Welcome to the fourth and final installment of our series on parenting special needs kids. This week, Jill Hanon, our PVMOM special needs forum moderator, gets real about the strong emotions that often come with the parenting process. You can find the previous installments here:
Part 1: What to do when you Notice Developmental Delays
Part 2: When your Children are too Old for AZEIP: DDD, Developmental Preschool, and IEPs
Part 3: Advocating for your Special Needs Children
Erin: Some parents describe going through shock, grief, or guilt when they realize that their children face extra difficulties. What was your experience, and how did you get through it?
Jill: It was hard. But I’m the kind of person who says, “It is what it is, let’s just do what we have to do.” Just tell me what it is and what I have to do, and I do it.
Erin: What has been the hardest part of parenting special needs kids?
Jill: The hardest part was about a year into it after their diagnoses. It was so tiring. The kids were melting down and having regressions. I felt despair sometimes, and would cry myself to sleep. I would think, “He’s never going to be normal but he’s going to be expected to be normal.”
Erin: How did you get through that time?
Jill: You just go through it. And you see progress. You see a path ahead. You focus on the little bright spots and the things that make life easier. Like for us, I made a giant schedule in the kitchen to keep track of everything. You remember that you are not in it alone. Get with people who can tell you, “You’re going to be okay. There is a light. You just have to keep going.”
Erin: What other advice do you have for people walking this path?
Jill: Get through the process of dealing with the emotions of the diagnosis as soon as you can, and start working on how you can help. Go lock yourself in the bathroom and cry it out when you need to.
Erin: How does parenting special needs kids affect marriage and co-parenting?
Jill: Sometimes one parent handles most of it and the other doesn’t really see it, or maybe accept it. I recommend that both parents stay involved in the appointments so you are both fully aware.
Erin: What advice do you have for keeping your relationship strong?
Jill: Communicate! Tell your spouse when you are at the end of your rope. Find time for yourselves. If your children are in DDD, you may qualify to receive respite care. Take advantage of it.
Erin: Jill Hanon, thank you for sharing so much of your heart, your wisdom and your experience with us this month. I know you have helped encouraged many families.
As I sat down to write this post I was overcome joy but eyes filled with tears. PVMOM has been a huge part of my motherhood journey and I hope some of you out there feel the same.
My story with PVMOM started back in 2015 -- my twins were just about to turn ONE and we had returned to Phoenix after a 6 month stint in San Francisco. I learned about PVMOM (from another member) when I was pregnant but never joined. I had really taken a step back from the working world and knew I would need to dive head first into making mom friends so got the courage to attend my first meeting - Favorite Things / Baby Addition. I remember walking into the room not knowing a single face, sitting in my chair and just hoping the person sitting next to me would say something. Most of you might not know this about me but I am actually very shy when around lots of people I don't know. As the meeting progressed it became very clear that this was a place full of moms just like me. Mom's that had sleep struggles, nursing challenges, work and relationships to deal with and the overwhelming sense that we had to do it all and be it all. I think I left that night and ran home to my husband as giddy as a school girl.
Shortly after that meeting was my first twin play date. A few of us gathered at the Biltmore -- threw down some blankets for the kids and instantly engaged in conversation all about this crazy thing called motherhood. To this day those moms on my very first playdate are still some of my dearest friends. We have had many more play dates these past 4 years just like that -- kids playing, moms congregating sharing the latest "omg guess what H did today?" PVMOM gave me this and gave me support through so many good and hard times. For this I am eternally grateful.
My role on the board started that same first year, as meeting planner. I worked hard to build a schedule of meetings that brought moms together and gave them some new tools in their mom kit. I remember my first meeting we got shoved in a tiny meeting room on one of the patient floors with a packed house and a wonderful presentation by a fellow member all about kids not listening! I got hooked pretty quickly and finally found an outlet that allowed me to give back and have something else to focus on besides just being mom. The second and third year I spent as your board President, alongside my partner in crime, Beth Gevirtz. Together we took this group places we didn't think we could. We grew membership, hosted so many fabulous events, sponsored meetings and even started the New Mom Mingle. We rocked the online auction both years and were even able to support a few other local non-profits. I say all of this not to toot my own horn but to showcase what something as simple as a mom's group has done for my life -- and countless others. I was very fortunate to be surrounded by an amazing group of women on our board that made all of this happen. The best thing about being on the board has nothing to do with all the numbers and wins but rather the friendships developed and the connections I have made with so many members.
