Sick Days: How to Take Care of Your Child and Your Career

 “Mommmmmeeeeeee” . . . An loud wail and hacking cough wake me from my almost comatose sleep. It’s 3 a.m. and I have an important work meeting at 9am, to which my attendance is necessary.  I stumble to my then three-year-old son’s room and am greeting by the odor of vomit, and the sound of continued coughing mixed with crying.  He is in the midst of an asthma attack, during which he coughs so hard he vomits.  I whisk him into the bathroom to wash off, set up his nebulizer and contemplate a trip to ER.  After several treatments, his breathing is improved but by no means normal.  He will continue to need regular nebulizer treatments, and close monitoring after a consultation with the advice nurse and our experience with past attacks.  By 7 a.m., I feel sick, too, sick with worry about my poor little guy and about what the heck to do next! There must be a better way to handle the emergencies of children’s sick days.

So, what did I do? This time, my husband was able to stay home for the morning with him, and I cleared my schedule for the afternoon to be with him.  At other times I have rescheduled my whole day, imposed on a friend, or counted on my husbands ability to take time off to care for him.  I developed a sick-day plan with a range of options so I could take care of my child’s needs and still address my work responsibilities.   And I was lucky to find a day care situation soon after, where they were trained and willing to treat asthma.

For parents of children with chronic illness, it is even more critical to create these emergency plans. Whether sick-days are a rare or a frequent occurrence in your family, what do you do?

“Who takes off with our sick child?”

Discuss the issue with your partner now, not the morning of the big meeting when your baby has a temperature of 102 degrees. Of course, it may fluctuate according to the respective demands of your careers. You may be a somewhat “traditional” mom and insist that, of course, it is “mother to the rescue.” However, you may prefer to discuss a family plan where both parents share this responsibility. Your husband may resist initially, but by sharing this role; he will have the opportunity to be an active parent in nurturing your child back to health. You don’t have to go it alone.

Create a Sick-Day Plan

You may think you’ll never need it. Your kids are healthy and vivacious with the energy of a small army. But, sick days are, by their very nature, unexpected. Regardless of whether they are toddlers or teens, avoid the panic and stress by creating a practical sick-day plan for your family.

 Alternating the Responsibility – Take turns at calling in and staying home. Fair and simple. Of course, if one of you has a particularly big event at work, ask your partner to take your turn.

The Parent with More Flexibility – In our society, we often expect Mom to be the one to stay home from work. But that is not always realistic. Many couples consider issues of flexibility, income, and future promotions. These are sensitive issues that you and your spouse may need to explore.

A Trusted Family Member or Friend – Grandma probably adores her grandchildren. Whether she makes the world’s best chicken soup or simply opens a can, she or other trusted family members and friends may save the day if both of you are having a hard time opting out of work. Don’t overuse this option and be sure to show your appreciation.

Sick-Child Care – Check your day-care centers sick policy.  Many large day-care centers are offering “sick-child” care in addition to regular day care. This option typically includes nursing care, a comfortable room and bed, and lots of tender, loving care. Most require early registration for this option, so don’t wait until sickness hits to arrange for this great backup option. Few babysitters or home day-care centers offer this service unless your doctor writes a note stating that is a noncontagious illness.

Taking work home – If you do stay home, ideally you’ll pass your meetings and appointments to a trusted colleague. If that’s impossible, you may be able to conduct some work or make some phone calls, etc., from home. Try to limit this to the times when your child is sleeping so that you can be fully available to him or her.

Find a Family-Friendly Workplace – Currently, some employers object when employees use sick days to stay home to care for a child. Many state legislatures are proposing new laws that would ensure parents have this right. Many working mothers often seek out “family-friendly” companies that do not penalize parents for staying home with sick children. As a bonus they may even encourage time off to attend a child’s special school or sporting event.

Discuss your plan and put it on paper with all viable options for easy access during your next sick-day crisis.  Whether you stay home or find other support, becoming sick-day savvy is as important to your family as it is to your career.

Here’s to good health for all!

~ Rachel

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