Sick Kids, Work Schedules, Childcare Arrangements, and Excuses

sick-kids-excusesHow many layers of backup childcare do you have? When your child is sick, who is the first responder (and, if it’s different, who is the person who stays home)? If you have to miss work, what excuse do you give your boss?

I actually just found this post in draft, from May 2014. I had written a long story about how when I launched this site (in April 2014) I was so frustrated because the DAY I launched, my toddler came down with a sluggish fever — and it dragged on for ten days. I was heavily pregnant at the time and trying to get a million things done to prepare for maternity leave, amidst feeling generally lousy and trying to run to all those late-pregnancy doctor appointments… and yet Jack often Only Wanted Mommy. It felt like balls were dropping everywhere because I was missing hour after hour of work. My husband stayed home for some of the days we couldn’t send Jack to daycare, but it was extra stressful for him because he already felt like he had a million things to do before he took paternity leave.

At the time I didn’t want to mention my frustrations or health woes at my job (the blogs), even though readers were equally frustrated… so the story sat in draft. But I think that in and of itself is an interesting topic, because it comes back to Professionalism With Kids. One lawyer I knew years ago told me that I should always say that I was sick, not my (then future) kids, because I wouldn’t want my boss to question my childcare arrangements and parenting relationship (i.e., which partner stays home?). And in my situation, where I’m dealing with many (many) people, I’ve found it’s better to just keep my personal issues out of it, since everyone will react a bit differently — if it were just one boss or one coworker I might think about it differently.  But how do you guys feel about it — are your kids an acceptable excuse to use at the office, or do you feel safer giving another explanation (except when you really can’t)?

So I’m curious, ladies — what are YOUR thoughts about how to deal with sick kids, particularly if your usual childcare arrangements don’t allow you to send your kiddo when he’s not well? What excuse/explanation do you give at work if you have to miss it, come in late, take off early, et cetera? Between you and your partner, how do you decide who is the first responder on any given day? Is it solely schedule/location based, or is it presumed that the non-breadwinner is the first responder, or that the mom is?)

Pictured: ShutterstockPreartiq.


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  1. EB0220 says:

    I always tell the truth, although I can see why people would be hesitant to do so. My company provides sick time to be used on myself or an immediate family member, so I don’t see any reason to obscure who is sick. I do get the concern about co-workers/managers questioning childcare arrangements. For example, last week we had some winter weather and a few days of daycare closing early or opening late. My husband and I split these about 50/50, but of course my manager doesn’t know about the times my husband picks up the slack! I know my company is very family-friendly so I try not to worry too much.

    • Meg Murry says:

      I worked at more than one place where the official policy on the books was that sick days were only for sick employees and you needed to take a vacation day for sick family members – however, at both places my bosses told me to say “I’m taking a sick day” and we played don’t ask, don’t tell regarding who it was for since they knew I would be more than making up the work.
      My current job has a certain number of “personal” days meant for any kind of unplanned day off, which I much prefer.

  2. Great topic! I’m in a role where I lead a team/department, so it’s easier for me to be honest and set the tone. I’ve also been here five years and have a reputation as a strong performer, so I have “credit” and have no issue saying “I’m home with a sick kid.” It also helps that my boss (CEO) has four children and a spouse that has worked both part and full-time, so he doesn’t give a hoot if I’m out b/c of someone else’s illness as long as the work gets done.

    For all the reasons outlined above — which also give me a fair amount of control over my own schedule — I’m often the go-to parent. That said, my unmovable meetings are really that: unmovable. So my husband will occasionally take off or work from home as well. It’s easier to get work done at the house when our five-year-old is sick; the two-year-old is much less able to entertain himself.

    I’m going to be starting a new job on 4/6, however, and DH and I have already had the “This is really going to change our work/life dynamic” talk. Bigger job, bigger stakes, have to prove myself all over again to a brand new team — so, less schedule flexibility for Yours Truly. We do have relatives nearby but I try hard not to call in those favors unless absolutely necessary.

    • NavyLawyer says:

      I’m an attorney and my teacher is a husband. We’ve each outlined our unmovable work commitments – certain lecture or project days for him, site visits and meetings with the CO for me. Beyond that we try like heck to trade evenly. I’m so glad for the note about 5 years old being easier to manage when you’re trying to get work done at home!

  3. I run my department, and I also work remotely. My boss is our COO and a working mom.

    When my kid is sick, since I work from my home office, I scoop her from daycare and do what I can to re-arrange my day to be able to keep an eye on her. When we know in advance that she’ll be sick (ie she wakes up sick), my husband will work from home adn we will tag-team chidlcare and work, with each of us cutting some corners on work. Sometimes, this isn’t possible and one of the two of us just take a personal day. Usually, though, we can do 80-90% of our work by getting creative. Our kid still naps for 2 hours, so that’s very helpful.

    I tend to be more go-to because I run my department, have control over my schedule, adn work closer to daycare. I have also been in my role several years whereas my husband is relatively new to his.

  4. CPA Lady says:

    Ugh, how timely with the stupid snow and daycare closings.

    My husband works nights, which is pretty much the worst thing ever and means I’m almost entirely alone in terms of taking care of the baby on a day to day basis. Any time anything happens during the morning or early afternoon, it’s on me, or my husband ends up getting 2-3 hours of sleep. Which happens sometimes. Part of the problem is that he’s sleeping in the house during the day and I think he’d be kind of creeped out to have some babysitter staying in the house with our daughter while he’s sleeping/showering/getting ready for work.

