how to explain lack of availability to clients

A reader writes:

I’m wondering how much of an explanation I owe clients for lack of availability.

Outside of my regular full time employment, I do what’s coined as “respite” or “community support” for children with special needs. Respite is basically babysitting, and community support is supporting children in community settings such as swimming lessons or dance class so that they can participate along with their peers. I generally keep my client list quite short, only making myself available for families I really enjoy working with.

Recently I’ve had issues with parents calling me at the 11th hour asking me to take their child to this event or that class. One even emailed me with only two weeks notice asking me to please take her daughter to an weekend-long overnight camp over an hour away! I don’t generally accept work on weekends because I work full-time plus two to three evenings of extra time during the week, and I need that time to relax and get personal errands done, plus I do have a social life and family to care for outside of work.

I enjoy working my regularly scheduled hours for these families and value my relationship with them, and I understand that parenting a special needs child is demanding and that they’d like their child to participate in as many typical aspects of childhood as possible — but I can’t drop everything and cancel all my plans every time they ask me at on Monday evening if I can accompany their child to a birthday party on Saturday.

How much of an explanation do I owe these clients? Is “I’m sorry but I have plans” enough, or do I owe them a reason such as I’ve got guests coming into town or I’m helping my husband rebuild our deck? I don’t want to offend them or hurt their feelings and I want to preserve my relationship with them. (Almost all my clients are also clients of my full-time job — and yes, this is common accepted practice in my field and my full-time employer is fully aware. But if they get offended, I will have to see them occasionally at the office.) Sometimes my plans are simply to sleep in and scrub the bathroom and I don’t want to lie, but I also don’t want to get up at 8 a.m. on my day off to attend a drop in gymnastics class. Thoughts?

You don’t owe anyone any explanation; all you need to say is “I’m sorry, but I’m not available then.”

In fact, it would be sort of odd to start explaining why you’re not available — it’s irrelevant to them (they really just care if you can do it or not), and getting into the reasons why you can’t implies that this is more of a social invitation than a business one.

“I’m not available then” is all you need.

However, if you think it would be helpful, you could also say, “In general, I need X amount of notice in order to schedule anything outside of my regular hours.”  Or, if you know you just don’t want to take on additional work outside of the regular hours you work for them, no matter how much notice you get, it could be helpful to say that too: “I’m normally not available outside of the regular hours we have scheduled.”

Because these requests sound like they come up a lot, it would be nice if you’re able to refer them to someone else who might be able to help them. But either way, “I’m not available then” is all the explanation you need.

{ 74 comments… read them below }

  1. A Bug!*

    In addition to the advice given, depending on the circumstances, you might refer the parents to a different respite care worker with wider availability.

    This is, of course, if there’s not a general office they can contact to request the same thing.

    You’re not obligated to find someone to fill their needs (and really, don’t go out of your way to do that because that’s the parents’ job), but it doesn’t hurt to send them in the right direction to find someone themselves.

  2. Jamie*

    Yes, and I’m speaking from experience on the parent end of this arrangement, Alison is absolutely right and no explanations are necessary. They are trying to contract your services for a specific time, not asking you a favor as a friend.

    I would set the amount of notice you require and any times you are never available (i.e. at least 72 hours notice and no availability on Sat-Sun) and let all of your clients know that.

    In fact having this on a little card – or better yet a laminated magnet for the fridge – to pass out would cut down on the impromptu requests.

    Scheduling is tough as a parent of a special needs child. The more clarity you can provide will be appreciated.

    Trust me when I tell you we don’t want you to accept the assignment unless you want to. An IT can roll their eyes and come in on a Saturday to pound out some code – resenting their employer all the while – and that’s fine. But no one wants someone to resent spending time with their child.

    1. Josh S*

      Really good call, Jamie. The proactive approach is good.

      And if you’re setting or ‘changing’ your policy for notification after working with these families for a long while, it might be helpful to couch it in terms of, “I’ve been getting a lot of last-minute requests lately, and I’ve come to realize that a more formal policy is necessary for me to plan adequately. Beginning on $Date, I will require X Days notice for outside-the-normally-scheduled-activities, and 1 month notice for weekend activities.” Or whatever the requirements are.

