Autism Acceptance Month can serve as a reminder for caregivers of all kinds to breathe and be kind to themselves.
Each April when it’s Autism Acceptance Month, I do a variety of things to raise awareness. This includes everything from writing blog posts to dying my hair blue—my son’s favorite color—to talking about my personal situation. My hope is that I might help others who are working hard to care for and support their neurodivergent loved ones.
With so much to manage, it can be easy to forget that caregivers need care too. How great would it be to care for ourselves with the same tenderness we devote to those we love?
For the last two years, I’ve been part of the team working to help our people adapt to the “new normal” of hybrid work environments. So when I struggled to land on my April Autism Acceptance blog topic, my boss insightfully suggested I write about working from home as a single parent with three neurodivergent children—my oldest is on the spectrum, my middle has severe ADHD and my youngest was just recently diagnosed with ADHD. As you can imagine, with the variety of people and personalities in my house, there’s always a lot going on.
And while I certainly have tips to share for managing work and life and being kind to oneself, I have no problem saying that I am not an expert. I don’t have all the answers—and certainly don’t even know all the questions! I’m simply a human doing her best to live in a world that, from the outside, might look like controlled chaos.
To all caregivers out there, know that whether your loved ones are neurodiverse or neurotypical, life is hard. And you know what, that’s ok. You don’t need to wear a mask of perfection. What’s more, you’re allowed to feel lost, found, angry, afraid, vulnerable and invincible all at the same time. You’re doing the best you can. But regardless of how you may feel at any given moment, please remember this: you’re not alone.
Given all I’ve experienced, I certainly have a few tips and tricks I use to stay centered. So here are my 5 tips to help you strike the right balance at work, at home and in life. Perhaps by trying a few things that worked for me, you’ll be inspired and imagine a few ideas of your own.
Many of us are trying to balance hectic work lives, family responsibilities and all that comes with it, while desperately trying to avoid showing any signs of “weakness.” Let me be clear: Asking for help is not weak. It is a strength because you recognize you cannot do it all alone. Frankly, sometimes life happens and the work you thought you could complete on time gets tossed aside.
I wouldn’t be able to do what I do every day without help. I talk to my manager, colleagues and team members when I’m struggling to help me prioritize or to better understand a difficult challenge. No one is super-human and I think we need to do a better job of reminding each other of that reality. I’m lucky to be surrounded by people who are understanding. That’s why I make it a point to encourage and remind my team that I would never see them as incapable of doing their jobs simply for needing a little extra guidance. In fact, it’s far more productive to ask a question versus spending unnecessary cycles trying to figure things out on your own.
It’s not always possible to set your own hours. But when working remotely, it’s important to remember that you’re not expected to be chained to your desk during “traditional” working hours. Setting a flexible schedule will give you some much needed relief and could actually improve your work performance.
This is one of the greatest “ah-ha” moments I’ve had, especially having an autistic child that is averse to change. He thrives on routine, so, if it means that I need to log off for a bit at 3pm because that’s homework time, or if I need to participate in a meeting from the car, in the school pickup line, then that’s ok. And I can honestly say, there has been more than one occasion when my video is off during a meeting because I’m folding laundry. As caregivers, we need to get creative in how we operate, and I’ve found that people are understanding. Why? Because they’re likely having similar challenges themselves.
There just aren’t enough hours in the day, so it’s crucial to make the best use of the moments you have. If you don’t have time to cook dinner because the workday ran long, get takeout. Maybe that Instagram mom has time to cook perfect vegan meals for her family, but you don’t know her story. Maybe she has a nanny or gets groceries delivered. Do what’s best for you and your family and don’t let anyone make you second guess your decisions.
Personally, I use Instacart to get my groceries delivered and plan a family takeout night every Friday. Instead of me feeling like I’ve fallen short somehow, Friday night takeout has become a fun family tradition.
Someone I knew had a sign in her kitchen that read, “This house is protected by killer dust bunnies.” It always made me laugh. But the message is a vivid reminder that it’s ok not to have a picture-perfect house at all times. No one is coming into your house and checking to see if you’ve washed your baseboard heaters and organized your closets. Oh, and if they are, you have my permission to tell them to leave. No one needs that kind of negativity in their lives!
If getting through the week means that from time to time you need to shove clutter into a closet or leave dirty dishes in the sink overnight—it’s ok! You’ll get to it when you can. Quick tip: If you do a lot of video meetings, take advantage of the virtual background feature. No one will ever know that behind that strong, confident person, lies enough chaos to send a lesser mortal into a full-blown anxiety attack.
You’re probably tired of hearing everyone say it. You know the line: It’s important to take time for yourself. But they’re right. I know because it’s definitely the thing I struggle with most. After all, there are work deadlines to be met, school activities to prepare for and personal commitments demanding your attention. It’s overwhelming. And let’s face it: Parental guilt is a real thing. But if we don’t find those small windows of opportunity to take time for ourselves, then we’re not going to be our best for those who need us.
So, whether taking time for yourself means going to the gym or taking a power nap or doing something for yourself: DO IT. True story: I’m actually sitting at the hair salon while writing this post—yay WIFI! You will find taking even the smallest moments will re-energize you, inspire better work and will make you a better caregiver to your family.
As I close out this post, if I had to boil it down to a single thought it would be this—you do you. What might work for me may not work for you. I can only hope that giving you a glimpse into my world is helpful, but you need to find the right mix that’s going to make you happy. When you find it, stick to it. Your colleagues, friends and family will thank you for it.
Erica McShane has more than 20 years of experience in high-tech public relations and corporate communications. With a focus on building awareness across the media, analyst and influencer communities, she has worked with all kinds of businesses—from startup to global tech giants—to build visibility, credibility and market awareness within the business, trade and online media. At Progress, Erica and her team are responsible for the company's global PR efforts, analyst relations, social media, content, customer programs as well as internal communications and corporate social responsibility initiatives.
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