am I missing too much work when my kids are sick?

A reader writes:

I am a single mother to an 8-year-old and a 19-month-old. My youngest gets sick quite often, and when she needs medical attention or simply a day home from day care, I don’t really have anyone to rely on to help me out. This usually means I have to miss work when she is sick.

In the past 2 months, I had take 3.5 sick days for her and to leave work early twice. I’m anxious this is going to reflect poorly on me, especially since I just started my job here 3 months ago.

What can I do, besides finding alternative child care, to prevent this from reflecting poorly on me? What do you think I should expect as a consequence?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 237 comments… read them below }

  1. Q*

    As a manager I would absolutely have an issue with someone who has only worked for me three months to already have taken 3.5 sick days and left early twice. It would be much better for you address the situation head on and as soon as possible with your boss. I would expect perfect attendance during the first 3-6 months anyway so I’d probably already be looking to replace you.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Really? It seems a more reasonable reaction (than “be looking to replace you”) would be something like “I’d probably be planning to have a conversation about your attendance.”

      1. MechE31*

        I think it depends on the position. If I’m hiring a low skill position, I have a much lower tolerance for missed time than if I’m hiring a high level professional position, especially if the low skill position requires constant coverage (like a front desk position or a worker at a restaurant) where it is difficult to find a fill in on short notice.

        1. WellRed*

          Well I understand this thinking, and think it’s really common, it’s unfortunate that it’s those low skilled positions that are the ones that typically have fewer options/resources for sick kids, etc.

        2. Gaia*

          I don’t hire low skilled people and I would have issue with this much time. I need people here and working. I don’t expect perfect attendance because people get sick, and I prefer you not be here when sick. But I do have higher expectations during the first several months when I need you here learning your job and not out. If you have an ongoing medical issue, you need to talk to me about that so we can work around it. Staying silent and just missing days is going to mean I probably won’t keep you past your first 90.

      2. sunny-dee*

        It may also depend on the overall company culture; it may be significantly easier (and therefore less risky) to let someone go during a probationary period

      3. Erin*

        I can understand Q’s reasoning. It’s reasonable to expect perfect or near perfect attendance from brand new employees. You’re still proving yourself, and showing up at work is a pretty basic requirement.

        That said, reasonable people also understand when Life happens. But the manager won’t know what’s going on unless OP tells her.

        OP – Is there any chance you could work from home when your kids are sick? Or possibly put in more hours at work at another time? I understand child care is an issue, but maybe it would be more plausible if it was planned ahead.

    2. spek*

      While I wouldn’t necessarily be looking to replace you, depending on the type of position, quality of your work, etc., it would definitely raise a flag, considering you just started working there, and you attendance should be outstanding during this period. I would be planning to sit you down and find out what the issues are. If other employees are having to pick up your slack because you are constantly out – this conversation will have a much different tone than if you are getting your work done and just missing some time….

    3. Anna*

      So what would be the point of talking to you if you’ve already made a decision? The goal of approaching her manager is to get any issues cleared up and to come up with a workable solution, not to hear about how disappointing she is in the short time she’s been there.

      You sound like a delight to work for.

      1. Sadsack*

        I am assuming that if you acknowledge the situation and explain what steps you are taking to correct it, Q would give you a second chance. Missing many days as a new employee with no explanation would make you appear to be flaky or irresponsible.

        1. Ad Astra*

          Sure, but… the OP has already given an explanation, and it’s a pretty good one. There’s nothing flaky or irresponsible about taking care of a sick kid. Either your business can tolerate the inconvenience of this employee missing that much time or it can’t; it’s not a character or behavior issue.

          1. Jayn*

            It occurs to me that, for a parent who is just (re)entering the workforce, the first couple months the child may wind up sick more frequently than usual if ze was not previously in daycare. I’m a SAHM but I’ve been making an effort to get LO more time with other kids and for a while it seemed like every time he was around other kids he (and consequently I) got sick, but after a while that stopped happening. I imagine the same might happen with a child just entering daycare.

          2. OhNo*

            The OP has already given an explanation to us. We don’t know what (if anything) she’s said about it to her manager. Has she told the boss that these absences are for a sick kid, not for herself? Has she mentioned that she’s looking into alternative child care? Has she acknowledged that it looks bad, and put forth her plan to fix it going forward? We just don’t know.

            If I were the manager, I would definitely treat this differently if I knew any kind of details about the OP’s situation. Without any explanation, all I would see is someone being slightly unprofessional in their first few months of work. With an explanation, I would be much more willing to give the employee leeway and work out possible options.

          3. Engineer Girl*

            I disagree strongly. The OP has NOT given a good explanation. Kids get sick, sometimes a lot. A responsible working parent would have a sick baby plan as well as a well baby plan. This isn’t an issue where the sick baby plan fell through – it is an issue where the OP doesn’t have a plan in place. This is going to create credibility issues.

            1. Isben Takes Tea*

              I don’t think credibility is involved at all…maybe dependability. And sometimes, as others have pointed out, the only sick baby plan available is to take time off work.

            2. babblemouth*

              OP mentioned she is a single parent; if she’s also a bit isolated (her own parents live far away, she’s new to her community and doesn’t have a lot of local friends, the neighbors aren’t reliable), there is simply no way for her to have that back-up plan handy. It’s not being irresponsible, it’s just a reality that many people have to deal with.
              Her duty as a responsible working parent isn’t to magically invent the extra people she needs to help; it’s (as suggested) to reach out to her manager to try to figure out a solution.

      2. BRR*

        I would strongly prefer an employee who recognizes that it’s not good to miss so much time when you start a new job. It’s semi-redeeming for someone to show they at least know what the expectations are instead of walking around clueless.

    4. Laura*

      It depends on the industry and the job. I got strep right after being hired at my current job. I missed two days and my boss was more than understanding; she didn’t want me bringing it to the office anyway, as it’s highly contagious.

    5. Anon today*

      I can understand why having an employee absent is an issue for their work and productivity. But it’s this attitude that makes it so hard for single working mothers to get ahead (and possibly out of poverty). My mother was always juggling jobs when I was growing up and I wouldn’t be surprised if a few employers with the same mindset were the reason why she had trouble holding them down when my sister and I were school-aged and younger. We were both sickly kids with chronic health issues, and poverty just made our conditions worse. We didn’t get above the poverty line until I was graduating high school.

      1. sunny-dee*

        Depending, it’s also an issue for their coworkers, though. I don’t have kids (though I’m trying), so I have been called in to cover projects for single moms “who just can’t do X.” For the one I’m thinking of (because really, it was only this one woman in my department who acted like this), IT GETS OLD. I get flexibility for emergencies and temporary events, but when it’s a pattern that’s a problem. And the OP apparently just does this as a pattern. I would have a problem with that as a coworker and as a manager.

        1. Anon today*

          I think this problem is on your employer, though. Employees, whether they’re parents or not, will get sick and go on vacation and have family emergencies. And this will always happen because that’s how human life works. If the company isn’t anticipating the need for coverage in these circumstances then they’re not using good business practice. Which doesn’t help you in this situation but it isn’t the fault of your coworker.

          1. BRR*

            There’s a difference though between planned absences and last second absences. I think there are plenty of instances of employers not being flexible but I can also easily see how it could cause problems with one employee frequently calling out with little to no notice. An employer can only be so prepared.

          2. INTP*

            There are some jobs, though, where having your butt in your chair is essentially the most important component of doing your job effectively. It’s not realistic to expect a company to hire a second receptionist because the first receptionist has unusually poor or unpredictable attendance, or fair to the rest of the employees to make them compensate if the absences significantly affect their work. If it’s a job where total productivity is more important, and the employee is keeping up adequately, that’s a different situation, of course. Just like if travel is a primary component of the job, it’s reasonable to hire only people that are able to travel rather than expecting others to shoulder the extra travel burden, even though it unfortunately means that you will rule out employees with certain family situations.

            What sucks is the systemic problem making the jobs most accessible to women without significant professional experience also the ones that are incompatible with spotty attendance (receptionist, food service, etc). But I think there are better ways for a company to do their part to work against that than just hiring people that aren’t the most effective employee for the position and letting others cover the slack.

        2. Murphy*

          So you don’t think of this as a “man, I hope someone will help me out when I need it” down the road, whether it’s with kids (who get sick a lot) or if you have a sick parent/spouse/you or any other outside of life situation?

          That’s my view, at least. I’m currently covering two Director positions while one of the Directors is out sick and while it sure is a lot more work for me (and I’m not sure when it will end) I also think “man, how nice that my employer is willing to give someone the time to get healthy. It’ll be nice to have that same consideration should I ever need it.”

          1. DoDah*

            I agree with you and I’ve been the person who covered two Director roles for 6 months. I was also the person who was fired after returning from 5 days sick leave. It’s unfortunate, but it doesn’t always work both ways.

          2. INTP*

            It depends on the particular situation to me. I’d love to work for a company that gives longtime, strong employees the chance to recover from temporary health or life issues, or that offers flexible solutions to employees that allow them to continue performing their jobs at a high level despite having some impediments to a traditional work setup (like a 4/10 week or work from home arrangement).

            But I don’t really want to work for a company that hires someone whose outside commitments make them fundamentally unsuited for their jobs and instead of replacing them with an employee that is able to be effective, just ignores the problem and lets other people pick up the slack. For some jobs, being physically present as much as possible is pretty much the #1 factor to being effective at your job, so people with ongoing situations that preclude good attendance (i.e. sickly children and no backup childcare options) just aren’t going to be strong employees at that job period. There are special accommodations that allow someone to continue being a strong employee during or after a difficult period, and “special accommodations” as a euphemism for other people doing your job because you just cannot be a strong employee for your particular duties.

            (This could be irrelevant to the OP’s situation, since she didn’t specify what her job is. I’m just pointing out that there are major differences between various jobs in terms of how disruptive frequent absences are and whether not accommodating them is unreasonable or not.)

          3. Lissa*

            Unfortunately, there are a lot of times when “parent needs time off” is prioritized above anything a non-parent might need time off for, so it wouldn’t end up working out that way. It would be, employee expected to cover shifts/work etc for a parent, but then when they need time off to care for their brother etc, suddenly it doesn’t work that way.

            1. TootsNYC*

              I have one subordinate w/ little kids, and she’s been taking some time away a lot lately. The other person who works for me is single. And I know he chafes a bit that the parent has more time away (she comes in late, and works through lunch or takes on a few more hours during crunch time).