My sole purpose for stepping into the role of President was to find ways to foster connections and relationships between moms. Being a mom of multiples is special and very, very hard. I remember feeling so isolated and lost in those early months and I never want a MoM to be left alone to figure out this wild ride. My wish for this group and each member is that you find a way to connect, get the support you need and then give back. It's the circle of life in some sense -- we all need the support of the moms with older kids but the moms with younger kids need us too. I hope you show up to events and let your kids explore in all the fun, enjoy a mom's night out because YOU need time too, and make it a point to attend the workshops because I can promise not only will you learn something but you will walk away fulfilled after spending a chunk of your day with other moms JUST.LIKE.YOU. And always know there is a board of directors standing behind this group and the door is always open.
To the current board, may you have a wonderful, fulfilling, exciting year! There has already been a lot of time and effort spent to get off on the right foot. There are no words to express how grateful I feel to have worked along side you and I cherish the friendships I have.
To our members, thank you for trusting us as we explored and played. So many of you showed up with smiling faces, silly stories and it always left me feeling proud that we could all stand together as PVMOM. There is nothing like this tribe, nothing like the power of a MoM and it's all because of our great membership. Cheers to 2018/19
This week, we pick up part 3 of our four-part series on seeking help for kids with developmental delays and other special needs. Jill Hanon, our Special Needs forum moderator, shares her perspective on advocating for our children, especially in a school setting. If you missed earlier Parts, find them here:
Part 1: What to do When You Notice Developmental Delays
Part 2: When Your Children are too Old for AZEIP
Erin: If I’m the parent of kids with IEPs, how involved should I expect to be? How much time will I need to put in to advocate for their education?
Jill: You’re going to get out what you put in. And it depends what your child’s needs are. I am super involved. There are times that I’ve requested IEP meetings because I don’t feel like there’s enough progress happening. You can always request a review in writing. There’s a specific time frame for everything. I think they have ten days to respond to you. I’m very hands on because the more I know the teachers and the therapists and everything that’s happening, the more I can carry that through for my child. You have to be their advocate for everything. If you have a child with special needs, you’re their voice a lot of times. Even if they are able to talk to their doctors as they get older, you still have to be there advocating on everything. If you don’t do it, no one is going to do it. Their teachers can only do so much, no matter how amazing and wonderful they are. And there’s only so much they can do without your specific request or approval. I’ve had situations where I’ve been sitting in an IEP meeting and teachers are staring at me meaningfully across the table like, “Ask the question!” and then afterwards they’ll come up to me and say, “I’m so glad you brought that up because I’ve been dying to say something, and I couldn’t.” There are certain things that school personnel can’t say or do unless you initiate.
Erin: What’s your advice for advocating for your special needs child?
Jill: Get to know the process as well as you can. Be willing to question the process. I’ve had to get the help of an education advocate, because I didn’t like what was happening with one of their IEPs. They were trying to kick him off before he was ready. All I had to do was throw around the name of the advocate and say we were going to meet with her, and that was enough. Sometimes you have to play hardball. I try to be gracious with the team. Because they work hard and go through a lot. But at the same time, there’s a process from their end that they have to follow. The more you understand that process, the more you can make it work in your child’s advantage.
Erin: Do you still need DDD if your child is receiving services through their school?
Jill: It depends on the kid. They might qualify through services through DDD but not at school, because services at school are based entirely on academic performance. Like maybe they can communicate okay and ask questions at school, so they don’t qualify for speech therapy at school, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need it. Then you become the chaos coordinator. Because you’re coordinating his 504 or IEP at school—a 504 is accommodations but not interventions and services like you get with an IEP— and doctor appointments, and DDD therapies.
Erin: Why do you need the official 504 piece of paper for accommodations when you could just informally ask the teacher to do it?
