Sending Sick Child to School? The Ongoing Conundrum

Working moms have to make tough calls when their kiddo doesn't feel well. Sending sick child to school means having to call off work or work from home.

In the February/March issue of Working Mother magazine (which I get thanks to a subscription given to me by the loverly WMAG-er Susan), they published an article about caring for a child ailing from a cold or the flu. They also conducted a study tied to the story that revealed one-third of working moms have sent a sick child to school or daycare.

The study of more than 625 working moms discovered that:

  • One in three moms have sent their child to school or daycare sick, the most common reason being because mom was unable to take a day off from work to care for her sick child.
  • 70% of moms felt guilty sending a sick child to school or daycare, and were also concerned that their child might infect other children.
  • Other feelings Mom felt when dealing with the decision to send their sick child to school include: stressed (48.5%), torn (43%) and frustrated (31.2%).
  • Also, even though 54 percent of working moms have some flexibility to work from home, keeping a child home sick is not always an easy decision.

I found that last bullet point to be pretty interesting. As a writer I have one of the most easiest jobs in the world from which to “work from home,” but it’s not exactly looked upon kindly at my office. A lot of people, for some reason, feel you have to be in the office, sitting at your desk to be a viable team member. Why? Not sure.

But I’m sure the 54% of moms struggling with the decision to keep their sick child at home–even though they have flexible work options–probably work at offices with similar attitudes.

Since starting daycare, my son has had an almost constant cold. If I took a day off every time O had a cold, I would never be at work, therefore probably not have a job. And unfortunately, I don’t have any family in the area, so giving him to grandma or grandpa isn’t an option. Daycare it is. Fortunately (or unfortunately, not sure how to feel about it) colds are hardly looked at as being “sick” when it comes to daycare or school. A case of the sniffles or a little cough is almost a mainstay at these institutions.

I have taken time off to take O to the doctor for ear infections and if daycare calls me with the suspicion he is sick, I definitely rush right over. And if he had the flu, a fever, or anything more alarming than a cold, I would definitely keep him at home. That’s just me. And I think I have that option. Now the cashier I wrote about last week? She probably still has to go to work.

But I do feel guilty/torn when I have to take time off to care for my boy. (Although it’s not like I “really” take time off, I still work—just not in the office.) Part of me feels like “Screw it, it’s my family–way more important than being at work,” but the other part of me feels like I’m angering coworkers or possibly letting them down. I also feel this time off could potentially reflect poorly on me as an employee, considering the attitudes of some individuals I work with. Maybe I’m wrong on that point–I certainly hope so.

Sending sick child to school: Just one more hurdle the working mom has to deal with. How do you handle when your child is sick? Have you ever taken a sick child to school or daycare?

Working moms have to make tough calls when their kiddo doesn't feel well. Sending sick child to school means having to call off work or work from home.

13 thoughts on “Sending Sick Child to School? The Ongoing Conundrum

  1. sometimes when trying to guess how other people will react we unintentionally apply our own insecurity to the situation, and then the guilt-o-meter just maxxes out before we know it. I’ve just flat out asked my co-workers what they need from me to make it easier on them if I have to take time due to a sick kid. Often when other people just hear you voice your concern for them, they then realize you have a wish to keep communication open and you also are being sensitive to their needs too.
    If they don’t choose to be open with you and merely say “oh, no problem” there isn’t really much you can do about it, so just say “So what.” and go on. Opening the communication instead of trying to figure out, or anticipate, how someone feels or thinks is what I do when I am faced with a “what if…” situation.
    Aviva and I have a goal to absolve guilt…One mommy (or daddy) at a time. Today it was you!

  2. My problem is just the opposite. I feel guilty NOT sending them to school. I really have a hard time deciding when they aren’t sick enough to stay home. I always get the ‘You’re giving your kid the wrong impression on the importance of education’ form letters because my kids are absent more often then they should be 🙁

  3. I have been facing this problem a LOT since my son started daycare. Where I work is not family-friendly nor flexible, so working from home is never an option (even though 99% of my work could be done from home). So if I have to stay home, I have to take a sick day. So I have definitely sent my son to daycare when he was sick, but not really sick (fever, etc.) and I always feel guilty about it. It’s hard for me to take days off (not just because I’m burning through my time off) but because I often have things that really need to get done at work that day. Lots of time my husband and I have split days, so I go to work for half a day in the morning while he stays home and then I go home so he can go to work in the afternoon. Not always ideal, but it helps me get some work done and “face time” at the office while still allowing my sick son to stay home.

