By Copywriter Alison R Bowyer
If you’re a parent carer running a business, or thinking about it, this is for you…
I’ve read many articles about juggling parenthood with running a business. And I love them. It’s great to share thoughts and ideas.
I can relate to some of the experiences and advice, but my parenting issues are a bit different to most. My son has autism and learning difficulties.
I’m not saying my life as a working parent is harder, but it’s certainly different.
And when I read articles about juggling parenting and self-employment, there’s a tiny voice in my head saying, “What about me?”
Lately I’ve been wondering how many other self-employed peeps there are out there, simultaneously navigating their way through the world of business and special needs parenting.
All our children are different, and our experiences are different but I’m hoping some of the following would be helpful. At the very least, I’d love to hear your own experiences or tips.
This could be a whole blog in itself! What do I mean by acceptance?
Firstly, I mean acceptance about your child’s disability. That means accepting that they won’t change their behaviour or needs to accommodate your business and schedule. You’re going to have to work around them!
Because their care comes first, always; so it’s a case of working out when you can focus on your work and how much time you have available.
For me, this means only working on client stuff when my son is at his special school. He’s extremely well-supported, so I can drop him off at 9am secure in the knowledge that I’m unlikely to hear from them during the day.
He sleeps well at night. This is a huge bonus, because it means I get to sleep too. In the early days, I would take advantage of this time to work on my business (more about this in point 2!) but I’ve come to realise that sleep is super important, and my productivity during those school (client) hours is far greater if I get 7 solid hours of zizz.
Secondly, acceptance about what you can realistically achieve.
In the early days, that might mean just one or two hours a week. That’s a good start.
Don’t worry if it’s a tiny amount of time. Just focus on what you want to achieve and try your best to do it. Yes, it might take longer than you would like. But it’s something. And in my view, something is better than nothing. Even if you just manage to read one 10 minute blog about setting up your dream business, that’s a step in the right direction.
I’ve given up thinking about how much more I could achieve if I wasn’t a parent carer. To be honest, if it wasn’t for my son, I doubt I would have had the guts to go freelance anyway. I’d probably be 9-5ing in some faceless corporation by now, and bitching about Bob from Accounts. I have a lot to thank my son for!
Voice of experience speaking here!
You might be surprised just how excited you feel about starting your business, especially if you’ve felt dragged down by the stress of sorting out a diagnosis or suitable education for your child (experiences will vary hugely depending on the disability).
So what do I mean by self-care? I’m talking about the basics! Sleep, eating at the right times, drinking water and getting some exercise. I know how challenging this can be. The needs of your child can be overwhelming. But it’s important to try.
It’s surprising how invigorating thinking about something new can be. If you find time to study, read and plan your business, you might find that you have a new lease of life.
And that’s when it becomes tempting to neglect your basic needs in favour of putting everything into your business, on top of your caring role.
Your child and business depend on your health. Take care of yourself the best that you can.
- Get help
You can’t do it all yourself. So get help if you can. This will mean things to different people.
My greatest help is having my son educated in a special school. He’s well supported, so I can relax when he’s away from me and his anxiety at home is reduced. I also take advantage of the playscheme his school offers in the holidays and as he gets older, I have will have options available for after-school club and further respite.
I also pay out for extra help with the mundane stuff. That means paying someone to help with the ironing during busy times, and someone to help with the dog walking. That’s enough for now, but my son’s getting older and what I need will change.
If you can’t justify paid help, try negotiating with family members. Draw up a rota of who does what. If you have other children, get buy-in from them. My older son (who doesn’t have a disability) has assigned jobs in the house, for which he’s awarded merits that go towards treats or experiences in half-term. (Update: he’s now hit the teenage years, so increasingly this means cash incentives!)
- Make time for your heartbreak
I mean it.
Your child has a disability. It hurts. That never goes away. The fears for their future, wondering what caused their disability (I’m speaking as an autism parent here) and absorbing how much your world has changed. It’s always there, just underneath the surface.
As time goes on, you don’t think about it all the time. But every once in a while, something happens or someone says something, and reality of your situation slaps you straight in face. Sometimes when you least expect it.
However busy you are, however successful your business is, whatever other great things happen – just respect your own feelings about this.
It’s okay to feel really shit about this thing that you just can’t change; your child’s disability. Sometimes you’ll be cool about it. Other times you’ll feel sad, angry, frustrated, depressed. Acknowledge your feelings. They’re real – as real as it gets. And only by accepting that, can you embrace your situation and build a positive life (and business).
- Be the best you can be
Be yourself. And be good at what you do, at work and at home. Work hard at building your business, and giving your child the care and quality of life they deserve.
Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t be open about my caring role. Life has shown me that it changes people’s reactions towards me. It might even lose me business from time-to-time. But I’m okay with that.
Over time, I’ve come to realise that being a parent carer is a strength, not a weakness. And clients like to know who they’re working with. I’m the reliable type, so if I think I can’t meet a deadline or put the amount of work needed into a project, I don’t take it on in the first place.
Parenting a child with autism has taught me about communication, patience, empathy and given me the courage to carve out a different life to the one I thought I was going to live. My achievements might be small, but I’m proud of them.
How does it work for you?
If you’re a parent carer, who also runs a business, I’d love to hear from you. What are your challenges and coping strategies? Do you have any tips to share?
Alison is a Freelance Copywriter based in Milton Keynes. She specialises in web content and business blogging. For more information about Alison, click here.