By Law Momma Contributor
My two year old son has reactive airway disease. This is pretty much an avoidance diagnosis… basically, it’s asthma that he might outgrow so they don’t want to call it asthma because of insurance reasons. (Apparently, once diagnosed with asthma, the diagnosis sticks with you for life for insurance purposes, even if you have no symptoms and haven’t had an attack in almost 30 years… not that I know anything about that.)
For the sake of my life, what the Reactive Airways Disease diagnosis means is that I am a working parent of a chronically ill toddler. And that is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
As working parents, we have certain responsibilities to our employers, silly things like “consistency in attendance” and “presence in the office.” We have billable hours, or sales quotas, or client contact goals.
In short, we’ve got shit to do, yo.
So when you find yourself in the unfortunate position of having a chronically ill child, there are sacrifices that have to be made both in the office AND at home. And it stinks.
J was diagnosed with RAD when he was around four months old. As far as chronic illnesses go, this is the one you want to have. RAD isn’t exactly fatal… it’s just… terrifying. Watching your child struggle to breathe is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, but I want to be clear that what I go through with J’s RAD is nothing like what a parent who has a child with a more serious condition might go through. Some of the challenges as far as working outside the home, however, are probably quite similar.
I have been very fortunate in that I have yet to work a job that made it difficult for me to bring my child to the office. When J was a baby, I would leave the Pack ‘n Play in my office just to save from carrying it everywhere with me. And if this is something you can do with your jobs, then by all means do it… but just because my bosses let me bring my kid, didn’t mean I could actually DO anything with my child there. Especially not as he got older. On top of just not being able to focus, I had a billable hour requirement. I traveled a lot for work and I really needed my time in the office to be MY time in the office.
When I realized in April of 2010 that my marriage was ending, I was faced with a myriad of difficult decisions. I knew that I would be the primary custodian of J, it only made sense. But I was working a job that required me to travel two out of five days a week and pull in 2200 billable hours for the year. There were at least five times a month that I would be gone until 7 or 8 at night or have to leave at 5 or 6 in the morning and daycare was only open from 7am to 6pm.
I could not do my job as a single mother to a chronically ill son.
Let’s face it, it’s difficult to hold down a steady job when you’re missing time from work. It’s hard to show your boss you are a serious professional when you are constantly being called away by daycare phone calls or early morning fevers. It’s hard to get ahead as a professional anything when you have to put your child first… before clients, before conference calls, before sales pitches, and even before attendance policies.
Ultimately, the best solution for me was to take a different job, one that didn’t require as much travel and one that didn’t come with a billable hour. I was up front with my new boss about the time I would have to spend “parenting” at least until I could find someone who was available at the drop of a hat for sick day babysitting. (It’s tough without family nearby!) And yes, there are days when I have to send my child to daycare when I know I should keep him home. There are days when he cries and begs to stay home and I have to stick out my chin, and grin, and promise him that the sun will come out tomorrow or something like that. So far, my new job is a good fit for J and I because it gives me a bit more flexibility to care for him as needed. But don’t get me wrong, flexibility comes with a price.
I’m not first in line for a promotion.
I’m not first in line for great assignments or fancy dinners with the boss.
I’m not first in line for anything other than drop off at daycare in the mornings.
Having a child who suffers from a chronic illness means having to decide: Career or Carer. Working to make it or Making it work.
I choose Making it work.
If we’re being honest, I don’t like that I had to make the choice. I don’t like that I can’t be the lawyer I thought I wanted to be and be the mother I know I need to be all at the same time. I don’t like that I have to make decisions every day between my job and my child… it’s hard. Someone always gets left out. Someone always gets let down. And 9 times out of 10, I have to choose my child… at the expense of the promotion and the fancy dinner and the raise.
But as a mother to a child who basically deserves his own parking spot at the pediatrician’s office?
I think I make the only real choice I have.