The Real Truth About Parental Leave

Working parents with Special education Special needs children including Autism ADHD Learning disabilities  Employee benefits Employee assistance Employee support Voluntary benefits. 504 Plan, IEP Program

I can't say enough about all the recent attention regarding parental leave and the companies expanding opportunities for new mothers and fathers to spend critical time with their newborns. 

Recognizing the importance of new parents being able to bond with their children speaks volumes...about the fact that families matter in our society and that companies are focusing on establishing family-friendly cultures.  All good stuff (and smart business) and steps that are long overdue, a comment I can comfortably make having been in the work/life arena since the late 90s and can see where progress has been made.

And while more companies are now providing paid parental leave, a critically important workplace benefit, the truth is that there are millions of working parents whose parental leave needs are not being met.  Or even addressed.  Those with elementary-aged, teens, or college-aged children.  And while this isn't meant to be a comparison, anyone who thinks managing a child during infancy is the same as raising a child or teen struggling in school or life isn't looking at parenting and the needs of working parents realistically.  Each age and stage has its challenges and for many parents, sleepless nights and gray hair come with it.  But opening the lens -- and discussion -- to the truth means recognizing that the needs of working parents don't stop at several months.  Or at age 5.

There is nothing more important than establishing a solid foundation for a parent and child during the early years.  I could barely stand to leave my child as a newborn or toddler myself, and I was self-employed at the time so didn't have the restrictions and limitations that many parents face.  No question...these were glorious years, yet we cannot be short-sighted nor can we forget that babies and toddlers grows into children and young adults whose needs become as complex as they are.

As every parent will tell you, parenting is lifelong and the challenges intensify as our children get older.  The issues facing kids today are nothing like they were when we were growing up, and this requires parents to be more...involved, engaged, vigilant, accessible...present.  All we need to do is look at the numbers of 8, 15 and 22-year-olds struggling with autism, depression, ADHD, cyberbullying, anxiety and more, and the facts are clear.

I applaud every company moving toward or already providing paid parental leave.  And those offering on-site childcare, maternity massages, lactation rooms, and more are surely adding to supports being provided.  Yet companies need to recognize that parenting and the needs of working parents are for many years vs. months or a few short years.  Unless and until this lens opens all the way, we're only seeing a small part of a much larger picture and are sorely missing the mark.  The truth is that parental leave for new parents is important.  For veteran parents, it's essential.

Hidden Disabilities -- 5 Things You Need to Know

Working parents with Special education Special needs children including Autism ADHD Learning disabilities  Employee benefits Employee assistance Employee support Voluntary benefits. 504 Plan, IEP Program

I think we'd all agree that it's easier to believe and understand what we can see and doubt or question things we cannot.  For children, teens, and adults with an invisible, or hidden disability, this increases the obstacles and the barriers to getting support.

There are some basic things to know about things you cannot see:

1.  The issue of no visible supports.  It's extremely difficult for a 5th Grader to explain to a teacher that he/she needs to stand vs. sit in a classroom.  Or to once again explain that their inability to read social cues in high school requires teacher assistance.  In school, disclosure is needed to access supports and services, yet many children struggle to convey and explain what they need even with these supports in place.  And because what they need isn't seen, they often face push-back and misunderstanding due to the hidden nature of their needs. 

2.  The issue of stigma.  No one wants to acknowledge that they're struggling and this is particularly true in the workplace.  The issue of "conceal or reveal" exists for every employee with an invisible disability and much depends upon the person, his/her needs and diagnosis, the company and environment, external support, and what guidance is received related to making their needs known.

In school, there are supports such as IEPs or 504s and parents are the front-line advocates in this arena.  Yet in the workplace, it's up to the individual to self-advocate.  Disclosure and the associated stigma and possible ramifications of doing so have real implications.

3.  The issue of being misunderstood.  Parents of children and teens with developmental disabilities, auditory processing deficits, learning challenges, and mental health issues (just to name a few) know the fight they often face to have teachers, family members, and others understand that their children's needs are real.  Far too often, children/teens with invisible disabilities are penalized - in school, in the community, at family functions, and in the juvenile justice system - for needs that cannot be seen. 

4.  The issue of permanence.  While there are services, supports, and strategies that can strengthen areas of need, many invisible disabilities are lifelong.  The issue often heard, when is comes to children and behavior, for example, about it being a "stage or phase" does a disservice to the struggles faced.  It also makes learning to self-advocate harder when others doubt your word and your realities from childhood into adulthood.

5.  The issue of struggle.  We tend to empathize with someone who uses a visible tool to aid in their functioning, yet often ignore or underestimate the needs of those whose struggles cannot be seen.  The physical, emotional, and mental toll of invisible or hidden disabilities are as real as any that can be seen, if not moreso.  The challenges faced go beyond learning to live with ADHD or a mental health diagnosis -- they are intensified by having to convince or prove that what they're dealing with is real.

From parents advocating for their children in school and teaching teens how to self-advocate, to acknowledging invisible disablities in college and the workplace,  the words of a very wise man are words to remember:

"Everything that we see is a shadow by that which we do not see." -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Help Our Children

Many people will be writing and speaking about the horror that happened in Connecticut in the morning hours of last Friday.  No words could possibly express the depth of my sorrow for these families -- it's beyond description.  The loss of these children is life-altering for any of us who are parents. Our children need help.  The young man who committed this massacre (and no need to mention him nor any diagnoses being tossed around) had been suffering for years.  Many children are.  No excuses but rather a wake-up call.

For the past 14 years, I've been working with parents of children with a host of hidden disabilities.  Children who have been struggling at school and home.  Children who have found themselves in psychiatric wards...involved with law enforcement...taken from their homes by their own parents who are no longer able to care for them.  Despite doing everything humanly possible to help them and often for months and years, they encounter obstacles, lack of access, limited resources...the list is endless.  Parents wear out but keep trying.  Or stop trying because they just can't do it any longer.  They are doing everything possible but often, it's not enough.  And the children suffer.

As a society, we must raise the volume of discussion about mental health issues.  But that's not enough.  We have to do everything possible to help parents access whatever supports are needed for their children.   A 7-year-old who is struggling becomes a 14-year-old who is struggling unless this child receives support, services, and whatever else is needed to help them.  It is our responsibility to ensure that this is a priority.

Many parents don't tell their stories.  They're afraid of rejection or disapproval.  They're afraid of what might happen to their children if people *knew* what was happening in their homes and lives.  I've heard countless numbers of these stories from parents with desperation in their eyes and voices.  And today I'm worried for the thousands of children and their parents for whom Asperger's Syndrome is part of their daily existence.

As we all grieve for this unspeakable tragedy and discuss gun control and mental health issues, we must also look around at the families and parents we know...at the children we know or love, and support them with everything we have so that these children -- regardless of their age -- have the chance to heal and be well.   I'm not naive enough to believe that everyone with a diagnosis can be healed, but I do know that many, many children and teenagers who are suffering and struggling *can* move from the darkness into the light if they are able to receive the supports they need.  Don't we owe this to all our children?  Please...we must help our children.