The worst part of parenting isn’t having to discipline your kids or deal with tantrums. The worst part is being sick while still having to parent.
The first time my husband and I were both sick, we caught a stomach bug from our daughter. She had puked the bug out of her system a day earlier and was back to normal, but her daycare’s sick policy prevented her from going back for another 24 hours. The realization that we couldn’t just drop her off and crawl back home to sleep, and sleep some more, almost made me cry. We didn’t have family or friends to call for backup on a weekday.
“What do we do?!” I asked my husband, my head in my hands as he was curled in the fetal position on the couch. We were not able to parent that day, but you can’t exactly explain that to a 16-month-old. In the end, we pulled off a Hail Mary and convinced her teachers to keep her for the day despite the 15-ish hours she’d been considered “clear,” and felt well enough by evening to pick her up, feed her some Cheerios and fruit, and tuck her into a conveniently early bedtime.
We’ve been sick a couple times since then and have learned how to be responsible for a tiny human while operating at less than 100 percent progressively better. Here are some tips for taking care of yourself and your kids when you’re parenting while sick.
To do before you’re sick:
Line up your support network.
Hopefully your significant other won’t be simultaneously sick and can take care of the kids, but it can happen. Know ahead of time who you could ask for help taking care of your child(ren) if you both get sick. Call your mom, your grandma, or any local family members who are able to come over for the day to help. Now is the time to take advantage of your daycare’s extended hours and not feel guilty about it. Are you like me and don’t have family nearby who a) don’t work a full-time job and b) are physically able to take care of young children? Ask a trusted friend if you can call on them to watch your child when you’re sick. Or, get to know a babysitter (or two or three) who has a good chance of being available any time and ask if you can call them on a moment’s notice should you need to.
Prep some freezer food.
If you’re not familiar with the wisdom and convenience of freezer food, study up now so you can feed yourself and your hungry children without much fumbling around the next time you’re ill. Freezer food is any casserole, pre-cooked meat or chicken, or other pre-made meal you can take out of the freezer, put on the stove or in the microwave, heat, and eat right away. Almost every grocery store now offers ready-to-heat meals, or you can make your own. However you want to do it, start rotating some freezer food into your meal planning so it’s available not only when you don’t feel like cooking but also when you really need it.
Another tip: Always keep a can of chicken noodle soup in your pantry.
Get a primary care doctor, or know where the nearest urgent care is located.
Not because the next time you get sick will be a matter of life and death when every minute counts, but because taking time to look up clinics is annoying when you’re also throwing up, suffering a migraine, or pulling a muscle because you’re coughing so hard. Look up the closest, most convenient in-network clinic now. Save the info on your fridge or in your phone so you don’t have to hunt it down later.
When you’re sick:
Let yourself rest.
Housework can wait. Walking the dog can wait. Checking emails can definitely wait. Put your to-do list on hold and rest. Ask your partner to handle the chores. Take as many naps as you need. Binge your favorite shows. Pick up that novel you’ve been meaning to read. Play some video games. Pretend like you’re pre-children again and have nothing pressing to do because you need to take it easy. You can’t magically make yourself feel better in an instant, but you can help the process along by giving your body the downtime it needs to heal.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
Your doctor will probably give you this advice, too, but it’s worth repeating: Drink lots of fluids. Water, Gatorade, tea, ginger ale — whatever your preferred drink is, drink a lot of it so your body can flush out toxins faster.
Quarantine yourself if possible.
Sleep in the guest room if you have one, or kick your significant other out of your bed so you don’t contaminate them, too. Being a sick parent is awful but being two sick parents is even worse. And obviously, try to keep your children away. We told my daughter that Mommy was going night-night all day, every day the last time I was sick, and for the most part, it kept her out of our room.
Let go of some parenting standards.
Entertaining your kids is not Priority No. 1 right now, and you shouldn’t feel bad if you let them do things to occupy themselves that you normally wouldn’t. A little more screen time than usual, failing to check if they brushed their teeth for a day or two, or letting them stay up later while you go to bed early (as long as they’re quietly and safely entertaining themselves) won’t kill them.
Allowing your child to choose how they fill their time while you rest might surprise you: The last time I was home sick and keeping a loose eye on my 22-month-old, I discovered that she’s capable of not only pulling her toys out of her toy cabinet and playing quietly by herself for about 20 minutes but putting them back in the cabinet unprompted before moving on to her baby doll setup in another room!
Once you’re feeling better:
Ease back into the normal routine.
Continue to take naps if possible. (If you work like I do, nap in your car at lunchtime.) Ask your significant other or your support network to continue helping out in smaller ways for a day or two so you’re not suddenly responsible for every pick-up, drop-off, bottle-making, homework-checking task as you continue to recover.
Some of this may seem obvious, but here’s a list of things to clean up/clear out:
- Wash your sheets, towels and any clothing you wore while sick.
- Wipe down your bathroom and kitchen (if you used it), plus any doorknobs or things like the TV remote that you know you touched while sick.
- Replace your toothbrush.
- Run the dishwasher.
- Take a long, hot shower if you weren’t up to it while under the weather. Take a long, hot shower even if you did keep up with personal hygiene while sick because mama, you deserve it.
Parenting while sick is the absolute worst. Now that we’ve been around that block a few times, we’re learning how to manage it better. I hope these tips help you the next time you’re under the weather.