As A Working Mom, Sick Kids Add Another Level Of Stress To My Maxed Out Life

shutterstock_167106626I know I said I didn’t mind being sick and having a reason to completely check out.  It doesn’t happen often and I give in to it 100% without guilt.  Everyone — family, friends and co-workers alike — understands succumbing to the winter flu or spring colds.  But my kids being sick is a different story.  Their sick days stress me out.

My daughter had croup a few weeks ago and we were very “lucky” it started on a Friday night, lasted through the weekend and we called my mom to help on Monday.  Otherwise when one of our kids has a mystery fever or a nose full of green snot, my husband and I have to compare notes to see who is busier at work.  ”I can stay home this morning, but I have a meeting I can’t move later,”  ”I have a conference call at 2, does that give you enough time?”  And the negotiation begins.  We are obviously fortunate to have flexible schedules and the autonomy at work to be able to tailor our work to our home commitments.  But it adds a level of anxiety and frustration at work that’s undeniable.

I haven’t been granted any special privileges at work.  I am expected to do the tasks I have on my plate — as everyone is responsible for their own workload.  It technically doesn’t matter where we get it done so long as we do it, but that doesn’t change the fact that all of my co-workers are in the office from 9am to 7pm doing theirs daily, without exception.  And all of my co-workers are either childless or have a spouse at home to take care of emergencies like this.  I feel like an outsider in a lot of ways, never more so than when one of my children has to stay out of school sick.  I can’t help but wonder what their level of empathy is for me when I have to work from home or my responses are delayed while I run my kids to the pediatrician.  Not to mention that illnesses in the under five set rarely seem to last a day or two and can drag out for the whole week.

So day after day I’m filling my secretary in on where I’ll be and when so anyone can reach me.  But it’s not as great as it sounds — working from home with a sick child is fraught with its own issues.  When one of my kids is really sick, it’s actually easier.  They pretty much sleep all day and want to cuddle when they are awake.  In that situation, it’s not a problem to plop down in front of the computer and crank out my work until their fever breaks.  The worst scenario is when they are just sick enough that they’ll infect everyone at school but by 10am they are already bored and want to know what you’ll be doing to entertain them all day.  Those days, getting through my work to-do list feels almost insurmountable.

No matter how flexible your schedule or how good you have it on the job, no one escapes the stress of working and caring for sick kids.

(photo: Nadezhda1906/Shutterstock)

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  • EX

    It’s definitely tough. My husband and I both work full time and neither of us have flexible schedules so when kiddo is sick it means someone is using PTO to stay home. Since I get more PTO than my husband it usually means it’s me. It is hard because there have been plenty of times I had to cancel pretty important meetings, etc. but luckily there are plenty of other moms at my work so I am never really made to feel bad about it (not that I let that stop me from feeling guilty for letting people down). It’s gotten less stressful as my daughter has gotten older and has built up her immunity (thanks daycare germs!). But we’ve got baby #2 on the way so we’ll be starting all over again shortly.

    • Bethany Ramos

      I think about this a lot because my husband and I both work at home. My first son was so freaking sickly, with colds progressing into pneumonia a few times. He would be home for like a week at a time from daycare. I feel fortunate that we can deal with it, even though it disrupts our schedules. Do other full-time workers just have to max out their PTO??

    • EX

      All the ones that I know. I guess some people are lucky to have a grandmother or someone who can stay with baby if they have to be home for a longer period of time. Neither of my daughter’s grandmothers live nearby so that’s not an option for us. There have only been a few times that our daughter had to stay home for multiple days (up to a week). In those cases my husband and I usually alternate the days or something so that we don’t fall too far behind in work. If she were to get an illness that would exclude her from daycare for a week or more (and we new that off the bat, as opposed to taking things day by day) we might be able to get my MIL to come but since she’s not close by it’d be kind of a big favor.

    • MamaLlama

      Been there, done that! How I wish for family down the street… But then some days I thank my lucky stars we have an hour or two between us! I still watch colleagues save up their PTO and vacation for maternity leave-how unfair!

    • Andrea

      I did yes. Back when I was in corporate I pretty much had to use up not only my sick days but my vacation days too. It sucked big long donkey BALLS.
      Gawd how I hated working corporate. No one had any compassion ad my boss was a single child-free man so he had ZERO sympathy and always saw me as a slacker.

