At Home with A Sick Child

How to effectively juggle work and sick kids as a single parent

It's crunch time at work. You just found out the deadline for your major project has been pushed up to tomorrow and you're racing to finish everything. While your mind is zipping through the thousand things you still need to do, the phone rings. It's your daughter's school. She's sick with a fever and needs to be picked up.

All working parents have faced this dilemma. We love our children deeply. Yet how do we effectively juggle work and sick kids—especially as a single parent? This balancing act doesn't mean you care any less about your children, but rather that parenting alone can at times be overwhelming.

According to the National Association for Sick Child Daycare, every day more than 350,000 children under the age of 14 are too sick to attend school or daycare. Working mothers stay home from their jobs from five to 29 days a year to care for their sick children (one-fifth of all U.S. children living in families are headed by single parents). So how do you prepare for those unexpected sick days with your children?

  1. Be Flexible. Stay calm. As trite as that sounds, single parents must be open to constant change. Experiencing stress in this type of lifestyle is a given. Growing to accept and adapt to this daily pressure does help.

  2. Determine the Degree of Child's Sickness. Most parents have sent their child to school or daycare only to be called by 9 a.m. to pick him up. If your child wakes with a fever 100 degrees or higher or is vomiting, he's probably contagious and should stay home. Most other symptoms—running noses, achiness, sore throats—are speculative. Try to discern if his symptoms are a result of something else. Are you traveling in the upcoming weekend? Are there changes in your personal life (e.g., a new romance, an unexpected death, a recent move, a newly remarried ex-spouse)? Is your child struggling with his teacher or friends at school? Though these questions don't immediately assist you in the morning as you're trying to get out the door, they are questions to ponder and discuss with your child when you return home that evening.

  3. Develop a Support Network of Family and Friends to Call. Don't wait until your child is sick. Discuss your sick-child plans with these individuals thoroughly. For example, ask how they feel about having a child with a fever or a sore throat at their house. Using this type of forethought will also assist you in considering if your child is old enough to be left alone at home.

  4. Locate Facilities that Offer Daycare for a Sick Child. In 1986, there were 36 national public daycare organizations for sick children. Today there are 300 such facilities. Perhaps there's one near you. Contact your local hospital for information.

  5. Work Respectfully with Your Supervisors. Help them understand you want the situation to be a win-win. This could be an opportunity for the company to lower overall costs. In her article "Chicken Soup for the Working Parent," writer Sandy Wendel shares how the CIGNA Corporation developed an on-site Working Well Moms lactation program to support new mothers who wish to breast-feed at work. CIGNA has reduced medical costs for breastfeeding mothers and their children by $240,000 annually and saved $60,000 through reduced job absenteeism of breastfeeding mothers. If your workplace doesn't have programs available for parents with sick children, talk with your human resource manager about possible options.
    • In addition to planning for those sick child days, try these other ideas to help your daily routine before you find yourself In chaos:
      1. Purchase a daily planner with an address and phone number addendum. Record those individuals who are your network of support when sickness prevails. Keep this with you at all times.
      2. Purchase a large erasable monthly calendar and attach it to the side of your refrigerator. Have you record all their activities (including contact numbers) on the appropriate days. Don't forget to include your activities with phone numbers too. Then when sickness occurs, everyone will know where and who to call.
      3. Hold weekly family meetings. Keep the lines of communication flowing. If changes occur to the family sick-day plans, everyone needs to be included in the discussion.
  6. Manage Guilt. Dr. Marilyn Heins, pediatrician and author of ParenTips (Development Publications), says the best way to prevent guilt is to "(1) accept yourself and your work status, (2) be aware of your child's patterns of illness so you can best evaluate your child's symptoms, (3) don't let your child think that being sick is the only way to get time with Mother (or Father)." Guilt can rob you of the peace God desires for you. Remember to "cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7).

  7. Enjoy the Time with Your Sick Child. When it becomes clear you must stay home, use this time as an opportunity to enjoy your child. Make the most out of a day at home. Provide cuddling and an ear to listen. Tender comfort through touch can actually nurture a sick child towards wellness.

A sick child is inevitable. Undoubtedly; it will occur at the worst time. Trust your instincts when determining the level of your child's sickness. Ask for help. And above all, trust God. Nothing is occurring today that has not passed through His hands first. 


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