By Tania du Toit
One cannot imagine what it is like to live with a person who sustains or has some form of handicap before it happens to you. When a family member is left handicapped for whatever reason, it invariably dictates an irreversible change of course for the newly handicapped person and, usually, the family members. When a new arrival is born like that, the parents’ and/or carers’ life path usually changes irrevocably. If this then culminates in single-parenthood (mostly), it has a merciless impact on the long-term planning and work possibilities of the left-behind parent. Sometimes the remaining parent is the main carer, and sometimes the only one. If finances are not a problem, any available plan can be implemented: carers, specialised schools, institutions, resources, etc., is a phone call away and life can go on (in whatever way).
The challenge to an average-income single parent of a handicapped person is fierce (the type of handicap is the deciding factor). First of all you have less time for work; prioritisation becomes non-negotiable. And when the dependent handicapped person requires home care, the breadwinning single parent says goodbye to most professional possibilities, especially if yours is not a highly paid type of profession. Because of your average or low income, you cannot afford extra help or care. You probably have no infrastructure and your child probably needs (expensive) medication or medical aid. And time! Making a living at all, regardless of how, becomes a tour de force. How do you stay relevant in the labour market? How do you maintain your presence in your professional field and avoid becoming isolated and sidelined because of non-visibility in your professional network?
This article is not the place for such a discussion but it could cast some light on thinking differently about your situation. Because you have to. Your life situation has changed, probably for always. You must therefore think differently about income-earning possibilities. Sometimes such an unexpected blow can be a blessing in disguise because in a fast-changing labour market most (average) breadwinners must in any case begin to think differently.
Golden rule: First of all look at what you have and do an overview. In what industry or profession are you? Could you do it at home with a bit of regrouping? Is it possible to group with somebody else and provide your service from your home? Possibly somebody in the same profession as you or who is also living in the same situation as you as a single breadwinner. Numbers improve the possibilities: it doubles network and support possibilities.
Could you identify something in your dependant’s information for which there is a gap in the market ─ perhaps something that has given you practical experience that you can now turn into a profitable and/or rentable asset? For example: a niche care group at minimal cost or a home training model based on a specific handicap for which nothing is available in the market? What about an orientation course by you for parents and/or carers who deal with a specific handicap, in collaboration with a company who will or can cooperate? It is impossible to list all possibilities here. However, this article wants to motivate you to shift your focus to your involuntary circumstances and to begin drawing positively from this unchosen reality. Perhaps your situation is forcing you to think differently about how and by what means you can begin to earn an extra or new kind of income. See your challenge as an opportunity.
Tania du Toit: Parent of an adult autist