Flexible working. Feminism. Fun.

Working parents: is your sick child affecting your job?

Working parents: is your sick child affecting your job?

I’ve only been off sick from work twice in the past 10 years. Once was because I had food poisoning (totally legit) and the other time was because I’d eaten too much the night before and couldn’t sleep because I was too full (less legit – but in my defense, I’d been celebrating Thanksgiving and there were several kinds of pie).

I’m pretty hearty for an unfit person who consumes a shedload of cheese, but my kid? She catches pretty much every nursery bug out there. In the past 15 months since I returned to work after maternity leave, I’ve probably missed at least a dozen days because she’s been sick.

Hand, foot and mouth. Stomach bugs. Conjunctivitis (four times). Chest infections (practically monthly). Fevers. Rashes. Every time my phone rings and I see it’s her nursery, I wince because the nursery never phones to say, “Hey, just wanted to let you know that your kid built a really kick-ass block tower today.” They phone because they want you to get your disease-ridden child out of there ASAP.

I’m fortunate that my employer is really understanding about my many sudden absences from work. All of the managers in my team have kids, so they get it. Toddlers get sick a lot. They need you. You have to take care of them. I’m never challenged when I phone up at 8am and say that my daughter threw up the night before, or when I disappear at lunchtime after yet another, “She’s got a fever of over 39 degrees” call. They say, “Do what you need to do.”

And I do. But I don’t feel great about it.

For the most legitimate of reasons, I’ve become the unreliable one in my team. Other people have to pick up my slack on a regular basis. My projects get delayed and emails go unanswered. But I’m one of the lucky ones. My bosses don’t think any less of me because of it, even when I sometimes think less of myself.

I doubt all employers are so understanding, so I often wonder – how do other parents manage it? What if you have the sort of job where not being there REALLY matters – like an ER doctor? Or if you don’t turn up to work, you don’t get paid? When you get that call from your child’s nursery, do you contemplate just not picking it up? Do you send them in when they’re sick because you don’t really have a choice? When you have to leave your office to go pick your child, are you afraid that you won’t have a job to go back to?

People tell me that this constant parade of viral infections doesn’t last forever, because kids don’t get sick as often when they get older.

“It’s actually good for babies and toddlers to get sick a lot, because it helps build up their immunity,” they say.

Future me may be grateful for this week’s vomiting bug, but all current me knows is that my kid feels like shit and I feel like a shitty employee.

Two Tiny Hands
Rhyming with Wine

18 thoughts on “Working parents: is your sick child affecting your job?”

  • Ahhh I remember this all too well. My daughter picked up literally everything bug you could get when she first started nursery. It stopped after about 4 months. But it’s really difficult when you’re trying to work and your conscious about what your employer is thinking, and it puts so much on pressure on you as an employee with extra hours and the back peddling feeling. Claire x

  • Yep this was the same for me last year when my eldest started nursery. She picked up every bug going and me and my husband caught it too. She gets ill far less now so it does get easier but my youngest starts nursery in January so we will be starting all over again. X #familyfunlinky

  • I work evenings, so if my kids are ill, for the most part my partner can take over watching them when I go to work. I don’t get paid if I don’t go to work, so things have to be bad for me not to go in. I had time off last year as my son was ill and ended up having 2 operations on his eye and just before the summer holidays my daughter tried to knock herself out (a glass fell out of the cupboard onto her head) and needed to go to A& E. I feel crap not going in as I know it makes life hard for my collegues an well, we need the money.Being a parent is hard.

  • Such a great post, I found this to be a real struggle when I was working. I’m always coming down with stuff, then one (or both) or my kids will get something. Even when my employers were lovely it still left me feeling like I was doing both my work and my children a disservice! #DreamTeam

  • This is one of the main reasons I quit working after my son was born. I taught EFL University classes and so if I was off sick I would have to make up the class on a weekend and all the students would whine at me and I’d be pretty annoyed about it too. My employer was not understanding at all!!!

