Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Does having frequently-sick children make me unemployable?

I've been thinking about this since last night. Does that fact that I have three children who are often sick make me unemployable? The guilty email I sent to my boss last night - explaining that I had to work from home today because (1) my toddler has Fifth Disease and (2) public schools are inexplicably closed and my Kindergartener has nowhere to go - made me feel like a pink slip was surely headed my way.

This is a struggle I've been grappling with for years now. My children get sick often, as I believe, most preschoolers do. It may be that I have more conflicts than other moms - my kids have some issues:

#1 son has Aspergers Syndrome and asthma (now controlled). He's had pneumonia or RSV 4 times. He's also had two minor surgeries - one for strabismus (both eyes), one for adenoids.
#2 son has asthma, controlled for the moment, but flares every few months.
#3 son has asthma and chronic ear infections. He's literally sick every two weeks.

...so in addition to the regular medical visits, I have frequent sick visits and specialist visits, and with my older one, therapist visits and IEP meetings at the public school.

I should also add that I adore my kids. They're definitely my top priority - as they should be. I don't dose them with Tylenol and send them off to daycare or school so I can squeeze in a few hours at the office. If they're sick they stay home. I'm adamant about this for two reasons: first, because a secondary infection (or worsening of the first) can easily mean a trip to the ER for any of the "asthma boys", and secondly, because it's not fair to the other moms if Ig gives one of his friends a whopping case of Strep - because I was too selfish to keep him home.

That said, I give 150% or more to my work. I love online marketing, and I love being part of a company that appreciates me and the work I do. And when I work from home, I actually WORK FROM HOME. If it means planting my kids in front of the TV for a few hours at a time, then I've gotta do it. They're all pretty cooperative. And if it means I have so many interruptions that I have to duck into the home office when my husband gets home and work until the wee hours, then so be it. If I have work to get done...it's getting done!

Admittedly, I was spoiled by my last position. I worked for a company that trusted me to do my job. I worked from home when I needed to, remaining reachable at all times via phone, email and IM. No one checked up on me minute to minute, but they knew my work would be done. The trust I had made me feel even more obligated to meet my goals and deadlines - even if I had to stay up til 2:00 am to do it.

That freedom (and the two best bosses a girl could hope for) earned my loyalty. I would have done anything for that company. Anything. I knew I was slightly underpaid for my work there, but I didn't care. I loved my job and I relished the reality that I could work from home if #1 son had a parent/teacher conference at elementary school.

And sure, you can take my word for the fact that I worked hard, or you can look at what I accomplished there. While I can't take sole credit, I can tell you that I helped that company reach these goals:

  • Best Place to Work in NJ - top 5 in 2005 and 2006
  • Deloitte Technology Fast 50 - 2005, 2006
  • Top Best Small and Medium Companies to Work for in America (2006)
  • Forbes Enterprise Award Winner
  • Impressive growth and publicity that led to a successful (if tragic for me) acquisition

As a client-side marketer, I don't think that's too shabby. Especially since I spent about 15% of my career there working out of my living room.

I'm very upfront about my needs in terms of flexibility with prospective employers. I'd like to think my track record speaks for itself.

With an impending (and worsening) recession and absurdly high gas prices, I'd like to think employers are going to start being more accepting of virtual days and other family- and wallet- friendly arrangements. I believe they're going to have to be, honestly.

I'd like to think I make a strong case for what moms can do. So here are my parting notes:

  • Moms - speak up. We need workplaces that support our needs as caregivers. This means you need to be clear about what you need in terms of flexibility.
  • Moms - step up. DO NOT take that flexibility for granted. Just because your workplace supports you doesn't mean your co-workers do. You need to work 10x smarter and harder to prove your worth in the office.
  • Employers - wake up. A working mom can be your best asset. We may need some special arrangements, but we'll be the most loyal, hardworking employees you've ever had. Give us a shot.

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