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Sick Day Savvy: How to Take Care of Your Child and Your Career

By Jeanette LeBlanc

"Mommmmmeeeeeee" . . . An eardrum-splitting cry wakes me from my almost comatose sleep. It's 3 a.m. and I'm scheduled to start a new job in this new city in just five short hours. Disoriented, I stumble to my four-year-old son's room and place my hand on his forehead; he's burning with fever. Half-crying, Alex stammers, "Mama, my ear hurts soooooo bad!" We're soon on our way to the emergency room. Exhausted, we emerge three hours later with antibiotics for a ruptured eardrum caused by a sudden ear infection. By 7 a.m., I feel sick, too, sick with worry about my poor little guy and about what the heck to do next! There must be a better way to handle the emergencies of children's sick days.

So, what did I do? My husband was away on an international trip, so I couldn't turn to him. I called my new employer, explained the situation, and started the following day with no repercussions. My son bounced back within 24 hours and was excited about attending his new day care. That weekend, I developed a sick-day plan with a range of options so I could take care of my child's needs and still address my work responsibilities.

For parents of children with chronic illness, it is even more critical to create these emergency plans. Kim McVay is the mother of Dominic, an adorable, energetic six-year-old with a heart transplant since infancy. A woman of many talents, she created a career in sales for a company where she essentially functions as her own boss. "I can cancel shows and meetings whenever Dominic is hospitalized for his immune system deficiencies or a related illness. I had to have a career where I could take time off."

Whether sick-days are a rare or a frequent occurrence in your family, what do you do?

"Who takes off with our sick child?"

Discuss the issue with your partner now, not the morning of the big meeting when little Johnny has a temperature of 102 degrees. Of course, it may fluctuate according to the respective demands of your careers. You may be a somewhat "traditional" mom and insist that, of course, it is "mother to the rescue." However, you may prefer to discuss a family plan where both parents share this responsibility. Your husband may resist initially, but by sharing this role; he will have the opportunity to be an active parent in nurturing your child back to health. You don't have to go it alone.

Create a Sick-Day Plan

You may think you'll never need it. Your kids are healthy and vivacious with the energy of a small army. But, sick days are, by their very nature, unexpected. Regardless of whether they are toddlers or teens, avoid the panic by creating a viable sick-day plan.

  1. Alternating the Responsibility - Take turns at calling in and staying home. Fair and simple. Of course, if one of you has a particularly big event at work, ask your partner to take your turn.

  2. The Parent with More Flexibility - In our society, we often expect Mom to be the one to stay home from work. But as a BlueSuitMom that usually isn't realistic. Many couples consider issues of flexibility, income, and future promotions. These are sensitive issues that you and your spouse may want to explore.

  3. A Trusted Family Member or Friend - Grandma probably adores her grandchildren. Whether she makes the world's best chicken soup or simply opens a can, she or other trusted family members and friends may save the day if both you and your hubby are having a hard time opting out of work. Don't take advantage of this option to often though. Hopefully, Grandma has her own life, too.

  4. Sick-Child Care - Many large day-care centers are offering "sick-child" care in addition to regular day care. This option typically includes nursing care, a comfortable room and bed, and lots of tender, loving care. Most require early registration for this option, so don't wait until sickness hits to arrange for this great backup option. Few babysitters or home day-care centers offer this service unless your doctor writes a note stating that is a noncontagious illness. (Sick child care centers)

  5. Taking work home - If you do stay home, ideally you'll pass your meetings and appointments to a trusted colleague. If that's impossible, you may be able to conduct some work or make some phone calls, etc., from home. Try to limit this to the times when your child is sleeping so that you can be fully available to him or her.

  6. Find a Family-Friendly Workplace - Currently, some employers object when employees use sick days to stay home to care for a child. Many state legislatures are proposing new laws that would ensure parents have this right. Executive mothers often seek out "family-friendly" companies that do not penalize parents for staying home with sick children. They may even encourage time off to attend a child's special school or sporting event.

Discuss your plan and put it on paper with all viable options for easy access during your next sick-day crisis. Relax . . . it is possible for you to become "Sick-Day Savvy." Whether you stay home or find other support, becoming sick-day savvy is as important to your family as it is to your career. Here's to good health!

Also see: Sick child care resources

Dr. Jeanette LeBlanc has been a human relations consultant, college professor, therapist and businesswoman. She is a devoted mom and a freelance writer based in Colorado.


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