The chilly season is back and so is working parents’ nightmare: Sick children.
Not only do they keep their dads and especially moms sleep-deprived, but they present major problems when it comes to daytime care. Deadlines loom, work challenges abound, time is of the essence, and you can ill afford to take time off work to care for your sick child (or children).
A study was released late last year in which 1 000 UK parents were polled. It found that a whopping 3 million workdays are lost each year because working parents have to look after their sick children.
Moreover, 67% of parents polled took a day off in the 12 months preceding the study, and nearly two-thirds (59%) had significant trouble making last-minute childcare arrangements.
The problem with sick children is that, well, they are sick. They’re infested with germs, bacteria and viruses and cannot be allowed near other children, especially not small ones with weak immune systems. Hence, day-care facilities and crèches have a policy not to take sick children because they are likely to infect the other children.
It’s therefore not as easy as merely babysitting a child. They have to be cared for and insulated.
What to do
Margery Rosen, contributor to Parents.com, suggests “creating your own village”. “You may have more available connections than you realize. Ask family members or friends who have a part-time job or a flexible schedule if you can work out a reciprocal arrangement when a backup plan is needed.
“Chat up other moms at school drop-off, birthday parties, sports events, or church about organizing a backup co-op. And then get everyone together first, of course, to make sure you’re comfortable with one another’s parenting style to hammer out specific requests and availability.
“It’s obviously not easy to ask a parent to care for your sick child – and thereby risk infecting herself and her own family – but if she’s ever been in your shoes, she’ll likely be willing to help.”
This also includes working out an arrangement with your husband, wife or partner and perhaps taking turns to care for the sick child. If your spouse is able to do the morning shift, but needs to be at a meeting in the afternoon, an arrangement can be devised whereby you don’t have to take the entire day off. Technology and especially telecommuting is even better when one of you works from home or simply has a more flexible schedule.
Rosen says parents should take the necessary steps at home to help prevent the spread of illness at someone else’s house. “Have plenty of tissues and antibacterial gel on hand for your sitter; offer disinfectant sprays for germ-catchers like doorknobs, taps, phones and remote controls. Urge your child to sneeze and cough into his elbow.”
It is also essential to make arrangements with your boss and to do this well in advance. “However understanding she or he may want to be, short-notice changes in an employee’s availability can be hard to manage, particularly for a small firm.
“You need to be open about the challenges you’re facing and emphasise your commitment to both your home and work responsibilities. Make sure you’re communicating clearly with colleagues, too,” says Louise Symington-Mills, writer for the Daily Telegraph.
Linked to this is the issue of flexibility. “Find out if your firm can offer you any flexibility, allowing you to work from home if your child is unwell, or altering your hours on affected days, as an alternative to taking time off. Make sure you’ve thought through how your suggestion will work in practice and that you can provide appropriate reassurance and evidence,” says Symington-Mills.
Equally important is to effectively communicate “sideways and down” with your colleagues and make a back-up plan for key projects. “Consider what support is available from colleagues and how you could delegate work if you have to. If you’re leading a major piece of work and need to step away suddenly to deal with an issue at home, do you have a named delegate in place?”
Symington-Mills, L. 2015. “Days off work to care for my sick children are leaving me stressed. Help!”. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/work/days-off-work-to-care-for-my-sick-children-are-leaving-me-stress/.
Rosen, M.D. n.d. “A working mom’s guide to sick kids”. http://www.parents.com/parenting/work/life-balance/a-working-moms-guide-to-sick-kids/.