      I can’t imagine that any of your clients are so self-involved that they would take offense to this.

  3. Jamie*

    This is kind of bothering me:

    “I enjoy working my regularly scheduled hours for these families and value my relationship with them, and I understand that parenting a special needs child is demanding and that they’d like their child to participate in as many typical aspects of childhood as possible — but I can’t drop everything and cancel all my plans every time they ask me at on Monday evening if I can accompany their child to a birthday party on Saturday.”

    It may just be the wording, and perhaps I’m reading it wrong, but I’m gathering an inference that you resent being asked. As far as I can tell, someone asking you on Monday about plans on Saturday is not even hinting that you should “drop everything and cancel all my plans.” It’s asking if you’re available.

    I don’t know if you feel bad that you aren’t available 24/7 – which would be completely unreasonable – but something is bleeding out in how you’re talking about this that makes me uneasy.

    I’m just going back to when my son was small and if I asked on a Monday about something on a Saturday an answer of no would have been fine. If I had overheard someone talking about how they couldn’t because they couldn’t drop everything and cancel all their plans my honest reaction would have been – wtf, who asked you to? And it would be the last time I used that person.

    Again – maybe it’s just the way the letter is written but there is a defensiveness without (noted) cause that leaves me uneasy.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I hear what you’re picking up on too, and I actually think it’s tied into the OP’s wondering if she needs to explain why she’s not available. I get the sense that the OP is feeling some pressure to say yes to these requests, and she’s feeling guilty about saying no, and that in turn is making her resent being asked.

      OP, remember that these are really just business questions. No obligation on either side — clients should be able to ask and you should be able to say no without creating awkwardness or resentment on either side.

      1. Jamie*

        I think it’s probably tied into that as well – which is why she should be aware of this because while it’s a business relationship absolutely – 100% – business relationships between parents and caregivers analyzed more than a with typical contractor.

        The relationship is inherently under more emotional scrutiny – so she should be careful that if she’s feeling pressure, if it’s not coming from the parents, she shouldn’t put it out there because it could kill this kind of business relationship.

        1. Natalie*

          A slight expansion of Hanlon’s Razor could be helpful here:

          “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity” or assumptions, poor communication, inexperience, unclear expectations, or my own inferences.

            1. Natalie*

              It might have made more sense under your top level comment – my bad.

              “If I had overheard someone talking about how they couldn’t because they couldn’t drop everything and cancel all their plans my honest reaction would have been – wtf, who asked you to? And it would be the last time I used that person.”

              I completely agree, and am suggesting that the OP shouldn’t feel as though the parents are being demanding or malicious or disrespectful unless she has specific reason to believe that is the case. There are so many other reasons a person can come across as demanding or malicious (including items from the OP, not the parent) and it makes everything easier if the OP doesn’t jump to conclusions.

              Hanlon’s Razor is essentially that philosophy, but I thought leaving it at “stupidity” might be kind of insulting.

            2. some1*

              I think Natalie’s point is that what seems like the OP’s resentment could be attributed to one of the other reasons she listed.

              I don’t have kids, and I loooove sleeping in on weekends. Parents might not understand why I would immediately balk at the idea of doing a 7AM class on Saturday morning, because they have to get up early with their kids anyway. I’m not a selfish jerk for wanting to sleep in, and parents aren’t rude for not considering that might be too early for me.

              1. fposte*

                That’s a great way of putting it. You can be asked for something you’re not prepared to give without it being a rude or presumptuous request.

                1. Scott M*

                  A philosophy that has already helped me is: ” when someone does something that pisses me off, they probably didn’t do it on purpose”

                2. KellyK*

                  I like this a lot. Asking isn’t presumptuous or rude unless there’s an assumption that you’ll say yes or a guilt trip if you don’t.