  • rrlo

    It is definitely stressful when kids are sick and there are work pressures.

    Having said that, I always remind myself that this period of young, sick children is temporary – in a few years they will have better immune systems and will get sick a lot less.

    Also, we should all remember that it is not only parents of young children that have outside pull. Lots of people have aging and ill parents that require a great deal of time away from work. Many go through periods of personal turmoil – like divorce, cancer etc. that will take away from their dedication to work. And many of the childless will have children in the future – and face similar issues. And, there are many people who put in the hours but accomplish very little – because they are not just motivated or dedicated.

    We can’t go full cylinder in all parts of our lives at the same time. That goes for everyone – parent or not.

    • MamaLlama

      But the site is called Mommyish, a place that mothers (and fathers) discuss parenting successes, struggles, etc. This article resonates for many working moms, and she didn’t even add in the amount of guilt you feel as a mom when someone else is caring for your sick child (instead of ‘mommy’). I can’t help but read your comment as a judgmental one… Downplaying the real juggling act of being a working parent…And although I also remind myself that each stage of parenting is that, a stage. Other people do have it worse due to the aging parent, cancer, etc. But not being able to stay home with a sick child also adds a great deal of stress so please don’t diminish that.

      And for the record, you may not have meant anything negative… I am so tired from work and child rearing, I shouldn’t really be posting ;).

    • rrlo

      Oh – I wasn’t judgmental at all. Sorry! As a working mother of a toddler, I would be nuts to judge :).
      I was just saying that as working mothers with sick children – there is no reason to feel guilty because there are many obligations that can take away from 100% attention at the job.
      And those that judge these mothers should cut them some slack because many people are failing to make work their entire life – regardless of whether they have kids or not.
      My comment about young sick children is a phase is meant to reassure not judge as well – as in – it will pass and life will be glorious again or rather less sickly.

    • MamaLlama

      Good, then it was me and-I was just tired and read it wrong!

  • Harriet Meadow

    Oh my god, my eight month old is sick for the first time, and what perfect timing! I just got my wisdom teeth out yesterday, so I’m a hungry ball of pain right now. And earlier this week my husband scheduled himself to go in to work today (and couldn’t get out of it at this point), so last night and this morning have just been fun fun fun.

    • Bethany Ramos

      Both of our kids are sick too, and I want to die. You are not alone. :)

  • G.E. Phillips

    The first 3 years of my son’s life, I was running a small business, so if I didn’t go into work, literally the whole operation would suffer. That was a LOT of pressure for someone with a newborn, and then later, an infant who had a lot of ear infections. It was one of the most stressful things ever. Now I have a job where I’m pretty much the least important person in my company (I joke that my official title should be Chief of Machine-Assisted Document Re-Creation Services) and it’s wonderful. If my son is sick, I take a PTO day and the world continues to turn as it had before. That being said, now that I actually have PTO days, I am terrified of using them UNLESS Face is sick….so right now I’m sitting at my desk, infecting everyone within a four-cubicle radius with my Moulon Rouge-esque cough.

  • val97

    I had an employer who did not allow working from home with a sick kid. You had to use your vacation leave. Do you live in an area with a lot of snow days and/or 2 hour delays due to bad weather? Those days suck. I once had a boss who sneered every time I mentioned a sick kid. I started pretending I was the sick one – to the point where I would come to work the next day with no makeup and my hair disheveled and a fake gravely voice. This same boss took a whole week off to take care of her sick cat. Just thinking about those days pisses me off. My kids are older now and rarely, if ever, get sick anymore. Knocking on wood. But there has to be a better way – can work places more accommodating without letting the business suffer?

  • MamaLlama

    Thanks for the article! I have pretty ‘healthy’ kids as can’t express how many discussions my husband and I have had on scheduling ourselves off work when our children were sick. And the guilt! I hate having to work while my husband or someone else is watching my sick child!!! It’s also hard when the child looks/acts a little sick, but you can’t really stay home with them unless they are actually sick! Ugh! My current job is family friendly and I have to say that it is amazing when coworkers understand and expect you to stay home. Hang in there!

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