About.com guides are experts in their subjects who enjoy sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm with readers. But many guides are also parents of children with special needs who value the flexible schedule that freelance work for About.com gives them. I've interviewed six guides about the way About.com and other freelance work helps them balance career and family. Read a sampling of their advice here, and follow the links to the full interviews.
Don't Be Afraid to Change Your Career
Jeanette Bradley, About.com's guide to Food Allergies and the mother of a child with food allergies and ADHD, never got back to her public policy career after her daughter was born with health problems. "I am no longer a policy wonk, but I now get to do my dream job -- being a freelance writer and illustrator. And of course, I have my wonderful daughter who brings so much joy into my life. My former colleagues see my life as a derailed career. They don't understand the choices I have made, and feel sorry for me. But some of the most wonderful people I have met in my life are other parents of special-needs children, many of whom have left careers to care for their kids full-time. They understand that life is full of difficult choices."
Recognize That Your Work Is One of Your Child's Needs
Lisa Jo Rudy, About.com's guide to Autism and the mother of a child with PDD-NOS, cautions parents about putting all their effort into special-needs parenting to the exclusion of all else. "Can you really live well (in all respects) if you are completely dedicated to your child? If you give up your career for your child's needs, will you resent your child? If your child doesn't respond to your care, treatments, or love -- will you feel that you've given up too much? If you quit your job, will you be utterly isolated? Think about your needs and your child's needs not just in terms of time but also in terms of money, sanity, self-esteem, and peace of mind."
Value the Distraction Work Provides
It's easy to see how life distracts you from work, but Angela Patterson, About.com's guide to Dallas and the mother of a child with Angelman syndrome, points out that the opposite can also be true: "Working is therapy for me. When I work, I tend to lose myself in it for a few minutes (or hours). I focus on my current project, not my child's problems or her school. I write about the here-and-now things. ... I think working helps me to be a better parent. Just finishing an article gives me such a sense of accomplishment."
Coordinate Your Work Schedule to Your Child's
Wendy Boswell, About.com's guide to Web Search and the mother of a child with 22q deletion syndrome, uses school time and sleep time as her work hours. "I try to get all my work done before he gets home from school. During summer, we have a schedule of what he can do with himself since he is unable to self-direct very well. I like to work early in the mornings or late at night. The kids also know that if Mom needs to work that she just needs to work, and that they need to go occupy themselves. Of course it doesn’t always work out that way!"
Appreciate How Work and Parenting Skills Overlap
Particularly if you've found work in a field related to your child's special needs, your work skills can benefit your child while your experience as a parent deepens your work understanding. Carrie Craft, About.com guide to Adoption and mother of a child with intellectual disabilities, reflects on the way advocating for her son affected her work. "It did not hurt our careers. It did give me more experience and understanding to help other families. It did hurt our reputations as, in order to get services, one must advocate. Hard. I am good at advocating, but I did burn a few bridges to get him what we felt he needed."
Remember to Take Care of Yourself
Balancing work and your child's needs is hard enough -- it's easy forget to leave time for yourself. But as Cynthia Nellis, About.com guide to Women's Fashion, points out, it's worth taking the time. "During the school year I try to get everything done during school hours so before/after school is just for the kids and their activities. I also believe in taking care of myself so that I'm operating at optimum speed. For example, I eat right (OK, mostly), jog, and ride horses (a very fast one seems to do the trick to erase stress)."
Find Work That Works for Your Schedule
Though I haven't interviewed myself, I too am an About.com guide and the parent of children with special needs, one with learning disabilities and one with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. After adopting my kids, I adapted my job so that I worked from home as much as possible. At first, I worked full-time but split my time between home and office; editing manuscripts overnight meant they were ready for colleagues first thing in the morning, and that benefited both my bosses and me. Eventually I switched to freelance editing and writing for About.com, which allowed me to work at home all day and be available for my family as needed. (Although my kids might tell you it just means I am working all the time.)