A record-breaking number of parents are missing work to care for their sick kids. And while the tripledemic might be to blame, daycare staffing shortages, no national paid family leave policy, and a shortage of amoxicillin are also high on the list of why parents are struggling right now. But we’re here to help.
Because parents can’t (and shouldn’t have to) balance work, a sick kid, and taking care of themselves all alone. Experts say they should advocate for themselves when asking for time off, even if they don’t have PTO. Plus, there are tips to help parents survive working from home with a sick kid. But first, about that work/life balance…
How to balance having sick kids and dealing with work
Real talk: There’s not going to be a balance. It’s more of a juggling act. Katherine Goldstein, a corporate consultant focusing on work and caregiver issues, recommends that working parents take the day off if they can. (Not today, parental burnout.)
Not all parents have that option. If you don’t have any PTO left, what you do will depend on your family setup and financial situation.
First, make sure your partner shares the burden of sick days, said Goldstein. Moms shouldn’t have to jeopardize their jobs because their partner doesn’t want to use their sick days.
Next, it’s time to have a difficult talk with your boss.
How do I talk to my manager about taking another day off?
Go to your manager first. You may prefer to also go to HR. Especially if you can't afford to take unpaid time off. Your company may have WFH options (even if it’s not ideal, it’s better than missing a paycheck or getting fired).
To make the convo easier, Goldstein recommends that you:
Reiterate your commitment to the job and what you love about it.
Be honest if you’re comfortable sharing. Don’t pretend everything is OK when it’s not.
Say that this is a difficult moment for you and many others.
Bring in articles (ahem, this one) about the unprecedented number of sick days we’ve all been taking off.
Make it about the team.
“When women negotiate more collaboratively and talk about how it could benefit the whole company, rather than just saying, ‘I need this,’ it's often received much better,” said Goldstein.
For example, more paid time off would benefit the entire team and increase productivity in the long run. FYI: A recent study shows that burnout was a reason one in four women considered downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce. Just sayin’.
If working from home isn’t an option, ask HR about using The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). It's a federal program that allows eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave.
If you can work from home with a sick child, remember: You’re not going to be as productive. (Raise your hand if you’ve been nap-trapped with a sick kid.) But there are a few things you can do to make this time easier for yourself.
How to survive and make sure you take care of yourself, too
It’s important to prioritize and take care of yourself.
“Because this is such an ongoing issue, it isn't sustainable to fully sacrifice your own needs and mental health. This is a long game. It's not a sprint,” said Dr. Elizabeth Fitelson, a psychiatry associate professor and director of the women's program in the department of psychiatry at Columbia University Irving Medical Center.
Here are some tips to help you manage:
Be flexible with rules. It’s OK to let your kids watch TV for longer than usual. Or let them eat snacks they don’t regularly have.
Take whatever help you can get. You could ask for help from a relative or friend. Or, if you can afford it, hire a babysitter. Even if it’s so you can take some time for yourself.
Take breaks. Whether it’s stretching for five minutes or walking for an hour. Remember to move (because endorphins). Take the time to be alone where no one demands your time or attention.
Stay connected. Isolation is toxic (not the Britney Spears kind). Reach out to family and friends, especially those in similar situations. It’s healthy to vent.
Balancing work and childcare when you have a sick child can feel overwhelming. Focus on what you can control, and accept that there are limits to what you can accomplish. Take a deep breath, unclench your muscles, and lower that stress. And remember: Taking a sick day, asking for help, or bending your rules are not signs of failure.
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