Be Your Own CEO
Is Running Your Own Business the Way to Balance Work and Parenting a Special Needs Child?
Have you ever wondered if it would be easier to take care of your Special Needs child if you were your own boss? No more requesting time off for appointments or calling in sick when your child is really the one who’s sick. No longer worrying that the school is going to call. No more running late because your child had a difficult morning or forcing yourself to work after a sleepless night. None of this matters if you’re the boss! You could set your own schedule around your child’s needs. Running your own business could finally give you the flexibility needed to balance the needs of your Special Needs child, your family, and yourself. Is being your own boss really easier and less complicated than answering to an employer? Three mothers who have successfully made the transition from a traditional workplace to working independently from home share their stories.
“If I could not work from my home I don’t know how I could support my family like I do.”
Maria Dellapina, of Ohio, the founder and president of Specs-4-Us , began her company three years ago after she was fired for missing work because of the recurrent medical needs of her daughter, Erin (now 10, Down Syndrome). Maria was divorced and already struggling to financially support her family while keeping up with the needs of Erin, Mollie (now 12, Typically Developing), and their two older siblings who no longer live at home. The moment of truth came when Maria begin job hunting. She added “twice I pulled up and parked for my interview and the school called me to pick up Erin because she was ill… I think Erin was trying to tell me something.” A friend convinced Maria that the only way to be there for Erin (while financially supporting her family) was to work from home. Maria began pursuing an earlier dream that combined her 25 years as an Optician and Frames Buyer with Erin’s ongoing need for eyeglass frames that fit the facial features common to Down Syndrome.
Financial independence did not come quickly, or easily, for Maria and her family. But, Maria persevered with the support of friends who believed in her. They also understood how Erin’s needs were making it difficult for Maria to keep a job. In 2008, she launched “Specs-4-Us” out of her home; selling eyeglass frames which she invented especially for individuals whose facial features make it difficult to find properly fitting eyeglass frames. Even if this is not the way Maria would have chosen to begin her work at home career, she loves what she does and advises parents who are considering working at home with their own business to also “do something you love”.
“It’s a shame she had to wait twenty two years for this to happen.”
Despite the chronic needs of her medically fragile daughter, Jessica (22 years old, Spastic Cerebral Palsy, Quadriplegia), Melissa Davis of Tennessee didn’t start working from home until two years ago. Jessica is wheelchair bound with limited communication. Her complete physical dependence has required the assistance of paid caregivers for the past 15 ½years. Melissa felt it was important that she be present to make sure that Jessica received the care she needed and deserved from her caregivers. “I gave up on trying to work outside of the home” she said. Her therapy wasn’t getting done. She was withdrawing, and her health was decreasing quickly. Melissa was concerned that Jessica would decline even further once she aged out of the public school system and no longer had the stimulation of being in the classroom.
One of Jessica’s caregivers was so impressed by how long Melissa and her husband, Rodney, had been caring for Jessica without respite that she started Stone Soup. Stone Soup is a church based, non-denominational Special Needs Respite Ministry. She gave Melissa the opportunity to move from a traditional job in Medical Billing to working at home as the Thompsons Station Church Stone Soup Director during Jessica’s last year in school. Melissa’s “gut” feeling that she needed to be home to stop Jessica’s withdrawal was correct. She added, “You should see her now! She is very bossy and tells us what she thinks and wants. We can’t understand the words, but the looks and tone tell it all. It is wonderful to see her forming into her personality”.
Melissa’s transition to working from home is exactly what Jessica needed, but it’s not always easy for Melissa. Jessica still requires supplemental caregivers and Melissa frequently sets work aside to help with her care. Jessica is medically homebound after being hospitalized for a serious Flu this past September, so Melissa rarely leaves the house and does most of her work late at night after Jessica has gone to bed. Seeing how her daughter has flourished over the past two years makes the sacrifice worthwhile. Melissa encourages parents, who feel that working outside the home is interfering with their child’swell-being, to take a leap of Faith. “Just do it!” is Melissa’s attitude. Do it and don’t look back. Turn it over to God and He will provide what you need.”
“Try to enjoy everything that happens on a daily basis, the good and the not so good.”