              If he came and said, “I want to leave early every Tuesday so I can take a class,” I’d say, “Sure.” (He used to do this, actually, but he quit going to school.) If he said, “My sister’s in town, and I want to squire her around for half a day,” I’d say, “OK.” He’s there when I need him to be, without complaint, so I’d flex quite a bit for him.
              His life doesn’t create that need–but then should I deny this flexibility to the other person?

              Maybe I should bring this up with him–remind him that if he needed small chunks of time away, it would be granted.

              1. Regina 2*

                I think you have to communicate this, because fair or not, there does seem to be more leeway and tacit understanding of the flex-time needs of parents, and not so much the child-free. I have never felt like I could leave early for a class or whatever as an equivalent to having a sick kid — it would be really nice to hear that explicitly from my manager. I would likely not bring it up otherwise, since I always get the impression that it’s more of an indulgence for me to ask for flex time than it would be a parent.

                1. JB (not in Houston)*

                  It really depends on where you work. At my job, nobody cares if you’re going to the doctor or leaving early for something personal *unless* it’s kids (and you’re a woman). There are certain higher ups who really frown at women leaving for anything kid-related. And I’ve seen this attitude at other places, too. If you have to leave early for a concert, that’s fine. If you have to leave early for a sick kid, then it’s “here we go, moms are so unreliable as workers.”

      2. Friday Brain All Week Long*

        Right, this. How are people supposed to get ahead in life if employers are so rigid? I’m so incredibly lucky – at my current job, two weeks in corresponded with my baby getting all sorts of crazy illnesses and what did my work do? Gave me a laptop and said I could work from home. Granted, I also have a spouse who did the lion’s share of the care during that time, but our baby was my nursling and it benefited and sped up her recovery greatly when I was home with her.

        We’re human. We have responsibilities to each other and our bodies break sometimes. A good manager will be able to figure out if their promising new hire is a flake or is burdened by life. And yes, there becomes a point where the employee just isn’t able to work enough to really do the job they were hired for, but I would hope that for most, that point is probably more than 3.5 days in 3 months.

        Also, never underestimate employee loyalty to compassionate employers.

        1. AnotherHRPro*

          But the key here is to have a conversation with your manager about this. You need to have open lines of communication about issues you are having vs. assuming that everything is ok. I’m much more flexible and open when someone talks to me about their situation vs. them just taking a lot of time off without advance notice and not discussing it with me.

          1. Friday Brain All Week Long*

            “But the key here is to have a conversation with your manager”

            Yes, definitely. This would also go a long way to the employer being able to define the new employee as burdened, not flaky. The employer needs a professional, after all. But as is the nature of illness, the convos would probably be in retrospect as little kid illnesses tend to come out of nowhere.

          2. afiendishthingy*

            We had an employee who was struggling with childcare and transportation issues. Instead of talking to us about it she falsified time sheets. If she’d told us about the problems she was having we would have done our best to figure out a schedule to accommodate her.

        2. MV*

          Also realize your childfree coworkers are also human. I no longer work there luckily, but a past company was so flexible and family friendly that folks without kids were basically punished. We got to work late, work weekends, pick up the slack for parents who were out because their kid was sick/had a game/they were volunteering in the classroom/endessly leaving early/taking long lunched/coming in late. It was constant there. And try to get a holiday off? that was a joke, because people with kids were the priority. I would say parents were in the office doing the work 3/4th of the time.

          Its one of the main reason I looked elsewhere. There was a lot of turn over with the folks without kids. These family friendly policies only work with someone to pick up the slack.

          So I applaud a boss wh0 sees this pattern develope and it throw up a red flag. OP needs to make some arrangement (can she work at home, like actually work and not watch her child the whole time) because 2-3 days off a month plus leaving early is not good for the morale of her coworkers.

          1. Anon today*

            I think this problem is on your employer, though. Employees, whether they’re parents or not, will get sick and go on vacation and have family emergencies. And this will always happen because that’s how human life works. If the company isn’t anticipating the need for coverage in these circumstances then they’re not using good business practice. Which doesn’t help you in this situation but it isn’t the fault of your coworker.

            1. MV*

              Luckily this is no longer my situation. And this company was very accommodating, the issue was too much so. And there wasn’t 1 problem coworker, it was a culture it. So I cant fault parents for taking what they can get (off all the time for their kids) but they were doing it to the detriment of their other coworkers.

          2. V*

            My office is flexible, and it’s great for parents. But they were also flexible when my mother had pneumonia and I had to drive her to the doctor, or when my cat suddenly went blind and I had to take the day off. Flexibility can be great for single / child free people, if handled properly.

            1. MV*

              Totally agree! My current workplace is flexible for ALL and it ends up being so much better for morale.

              I have a chronic health issue and need time for appointments and treatment. I know it wont be a big deal to get it where I am. In the prior company parents were given priority for time off and sickness, so even when I was able to get the time it was a fight for it, I had to disclose my medical info, and felt like I was “taking”from those that the flexibility belonged too.

              So much more pleasant when its for all and not some.

          3. TootsNYC*

            I still remember the comment a single colleague said once: “How am I going to end up getting married and having kids, if I’m working all the time to make life easier on the people who’ve already done those things?”

            Of course, a single colleague’s non-romantic, non-family-seeking life is absolutely as valuable as a parent’s life.

      3. Laurel Gray*

        Totally agree. Much of the attitudes around work flexibility seem to benefit those in senior positions and with active spouses that are also in a senior position or stay at home. When I think of the lack of flexibility the working world generally has for people with obligations to children, elderly relatives, sick pets – I “get” why some people leave the workforce altogether and just become the stereotype or whatever. Your mom juggled jobs and you lived in poverty. In many states/counties across the nation, she could have chosen not to work, lived solely off government benefits and lived in poverty too. The road out is a lot longer and harder than people think.

        1. Ad Astra*

          Case in point: My mother lives on social security disability, Medicare and Section 8. If she goes back to work, her rent will go up $1 for every dollar she earns. That’s not so bad if she finds a job that actually pays a living wage, but it offers zero incentive to take a low-paying job in order to get ahead or open some professional doors. She decided early on that she’d rather stay home with her kids and live in poverty than work all day while her kids were home alone and still live in poverty.

      4. Ad Astra*

        I grew up poor, too. When I was too sick to go to school or daycare, I stayed home alone — probably from the age of 6 or 7. My parents just didn’t have the kind of flexibility to leave work and take care of a sick kid. It’s a really tough position to be in.

        1. Overeducated*

          And now people call CPS and parents can lose custody of their kids for that. There is literally no way to win in a situation like that :(

    6. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

      What is “perfect attendance”? Perfect attendance is the right attendance. If someone new to us gets bronchitis in the first month, the right answer is for the new person to take a couple of days if they need a couple days. I don’t need germs spilling all over our office or somebody running their health into the ground when taking a day off and sleeping will fix them up.

      Somebody new takes days, we crook an eyebrow but then we wait and watch. Many more times than not, it turns out to be have a been a good new employee with a bad patch of starters luck.

      Frequent calling out when someone is new is another issue. We ran into this with a new employee recently, who it happens was a single mother and, one thing and another, we ended up letting her go. We (management) were all upset about it and did really try to work with her first. It was one thing that compounded another. Her work was also not up to par, possibly because of her external distractions and missing days, but she fell far behind the other people who started at the same time. (She literally did not work a full week but once or twice in a period of 2 1/2 months, it was one thing or another.)

      Anyway, if someone did exactly as the OP laid out, she’d be fine in our world as long as her work was good. We have pooled PTO so she’d end up eating her own vacation time at some point so it’s 6 of 1, 1/2 dozen of another to us.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        What is “perfect attendance”? Perfect attendance is the right attendance.

        This is beautifully put

      2. hildi*

        Your answer is great! I have always loved your very practical perspective :) I agree with your point about the bad patch of starter’s luck. Sometimes life events collide at less-than-ideal times. I think a “watch and see” approach like you say is a really reasonable way to handle it. No need to sour a potentially good and long-term relationship by a rigid stance on the manager’s part early on.

    7. Murphy*

      Really? I wouldn’t. I get that kids get sick (I too am a mum to a disgusting germ troll) and as long as the work is getting done I don’t want to penalize someone for having a life outside of work. But I work in a white-collar environment where we’re given family sick time (separate from personal sick time) so we’re privileged and I’m aware of that.

    8. Ad Astra*

      I can totally empathize with managers who’d be frustrated with an employee missing this much work, but it doesn’t sound like something that the OP can do much about. You can expect someone to not take off on vacation in the first 3-6 months, but it’s not totally reasonable to demand nobody get sick in the first 3-6 months. And it seems like the situation might be somewhat temporary — your average, healthy baby tends to get sick less often as it gets older, right? Between that and the fact that it’s time-consuming and expensive to replace someone, I’d say most managers would be better off waiting this one out before making any big decisions.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Not OP, but I that is what I see. There are plenty of employers out there that you better not get sick during your beginning time. Heck, I have seen employers who do not want you calling in sick for the first year. It’s brutal.
        And no one bothers to figure out how this might be driving up health care costs later.

    9. Mando Diao*

      I agree unfortunately. New employees are typically on their best behavior in the first 3 months. I’d worry that OP’s attendance would be even worse once her probationary period was over. Unless the OP initiates a conversation with her boss, this is what the boss might be thinking as well.

      1. NJ Anon*

        If you work in an at-will state, probationary periods are basically meaningless. You can get fired on the 91st day too.

    10. NJ Anon*

      Wow, that’sux rough! So if your new employee has the flu you want them to come in and affect everyone? Yikes!

    11. Corporate Drone*

      As a manager and as a single mother, I think your attitude stinks. I manage a group of salaried people, not hourly, so if my new hire told me that she needed to take sick time (to which, at my company, she would be entitled on her first day of employment), I would have no issue as long as the work was getting done. Too many managers focus on things like hours worked, butts in chairs, and fail to focus on RESULTS. And far too many managers, especially men who have SAH wives, have little patience for the reality that kids get sick, or that orthodontist appointments are only available in the middle of the workday. The best quality of any manager (or any human) is EMPATHY.

      And as an aside, what daycare allows you to dump your sick kid there???? Glad mine is now in her teens so I don’t have to deal with that hell any more.

