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How do you juggle when your kids are sick?

Categories: Hacking Life, Making Time, Parenting, Uncategorized


The preschool called before noon on Tuesday, saying that my 3-year-old son had a fever and needed to be picked up. I was working from home that day — I had a feeling something like this might happen, since he seemed off but OK and eager to go to school — and so I made the 5-minute drive to get him, and settled him on the couch for a cuddle and a nap.

Thanks to N1H1, any temperature higher than 100 degrees is considered send-home worthy, and kids who are sent home can’t return until they’ve been symptom-free for 24 hours — pretty standard stuff. My husband and I divvied up the rest of the week, just in case: He stayed home yesterday, I’ve doing so today, and he’ll be on sick duty tomorrow, if warranted.

We’re really lucky. We have paid sick time to tap into (which we almost never use when we’re the ones who are sick, of course) and enough seniority to have some flexibility at work. And we also have colleauges who have been there, done that, laundered the germ-infested T-shirt; it’s not convenient for them when we have to juggle like this, but they understand because they’ve had to do it themselves.

Plenty of people have none of that — no support, no flexibility, and no paid sick time. How are they supposed to cope when this happens to them?

In New York City, a bill was introduced late last summer that would give all private-sector workers in the city paid sick leave — nine of them each year for those who work for companies with more than 10 employees (smaller companies would only have to give five). And the late Senator Edward Kennedy reintroduced the Healthy Families Act, an years-old effort to institute similar measures at the Federal level.

But while those plans are in the works — which may be a while, given that the Heathy Family Act went nowhere when it was first introduced during the George W. Bush administration, had has plenty of opposition from businesses now — parents are going to have to amp up their work-life juggle, and probably end up going to the office when they’re sick themselves.

What do you do when your kids are sick and you have to work?

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13 comments so far...

  • Well, as you know, up until this week, it wasn’t much of an issue for our family. It will be now though. I accrue 8 paid sick hours annually, plus one “personal” day. Any time after that and I’m required to take FMLA - unpaid leave.

    With M re-entering the workforce as a mechanic, it’ll be a bigger issue. Mechanics are typically men who don’t deal with sick babies, period. That’s the purview of mothers. I’ve yet to see a company, garage or dealership in that industry that has been sympathetic to such a plight.

    So, with Amelie in daycare where the exposure to sickness will be exponentially increased for her; me in a place with no sick time and little vacation time accrued; M in an environment where he may risk his job by taking time to care for his family…

    The answer is: I don’t know. I’ll tell you how it goes when it happens though.

    Phe  |  February 18th, 2010 at 3:33 pm

  • Wow, 9 mandatory sick days is too many. For family illness, It would make more sense to have a pool that employees could use as needed (up to a point) with documentation of need. Most people don’t need anywhere near 9 “sick days” per year. I don’t think I’ve used 9 sick days throughout my entire career.

    When I put my kids in day care, I started to look around for backup care. I found a few leads on “” but I got busy and never followed up. That’s a to-do I need to get back to.

    I have family who could theoretically come to cover a sick day, but they live too far away to really be a “ready resource.”

    I usually work from home, so it’s usually not a big deal for me to have my kid home sick. When they are that sick, they don’t have the energy to do anything distracting. If I have to go to a meeting, there is usually a colleague who can sit in for me if necessary (haven’t had to do that yet).

    When I worked for a big company, they had a program where backup care could be arranged and covered by the company up to a certain point. It might make sense for smaller companies to pool their resources to provide this kind of benefit. Seems more sensible than giving paid sick days to valuable employees who aren’t sick.

    SKL  |  February 18th, 2010 at 3:45 pm

  • Phe, you are right about the germs at daycare. One of my kids has been sick almost continuously since it started last September. But on the positive side, the illnesses are usually mild and they don’t prevent the child from attending daycare. Each of my kids has had probably 2 days when they did not attend daycare so far. So other than the endless buckets of snot, it’s not that bad.

    SKL  |  February 18th, 2010 at 3:49 pm

  • Wow, I didn’t realize how much I take my incredible benefits for granted. I have 3 weeks of PTO (paid time off), which is a bucket of vacation and sick leave which I can use at my discretion. What we usually do when our little guy gets sick (which thankfully has significantly dropped since his first year in daycare as an infant) is I go to the office in the morning until noon and then work from home in the afternoons. Hubs is on kid duty in the morning until I get home. It works for us and so far I’ve only had to take PTO if I’m the one sick. They’re really big on not letting people infect the rest of the office, so they’d rather send you home to work from home or if you’re too ill, rather you just take PTO.

    I typically agree with you on most of your points, SKL, but I have to disagree here. Nine days is not nearly enough for everyone. My brother has a blended family of 5 children and it seems like someone is ALWAYS sick with a fever/flu over the fall/winter/early spring seasons. He and his wife have to juggle who will stay home or depending on which child is sick, decide if they’re old enough to stay home by themselves.

