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Working Parents: Who Stays Home When the Kids are Sick?

Posted by Urban Infant Team on
Working Parents: Who Stays Home When the Kids are Sick?

Let’s Discuss.

In America, dual-income households have become the norm. In more than 70% of two-parent homes, both parents work. Many dual-income families rely on school and carefully-chosen childcare to maintain their careers while making sure their children are cared for. But what happens when a child gets sick? Each time a child is sick, it impacts an average of 4 work days for their parents. Especially for parents of multiple children, those days can add up to a lot of missed work. 

It’s not always easy to decide who will stay home with the sick child in a dual-income household. Here are a few questions you can discuss so that you can have a game plan ready the next time little Timmy wakes up with a fever at 3am on a Monday.

1:  Whose job is more flexible? 
For some parents, it will be obvious whose job is more flexible when it comes to last-minute time off. If one parent’s job has a very strict attendance policy, for example, it makes more sense for that parent to continue to go to work to avoid negative consequences. However, if both parents have similar attendance policies or sick leave options, it might be less obvious who should stay home. In that case, it might be beneficial to discuss which parent has a more understanding boss, more co-workers who could cover for them, or more ability to shuffle their work load a bit. 

2: Who has more paid time off available? 
Another way to decide which parent will stay home with a sick child is to discuss who has more paid time off available to use. This can help determine what will make the least financial impact on the family. While it might seem at first that whoever makes a lower income should be the one to stay home, that won’t always be the case. Maybe the higher-paid parent has a more generous paid time off policy, or more flexibility in their work schedule. Be sure to discuss your available time off regularly, so that you can plan accordingly. 

3: Can either parent work from home if needed? 
With more companies providing work-from-home options, be sure to discuss this option with your partner when deciding who stays home. If you both have the option to work from home sometimes, does one parent’s job facilitate more flexibility? For example, being on the phone with clients or customers all day might not be an option while handling a sick child, even if you can technically work from home. However, if one parent has a job that allows for more breaks to check temperatures and hand out popsicles, it might be worth giving it a try in a pinch. 

4: Who will be more stressed by staying home? 
Does one parent have a job in which they can easily leave work alone for a day or two and come back to nearly the same workload? Or will their work pile up for them, resulting in a stressful return to work after a few days away? Another thing to consider is how difficult it might be for each of you to reschedule your work at a moment’s notice. Does one parent’s work include a lot of carefully scheduled meetings and people that will need to be notified if they aren’t coming in? If so, maybe they should be the one to head into work while their partner stays home. 

5: Does one parent prefer to be the one to stay home? 
It could be a possibility that one parent simply prefers to be the one to stay home with sick kids!  Maybe dad makes a killer chicken noodle soup and doesn’t mind reading stories on the couch all day. If everyone is on board, there’s nothing wrong with having a default “sick-day” parent. Make sure to avoid designating a sick-day parent without any discussion about it at all, however. Talking through the options and deciding what makes sense is always preferable to assumptions about who should stay home and who should go to work. 

6: Could you consider taking turns?
What if all these questions don’t provide an obvious answer to who should stay home with sick kids? It’s very possible that both parents would feel similar stress, that finances would be impacted similarly, and that no one has more or less paid time off than the other. It might be time to consider taking turns. 

If one parent is always expected to be the one to drop everything and stay home with the kids during sick days, it could lead to unnecessary resentment and stress for the whole family. If there is really no way to decide based on circumstances alone, consider taking turns. That way, expectations will be clear, and you can fairly share the load. 

Supporting Each Other on Sick Days

While the big decision is who will stay home with a sick child, don’t forget that the parent who goes to work can still support their partner! If you are headed off to work while your partner is camping out in the living room with a towel and a bucket nearby, there are lots of ways you can make their life a little easier. Phone calls to check in during the day, dropping off a favorite beverage before you head to work, and picking up dinner on the way home are all ways to support your partner when they are staying home unexpectedly. 

Remember, Sick Happens!

Waking up to a sick child and having to reschedule your entire week at the drop of a hat can be extremely stressful. It’s inevitable that children will get sick at times, so make sure to talk about who will stay home before you’re in the middle of a stressful moment. Having a plan and knowing how you will support each other through these tense moments can make all the difference. Remember to take care of yourselves and be kind to each other as you navigate sick-kid-day decisions.

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