    I now run my own business from home. I educate people about essential oils. Which ironically also means my son doesn’t get sick as much any more. Before getting into this I had no idea how powerful essential oils were for keeping nasty bugs away and promoting a healthy immune system!!!

    Anyway, thanks for your post. It’s one of the biggest struggles for working mums! I’m sure everyone can relate!


  • It’s not quite the same but one of the reasons I am a stay at home mum is because my daughter (6) has a developmental disorder and is under 5 different hospital consultants – that makes for A LOT of clinic appointments, tests, check-ups, etc, as well as a few overnight stays too. I don’t think I’d ever be allowed all that time off (plus all the regular child-related absences too). #dreamteam

  • When I ran an infant daycare I always felt terrible having to ask a parent to pick up their ill child. I knew they would worry about work so I would wait until I knew the child needed to be at home for their own comfort and everyone else’s health. It was a struggle for me, so I can only imagine how it is from the parent perspective. #fortheloveofBLOG

  • Ya know I’ve not gone back to work so not in this situ but I’d definitely feel like the guilty one waving in the corner feeling like I’ve let work down. I don’t like having sick days myself! Big sick hugs xx

    ‪Thank you for linking up to the #familyfunlinky‬

  • This was me literally THIS WEEK. And there was I thinking Piglet hadn’t been ill for a while and then….BOOM! Throwing up and running a fever. Work were unimpressed. When I’m not there colleagues have to cover so I definitely feel like a rubbish employee, but whatever you do, you feel bad one way or another so you can’t win really.

  • I am also one of the lucky ones. Same as you, my current employer is excellent and wouldn’t question anything like this. But I do think I would have worried about being off with a sick child in a different job. Thank you for sharing this with #DreamTeam, because we’re not all as lucky as you and I.

  • Great post not easy for working parents and here in South Africa we only get 4 days family responsibility leave annauly – which I need to split between 2 kids and if that is up annual leave applies.#fortheloveofBLOG

  • Its a totally tricky situation and I get it. When mine were younger they caught everything and as a teacher, i cant just not come in. I mean how would you like it if your child wasn’t being taught because their teacher was often off? Especially as we have quite a few holidays! So I used to try to grab favours in term time from family and friends and in return, have their sick children in holiday time. Not ideal but it sort of worked. I also have an amazing partner who would take time off when they were very poorly in term time. It’s a juggling act for sure but it does get easier once they get stronger and more resilient to the various bugs.

  • This is one of the main reasons I only work 2 days a week. We just don’t enough local family support to be able to rely on when the sickness calls and as you say – it really takes a toll on your work record if you don’t have the most flexible job. It’s great that your employees are so accommodating though and as you say – at least it isn’t forever. x

  • I can completely understand where you’re coming from! Georgia gets so many nursery bugs it’s unbelievable. They just spread like wildfire. I too don’t like those phone calls… I especially don’t like that they start with “how are you?” when actually I just want them to tell me why they’re phoning! Thanks for linking up with another great post on #fortheloveofBLOG x

  • It’s hard enough when your employer is understanding, but it must awful if they’re not! Hubby has just started a new job and, during a mini emergency yesterday, I had to drop 3yo off with him for an hour. I was really worried, but they were so nice about it.

    And congratulations because someone loved this post so much, they added it to the BlogCrush linky! Feel free to collect your “I’ve been featured” blog badge 🙂 #blogcrush

  • I’m in this position now. Been back to work from maternity leave for 6 weeks and my son has croup. I’m luckily allowed to work from home but working from home with a sick baby is so hard. I’m working when he naps and after bed time but I still feel like I’m letting my boss down!

  • I’ve been written up countless times due to having to care for my sick children. I’ve grown to hate my job due to the pressure of feeling forced to chose between my children and work. I get anxiety when I have to call out and I get stressed having to go back in after being out. My supervisor has several children, but of course mine don’t matter to her. I work for the public sector and I didn’t know it would be so bad.

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