Jill: Because they are required to do it if it is on the piece of paper. And if you have more than one teacher, or you transfer, you need that. In our situation, my first grader has six or seven different teachers. So all of those teachers and administration have to adhere to that plan. Let’s say your child’s issue is ADHD. The accommodation might be putting up a folder so they don’t get distracted during a test. You might have an amazing team that knows what accommodations your child needs, but the more you know going into the meeting, the better the plan is going to be. The more benefit your child’s going to get. We’ve taken some of our DDD therapists into school meetings because they know what’s going on with our kid. The more collaboration you can have with that team, the better it will be.
Erin: Would you agree that it’s never too late to start the process?
Jill: Absolutely. If your gut tells you something, early or late, follow it. You are going to be your child’s biggest advocate. You know that child better than anybody, so follow that hunch. Even through five years of therapies and everything you can imagine, I’m still finding things with my kids that make me go, “HMMM. This isn’t working, I’ve tried everything else, the poor kid can’t read, let’s get his eyes checked.” And sure enough, there’s an issue. So it’s an ongoing process. And as one thing gets better, something else comes to the surface. A lot of things have the same symptoms, but different things are causing them, or masking them. Don’t be afraid to try different things, ask silly questions, try different doctors. Unfortunately there’s more and more families out there affected, and while we have a very long list of services available to us in Arizona, there’s a lot of people who need them. So sometimes there’s wait lists, sometimes you have to search out providers. If you’re sure something’s not right, don’t take no for an answer.
Erin: What would you advise someone like me, for whom it doesn’t come naturally to push back?
Jill: It doesn’t come naturally to me, either. I’m the wallflower when it comes to these kinds of things. But for me, it became, “If I don’t get this kid help, I don’t know what his life is going to be like.” And I have seen SO much improvement in my kids between the ages of two and six. I’ve had friends and family say, “Oh, I don’t get it.” And then they’d see them a few years later and say, “Oh my gosh!” You have to find things that work. You have to get them in therapies that are going to work for them, but it WILL work. There was a whole year where I was crying myself to sleep every night, feeling like my son was not getting better. And then it was like a light bulb went on. There’s always going to be struggle. It’s a spectrum and it’s a scale, so it depends on where you are on that, but there will be improvements, there’s something out there, and you just have to find it.
Erin: Do you have any favorite networking resources?
For autism specifically, the autism society of greater phoenix is great. There’s a parents of special needs phoenix or east valley Facebooks page. We have the PVMOM special needs forum. People shouldn’t be afraid to join it and ask questions. And for me, even sitting in the waiting room at therapy, talking to the other parents. I’ve gotten so much information just from talking to other parents who have been through it. The autism society has a parent mentor program if your child has been recently diagnosed. Other places do it as well. They will match you up with another family that has been through the process and answer some of those initial questions.
by Erin Sweeten
Last week, we spoke with PVMOM Jill Hanon, who coordinates our Special Needs Forum, about getting help for struggling babies and toddlers. You can find Part One here. This week, we pick up where we left off: what should you do when your children still have delays but are older than age 3?
Erin: My kids are about to age out of AZEIP. What happens next?
Jill: Your service coordinator is supposed to start the process with you. We had a ton of glitches because our service coordinator was kind of non-existent. Unfortunately both AZEIP and DDD have a lot of turnover. I can’t even tell you how many coordinators I’ve had in the last five years. I’ve lost track. We’re on almost a year now with our current one and I’m like, “Please, DDD just hold onto him.” For the transfer to DDD, you have some forms and things to fill out. You apply to Altec. It’s the long-term care health approval part of it. And there is a financial approval piece when you leave AZEIP. DDD looks at yours and the children’s income. DDD goes from age 3 through 18. Be prepared for a lot of red tape. Jump through the hoops, fill out the forms, and keep copious notes of who you talk to when. Keep track of everything.
Erin: So, if you qualify for DDD at age three, are you good until age eighteen, or do your kids have to be re-evaluated?
