Children are Walking Petrie Dishes

Children are walking petrie dishes. But you knew that already, right?

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You dress your kids in the morning and steel yourself for the day, hoping against hope that you won’t get that dreaded phone call at work that says “Come and pick up [your child’s name goes here]. He/she’s running a fever.” Invariably the call comes, despite your wishes, and you sheepishly and guiltily tell your boss that you have to leave early to pick up your kid (not sure where the sheepishness and guilt are warranted but the feelings are there, nonetheless).

The irony of ironies is that there is often an undertone to the daycare call. Perhaps it’s all in my head (I can be over-sensitive sometimes), but you may get the feeling of being chastised by the child-care provider - as if you are at fault for your child being ill. 

I always thought that it was ironic that the sources of my kids’ illnesses were - wait for it - the daycares! Yet when the viruses or various bacteria that were floating around on the collective toys, books and items at the daycare do their thing, well guess what? You’re out of luck and destined to take the day (or two, or three) off work to tend to your little ones.

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It’s a constant struggle -  balancing home and work commitments in order to put food on the table, and never more is this evident when you are faced with the choice between a sick child and spreadsheet. You are forced to make a choice at the peril of the other. If you choose the sick child, your job could be in jeopardy; if you choose the spreadsheet, you may look like a trooper at work but to little Johnny, your name is mud. Oh, and the daycare/babysitter/nanny who is looking after your feverish child is likely not thrilled with you either.

If you have a partner, you may try to alternate every time the kids are sick. Yes, this works in theory but the reality is not quite so simple. Not sure about you but my kids cling to me when they are not feeling well and, as their mom I want to be there. Therein lies the dilemma. I’ve written about the fact that moms overwhelmingly take on the role of caregiver when their children are sick before. You can link to the post here.

I know that with myself, I feel sick about my kids getting sick. But not just for the obvious reasons, but also for the repercussions to my professional life. Because the child-free surely look more favorable to an employer when the latest bout of influenza sweeps through the daycare.

So what about you? How do you deal with the sick child/work dilemma?

Do you stay home with your kids when they’re sick, or does your partner, babysitter or relative generally take over?

Do you feel that taking time off to care for your sick child(ren) has negatively affected your career?

I look forward to your feedback!


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  1. Shawnnita's Inner Alfalfa says

    I was there many days when my kids were younger. If my mother couldn't watch them for me ( I was a single mother of two) then I just had to call in to work. It was hard but it all turned out alright.

    Now I stay home with them if they are sick and they are 10 and 16 (the ones at home) the husband can go to work :)

  2. Samantha says

    @Shawnnita's Inner Alfalfa Hi Shawnnita, it's so hard when you have to make that choice and call in to work. Many of us have been there, it's no fun, that's for sure. I guess the consolation is that the kids grow up and they're no longer reliant on you for wiping their runny noses before you know it.
    Thanks for commenting.

  3. Cathy says

    I think my comment didn't make it so I'll try again.

    All the sickness in the early years has helped reduce both the severity and frequency where my kids are sick. As for staying home and calling into work, I am incredibly fortunate to have a job where I can work from home as needed. And, I've always sought out employers that have a work/life balance policy. It definitely can be viewed negatively if you are in an extremely corporate environment or on some sort of career path like trying to become partner in a law or accounting firm, for example.

  4. Samantha says

    @Cathy Hi Cathy, I think you're absolutely right! You definitely build up immunities the more you are around children and their various viruses and bacteria.

    You're lucky that you've been able to work in an environment where there is flexibility and a work-life balance. I know that this is one area that is really difficult for a lot of women to the point that they always feel pulled two ways at the same time.

    Thanks for your comment 😉

  5. Pinching Abe says

    I have found working for larger employers helps with the mommy guilt. They are more likely to be generous with sick/personal days and there are other people to cover you when you have to be out due to your child's illness.

    I had one boss tell me once when I was pregnant that I'd better not be like one of his other secretaries - always calling off for a sick kid. Well, that told me all I needed to know and I found a different job when my daughter was just a few months old.

    I think employers know that we moms bear the brunt of sniffling kids, but I can also say that when possible, sharing the sick time with your spouse or someone else does let them know that you understand their needs too. There were many times when my husband and I conferred over who'd stay home and even more times where we split the sick time - each taking half days.