  2. AMT 2*

    I have a similar problem, though I am lucky enough my mother-in-law lives close by and depending on my workload and her schedule I can sometimes get her to babysit a sick kid. The problem isn’t having a back-up daycare, it is that when your kid is sick daycare won’t let them stay – and depending on what they have they might stipulate your kid cant come back for 24 hours, so even though the kid is fine the next day you cant just take them to daycare. Aside from family helping out the only other option I can see is to find a backup babysitter, not a care center, that you can call and see if they are available on a sporadic, emergency basis. Finding someone without a regular M-F job who is willing to do that is the hard part…

    1. sunny-dee*

      Actually, try a local church. There are a lot of older / elderly women who would be available for a few hours a day or have flexible enough schedules to be on call. My church uses those women as backup nursery workers, so they’ve been background checked and everything.

      1. Laura*

        This is a wonderful idea. I’m sure many of those women would be happy to help out, especially if they don’t have grandchildren nearby.

      2. KR*

        I agree with this. My grandmother does this kind of thing but with foster children – someone from a church or child services calls her up and asks if she can babysit for a few nights/an afternoon/a weekend. She keeps a supply of baby and kid stuff at her house and she loves taking in children, however temporary.

      3. Teapot project manager*

        I can’t think of anyone worse to ask to take care of a sick kid than an elderly person. What can be a minor illness in a young person can end up being very serious for the elderly.

        If I am sick, or my kids are sick, we stay clear of the elderly until healthy as much as possible

        1. ElCee*

          The elderly aren’t all immunocompromised just by dint of being old. I assume if someone joins a church (or local senior center) list as a backup babysitter and goes through background checks etc., they’re aware of the risks and not worried about it.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          I don’t think a person whose health is failing as you describe here would be volunteering to baby sit, though.

          I know plenty of 80 year old people who run businesses and travel extensively. I think this is more the type of person that would be inclined to volunteer.

        3. Sarahnova*

          While I see your thoughtful intent, what about the right of the elderly person to make that determination for themselves? If I’ve volunteered to babysit through the church, then I’ve already thought about the risks and determined I want to do it.

          I really hope people will not assume they now have the right to make decisions for me the day I turn 65.

      4. TootsNYC*

        When I retire, I want to earn spending money by doing this for people. Less for the money, and more because somebody needs to! If I don’t live in a co-op and don’t have insurance issues, I could make it a business!

    2. Ann O'Nemity*

      Some cities have sick kid daycare. (The one I’ve used is at the children’s hospital.) It’s more expensive than regular daycare, and your kid can’t be too sick. But it can help in a pinch.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        I’ve always said this would be a genius business for people to start. Or, why don’t they have a “sick room” at regular day cares? Kind of like some pediatricians offices have a sick waiting room and a well waiting room. Of course, there’s have to be a specific daycare worker, wearing a mask, attending to the sick kids so they don’t spread it to the well kids.

        1. Laura*

          Sick kids can pass their illnesses to other sick kids, making them even sicker. This would not be a good idea at all.

          1. TL -*

            I think for the sniffles and a slight fever, or the 24 hrs after a fever leaves, in otherwise healthy kids, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. (Which is a lot of what I think keeps kids out of daycare.)

          2. Stranger than fiction*

            But they’d be separated, like on opposite wings of a building or something like that.

            1. Rana*

              You’d have to have each child in their own isolated room for it to work. Otherwise you’d have a kid with the flu sharing space with one with a cold, another with hand-foot-mouth disease, another with a stomach bug, and all sharing those germs around.

    3. DLB*

      I came here to post exactly this. Drop in care at a daycare center is not an option if they have a fever. Once the kid’s temp is over a certain degree, they have to go home and can’t come back until fever free for 24 hours without meds. I’ve scrambled to find last minute care at lunch before, and my backup care was unavailable. A friend told me that it took a year of their kid being in daycare before their immune system built up and they stopped getting sick all the time.

      I also have coworkers without kids at home (they are all grown-up now) – that miss WAY more work for “piddly shit” (as I like to call it) that I do. One of my co-workers is notorious for leaving early because she thinks she left the sprinkler on, and other things like that.

    1. Betty*

      Probably money. Having one form of childcare is expensive and adding in a second option isn’t possible for everyone. I have to pay for daycare whether my children are sick or not, the additional 14/hr for backup care is impossible for me, even for one day. Luckily, I work for a family friendly university where this isn’t an issue but I don’t know how other parents make it work.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        You have to pay even if they’re sick? Whoa, that doesn’t seem reasonable.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I suspect it’s because they’re using a spot that can’t be filled by someone else on short notice, and the care provider doesn’t want to have fluctuating income, which actually isn’t unreasonable.

          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

            Yes, of course that makes sense, particularly in the case of an individual provider.

            But children get sick predictably. It’s a part of childhood. We should have a daycare system built around that reality, not around the fiction that children don’t get sick (or that everyone can afford to pay twice for childcare, or that we all have flexible jobs, or whatever).

            Truly, I don’t know how people are able to raise children (in the US; I have no idea what it’s like elsewhere). It’s why we haven’t had kids — the cost of childcare, combined with the inflexibility of the work world (not our jobs specifically, just the general structure of work that hasn’t evolved much since we shifted away from being a society with one partner at home much of the time). More power to you, parents.

            1. Allison*

              Because the idea of two working parents is relatively new. For centuries only men worked and women stayed at home to tend to the children, and people who worked full time generally had someone at home taking care of the parenting duties; this only began to change half a century ago – for middle and upper class families, anyway. So this new concept, coupled with an increase of women in many male-dominated fields, has forced the modern workforce to adapt to a reality where many of a company’s employees can’t be in the office from 9-5 every day due to parenting duties.

              This is complicated by the fact that many managers still have old fashioned notions of what a “good employee” does, and many jobs still require people to consistently be present at work for the duration of the workday.

              1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

                Well, no. Women in lower-income families have worked for a long time. It’s only upper-middle and upward where women stayed home traditionally. However, up until recently, the children in lower-income families also worked, so they had less need of care.

                1. Alienor*

                  Yep. Or, the eldest girl in the family would be forced to quit school around age 11 or 12 so she could take care of the younger ones while mom and dad worked.

                2. Mookie*

                  Seriously. Childhood past the age of two-digits is a recent invention, and most of the world’s women who’ve lived and died before us either worked outside their home or performed communal labor within larger communities. These ahistorical myths are understandable but a little frustrating when they’re used as just-so stories for explaining present-day inequalities. Racial and gender wage gaps in the US and Europe, for example, don’t exist because people of color or women are “new” to the workforce and the workforce is trying to “catch up,” it’s because in many places they were long denied access to training, education, unions, and skilled jobs and because their labor was traditionally undervalued.

            2. Meg Murry*

              But the thing is, it isn’t really predictable. My daycare has 12 infants enrolled in the class, and a state maximum of 3 infants for every 1 adult. So they have to have 4 teachers scheduled per shift. If I don’t bring my kid in, they still have to have 4 teachers. If 3 people have their kids out sick, should the daycare send one of the teachers home (and not pay that person for the hours)? Our daycare mitigates this a little bit by having a few part time floaters on staff (usually college students working toward early childhood degrees) that know that they may get sent home early if the classes aren’t full – but you can’t staff an entire childcare center that way, the teachers would quit.

              It really stinks that childcare is so expensive in the US, and our society would be better off if we addressed the realities of this situation, but right now paying by the month instead of the day is the norm. No one is getting rich running a daycare either, that’s for sure.

              1. MT*

                there are only 3 ways to reduce the cost of child care for the individual. Pay the workers less, have the workers watch more kids, or have the govt subsidize it.

              2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

                I don’t mean that the days a child is sick is predictable, but that it is predictable that a child will be sick.

                Much as it is predictable that human employee will be sick. Employers need to build their business around reality, not a happy fiction where every employee is at 100% every day.

                1. MT*

                  The biggest problem is the customer. Customers only care about if the business will be able to take care for them when they are ready to part with their hard earned money. Customers who want to be taken care of, wont care about your staffing issues if they can go one block over and get the same service for the same price. Society has allowed customers to have such a high expectation on the service level, that businesses are scrambling to do what ever they can to provide their goods and services,better/faster/cheaper then their competitors. Which means that having the least amount of redundancy while having workers available is the only way some businesses stay afloat.

                2. Not So NewReader*

                  MT, I agree with you that we have a problem with allowing our expectations to creep upward. And crap rolls down hill as the people at the bottom get more and more work piled on them. Collectively, our society acts like very entitled customers. (Not everyone and not all the time. But it’s enough that it is driving business beyond capacity.)

            3. A Non E. Mouse*

              Truly, I don’t know how people are able to raise children (in the US; I have no idea what it’s like elsewhere).

              Hell I don’t know how we do it, and I’m right in the middle of it with three kids! You just….do. I wouldn’t change it for the world; I also can’t straight-faced tell people it’s easy or even tolerable most days.

              To the question someone else: as for why alternative care isn’t an option, or at least not a great one: a sick child is sticky howler monkey. Like if they don’t feel well they are physically attached to you all day, coughing/sneezing/fevering in your face, as far as I’ve ever experienced. The only time you get away from them is when their fever breaks for 20 minutes and they get a little blessed sleep OR they zone out in front of SpongeBob. But then you have to listen to SpongeBob.

              So finding someone 1) Available, that 2) you trust and 3) your child feels comfortable enough to stay with when sick is nearly impossible unless you have family or very close friends nearby. Such a mythical person is not someone you can conjure up on a random Tuesday because a fever is going around daycare again.

              Back to “how do you parent when it’s so fracking expensive”: you make do. You make really hard choices like going with an in-home care provider you pay cash to and who can be a bit flaky by calling out herself at the last minute, because it’s literally half the price of a daycare center. Or if you do have them in a care center, it’s one really far away from the house, but on a route to work that means you can drop them off in time to get to work on time (as long as traffic cooperates) and also allows you to pick them up in time to avoid the $1 a minute per kid late charge (again, if traffic cooperates). Over time those will flip-flop back and forth, depending on your particular boss/commute/money situation.

              It means spending your Wednesday evening or Sunday afternoon at a walk-in clinic begging for antibiotics because you know the ear infection is brewing, she always acts like this the day before an infection sets in, and if you can get the medicine and start her on it now, daycare will allow her to stay even with a fever because a diagnosed ear infection + medicine means she can be allowed to stay and won’t be sent home (and you won’t have to miss work). It’s calling the running nose allergies and hoping you are right. It’s sharing pink eye medicine drops with friends when their kid gets it too, because that shit is expensive if you don’t have insurance, plus they’d be out the cost of a doctor visit to even get the prescription.