Jill: They are evaluated at ages three and six. Age six, because they age out of some of the programs. Although there can be exceptions. Because my son Jack repeated kindergarten, he actually got his services extended. His brother Charlie didn’t. Same age, same qualifications, but because one stayed in kinder and one didn’t, they had different results.
Erin: What are the fees associated with DDD? Is it a sliding scale?
Jill: It is a sliding scale. What they do is, first they submit it to your private insurance. What private insurance doesn’t cover, DDD is supposed to cover. There may be a co-pay, depending on what you qualified for. We haven’t had a ton of out-of-pocket. Most of our expenses were because the transition between AZEIP and DDD got messed up. I had to reapply twice because they literally lost our paperwork.
Erin: If I missed the window for AZEIP and my child is over age three, can I still apply for evaluations and services?
Jill: Yes. You just start the process with DDD. You go to the Department of Economic Security website, and then there’s a page for disabilities. The website is a little difficult to navigate, but there is tons of good information on there. It’s a good resource. Here’s the link: https://des.az.gov/services/disabilities/developmental-disabilities. The application is basically the same thing. You make an inquiry, have an evaluation. However, it’s going to be harder to qualify for services, especially if you don’t have a diagnosis of some sort. That doesn’t mean autism specifically, but if you just have a documented developmental delay, that’s going to help the situation. They will look at scrips from your doctor. You have to turn all that stuff in.
Erin: If my kids qualify for services, what happens next?
Jill: First, you have to get a prescription from your pediatrician for therapy services. For example, if I’m approved for speech therapy services one hour a week, the doctor needs to write that scrip exactly that way and send it to DDD. Then DDD sends it to the provider.
Erin: Let’s talk about developmental preschool. How does that fit in?
Jill: We participated in Sun Kids, which is the developmental preschool program in the Paradise Valley School District. Scottsdale also has one called the Panda Program. I believe other districts have them too, though I don’t know them by name. It is part of the public school system. If you’re interested, you contact the district office in your area. Then you get tested to see if you qualify. It’s essentially a skills and cognitive test. It seems kind of silly at three years 10 months, which I believe is the qualifying age. You have to be at least that age to test for preschool. You can stay in the school for one or two years.
Erin: How early do I need to start working on this before the school year starts?
Jill: My boys are August birthdays. So school started before they were allowed to go. But I think I got the process started in February or March and they were evaluated in May.
Erin: If one of my children has developmental delays and the other one doesn’t, can they still go to the same school?
Jill: Yes. Developmental classrooms all have what they call “peer models.” If your child doesn’t have delays, he or she can be evaluated to be a peer model. There is a tuition cost to being a peer model, while there is no cost for the developmental preschool if your child qualifies with developmental delays. It’s either a morning or an afternoon program, usually about two and a half hours. Most districts have busing available.
Erin: Does a developmental preschool have an IEP (Individualized Educational Program) for each child?
Jill: Yes, you go through the whole process. The child goes through an evaluation, then you will meet, and write goals, and there will be reviews of those goals each year or more often.
Erin: When my kids go into kindergarten, does the IEP follow them, or do they have to do it all over again?
Jill: Yes. It follows them. But let’s back up. When they get tested for developmental preschool, that test lasts for three years. They might re-evaluate them before kindergarten, and then that will last for three years. Basically, they have to go through the whole process every three years. The testing is called a “MET (Multidisciplinary Evaluation Team) Report.” It differs by age. Some of it is a lot of questions that you, the parent, have to fill out. And some of it is actual testing with the kids—looking at pictures, playing games, things like that. One really important thing to note is that if your child has qualified for developmental preschool, when that child turns five, they HAVE to start kindergarten. If you pull them out, you have to put them somewhere else on your own dime. Then when you go back to public school you have to go through the whole IEP process again. My sons turned five right before the deadline, and one was ready for kindergarten and one wasn’t. But we wanted to stay in the district and keep their IEPs, so we had to put them in kindergarten. And one ended up repeating.
Erin: Thanks for all the great info on transferring or starting services for older children! We'll be back next week with all your advice on how to navigate and advocate for your special needs children.