  6. Lala says

    I recently went through a stomach bug epidemic in my house Lala Musings: Vomitus Humor and absolutley relate to your post. I don't know how many times this year I have had calls at work to come get a kid because he/she is sick. Sometimes I go and there are not even sick. It is difficult juggling work and kids and then throw sickness into and sometimes it feels like you're going to lose your mind.

    Anyway, another thought provoking post! I enjoy your posts so much that I have given you one of my Versatile Blogger picks: Lala Musings: The Versatile Blogger. Come check it out and feel the adoration. :-)

  7. Samantha says

    @Pinching Abe Hi there, I think you're absolutely right about the larger employers. They're likely to give moms more of a break because they have more backup. If you're working for a small company, there is a lot more impact on the team if one person is away - hence the reluctance for some smaller employers to offer this type of flexibility.

    Yes - it's ideally best to trade with your spouse and alternate but I often think that we moms are our own worse enemies. We want to be a good employee and show up at work and we want to be with our sick kids. The kids often win out and we end up feeling guilty, against our better judgement. Crazy!

  8. Samantha says

    Hi Rachel,

    Thanks for your comment and thanks so much for the award! It is very kind of you and I'm so happy to hear that you find my writing interesting (and I hope entertaining!). I will definitely do a post on this (per the rules) in the next week or so. Thanks again :)

  9. Rick says

    I understand the policy of the daycares with kids who are noticeably sick, but I've had to go in to get one of my boys when he was having a runny teething poo and not diarrhea. He had no other symptoms. You figure they could tell the difference.

    Kids can start showing symptoms after they get to daycare too, so we aren't just bringing them in when they are sick because we need to go to work.

    Maybe daycares accelerate the development of kids immune systems compared to having the little ones at home since they increase kids exposure to bacteria and viruses. Maybe they get sick less when they are older.

    Any daycare workers want to comment? I'd be interested in hearing the other side of the story.

  10. championm2000 says

    Our twins have been at home with a nanny since I went back to work at 3 months. However, we just enrolled them in daycare for the fall, so your post is very timely…we will be facing these same questions in a few months, especially if next winter is anything like this past winter was.

    I have already told the husband that we need to talk through a system so he's not expecting me to be the one who takes them every day, picks them up when they are sick/stays home when they are sick, picks them up every afternoon, etc…I really feel like we have to share these obligations.

    PS-THANK YOU so much for the recent blog award. I haven't forgotten…I have been out of blogland for a while and will properly accept soon :-)

  11. Samantha says

    Great point, Rick. It's funny how quickly we are expected to pick up the kids when they're sick but when they show even a slight/normal sign of a cold, we are told to pick them up immediately. I'd love to hear from daycare workers as well. It would be great to get another perspective on this!

  12. Samantha says

    @championm2000 Hi Melissa, it's definitely a priority to frankly discuss what the plans will be if and when the kids get sick. The worst thing is when you both have work obligations and at the last minute, have to make that decision as to who is going to stay home with the child/children. It often does fall upon the mom, though I know that there are a lot of dads who would be more than happy to stay with their little ones to take care of them during these times. I'd love to hear their perspective as well!

    Thanks for commenting :)

  13. Anonymous says

    Hi Sam,

    Love the post and I can totally relate.

    Mommy guilt is something I know too much about! I've worked at larger companies and smaller companies and I find the key to having a realistic home/life balance is your boss.

    I'm lucky now to have a boss who understands the plight of the working mom. Within three weeks of starting my current job, my daughter got sick with fifth disease (also known as slapped cheek). Although I was still a new employee, my boss (a man with no children) completely understood and provided me with time off.

  14. Samantha says

    @Anonymous Hi there,
    Glad you liked the post!
    I think your point is key - having an employer who is both understanding and flexible. Sorry to hear about your daughter but glad to hear that you were able to take the time to nurse her back to wellness :)

  15. Elle says

    It's so true! I also used to feel like the nursery staff were looking down on me sending an unwell child in to them even though neither were unwell in the morning! But because they were ill October through to April, they assumed that you'd sent them in ill! Mine would be in nursery tues/wed/thurs and on the thurs there'd nearly always be the call, then I'd collect the ill child and they'd look at me as if I was a bad parent, then they'd have fri-mon to recover and on tuesday the cycle would start again… another fever by Thurs. I ended up taking them out of that nursery as they made comments about my kids always being ill like as if they were unusual and yet every kid in their room at green snot and nasty coughs when I'd drop off/collect so I took them somewhere else. They're still picked up illnesses in the new place but the staff were much more normal about it and treated me like I wasn't to blame. My kids are much happier there too!

