My son = My uniqueness

Digital Manager Lauren Palmer has worked at The Co‑operative Bank for 14 years. Her uniqueness is her son Jake, who has Cerebral Palsy. In the latest blog from our Access inclusion network, Lauren talks about the flexible working and support from colleagues that enable her to be there for, and enjoy life with, Jake.

My uniqueness is my son. Jake is 12 years old and he has Cerebral Palsy (right sided hemiplegia) or CP for those in the know. Jake has had brain damage since he was born and can only use the left hand side of his body. Jake’s Cerebral Palsy is the dystonic type, which means he is unsteady, has involuntary muscle spasms and unwanted movement.

Jake’s uniqueness gives me my biggest uniqueness and I get to take this fun journey with him as I look after him.

How does your uniqueness impact your work?

Jake has to have a lot of hospital appointments because he has a rare form of CP. Roughly 1 in 400 kids in the UK are born with CP (about 2,000 each year) but only about 30 of these kids have the type of CP that Jake has.

Because his CP is rare, all the doctors want to have appointments and prod and poke him, which is bad and good. Bad because it takes up a lot of time, but good because he is being seen by doctors who are trying new treatments with him.

So for me, having the worklife balance to be able to support Jake is like life and death. It’s not ‘life and death’ in a literal sense, but it’s ‘life and death’ in that mine and Jake’s entire quality of life would negatively change if I wasn’t able to reach that balance.

The idea that the decisions of my employer could have that impact on my son’s life is unimaginable to me and if that ever happened I would have to quit work. If I couldn’t work then I couldn’t afford things like his private physio and treatments that the NHS doesn't fund.

How have you been able to combine your uniqueness with your work life?

I’ve been fortunate that The Co‑operative Bank has options like flexible working and unpaid leave. I’ve also been fortunate to have really good managers and the support and kindness of people who are strangers to Jake but are helping to make his life better.

For example, if I have to make a hospital appointment for Jake, I’ll do it first thing in the morning because that is what works best for me and Jake. I’m not having to take him out of school during the day and interrupt his education. I can make that time back and colleagues are generally really good when I say I can’t accept meetings when I already have a hospital appointment booked.

I really actually want to say thank you to The Co‑operative Bank – even though I know it sounds cheesy – but over the past two years my son is where he’s at because of my manager and my employer.

Why is having a network like Access important for you?

It’s difficult some days to come to work and switch-off. People don’t always understand that I’m a carer on top of having a full time job.

And it can be difficult to have those conversations with my manager when I need to take time off because it can be hard to explain and I worry they may not understand. The whole thing is a daunting process and I hadn’t met anyone else who really had the same situation as me.

I joined the Access inclusion network because I wanted to be able to meet and talk to people who may be going through something similar to me. And it was actually whilst doing a stand-up one day about Access that a colleague heard me use the phrase 'CP' and came up to me afterwards to tell me that their kid also had CP.

Since then we’ve probably spoken about it every week. When one of our kids has to have a surgery we can check with each other if their kid has already had that surgery and what to expect. I’ve also been able to offer equipment that Jake has grown out of but the hospital won’t take back. It’s been huge for me to have someone in the same situation who I can talk to.