              It’s doing the quick calculation to determine which credit card has enough funds on it to buy milk because you just sent your last $12 in cash to school for a field trip fee. It’s accepting hand me downs (clothes, toys, bikes) and making sure you pass it along when you are done with it.

              There’s also a lot of poop and vomit.

              1. hildi*

                Your description of the first several paragraphs mirrors my own world — it’s hilarious!! There’s the first hurdle of not being allowed to take your kid to daycare until 24 hours after the fever breaks on its own without medication. So like that takes forever depending on what they have. But I understand the reasoning for it – it’s a community. I’ll do my best to not bring my sick kid in so your kid has a better crack at staying healthy. So I hope you’d be considerate enough to do the same! But the temptation to dump your kid with a small fever masked by ibuprofen is a strong one.

                But my other thing with a sick kid, is that I know they’re never gonna get better if I don’t let them rest. They come home from a good, happy, healthy day blitzed because they play so damn hard. You know how it is when you’re now feeling well? Recovery takes twice as long. So I keep my girls home for their own benefit of healing. And when a kid gets a bug, they can get it HARD and it seemingly takes forever to get them back to square one.

                Anyway, there are SO many considerations and perspectives on this issue. I just wanted you to know I appreciated and was chuckling along with what you wrote! :)

              2. EG2*

                This is my life to the T! Down to the pink eye medication….did you know it is a cosmetic problem, not a medical problem???? But daycare won’t accept my child if we take the “wait it out” approach and he needs to be on the drops for at least 24 hours before we send him back. And all the random fevers. I am so disheartened by some of these responses. It’s really, really hard to be a working parent.

                1. JB (not in Houston)*

                  I’m not sure what you mean by just a cosmetic issue? Some forms of pink eye don’t just look bad, they have real physical symptoms.

            4. Sarahnova*

              It’s bloody hard, even here in the UK. I work 4 days/week and have a nanny share, so fortunately my son can still go to our nanny when he just has a cold or minor bug. But when he was very ill for a week at the age of 15 months, my ILs had to move in for a week and care for him, or I wouldn’t have been able to go to work. What I would have done without them, I don’t know.

              I have used, who do short-notice nanny or nursery care, a few times. But it’ll cost ya.

          2. Allison*

            Exactly, it’s like paying for a parking spot even if you don’t use it every single day, or paying the same rent every month even when you go away for a week.

            1. Allison*

              or sometimes a salon will charge you a hefty fee if you cancel within hours of the appointment, because it’s unlikely they’ll end up with a customer taking that spot.

        2. BetsyTacy*

          You pay for a ‘slot’, whether or not you use it, in most daycares.

          Sincerely, someone who once paid a full month’s cost of daycare and actually used it for one (1) day. It worked out to $170 an hour.

          1. Kyrielle*

            Ow. And I thought paying for the month with our vacation and a week-long in-service* was painful…. O.o

            * Which doesn’t reduce the cost of the month, because (a) fees are calculated over time and (b) they are still maintaining the building and working that week, just working on stuff for our kids….

            (Luckily, this one is run _by_ my company, so no one is shocked that I’m taking that week off. I could have lined up alternate care, of course, for $howevermuch in addition to my monthly fees. But he’s getting older and honestly? I’ll take the excuse and spend the week with him. By the end of it I’ll have fun memories _and_ be ready to send him back, probably….)

        3. Bend & Snap*

          It’s not, but you pay to hold their place. So if we take a week for vacation and my daughter doesn’t go to daycare, I still pay for it.

        4. Laurel Gray*

          Yes, and many times “sick’ can be a sham. If your kid sweats during nap time and wakes up hot and groggy, they make check his temp and if it is over the 98.6, they call the parent to come pick up their kid with a “fever”. The rule that really sucks is that a kid can not return to school for 24 hours after leaving early from a fever. So ultimately if you are a single mom you are missing a whole day plus how ever many hours you took off early to pick your kid up. And yes, you pay the full rate for both days.

          1. Petronella*

            Yes, I often found that the daycare’s definition of “too sick to be near other kids” seemed over-cautious, causing me to miss work.

            1. Callie*

              Because if they aren’t strict about it and some disease goes through the center, they could lose their license. They can’t afford to risk it.

          2. Lia*

            I had this struggle as a single working parent when I started my first “real” job post-college (I’d gone back to school after the divorce). I’d been on the job for a month and my daughter got pinkeye, and due to the daycare rules, I missed three days of work in my second month. Luckily, my boss was super understanding, but ugh. I do not miss those days, at all. My emergency care was a patchwork of stay at home friends, my ex, and my mom, who lived 90 minutes away. Mom once was able to come down on almost no notice and stay with a “too sick for daycare” kid when I had a huge presentation to give.

            I was so grateful that my kids had gotten chicken pox when I was not yet working FT, because they managed to get it one after the other and I had one or the other out of commission for three solid weeks.

          3. Kyrielle*

            The time I came to pick up my “fevered” kid after nap time and found they’d – on a perfectly normally warm day – wrapped him multiple times in layers of his plush blanket…augh! His temperature was quite normal within a half hour of being unwrapped. (Probably less, but I didn’t check it sooner.)

            After that, I stopped sending in his favorite blanket and went with single-yard ones of thin fleece, which _couldn’t_ be layered that way.

          4. EG2*

            Yes…my daycare does this too. I’ve missed 3 days this month. :(

            Our pediatrician’s office told me that you are not supposed to take their temperature until they’ve been awake and sitting up for at least 30 minutes because it can create a false high temp.

          5. BananaPants*

            Like the times that I got called to pick up a kid for “pinkeye” only to discover it was non-contagious eye irritation from allergies or discharge caused by a cold. Our pediatrician got so tired of it once (3 visits in less than 2 weeks) that she printed out some educational materials on pinkeye to pass along to the daycare. Hasn’t happened since!

            We don’t really have backup childcare; our friends who are SAH parents don’t want to babysit a sick kid who will probably share germs with their kids, and our parents still work full time and don’t have the ability to take time off from their own jobs to babysit. Fortunately my husband and I work different shifts and I have the flexibility to work from home if needed, but sometimes we do trade off on whose boss will be pissed off this time.

            The kids’ pediatrician says that children are guaranteed to get sick a lot for the first time they’re in a group setting, whether it’s in infancy or when they start school. Our 6 year old’s immune system is like iron now, she just doesn’t get sick anymore. It’s awesome but it sucks when they’re little and seem to come down with every bug that passes through the daycare center.

          1. Stranger than fiction*

            And don’t even get me started on how many channels of tv I pay for but don’t watch.

        5. Murphy*

          I’ve never met a daycare/child care provider where you don’t pay when your kid is out sick (or when the provider is sick in the case of a day home or when they take vacation). It’s part of the deal with child care.

          I don’t have back-up care when my kid is sick. We have no family in town who can help so we play the “which day is less important” game whenever we have to stay home. I’m lucky I’m married and my husband is a full-partner in this life, but that is not the case for a lot of families.

        6. BananaPants*

          Yes, most daycare centers require you to pay even if your child is out sick. They’re running a business and still have fixed overhead costs to pay for the building and keeping the lights on. Plus they’re required to maintain specific staffing ratios. In my state it’s 4 kids max to 1 caregiver for children under 3 years old – if our kid is out sick, her teacher still has to be there for the other three kids in her group.

          In the unlikely event that 4 out of, say, 12 kids are all out sick one day then the director can send a teacher home, but that teacher then loses a day of pay through no fault of her own. Do that to a caring and dedicated caregiver often enough, and they’ll leave. Maybe we’re just lucky but can’t remember there ever being THAT many children simultaneously out sick in any one age group.

      2. JB (not in Houston)*

        This whole topic makes me infuriated. As a society, we need people to have kids, and that means someone has to watch those kids, and if we don’t have inexpensive, readily-available childcare, that someone is usually going to be a parent. Sometimes that means a parent has to be out of the work force for a while. Even if the parent has child care, parents have to leave to pick kids up from school and be out sometimes. And when a child is sick, someone, usually a parent, is going to have to be out for that. If the parent can still get their work done, then we really need to not care that they are out. And we need to make it easy for parents to be take some time from work and still have a good career when they return. I mean, the whole of society needs people to have kids who then go on to become workers and care takers, so it’s in our own best interests to make that as easy for people as possible.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          We have a similar issue regarding elderly parents. You can take care of your elderly parent or have a job. Pick one.

          Our society needs to rethink a lot of stuff.

      3. JustALurker*

        Day care for sick children in my area is nearly double the cost of normal day care. Alternative child care can be extremely cost prohibitive.

        1. Friday Brain All Week Long*

          My town, heck my whole county, does not have day care for sick children. And we are a well-populated touristy area with a high COL. So the lack of this is probably because people wouldn’t make enough money to live on in this town by providing sick day care services.

          1. JustALurker*

            Oh, I know why it is cost prohibitive (I am a single parent and I wouldn’t want to take care of sick kids, I don’t think there is an amount of money that could tempt me to even consider it.) Our sick drop-in care is a function of one of our medical centers and believe me those slots fill up pretty quickly during the school year. Just agreeing that the idea of “alternative child care” is quite different than the reality of alternative child care.

            1. Meg Murry*

              Yes, the only sick drop-in care in our area is also run by a medical center, and from what I understand one of the major reasons was to provide for their own nursing staff to have a place for sick kids while they worked – because otherwise they would be short-handed whenever the flu, etc went around.

      4. WorkingMama*

        Yup. I’ve very occasionally used a local place that does backup childcare for mildly ill children and it was both insanely expensive and dubious quality of care. Most sitters want regular hours, not to wait on call in case my kid gets sick. Also, most of them don’t want to get sick, so they are not interested in sitting during pink eye, hand foot and mouth or Norovirus, which seem to be our daycare bugs of choice. It does get better after the first year in daycare (my kids are now 2, 5 and 9 and I’ve only missed 2 days in the last 12 months), but for each of them, the first winter was brutal.

    2. MechE31*

      I have not found any established day care providers that will take a sick child. That leaves you with friends and family. Most people work during the day as well. Most parents that do stay home don’t want your sick child to be around their healthy child. It can be very difficult to find someone, especially on short notice.

