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Juggling Sick Kids & Work Days

My three-year-old started part-time preschool this year, and the constancy of illnesses has been far worse than I could have ever imagined. She’s probably had three colds and one fever-inducing respiratory virus in the past seven weeks. The enterovirus and one of the colds mercilessly cycled through the rest of the household, stretching out the time period that I experienced difficulty obtaining in-home childcare. Because I rely mostly on sitters to get work done (see this post about how crucial even part-time childcare is to staying sane while working at home), having a sick kid at home can really put a wrench in not only my work day, but my work week(s)…until my sitter or nearby family members are willing to return to the hot zone.

When things back up for my remote work, it’s sometimes hard for me to protect that time because, well, that’s one of the pluses of telecommuting—it’s often more flexible. I can do asynchronous tasks from 3:00 to 7:00 a.m. if I have to. I can step out to take a kid to the doctor. Most of my work time can be rescheduled and shifted into random chunks of time throughout the day and night, whereas my husband has to take time off from work to fill in. But when you experience sick day after sick day and the work piles up, it becomes impossible simply to reschedule work time. Not only do children typically require more attention when they’re sick, but as the mom you can’t just work crazy hours all the time…you’ll run yourself down and find it hard to do much of anything. (I write from experience…this keeps happening to me.)

Below are some strategies that I’ve found useful in helping me tend to sick kids while still fitting in work time:

1. Wake up early, and go to bed early.

Lately I’ve been waking up at 4:00 a.m. and working until my daughter gets up around 7:30 a.m., which probably sounds insane, but it’s been working for me. That way, if she’s too sick to go to preschool that day, or if for some reason her younger brother doesn’t take his morning nap (or takes an abbreviated one), I don’t get really behind. I realize this won’t work for everyone: I’m a morning person, and so I’d rather get up before the sun and go to bed at…like…8:30 p.m. But there is a really great feeling that comes from checking off some of your to-dos first thing in the morning. For me, it makes me a less anxious and less irritable parent: because I’ve already accomplished some things, I don’t feel frustrated or panicky when I don’t get that work time later in the day, and I’m able to better enjoy my time with my children.

2. Have your sick child take two naps instead of one.

Really, they should be resting more anyway to help boost their immune system and give their body time to get over whatever it’s fighting. Some parents opt to let their child lie on the couch and watch TV or movies, and that’s fine too. But my toddler doesn’t have the attention span for that. It’s easier, and more beneficial for her, to direct her to her room for some extra quiet/nap time in the morning.

3. Babywear.

When my baby is sick, he just wants to be held…all. the. time. Thank goodness for babywearing, which allows for that closeness with baby while having your hands free.

4. Find an in-home sitter service that will send help even when a child is sick.

Is this a thing? People tell me it’s a thing, so I’m including it. Comment below if you have experience with this. I want need to know more.

5. Get takeout, and instead of spending time cooking/doing dishes, carve out two hours for you to leave the house and work in a nearby coffee shop.

I have a really hard time making changes in my routine, even when changes are forced upon me by virtue of having a sick kid. My husband always is telling me, “You can’t do it all! You can’t have nice meals…and work…and have time to exercise…and parent without putting kids in full-time daycare.” I’m like, “What?! Really?” (). So, if I have to cut one of these things temporarily, it’s the homemade meals. If I order pizza or get a pre-made meal from our co-op, I gain about two hours from not cooking or washing pots and pans. I can then use this time to remove myself from the house for two hours, leaving the kids with my husband, and work at a coffee shop where I can focus intensely on my tasks and not be within reach of kids who want their mama 24/7. Don’t get me wrong: I love that my kids need me, and I love being there for them—but mama has to work some time.

Alright, now it’s your turn. Share your strategies for trying to juggle work and parenting when you have a sick kid at home?