The first time my son got sick he was barely a few months old, and it threw me into a panic. My curious, active, babbling infant was listless, feverish and clearly uncomfortable. Of course, it was a weekend, so our pediatrician's office wasn't open. I had no idea what to do.
I ended up calling a friend who was kind enough to accompany me to urgent care. The nurses and doctor were great, explaining that my son had a mild flu and just needed rest and fluids. I didn't know it then, but this first flu was actually the first of several childhood illnesses we'd encounter together.
As any mother will tell you, childhood illnesses are no fun, but they do get easier when you learn to navigate them. It's best if you can expect them, but we very rarely do, especially if we're working. I was lucky in a lot of ways, because I pretty much got to be a stay-at-home mother until my son was three and a half and his dad and I divorced. At that point I went to work part time and had a very understanding boss.
Which brings me to the dilemma of what parents do when they don't have support at work or help from relatives and their kids get sick. I feel like we've been punting too long about this issue and need to have more than just "Paid Time Off" for parents who have to tend to their children's illnesses. Chicken pox, measles and other childhood diseases often last at least a week, and sometimes the flu does, too. We need to give parents the time to take care of their children.
This doesn't even touch the dilemmas faced by parents whose children have chronic illnesses and who are therefore severely limited in their choices for work and just about everything. Talk about heroes. Talk about ignored.
What I learned when I went back to work was that I had to build a support system of people I truly trusted, so when my son was ill, I had some help. I did not have parents or siblings nearby who could be there, but I did find some really amazing people - friends and professionals -- who got me and my kid through illnesses when I had to travel or work.
One thing I found comforting was knowing there was a child care group that looked after sick children that wasn't too far from our neighborhood. (I think it was called Chicken Soup or something like that). I never used it, but just being aware it was around always made me panic less when my son came down with something.
Meanwhile, I started out by looking for help at a college just a few blocks from our house. My son's father also found someone who loved children and was absolutely amazing with them, and I can honestly say I don't know what I would have done without her.
Because there are times when you have to work, and when your kid is ill, and you are absolutely dependent on people who are not related to you. So if I have any advice, it is to start looking for them as soon as your child is born (or maybe even before that)?
Because, trust me, those childhood illnesses will come. And you want to be ready for them.
Here's what I found on this topic that might be interesting, too:
How to Handle Work When Your Child is Sick
The Working Parent's Guide to Dealing with Sick Kids
How to Juggle Work and a Sick Child