Taking a Sick Day

Taking a Sick DayThere’s a commercial I keep seeing on TV for a cold medicine that begins with a sick person sticking their head into a room and asking someone for a day off. Then the shot cuts to a toddler looking blankly back at their parent, and the announcer says, “Moms don’t take sick days.”

I especially love this commercial because it also has a dad version. Yay for those dads who give up so much to stay home with their kids. They deserve some recognition, too.

Moms and dads don’t get sick days. But we are all inevitably faced with that awful sinking feeling you get when you wake up in the morning and realize you feel like crap. In another life, a quick call or email to your boss confirmed that you were not needed and should stay home and get some rest. But now you’re a parent, and before you lies perhaps the hardest 8 hours you will ever face.

Most of the time, I have no shame in tapping out and asking my husband to stay home while I recover. That’s what his sick days are for! But occasionally he will have a meeting or deadline that means he can’t take off, and I’m on my own. Here are my time-tested strategies for taking a sick day when you can’t get one.

  • Babysitting exchange. It’s great to have a support network of other moms, especially when you don’t have family nearby who can take your kids for the day. My experience with any mom of two or more is that after two, a few more kids doesn’t really make a difference.  If you know a mom who can hold her own with a few more kids around, call her up. When you’re well, keep her kids for the same number of hours another time. If you have three or more kids, you may want to divide and conquer with a few different friends.
  • Hunker down. If you can’t call in reinforcements, a great strategy with younger kids is to go to a space that is safe for them, such as a playroom or baby room, and shut all of you inside securely with a baby proof lock or doorknob cover. Get out some toys, snacks and a sippy cup if applicable, and know that if you lay down and fall asleep for a bit, everyone will stay contained and safe. But this may not work if your toddler is an escape artist!
  • Go to a fun place and wear them out. If you’re not contagious, sometimes the best strategy is to wear your kids out and hope for a long nap. An indoor play structure, library play room, mall playground or enclosed park are great places since you may not go often and it’s all new. Even though going out may be the last thing you want to do, if they are good and worn out, a long nap may be in order for everyone.
  • Bring out new toys. If you rotate toys or have anything in the garage or attic, now is the time to get it out. You can also get a ton of ideas from the web of how to turn ordinary items around the house into toddler toys. Set up a fort in the living room or use a baby gate and make a hall fort. Sometimes, even taking well-worn toys into a different space can give them new life. 
  • Use the TV. Yes, I know. Screen time is not recommended for anyone under 2, and in very small doses for 2s at the most. But a sick day is not a regular occurrence, and your priority here is to keep everyone safe and try to recover. The TV is great for this kind of situation, especially since the less your children watch, typically the more they will be spellbound by it. Netflix has a kids’ feature so you can be sure they won’t accidently end up watching a season of Orange is the New Black, and the episodes will automatically que up without you having to do anything. For small kids, shows that have fewer cuts or changes in camera shots impact them less than fast-paced shows like Spongebob. I loved Pingu since there is no dialogue and it’s stop-motion instead of animation. Kipper is another good one for small kids.

Clearly I’m not the first one to have this problem–Babycenter has this list of 40 ways to entertain a toddler while lying down. The very fact that this list exists should make you feel better already!

However you get through a sick day, don’t guilt trip yourself and don’t be ashamed to ask for help. As moms, we often joke that we did our job if everyone is alive and fed at the end of the day, but when you’re sick that really is the only goal you should have. Try to get some rest and remember to drink lots of water.

What are your tricks for surviving a sick day? 

Erin Burt is a freelance writer and mom of three who has sat through her fair share of park days while nursing a mean case of mastitis. She lives and writes in Queensbury, New York. 

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