bare feet boy child couch
Photo by Pixabay on

One guaranteed of parenting is that your kids will get sick. If you are a working parent, they will get sick when you need to be at work. Figuring out how to juggle these unexpected scheduling challenges with work obligations can be difficult for working parents because it’s completely unpredictable. Both my husband and I work full-time with 8-5 type jobs. We don’t have family nearby or anyone else who is able to be “on call” for our family at the last minute and our kids are too young to stay home alone. No matter how careful we are with flu shots and washing hands and everything else, our kids get sick. When that happens someone has to take care of them at home, and that someone is one of us. There is no easy solution, but there are a few things you can prepare and discuss in advance to make these parenting surprises feel a little less chaotic.

  1. Work on establishing a family norm that staying home with sick kids is a shared responsibility. For heterosexual couples, there seems to be a cultural norm that staying home with a sick kid is the Mom’s job. If one of you really does have a more or less flexible job, then maybe this shifts to the parent with the most flexible job. It shouldn’t default to Mom, though, unless her job is the most flexible. My husband and I were on the same page with this, but I am always surprised by how many Dads don’t consider this their responsibility. It is.
  2. Know the relevant policies. There is no federal mandate for paid sick leave in the United States. Do you have sick leave at your work? Is it paid or unpaid? Do you have to use PTO? Whom do you notify and how are you supposed to use it? What is the sick policy at your child’s daycare or school? When is your child allowed to be there and when must they stay home?
  3. Be prepared with plans. Your child is definitely going to be sick and have to stay home when you need to be at work. It is going to happen. It will always feel a bit like a scramble, but it’s much easier to have a Plan B that you can automatically switch to rather than trying to throw something together from scratch every single time.
    • Make a plan with your partner. We have decided to split sick kid duty exactly 50%. As soon as we know that we are going to have someone home sick, we compare work calendars and rank the most crucial obligations between both of our calendars. We then decide which half of the day we each need to be at work and which half we can work from home. We don’t always know which half of the day we will work from home, but we know that we will each take a shift.
    • Discuss a plan with your supervisor. Discuss the company policies and your options. Can you work from home? Can you have flexible hours and come in at a different time? If not, do you have sick leave available to you? Are you required to use PTO? How will you handle your work obligations?
    • Are there friends or family that can help in a pinch? We don’t really have anyone that we can call on, but maybe you do. Discuss this with them in advance. Can you return the favor or help them in another way?
  4. Prepare for the unexpected. Try to build in buffers around your deadlines at work just in case there is a scheduling surprise. Start each day with the most crucial tasks in case you get a call midday. If you are required to use PTO, set a few days aside each year. If occasionally working from home is an option, make sure you have the equipment and/or access to files that you will need to do your work.
  5. Don’t keep your kids home if you don’t have to. If your child is miserable, it’s best to keep them home, no matter the daycare policy. If they are acting normal and their symptoms don’t require them to stay home based on daycare policies, though, have them go. Consider the sick policy when selecting your childcare options. If you have no flexibility with your work, make sure you do with your childcare. There is probably a middle ground to aim for that balances keeping sick kids at home to avoid others getting sick with some flexibility for when your child is just a little under the weather.
  6. Communicate clearly and promptly when you know you have a sick child. You don’t need to share the details, but let your supervisor know right away that you are juggling a sick child. Let them know what you need – to use a sick day (if you have them), to work from home, or whatever else. Let them know how or when you plan to meet your obligations.
  7. Finally, advocate for change. The United States ranks behind nearly all other countries when it comes to support for working parents. Contact your elected officials and vote for politicians that fight for workers and their families (rather than the corporations that employ them!)