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No Sick Days in Parenthood

Categories: Career, Parenting, The Juggle, Working? Living?


wim-sick-days.jpgI’m sick. Again.

(Of course, I’m at work. Why do you ask?)

The other night, my husband remarked that, in the past few months, both he and I have been sick more frequently than ever before. But why? Sure, we’re overworked, but not any more than we’ve always been. We’ve been eating more healthily, exercising more often — OK, that’s a lie, he’s been exercising, I’ve been, um… look over there! Something shiny!

Really, though, we couldn’t figure out why we were caught in this cycle of sinus headaches and hacking coughs. We feebly tossed around a few more ideas (is it the weather? Do we need vitamins?) while my husband reminded L. to cover her mouth when she sneezed and I wiped O.’s streaming nose for the umpteenth time, and then it hit us …


This is the first year that any of our kids’ have been in daycare. They’re thriving and socializing and learning amazing new things. They’re also coming into contact with amazing new germs that they bring home and generously share with the rest of us.

Recently, all five of our kids were sick at once, taking turns spiking fevers and playing “toilet roulette.” My husband took a few days off, and I was psyched to hightail it to my office rather than work from home (editing copy is a breeze when you don’t have a fevery 9 year old watching “The Suite Life of Zach and Cody” at top volume 10 feet away while his woozy 11-year-old sister races to the bathroom to regurgitate a pint of blue Gatorade).

Besides the obvious (no diapers to change at the office, though there are plenty of metaphorical blowouts) the biggest difference between my full-time job as a newspaper editor and my full-time job as a mother is this: There are no sick days in parenthood.

But, even though I am lucky enough to get sick days at work, I rarely take them when I’m sick.I’ll weigh the pros and cons of sending a coughing kid to school or daycare, but I tend to assume that I’ll be heading in to the office whether I’m hacking up a lung or not. Toddler has a fever of 100.5 degrees? She’s staying home. Mom has a fever of 102 or more? See-ya-later-buh-bye, I’m going to work.

Studies have shown that “presenteeism” — when sick employees show up to work — can actually hurt a business, resulting in everything from a decreased productivity to lower product quality to actual monetary losses of about $150 to $250 billion annually.

But if it’s so bad for business, why do so many people haul their aching and sniffling selves into the office? Lots of reasons. Some people simply don’t have enough — or any — sick days. Some fear they’ll be penalized for not putting in enough face time. Some feel bound by deadlines, others feel guilty for being “a burden” to their coworkers. And there’s another reason — one that, maybe, you have to be a working mom to really understand…

Sometimes, the office is the only place where you can get any rest.

What do you do when you’re sick? Do you take time for yourself?

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19 comments so far...

  • Oh, I hear you. I work up sick this morning, looked over at DH who told me he was sick. Our daughter was coughing all night, so she is sick too. Again.

    This is her first year in daycare and our first year without a full-time nanny, and boy, it’s testing us.

    What do I do? Well, not anything different than usual. Right now I am holed up in the office working, while DH is with our daughter - it’s a day off from school and he has a day off from work. We will switch off in the afternoon. Going to try to go to sleep early, but that’s about it…

    Nataly  |  January 21st, 2008 at 8:50 am

  • I’m mainlining Emergen-C and popping zinc like M&Ms, grateful that the big kids are with their mom and stepdad and so are avoiding the plague that we’re experiencing up here! It’s crazy… I feel like we all juuuust got better, and now the coughing/sneezing/phlegm/etc. is back.

    Lylah  |  January 21st, 2008 at 9:01 am

  • The only sick day I’ve taken since returning to work after my son was born was when he had to stay home with a fever so I got to be home working instead of in the office! Wasn’t much R&R for me, I’ll tell you that. I’m almost out of sick days and our fiscal doesn’t begin until September. We’re getting tubes this week (unless DS gets sick again before then) so we’re hoping that helps things.

    Brenda  |  January 21st, 2008 at 9:40 am

  • Our oldest boy — who is 9 1/2 now — had tubes for ages. It did help him a lot (he used to have near-constant ear infections before that). Hope it helps your little guy, too!

    Lylah  |  January 21st, 2008 at 10:02 am

  • Our doctor recommends 2000 units of Vitamin D-3 every day. (D-3 is important — there are other forms available, but this is the one he said to look for. We’ve been taking it for about 9 months, and very rarely get sick now.

    CDM  |  January 21st, 2008 at 2:28 pm

  • I hear you. My doctor told me that when a child first joins group care — whether at six weeks or six years old — you can expect about one cold/month for the first year.

    Having worked in daycare for umpteen years, I rarely catch anything. My immune system must be Olympic-calibre by now, but right now, something astonishingly contagious has swept the daycare. Every single child succumbed, half their parents, and now, now that everyone else is recovering?

    I have it. Ugh.

    And yes, I’m still working because 1) I’m self-employed, but even though I do get a few sick days, 2) I inconvenience so many families when I take a day off and 3) having been a mom for 20+ years with no sick days, it just seems weird to take a day off from what is really ‘parenting’, because I’m coughing.

    MaryP  |  January 22nd, 2008 at 7:01 am

  • p.s. Forgot another important reason that I’m stil working: since I caught it from the kids, and they’ve ALL had it, I don’t need to worry about spreading it to them…

    MaryP  |  January 22nd, 2008 at 7:02 am

  • A “sick day” for a parent is when you actually DO take the day off from work (because you’re actually SICK) and the rest of your family is gone to work/school/somewhere that’s not home, so no one’s around to ask you for anything and you can rest.

    And yes, I think that “presenteeism” is a big problem - I’ve seen it AND been guilty of it. That guilt is less than the guilt of not being at work when you know you’re needed there, though.

