Parents don't get a sick day.You’ve heard the saying, “Parents don’t get a sick day.” If you are a parent, you know how true that statement rings! I’ve found that it is especially true if you are a working parent because you save all your paid sick days for when your kids are sick rather for when you need them yourself. In any case, being a sick parent has to be one of the more difficult things to endure in the first world.
I remember the first time I was sick as a parent, not just a cold, but like really sick. My husband and I both came down with a three day stomach bug that laid us out flat and our not quite two year old daughter had already recovered from the same bug and was full of energy and vigor, running around the house and still needing us to feed her, change her, play with her, and keep her safe. Dave and I would just look at each other when it was time to do one of those things for her and we’d make a mental tally of who’d gotten up last and whose turn it was now and multiply it by who was feeling worse. We tried to put on Sesame Street and let the television babysit her but as she was unaccustomed to so much TV time, it didn’t really hold her attention.
All I wanted was my mother and since she lives 7 hours away by car, that wasn’t happening. Suddenly, the term “sick day” and its inherent meaning felt like a true luxury, and one I knew I could no longer afford. I thought back longingly to my youth when I was sick enough that Mom let me stay home from school and I had lain down all day with tea, tissues, and cough drops while watching talk shows or reading books. I remembered college when I’d wake up feeling ill and skip class so I could keep sleeping. I remembered the days only a couple years prior when, as a married professional, I’d call in sick when I wasn’t feeling well and then rest all day long. Now, the part time working mom of a 1 1/2 year old, those days that used to be miserable and now they seemed blissful. As I lay on the couch with a bucket near my head and my knees curled up to my belly and watched my daughter ravage my house, I knew that I’d never get those days back.
So what’s a parent to do when they’re sick?
1) Get your Mom (or Dad/Grandma/Stepmom/Mother –in –law/any relative). If you are blessed enough to have a mom or a motherinlaw living close by, suck it up and give them a call. Most often, you and your husband won’t get to rest and your bodies will have to just get better while keeping up as much of your regular pace as you can. But if you can rest, you will heal faster and be more capable of taking care of your duties quickly. So call her. Don’t be ashamed. The alternative might be that your sickness gets worse because you’re not getting the rest you need.
2) Call a friend. If your kids are not sick and you have a really good friend who is willing to help you out, ask them if they can babysit even just for a few hours. I’ve only done this twice because I’m loathe to expose other families to our germs, but a couple of weeks ago I had a nasty virus that just wouldn’t quit. It was getting worse with each passing day for both my husband and myself. My son had already had it and was over it and my daughter never got it. In desperation (and because I was afraid I’d end up in the hospital otherwise), I sent out a pleading text to my friends and one of them graciously took my kids for 6 hours. I did nothing but drink OJ, tea, and chicken noodle soup for those 6 hours while I watched a DVD marathon of Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman. By the time the kids came home, I was at least 50% better. The other time I was temporarily relieved of my parenting duties by some friends, I didn’t ask for it. I teach a Spanish class to my daughter and some of her peers and the bug hit just as the families were coming over for class. Seeing how miserable I was quickly becoming, they ushered my kids to one of their houses in a variety of vehicles and promised to keep them until my husband came home. I tried to rest in the house by myself (which was weird because it was the first time I’d been alone in my house since my 5 year old daughter’s birth) A little rest goes a long way, and that time alone was invaluable.
3) If worse comes to worst, rest with the kids in the house and let the television babysit them. Forget your screen time restrictions. Put on Veggie Tales or Sesame Street. My favorite is a DVD series called Whistlefritz that teaches Spanish to little guys because you might as well educate them during their screen time. Then, lay unashamedly on the couch and try to rest (while keeping one eye opened, which I know you’ll do). Some kids will actually be interested in the TV, others won’t, but it should keep them happy even for a little while so you can get some rest here and there between meals and dirty diapers. When meal times come, it’s okay to make an exception and feed them the processed microwave meals from the freezer (We don’t normally eat that junk, but I try to keep some on hand just in case). Bring out a little table and set it by the couch so they can eat and watch TV while you lay there. If you start to feel guilty, you can do the math of all the other days full of home grown, whole food meals and no television compared to this small fraction of time spent watching and eating garbage. As long as these things aren’t the norm, it’s not going to hurt anyone. If you have a super adventurous toddler who can’t be left alone for fear of choking, electrocution, or any number of household tragedies that can befall a curious little one, then put up gates or close yourself up in their bedroom and take a nap on the floor or their bed. My son likes to explore. I know that the bathroom, our bedroom, and his sister’s room are not safe places for him to do that alone, so I close all those doors. Then, he feels like he has free reign of the house but I know that he’s in places where he can’t get hurt. He also has a pair of shoes that squeak with every step and if I need to know where he is when I can’t follow him around, those shoes are perfect household GPS devices.
4) Try to stay healthy. Eat a good diet—lots of whole foods, low carbs, or a diet like the Paleo diet. Taking care of yourself with a good diet is a wonderful way to give your body what it needs to fight of germs. Take vitamins. At the sign of a cold; rest, drink fluids, use the neti pot, diffuse some Essential Oils or eat lots of garlic. If you’re not nursing or pregnant, take some Echinacea. All these things (plus your favorite natural remedies) are great ways to keep viruses away, or to shorten their duration.
Being a sick parent is awful. Even in the worst situation, I’ve found that God gives the strength you need when you need it. When I’m sick and I have to nurse my 17 month old and who is also sick, and he insists that I pace the house with him so he’ll fall asleep, I find that it’s awful, but doable. We get through it, even during those times when my mom or my friends are unable to help (which is the majority of the time). I think with the advent of parenthood comes a super human strength that many of us didn’t know we possessed. So, as the season brings us deep into the time of viruses, hugs, infections, and the flu, I wish you the best of health and I pray you never (or never again) have to go through being sick with kids, or worse, being sick with sick kids.