Wednesday, January 30, 2013

WMW: When Kids Get Sick

Kate has been sick all week, after being sent home with a fever midday Monday (her birthday—boo). So, the last three days have been a good reminder of why I made the switch from WOHM to WAHM. Yes, my primary motive was greater flexibility for the unpredictable needs of foster kids placed in our care, but I was also eager to be more available to my own kids when they are sick, have field trips, class parties, etc.

We haven't gotten any calls about foster kids yet (probably because our social worker recommended us for only one child at a time, close in age to our bio kids, and it's teenagers and sibling groups that are most in need) but I've been so grateful this week to be able to tend to Kate here at home, and get work done as well. Granted, not as much work as my new normal, and not without help; Matt's mom came over for a while yesterday, and today I took Kate to Matt's office for a little while while I went to a meeting.

A child's illness is one of the more difficult aspects of two-career households. Which parent will stay home from work to tend the child and take him or her to the doctor? Is there a family member, friend, or backup childcare service that could care for the child that day? Will there be a loss of pay? Loss of confidence from colleagues and supervisors?

It's no wonder that contingencies for such inevitable circumstances are among the elements rated in Working Mother magazine's 100 Best Companies rankings. 100% of those companies offer flextime and telecommuting (and an average of 77 and 50% of employees use such benefits)—so that parents can take the time they need to care for their sick children, with the freedom (and trust) to get the job done. For the times parents have to be in the office on a day their children are sick, 86% of the 100 Best offer "backup child care," and 65% offer "sick child care."

If you're among the 43-47% of U.S. companies that do not allow flextime or telecommuting, you may need to take preemptive action as suggested in this article—things that seem obvious but I never really thought about!
  • Always (or at least, when you suspect your child may be under the weather) try to get your essential tasks done earlier in the day, so if the day care calls just after lunch, you won't be in quite such a bind.
  • Talk to your boss in advance about his or her policies and preferences when you have a sick child. I did this when Kate was first born, but I had one or two new bosses in the time since then and never thought to ask up front.
  • Research backup care. According to the Working Mother data, only 3% of employers offer such a thing themselves, but you can find such agencies on your own to call when you're really in a bind. My employer actually did have an arrangement with a local backup care agency, but (and I feel silly to admit this) it was located in the federal building just a block way, and thinking of Oklahoma City's federal building bombing and the day care kids there killed, I just couldn't use it.
When I worked full-time in an office, Matt and my solution to the sick-child challenge was either to call his parents (and risk getting them sick—Kate infected at least six other family members with a stomach bug she had as a toddler!) or do the half-day split, where one of us stays home in the morning while the other goes to the office, and then switch around lunchtime. I'm glad to have the flexibility now to do most of the sick-child care myself, escorting to the pediatrician, etc., but even with flexibility and a home office, there are still challenges, and it still takes a village.

In closing, I have to note how the solutions I'm discussing here are specific to the corporate/office-type context. For moms working in fields that require your physical presence—teaching, medicine, retail, etc.—the issues and possible solutions are very different. I hope to address that some next week, so I hope you'll leave a comment about some of the issues faced by working moms beyond my obvious office frame of reference.

What is your workplace's policy on sick-child-care?


Emily said...

This is one of the best things about being a pastor. Sure, we complain about being "on call" all the time, night meetings, lack of privacy and boundaries, etc. BUT - I have never been made to feel bad about staying home with my sick child. No meeting has ever been made out to be more important than taking care of her. And I have the freedom to schedule things like regular doctor's visits during my office hours without anyone looking sideways at me. So, it probably comes out even in the end. We do have a lot more time committed and more scrutiny, but (especially as a mother - I think pastor fathers have it harder), there is a lot of understanding about our family's needs.

Pauline said...

It's really interesting to read this, and Emily's comments. My husband and I have issues when we have a sick child to juggle - I'm a teacher and he is a minister (pastor). So far, he has been able to cover things, rearranging meetings or suchlike. The one major issue is if it is something that simply can't be rearranged - a funeral, for example. I would then have to get time off as we have no family nearby who could step in. My employer is not nearly as able to be flexible, and I really would be leaving people in the lurch. It's not easy being a parent!

Rachel Moss said...

Oh, goodness! As a teacher, being out for a day is twice as much work as just showing up...which is why teachers rarely call in sick.
Katelyn was out of school 4 days this week, too, and Elliot was out 2 days the week before. Thankfully my dad has an incredibly flexible work schedule right now and he was able to stay with the kiddos quite a bit. Generally, though, when one of our kids is sick Jer will try to take the day off since he can still get some work done from home. There are exceptions, though, such as the days he is on hospital duty, there's a big staff meeting, or he has a scheduled video shoot (he's our media pastor). In those cases I'll stay home.

Heather said...

Hi I'm Heather! Please email me when you get a chance, I have a question about your blog! LifesABanquet1(at)


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