How to Juggle Work and a Sick Child

A Plan for a Sick Child and Line Up Emergency Care

Mom in home office with sick child
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Rarely is it convenient for working parents to stay home with a sick child. When you see your child's nose running, you reach for a tissue but also say a special prayer: "Please, please don't let my child get sick."   If the prayer isn't answered anxiety can bubble up because you will be unsure how your work will react if you need to take a day off or have to work from home while taking care of your poor little kid.

To help lessen anxiety over a sick day here are some ideas for keeping a sick child from wreaking havoc with your work schedule.

Save up a Few Personal Days

You can count on a baby or toddler in daycare coming home with a cold or ear infection a couple of times each flu season. 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 preschooler.

Stay Ahead of Your Work

Manage your work so you get the most important tasks done early in the day. That way, when 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 spouse or partner about how you'll handle sick children. If your spouse's work schedule can't accommodate sick days, find a way to make up for you shouldering the load. Maybe he (or she) 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 spouse handles 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 feed and dress herself and merely needs an adult in the house.)

Research Back-Up Care

Many cities have an organization offering prescreened 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 child 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 that 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 would've nipped it in the bud.

In fact, you can ward off some colds by always planning a family schedule that includes downtime and lots of healthy sleep. Overscheduled kids who stay up too late are more likely to get sick.

Edited by Elizabeth McGrory