7 Tips for Working Moms to Handle a Last-Minute Sick Kid

If you work and have a family, someone’s going to get sick. When it’s you, you often suck it up and deal with it as best you can. When it’s your kids, you spend the next 24+ hours trying to help them feel better while also trying to keep up with your responsibilities at work. Those things are always going to happen, and there’s nothing you can do to avoid it. What you can do is acknowledge that it’s going to happen at some point and make sure you are prepared for it.

1. Plan Ahead

If you work and have kids, they’re going to get sick. There’s no way around it. So walk into your job knowing that it’s a possibility and that you’ll require some amount of flexibility from your boss. Children younger than two years old typically get 8-10 colds each year. Depending on the situation, a bug may be enough for them to have to stay home. And heaven forbid another child at school or daycare comes down with pink-eye! If the kids are going to get sick, you need to have a plan set up. There are a lot of options, so make sure you have a solid, detailed plan.

2. Make Sure They’re Actually Sick

There are times when kids don’t want to go to school or have some minor issues that aren’t actually an illness. A rash might not be contagious, a bout of diarrhea could be from too much juice and the runny nose might be from allergies, not a cold. It’s not an issue to have your kids want to stay home from school, but if they aren’t sick, then it’s probably not reasonable for you to take off for them. Instead, try and get them in and let the daycare or school know what you think the issue is. Also let them know if there’s anything they can do to prevent calling you, like limiting juice intake.

3. Know the Laws

Depending on the state you live in, there may be laws on the books that require your employer to give you some days off to care for a sick family member. This is different from the Family Medical Leave Act, which is nationwide, and depends entirely on your state. If you are lucky enough to live in somewhere that provides you with time off for mild illnesses, make sure to talk to your boss about them when you get hired or as soon as you can. It is part of their job to know, but they’re still likely to be put-out if you or HR springs it on them unexpectedly.

4. Have a Back-up Caregiver

If you can arrange a plan to have a temporary, on-call babysitter, then do it. Most often this job falls to family members who are home or retired during the day. Whatever the plan is, make sure you also inform your boss about it. If your child gets sick and your Aunt can only watch them until early afternoon, your boss needs to know about that before you ever need to use your backup plan. They will never be as mad if you can give them plenty of advanced notice.

5. Bring Your Child to Work Day!

Depending on the office you work for, you might be able to get away with bringing your child to work. If you do that, handle it just like you would if you took off work. Call and check with your boss first, make sure that it’s ok to do so, and then try to make it as easy as possible for your boss, your coworkers and your child. Older kids will be easier to deal with in this situation than a toddler would be.

In either case, it might be best to try and only come in as long as you’re needed. Your child already feels crappy and keeping them there longer than necessary won’t help. If you can, try taking a day to work from home. This can be more difficult, especially with a sick child, but do your best to stay focused when you do. Your boss has already given you a leg-up with telecommuting. They won’t do it again if they see you posting on Facebook instead of working.

6. Tag Team

If you have a partner working with you to raise this child, then it shouldn’t be all your responsibility to take off work. There may be times when it’s simply more convenient for you or your partner to do so, and it’s ok to switch off. It works even better if you both have the option of telecommuting, because then whoever stays home can still get some work done.

7. Take Time Off

Sometimes, everything just goes wrong. If you know your kid is sick, your partner can’t step in, there’s no one to watch them, and no chance of bringing them with you, then you might just have to stay home for the day. It happens sometimes. But you need to handle it properly with your boss. Start off by telling them as soon as you possibly can, and don’t apologize for it. Handle it like you would any other professional delay and let them know you’ll get as much work done from home as you can, if possible.

Dealing with sick kids is part of having a family. There’s no way around it, so you should take as many steps as you can to be prepared for it. Getting your boss on board is paramount since they’ll be your biggest challenge or your biggest advocate, depending on how well you handle the situation. Every workplace is different, and some jobs are just not as flexible as others. Keep in mind that your case will always be a little different.

Do you have an unusual solution to dealing with a sick child on a workday? Let us know about it! And while you’re at it, sign up for more ideas about handling your work-life balance and climbing the social and career ladders


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Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks.

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