      2. Anon*

        This reminds me of someone I work with who has a habit of saying things like “oh, I have to leave pretty soon” when what she really means is “I’m late; I have to leave now.” Then she’ll d rant about how nobody at our office respects her time and are always making her late and cancel plans. I don’t know – I imagine there really are demanding clients out there – but I wonder if the OP has found herself in a similar dynamic where she’s communicating less directly than she thinks and then reading more emotion into the response than is really there. I can see how that would lead to personal resentment where it should just be a straightforward business question.

    2. AnotherAlison*

      The fact that this letter was written does make one wonder if she’s had some difficult clients, beyond what she mentions. Unless she has politely declined, with a simple, “Sorry, I’m not available Saturday,” and someone has pushed her on it, why even write this letter?

      Or, maybe someone simply replied to her “not available” with an, “Oh, doing anything fun?” and she feels awkward.

      FWIW, 11th hour and two weeks notice for the overnight camp has me confused. 11th hour is when I call my mom on Friday and ask her to watch my son on Saturday. My impression is that the OP would be dropping the child off at the camp, not staying there with the child all weekend. Two weeks notice for a full weekend stay would be too short for my taste, but two weeks notice to drop them off isn’t unreasonable, although I certainly wouldn’t feel obligated to drive anyone 2 hours round trip twice in one weekend.

      1. some1*

        I have no idea if I’m right, but I had a friend who did weekend respite care for mentally challenged adults. He was not allowed to leave them alone, so when the LW mentioned the camp, I assumed she is being asked to attend the camp as a 24/7 aide to assist a child with limited physical capabilities, at any rate, that the parents were asking for way more than a ride.

      2. Ellie H.*

        My impression is that the LW was expected to stay at the camp all weekend and be giving care 24/7.

        I think part of the disconnect some readers are feeling is that, in basically every other profession, asking on Monday for work to be performed on Saturday or asking two weeks in advance for work over a weekend is 100% reasonable and appropriate amount of notice. I’m not an expert but it seems to me from the context that in the field of special needs child care, a much further in advance notice is the accepted standard – someone who knows can correct me if I’m wrong.

      3. OP*

        No, the request was to not only drive two hours in each direction to take the child to the camp (without gas money) but to stay with the child and provide highly involved care (tube feeding, toileting and hygiene, lifts and transports, etc.) for 48 hours.

        While I understand that to most occupations two weeks notice would be ample amount of time to change your schedule- this particular family knew about this camp since August and didn’t mention it till now, and assumed I would go because I accompany their daughter to the regular activity once a week. It also removes an entire weekend from me to leave Friday night after my normal work hours, and stay till Sunday after lunch providing very involved care with no backup. If I’m going out of town on my own for a fun weekend I schedule it more than two weeks in advance. It was a much bigger request than being a ride to and from. And when I refused the parent made me feel like I’d mislead her somehow- despite having said very clearly in several emails in the last year that I don’t work weekends.

        As I said- I understand that things pop up in family life and that sometimes you need care/support at the last minute, but I feel like I’m being counted on to do things I never actually agreed to because I’m “so nice” and their kids “love me.” I take that as high praise, but it feels a bit backhanded when it’s being used to guilt me into working to hard.

        Doing Community Support is extremely hard work- you’re lifting kids, doing lots of personal care, physically helping them to accomplish tasks, and a lot of the time being the social catalyst for them. It’s physically and emotionally draining to do for a few hours at a time, let alone for a whole weekend- and then have to return home and get up the next day to go to your normal job which involves more of the same.

        As I said, I do understand the desire for a break/ for your child to participate as much as possible. I really truly do- which is why I am feeling guilty. But a request like that is something that should have 3-5 people on board- putting it all on me wasn’t appropriate.

