When Your Child is Ill, Who is Left Holding the Baby?
It’s one of those mornings; all your tights have ladders in them, someone put the milk carton back in the fridge empty and now your toddler, who was fine yesterday, has started vomiting and has a fever. You know you can’t take them to the crèche like this, so what do you do? Apart from scream, tear your hair out, cry, shout ‘why me?’
Working moms caring for sick children
According to the National Association for Sick Child Daycare, working mothers are absent from their jobs anywhere from five to 29 days per year because they are caring for ill children. This is a common occurrence when you consider the results of a study of more than 135,000 children in Copenhagen who reported that young children who attend daycare are at greater risk for catching colds and bugs than kids who stay home, especially in the first 6 months. (Take heart – when they are older, researchers found that they have fewer colds as they have built up immunity).
The way I see it, there are two aspects to this problem:
- What do you do about work?
- What do you do about childcare?
If you can solve one of those aspects, you’ve solved the second one!
If you have no other options other than to stay home with your child, then you need to speak with your workplace. It’s not always moms that are in this position, but a 2007 study by the University of Cincinnati reported that:
78% of women say that they are the ones taking time off from work to stay home with an ill child rather than their male partner.
If you can, take a few minutes to think about what’s in your work diary before you call the office. Can you reschedule meetings or take some calls at home? A quick handover call with a colleague might prevent a big emergency later on in the day.
When you call your employer they may say it’s not a problem and just ask you to make up the hours at a later date. Remember managers are people and possibly parents too and they may be more understanding than you give them credit for.
If that’s not the case then what are your options?
Well, in Ireland your first option is to take a day’s Force Majeure leave. This is paid leave for urgent family reasons. It’s for times when your immediate presence is required either due to the injury or illness of a family member, or for another urgent family reason.
There’s no minimum period of service to qualify. All employees are entitled to up to 3 days in a period of 12 consecutive months, or up to 5 days in a period of 36 consecutive months.
If you’ve exhausted your Force Majeure leave, your employer may allow you to take either a day’s annual leave or perhaps take the day off unpaid. They are under no obligation to do either. Speak to your manager and explain the benefits to them of allowing some flexibility. Perhaps this one day off today will give you the time to put a back-up plan in place so you won’t need any further days off for the same reason.
Often, parents are scared to approach their employer in this kind of scenario. Having worked in HR for 15 years, I have seen many parents call in sick instead of asking to take leave. My advice is not to do that. Sickness absence is often tightly monitored and this could lead to more serious long term problems with your employer. Also what happens when you are sick and you’re not entitled to any more company sick pay?
Returnig to Work
When you do return to work, acknowledge your absence to your colleagues. If you’re up front about it you’ll be less likely to receive any snide or sarcastic comments. If anybody’s taken up some of your workload from the day you missed, thank them and ask if there’s anything you can do in return.
Remember that your colleagues may be left ‘holding the baby’ on important projects if you can’t come in and it’s not their fault your child was ill, so treat them with respect. This kind of approach will go a long way for any future issues that may arise. Someone else in the team may end up being in a similar situation so you need to show them the same understanding as you would like to receive. Not everyone is a parent but everyone has issues that occur outside of work that put people under pressure.
For every under-the-weather child, there is a mom (or a dad) who must leave their job, push off their work responsibilities, and head home to play nurse maid. So before you call into work, take a breath and remember that you’re doing the best you can for you and your child.
For more advice on being a working mom, visit mumager.ie