    Elle x

  16. Samantha says

    Hi Elle,
    It seems like it's more common than not - this feeling of guilt when your kids get sick, even though it is through no fault of your own and in many instances, ironically, the source of illness is the very daycare itself that is putting on the guilt. Anyway, it sounds like you did the right thing by finding a childcare provider that did not give you attitude like it is your fault for your children getting sick. Heaven knows it's hard enough dealing with feverish little ones and balancing work without having to feel bad about it on top of it all!
    Thanks for commenting!

  17. Steph from Be Positive Mom says

    So true about trying to keep up at work and home when the little ones are sick! Out little guy was sick all of the time before we moved him to a small daycare. Now it's better. We juggle things though and alternate between hubby calling in sick and me. We have some flexibility but it only goes so far. I just try to do my best and not beat myself up with guilt over it… hence, my site Be Positive Mom! :-)

  18. Samantha says

    @Steph from Be Positive Mom
    Hi Steph,

    I think it's hardest when they're little because they pick up everything. Sounds like you've got the right attitude: just go with the flow and do the best that you can - that's all we can do as moms!

    Thanks for commenting :)

  19. Jenna says

    Hi, I work for a daycare. We send home sick kids alot. I am very upset with most daycares I’ve worked for. Most of them force the staff to bring in their sick kids. Or they won’t have a job anymore. Then it causes other kids to end up with a nasty virus. I have never been more disgusted with my work. Today I received a phone call from my son’s school saying he had 102 temp and I needed to come get him. I turned to my bosses. THEY TOLD ME I COULDN’T GO GET HIM FROM SCHOOL. I was stuck in a hard place. (leave the babies I was watching unattended or go get my son.) What would you do? 8 years in daycare’s and I have never liked what goes on behind mom’s eyes. I am enraged from not being able to voice what happens and how I am treated there. Any advice will help. Thank you :)

    1. Samantha says

      That is insane, Jenna! My advice to you would be to consider another place of employment. Surely these folks can’t think that it’s okay for you to leave your child who has a high fever at school! How is that remotely responsible? In this situation, I would tell my employers that I have to pick up my son, there’s no negotiation, and let the chips fall where they may. One has to wonder about people who think it’s perfectly fine to let a child be feverish at school while themselves being in the field of childcare. You’d think that they would know better. Obviously not. Best of luck with this and I hope your son recovers soon :)

  20. Emma says

    I happened to come across this post while I was looking up why my job is making me so sick.
    I am a childcare worker in a chrece and I always feel bad for the working parents when I have to contact them to get them to collect thier sick child. but also get annoyed when a child is sent in that is clearly unwell.
    I am entitled to only three days off sick a year. It is April 5th and I have been off sick 5 days.
    Myself and the other staff and the other children are all exposed to that sick child. So because you sent your child in, the other children and staff become sick and that’s why illnesses are continuously doing the rounds in checes.
    I love my job but after 5 years of being sick on and off I am considering changing jobs.
    We clean every day by the way, it’s impossible to keep germs.
    I just wanted you to hear the other side but know that I to do understand the pressures of working parents

    1. Samantha says

      Hi Emma,

      I can understand your frustration. If kids are sick, they shouldn’t be sent in to daycare. Unfortunately, there are larger issues at hand as to why parents do this. Often they have not alternative, no other childcare arrangement and can’t take the time off work. Not fair, of course but they do what they feel they have to do to make ends meet. Perhaps we as a society should be looking at alternatives and ways of supporting families that would allow them to take time off for childcare without repercussions.

  21. Kimberley says

    I am feeling like this today. She got sent home the other week because of sick policy (she was absolutely fine)… Now she IS ill and I want to stay at home with her I feel guilty ringing work because I’ve only recently had time off!