Tag Archives: working mum

Working mom blues: Sick day tips

17 Dec

My younger son, aged almost-2, is sick today, the kind where at 2 am you know you’ll be lucky to get off with a mere doctor’s visit: High fever, fast breathing, sick look, sick breath, listless. My spidey-sense diagnosis is that he has bronchitis or pneumonia, and I am kicking myself because Sunday morning I heard his cough and though “huh, maybe we should get that listened to,” but he was running around merrily so I ignored it, which meant that this Monday morning it was no longer optional to go see if antibiotics are necessary.

(He is on my lap. We have an appointment for noon-ish.)

I called in sick. In the past, I’ve tried to juggle everything by working from home, and sometimes that works (or doesn’t, but you try anyway) and is necessary. Today though, it was not. So I just took the whole day. I tend to feel better about myself when I do one thing well rather than two things half-assed.

It still terrifies me every time, even though I also have a 7 year old and have been through not just a few rounds of childhood illness but also appendicitis, and bedrest with my younger’s pregnancy. There is never any actual question that if my kids really, really need me, work comes second.

The trouble is sorting out what “really, really need” means and how many times that can happen before I need to be cutting out my lattes to save for a period of unemployment. (I must note, this has never actually happened to me. But I seem to think it will, every time.)

Here are my best tips:

1. Plan ahead
I mean at work. I can be remarkably bad at this, but the best insurance against terrible things is, if you are in a job where you can manage your time at all, be up on your work with clear to-do lists, backup plans, and most of all: Deliver things early whenever you can. If your reputation is that you get things done on time, the odd day of crazy should be okay.

Another good way to plan ahead is to have some savings in the bank. It should not come down to it, but knowing that you do can reduce a lot of stress.

2. Plan contingency care, or work with your partner
My son is in group daycare, and my backup plan for sick little ones is my spouse. He works from home a fair amount and often has flextime, and so between us we can usually work something out. It helps that I am not a brain surgeon.

It would be much better to have a backup sitter, or a family member willing to take a sick baby. I thought I had this with my older son and discovered that in practice, family members don’t want to get sick and occasion sitters are often not available. I could throw a lot of money at the problem too, although I don’t have a lot to throw.

I find the worst days the ones where the kid is getting better, but isn’t quite well enough to go back to daycare. This is where my backup care can actually work though, because I can predict in advance when the 36-48 hour mark for antibiotics will fall and get people on board.

3. Bring your kids to work when they are well
I bring my kids to work as briefly as possible (the same family members who don’t do sick care will do this for me) at least once a year when they are well. I dress them really cutely, pick the time carefully and, with my older child, bribe him into his best behaviour. People are much more flexible when they can picture your little guy as a real person rather than an excuse.

4. Pick up slack for others
Although it does cut into my precious time with my children (I am rolling my eyes at that phrase as much as I kind of agree with the sentiment), I try to visibly show up for extra work from time to time, and to cover for colleagues who are sick or having family issues. Because that’s only fair.

5. Email as soon as your child is sick
2:37 am email is much more impressive than 8:45 am mail. Also, work at night (if you are in a job where this is appropriate) and email then. However, that said —

6. Be confident once you stay home
I’ve noticed that executives do not apologize, at least not in a supplicating way, when they reschedule meetings. If you are valuable to your organization, and you should be if you have been putting your effort in, behave that way. If you get fired, you get fired: Unless you are in a very weird situation (which is possible, just not likely), it will not be because you failed to feel bad enough about your choices.

7. Be thankful
Yes, after you’ve been up all night 3 nights in a row and have just barely managed to hand your child over to someone else and you are kind of in that grumpy “my baby is well enough but not well enough, and now I am getting it” state, it is hard to be thankful and gracious. But mentioning to your boss that you really appreciate that you were able to be there for your child and that you will be picking up the work; bringing your coworkers a picture drawn by your 5 year old and mentioning how grateful you are that they were able to send that report on is just plain good manners.

8. Pass it on
Are you a boss who is results-oriented or are you getting into the facetime game? If you have staff with kids, parents, dogs or other responsibilities who are having a genuinely tough time, even if it’s that year everyone gets the flu 10 times, work with them.

9. UnionizeOkay, I am not really sure I believe this. But I am in media, and I did not become a teacher. Sometimes I find myself fantasizing about what it would be like to be a unionized teacher rather than in  a field where people are getting laid off every day. And I also realize that when I send my elder son to school with a cough, the look I get from the teacher is coming from someone guaranteed not to get fired for using her sick time, where I get 5 days a year of sick leave all-in and it doesn’t matter, if a story does not appear at the right time regardless my job is on the line. (That said, I can go for a 20 minute walk to clear my head where a teaching teacher is stuck in the classroom. Balance.)

Still, I do not just wonder, but worry about what it is doing to all of us that most of us can get fired for something as simple as having to deal with the very short-term problem of a child with a fever. Kids get sick. Aging parents get sick. People get sick.

I get that it is really difficult when staff have these issues, but why again is it that women end up choosing to quit entire careers because their kid had 4 childhood illnesses in one calendar year and they ended up feeling like crap and dreading their performance reviews? No, it’s not work’s fault that they chose to have children and yet…and yet.