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HomeFamilyParenting AdviceBalancing work and a sick child — Good Parenting

Balancing work and a sick child — Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

I’m a busy working mom and am proud of the efficiency with which I manage three school-aged children and a full-time job. What I don’t manage well is dealing with a suddenly ill child — fever, green mucous, vomit, whatever — which forces me to cancel work plans, rearrange after school carpools, and, at times, scramble for emergency child care when I can’t get out of work.

I have not come across any centers or services to address this.

Back To Work

Don’t miss last week’s column Preparing children for separation and divorce — Good Parenting

Dear Back To Work,

Instead of thinking of the sick child scenario as an obstacle to your plans, plan for its eventuality as you plan for a flat tire. For some drivers, the spare tire is just another tool in their bag of tricks. They are back on the road in short order. Likewise for some parents, a sick child just means a day of working from home, or handing an assignment off to someone else, or changing a project’s timeline. Solutions are readily at their disposal. If this is not your situation, there are professional services or friends and family that may be happy to help you out of a sick child jam.

Professional Services

A few companies pop up in an online search for “nanny service sick child” with contact information to lead you to answers about the costs and requirements for last-minute short term care. A higher cost is to be expected if your child’s illness requires a private duty nurse, while private sitter services may accommodate “mildly ill” children.

Across the country, some employers (hospitals, for example) may offer a sick child care area to keep working parents on the job and the children in a friendly but specialized environment.

There probably is a “sick room” at school, staffed by a nurse or parent volunteers, however this is meant only as a temporary area to either see if the nausea or headache is short-lived, or to wait for a parent to come. Schools and child care centers have policies against keeping a child with such symptoms as you describe, and for good reason. Germs spread quickly among children, often affecting staff as well. Sick child policies protect other families from having sick child (and sick parent) dilemmas of their own.

Parent network

A good network for parenting is essential. Friends and family can be the best option to care for a sick child, assuming someone is available and among your child’s list of favorite people, especially considering he or she doesn’t feel well. If you haven’t yet cultivated relationships for your children with other caring adults, put this as a priority on your to-do list. Back-up grown-ups are invaluable for children for many reasons. They may be similar to you in many ways, reinforcing your basic values and culture; then again they can share some of their unique interests and skills that will stretch your children’s horizons beyond yours.

Invest some precious time in finding, then fueling, a trusting relationship with a few good candidates. Look for school, church, community or hobby-based activities that gather familiar faces on a regular basis so you can pick out those with potential — a retiree, a stay-at-home parent, a part-time college student, or a working parent with a flexible job. Then invest in the priceless time it takes for them to get to know you and your children better, at your home and theirs.

Parent Mode

The reality of being a working parent is that there are two important roles you play every day. Most of the time, your work role can take precedence because you have managed your parenting duties so well that the children don’t physically need you during the work day. But then there are times when only a parent’s presence can do the trick. Your child has extra confidence when you are there for the school performance or the big game. Your child swells with pride when you are the “guest reader” or “career guest” for the class. And when your child is sick, there is no one better that a beloved parent to wipe a fevered brow or bring a comforting bowl of soup.

Sometimes your work obligations need to be arranged around your parenting responsibilities. And just as emergencies can arise at work that force a cancellation of plans with the family, a sick child emergency may call for a Plan B at work.

One of my favorite quotes is from then-First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy who said her primary role was “to take care of the President.” However, she sagely added, “if you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do well matters very much.”

A sick child is part of the ups and downs of family life.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy@jecoannapolis.com

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