‘Oh, I really don’t mind what I’m having as long as it’s healthy!’
It’s a phrase we hear so often from expectant mothers. But what happens when that baby isn’t born healthy as you had expected? What if the life you had dreamt of is taken away from you in an instant? What if the future you had taken for granted is no longer yours?
My twin boys were born in 2005 at 32 weeks and weighing just 3lb 9oz each. While Oliver was medically typical, Harry had been born with a rare craniofacial condition called Goldenhar syndrome. For him, this meant that he was born with no eye or eye socket, no ear or nostril and a short, underdeveloped jaw all on his left side. We were also told that he may have brain damage and never walk. By the time Harry was three years old, we knew that his mobility had been unaffected by the syndrome, but he was diagnosed with autism and global learning delay. Today, my boys are seventeen years old. Harry functions around five years of age and has significant learning, behaviour and communication needs.
In the 20 seconds or so that it took the paediatrician to deliver the news back in 2005, everything changed forever, and that sliver of time marks the separation of the person I was before and after.
In the five years that followed my boy’s birth, my marriage broke down and I became a single parent and full-time carer to a boy who made tigger look docile 21 hours a day. I also had to reduce my days as a full-time primary school teacher, a career I adored, before eventually leaving the profession altogether to be there for Harry’s appointments, surgeries, and general care.
I returned to part-time secondary teaching in 2017 as the structure of the day allowed for a slightly later start and earlier finish which I needed and built my own business in the days I wasn’t teaching.
I am sure that many people are aware of the logistical issues that come with being a working parent carer. I am confident that much fewer will have as keen an understanding of the gifts that they bring to the workplace. The transferrable skills that are such an integral part of caring which migrate beautifully, often unrecognised, into paid employment. Skills such as creativity, being able to think fast and find an effective solution under pressure and a level of compassion and consideration which makes the difference between a tolerable workplace culture and an enjoyable one.
Recent statistics show that 1 in 7 working parents have additional caring responsibilities for their child which means that somewhere in your organisation, one or more parent carers are juggling commitments above and beyond those of typical parents (and parenting, in general, is hard enough at the best of times!)
Having surveyed over 600 working parent carers myself I know that many of these individuals truly value the identity, purpose, and adult company that employment provides them with.
I also know that, with the right support and consideration, parent carers are valuable assets to any team as they forge a new identity within a life they may never have imagined.
Some practical tips to guide employers in the first instance include ensuring that meetings are within working hours rather than early or late in the day when parent carers may be pressured for time, considering paid leave or flexible hours for appointments that can’t be missed and have to be during the day and educating management and colleagues to raise awareness rather than pity and reduce the stigma that can often be attached to caring roles.
If this is something you would like support with alongside the great work you are already doing for your employees then please get in touch with me. As a working parent carer myself, I offer the insight to support your management and the experience so that the parent carers in your team feel seen and recognised.
While other companies count the employees, I am here to help you make your employees count in the workplace and in the world.
About the author
Charlie Beswick is a Mum to twins Oliver and Harry, part-time teacher, author, blogger, charity founder (More Than a Face) and cheeseaholic! She is passionate about supporting others on journeys they never expected to take.
@ouralteredlife on socials to find out more about my own journey as a parent carer