In the early 1990’s, Diane Scott, of California, was exploring part-time work at home opportunities as a way to balance career with parenting two toddlers. She realized that her business idea was helping her now adult son, who has ADHD and was born with a temporary inability to turn his neck. Her friend and business partner, Maryanne Gallagher, had a toddler with a severe peanut allergy. Together, they developed the recipe for Aroma Dough®, a gluten free playing dough that uses aromatherapy to help calm and focus children as they play. Diane feels that her son’s ADHD did not cause her to make the career change from Public Relations and Advertising to CEO of her own business, but his Special Needs did influence the product she co-created. “I didn’t know he was unusually hyper, since he was my first child and I did not have any comparisons with my other children who I would have later. But, I found the aroma components of the product we developed had a calming effect on him. He would play with Aroma Dough® for hours. He was helping me test the product and the different aromas way before ‘aromatherapy’ became a buzz word in the advertising world. That’s why we say we invented ‘AromatheraPlay®’.”
Aroma Dough® has moved from the garage to a manufacturing plant and is now being sold by national retailers. Like Maria, Diane gives credit for her business success to friends, in this case her business partner. “For me”, Diane continued, “it helped to begin the journey with Maryanne, who had the same background, and it was helpful that her children were the same ages. We seemed to accomplish a lot when we were able to breakdown responsibilities and go in different directions.”
Diane and Maryanne had each other, supportive husbands, and hired a part-time “grandma” to help with the kids a couple days a week so they could work on their business. Even with so much support, Diane still felt the strain of developing a business from her home while remaining involved with a growing family. She stayed positive and focused by setting limits on work time to stop it from creeping into family time, while still trying to create time for herself. “When you are younger and your children are little and require more help”, she said, “it feels like the days will never end. But I cannot tell you how fast time goes by.”
Build a Balanced Business from the Beginning
Maria, Melissa, and Diane each began working from home for different reasons, but, each created the same thing: a fulfilling career. One that balanced their children’s Special Needs against the needs of the entire family without overwhelming them as women and mothers. All of them work independently and can schedule work around the constantly changing needs of their families. However, because the home is their office, they are also responsible for creating structure for their work time and for finding a way to keep work from taking over their family-life and identities. Amy Baskin is a professional writer, lecturer, and the mother of an Autistic child who conducts workshops across the country to help mothers of Special Needs children create balance between themselves and the demands of everyday life. She is co-author of More than a Mom: Living a Full and Balanced Life when Your Child has Special Needs (Woodbine House), a book of strategies to help women identify and resolve real life problems that cause imbalance between work life, health, family demands, and parenting a Special Needs child. Amy offers the following business building tips to parents of Special Needs children who are interested in making the transition from a traditional work environment to their own home-based business:
- To get your work done, you need some kind of childcare.You can try to get some work done at night while your kids are sleeping, but, if you’re taking care of kids in the day and working at night, you’ll have virtually no time to care for yourself. So this is only a short term option.
- Because you’re working from home, you need to take steps to be visible, professional, and to build your business. Get business cards and make (or hire someone to help you make) a website.
- Join a professional association of people doing the same kind of work as you. Attend their meetings, workshops, and professional development.
- Use online professional listservs and blogs to swap advice and tips (a great strategy if you’re housebound).
- Tell all of your friends and acquaintances about the kind of work you do in order to get referrals.
- Be generous about sharing your own advice and contacts. What goes around, comes around.
- Carve out time for you EVERY day to de-stress, exercise, and connect socially with others.
These three business women have found that working from home has resolved some of the conflicts of continuing to work while caring for a Special Needs child. Building a home-based business requires a strong business plan that includes a timeline for the growth of your business. Concrete plans to help you draw the line between business and family have to be a part of your vision from the beginning. Being your own boss comes with a new set of responsibilities and pressure. Moreover, there’s no guarantee that financial independence will come quickly, if at all. One thing that will not change, no matter who you call “Boss,” is the need to create balance between work life and home life. This is a lifelong challenge that requires a mother to recognize that she has needs that cannot be put aside if she wants to succeed in all areas of her life.
To read more of Amy Baskin’s experiences as the parent of a Special Needs teen, visit her blog at amybaskin.wordpress.com.
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