger’s Syndrome has the time or energy to shoulder more than they already are?  Employers also need to recognize that today’s children with an autism spectrum disorder will likely be tomorrow’s employees programming their computer system or writing their corporate manual.  And in terms of society, everyone needs to begin to understand autism differently, for many pre-conceived notions from years ago are as outdated as go-go boots and wall telephones.

One in 50 children has autism.  It impacts everyone and is a genuine crisis.  Trust me, I know.

 

 

Few Working Parents Are Saying “Ya-hoo” Today

Having just returned from the Alliance for Work-Life Progress (AWLP) annual forum in Baltimore, discussion surrounding Marissa Mayer (Yahoo) and her decision to end telecommuting for employees bubbled up throughout.   No question, many (including me) are talking about this business decision, and it’s one that deserves plenty of discussion.

Back in the dark ages – when I began working in the work/life arena, terms like job-sharing and telecommuting required definitions and explanations.  They were foreign concepts to many and those remotely familiar with them quickly concluded that it was something the “other guy” may consider doing, but not them.  We’ve come a long way…until Mayer slammed on the brakes.

Progress means taking two steps forward and one step back.  We try a new strategy or program and then have to pivot and adjust.  But when something that has been earned – whether a promotion or the ability to work remotely – is taken away under the guise of wanting to improve communication and collaboration, it becomes a new game.

Communication is a process that involves sharing information, facts, and ideas.  Collaboration is a method of bringing together minds and talents.  Neither requires that people breathe the same air space or pass each other en route to the cafeteria.  At least not every day.  We’ve long since passed the “punch in at 9/punch out at 5 (if you’re lucky) and I need to see you sitting at your desk whenever I pass by” workplace, and those who have fought for progress in the area of workplace flexibility are not going to relent.  Nor should they.

Anyone who has a pre-schooler, teen with a disability, elderly parent, sick spouse, or simply the desire to adjust their work location as needed would agree that this mandate is a no-go.  It’s one thing for an organization to be *working toward* a culture whereby flexible work options are part of their operations, but quite another to have it implemented and then taken away.  Since when did we revert back to measuring productivity by face-time?  And what measures is Mayer using to conclude that communication, collaboration and productivity have suffered because of telecommuting employees?   Certainly she must share.

Along with up-ending the lives of employees in this organization, there’s a broader concern, one that I shared with colleagues at AWLP’s forum.  Other CEOs – because we know that CEOs communicate and collaborate with other CEOs albeit not in the same building – will now either be re-examining their own flexible work/telecommuting policies under a new lens or will be concluding that no…this entire concept isn’t for their organization because if it didn’t work for Yahoo, it won’t work for them.

A business is its employees.  Not its building or products.  Not its intellectual capital or services.  It’s their people.  Diverse individuals struggling every day to balance their work responsibilities with home lives.  Organizations compete for “best company” status and spend millions recruiting and retaining top performers.

Some things we know …

  • The emphasis on employee health (mental and physical), stress, balance, and flexibility are core business issues and concerns.
  • Employees place a huge emphasis on the importance of their leaders/managers listening to their needs and responding accordingly.
  • Workplace flexibility is always at the top of the list of reasons why an employee joins or remains with an organization.

Yahoo’s short and long-term turnover numbers, exit interview results, and their retrenched recruitment strategies (and goals) will definitely be things I want to see.  And while the extent of the fallout will take some time to assess, of this I feel certain – those employees impacted by this archaic policy will either let their feet do the talking or are saying a lot of words these days, most of which would sound something like this … “*@#!!*#*!!”.

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?