As a parent, you are not the paranoid type, but you’ve been wondering about one or more of your multiples lately. They are not hitting milestones on time. While your pediatrician assures you that every child develops in their own way, you suspect there’s more to it. You may be right. Multiples born prematurely or with low birth weight are more likely than singletons to experience developmental delays. For a variety of additional reasons, twins are more likely to have language delays than singletons. It might be time for some intervention.
This month on the blog, I interview the ever-gracious PVMOM Jill Hanon, who moderates our special needs forum on Facebook and is mom to two seven-year-old boys. Both of them qualified for interventions through AZEIP, a state program that provides support to toddlers. Jill walked me through the steps of finding support for kids with developmental delays. Because she is such an amazing fount of knowledge and advice and I couldn’t bear to cut any of it out, this will be a four-part blog, with a new part released each week. The first installment covers AZEIP. Part two delves into services and school support for older kids. In part three, we’ll learn the art of gracious advocacy. Part four dives into the deep waters of the emotions and relational challenges of parenting special needs kids. No matter where you are on your special needs parenting journey, there’s support available. Let’s start at the beginning.
Erin: What should I do if I notice delays in my young kids?
Jill: You can do what I did. I self-referred to AZEIP on their website when my boys were 18 months old. Your pediatrician or other people can also refer you. It took about two weeks to hear back.
Erin: So you can fill out some kind of screener on the website?
Jill: Yes. The program is Arizona Early Intervention Program. It’s a department of the Department of Economic Security. Here’s the link: https://extranet.azdes.gov/azeip/azeipref/Forms/Categories.aspx
Erin: AZEIP calls me back and schedules an evaluation. What can I expect from the evaluation?
Jill: Depending on what your concern is, they will send someone out to evaluate that specific concern. They may or may not notice other things. In our case, we were concerned about a speech delay. They send out a speech therapist and a coordinator. The important thing to note is that they ask a lot of questions: “Does your child do this? At what age did your child do that?” If your child does it, but not often or not all the time, your answer is, “No.” Because they have a scale and they are evaluating your child and if you say, “Yes,” but it’s not all the time, then they should not be evaluated as having accomplished that skill. That’s why it’s important to say no. If they’ve said “Mom” once and never again, that’s not the same as saying it all the time. Our impulse as parents is to brag on our kids and put them in the best light, but that’s not what you want to do in the evaluation. You want a really good representation of what they are actually doing.
Erin: What ages of children are eligible for this program?
Jill: I believe it’s birth through three for AZEIP. After three years old, they are transferred to the Department of Developmental Disabilities (DDD).
Erin: What costs are associated with AZEIP?
Jill: It is fully covered. All evaluations, services and therapies are free through age three.
Erin: So, let’s say they determine that my child qualifies for services. What kinds of things should I ask for? Do I have any say?
Jill: It depends on what they qualify for. If they do a full evaluation, they may qualify for speech, occupational therapy, physical therapy. They will make recommendations based on the evaluation. In our situation, we were evaluated for only speech. Two weeks into speech therapy, our therapist said, “Would you mind if I had the occupational therapist come and take a look at the boys?” And then they qualified for occupational therapy. As we went along, more and more things came up. And it’s not a situation where if you’re denied services, that’s it. Keep pushing. You can ask for them to be re-evaluated after a certain time period.
Erin: Does AZEIP give diagnoses?
Jill: They are not giving any diagnoses. If you have a diagnosis going in, that’s probably going to help you. You have to pursue that separately. Depending on what the evaluation says and your pediatrician recommends, you will want to consult with a developmental pediatrician, such as Melmed or PCH or SARC. I’ve seen wait lists up to six months or a year for developmental pediatricians. However, I know with Melmed, if you ask to be put on the cancellation wait list, you’ll get in much, much faster. Depending on the situation, whether it’s autism or other delays, there may be other resources to access.
Erin: Do AZEIP therapists come to my home?
Jill: In most cases, they’re going to come to your house. The coordinator refers your case to a local network of therapists based on where you live. Then the therapist from that network will come to your home. In rare cases, home therapy may not be enough. For example, my kids had occupational therapy in the clinic, but still covered by AZEIP.
Erin: What if I’m assigned a therapy provider, and I don’t think they are the right fit for my kids? What can I do?
