Family life

The guilt: Coping with kids' sick days

One mom decides to focus her energy on her sick child rather than her guilt for not being at work.

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Photo: iStockphoto

Avery is sick. Again. It’s not been a good season for my kindergartner. Usually she suffers a cold once or twice a winter followed by an ear infection, and gets the sniffles every now and then, but this year, she has picked up a series of bugs that have kept her home. And, therefore, one of us, too.

We’re not used to this. Our kids have been in daycare since around age one, so it’s not that new-to-school-constant-illness issue, and they’ve had pretty strong immune systems as far as I can tell, sidestepping lots of things “going around.” I also used to work at home, so when something hit one (or, as it would be, both) of them, I was here to wipe it up and tuck them in. But lots of things are different now that I work outside the home, and this is one of the things I’ve struggled with.

The truth is, I want it to be me who stays home when they’re sick. Not because I enjoy cleaning up barf, but I guess it’s that maternal homing device to want to be there when my babies are sick. Also, I’m often the one up with them in the night (why does every illness seem to kick in at 2 a.m.?) so if there’s any rest to be had on a sick day, I surely need it. My girls aren’t babies anymore, so I’ve lost that no-sleep resiliency I once carried like a badge of honour. At the same time, I have a job and things that need to get done there, and I end up feeling guilty if I stay or if I go.

Read more: The working parents’ guide to dealing with sick kids >

My husband and I are lucky that we both have very understanding employers when it comes to stuff like this, but still, we both feel torn. While some work can be done at home, other work is more difficult to manage, especially when you haven’t planned to be at home. When it’s clear that one of the girls can’t go to school, we get these pained expressions on our faces—who’s got the more urgent items on their to-do list? Who has meetings? Who stayed home last time? How recent was that? There’s always this worry that it’s going to look bad at work, like you’re vying for a day off.

This week, we both had to take a turn. Avery woke in the night on Monday with a raging fever. I brought her into my bed, and she spent the night tossing and turning and moaning. I still dragged my butt to bootcamp at 6:30 a.m., waking Sean (from where he was displaced on the couch) to go lie with her in my absence. When I returned, he said she was still sick and that he had no meetings and would stay with her. I was tired but relieved to be able to head into the office.

She was feeling better on Tuesday evening, but woke up all through the night again, and started complaining of a stomachache. She was also starving. As I made her a smoothie, Sean and I had to debate what to do. I had left all my stuff at work and felt unprepared, plus had a project that needed attention today. Sean had meetings all day. I actually went to talk to her to see if she really, really wasn’t up to going to school. Her response was to throw up her smoothie. At least she did it in the bathroom.

In the end, I know there’s really no choice in the matter—kids will get sick, someone has to stay home with them, and work will wait, and get done, even if it seems too urgent to put off at the time. I just wish I could remember that at 2 a.m. and focus on my kids, rather than my guilt.

How do you handle sick days at your house?

Follow along as Today’s Parent senior editor Tracy Chappell shares her refreshingly positive take on parenting her two young daughters. She’s been blogging her relatable experiences for our publication since 2005. Read more of her Tracy’s mama memoir posts and tweet her @T_Chappell.

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