Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Working Mom Wednesday: Sick Day Dilemmas

Working Mom WednesdayWhen Kate got the swine flu right about a year ago, I flipped out and quarantined the whole family for three days. The first day was absolutely necessary as we were monitoring her fever closely and rushed her to the pediatrician right at closing time. The second and third day, as Kate perked up and I calmed down, were simply the product of a new mom's overreaction. (I'm still kind of embarrassed about it actually!) Fortunately, I had understanding, family-oriented bosses and plenty of vacation time to spare.

Some moms aren't so lucky. Their workplaces aren't so generous and/or their children don't recover so quickly. What if both mom and dad work in strict offices and can't take time off to tend to a sick child?

Parents magazine had an article in its September issue called "A Working Mom's Guide to Sick Kids." The stat that really stood out to me? In 57% of cases, day care directors send kids home unnecessarily for mild illnesses. We've dealt with that several times, and because Matt works primarily from home while I'm in an office an hour away, he's the one picking Kate up midday and taking her to the doctor, often for something very minor. (Once--in our old center--they sent her home and recommended we go to the doctor because of a sty! Oy!) When I dropped Kate off this morning, I overheard the assistant director on the phone advising someone to keep their child home, even though symptoms had passed and the child was acting fine. I understand a center's need to protect the other kids and make sure a truly sick child is comfortable at home, but I wonder if she thought about the mom on the phone and what hardships it may put on her to keep a mildly-under-the-weather child at home.

The Parents article mentioned one extreme case where neither parent's boss would let them leave work to pick up the sick child at day care, so the mom stuck her finger down her throat, puked on the office floor, and the boss sent her home sick. The writer discusses FMLA legislation and how America lags behind other nations in its family-friendly policies, but also discusses practical options for creating a sick-day backup plan:
  • Plan A (beyond being there yourself, of course) is to call a grandparent or close friend, but that's not always possible, as families live farther from their hometowns and friends quite possibly work outside the home as well.
  • make a reciprocal arrangement with another parent who works at home or with a flexible schedule, offering to keep her kids or drive them to soccer on the weekends.
  • split the day with your spouse, so both of you can be in the office part of the day.
  • work from home. If your office is cool with that, you probably wouldn't be running into this dilemma in the first place, but the point is to make your home "work-friendly" in advance, so it is not too difficult to shift gears and work from home for a day. For example, I arranged to get access to my work e-mail on my personal laptop (originally so I'd have it when traveling for work) but it makes my work life a little more flexible.
Fortunately, the ear-eye-sinus infection trifecta that Kate has had off and on seems to have subsided for the time being (knock on wood!) but sick days are unavoidable, and it's good to have some options.

What do you do when your kids get sick, but you have to work?


Kristen said...

We are so fortunate to have two grandmommies whose work schedules are FAR more flexible than ours (read: they've both been with their employers for over 20 years), so although we hesitate to do so, we usually call them first to see if they're available. If not, we do a lot of day-splitting. I must admit that John Michael has stayed home with a sick child many more times than I have because he has the capability of working from home. I can do a few things from home, but not many. But I am quite blessed to have a boss who is a mommy and who understands that sometimes things just come up! My last bosses were NOT understanding and I would panic when Addie was sick, dreading having to tell them I had to leave early or calling in sick. Ugh. I still shudder to think about it, three years after the fact!

Katie Bug said...

Since Jer is a pastor, too, his schedule is generally much more flexible than mine. I do receive 10sick/personal days off each year, but we really want to save those days for a future maternity leave.

Even though I've only been back to work for two months, K's already had two sick days during that time. The first sick day was before my mom was back in school, so she was able to keep her and take her to the doctor. Jer stayed with her on the other sick day.

Since my job requires me to prepare a day's worth of work for a substitute if I can't be there, I absolutely hate missing a day of work. Hopefully, between Jer's flexible work schedule, four doting grandparents, and one auntie with Fridays off, I'll only have to take a "sick Bug" day when it is absolutely necessary.

This is yet another area of our lives that was much less complicated when I was staying at home!

Katie Bug said...

Oh, and here are my suggestions for Working Mom Wednesday posts:

Meal planning/prep
Household chore schedules
Proper work clothing/casual clothing balance
Determining how much/little to talk about your child at work

SpeasHill said...

Thanks for this post; it just may come in handy in the future! I will say, though, that as the parent of a medically-fragile child (and one who read the Parents article, too), the strict daycare rules are pretty necessary, for the most part. Contagion isn't actually tied very closely to the display of symptoms, and a lot of little kid viruses seem to subside briefly before coming back even stronger. That's one reason kids like mine are barred from daycare for years. But I totally understand the hardship it places on parents! At the same time, though, sticking to the rules helps keep the other kids healthy and spares their families the same hardship.

One trend I am noticing in placing I'm looking at working is a "parent in a pinch" service. For example, at the hospital I worked at in Louisville, if you had a sick kid that couldn't go to school but wasn't so sick that they had to be in your arms all day long, they could spend the day in a special section of the pediatric wing with nurses taking care of them (but not actually being admitted to the hospital or anything). Another employer has a special drop-in daycare-ish setting for the same situation. I guess larger employers are finding that it's cheaper to provide these services than to pay the price in lost productivity. Maybe more employers will come on board!

Wow, this is the longest comment ever. At least I'm signing my name to it. ;)


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