Jill: You have a therapy provider, but you also have an AZEIP service coordinator, basically like a case manager. So if it’s not working, you contact that case manager, and they help you find a different provider.
Erin: How do you know if it’s not working?
Jill: There’s a whole process that they call “pairing.” So the therapist and the child, the first session or two, might not do a lot of actual work. They might play together just so they can get to know each other. Trust your gut. If you can see that your child is struggling with this person, beyond the actual work—because it will be a struggle to do the work, and they’re not going to want to do a lot of it at first. They are going to be spending a lot of time together. At least an hour a week. If you see there isn’t a connection, and this person is going to be in your house, and kind of become part of your family for a little while, you need that to work. And you need that person to communicate back to you as well. So there needs to be a connection with you, too.
Erin: Thanks, Jill! That’s it for today. We’ll pick up the conversation next week with what happens when your child ages out of AZEIP.
Jill: No problem. I wish I had had somebody to guide me through that first year. If I can help somebody else get through that so they don't have to struggle, that's my little bit of payback for the help I've received. I encourage any PVMOM parent with concerns to join the special needs forum, even if just to ask questions.
by Erin Sweeten
There you are, in the house, with bored kids either getting into stuff they shouldn't or clinging onto you like barnacles. The family needs a change of pace. Here are some simple, engaging activities to break up the normal routine. You can do all of them with things you probably already have at home.
1. Make paper snowflakes.
You don't have to wait for winter! For younger kids, fold a square piece of paper into fourths diagonally so they don't have too many layers to cut through. If your kids can't do scissors yet, they can try ripping, or even biting shapes into a folded tortilla. For older kids, you can find folding instructions here.
2. Do Edible Finger Painting
Mix some food coloring into vanilla yogurt and let your kids paint on waxed paper or tortillas. My kids love licking their fingers as they go along, so I give them each their own set of colors to experiment with. This activity doubles as snack time.
3. Pull out the painter's tape.
Use brightly colored painter's tape to make targets on the wall. Your kids can toss bean bags or small stuffed animals at them; try to see the highest x they can reach; or use it at a giant connect-the-dots game, unrolling the tape from x to x.
You can also use it to make roads for their cars on the rug or for start and finish lines for races.
Or just get a roll started and let them stick tape all over the wall however they want.
4. Freeze toys in ice.
Take some little plastic toys and freeze them in bowls of water. Release the ice into larger containers and let the kids use spray bottles, squeeze bottles, and turkey basters to melt the ice and free the toys. My kids like to compare the effects of cold water, ice water, and salt water. Make sure each kid has their own ice chunk to work with.
If you are feeling ambitious, you can put plastic dinosaurs inside balloons, fill the balloons with water, and freeze those to create dinosaur ice eggs.
5. Experiment with milk and soap.
This is a family favorite- it's just so gorgeous and exciting! Fill a plate two thirds full of milk (2% or whole). Add about 8-10 drops of different colors of food coloring. Dip a cotton swab in dish soap and then into the milk. Watch the colors race away, swirling in beautiful patterns. The science is that the soap repels the fat molecules in the milk, causing them to move. We like to shout, "RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!" to the fat molecules when we do this activity.
6. Paint with water.
If you have a shady patio or balcony, fill a bucket with water and let your kids "paint" the wall and concrete with paint rollers or brushes. When my twins were toddlers, they were perfectly to stay happy indoors with dry paint rollers that they used to "smooth out" the floors and furniture.
Older kids can make hopscotch games or mazes on the pavement, and race to complete them before they fade away.
7. Wash the toys.
Fill one large bin with soapy water and another with rinse water. And sponges, brushes, and bath puffs, and let the kids splash and scrub on all their water-safe objects. Make sure you put down plenty of towels, though, or the floor will get dangerously slippery. We put our wet toys on a picnic blanket in the back yard to dry.
by Erin Sweeten
It's that time of year again. The triple digit temperature time. The "Are gremlins in the sun dumping extra burning hydrogen over the Valley?" time. The kids screw their eyes into tiny slits when they leave the house, and turn splotchy and red, and get damp, stinky heads in minutes time. The "What the heck are we going to do all day?" time. Never fear! PVMOM is here with an uber-list of indoor and water-focused activities for all ages, to keep you and yours busy and happy through the hottest weeks (who are we kidding-- hottest months) of the year.
