Today, I have a job that I love in an industry that is important to me. I feel fortunate to say that because I had to leave a previous job due to my son’s atopic dermatitis.
Navigating my life as both a caregiver and a career woman was challenging, and I feel for folks who are facing the same sort of situation. I’d like to share a few things that I learned the hard way about balancing a career with caregiving responsibilities.
First, don’t assume others will understand what atopic dermatitis is—and why you’re missing time. When my son was diagnosed, I shared openly with my coworkers and my supervisor about it. However, they never saw him and had no idea what his flare-ups entailed. Make sure that both your supervisor and your HR department know you are a caregiver and that your child has a chronic immunological disease that requires continuous treatment. Flares are unpredictable and can last for days. If needed, bring atopic dermatitis literature with you—and if you feel comfortable, you could even bring photos of a flare. That’s what I did.
Most people cannot believe the severity until they see it.
Second, don’t assume your sick time will cover you at work. I was flagged and spoken to for using 90 percent of my sick time, although I was well within my company’s policy. I wish I’d documented a conversation about my company’s sick leave policy with my supervisor in order to properly set expectations. It can’t hurt to be proactive by inquiring about alternatives available, such as working from home, banking up time, or working after hours. With your supervisor, jointly determine when it’s best to schedule all those doctor appointments. Another tip is to have your child’s diagnosis on file with both HR and your supervisor. Keep doctor’s notes from each visit. You may never need them—but then again, you might.
Third, be sure to back up all your work. Review all projects to ensure that files, contacts, and the like are easily accessible, easily understood, and up to date. Make sure everyone knows where to find your files and documents and have a plan for getting passwords to the correct people. In the event you suddenly need to leave the office, you’ll have peace of mind if you’re not worrying about work when caring for your child. You may be doing this already—kudos if you are!—but even something as simple as ensuring your boss knows the correct file names and locations or any approaching deadlines is crucial.
Finally, by having conversations about missing work before the event instead of after, you can spread goodwill and ensure everyone knows and understands expectations. My current supervisor knows about my son’s atopic dermatitis, and we have a plan of action for if—who am I kidding?—when I need to miss time. I have my plan of action in place. And I don’t have to worry about letting health concerns or absences interfere with my career and doing a job well.