As sure as night follows day, the first few years of parenthood, that no one really warns you about, is guaranteed to include dealing with endless days of sick kids whose germs often spread throughout the whole family, derailing everyone. New parents can find themselves feeling wiped out with worry and sleep deprivation.
Once your child is old enough to attend playgroups, start childcare or frequent other community places where children congregate, all sorts of infections seem to be waiting to pounce. And, no amount of vigilant, clean-freak parenting can avoid a bout of sickness at some time or another.
The question is, how do you deal with it when your child is sick, you're juggling work and, just when it looks like your little one is recovering, you're struck down with the lurgy?
As a career and work-life balance coach, I'm often asked this by new parents -- distressed about how to juggle work with sick kids when they're in a lurgy-cycle that they can't seem to shake. There's no easy answer.
Well-meaning 'experienced' parents who have been there and got the t-shirt, will often offer words of wisdom like "don't worry, it's immunity building, it's good for them". All very well and good advice, but frankly annoying when you've only had 3-4 hours sleep for a week, and you're paying for childcare that you can't even use. Worse, you might find yourself paying for extra care as you've had to hire in extra help to keep the household and workplace running for the week.
Know that you're not alone, millions of parents around the globe are dealing with sick kids and trying to manage work.
The reality is, kids get sick. They are likely to spread it. You are likely to find yourself needing to take time off to care for them. You will need to take carer's leave. You will find it challenging to manage work and family demands during this time. Period. That's life unfortunately.
The good news is, there are things you can control, like how you choose to response to the sickness-crisis when it arrives at your front door.
How you respond to the situation, can mean the difference between that feeling of hysteria and chaos vs. acceptance and recovery.
Expect that starting any form of childcare is likely to mean your child will be exposed to some form of illness. If you can ease kids into care, it can help give you, and your child, a break from the germs and time to recover.
With my own kids, I found that even though my daughter attended a centre only two days a week; she would just manage to get well, go back, then she'd be sick again. So, less childcare exposure isn't always better.
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Workplaces are much more flexible now than they were 20 years ago; exercise the option to work flexibly from home for the week when you or your child are unwell, if that's an option and you feel up to it.
When you're starting back at work, explain that you're expecting, at some stage or another, to be juggling work and sick kids as they transition to care. Agree to a rough plan for how you'll approach these situations if it means you're likely to have more than a day or two off work regularly, at least for the initial years as your child adapts to the world of germs.
Whatever you do, take the time you need to get yourself and your family well -- the reality is no one at work wants you to bring a lurgy into the office.
Accept offers of help from friends and work colleagues -- what's the point of soldiering on when it's likely to delay your recovery?
Agree a plan with your partner for how you'll manage 'sick days'. My husband and I take it in turns to care for our kids when they're unwell -- or if one of us has a busier day ahead than the other, we negotiate, and whoever can move things around more easily that day looks after the kids.
Know that you're not alone, millions of parents around the globe are dealing with sick kids and trying to manage work. Be kind to yourself and prioritise self-care for you and family. Afterall, if you want to give 100 percent of your best self to your kids, and your work, you need to be 'well' and have the energy to give it.
In my experience, once children start school the bouts of sickness lessen -- then that early immunity building finally starts to pay off!
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