PVMOM blogger Shannon Galasso put together this list a few years ago, but it is now expanded and updated for 2018. We've said goodbye to We Rock the Spectrum and Playtime Oasis, and said hello to many new or under-new-management venues, including Party Jungle, Giggles, Luv2Play, and Bounce-A-Rama. We've also added some venues and water parks we missed on the first go-round, and a new section listing websites where you can find up-to-date kid-friendly events.
Make sure you check out our wonderful sponsors, many of whom offer discounts to club members. We also regularly post special events in our private members-only Facebook group; keep an eye out there for play dates and other activities.
Click on the summer fun link below to view or download the uber-list. Don't let the heat get you down-- text a friend, get out of the house, and have some fun.
This month, PVMoM Colleen Clemency Cordes describes what it was like to go back to work after her sons were born. She is a newly appointed Assistant Dean and longtime Clinical Professor in the College of Health Solutions at Arizona State University. She also works as a psychologist and behavioral health consultant in the community. She is mom to three-year-old twins Avery and Ethan and a daughter, Hannah, who was just born at the end of April. Congratulations, Colleen!
1. How old were your babies when you went back to work, and what factors were part of that decision?
When the twins were born, I took 10 weeks of full time maternity leave, followed by 4 weeks of part time leave, where I went into the office every Tu/Thurs, and worked remotely an additional 4 hours. At the end of those 14 weeks, I went back to work full time.
A variety of factors played into my decision. The first, and probably largest, was that when I was about 9 weeks pregnant with the boys, I was offered an incredible opportunity to become a department chair at ASU. While it was hard at the time to determine if I should take it when so many things were in flux, once Chris (husband) and I decided to go for it, it was clear that I would take advantage of my 12 weeks of FMLA, and then be back at work. I thought that it would be best for both me and the boys to taper back to work too, which was why I did the part time transition. During my most recent pregnancy (singleton), I was again offered a great job opportunity when I was about 4 months in – now to transition to an Assistant Dean position – and so it was easy to determine a similar approach (full time leave followed by part time taper back).
I’m also really lucky in that ASU has 6 weeks of paid parental leave available to me, plus a VERY generous sick/vacation leave accrual policy for faculty, and so taking 12 weeks of FMLA means no change in salary for me during that time.
2. What was the best part of the transition back to work, and what was the most challenging part? What were your emotions?
There has never been a question in my mind that I would go back to work after having kids. My career (as a psychologist and now faculty member) has always been a very important part of my identity, and my mother modeled balancing a high-powered position (she was the CEO of a nationally known nonprofit) and family life. Chris used to joke that considering I was getting my PhD when we met, he never had any expectation that I would stay at home, and I think I’m a better mom because I have outlets to engage in other passions.
That said, the transition back was definitely harder in some ways (and easier in others) than I had expected. Before the boys were born, I was on bed rest for three weeks. So if NOTHING else, it was amazing to get out of my house and interface with adults on topics other than feeds, sleeping schedules, and diapers. And yet I was still exhausted, and found myself checking my phone every few minutes to make sure everything was okay at home, or to see if I had new pictures of them. During the transition period, the boys were being watched by my in-laws, so I knew they were in good hands, but we had gotten into such a good routine that I was worried about losing, and then I found myself wondering if they wouldn’t be attached/bonded to me in the way I hoped if they were being cared for by someone else. I found these worries lessened with time, but especially when I went back to work full time and the boys were being watched by a nanny instead of family.