        1. AmyRenee*

          is it possible that there was a miscommunication between you and the family? Like, they mentioned a while back “we signed Susie up for a weekend overnight camp at the end of October” and you said “that sounds like fun” –
          you meant “that sounds like fun for Susie” and they heard “Susie & I will have fun doing that” ?
          It’s not right, but a misunderstanding like that could explain it. Or they could just be upset with themselves because they thought the camp would be able to handle her special needs without sending an aide and they just found out that’s not the case and they are taking their frustrations out on you.
          Either way, stick to your guns on the “no weekends” policy. Don’t let them feel guilty for not helping enough – you already go above and beyond.

        2. fposte*

          “when it’s being used to guilt me into working to hard.” Bingo. People are trying to manipulate you. Recognize it as that and you may feel less bad about reminding them that you’ve already said no.

    3. some1*

      I think another key point is that these freelance clients are also clients of her regular full-time bread & butter job. So I can see why the LW is more likely to treat this issue with kid gloves.

    4. OP*

      I understand why you’re reading that. Truth is I’ve had a lot of clients recently make me feel like if I make myself available for this kind of work at all I SHOULD be available 24/7. Also because of the personal nature of this work most of my clients know I’m single- and they read that as “absolutely no commitments”- so why wouldn’t I be available to them all the time?

      1. fposte*

        But it sounds like you haven’t *told* them that there are times you’re not available, so that would be a big reason why they don’t think there are times you’re not available. You’re still, in your initial letter, accepting their premise that what you do with your time is up for discussion. It’s not. You don’t even have to answer a direct question about your time. And while you’ll never be able to stop people calling on short notice because that’s what people do, you’re less likely to be asked to do care on the weekend if your regulars have a schedule that says you’re not available for weekends.

        1. OP*

          I have told them. When I start with a new client I always lay it out for parents: I don’t work weekends, I have other clients I’m committed to as well, I only transport within a certain radius of the home, I reserve the right to pause the support/respite for a bathroom or food break as long as the child is being supervised and/or is occupied. And for a few families who’ve tried to push it I’ve emailed them the line “I’m sorry, but weekends aren’t available.”

          My issue is that some parents aren’t taking no for an answer- and I was starting to feel like either I was being unreasonable, or that I’d somehow set higher expectations than I could fulfill. And I had to hear it from others that not giving a reason for not being available was not only acceptable, but expected.

          1. AmyRenee*

            I think when you start with new clients you should probably add something to the effect of “I will not always be able to assist you with all your respite and community support needs, please consider enlisting additional professionals in addition to myself so you have the support network you need,”

            I would also suggest you setup an email network of other people that do the work you do, then when you can’t help someone, rather than just saying “no, I can’t do Saturday” you can say “no, I can’t do Saturday, would you like me to forward this message to the (insert city) network of respite providers and if one of them is available they can get in touch with you”? Maybe one of your colleagues is interested in taking on more clients and you can get your families the help they need without taking it on yourself.

      2. Josh S*

        For your own mental well-being, repeat the following as often as you need to in order to feel OK with saying ‘no’ to your clients:

        The fact I am single does not mean I have no commitments.
        The fact I am single does not mean I have no life.
        The fact that I care about your child and his/her well-being does not mean I am available for any and all activities.
        The fact that I care about your child and his/her well-being does not mean that I defer to you in all matters of scheduling.

        The great thing about jobs like this is the relationships you build with the kids and families. The crappy thing about jobs like this is that those relationships can blur the lines between professional boundaries and personal friendship. Do not be afraid of asserting yourself as a professional who has boundaries. Boundaries are healthy. And no matter how much you like the kids you work with, no matter how much they ‘need’ you and ‘love’ having you around, you are your own person–you are not a family servant.

        It can be really hard to draw a line to remind yourself that this is, ultimately, a business arrangement, because of the highly engaged nature of the work. But it is work, and you have the reasonable expectation that they will respect you and your boundaries.

        (PS. Thank you for doing this difficult, challenging, rewarding, job! Those of use who have family with special needs recognize the value of having caring people like you. And you deserve some thanks!)

      3. Anon2*

        “Also because of the personal nature of this work most of my clients know I’m single- and they read that as “absolutely no commitments”- so why wouldn’t I be available to them all the time?”

