A while ago I was dropping off my son at preschool and I noticed one of his classmates had a rattling cough — delivered, loudly and juicily, in the saliva-spraying method of a child who hasn’t yet learned to cover his germ-hole. Ugh, I thought. What kind of parent brings their OBVIOUSLY sick kid to school like that?
Judgmental karma payback is a bitch: a week later, I was the one trying to decide if I should send my coughing kid to class. And here it is nearly a month after I eye-rolled that hacking preschooler, and both my kids are STILL coughing.
We’d been on a great run healthwise, and I suppose it was only a matter of time until a virus descended and wiped out the household. My seven-year-old got it first, and he stayed home from school for three days while he holed up on the couch watching a near-constant stream of Ninjago episodes. The five-year-old got it next, and managed to parlay the original gunk into an ear infection and surprise pneumonia diagnosis.
Everyone seems to be on the mend now, thank god, but this is the third straight week someone’s been home from school. I’m royally tired of it — for one thing, every surface of the house is currently littered in crumpled tissues and coated in a sticky patina of amoxicillin and children’s ibuprofen — but I’m also insanely grateful for the flexibility of freelancing. Without my work-from-home job, we’d have been up shit creek by now … sans paddle.
A recent poll from the University of Michigan confirmed what most of us already know: One-third of parents of young children are concerned about losing jobs or losing pay when taking off work to care for sick kids. Another report found that over half of parents don’t get five paid days off per year to take care of a sick child.
My husband has a friend whose workplace assigns “points” for every sick day he takes, regardless of reason. Rack up too many points, and there’s no further discussion, you’re fired. As he told my husband, he’s constantly near his points limit — not because he’s not a dedicated worker, but for the simple reason that he has three children. “I haven’t taken a sick day for myself in years,” he says.
When I was working outside the home and both our boys were in daycare, dealing with the inevitable sick days was enormously stressful. My husband and I would play that oh-so-fun game of “Whose Job is More Important?” in order to determine who would take the day off, and sometimes … well, sometimes we dosed a borderline kid with medicine, sent him in, and hoped for the best.
In other words, it was stupendously hypocritical of me to judge Preschool Cougher’s parents. Maybe he had long passed the point of contagion, maybe he had a condition like asthma. Maybe his parents were stuck between a rock and a hard place that morning, and they were just doing the best they could.
The always-moving target of balancing family and work takes a major hit when someone gets sick, and there are no easy solutions — especially for single parents or those with rigid workplace policies. Ideally, we’d all have the time we needed to be with our kids when they aren’t feeling well, but speaking as someone who’s on week THREE of caregiving, I can’t quite imagine an employer who wouldn’t have questioned my time off by now.
How do you handle sick days in your household? Has taking time off for your kids affected your job in any way?
Image via anjanettew/Flickr