Being a working mom when the kids are sick is a huge challenge. To be honest, it was one of my biggest worries when I was going back to work after being a stay at home mom for three years. When your kid is unwell, it is a million times harder to find alternatives to staying home. And of course with two kids, we get double the illnesses.
New schools and daycares
When kids start at a new school or daycare, they get hit with all the new germs their immune system hasn’t seen before and they get sick so much! When Lulu was 16 months old, she started a new daycare center and I ended up staying home with her for at least half that first month.
This time around I sort of learned my lesson. Booboo goes to a home daycare so she is exposed to fewer children. They’ve both been attending their school and daycare before I started my new job. Whether it was pure luck or not, this time around I got a full month of work in before either kid had to stay home sick. But nothing ever lasts and as many parents know, when it rains, it pours.
A couple months ago two wildfires were wreaking havoc on California. I can’t imagine the devastation and loss that these communities experienced. Even though we were not close enough to be in any danger from the fire, the air quality here in Silicon Valley got so bad that it was recommended that everyone stay indoors as much as possible.
My workplace turned on the air circulation system. Air filters and masks were sold out everywhere. Both my children were being kept indoors in their respective child-care facilities. Lulu’s school does not have a gym or multi purpose room yet, it’s under construction. This being California, the normal lunch area is outdoors, which they could not use. This meant that all 25 kids and teacher/parent were stuck in the one classroom all day, for lunch and recess as well. I know a few parents who opted for keeping their kids at home under these conditions. But since Husband and I are both working parents, we couldn’t really do that. Though eventually the air quality got so bad that the schools were shut down anyway.
Amid all this stress, Lulu also got sick. She woke up one morning with a 40 degree fever (that’s 104 in F). So of course she had to stay home for a few days. Six days later, during thanksgiving week, Booboo got sick – I got a call at work from her daycare that she has a fever and I need to pick her up. We missed work and we missed Friendsgiving on Thursday but luckily both kids’ illnesses only lasted a few days (plus, we already had Canadian thanksgiving in October so at least we didn’t miss out completely this year).
As hard as it is to juggle work and parenting with healthy kids, it is so much harder to do when they are sick. We don’t have any family in the area so we rely heavily on friends and babysitters when we need help watching the kids. But it’s hardly fair to ask other parents to risk their families by taking care of our sick kids. Plus, sick kids want the comfort and security of their moms and dads. And we want to be there for our children.
Working from home
I am so lucky that Husband and I both work in an industry with a lot of flexibility to work from home. Husband and I have been taking turns staying home with the kids, working from home every other day when needed. Of course it’s hard to be as productive at home while taking care of a sick child. But the alternative would have been each of us taking multiple sick days in the span of just a few weeks, which I guess many parents do have to resort to.
Being able to work from home when an emergency arises is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it is amazing to not have to worry about sick days. At my previous job I used to work from home almost once a week. Before I had kids, it was easy to work from home for every little reason – didn’t sleep well? Working from home. Have the sniffles? Working from home. Gotta drop a friend at the airport? Working from home. Raining or snowing too hard? Working from home.
At first glance it might seem like we’re being lazy and taking advantage but in reality most of my work could be done from home just as well. There were literally entire days where I didn’t need to speak to any of my coworkers in person. If I don’t feel well, it is beneficial to my coworkers if I am still able to complete my work without sneezing and coughing on all of their stuff. If the weather is bad, it is in the company’s best interest as much as mine to not have me waste half the workday stuck in traffic.
Ask anyone who is familiar with the work-from-home model and they will attest that often they work longer hours when they are working from home because they begin working as soon as they wake up in the morning, they don’t spend nearly as much time socializing for coffee and lunch breaks, and they usually work all the way to dinner time or even later. Plus, the flip side of not having to worry about sick days is that even when you’re sick, you’re expected to work. Of the countless days that I have worked from home in my career, I can only remember two or three days when I actually did NOT work and took a real sick day.
Working from home with a sick child is not nearly as productive unfortunately. You have to stop to make lunches and snacks and administer medication. Luckily, sick children don’t have much energy and they watch a lot of TV and take long naps. One of the days when the kids were not sick but school was closed, Husband and I both stayed home in order to take turns caring for the kids and working – one of us would dial into a meeting while the other one would be on keep-the-kids-quiet duty. Needless to say, with both parents working and the kids unable to go outside we were watching a LOT of television.
Sick Kids and Working Mom guilt
Being a working mom when the kids are sick means a lot of compromise as well. I remember when I was a kid, my mom kept me home for every little sniffle. My mom worked as well, but my grandmother lived with us and she helped take care of my brother and me. Since there was always an adult in the house, staying home when I was only a “little bit” under the weahter was never a problem.
Now, as two working parents with no other family nearby, the kids only stay home if they have a fever or they’re throwing up (fortunately hasn’t happened in a while). Sniffles, coughs, general grumpiness, sorry, still gotta go to school. Sometimes I wish I had the luxury of giving them that extra day at home when they are just feeling “off”.
It can be a difficult call to make sometimes. There have been days when we brought Booboo to daycare only to get a call later that she has a fever and I need to pick her up. There have also been days where we kept her home, because she seemed sick, only to have her bouncing off the walls 30 minutes after breakfast.
As hard as it is to work from home when you have a sick child to care for, it is a million times harder with a child who is only slightly sick. It is almost torturous when they start to feel fine and their energy is back but you can’t take them anywhere because they are still sick and you’re trying to get some work done. It almost makes you wish for the feverish, lethargic, miserable creature of yesterday staring blankly at the TV while clutching a stuffed animal. But not really.
Being a family with two working parents definitely has its challenges. I know that we are lucky to both be able to take turns taking care of our littles while also doing our jobs. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without Husband’s support and flexibility. Being in the trenches together during these times makes me love him all the more. Even if I don’t always have the energy to show it at the end of a long day.