By Matt Gonzales
Maintaining a healthy work/life balance is a challenge for many employees. But for Kay Lee Mynatt, it’s a necessity. She is the mother of two children. Her youngest son, Spencer, 1, has Down syndrome. Mynatt takes Spencer to multiple therapy sessions per week—physical, occupational and speech—to boost his motor skills, strengthen his ability to walk, learn to feed himself and practice sign language to communicate.
“I’ve found that I need to fit both life and work in as full-time commitments—every day,” said Mynatt, a sales engagement coordinator at Voya Financial in Indianapolis. “Each day is different, so it’s a constant shuffle of my workload and what I need to do for Spencer.”
About 1 in 6 children ages 3 to 17 in the U.S. have one or more developmental disabilities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many parents who serve as their children’s caregivers struggle to balance those responsibilities with maintaining a job.
When she found out about Spencer’s diagnosis, Mynatt was initially concerned that she wouldn’t have time to work. However, she has since learned to support her child and thrive in the workplace simultaneously—with the help of an empathetic employer who accommodates her needs.
“Caring for my kids and being with them as they grow are the best parts of my days,” she said. “But I’m still focused on, and interested in, growing in my career.”
‘Time Is Such a Valuable Resource’
In a 2021 study, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte found that parents of children with developmental disabilities experience high levels of stress that contribute to anxiety, depression and other poor health outcomes. Experts at Portland State University and Indiana University also noted that these parents often:
- Have to address frequent, intense and crisis-driven care needs for their children.
- Experience stigmatization in many areas of life, especially those where their children are involved, such as community settings, mental health systems and schools.
- Harbor concerns about their job security due to constant child care responsibilities.
For Mynatt, doctors’ visits and therapy sessions for her son occur throughout her workweek, causing her to constantly check her work and personal calendars to ensure everything fits. She has a lot on her mind, and the constant mental load of keeping everything straight can be difficult.
“Time is such a valuable resource,” she said. “And some days become too long to fit everything in.”
One way her employer helps is by allowing Mynatt to work remotely. She called working from home a “crucial part of me being able to balance it all.” This flexibility allows her to make the necessary doctors’ calls, provide firsthand care for her child, take him to appointments and still complete her work tasks.
“It’s important to remember that while my [work]days look different than many parents,’ I’m committed to making both work,” she said. “Trusting me to get my job done and being flexible on when and how that happens eases the worry that I am not doing enough.”
7 Ways Employers Can Help
Craig Leen is an attorney with K&L Gates in Washington, D.C., and a former director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. He is also a parent of someone with an intellectual and physical disability.
Leen said he constantly thinks about how he can help his 18-year-old daughter, Alex, thrive in school and enjoy life.
“For many caregivers of students with developmental disabilities, their caregiving role continues throughout their careers and retirement,” he explained. “That is why it is so key to provide a supportive and welcoming workplace for caregivers.”
In addition, Leen said supporting working parents of children with disabilities is “extraordinarily” important for employers. He noted that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Department of Labor have begun focusing more on caregivers from a compliance perspective. Leen offered seven ways for employers to effectively support working parents of children with developmental disabilities:
- Consider the needs of caregivers and neurodivergent workers—those with conditions such as autism and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder—in diversity, equity and inclusion plans.
- Offer a generous benefits plan or flexible spending account that covers occupational, speech and other therapies.
- Launch an employee resource group for parents whose children participate in special education programs.
- Enlist an expert who can help parents apply for benefits for their children with developmental disabilities.
- Provide paid leave to attend individualized education program meetings.
- Train supervisors to accommodate and support caregivers.
- Make remote work available to caregivers.
Mynatt said her employer offers access to a financial planning consultation—allowing her family to meet with a financial planner to prepare for her son’s future—along with legal support benefits.
Employers should “review benefit offerings from the viewpoint of a caregiver,” she advised. “Have resources available that can help research doctors, review care plans, schedule appointments and find childcare options.”