Second Sunday Series — Editor’s Note: This is the fourth of 12 work and disability columns to appear over the next 12 months — one every second Sunday of the month, September through August. Previous columns have discussed the limitations of testing as a disabled worker, the dilemma of disclosing disabilities when seeking employment, and general concepts of disability in the workplace.
In this Second Sunday series, the monthly focus has been on careers and job search for people with disabilities, whether physical, mental or cognitive issues. Today, the spotlight is on the family members who make life manageable for these people.
Whether you’re a full-fledged caregiver for the disabled person in your life, or a cheerleader, or something in between, the experience has probably changed you. Some people discover a passion for helping others while others learn marketable skills through their babysitting responsibilities.
Yet while helping family members can be rewarding, almost everyone in this role gives up something in their own career path. For example, parents of children with disabilities may find it necessary to leave the workforce to help the child more effectively. Similarly, a parent may forego relocation opportunities to stay near facilities that best serve the child.
Siblings, spouses and even friends are also impacted by the disabilities of their loved ones, sometimes using all their spare time to provide assistance, or serving as an emergency contact with whatever disruption that may bring.
If this describes you, chances are you’ve struggled with the tension between your own work goals and the need/desire to be a gatekeeper. These tips can help you.
1. Don’t let babysitting overtake your own goals. It’s easier said than done, but the first step is to commit to yourself. There’s no doubt that support changes how you achieve these goals or how long you take to do so, but it shouldn’t erase them entirely. For one thing, just to be coldly practical, the person you’re helping might drift away from you or might die. Building your life from scratch at this point would be daunting.
Working on your own goals also gives you new perspectives, while avoiding the burnout that so many caregivers face.
One way to implement this advice is to be accountable to someone else, such as a counselor, employer, or support group. When others know you’re aiming for something, they can help ensure that other issues don’t distract you from your target.
2. Consider leveraging your babysitting experience. There are so many aspects to what you’ve done as a keeper that it can be easy to forget everything you’ve learned. Typical skill sets for this role include navigating health care systems, advocating for others, performing certain medical procedures, building a thorough understanding of particular diagnoses or conditions, performing physiotherapy exercises, tutoring or partnering in special education processes…the list goes on.
In short, your babysitting experiences have given you a head start for a variety of jobs and work opportunities. Depending on your career goals, you may be ready now to pursue work in a related field. Or, you might be able to merge aspects of what you’ve learned with a different type of work, making you a stronger candidate than before.
3. Take credit for babysitting. Even if you don’t plan to work in a related field, or work at all, writing a job description for your babysitter is a good idea. At least it will help you feel proud of your daily accomplishment of helping someone else. On a practical level, maintaining and regularly updating your job description provides a useful record for later if you need to build a resume.
4. Join an affiliate association. Speaking of resumes, they always look better with categories for lifelong learning and professional memberships. The real reason to join a group related to your loved one’s disability or medical condition is to get support and helpful information. But for sitters who aren’t currently working, associations can also offer course options as well as opportunities for professional-level volunteering. You can even find part-time employment opportunities with the association or through the people you meet there.
Whatever your career goals or job prospects, you deserve the opportunity to pursue them. The pace or process may be affected by your care, but these goals are still yours.
Amy Lindgren owns a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.