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Sick Child Working Mom Dilemma—Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

I recently started a new job with hours worked around my daughter’s school schedule and her Dad’s regular days for working from home. A couple of times my boss has asked me to work additional hours with the understanding that it’s okay to have her with me. There’s plenty there to occupy her and she has made friends with the small staff.

Last week I got the dreaded call from school to come pick her up early because she was sick. Dad was unavailable. Instead of taking her home the boss said I should just come right back with her. Fortunately her low energy level made this pretty easy to manage.

How much should I rely on this easy option? She doesn’t get sick as often as she did when she was younger, but still, I don’t want her to think that my work is more important than her comfort when she doesn’t feel well.

Her Mom First

Dear H.M.F.,

A family-friendly employer can make all the difference for successfully balancing the demands of work and family. Sounds like you have one! A work-friendly daughter is a nice asset, too, but consider her age and illness to determine if it’s asking too much to expect her to accommodate the adults when her sickroom is also their workplace.

The staff can shoulder most of the responsibility for reducing the chances of contagion, but as much as she is able, your daughter should do her best to keep the germs to herself. Remind her to cough into her elbow. Have an ample supply of tissues and guide her to dispose of them in a toilet then wash her hands well. If she is or may become nauseous, plan ahead with a bowl or other suitable container to catch vomit, and help her wash up as needed. Anything she plays with should be sufficiently sanitized after her use.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends no more than routine cleaning for removing contagious germs. The CDC says, “the flu virus can live and potentially infect a person for up to 48 hours after being deposited on a surface.” However, a general household cleaning solution is all that is needed to remove germs from surfaces.

Regular cleaning is good prevention since contagion is actually possible before symptoms appear. But even if everything is clean, germs are traveling in the air from person to person by the simple exhaling of breath. The flu is contagious a day before symptoms appear and up to a week after. A cold can spread to other people up to 2 days before symptoms appear and for the next two weeks. A stomach virus is contagious before symptoms appear and can still be spread to others up to 2 weeks after recovery. Back to the staff then, to keep their immune systems in shape with exercise, sleep, and good nutrition.

Care and Comfort
Rest and fluid can be provided for your unwell child with a comfy place to curl up and a steady supply of liquids. Drinks could include ice water, warm water, non-caffeinated tea, watered-down fruit juice, or her favorite soup. Emotional comfort is supplied with your presence. The sound of your voice as you go about your work duties may be all the reassurance she needs for drifting off into a restorative nap. If she’s awake, check in with her between tasks. She might be able to occupy herself on a couch in your work area with a book, coloring pad, or some age-appropriate screen time. Stroke her head, pat her back, or massage her toes with one hand while you type with the other, to tap into the healing power of touch. This is how you nonverbally communicate your concern while multi-tasking. In addition, your physical connection also stimulates her immune system and lessens her physical discomfort.

Are there loving grandparents or other special friends your daughter could text or chat with while she rests? Take advantage of technology to let her visit with others while you work.

In anticipation of inevitable conflicts between family responsibilities and work responsibilities, try to keep ahead of deadlines so you can coast on a day you have to tend to a sick child. Be aware of daily priorities to know which tasks must still be accomplished while others can wait. A well-functioning team knows how to fill in for each other so the job still gets done if one team member has to slow down her pace for a day or two. To be a good team member yourself, be sure to lighten your co-workers’ loads whenever you can. They’ll be your best support on those days when you are less than 100% focused on the job.

In today’s reality of 71% of mothers in the workforce, and about 97% of fathers, more employers should consider making accommodations for a sick child to keep a good employee on the job. Obviously having a sick child at work doesn’t work for every workplace. Some companies provide childcare for their employees’ mildly ill children, either on-site or nearby. These centers are staffed and ready for short-notice reservations, so they tend to be expensive. Some jobs are well-suited for a work-from-home arrangement, which allows the child to stay in her own bed or the family couch with everything she needs at hand including Mom. Next best might be a beloved relative coming to stay with her, or, next best from that, a familiar sitter who is available on a weekday, or a well-qualified individual from a nanny agency who is willing to provide short-term sick child care.

If your daughter were too sick to be at work with you, and no other options feel okay, your crew at work would just have to do without you. She’s that important. If she’s just a little under the weather, any inconvenience brought on by having her spend her sick day by your side is outweighed by the value you add to the company when you are present.

Dr. Debbie

Click here for more parenting advice by Debbie Wood.

What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com.

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