      I used more sick time from the time my child was 6-12 months old than in the previous 5 years combined. My wife took 6 months maternity leave, but part of that meant draining all her sick and vacation time prior to going on maternity leave.

      We were lucky as we had a lot of family in the area to help support us, but it still required me to be several hours late on days where they would help out. It took time to line up someone, get our kid to them and then get to work.

      1. Lynn Whitehat*

        We have emergency drop-in child care for mildly ill children in my area. It costs $$$, as you might imagine. But if you don’t have helpful family in the area, maybe worth it.

    3. Meg Murry*

      I read ” besides finding alternative child care” as – what else can I do in addition to finding alternative child care, not instead of alternative child care. At least, that’s what I hope OP was thinking – because even at jobs that generally don’t care what hours you keep as long as you get your work done, there are usually at least a couple days a year where you really can’t miss for anything more than a true major emergency – important client visits or hard to schedule meetings with other departments, etc. So having some kind of backup plan for “my kid is too sick for daycare but it is sick enough to need to be in the hospital” is important not just for your work life, but also for your personal life, in case you as a parent get sick or have another emergency situation like a parent with a medical crisis at the same time your kid gets sick.

      If OP has the kind of job that doesn’t rely on her being there in person for set hours (or at least has some component of the work that could be done earlier in the morning or later in the evening), asking if she could make up some of the the work at home or by working a few longer days would go a long way toward addressing this. But unless she had a true “come and go whenever as long as the work is getting done” kind of job, I would think that any plan she proposed to her bosses would also need to include her coming up with some kind of backup care.

      1. Jackie*

        The thing with a single parent being in the hospital is that there are social work services (at lease where I am) that will help care for children in such a situation.

    4. Artemesia*

      Who wants to take sick kids? I am backup for my daughter today with a sick grandchild and I hate it — I will no doubt end up getting sick too as will my husband and as Olds little colds and flus that were nothing when we were 30 are likely to drag on a couple of weeks now. Finding elderly people willing to expose themselves to sick kids is not easy. I would not do it for money. And hiring people who specialize in this is incredibly expensive. Not a problem for someone in the C suite making mid 6 figures but catastrophic for a single mother with an entry level or admin job that pays poorly as most do.

      It is an enormous problem. I hope the OP’s situation is flexible enough that she can do some work from home and excel on the days she is there and thus be a net asset and get flexibility. If her job is high face time like covering phones or reception or whatever then it will be really difficult. If at all possible, she should have the conversation and discuss ways she can make up the time or remain productive while out. It is easier to find daycare for well kids, so maybe she can agree to work extra shifts or spell people on holidays or otherwise demonstrate commitment to getting the job done.

      This is very hard.

    5. pieces of flair*

      I don’t think OP’s going to answer because this is a re-post, but I have 2 illness-prone kids and I’m honestly not aware of any viable alternative options. Are there actually daycare centers that accept random sick children on a drop-in basis? Even if those places exist, is it unreasonable to feel uncomfortable leaving my sick toddler who’s crying for mommy in a strange place with people she doesn’t know (and, presumably, other sick toddlers from whom she could pick up additional germs)? It also can’t be easy to find an individual babysitter who is available on an occasional, as-needed basis and doesn’t mind caring for sick children. The only viable alternative care I can think of is a retired parent or other relative who lives nearby. Not everyone has that.

      1. Security SemiPro* is one place I know of to find backup care that you can negotiate for illness.

        But yes, its basically on-call babysitting with hazard pay. And you have to do all of the vetting and test days and, and, and…

      2. Government Worker*

        There are drop-in centers for mildly sick kids, but they’re hard to find outside of a few major cities, very expensive, expose your kids to more germs, and I agree that the whole thing would make me uncomfortable. There are services like Parents in a Pinch in many areas, which send a sitter to your house on short notice and will watch mildly sick kids, but they’re also quite expensive. Family and friends are the best option for many people, but they’re a pretty crummy option in many cases.

        I’ve known some companies that subsidize Parents in a Pinch, which seems like a pretty great benefit.

      3. Stranger than fiction*

        You just reminded me that I once had a coworker who was running out of work regularly having to pick up her sick toddler from daycare so often some of us thought she had to be making it up. Turns out she began noticing the kids at that daycare were always sick and she started suspecting the cleanliness of the place. She switched day cares and has now been absent a fraction of what it used to be cuz her kid isn’t sick as often.

        1. BananaPants*

          It really does help when the daycare is on top of hand hygiene for caregivers, keeps up with sanitizing toys, tables, and other surfaces, and teaches the kids to cough into the crook of their elbows (even toddlers can do it). I can’t remember more than 2 kids in the same age group being out sick at the same time and most of the time no one is out sick.

      4. Lia*

        There was a sick child daycare in my old city– it was, I believe, something like $25/hr with a 4 hour minimum (and this was 10 years ago in a relatively low COL area). It was staffed by nurses or nursing assistants. They had a very low capacity, maybe 8-10 slots in total. It was largely subsidized by the major employers in that city, and their staff got reduced rates and first dibs on the slots.

    6. Ad Astra*

      Without an above-average amount of money or a support system of friends and relatives who are available on short notice, single parents are pretty much SOL in situations like these. Those who can find a workable alternative are the exception more than the rule.

    7. many bells down*

      I’ve been this single mom, and there just wasn’t anyone available. My parents lived an hour away in the opposite direction from my work, AND they both had jobs. The father was closer, but he was totally unreliable and I missed hours of work several times because I was waiting for him to get our kid when he’d promised to watch her. As people have pointed out, daycares won’t take an obviously sick child. Everyone I knew worked. EVERYONE.

      I had to show up for Jury Duty once with my toddler, because they wouldn’t exempt me and I had nowhere to put her. Her preschool didn’t even open until an hour after I was supposed to report.

  3. Bend & Snap*

    I have this problem and my company falls into category 2 sliding toward 3.

    The nature of my daughter’s illness means she can only be cared for by a parent, per her doctor.

    So it sucks and there’s nothing I can do about it, but it’s very stressful on both the work and home fronts.

  4. Anna*

    Wow. I wish the single parents lived here in Sweden. We get paid leave for care of kids under 12, and some months, like February, parents of small children spend more time at home than work.

    1. BetsyTacy*

      Instead we have no real maternity leave policy, so taking 12 weeks (unpaid, of course) is seen as ‘generous’, ‘affordable’ childcare that costs $1000-$2500 per month (average household income in my state is $53,000/year), and no required sick days.

      I think 90% of the parents of young children I know have considered moving to a Nordic country.

    2. Anna*

      I am also Anna! But what I wanted to say is:

      Whaaaaa…? Actually invest in the well-being of our nation’s next generation and the people who raise them? That’s nuts! /sarcasm

      1. sunny-dee*

        Well, if you wanted to invest in your kids’ future, you could become a stay-at-home mom. ;)

        I get the frustration, especially since I’m trying to have a baby and I (hopefully) will have the issue myself. But the people most interested in the care and raising of children are their own parents. If childcare is costing $2000 – $4000 a month for two kids, having a parent stay at home is a rational financial decision and one more easily controllable than creating a federal entitlement program.

        (I know that doesn’t help the OP; I’m speaking generally.)

        1. Government Worker*

          It can be rational in the short term for some people, sure. But what about the opportunity cost of taking several years out of the workforce? If you take four years off you’ll be four years behind your peers for raises and promotions once you go back, and that’s assuming that you’re able to re-enter the workforce at exactly the same level and salary that you left, which is far from guaranteed.

          1. Sheep*

            There’s both maternity and paternity leave, so you can also divide it with your spouse. And maybe you decide that because of this, you have 2 kids instead of 4. Also, if you are on m/paternity leave, you will get your job back at the end of it. (This is Norway, not Sweden, but I reckon it’s pretty much the same).

            Finally…. you won’t be four years behind your peers, because everyone else (who has kids) is doing it too.

        2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          Doesn’t help much when there’s only one parent at home to start with, just sayin’.

        3. Murphy*

          I know you put a winky-face behind your comment about SHMs, but please, please recognize that this is an incredibly insidious comment that drives the “mommy wars” and does nothing but serve to make people feel bad about their parenting choices. Because it’s just as easy for me to say that I am investing in my child’s future by continuing to work, both economically and socially.

          1. sunny-dee*

            No more of a slippery slope than mandating that all of society should pay for your child-care options.

            1. Murphy*

              Ok. I don’t like tanks. Why am I paying for those? I don’t want to get too into this, but there’s a lot in society people don’t like that we pay for because there’s a net benefit to all people, not just those who receive the services.

              It’s also worth noting that most other developed nations manage to work this stuff out without either the collapse of either their societies or economies. People should be supported in their choices, whatever those may be. But let’s not punish a segment of a population for not living an appropriately moral, domestic, and traditional life (which, let’s be honest, is exactly what happens when we talk down to working mums and single mums).

              Finally, I’d ask, what’s the alternative? Most people who are against publicly funded parental leaves and child care would absolutely lose their ever-loving (closed) minds if a single mum didn’t work and instead collected social assistance. There are practical issues here, not simply ideology.

        4. TL -*

          That also doesn’t help if, even with daycare costs accounted for, a family needs two incomes to get by.
          Or if one parent is in a medical residency program, for instance, and they can’t give up the time to stay home, and the other parent can’t give up the income to stay home.
          And there are lots of people who don’t want to be a stay-at-home-parent for the 4-6 years before their kids go to school.

          Being a stay-at-home parent is great, if that’s what works for your family, but it’s not the end-all, be-all solution for every family. Please don’t treat it like it is – or like it’s the ultimate way to invest in your kids future. It’s just an option that works well for some families and not for others.

        5. JB (not in Houston)*

          I agree with government worker–it’s often *not* the rational financial decision in the long run because the SAH parents misses out on contributing to a 401k, earning promotions, putting several years’ experience on their resume, all kinds of things that in the long run put the parents in a much better position.

          And “the people most interested in the care and raising of children” should be everyone because, as I said above, we as a society depend on people having children who will one day be our workers and care takers. There’s a reason why countries with low birth rates try all kinds of methods to encourage people to have kids (though often not the methods that would actually encourage people to have kids, like cheap or free childcare).

        6. Temperance*

          Eeew. This is not a constructive comment.