        Let’s turn this around a bit and maybe that will help with the guilt and push back. Little publicized fact – even married people and people with kids will say no to a commitment in order to relax (or build a deck), it’s not always based around kid/spouse needs. Also, they all started out single as well and you can bet most of them defended their free time too. ;)

        It’s not about how busy you are or what you are busy doing, it’s about setting boundaries. You are the only one who has the authority to control your schedule, you do not owe anyone an explanation. You owe them courtesy and consideration, you owe them good customer service, you do not owe explanations for why you turn down some jobs and not others.

  4. Elizabeth*

    This is like the advice Miss Manners gives to people who want to turn down an invitation or someone who’s asking for a favor. “I’m sorry, I can’t” is enough. Giving a general rule of thumb – “I’m not available on Saturdays or Sundays” – will help the parents in the future.

    I work with kids, too, and so I know it can be hard to defend the boundaries around your personal time when you care about them, but you’re not being selfish by protecting your happiness. You will be better able to work with these kids enthusiastically if you have enough time to take care of your personal life. This includes both doing chores AND spending a whole afternoon relaxing with a book in a bubble bath now and then.

  5. Bridgette*

    Once you set the expectation for explanations, it’s very difficult to back out of it when you need to. Don’t set the expectation.

  6. Lilybell*

    I honestly don’t see asking with two weeks notice as too little time. Or asking on a Monday about Saturday. Then again, I don’t know the ins and out of this program, so forgive me if I’m misunderstanding. Aren’t they just asking if you are free? Of course you can say no without guilt, even if your “plans” are to sit and veg out in front of the tv. You are allowed to have down time; think of it as essential to your well-being. But are you sure the parents are really expecting you to drop everything or are you just feeling guilty about saying no? Are you getting push-back when you do say no?

    My mom has been caring for my ill father for a few years, and I know how much it means to her when someone gives her a break or when I come visit for a week every other month and take over for her. So thank you for the great work you are doing on your free time; it’s a wonderful thing.

    1. COT*

      I don’t think we should criticize the OP for needing several days’ advance notice. Busy people balancing two jobs and their personal lives often need to plan far in advance to ensure balance and sufficient downtime. Or maybe OP is just a more structured person who likes to have a week laid out far in advance–nothing wrong with that.

      You’re right that the OP does wonderful work. I’m so glad folks out there with big hearts, patience, and a lot of skills are there to care for those with special needs.

      1. Anon*

        I think there’s two aspects of it. It’s not necessarily unreasonable for the parents to be looking for someone with two weeks notice, but that doesn’t mean that much notice works for the OP. The OP has the right to ask for as much notice as they want.

        1. Adam V*

          +1 to this. The OP could respond back with any of the following and be fine:

          “I’m sorry, I’m unavailable on weekends.”
          “I’m sorry, I’ve already made plans for that particular weekend.”
          “I’m sorry, I need more advance notice for a weekend-long event.”

      2. AnotherAlison*

        This is why the OP needs a written policy with how many days notice she needs.

        I am in agreement that she should have weeks or months notice for longer caregiving engagements, but for other people a few days might seem reasonable. It’s all about whose perspective it is. (My work parallel: I am happiest with a month to schedule a business trip, while my sales coworkers think nothing of going across the country with a day’s notice.)

      3. Lilybell*

        Oh, I didn’t mean it as a criticism at all! I can just see why a parent wouldn’t think that is not that short of notice, especially if there’s no written policy. And that the OP shouldn’t feel guilty saying no even if she gets 6 months notice.

  7. Bridgette*

    Also, as someone in tech support – people may get offended if you don’t offer them an explanation, or aren’t available when they want you to be. They’ll get over it. You still owe them nothing more than a politely decline. Yes, it can be awkward if you are seeing them in the office later, but that goes away too. Setting boundaries is awkward and uncomfortable, but the rewards are so sweet.