3. Many working moms describe feeling pulled in two directions. Have you experienced that, and how have you handled it?
Absolutely I feel that way! I am really lucky in that despite working A LOT, I have quite a bit of flexibility in my job as a faculty member. I can work from home a few days a week (which was great when the boys were at home with a nanny, because I could take play breaks throughout the day), and I can be present for the important things without too much difficulty. I’ve also found a good balance– I’ll often leave my office in downtown Phoenix before rush hour so I can be home when the boys get home from school, and when they are home and awake, I’m in no-electronics mode. The boys’ schedule has been pretty consistent, and so after they go to bed at 7/7:30, I can finish off any work-related activities that need to be addressed before the next morning. The biggest challenge I’ve had has actually been feeling like I’m occasionally neglecting self-care in the mix (the constant mommy problem!). Exercise, for example, is hard to fit into the day, because I don’t WANT to spend a Saturday morning in a barre class (my pre-boy go to) when weekends are the times I get to spend the most quality time with them.
5. What advice would you give to a mom of multiples thinking about going back to work?
The best advice I got came from my mom. Mom mentioned that the first weeks back at work after my older brother was born, she cried the entire train ride from Long Island to Manhattan, thinking about quitting her job because she couldn’t believe she was spending so much time away from her baby. After about a week she set a deadline – 6 months out – to make a decision. The deadline wasn’t a “I need to decide by” deadline, as much as an “I won’t make a decision UNTIL” deadline – recognizing that this is an adjustment, and the first weeks are going to be hard, and while that hardness won’t go away per se, it’ll change as you and your family adjust. Waiting 6 months to make any major decisions allowed her to adapt to new mommy-hood and working mom status, rather than acting on the strong emotions that came out in the first few weeks during the transition.
The other thing is that there is no “right” way to be a mom. There is what is best for you and what’s best for your family – and that will vary widely from family to family. It’s so easy to hold the “grass is always greener” mentality when looking at MoMs who are on the other side of the work spectrum. My mom always told us growing up we should “find what makes your heart sing, and you’ll figure out the rest.” Being a mom makes my heart sing, but so does my career. And so finding a way to balance both has been the key to my family’s overall well-being.
by Erin Sweeten
I was awakened the other day to a torrent of pee falling into the kids’ toilet. My five year old sons were going at the same time, and already in full competition mode: whose pee was the loudest? Whose stream shot the farthest? Who could make the most gargantuan pee bubble? They can turn literally anything into a who’s-better contest. Whenever someone remarks on how tall Callum is, Ronan immediately pipes up, “I’m two minutes older!”
Sibling rivalry occurs among all kinds of siblings, but it has an especially strong hold on multiples. Their life circumstances are so similar that they have more opportunities to compare. They have also dealt with the divided attention of their parents all their lives. I asked a mom of twin fourteen-year-olds if the rivalry ever tapers off. “No. Uh-uh. Still going strong,” she replied. Drat. Looks like the sibling rivalry is here to stay. What’s a mom of multiples to do? I am still learning as I go, but here are a few things that have helped us tame the rivalry. What are your family’s most effective strategies?
I could say more, but I’ve got to intervene in an argument over whose head fits better through shirt neck holes. Wish me luck!
by Erin Sweeten
Did you know that the PVMom Blog has been posting advice and encouragement for several years? I KNOW, right!? Super-duper amazing! Fellow moms have covered everything from feeding babies to rocking family photos. This month, we’re doing a Blast From the Past Blog Post Round-up to introduce old favorites you may have missed. Heaven forbid you should miss out on a single precious word!
Feeding Littles: A two-post series on introducing solid foods, plus great sources for kid menu ideas and recipes. (Each word of the title is linked to a different post.)
Nanny to the Rescue: How to find, hire, and pay a good nanny.
Four Tips to Help You Rock Family Photos: It’s easy to get your family looking great.
Your Guide to Choosing a Preschool: What factors should you consider? What questions should you ask?
Indoor Fun Round-up: The ultimate list of where to take your babies and kids when it gets hot.
You’re Not Alone: Shannon Galasso shares her personal experience with Postpartum Depression in a moving post.
There’s so much more on the website, too! I know you have SO much spare time on your hands to go blog surfing, but if you’re ever, I dunno, sitting in the passenger seat of a car for once in your life while the kids are sleeping, check out the archives for more ideas on saving money, traveling with littles, getting ready for the hospital, or just having a good laugh.
Have something you would like to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more about writing a blog post.