Parenthood can be wonderful. It can also present some true challenges when you’re in the workforce. There will always be times when your child is not in school—in the summer, for instance—that you can plan for well in advance, either setting aside money for babysitters, enrolling your child in a camp or other short-term program, or letting them stay with family members.
These times off that you can plan for present their own challenges. Do I hear “finances,” anyone? But the times you can’t foresee, like when your child comes down with the flu or some other short-term, but bad, illness, can be bigger bears to tackle. That’s because you don’t know when those times will strike. The only thing you know for certain is that they will strike. The good news we can glean from these not-happy facts: Because you know that childhood illnesses will happen, you can plan for them. And having a plan could be the difference between getting behind at work or getting ahead.
How you plan for inevitable childhood illnesses depends on your personal circumstances—do you have help from a spouse, in-law, friend, house of worship? Can you afford to pay for a stay at a daycare that cares for sick kids? How many paid and unpaid days off does your employer allot you?
The above questions are important to answer. Here, we will look at how you can keep on task at work, whether you have a partner or are single, when your child is ill.
Scenario One: Two-Working-Parent Household
When both parents work, agree BEFORE YOUR CHILD GETS ILL on how you will tackle caring for him or her during their illness. Consider how you would share taking time off from work if your child’s illness lasts a day, a week, or more if you can’t afford a backup plan that includes daycare or other outside help. The agreed-upon schedule should take into account the type of paid-time off you and your spouse’s workplaces offer. This means that both of you need to have a strong knowledge of your workplaces’ time-off policies. As working parents, especially when your child is not a teen, neither of you can burn through paid personal days or other allotted paid time off, so keep that in mind as you both devise your plan. Agree to the number of days each of you can take turns taking off so that neither of you loses an entire week or more of work.
Scenario Two: Single-Parent Household
Being a single parent is hard enough, but the difficulty is magnified when your child gets sick. How does a single parent prepare for this likelihood?
We should all build a network of friends and others we can rely on in good and bad times—married and committed couples should do this too—but when you’re single, having such a network is that much more important. You may need to lean on friends who will watch and care for your child for little or nothing, as finances will likely be an obstacle.
This is about making connections—networking—outside of the workplace. You may find these potential friends in your place of worship, for example, or from years past going back to high school or college. If you’re fortunate enough to live near your child’s grandparents, and either or both are retired and in good enough health to care for a sick child, you may be able to count on their help too. Whomever you choose to take care of your ailing child, ask for their help before your child gets sick. Get your plan in motion before the illness happens. Offer to pay them something for their time. Because you know that childhood illnesses will most definitely strike, set aside money for this eventuality just as you set aside money for other needs—this goes for you as well as partnered parents. Don’t expect that your network, however, will fill in for you during your child’s entire illness. Keep some paid-time off days to take care of your sick child.
Now, as a partnered or single parent, taking days off from work to care for your sick child doesn’t necessarily have to mean that you can’t work. If you work in an office environment primarily on a computer, speak with your boss about the possibility of telecommuting while your child is sick. Maybe the company will allow you to take a company laptop home so that you can work there.
If your job is not primarily computer or phone based, perhaps you and your boss can brainstorm ahead of a potential child sickness what a workday from home could look like for you (this may or may not be an appropriate conversation to have with your boss; only you know the “feel” of your work environment). You may not be able to work a full day—you will be caring for your sick child, after all—but working half-days or three-fourths of a day while your child is ill can help you stay current on ongoing projects and not blow all your paid time off. This is a win-win scenario and one that a reasonable boss should be willing to entertain with you if your work lends itself to being performed at home.
I hope that this blog has helped you think through a few ways to stay ahead at work when your child becomes ill and that it inspires you to brainstorm many more. Being ahead of the work game is all part of careering.