          I really don’t agree with you, either. This is a total overshare, but w/e. My mother has mental health issues, and her staying home with me was incredibly harmful to my well-being. She has an anxiety disorder and a personality disorder, so I had no real contact with same-age peers outside of church up until school. I’m a social person and I like having friends, and it would have been far better for me to be in day care.

        7. VintageLydia*

          As a stay at home mom, lemme stop you right there. My position is incredibly privileged. My husband makes very good money and, more importantly, I didn’t have a career to speak of. If I had a career that I enjoyed and wanted to advance in, I would’ve stayed working even if I’ll be earning a net negative. It’s very hard to get back into the workplace and damn near impossible to enter right when you left off, plus the opportunity costs of the 5-10 years of promotions and raises. I love my boys, but I love my own mental well being and sense of personal accomplishment as well.

        8. BananaPants*

          That’s an obnoxious comment that working mothers hear all the time, along with priceless gems like, “I just couldn’t leave my baby with a stranger” and “We thought it was important to actually raise our own children.”

          Even with the winking-joke emoticon, not cool. No one ever says this shit about working fathers.

          1. Kelly*

            The dads tend to be more on the melodramatic side than working mothers. I work with two people who have kids and the working mother is more reliable and has better attendance than my male colleague. She has a toddler and is expecting the second one this summer. So far, she’s only been out a couple of days because of the toddler, but the difference is that the kid is really too sick to go to daycare.

            My male colleague is a helicopter parent. He’s divorced and is developing a pattern of calling in sick on the days after he picks up the kids from his ex-wife. He’ll keep them home when they are borderline and could go to school. The sick days are a little suspicious, especially during lovely spring days. I wouldn’t be surprised if him and his ex-wife have gotten warnings about the kids’ attendance issues.

    3. anon for this*

      Can we please stop comparing how great other countries have it compared to whatever country the OP is writing in from? It’s pretty frustrating to read a lot of comments on this site with a “you have to deal with X in your country??? Sucks you’re not like Y country” mentality.

      1. Friday Brain All Week Long*

        Frustrating, yes, but important to hear especially in an election year. Vote your interests, people. Mine is affordable child care.

        1. Artemesia*

          Here here. There is a tendency for us US,ers to believe things that other countries take for granted like decent health care that doesn’t bankrupt you, affordable childcare, good schools for kids and adequate maternity leave, vacation and sick leave are ‘impossible.’ They are only impossible here because our country is run for the interests of the few. It is good to be aware of how the rest of the developed world works.

        2. sunny-dee*

          I don’t have kids, yet I am taxed about $4000 just in property taxes for schools, then sales taxes and income taxes for school and other social programs (like SNAP) that benefit single mothers.

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            What? No, SNAP benefits people who can’t afford food, including THE CHILDREN of single mothers. And they benefit you, because the whole society benefits when we have healthy, educated children who grow up to be functioning adults.

          2. esra*

            Pretty sure having an educated, secure populace will help you even if you don’t have kids.

          3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            I also don’t have kids, but when I’m 80 years old and fall down the stairs it’s going to be very much in my interest that my neighbors were able to send their kid to medical school!

          4. Kelly*

            Where I live, there’s a good chance that the school district that I reside in will attempt a referendum in sometime in the next couple years due to the combination of declining state funding and rising costs. They had enough through reserve funds and retirements to cover the budget gap the last two years, but probably won’t next year. I don’t have kids, so I’m on the fence on whether I’d vote for it. I think it’s a tough sell for most city residents because that would add more to their property taxes, which are rising around 2 to 3 percent each year. That’s another sensitive subject because some people feel that doing that punishes those who make needed improvement on their homes. If the school district was smart, they’d get it on the ballot next year or in 2019 when there’s lower turnout to improve its chances of passing. I don’t think it would pass in 2018 when there’s a chance of a US Senate primary also on the ballot.

            Where my parents live, there’s some people who want to secede from the larger consolidated school district and reform the smaller district that was absorbed in the early 1980s. My parents are both against it because they feel that it’s racially motivated. The district on the whole is about 40% black, 40% white and 20% Latino/Hispanic and the ones wanting to secede are mostly white. My parents’ home falls in the area that wants to secede and they don’t want to pay more in property taxes because some parents don’t want integrated schools. There is also the practical issue of having to build new schools and update buildings that weren’t sold off to current building codes.

      2. Security SemiPro*

        I actually really like learning how other systems function in the hopes that better solutions to my problems exist and I can, maybe, leverage that knowledge into making change locally.

        That countries outside of the US don’t have this problem is valuable knowledge. Childcare is not an unsolved problem everywhere, the US might just be Doing It Wrong.

      3. Petronella*

        Agreed, those kinds of comments are incredibly unhelpful. Why not also brag about how good you have it with your wonderful husband helping you out, really rub the single working moms’ noses in it?

      4. BRR*

        I agree. I’m interested in learning but it really doesn’t help the LW and isn’t that relevant to the letter. I believe Alison has said something along these lines (hopefully I’m not putting words in her mouth).

      5. MT*

        Agreed. What is mostly left out is key differences between countries and their policies. Not every country has to deal with the same economic issues as the next.

      6. ElCee*

        Thank you. Anyone who works and has children, wants to have children, or is thinking even casually about having a kid, is aware that the US sucks in that regard.

      7. Retail HR Guy*

        No. While getting too political about it would be off topic, this is a workplace blog open to anybody to post in no matter where they live. And just as it sometimes makes sense (depending on the topic of conversation) to compare nonprofit workplaces to for-profit, or small vs. large, or family-owned vs. corporate, or California vs. every other state, it is just as fair to compare American workplaces to those in other countries.

        I think it is both American-centric and dangerously complacent to insist that no one burst our bubble by talking about the world around us.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I’ve asked in the past for people to lay off the U.S. bashing that sometimes happens here in response to discussions about vacation time, parental leave, etc. because it’s not a useful or constructive contribution to the discussion, and it’s pretty exhausting to hear over and over. That doesn’t preclude any and all discussion of how other countries do it (although it’s useful to also note in that case that those systems are generally paid for by the government, not by employers) but I’d prefer it be done in a constructive way (“here’s how we do it”).

  5. Rachel B*

    Did they edit your manager pronouns from “she” to “he/him” over on the Inc site or did you write it that way?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Ah, good catch! I wrote it that way in the original post from 2012, because the original letter had called the boss “he.” I sometimes edit the letters down when I run them over at Inc. to take out details that don’t seem essential to the question, and this time I took out “he” from the question but kept using it in my response.

      Here’s the original from 2012:

  6. Government Worker*

    Ugh, I feel this OP’s pain. My wife and I and our two toddlers just moved to a new city, where we both got new jobs. We’ve each taken a couple of days off in our first few months, and we’ve also asked family to travel significant distances to come stay with us and handle child care when it looked like a child would be out for more than a day. And we’ve even taken the less ethical option, which is to give a slightly sick kid some ibuprofen in the morning and hope they make it through the day. The rule that they can’t come back until they’ve been fever-free for 24 hours means that a mild bug can pretty easily turn into an entire week of missed work if the two kids get it sequentially. We’ve been lucky that we’re both in government jobs with good sick leave, we both have very understanding bosses. and one set of the kids’ grandparents recently retired and is happy to make the trip out to us regularly at short notice. But it’s still been hard.

    One thing that’s been helpful for us is to get set up for telework. I’d never pretend to work a full day while home with a sick toddler, but offering to log in and handle any loose ends caused by being out unexpectedly can help minimize the disruption of being out and show your boss and coworkers that you recognize the inconvenience it can cause. And if you happen to have a sick kid who naps for 3 hours and is happy to watch movies for another 2, maybe you can get some real work done and only take half a day off.

    OP, if your company has an EAP, you might call and ask whether they have leads on backup care options in your area.

    1. Friday Brain All Week Long*

      “And we’ve even taken the less ethical option, which is to give a slightly sick kid some ibuprofen in the morning and hope they make it through the day.”

      Ah, the true working parent initiation! We do this too as does probably nearly everyone else in the dual income land.

      1. Government Worker*

        It’s such a risky move, though, because if you get a call midday to pick them up due to fever then you’re missing a day and a half instead of the original single day due to the 24 hour rule. We’re more likely to use this strategy when we have important meetings that morning or on Fridays when a midday call doesn’t mean the next day off.

        1. Friday Brain All Week Long*

          Good point – we usually employ this at the tail end of illness when we’ve already kept our kid home for a day of rest and then when she’s back to her usual energy level the next day (KEY point there), we tamp any lingering fever with meds. Thus shortening the quarantine time the daycare wanted but it saves us a day.

    2. Faith*

      And we’ve even taken the less ethical option, which is to give a slightly sick kid some ibuprofen in the morning and hope they make it through the day.

      Unfortunately, this option frequently leads to all other kids in daycare getting the same “mild bug”, which might turn out to be not so mild after all.

      1. Friday Brain All Week Long*

        They all get the same illnesses anyway, mainly due to incubation periods. It’s unavoidable except for major illnesses we can vaccinate against.

        1. Us, Too*

          NOT true. They don’t “all” get it. In fact, at a good daycare, the care providers can usually manage to prevent the spread of contagion in an infant room by not letting them touch each other and keeping toys isolated from one child to another. AND MAKING SICK KIDS STAY HOME.

          For example, my son just caught a mild fever from another baby. Of the 8 infants in the room, only 3 have gotten sick. And, yes, I had to take two full days off of work to keep him home and my doing that is part of the reason that the entire rest of the room didn’t get sick.

          1. A Non E. Mouse*

            NOT true. They don’t “all” get it. In fact, at a good daycare, the care providers can usually manage to prevent the spread of contagion in an infant room by not letting them touch each other and keeping toys isolated from one child to another. AND MAKING SICK KIDS STAY HOME.

            This has not been my experience. Once they were mobile, they were all up in each other’s faces and if one got it, they all got it – some just took longer than others to develop it. Two or more kids from the same household in the same daycare? Might was well just have them lick the floor.

            That said, if an illness started with ME or another family member and not the kid in daycare? Yes we could usually prevent the spread of the illness with hand washing, disinfecting, etc. But by the time Little Johnny in the 2 year old class shows signs of pink eye, it’s like Oprah visited. You get pink eye! And you get pink eye! EVERYONE GETS PINK EYE!

