Working Moms: When Kids are Sick

We’ve all done it; had to hand over a sick child to someone else to care for while we went to work. Sometimes it was just the sniffles or, worse, a slight fever we hoped would disappear before the end of the day, or at least go undetected until we could get home. My kids never seemed to get sick on a weekend, or on my day off and in previous less family-friendly jobs, taking off to care for a sick child was discouraged.

When I was a much younger working mom, I had a boss who was decidedly not the best for working moms. His understanding of what his largely female workforce endured to work under inflexible conditions was limited. As a father, his wife stayed at home and had a nanny to help when the kids were young. As a child, he was raised with help as well. He, while employing a high percentage of working moms, personally believed that mothers should stay home with their children. Knowing that, I should have been forewarned that the work environment would not be a friendly one.

Most memorable was the morning my daughter, then about two years old, was sick to her stomach. I knew I still needed to get work done and, weighing my options, decided to pack my poor little girl into the backseat with a towel and a bowl (just in case) and make my 45 minute commute to pick up work to do at home. I was weakened by desperation to, in my mind, keep my job and take care of my daughter simultaneously. Halfway through the drive I had to pull over because my daughter was throwing up in the backseat. I thought, “What on earth am I doing? This is ridiculous,” and finally turned around for home. When I called the office to tell them I wouldn’t be in but they could e-mail me this or that to work on at home, my immediate supervisor relayed a message from the big boss. He’d told her that I needed to find someone to watch my kids when they were sick and “get my ass into work.”

I don’t, in retrospect, know why I didn’t quit on the spot. The whole scenario upset me so much that it became one of the top reasons on the list I left that job, sadly, a few years later.

Sometimes priorities go askew and it’s hard to know when work absolutely has to take a backseat, but when kids are sick, they must come first.

Yesterday, a colleague of mine e-mailed the office to say her young daughter was sick and she’d be taking her to the doctor in the morning and check in later in the day to keep on top of what was going on. I immediately responded to remind her that sick kids come first, a message I want to needlepoint on pillows and deliver to every working mom I know. Today, I’m fortunate to work at home so a sick kid means I might have to take, at worst, half a day off to take them to the doctor, but they’re old enough now that the attention they needed when they were small is no longer necessary.

I may have had to learn this lesson the hard way, but I’m determined to look out for younger working moms so they never have to experience what I did.

What do you do when your kids are sick, and you must work? How about your employer? Is there a policy in place? 

About marijean

I'm a public relations professional, social media consultant and work-at-home-mom living and working in Charlottesville, Va. I'm Marijean Jaggers and this is my blog.
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9 Responses to Working Moms: When Kids are Sick

  1. Sean Tubbs says:

    My wife and I are trying to split the time we need to take when our daughter gets sick. Thankfully I work at a pretty flexible organization, so I can make up my time at night if need be.

    I think, though, I’d like to have an emergency on-call person for those days when this would not be possible for either of us.

  2. marijean says:

    I think everyone needs a fairy godmother for this — just for emergencies of course.

  3. marijean says:

    For sick kids AND the dreaded snow days. 🙂

  4. Mike Murphy says:

    hmmmm, could it be? How old is the girl now? I’m trying to do the math. Sure sounds very familiar, though. Maybe it was a shared bad dream…

    You forgot to mention whether he paid enough to be able to afford any help to watch the sick kids… or pay the grocery bill, or afford the fuel to commute 45 minutes (I know the answer! Pick me! Oh oh oh Mr. Cotter, pick me!)

  5. Jennifer says:

    Since I work from home, like you, I have flexibility when the kidlets are sick. When I worked elsewhere, my husband and I would take turns staying with the sick kiddos. Even now, if possible, my husband will work from home that day and we’ll both keep an eye on whomever is sick.

  6. marijean says:

    We really need to establish a network for work-at-homes! Sometimes I need a little social interaction with someone who understands the work at home life.

  7. Kelly says:

    This is the EXACT struggle I used to go through. Although, my employer was much better about it than yours, it was still an issue. I used to hate deciding between my job and one of my sick babies. Like another person said, snow days were also complicated. That is why I work from home now doing freelance work. One of my sons has been sick for over a week now and I am so thankful that I have been home with him….. guilt free!

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  9. Mary says:

    Marijean, at my former employer, the VP actually told me that I had to “choose between the mommy track and the career track” – this in the age of instant messaging and virtual offices. Um, sorry. Not a choice – the kids come first. Period. Especially as a single mom.

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