    1. The problem with not sending your kid when they aren’t “too sick” such as with a fever is that your child’s “not too sick” could cause havoc in another child with low immunity. Think preemie born kiddos who have a lifetime of low immunities, kids with asthma. Not your problem? Well, it’s also not their problem you can’t find the time to take off from work.

      Bottom line- if you can’t take off from work then it IS your responsibility to pay for an at home care provider so your child can stay home and not infect the rest of the population.

      1. At home care providers bahahaha you’re funny if you think you can find any of those last minute or that everyone has the funds while still paying for a full daycare spot when that kid can’t go. Not everyone has that option or luxury. That’s a very priveleged point of view

  4. It’s a hard decision. I have definitely stayed home with kids that have had colds, only for them to seem completely fine. Other times I have sent them thinking it’s only a cold to be called a few hours later with them having a fever. I feel like I can’t win sometimes! And this winter for me has been especially hard…

  5. nylonthread says:

    Sometimes even when grandma & grandpa ARE in the area, like mine are, it’s not an option. Recently when my dad had a cold, it was blamed on my son (even though DS’s cold was over 12 days earlier) and I was instructed to never bring the children over if they are sick. My parents work as government civilians and don’t want to use their leave either.

  6. I really struggle when I have to miss work, even though I am not sick. I know that I am making the right choice, caring for my sick child, but there is still part of me that feels like I am letting my job down and that other’s think that I should not be missing work when I am not ill (my mother cares for the boys during the day). Don’t get me wrong – my bosses are the best, and the most supportive on the planet. I just have my own issues with feeling guilty. I think it comes from being somewhat of a work-a-holic.

    As always, great topic for discussion!!

  7. I’m in month 3 of my 3-month back to work fulltime trial, and I’m not sure how well it’s going. In the past month, I’ve taken 2 sick days (1 full and 2 half) when Sammy first had an eye infection and then when he had a week-long bout with roseola. Fortunately, my mother was able to come down to Maryland from New Jersey to help out with the roseola, and my husband and I split days working from home, but it’s still tough. I work for a very family-friendly and flexible employer, and frankly my boss has even said he wouldn’t notice if I didn’t show up in the office for a week so long as I was available through IM and email, but still I don’t want to push it. This is still a very new job for me. So this morning, I sent Sammy to daycare even though he had a 103° fever last night (although no fever this morning) and his daycare’s policy is “fever-free for 24 hours”. I’m sick too, but not sick enough to take a sick day for myself. And working from home is just not possible if I’m home alone with Sammy; he’s a very attention-demanding toddler. At best, I could get a half a day’s work in while he naps, but at the rate I’m going I’m going to use all my sick time by June!

  8. It depends on the what the illness is and severity. However, i’m sure my boys are not the norm, even when they are pretty sick they are usually full of energy, so I kind of use their overall mood to determine what to do…. Ultimately for me, my child will always come first no matter what the work situation is so if in doubt I keep them home!

  9. My boy comes first every time. Before work and before school. Today for instance. He’s been sick all weekend, yesterday was the worst day. We went to see the doc, he told us it was just a virus and didn’t even prescribe anything. But his couch was so terrible it sounded so painful that I can keeping him home. I rearranged my whole week to do so and will short a day’s pay but that’s the sacrifices a parent makes. I feel a bit guilty for having to call clients and ask them to change their schedule for my boy but they all understood so I know I made the right decision

  10. There’s a stay at home parent in my family because our kids are the priority. People who send sick kids to daycare and school are contributing to why so many kids get sick. Don’t think your children aren’t getting a very obvious message when you dump them somewhere rather than take care of them yourself.

  11. Bottom line, if you can’t take off from work to do it yourself then it’s a parent’s responsibility to find and pay for backup care at home.

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