    Stacey  |  February 18th, 2010 at 4:18 pm

  • This is a very timely topic for me…I started working full-time in an office again about 2 months ago, at which point I put my one-year-old son in full-time daycare (my older daughter was already going 3 days per week). He’s been sick constantly ever since, and I figure we’ll have to soldier through a couple more months of it before his immune system adapts.

    In the meantime, I have a back-up babysitter that I call whenever he can’t go to daycare. It rankles to have to pay for double childcare on those days, but I don’t want to be using sick time so early in my tenure here.

    I’ll be up the creek if my babysitter gets a day job!

    Tracy  |  February 18th, 2010 at 4:32 pm

  • Phe: That’s a really difficult position to be in. As SKL said, the buggies at daycare are mostly mild — at least, that’s been our experience. The lower 100-degree threshold for fevers makes it harder for us (it used to be 101 degrees) because if you take a kid who has a slight temp but is otherwise fine, bundle him up, go outside to play for 20 minutes, come back inside, and take his temp, it can go up by a degree or so easily. I hate to sound callous about my kids, but kids have little spikes like that all the time…

    SKL: I like the “pool” idea, and I’m laughing at the “buckets of snot” image. That’s exactly what I’ve got here. Plus, he’s so much better today than he was on Tuesday, but still coughing and streaming, which means we’re past the “listless on the couch” stage and well into the manic “Mama! Pway with me!” stage. And, of course, *I’ve* caught whatever he had on Tuesday, now…

    Stacey: When our big kids are with us and one of them gets sick, it kills me to leave them home alone when sick. They’re perfectly capable of taking care of themselves while my husband and I are at work — the oldests are 16 and 14 — but when they’re sick I automatically feel like they’re 6 and 4 instead, and I feel bad for leaving.

    Tracy: Ugh, that would kill me, too. It’s awful how, especially early on in a new job, sick time seems like a trap rather than a perk.

    Lylah  |  February 18th, 2010 at 5:26 pm

  • Unpaid day off :-)

    GNSD  |  February 19th, 2010 at 4:20 pm

  • Nine days does seem really high. We get 6 sick days and I’ve always thought that was extremely generous. And only 1 year did I use them all (I had strep, seasonal flu,…)
    Having a child who’s been in day care since 6 weeks, I do have to say that the number of illnesses where she had to be out of school/day care has totaled about a dozen days altogether (she’ll be 8yrs in a few months). With all the vaccines now for the big illnesses (chicken pox, seasonal flus) most people really don’t need huge days off.
    I know some places that had sick leave banks. The company had use it or lose it policies on sick leave but you put your unused days into a bank. People who put into the bank at some point were allowed to draw from it if they had that really bad year where the got mono or two flus in a row. Only really worked at small companies but I always thought was a great idea.

    Mich  |  February 22nd, 2010 at 6:36 pm

  • I have unlimited paid sick time, but it is expressly only for when *I* am sick. Coincidentally, almost every time one of my kids is sick, mysteriously, I get it as well. I can technically work from home, but practically, not very well. My husband can do it sometimes, but not always, and he does pitch in, particularly when it’s more than just one day.

    anonymous obviously  |  February 22nd, 2010 at 8:16 pm

  • The positive side to having little kids constantly getting mild illnesses at daycare is that they are sick MUCH less when they get to elementary school. At least, that’s been my experience. My friends whose kids never went to daycare were *constantly* sick in kindergarten, while the kids who had been in daycare, even just a few days a week, were sick much less often.

    akmom  |  February 22nd, 2010 at 8:22 pm

  • I’m not sure where they’re pulling nine mandatory sick days from in the mentioned bill, but it may be too many for some and not enough for others. My son has been sick thrice since he started going to daycare - each of which would have required three days home if he weren’t the only child at his at-home sitter (she doesn’t have the 24 hour rule at all). One of my friends? Her daughter has been out of daycare for one solid month due to her health issues, which they’re still trying to sort out. She’s out of sick leave, her husband is on the road, and she’s ::this:: close to her losing her job as a result.

    CV  |  February 23rd, 2010 at 12:32 pm

  • CV has a good point. Nine days is enough for some and not for others. It all depends on the cards that you are dealt. I am lucky, I have 12 days per year (one per month), and it works out just about right, since my youngest son has been getting sick with asthma about once per month. I stay home on day 1, when his is sickest and needs the most meds, while checking email and tending to urgent work matters via the internet, and my husband stays on day 2, unpaid, if needed. I don’t get a full day’s credit for working from home, but at least I save a few hours worth of sick leave. Now, I am lucky that my youngest is the only one getting sick so frequently, because if my other two were getting ill as well, then I’d have a major problem figuring out how to juggle that. My company does have a benefit whereby they help you pay for back up child care due to a child’s illness, but if I have sick days to tap into and I’m not involved in a do or die work situation, why would I pay someone to look after my sick child? Mom knows best.

    D.  |  February 23rd, 2010 at 1:54 pm

  • It is a problem. If the kids are sick, you have no choice but to stay home - your boss will be mad, you will not get paid, you will not get promoted, but it doesn’t matter because sick kids can’t stay home by themselves, can they?

    Stickers  |  February 25th, 2010 at 3:25 pm