Juggling Work and a Sick Child

An emergency backup plan can ease job stress of a sick kid

Mom in home office with sick child
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It's rarely convenient for working parents to stay home with a sick child. If you see your child's nose running, you may silently pray: "Please, please, don't let my child get sick." If this prayer isn't answered, anxiety can strike at the thought of how the boss will react if you need a day off or ask to work from home while caring for your kid. Planning ahead can help.

Save Up a Few Personal Days

Count on a baby or toddler in daycare coming home with a cold or ear infection a couple of times each year. School-age children are notorious for passing germs back and forth. If you have a few personal days saved up for these occasions, you'll feel less anxious about taking time off.

Create a Plan With Your Supervisor

Proactively meet with your manager to create a plan and set priorities for when your child is sick. This is important if you don't receive paid time off. Bringing it up ahead of time helps you anticipate if you'll have a rigid or flexible work schedule and earns brownie points for when you call in at 7 a.m. after being up all night with a vomiting pre-schooler.

Stay Ahead of Your Work

Manage your work so you get the most important tasks done early in the day. That way, if you get a 3 p.m. call to pick up a sick child at school or daycare, you'll be able to leave the office with major projects on track.

Make a Plan With Your Significant Other

Talk to your partner about how you'll handle sick children. If your partner's work schedule can't accommodate sick days, find a way to make up for you shouldering the load. Maybe they can return home early so you can catch up on work at night. Or take a weekend day to come into the office while your partner deals with things at home.

Create Emergency Caregivers

Cultivate emergency caregivers among your friends, neighbors, and acquaintances. You will most likely need help at some point and these relationships can carry you through. Look for favors you can do for your neighbors and fellow parents from school or daycare.

Talk to your child's aunts, uncles, and grandparents about babysitting in an emergency. Be clear about the precautions you will take to keep them from getting sick. (This is easier when your child can eat and dress on their own, and merely need an adult in the house.)

Research Back-Up Care

Many cities have an organization offering pre-screened caregivers who will come to your house at the last minute to watch your child. They usually charge a hefty fee. Moreover, your child won't know the person and may have some separation anxiety when you leave for work.

Still, it's good to have a phone number on hand and to understand how the service works before your child gets sick. The last thing you want is to be asking about background checks at 8 a.m. when you have a 9 a.m. meeting.

Another possible resource for emergency care is your child's school or child care center. Ask around to see if teachers or teachers' aides are looking for extra work and have a flexible schedule. Stay in touch with teachers you like who leave the school—they may be happy to pick up occasional babysitting during the workday.

Prevent the Illness

It's tempting to ignore sniffles or a small cough and hope they go away. But if your child starts sneezing on a Saturday morning, pay attention. It may be a warning sign of an upcoming virus.

If your kid seems to be lagging a bit, consider adjusting your weekend schedule to include more rest. A late night at the movies may be the stress that turns the sniffles into a full-blown cold, when a short video at home, early bedtime, and big glass of orange juice might have nipped it in the bud.

You can ward off some colds with a family schedule that includes downtime and lots of healthy sleep. Overscheduled kids who stay up too late are more likely to get sick.