Surviving “Sick Season” as a Working Parent

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The first time my son was sick from daycare, it was a “drop everything” moment to scoop him up, bring him home for a warm drink and cuddling until he fell asleep. Now, when daycare calls with report of a sick kid, there’s a little battle between my husband and me that sounds something like this: “Really? You can’t miss that meeting? Are you suuuure?”

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I actually lost count of how many times my kids were sick in January, but I do know that my youngest had pinkeye, an ear infection, upper respiratory infection, random virus that turned into a rash (roseola for the win!), and…maybe something else? I honestly don’t remember. Throw in a virus for my son that kept him home two separate days, and we haven’t had a week all month where both kids were healthy. I actually began writing this piece two sicknesses ago, if that tells you anything about what a shock our first winter in daycare has been!

This “sickness season” during our first winter in daycare has been a huge source of stress. I had heard over and over that “daycare kids are always sick,” but I don’t think you can really understand what this means until you’ve lived it.

I realize that there are parents who deal with far greater health issues in their kids on a daily basis, so I am not trying to be overly dramatic, but hope to give any other parents approaching their first “sick season” some insight.

Thankfully, my husband has a great employer, and I’ve been able to fit much of my client work (I’m self employed) around sicknesses and catch up in the evenings. We certainly don’t have a perfect system for dealing with sickness (and probably never will), but in hindsight, there are a few things you can do to help get through sick season.

When you’re in a situation like I am (you don’t work, you don’t get paid…but you still have to pay for daycare!), it was really important to find the right balance between giving a sick kid the attention they need, and finding a way to work so you can pay the bills and keep your clients. Trust your judgement, and that you’ll be able to figure out when you’re most needed, and when your child is okay to rest in the same room while you plunk out some work!

That said, here are my top tips! If this is your first season in daycare (it was mine!), I hope this helps you plan for those rough winter months!

  • Work with your partner to schedule your most important meetings on alternate days. Obviously some of this is beyond your control, but to the extent that it is, it will make it a lot easier for one person to stay home.
  • Add a bit to your budget. Sick season was PRICEY. Not only do I have to pay for daycare even if my kids don’t attend, I bill my clients for the time I work…so if I don’t work, I don’t get paid. Yikes. Add in co-pays, prescription costs, any other costs, and it adds up quickly!
  • Say “SURE!” any time someone offers to help. Obviously, you’ll enlist any family members who offer to help. Also say “yes, please!” to friends who offer to drive over with a cup of coffee to keep you going, or run through the drive through to keep you fed.
  • Don’t ever assume it’s over! After every sickness, I assumed “phew, now we can get back to normal!” And seven or more times, I was wrong. I recommend assuming that sicknesses will continue to pop up over the rough winter months and adjusting your work as much as possible to accommodate, rather than keep pushing things back and assume the next week will be better.
  • Be a good coworker and employee. I’m self-employed so I’m in a slightly different position than many folks, but I do have a few colleagues for some projects, and they have helped me out tremendously. In cases where others have to pick up your slack, try to make it up to them during other times of the year, recognize their work in front of others, and make sure they understand they’re appreciated.
  • Kiss your clean house goodbye. Aside from trying to maintain a healthy environment, toss any hopes of keeping your house clean out the door. That’s all I can say about that. If everyone is wearing clean underwear, you’re in great shape.
  • TV is your friend. We have screen time limits at home, but sick children get a free pass. I hate it, but a couch potato resting while watching TV allows me to get in a few extra emails or work done. Thanks, Doc McStuffins!
  • Plan some low key activities – Keep some extra stickers, dollar store toys, etc. around or do a quick Pinterest search for sick kid activities (some a little ambitious, but others are great!) that will keep your child engaged while you are nearby working. An example in our house is pulling out some previously unused cookie cutters that my son used with his Play-doh, and kept him busy for over an hour while we both “worked” at my kitchen table.

Of course, the best way to survive sick season is to skip it all together. Hand washing, any tried and true preventative measures (DMB contributor Darlene and some other moms swear by Elderberry syrup!), oils, whatever you use to keep your family healthy – go for it. That said, there’s only so much you can do with a one year old who puts everything in their mouth. So, my biggest tip is to be appreciative of any and all help or grace from coworkers, and know that the first year is the worst…or so I’m told!

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