mom-sick-childI’ve got kid sick days on the brain this week.  My three-year old came down with a bunch of things, and proceeded to pass one of these illnesses along to me.  It made for one of those frustrating and messy weeks.  Not really how I envisioned things going, when I looked out to the week ahead.

My family has been lucky to have had a few months free of sick days, so I had been lulled into a false sense of order and predictability (which can happen, I find, anytime things get too “normal” in parenthood).  Being home for three days reminded me that my husband and I used to declare with some frequency that when we go to bed at night, we never really know whether we’ll be able to make it to work the next day.  And I was reminded how completely “in the hole” I was on sick days at work, when my babies were zero and 2 years old.  We’ve come a long way now that they are 3 and 5, but the juggling act is still hard.

I see two key problems that accompany kid sick days: (1) the practical dilemmas (who will be where when), and (2) the emotional struggles (feeling like you desperately need to be in two places at the same exact time and really, quite simply, can’t be).  Here are some thoughts on how to address both sides of this coin.

Practical Tips

There are indeed ways to get ahead of the 8-ball, so to speak, in planning for the inevitable child sick days.  Here are a few:

  1. Plan in advance for the unexpected. I know, I know, it sounds counterintuitive.  If it’s truly unexpected, how can you plan for it?  Ask yourself: is it really unexpected, though?  At a certain age and stage of baby’s life (especially if he’s in daycare), it’s probably pretty predictable that sick days will come with the territory.  Consider mapping out each coming week with your partner, to talk through who can be “on point” with a sick child on any given day.  Take into account work and other priorities and non-negotiable commitments.  This topic is among those my husband and I often discuss at our weekly Saturday Meeting.
  2. Find out if your employer offers back-up care options. It was only recently that I discovered my employer offers back-up child care options as an employee benefit – and that these come both in center-based and home-based options.  I’ve had a number of alums in the Mindful Return Course extoll the amazingness of back-up childcare as a benefit, and I will definitely be checking out my company’s offerings for myself.  Once again, plan ahead: you probably can’t enroll in the back-up options the day your child gets sick.  There is usually some paperwork that needs to happen in advance.
  3. Figure out if you can split up your day with your significant other (or another member of your community). My husband and I often have workdays that are a patchwork of calls and meetings.  When a sick day strikes, we often both stay home and do as much as we can remotely.  (I know I am extremely lucky in having a job with this kind of flexibility and to have a partner with whom I can share this load.)  Yes, this type of arrangement does look like a day of continuous handoffs (“so I’ll keep my 9-10am call, you can take your 11am call then head to your lunch meeting, but you need to be back by 1:15pm so I can hop on my 1:30pm call…okay?”), but we’re usually able to figure out how to keep at least a partial workday going.

The Emotional Side

The struggles working parents face around sick days clearly aren’t just about the logistics.  That infamous guilt can crop up all day, and it’s easy to fall into a pattern of beating ourselves up.  Here are a few ways to tackle the emotional challenges of sick days:

  1. Zoom out. As much as possible, try to think about the big picture.  In a relatively short period of time – probably next week, for that matter – you’ll be back in your work groove and won’t really remember being out.  I had a boss once who said about vacation time: take as much as you can, because YOU will remember the trip you took, but none of your colleagues will even remember your being gone.  Sick days are a far cry from a vacation, but I think the principle is the same.  You’ll remember caring for your sick baby, but your colleagues won’t remember the event.
  2. Practice gratitude. On your average sick day, there’s a lot to be grateful for.  For me, this week, it was things like the invention of antibiotics, that my little one didn’t have a life-threatening illness, that both kids have been relatively healthy of late, that my son is building a great immune system, and the fact that I wasn’t going to lose my job for having taken a few sick days.  If you don’t have a daily gratitude journal, consider starting one and working that gratitude to “find the good” on these tough days.
  3. Prepare a calm and loving mantra in advance. In the Mindful Return Course, we do a whole lesson on the topic of “sick days, snow days, and the unexpected,” and we work together to develop mantras we can use for ourselves when these tough days strike.  A few of my favorites that the mamas in the course have come up with include “this is out of my hands”; “one thing at a time”; “first things first”; “tomorrow is another day”; “I am enough”; and “I am not the president of everything.”  Oh, and of course: “just keep swimming!”

Hang in there, mama.  Those little ones do get sick less and less often as time goes on.  And one day you’ll surprise yourself with how many months have gone by without a visit to the pediatrician’s office.

How do you handle the logistical and emotional struggles that come with kid sick days?  Please share below in comments.

Looking for more practical help with your return to work after maternity leave?  Join other new returning-to-work mamas, and sign up for the next session of Mindful Return.


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