My family has been battling germs for a few weeks now and we just can’t kick it. As soon as one person gets better, another gets sick. Last week, my youngest was sent home from daycare on Thursday afternoon, and the first thoughts that flooded my brain were all about mom guilt and blaming myself.
- I knew she seemed a bit off this morning, I should have known not to send her in, but it didn’t seem that bad. Why didn’t I see it sooner? — Denial
- I should have worked harder throughout the week to meet work deadlines early in anticipation of a child getting sick. Why didn’t I think ahead? — Blame
- If I can make nap time happen during these certain times, I can still attend these meetings. How can I make this work? — Bargaining
The working mom guilt is real, and it’s tough. As a parent when something happens, even if it’s totally out of our control, we are so hard on ourselves for not being able to anticipate it. We can’t prepare for everything, and it’s absolutely ridiculous to even think of that as an expectation, but we still do it.
#2 above is the kicker for me and the one I always get stuck on as someone who works in an office setting. How could I possibly have worked harder to meet deadlines early “just in case” I needed the extra time? If I had extra time, I would’ve filled it with more deadlines! You want to care for your child, but you feel pressure to keep up at work. It may not even be pressure from work, it may be internal pressure to be both the perfect employee and the perfect parent.
During the pandemic when we were both working from home, my husband and I started listing our meetings on a whiteboard so we knew when the other couldn’t be interrupted. We’ve continued a generic version of this so that we know who has flexibility if childcare gets interrupted. It’s our loose sick day plan from week to week. It’s not perfect, and doesn’t solve all our problems, but even just thinking a little bit ahead and talking through a few “what if’s” will ease some of the tension when an issue actually arises. It’s also worth noting that talking through scenarios with others helps verbalize who needs to be involved, who is making adjustments, and how it’s all going to happen. It should never be assumed that one person is always on sick duty because they have a more flexible job or boss. That still abuses the employee-work-relationship.
Another tip is that you need to decide how you’re going to work it out with your job ahead of time. Your boss needs to know, and trust, how you are going to deal with interrupted childcare. Know the regulations set for you as an employee and where you have flexibility to negotiate. Will you agree to be available to work remotely, or are you totally signing off for the day? Set expectations. Set boundaries. Share them and stick to them.
No matter how good of a planner you are, you’ll never be able to escape the extra stress a sick child brings into the mix, especially if you’re thrown off-guard by a daycare phone call in the middle of a meeting where you have to pick them up within 30 mins (Eek!). But by having even just a simple plan and communicating it to work, spouses, secondary childcare options, etc., you’ll know that you did your best and now you can attend to your child’s needs and focus on getting them healthy. That’s what is most important.
Good luck, mama. You are so strong. You got this.