  8. fposte*

    I think the problem here is simply one of structure. Since you don’t have any official rules, you always feel like you’ve made a personal decision rich with guilt and resentment. But you can actually make a structure and then blame the structure you yourself made (“Sorry, I’m not available on weekends”)–that’s perfectly kosher. So decide what works for you–72 hours’ notice for day obligations, 7 days’ notice for evening (with only 2 evening slots available per week), unavailable on the weekends; whatever–and then use that as your shield so you don’t feel like it’s personal. “I’m sorry, my evening spaces have filled up that week” is going to be something you’re more comfortable standing behind than “But I want to sit on the couch one evening.”

      1. Bobby Digital*

        For dealing with the resentment that others noted above. Some of us have a hard time saying “no” when we’re personally involved. If you (legitimately) “trick” yourself into thinking of this as a business and treating it as a business (defined hours, expectations, etc.), there won’t be as much guilt or confusion.

        1. Rana*

          This. That way it’s not “you” being restrictive; it’s the business that is. All you’re asking is for your clients to follow the same rules that determine when and under what circumstances you are allowed (by your rules) to work for them. Invent an imaginary hard-ass boss for yourself if necessary, and let them be “the bad guy.”

  9. AmyRenee*

    I think if you have a standing commitment with a family to a specific time and day and you have to cancel you owe the family an explanation (“I can’t take Johnny to his usual Tuesday night gymnastics class because I have a commitment at my daughter’s school”, for instance), but if they are asking if you can do something else for them you don’t owe them any more than “Sorry I’m not available at that time” or “Sorry, I don’t do overnight work” (if that’s always true). Are the parent being more demanding of you – saying “we need you to go with Susie on this overnight” instead of “Are you available to take Susie on Saturday?” That might be more stressful, but either way you are totally within your bounds to say “Sorry, I’m busy that day” or “Sorry, I can’t that day” and leave it at that.
    For perspective, if I needed a babysitter and I sent my regular sitter a message that said “Hey, can you watch the kids this Saturday” and she replied “No, I’m busy” I would not be offended. That’s just how babysitting/childcare works. If she said “I’m busy but here’s my friend Jane’s number, why don’t you ask her?” that would be even more helpful, but a simple “No, I can’t” is perfectly fine to me.

  10. Katrina Prock*

    If you have a day planner with ”Deck – stain and seal,” written down, maybe that would be a visual aide for you to decline. Just as you would decline Tuesday evening dance with Susie because you already have Jeremy’s soccer practice etc.

  11. Maire*

    I think the nature of the job as a “caring” profession is probably making the OP feel more obligated to fulfill clients’ requests than you might be in other professions.
    But there is absolutely nothing to feel guilty about: you do a job which is very essential and worthwhile but you are also entitled to a life. Just because you do a certain type of job does not mean that you have to devote all your time to it.
    So, stop feeling guilty and defensive about saying no and set some boundaries.

    1. Jamie*

      Do you know what’s funny?

      “So, stop feeling guilty and defensive about saying no and set some boundaries.”

      This is the same kind of hurdle a lot of parents go through when deciding to use respite. For me there was a real struggle where I had to come to terms with the fact that it was okay to need an hour or two to myself. To take a bath, read a book, whatever. When I first used respite I felt like I needed to justify how I spent my time. It was fine if I had to take my mom to the doctor or go grocery shopping…but I felt like if I just needed some time for me I was a bad mom.

      I finally listened to people a lot smarter than me and accepted that it was okay to be human and my son wouldn’t feel any less loved if I took the time to get a haircut. It did just what they said it would, it made me a better mom.

      There is a lot of guilt inherent in being a parent of a special needs child. Guilt for not being able to prevent it, even when you have no idea the cause. Guilt for not being able to fix it, even though you’d give your very life to do just that. Guilt for feeling the pressure. Guilt for being jealous of everyone who doesn’t spend every waking hour bouncing between worry and abject fear. Guilt for being merely human because it’s never enough.

      I wish I could say that it goes away, but it doesn’t. You learn to accommodate, you learn to cope, and you carve out the best life you possibly can for your child. But the guilt and the anger at how unfair it is? It ebbs and flows – but it never goes away. My son will be 22 in a couple of weeks and I’m sitting here typing this trying to look like I wasn’t just crying in my office because of how fucking unfair this hand of cards is to him.