    Florinda  |  January 22nd, 2008 at 1:25 pm

  • Oh how I want to comment on people going to work being sick and passing it on to others then there families…but I’ll stop there! :)

    It’s such a way of life and one we all have to get used to. If i had an office I’d run off to it as well, for sure.

    I hope you all are feeling better quickly!!

    Mandy  |  January 24th, 2008 at 10:02 am

  • It depends on how productive I think I’ll actually be at the office. If it’s the kind of thing where I know I’ll get zero work done, I’ll just send in an email saying I’m sick. If I’m fairly certain I can be productive, I’ll go to work. I also think about how long it as been since my last sick or vacation day. If I just took off a bunch of time, I’m more likely to go to work. If it’s been a while, I’m more likely to stay home.

    When my stepdaughter started Kindergarten we were getting her every other weekend and I was sick every two weeks starting the Monday after our weekend with her. And it usually lasted about a week. She usually wasn’t really displaying any symptoms and my husband never caught it, just me.

    Jenni  |  January 24th, 2008 at 11:42 am

  • The kids are sick, the husband is sick, and me…no no I’m not sick. Just coughing and sneezing an dhave a headache that won’t go away, but can take care of the rest of them, still go to work, cook dinnner, and all the laundry. I can’t remember the last time i took a sick day just bc i was sick.

    Shama  |  January 24th, 2008 at 2:30 pm

  • CDM: I’ll have to talk to my doctor about trying something like that. So far, I’ve been practically soaking in B and C viatmins, and it seems to help.

    MaryP: Ugh, how awful to have it after it’s already gone through everyone else! I hope you feel better soon!

    Florinda: My husband is having a real grown-up sick day today — I took the kids to school this morning as usual, so he’s got the quiet house to himself. Alas, he is a workaholic, and so will probably spend his sick day editing video or something like that. Would that be Absent Presenteeism?

    Mandy: If I wear a turtleneck, and pull the neck part over my face like a bandit, do I get a pass? Or will it just make people laugh? OK, maybe it would just amuse me…

    Jenni: Good points — I find that if I’ve recently taken time off (for whatever reason), I’m even less likely to take a sick day even if I really need one.

    Shama: I feel for you! Yeah, my housework doesn’t stop either, when I’m sick. There was one point a few weeks ago when I felt so awful that I couldn’t even look at food, but still had to cook dinner for everyone. I served all five kids and passed my husband’s plate to him and looked at my own plate, pushed it away, and just told them I needed to go to bed. And I actually did. That’s major for me!

    Lylah  |  January 24th, 2008 at 2:44 pm

  • My daughters started pre-school this past week and out of the two weeks they’ve been in school I’ve had to stay home to care for them one week. Lucky me I have been pretty healthy haven’t caught the bug. I think it is thanks to Monavie Juice. Ever since I began drinking the Monavie I have noticed my immune system has been stronger and haven’t really been getting sick. Monavie is a natural/organic juice cocktail packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. I just started this week giving it to my children.

    Elisa Avila  |  January 25th, 2008 at 1:45 am

  • Lylah, I use that line too…”look shiny!” all the time, so it was fun to see someone else use it. Makes me feel like less of a dork.

    And I get ya…I just can’t get sick. Althou, I have to say that my hubby is very good and telling me when I should just stay home.

    Veronica  |  January 25th, 2008 at 2:17 pm

  • I’ve been out with the kids so much that I’ve basically used up all my leave — and my co-workers goodwill — that when I’m actually sick I don’t feel like I can stay home. Fortunately, I haven’t been too sick this year (KNOCK WOOD!) and have only had a few minor colds.

    Leandra  |  January 25th, 2008 at 3:34 pm

  • Lylah, you crack me up. I wouldn’t walk around like that near your office though or you’re sure to get stopped by the police! Florinda, my hubby sometimes does absent presenteeism when he’s ill or I need lots of help and I’m so glad to have a word for it now. I may actually make it the name of a folder in the file cabinet and stash chocolate there.

    Mandy  |  January 25th, 2008 at 6:31 pm

  • Alisa: I haven’t heard of that, but I’ve got to look into it. Thank you for the tip!

    Veronica: I feel the same way — I can’t afford to get sick. It’s pratically my mantra. My husband always tries to tell me when I need to stay home, but he doens’t listen to me when he’s the sickie, so I tend to discount the advice. Bad Lylah…

    Leandra: I feel that way, too! Like my coworkers are thinking, “suuuure, her kids are sick.” Even when they really are. So I end up working even when I really am sick, too. Knocking wood for you, that you don’t get sick for a long time!

    Mandy: Thanks! I think the chocolate in the file cabinet is a great idea. I’ve always thought that I should put a tumbler of bourbon behind a glass panel with a little hammer and a sign saying “In case of emergency, break glass”…

    Lylah  |  January 27th, 2008 at 11:16 pm

  • Latecomer, sorry. But I couldn’t resist not leaving a note. My family went through the whole fever-flu-cold-cough routine, all together. And I was the only one who didn’t go to the doctor. (Sick days are exclusively for the kiddo.) I worked from home for a few days (with Tom and Jerry and Baby Looney Toons blaring in the background) but I had to get back the following week. And boy was I glad to be back in the office. My job is stressful but at the time, it felt like a vacation! :)

    A Lost Writer  |  February 6th, 2008 at 11:42 am

  • [...] A few days later, he was streaming from the nose and I was wishing I’d bought stock in Purell. A few days after that, he was fine but I’d been felled by a fever so high even I had to call in to work (and, if you’ve been reading here for a while, you know I rarely ever call in sick). [...]

    Cough. Gasp. Ick. No, I’m still not getting a flu shot - The 36-Hour Day - Work It, Mom!  |  November 6th, 2008 at 12:07 am