          2. Friday Brain All Week Long*

            You’re right, it’s easier to contain in the infant room so they don’t all get the germ of the week. But in toddler and preschool land it’s a different story as now they are running around and the germs move as fast as they do.

            My kid has been miraculously spared the pinkeye twice now but she gets all the colds, GI things, and the hand-foot-mouth. Of course she stays home when she’s not feeling well, but when her mood/energy/appetite is better? Back to school with that runny nose!

          3. Alienor*

            A nurse told me once that with stomach viruses, about 70 percent of the people within 12 feet of a vomiting episode will be infected. All it takes is one kid unexpectedly puking on the floor to contaminate an entire daycare room, and you don’t always know at drop-off time that there’s going to be puking later in the day.

            1. TL -*

              Plus, kids are supposed to get those kinds of illnesses. I’m not saying we should throw chicken pox parties but kids are supposed to get sick and exposed to many illnesses. The problem is the infrastructure around caring for them.

              1. TootsNYC*

                My kids have been phenomenally healthy as preschool, elementary school, middle school, and high school students.

                They were both sick constantly as babies and toddlers.

                So as long as the illness isn’t serious (and w/ our vaccinations, the really deadly stuff isn’t around much anymore), it’s probably good for them to get these lower-level sicknesses.

                1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

                  I was that kid :) Before I can remember, family stories are that I was legendarily sick. But starting from my actual memories? Healthy as anything. My roommate got flattened with mega-strep and “infected me” with a slight tickle in my throat that lasted two days.

              2. BananaPants*

                I posted it above, but our kids’ pediatrician said it is guaranteed that a child’s immune system will be challenged the most the first time they’re in a group setting – whether it’s a 6 week old baby in daycare or a 6 year old in kindergarten. For around that first year in a group setting they come down with EVERYTHING but it builds their immune systems up thereafter.

                Both of our kids’ first winters in daycare SUCKED but now the big one has an ironclad immune system and the little one is well on her way to having the same. She had a few kindergarten classmates who didn’t go to daycare or preschool and they had major absences due to illness.

    3. Green*

      Good point on the EAP benefits. A lot of people (especially new-ish employees) don’t know what benefits they have.

  7. Kate M*

    I think it also depends on how many sick/vacation days you have to use. If you have 10 sick days and have taken 3 in two months, I don’t really see that as a huge deal. (It of course could become a bigger deal down the road if you needed them banked or something.) As long as you’re within your allotted time off, I don’t think an employer should penalize you for taking them off. (For coverage, they should be able to cover if you were out sick, so it’s no different if it’s because your child is out sick.)

    I get it’s important to make a good impression when you first start a job, and this probably wouldn’t be a big deal at all once you’ve been there for a year or two and have proved yourself. But as long as you’re getting work done well, I don’t think this rises to the level of a major problem for your employer.

    Also, from what I understand, the usual “young kid sicknesses” where they pick up every germ doesn’t last forever. I know it doesn’t help now, but sometimes it helps to think it probably won’t always be like this.

    1. TootsNYC*

      “I get it’s important to make a good impression when you first start a job,”

      And as Alison points out (and others have too), your attendance is NOT the only way you can make a good impression.
      If you’re communicative, if you seek out ways to mitigate your absences, you can greatly influence how you’re seen.

      Be the one to step up and help out a coworker; find a way to stay after hours now and then, or at least offer to. Basically, act like a conscientious worker who wants her absences to not create difficulties for other people.

  8. JoAnna*

    I have five kids and one on the way. I’m usually out of flex time by June and have had to start using vacation time in lieu of flex time (which is allowed by my company).

    My husband gets in trouble for taking too much time off for sick kids too. He has asked his boss what she expects him (us) to do, and her response is that we’re supposed to find someone who is willing to watch our sick kids on extremely short notice and who will work for free (we can’t afford extra care, as we’re still paying for daycare even if kids are sick). I’ve never heard of such a magical unicorn, but apparently they exist, according to her.

    Right now we’re hoping he can find a better-paying job so that I can stay home with the kids full-time, but in this economy it’s tough.

    1. Turtle Candle*

      A friend of mine was told the same thing, that she should be able to just find someone who would take good care of her sick child on extremely short notice for little or no pay. When she asked (politely) exactly where one would set about doing that, the boss said, “Oh, you know, mother-in-law, aunt, gal pal.”

      Which, leaving aside that people may not live near family, and that their mother-in-law/aunts/”gal pals” might also have to work themselves (mine all do), it struck me as fairly telling that she didn’t mention father-in-laws or uncles (and certainly not guy pals).

  9. afiendishthingy*

    “The worst thing that you can do when you’re worried about something at work is to say nothing and just stay anxious about it.”

    I really need this on a sampler!! I have anxiety issues and it’s REALLY DIFFICULT to fight my impulse to say nothing and stay anxious. Things have been really crazy and confusing around here lately and everyone is super stressed out. I sat down with my boss and grandboss last week and was honest about how I’d been working crazy hours but was still struggling with “productivity”/billable hour quotas. Grandboss said, it’s just a number, your department on average does really well, don’t let this keep you up nights. Then boss asked if there was anything they could do to help me out, and I said half-jokingly “I could use another week of vacation.”

    Grandboss said Sure, I’ll email HR.

    And done. I am a new woman; I feel like I’ve TAKEN the vacation just by knowing it’s there. So yes. Speak up!

    1. Security SemiPro*

      Its a good sampler.

      I just had a talk with my boss where he asked me to help another staff member who is struggling with giving updates because they are so anxious so they get paralyzed.

      I have diagnosed anxiety problems and I use that as the reason I update management early and often – if I’m hiding from something its only going to get worse and management’s job is to help me fix problems I run into. They can’t do their job if they don’t know I’m struggling. I’ve managed to get to the point where when I start to feel panicked/spooked about something I can squeak out a (poorly written) email to my boss before I run away from the Scary Thing, and that works pretty well.

  10. Security SemiPro*

    This whole conversation is making me doubly grateful for my nanny – and the luck my family has to have found her and be able to afford her (though, to be honest, we started looking for a nanny because day care is not much cheaper here, especially with my and my spouse’s work schedules that fluctuate without warning.)

    We take her with us for the toddler’s routine checkups, so the pediatrician knows her and she knows them, and when the little is sick, our nanny can handle it. It only disrupts our work to the amount we let it.

    I don’t think there is a magical answer, everyone pieces together care/coverage/work and most manage to make something work, but it can be nuts. SAHP friends lean in, relatives pitch in, church friends, and lucky people can throw money at the problem. Good managers with good people offer the flexibility they can, and reap the rewards of a loyal and engaged workforce, but some jobs just don’t have it. People who live far away from family or don’t have a social network to help out, and who don’t make enough to just dump a bucket of money on top of their feverish child, I’m not aware of a good solution. This is a hole in the support net in the US, one of many. We say we want people to work their way out of poverty, and move to where the jobs are, and that we value stable families, but we don’t build a support net to actually make that workable.

  11. Tax Accountant*

    UGH… having little kids is so hard. My daughter got sent home for a high fever on my *very first day of my new job* when my husband was out of town. We don’t have any relatives in town. I had to go get her.

    I had to tell the HR lady that I couldn’t go on the office tour because I had to go get my kid. She stared ate me like I had grown two heads. I am a conscientious hard worker, and it was mortifying. I cried like an idiot in the car leaving to go pick my daughter up. Luckily I work for a very understanding boss, and as my daughter is getting closer to age 2 she is getting sick far less frequently. Knock on wood.

    It’s hard, hard hard.

    1. Re-thinking kids*

      No kids yet. Just curious. If your phone was off because you were in first day meetings all day and you just missed the call would you get a warning/forgiveness or would your kid get kicked out of daycare? If it was a warning, I probably would have rolled the dice and begged for forgiveness. “So sorry, first day at new job, didn’t want to be seen checking my phone, totally forgot about husband being out of town and daycare issues. Won’t happen again.”

      I had a client with his phone out IN A DEPOSITION in case daycare called. I told him, if they do call, you can’t leave so wouldn’t it be better to not get the call?

      1. EG2*

        My kids go to an in-home day care and you really can’t do that….if daycare calls, you need to answer. Maybe it is a fever, but what if something is really wrong with your child or they are asking a question about allergies?

        Day care is like having another boss. You need to keep both of them happy. Work boss? Day care lady? I would always rather piss off my work boss rather than the lady watching my children.

      2. JustALurker*

        It has been my experience that one of a few things will/could happen. Depending on the daycare:
        1) Day care will call down your contact list until they reach someone to pick-up your sick child.
        2) Day care keeps track and you only have a certain number of times you can ignore them before your child is no longer welcome.
        3) Charge extra (those fees can be exorbitant).
        4) Any combination of 1, 2, and 3 (or variations of those principles) and day care proceeds to scold you or try to shame you for not dropping everything and coming to get your child right away.

        So it really is all about your comfort level of dealing with the consequences (which is usually laid out in your contract). Good child care is expensive and hard to find, so I don’t know many people who adhere to the “better to ask forgiveness” philosophy when dealing with daycare. I was fortunate enough to have good contacts and great support network.

      3. WorkingMama*

        I can let daycare know which one of us in more available during any given day (“Hey, my husband has a job interview – please contact me today”) or even a local emergency contact if we had one who wasn’t also working, but yes, at our center, someone must always be available to pick the child up within 45 minutes of a notification attempt. Given the wait lists for daycare spots in my area, making that mistake would probably cause me to have to quit my job, so one of us is always on call. This must be so much harder for working parents.

      4. BananaPants*

        At our center, someone must be available to pick a sick kid up within an hour. If they can’t reach the parents they start calling the child’s emergency contacts. Eventually if they can’t get in touch with anyone they’ll call the police or child protective services to take custody of the child (this will also happen for very late pickups). In the event that happens they’d almost certainly stop providing childcare services to the family.

        Every working parent I know gets that same sinking feeling when daycare’s number shows up on the caller ID. It could be “please send in a new half gallon of your fancy-pants organic milk tomorrow” or it could be “we’re on our way to the hospital, you need to meet us at the ER.” You don’t know until you answer. The caregivers at ours will preface a non-urgent phone call with, “Nothing to worry about” for that reason, I guess they can hear the trepidation in my voice when I answer!

        Once or twice I’ve stretched it out to 45ish minutes before I can break away and pick up a sick kid. I feel like the world’s worst mother by the time I get there even though I’m within the 1 hour window. It’s awful to know that your child feels miserable and is being cuddled by a teacher, who while caring and trusted, is NOT mommy or daddy.