    Luckily, I work in an office that is (in theory) very flexible and is fine with people working from home. I sometimes think working from home mildly damages my reputation with most of the partners (all but one of whom are 55+ year old men who live to work), and I really dislike doing it from a productivity standpoint, but it’s what I’ve been doing so far. That said, I’m not particularly gunning to make partner myself, and in my firm that’s something that happens after 20 years anyway, not after 7-10 or whatever it is in law.

    • PregAnon says:

      I hate that a lot of places say you are allowed to work from home, but when you do it exactly what you said happens – it is mildly damaging.

      I’m in-house, and we absolutely are allowed to work from home, but I have one co-worker that gets annoyed when I work from home (no kids, in her mid 50s and lives to work) and gives me a hard time about it (even though I’m super productive and available when I do it).

      My company is going through some weird growing pains, with some in leadership really being for working from home and working remotely, and some just not being into it.

  5. This is timely with all the daycare closings for weather recently in my area.

    My husband and I both have relatively flexible schedules that generally allow for working from home, if necessary. I started a new job at the beginning of the year, so I’m currently trying not to let sick kids interfere too much with coming to the office. But it’s been difficult this year, as we seem to get literally every virus at school and have already had the stomach flu and the flu flatten our family this winter.

    On days when daycare is closed due to weather (Mon and Tues of this week, for example), both my husband and I stay home and tag-team as much as possible. We stagger any conference calls, if possible. Luckily, my supervisor has two young boys (although his wife stays at home) and my GC has a 5-year old daughter and a working wife, so everyone is fairly understanding.

    When the kids are sick, we have both sets of grandparents local. My mom does not work, but everyone else does. My mom loves to take of the kids, but I’ve noticed that if she watches my kids when they’re sick, she often will get sick a few days later and it will be worse for her. She’s never said anything about it (and never would), but now I don’t call her unless my husband and I both absolutely cannot miss work or one of us is traveling.

  6. D. Meagle says:

    We have a nanny, so for the most part, the nanny takes care of the sick kid and my husband and I can both go to work. The bigger issue for us has been snow days, when the nanny can’t get to us. On those days, my husband and I will usually both work from home, handling childcare and work in shifts. One thing I notice, is that I am more laid back about things, perhaps more than I should be… If my husband has a work call, he gets irritated if the kids are making noise in the background (usually our oldest pounding on the locked home-office door and wailing for him), which stresses me out, whereas if the kids are screaming in the background on my calls, I explain (not apologize for) the noise and move on.

    I think, however, there is a bit of a generational/socioeconomic divide. For younger and/or two working parent families, there is an understanding that the burden of sick or snow days needs to be shared somewhat equally. However, if your boss is male whose wife was or is a SAHM, or whose kids are older, there is a bit of a disconnect about the reality of being a working parent. Perfect example, this past winter, office was closed due to a blizzard, but in the email announcing the closure, managing partner let it be known that he expected work to get done anyway. Which is fine if your spouse doesn’t work outside the house and can be 100% responsible for watching the kids (or if your kids don’t need supervision), but less realistic if you are juggling between two parents with competing work responsibilities and kids.

    • I love your name, by the way. Treat yo’ self!

    • anne-on says:

      Yes, very true about upper management attitudes. My husbands team is very small and every single one of them has a SAHM for a wife. They just so do not understand when he needs to cover for me for work travel or occasionally take our son to a doctor’s appt. I probably do 80-90% of sick child coverage, with the split being more equitable when we’re both snowed in and can’t get out. I sometimes have a backup sitter/nanny come help, but honestly when my son is well and truly sick he just wants mommy.

  7. We have an au pair, so it’s (thankfully) extremely rare that she’s not available — when your childcare lives in your house, there’s no running late/bad weather/household emergency issue. Also, unless we have a really sick kid on our hands, she can still care for him even if he’s running a low fever/has a cold/etc. But my husband and I both have the ability to work from home when necessary. Plus my MIL lives just 20 min away and is pretty much always willing to pinch hit on the kid front. (Yeah, we’re crazy lucky there.) In terms of being available for kid stuff, my husband and I switch off depending on who has what going on at work. He travels more than I do and has two fewer days of leave, so that means I step up more frequently, but it’s something we confer on to see which of us should be the on-call parent.

    • Meg Murry says:

      Random au pair/nanny related question – if au pair or nanny are taking care of your sick kids, how often does the nanny or au pair then come down with the bug themselves and have to call off? I’m just curious because right now sick kids tend to lead to the the 1-2 punch of having to first take a day off to take care of sick kiddo, then having to take a day or two off the next week when I come down with the bug myself.

  8. Meg Murry says:

    Related logistical issue that I never thought of before I went from one kid to two – I never really thought about this leading to 2 (or 3) times the number of sick days. I knew it would be hard when they both got sick to take care of both, but I hadn’t really thought about the pattern of transmission that would mean that we’d get a call to come get kid 1 from school with a fever on Monday, have to arrange for someone to stay home with him Tuesday, then Wednesday or Thursday the other would get the bug and we’d have to arrange for 2 MORE days of sick kid care, and then hope we didn’t also come down with it ourselves.

    So anyone making the jump from 1 to 2 – add sick days to the list of things that double with 2 kids.

    • anne-on says:

      Not to be a total Debbie Downer, but my son also has some mild medical issues that have resulted in a few surgeries with varying levels of hospital stays/recovery times. We discussed more than once how horrific the juggle would have been with two kids (and no in town family members) vs. just one hospitalized/recuperating kid.

    • No advice just commiseration. My twins usually get sick like a week apart so kid 1 is just getting well when kid 2 starts having symptoms. I used to do things like be careful about using different spoons for them when one was sick. Now I’m like “eat those germs — eat them!” The kid is getting sick if his brother’s sick so I’d far rather infect kid 2 early if at all possible and have at least a little overlap, just to get it all over with quicker!

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