      What was my point – oh yeah, irony of the caregiver feeling guilty when usually they are the one who have to assuage the parental guilt.

      1. fposte*

        I don’t think that’s surprising, because the heart of this is that there are people with tremendous needs and we want to fulfill those needs. But really those people are everybody–kids, parents, respite care, bystanders, random people on the passing train–and we all have needs that are entitled to be fulfilled as well.

        I was thinking on the snark post below that the first rule of lifesaving is not to go down with the victim. Kind of a life rule.

      2. Josh S*

        Guilt for feeling guilty about not wanting to be there for your kid 24/7. Guilt for wanting to feel like an individual separate from your kid, rather than “the mom of the special-needs kid” that everyone sees you as. Etc etc.

        Props and respect to you, Jamie.

      3. OP*

        Jamie, it is exactly because of this that I feel so guilty.

        As hard as my time with a child can be, their parents don’t get to send them home. And it’s incredibly rough. Add on top of it other siblings, organizing care, extended family, etc. and I feel bad for saying “sorry, can’t.” I have so much respect for the parents I work for that I feel kind of like I’m betraying them for not being able to catch the ball whenever they need a few hours without juggling it. I don’t want parents to feel guilty for calling me, on the other hand- I don’t want them getting angry at me for not picking up the phone every time it rings.

        Not everyone can do what you’ve done for your son. You sound like an amazing woman- and I’m so blessed to be acquainted with so many strong people like you because I do what I do.

        1. Jamie*

          At the risk of becoming one of those people who tell strangers what to do over the internet – I’m going to anyway…

          Do not feel guilty.

          You are providing a service most people cannot do and many people cannot even imagine the depth of the need you fulfill. IMO there is no higher calling than that. I appreciate the kind words toward me – I really do – but totally undeserved. He’s my baby – if course I love him. I couldn’t have done what you do every day for other kids. It takes a very special person to chose the career you’ve chosen.

          But just because you perform a much needed service does NOT mean you are obligated to be on call 24/7. You have every right to set a schedule and expect people to follow it – because otherwise you can burn out and that would deprive all the kids you will help in the future if you don’t strike a balance.

          To borrow a lesson I learned in IT – teach them what an emergency is. Maybe you would bend your notice time if there were a true emergency…mom rushed to the hospital with appendicitis and no one to stay. Maybe. That doesn’t mean people neglecting to schedule properly constitutes an emergency.

          If they get angry at you for not picking up the phone every time it rings then they need a refresher course from Miss Manners. Having a special needs child doesn’t mean the rules of civilization cease to apply to them.

          They need to have more than one ball catcher in play. It’s crucial to have a good support network if you have a special needs child because, god forbid, you get hit by a bus.

          You have an obligation to yourself and the kids that you love to take care of yourself – and yes, that means regular days off and hours kicked back on the couch with a good book and a cup of coffee.

          There are people who have special needs kids and are good parents, but because their lives are harder than some other people think that entitles them to special treatment. And in some things it does – in my opinion. Here’s an example:

          They are entitled to deal with their child’s with dignity – even if that child is being loud in public. If my kid is having a fit at the opera or a movie and I’m ignoring it shoot me all the dirty looks you want. If he’s screaming because he’s overstimulated in the middle of the grocery store or while I’m on line at the pharmacy because I desperately need the prescription I’m picking up for his sister’s ear infection…we’re not there just to annoy you – the special treatment there would be compassion.

          That doesn’t extend to riding roughshod over other people’s schedules or expecting our families to be at the center of everyone’s universe. That’s not healthy for anyone – caretakers, kids, or parents.

          This world would be a lesser place without the work you do. I don’t know how many of us can say that. I sure can’t.

