Last month, I was invited to speak at the Education Symposium for Greater Mount Zion Baptist Church in Austin, Texas on the topic of parent involvement. The basis for my discussion came from an article that I wrote earlier this year for The Good Men Project titled Fathers are Critical to a Child’s Education. In the article, I talked about my experience as a Dad and how I discovered four benefits of being actively involved in children’s education. As is my custom, I left a few minutes at the end of my speech for questions and answers. Several attendees commented that they didn’t have time to be more involved because of work commitments. One gentleman, in particular, felt guilty because he had a child with special needs but didn’t have the time or expertise to be a more involved parent. For purposes of this article, I’ll limit my discussion to their concerns about work and fatherhood highlighting some of the sacrifices that I made as a Dad.
Years ago, it was customary for Dad to be the breadwinner while Mom stayed at home and dealt with the kids. Now, times are different. Women make up over half of the workforce so both parents are struggling with this issue. I told the attendees that my wife and I made a commitment early on that we would put our children first. As special needs parents, we knew that we had to maintain a presence at the school and advocate for our children so that school officials would be sure to accommodate their needs. It was especially important for me to be present because studies show that kids do better in school when fathers are involved. Over time, I developed three keys that would enable me to succeed both at work and as a Special Needs Dad.
Consider Changing Careers:
When my oldest daughter was born, I was a technology consultant with a top Fortune 50 company. As a result, I would frequently be away from home for several days at a time. Now responsible for a child with special needs, I knew that my career path needed to change. While my daughter was still very young, I was able to transition to a career with the federal government that allowed me to travel less and generally be home every night.
I initially researched the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to gain insight on services that were available for my oldest daughter; however, along the way, I also learned about the rights of primary caregivers as well. I learned that I could take time off under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to attend to my child’s medical needs; whether it be at the doctor’s office or in an Individual Education Plan (IEP) meeting. Since the IEP typically discusses therapy services that are provided by a school, an IEP meeting qualifies for leave under FMLA.
Excellence at Work:
I made sure to go above and beyond in performing my duties at work so that no one would be able to point to my performance as a reason to question my leave requests. When I needed to move to a different state to accommodate my child’s educational needs, my employer worked to accommodate me, not because of a legal requirement, but because they didn’t want to lose a good employee. It is very expensive for businesses to recruit, train, and hire new employees and are extremely reluctant to let good performers go. Most employers will go the extra mile to retain good employees so a good performance record is a must.
To summarize, being a good employee and a good father for a special needs child are not mutually exclusive. It just takes a little time and a good faith effort but in the end, you can succeed at both.
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