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Advice for Relaunchers with Children with Special Needs

Challenges lead to specialized opportunities

By Vivian Steir Rabin

My iRelaunch co-founder Carol and I recently received the following email:

Hi. Thanks for taking my e-mail. I'm 37, and I've been a stay-at-home mom for 13 years. I tried working when my two oldest children were young, but because I have no family to help when the kids are sick (my husband works) I've been unable to keep a job. In addition to the two older kids, we have a child who isn't in school yet and a 5 year old with a severe disability, Angelman Syndrome who is sick a lot and has seizures. I've found that no one wants to hire me even for a night position because of my family. I assume it's also because I've been out of the workforce for so long.

Before I was married I held a receptionist job for five years. I was the type of worker who had to be sent home when sick. I have a very good work ethic, but it doesn't seem to matter. And I’m not sure who I could use for a reference since the companies I used to work for no longer exist. We're in a horrible financial state and I need to go to work. I would appreciate any suggestions you have as well as suggestions for my bleak resume.

Thank you very much, Sue

With Sue’s permission, I’m posting her email and my answer to her, in the hope that it will not only help Sue and her family, but also other mothers facing similar challenges.

Dear Sue:

I was tremendously moved not only by your e-mail but also by the website you’ve created. I have several thoughts for you.

  1. If you put that website together, you are more technologically up-to-speed than most stay-at-home moms who have been out for 13 years. Make sure you include something in your resume like “created a family website” and list all software programs with which you’re familiar.
  2. If you apply for a conventional job, I don’t think you should mention your child’s disability, particularly not on a first interview. If you’ve arranged for childcare while you’re working there is no reason for your employer to know this information. After you receive an offer, if you need a minimum level of flexibility (leaving early one day a week, etc.), that’s the time to ask for it, giving assurances that you will give your all to make up the time in other ways. However, if you need a lot of flexibility, I don’t think you should apply for a regular full-time job; rather I think you should try to make your special family situation work for you by doing one or more of the following:
  3. If the Angelman Foundation, the nonprofit that promotes awareness of your child’s disability, has a list of members, reach out to all the members in your geographical area, tell them about the kind of work you’d like to do and ask them to refer you to anyone they think might have an opportunity for you. Also reach out to the Board of Directors of the foundation with the same question.
  4. Ask the Angelman Foundation if you could organize all their fundraising and awareness building activities in your part of the country and whether they could pay you for that. If you decide to do this, make sure you reach out to them as a professional, not just as a member of their organization.
  5. Have you considered getting involved in other nonprofit groups, especially groups that advocate for children with special needs? Perhaps you could work for such an organization.
  6. Explore whether there might be any work opportunities at your daughter’s school, maybe in an administrative capacity.
  7. Tell all your family, friends and neighbors that you’re looking for office work. They know about your work ethic so they will be comfortable recommending you to people. A personal endorsement means a lot.
  8. Create a profile on LinkedIn and try to locate your past colleagues through that or other social networking sites. You might also try to connect with parents of children with disabilities similar to your child’s through LinkedIn or, more likely, through other more specialized websites or Yahoo! groups. Creating such a network will not only increase your chances of finding a suitable job but will also give you additional emotional support.

I hope this is helpful, and I wish you all the best.