Extreme Parenting: Sick Day Edition

It’s no secret that employer policies on family leave and paid sick time is woefully inadequate in America.  For thousands of women and men, a lack of paid leave means the difference between caring for a child and sending him or her off to daycare or school ill. 

For some parents, fear of losing their jobs over a child’s illness can lead to some very dedicated means to take time off.

Via Parents.com:

Wendi Jacob, the director of Lil’ Critters Child Care in Hillsboro, Oregon, can tell a much more extreme story. She called the parents of one 14-month-old who started throwing up after naptime to ask them to come get their child. Neither could: The father had recently started a new job and was afraid he’d be fired. The mother had been home the previous week with the child’s older sibling, and her boss told her she’d be docked pay if she left again. “So this mom stuck her finger down her throat and vomited all over her office carpet,” says Jacob. “The boss sent her home sick, and she was able to pick up her child.”

Sound over the top? Yes. But these women’s situations illustrate the lengths working parents must go to when their carefully calibrated child-care arrangements fall apart. Many use all of their resources to get through a typical day and have little flexibility and no Plan B — no grandparent, friend, or neighbor to step in if a child is ill.

Lack of paid leave doesn’t just affect the family or child in question.  Because of lack of back up support and an inability to miss work, children often go to daycare  or school ill, spreading the sickness to his or her peers, forcing new families into the same quandry of missing work for a sick child.

Jenni Ellis, an Atlanta mom and founder of social networking site for working moms Mom @ Work, says that if her son wakes up sick her first plan is to stay home with him. If there is a reason she must go to work, then she calls one of the three people that she has arranged with in advance to be “on call” in case she needs them to stay with her son. If none of the people “on call” are available to help, then she calls a professional babysitter who will come to her house and stay with her son for the day. “While I would love to always be at home with my son when he is sick, it is not always possible.”

Parents, like Ellis, also rely on a school’s sick policies and the enforcement of those policies to keep the healthy kids from getting sick in the first place. Parents can easily find out what a school or daycare’s sick policies are and how they handle children who get sick while in their care.

Schools and daycares should routinely reinforce their guidelines for keeping a sick child at home in order to protect the health of the other children, their families and teachers. Schools should also have a clear policy on communicating with the families if there is an illness outbreak in a class and/or the entire school.

“As the parent of a child in daycare, I must say that I am blessed that my day care provider is very good at either sending a sick child home or not allowing a sick child to come in that day,” says Ellis. “My daycare, like every other, does have parents that push the limits. I engage those parents in conversation about the child and his/her illness. I tend to drop in a remark about a time when it was difficult to make arrangements to keep my child home, but I did because I knew it was not only good for my child, but I didn’t want my child to spread anything to other children. Through this conversation I can find out more about the child’s illness and watch for signs and symptoms in my own child, and, as terrible as this sounds, hopefully the parent will think twice before sending their sick child to school.”

Still, the issue obviously lays with unsupportive workplaces and lack of leave laws, not with parents who don’t want to be home with their children.   And employers support the idea of sick leave as well

The survey of over 700 employers and nearly 2,000 employees found that two-thirds of employers support the law. It is rare for employees to misuse paid sick days and employees tend to save them for a rainy day using much fewer than the maximum allotment.

The implementation of the legislation has had public health benefits: One out of eight workers with public contact in workplaces such as restaurants and retail establishments reported that the paid sick days made it less likely for them to come to work when sick.

Hopefully, as the movement to support paid sick leave expands, less parents will be forced to such extreme measures to care for a child.

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Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle6 years ago

As in other things in this country, which I'm so disappointed in, lack of caring about families, lack of time off for a sick child, or being sick yourself, is disgraceful. The politicians do a great job at saying how supportive they are, of families, children, but they aren't in reality. Look at all the anti-women laws being proposed and passed. Look at the abysmal pregnancy leaves, and rarely ones for husbands. Look at the lesser wages of women. As we say in Texas, all hat and no cattle.

Lika S.
Lika P7 years ago

Some of us are on a limited income. Taking a day off is a luxury. But then again, some of us are lucky to have healthier kids, and others not so lucky.

Mary Johnston
Mary Johnston7 years ago

Not everyone has the choice of getting others to watch their kids when they are sick. Staying at home is not an option unless it's an emergency (no vacation or sick time unless you're management at my employment). Both my parents and 3 out of four grandparents are dead. My remaining grandmother is in California (We're in Alabama). My sisters and brother are in Texas. My husband's family is in Arkansas.

My husband and I had to make a compromise when our girls were young because of this situation. One of us worked days and the other worked nights. We didn't see much of each other, but someone was home with the girls. Once they got older, we started working the same shift. Now, I would not be able to take off unless it was an emergency, but they are old enough to be at home on medication if they are too sick for school.

Brenda Towers
Brenda Towers7 years ago

Arrangements must be made to deal with this problem before it arises! I know that for some people this is impossible at present. Employers should allow for this type of emergency.

Ann G.
Ann G7 years ago

April Thompson: "Don't need to live in a McMansion, drive an Escalade or SUV, eat in restaurants everyday, wear the most expensive clothes, etc.!" Really? The whole point of this article is that sometimes, the money that parents are making ISN'T going to be used for an "SUV." Some parents use that money for food, healthcare, clothes, or other necessities. I am glad that you are lucky enough to be able to take time off if you need it, but sometimes that's just not an option. If you or one of your children has a disease that is expensive to care for, if you have parents or other family member that you have to support, if you or your partner has been fired or laid off, if you are a single parent, if you've had an unplanned pregnancy that you can't afford, or for a myriad of other factors you may be counting on this paycheck, and as cruel as it sounds you may send your child to school sick if the alternative is staying home and possibly losing your job. It sounds bad, but it's better than being fired and not being able to buy them what they need.

April Thompson
April Thompson7 years ago

I would never choose between my child and my job! My child always comes first! I work in Daycare too, so I see so many parents who dope their kids up on tylenol to keep the fevers down, but by lunch time, the fevers are going back up! When people have children, they need to care about their children's needs before their own! Don't need to live in a McMansion, drive an Escalade or SUV, eat in restaurants everyday, wear the most expensive clothes, etc.! Live simply, just enough to enjoy life and give and show love through family time, play and physically (hugs ans kisses) everyday! No child needs every new toy, expensive clothing, etc.! Be there for your child! Give them undivided attention! Read to them everyday! have family mealtimes to talk! It is time to be a parent, not just a person your child barely sees during the work week and just on weekends! No one else should be raising your child! It happens all too much in daycare- the teacher sees and interacts with the child more than the child's parents do! Don't have children if you aren't willing to be selfless and put their needs above your own and have no time to spend withy them! God bless those who truly care about their children!

Lynne C.
Lynne C7 years ago

With the economic situation we are in, it is difficult to put a job second when it pays the bills that keep us sheltered and fed. Yet, a child depends on his/her parent to be there and care for him/her as well. Without a family member to help out, the choice can be difficult.

Bon L.
Bon L7 years ago

Thanks for the info.

Julie W.
Julie W7 years ago

When my grandchild went to daycare, she was not allowed to attend if she had a high temperature. Luckily, mum was allowed time off for looking after a sick child. But this is in Australia.

And where are grandparents these days? This used to be their role. Probably hundreds of miles away, as people move states to get a better job.

Barbara Erdman
Barbara Erdman7 years ago

noted and thanx :0