Managing work when your child is sick

It’s an emergency waiting to happen. Both you and your partner have important meetings the next day. Your little one drags herself to you, her blanket in tow, and says: “Mommy, I am not feeling well.” Dismay writ large on your face, you feel your four-year-old’s forehead. Hot enough to cause anxiety. The thermometer records a temperature of 101oF. You give her a dose of paracetamol, and get set to prepare some soup for her. All the while your mind is buzzing – how to manage work the next day?

While it is always a struggle to juggle career and child care responsibilities, when your child is sick it is a crisis situation.  Missing an important meeting because your child is sick, or leaving a sick child with a caregiver and going to work, are equally heart-wrenching in their own ways.

As per a 2012 University of Michigan survey, one-third of parents fear they may lose a day’s pay and even their job when their children are sick and they have to stay home taking care of them. Half the parents of young children in daycare facilities (they do not accept unwell children) said finding alternative or back-up care is difficult.

As working parents, you are more vulnerable to such an eventuality when your child is an infant, toddler or preschooler. These are ages when children pick up infections easily. Being in a nuclear family makes the situation harder.

It is a given that there will be situations when your child is ill and you have to stay home with him. Here are some ways you can handle the anxious situation with minimum loss of cool.

Discuss with your partner in advance: Talk through a sound back-up plan with your partner. Ditch the stereotypes – traditionally, it is always the mother who cares for a sick child. Take turns with your partner when it comes to staying home from work or visiting the pediatrician.

Mumbai-based psychologist and work-life balance coach Nidhi Sharma says: “It is a myth that mothers are more nurturing and caring and hence should care for a sick child. Fathers can make excellent caregivers too. Ultimately, a sick child is an added responsibility and parents need to put in more time and resources to deal with the situation. They should look on it as a joint responsibility and be equally involved. And, each bring his or her own parenting skills and energy to the task.”

Work as a team. One option is going to office during the weekend to make up while your partner holds the fort at home. How these arrangements pan out depend on the type of jobs you both have and the flexibility they entail. It could also come down to whose schedule is more flexible on a particular day.

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Have a support network in place: It has often been said that it takes a village to raise a child. This is something you as a parent may feel strongly when your child falls sick. Daycare centres have strict rules about not accepting sick children. Having a nanny makes the situation somewhat easier to handle. Though you may be anxious, you can instruct your nanny on your child’s diet and medication and keep checking on your child’s health while you are at work.

If you don’t have a nanny, you will need people who could help you out in an emergency. Grandparents, siblings, and close friends living nearby, could pitch in and care for your child. In case you have to drop your child off at a caregiver’s place, keep a bag with medicines, change of clothes, books and toys, and favourite foods ready.

Talk to your boss and colleagues: Explain clearly that you need time off. Offer to work from home if this is a practical option so that the work flow is disrupted as little as possible.

It is also important to have a supportive, understanding team at your workplace. This way, your colleagues can make up for your absence so that projects do not suffer.

“By and large organisations are becoming more parent friendly these days, not just towards mothers, but also towards fathers.  However, I believe more than an organisation and its rules, it is how understanding and supportive your immediate superior is that matters,” explains Nidhi.

Be ready for a work-from-home day: This may be easy to do if your child is reasonably comfortable and sleeping most of the time. Stay in touch with your boss, team members and clients. Take advantage of video conferencing facilities to attend meetings or hold discussions.

At home, go easy on rules, such as those regarding screen time or indulging in her favourite foods.  If your child is feeling up to some activity, equip her with books, colours, work-sheets, and puzzles. Accept the opportunity to bond with your child over an engaging reading or storytelling session.

Keep up with the work calendar: Try to stay ahead of your work so that you don’t fall behind too much if you need to take a day or two off.  Get the important work done in the morning if possible. That way if you get a call from your child’s daycare centre asking you to pick him up you will be in a better position. And, save up on leave you can use in such situations.

Explore flexible work options: In situations where your partner is in a very demanding job that doesn’t allow unexpected leave taking, if may be better if you opt for part-time work or a work-from-home system when your children are very young and more prone to fall ill.

Above all, don’t let guilt overcome you: Staying home to care for a sick child is not something you need to feel guilty about. And, ensure your child does not feel guilty. Being ill is unpleasant for her. Don’t add to her burden by showing her how frustrated and stressed you are about not being able to work.

Yes, you should not have to choose between your child and a job. But that’s a trade-off which is part of every working parent’s life. As you are striving to be good parent and a good employee simultaneously, remember to be kind to yourself.




About the Author

Aruna Raghuram

I am a freelance journalist and write on parenting, personalities, women’s issues, environment, and other social causes. read more...

33 Posts | 26,446 Views

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