      4. BL*

        Thank you for the perspective. I have spent the better part of the day on the couch feeling sorry for myself because I am struggling with a chronic illness. I had to cancel plans on my moms birthday plans because of it, I was upset that I couldn’t do what I wanted; it had nothing to do with my mom or her birthday. Seeing this makes me realize how lucky I am to be okay most of the time and to have a mom who has probably experienced exactly what you are talking about.

  12. Not So NewReader*

    OP- there are some really super ideas here that will work out very well for you.
    People can be amazing. If you let them know what is doable for you- they will work with that and still be genuinely grateful for your help.
    Put your policies in writing. Apply them consistently/evenly. People will think of you as a fair-minded person, who keeps her word.

    I would add one more thing. You mentioned keeping a short client list. I cannot tell from your writing if these requests are coming from a new client/someone not on your list OR if the requests are coming from your short list of people.
    To help yourself, even more, you can tell your clients that you are not taking any new families right now. If that changes, you can say you will be sure to let them know. This will help to stop new referrals and perhaps slow down some of these requests you have been getting.
    I am sure your families will work with you on this.

  13. ChristineH*

    OP – You don’t owe any explanation whatsoever. Am I understanding correctly that you’re doing this on the side and NOT as part of your full-time job? Just as any person who is self-employed, you have every right to set the days and hours you want without having explain why. I agree that setting concrete boundaries will be very helpful.

    Jamie – I really admire your strength and positive attitude towards those in this field. I sometimes forget that the challenges are there for life, and that you’re never completely immune to the emotions that go with it.

    (As an aside – It’s ironic that this was posted when it was because I reviewed a respite program today with my volunteer grant proposal review committee.)

    1. KellyK*

      Neat idea, though I would make sure to block out not just your actual work commitments, but the downtime you want (listing it generically as “unavailable” or “personal commitment” or whatever).

    2. MovingRightAlong*

      Based on the OP’s clarifying comments, I think this could be a really bad idea. Since she’s already laying out ground rules for her availability and a few parents aren’t taking “no” for an answer, giving them a schedule like this could just provide room for further push back. What if the OP forgets to add a commitment? Now the parent can say, “But it isn’t on the schedule, so I KNOW you’re available.” Providing clients with detailed insights into your personal time invites them to micromanage you and that is the wrong kind of relationship to have.

      I really like AmyRenee’s suggestion of saying to clients up front that, because of schedule constraints, they should have a network of caretakers and not just rely on you to be available 24/7. It emphasizes that, no really, no weekends means no weekends and provides a solution at the same time.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, and it also doesn’t allow for times when you just don’t feel like taking on the extra work. A posted schedule sort of implies that you’re available for any time that isn’t blocked off, rather than giving you the flexibility to evaluate each request individually.

        1. Yvi*

          That’s easily rectified by doing it exactly the other way around – mark the times that are still available.

      2. KellyK*

        Yeah, good point. I think if her clients were fine with respecting established boundaries and she just hadn’t established them, this might be a good structure. When they’re already pushing back, not so much.

  14. Katie*

    OP, don’t ever forget how important the service you offer is. Parents call you and push on your boundaries because you can do something that other people can’t. This makes your time is incredibly valuable. Act (and charge!) accordingly. It’s not your problem if this fails to meet the needs of some clients, and for what you do, there will always be more clients. Really.

    I have a similar career set up where I work part time with young people on top of a full-time job. Sometimes the hours are brutal, but I keep it up because I care about my clients, the money is great, and I hate to turn down a good opportunity. But I’ve learned (sort of, in the relearning way that fposte suggested) that if I don’t set aside some time as sacred, I start to come apart at the seams. This isn’t just bad for me. When I’m overbooked I enjoy my work less and the quality of my work suffers (which makes me enjoy it even less, because I take pride in what I do).

    You would never criticize the children you work with for having the limits that they have. Why would you criticize yourself in the same way? It is wonderful that you take responsibility for some very challenging children who need special care, but don’t forget that your primary responsibility is to yourself. That’s your priority. Everything else comes second.

    This has inspired me to start putting nice things to do for myself in my work calendar. It’s an important part of working hard!

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