        Frankly, it wouldn’t matter if I was in a deposition. If daycare is calling, I have to answer – and if the kid needs to be picked up and I’m the only one who can do it, the deposition would be over for the day. My kids’ needs come before my job’s needs every single time.

      5. Sarahnova*

        I don’t mean to point out the obvious, but I can get another boss.

        Even the prospect of not answering my phone to my childcare provider when the fact that they are ringing means my child needs me? No, no, no, no. I don’t care *what* you do to me; if my child is ill or, god forbid, in the hospital and I don’t answer because it’s my first day of work, I will do far worse things to myself. Children need comfort when they are ill, and I am my child’s #1 source of comfort.

        I am not familiar with the American legal system and thus don’t know why taking a phone call during a deposition is a big deal. But either my phone’s not gonna ring, in which case it doesn’t matter, or there is a problem and my child needs me, in which case your deposition has to wait.

      6. AMT 2*

        I don’t always catch my daycare calls immediately but I am very very lucky in that my daycare will say ‘hey, she says she has a stomach ache and seems a bit warm but you don’t need to get her yet, we’ll call if she gets worse’ – thereby giving her time to get past whatever is wrong. However, what if it isn’t just a stomach ache – what if she fell off the playground equipment and broke an arm? It could very possibly be a true emergency, not just a minor illness, so you cant just ignore it.

    2. Friday Brain All Week Long*

      My daycare is great about texting things, like “hey, she got stung by a bee, stinger is out, we iced it and the swelling is going down and she is acting fine.” As in, I needed to be informed but not immediately interrupted and there’s no urgency.

      If they call though? OMG I don’t care who I am meeting with or what I am doing at work. I am answering that phone.

  12. Julkaco*

    Something I don’t think anyone mentioned is that OP should consider the idea that the daycare might be the cause of the repeated illnesses.

    My first son, who was sick once between birth and six months old when he started daycare, suddenly started getting monthly ear infections. We couldn’t figure it out until I dropped in unexpectedly one day and saw the caregiver take a toy out of an infant’s mouth, covered in spit and snot, and throw it back in the toy basket for the other kids to play with.

    Once I moved him to another center, the ear infections magically stopped.

  13. Ann Furthermore*

    It’s so hard. I am really, really fortunate that my work hours are pretty flexible and that I have a boss who is great about stuff like this. Even then though, it’s a challenge.

    If your kid gets sick at school or daycare, they will call you and tell you to come pick up your disease-ridden, germ-infested child immediately. And I get it — you don’t want things spreading to the other kids. My daughter got some sort of awful stomach bug a couple years ago, and I had to go pick her up at school. When I got there, they told me 6 kids in her class alone had been struck down by this thing that morning. I really felt bad for the poor custodial staff who had to deal with the aftermath. Yeesh.

    When my daughter is sick, I can usually work from home. I tell my co-workers I’ll be on and off throughout the day, and then when my husband gets home, I can work for a few more hours in the evening. If I can’t miss work, then he can usually take the day off. So we are very fortunate.

    I hope things worked out for this OP. Another thing to consider is that when a kid starts going to a new daycare, they often get sick on and off for the first few weeks/months, since they’re spending all day with a new group of kids and germs. Then they usually bounce back. Not so much for the parents though. When we put my daughter in daycare after my maternity leave, he and I traded a cold back and forth for about 6 months. She of course was fine.

  14. DCompliance*

    Are you still able to get your work done? Sometimes that is all that matters.
    In some cases, telecommuting can help. In the past, some of my employees were able to work at home and then while their child was sleeping. It depends on if working from home is an option, the type of work, and the age of the child.

  15. Lee*

    I absolutely hate how unfairly/inequitably childcare falls to mothers in this country, and then penalizes them for doing what it considers to be their duty. Basically, we’re damned if we do and we’re damned if we don’t. And little kids in daycare (I’m talking under fives) are so pitiful and sad when they’re sick; leaving them with someone other than a parent or very close relative is pretty hard for them, and too much to ask for someone who isn’t as familiar with a child. (I mean, who wants to leave a snotty-nosed, sad, whining toddler with some nanny from the internet; I can’t believe people are suggesting that). OP, if your older child was in daycare, you probably remember those first two years of boogers all the time. Maybe you can remind your boss that kids in daycare tend to get every cold virus known to humanity those first couple years, but then by the time they get to school, it’s really just stomach bugs and lice you worry about. :) Good luck, and love.

    1. Faith*

      And snot and boogers aren’t even the worst thing. When my daughter had hand-foot-and mouth disease, all she wanted to do was be held, drool, and scream. There was no way she could have been taken care of by anyone other than me or my husband. So, he took three days off and I took two days off and we took turns holding our miserable screaming child. Then, of course, we both good HFM disease because it’s so contagious, so then we had to work form home so as to not contaminate our respective offices.

      1. Lee*

        Oh golly, yes. My son had bronchiolitis one winter when he was under 2. We sat in a steamy bathroom crying together for hours. It’s not like they know what’s happening to them, either. Mom or dad or whomever is the primary caregiver really needs to be there when they’re so little. I’m sorry, but productivity can wait.

        1. Re-thinking kids*

          But how is that the employers problem? I don’t know what the solution is? Maybe nobody has kids and we just let the species die out.

          1. Beezus*

            Compassion and common sense on the part of employers. That’s the solution. Employers need people. People have lives and problems. Employers should be willing to handle a small degree of problems disrupting peoples’ work, because that comes with the territory when you employ people.

          2. Overeducated*

            Ugh I don’t know but now I am pretty scared about starting my new job at the same time as kid goes to full time day care for the first time. I only earn one sick day a month and we don’t live near family….

          3. ToxicNudibranch*

            I always struggle with the idea that we, as a society, have somehow adopted this idea that employees ought to be robots, and that employers can reasonably consider anything else an undue burden. Well, when you hire humans, you have to accept that they will do human things, like occasionally get ill, and have children, who (because they, also, are not robots) will occasionally get ill.

      2. TootsNYC*

        “Then, of course, we both good HFM disease because it’s so contagious, so then we had to work form home so as to not contaminate our respective offices.”

        Wouldn’t it be nice, in those cases, to be able to start your own bout of HFM disease right away, instead of later? The whole time period would be shorter, and you could take care of your kid while you were genuinely sick.

      3. Christine Old Bean*

        Between the ages of 10 months and 14 months (basically all summer) my daycare daughter ended up with:
        Hand, Foot, and Mouth
        and 4 separate fevers of unknown origin, one of which got up to 105.4 and scared the daylights out of me.

        She had been in daycare since she was 3 months old, and also had the usual “sicknesses” that come with a kid being exposed in a group setting. I am SO incredibly thankful that my boss was understanding, I had some sick leave built up after maternity leave, my husband was able to take some days off, I could telework at times, I had a recently retired coworker who was willing and able to help out at times, and my FIL drove 2 hours one way to watch her a few times. I realize I’m in the minority of “lucky” parents that had options, and even then it was INCREDIBLY hard and stressful. My heart goes out to those that are not so lucky and have to choose between throwing Tylenol at a kid and sending them to daycare or losing their job. We have a major problem in this country when it comes to childcare. Thankfully my daughter is 3 and the illnesses have waned to a much more manageable level now, but I’m due in November with #2 and scared witless to do it all over again.

    2. CM*

      Honestly, I’ve done the “nanny from the internet” thing — I felt terrible about it, but my kid was constantly sick, my job was extremely demanding, and they offered a discounted subscription to Parents in a Pinch for exactly this sort of situation. It was extremely expensive even with the discount — around $25/hour if I’m remembering correctly. The caregiving part was fine, my kid was OK and the nanny seemed perfectly nice and competent and gave me good information about what happened while I wasn’t there. But I would never have done it if I wasn’t desperate and in a very high-pressure job where it was frowned upon to have any outside priorities, and generally everybody with kids had a SAHM wife to go with them.

      Now I’m in a job where it’s part of the culture that if you have a sick kid, of course you’re going to go take care of them. It’s perfectly acceptable to reschedule meetings because you have to pick your kid up. What a huge, huge relief. And it really doesn’t have much impact on work. I’ll answer emails in the evening or early morning or during naps, and can generally get through a minor kid illness without disruption to the actual work I produce.

  16. Becky*

    I just want to reassure the OP that it is normal for a kid to get sick a lot in their first few months at a new daycare or preschool. (I don’t even want to think about the first winter that I had *two* kids in daycare and preschool — talk about a germ factory.) But this is an investment in the kid’s immune system long-term — my oldest kid just finished a school year with perfect attendance, and had barely a sniffle all year.

    Talk to your manager, figure out if you can work at home when a kid is sick, but know that this phase won’t last forever.

    1. TootsNYC*

      Ditto about the “investment in the kid’s immune system.” Mine are 21 and 18, and they are almost never sick. The only time my son was out of school in high school was for exhaustion (pulled a horrendous all-nighter, and though it was his own damn fault, going to school would have been tremendously counter-productive).

  17. JennG*

    This is so hard, but I am echoing Becky that it is really normal for a child going into daycare. It also seems to come in waves. Hang in there!

    One suggestion I don’t see here is that when I was in that position I worked as far ahead as possible and organized everything within an inch of its life even though it meant a lot of weekend work (I could do some at home) initially. Obviously this depends on your job! But I found the less a sick day mattered (because it wasn’t impacting any deadlines, or because I had super clear instructions for that ONE thing that needed to be done that exact day) the less visibility it had. So that’s something you can do on the days your little one is healthy. Good luck!

  18. Alis*

    Sick daycares must be a US thing. I’ve never heard such a thing here in Canada – a puking child needs to be at home in their bed or snuggled up with someone on a couch. Funny how nobody wants their sick coworker near them, but people expect children to spread their illness all around for the such of ‘productivity’? Talk about a short-sighted point of view. I’m home about 1-3 days per month with sick kids, because I work with drooling children and some of them should be kept home (plus my own pick it up from daycare). Fortunately, it’s not an issue here – we are expected to stay home with sick children.

  19. mehowe*

    I agree that sometimes kids get sick and there’s not much that can be done about it. But I saw that the OP keeps her 19-month-old home when she “simply needs a day home from daycare”. I’d like to know a little more about that. I’m quite sympathetic to single mothers with sick kids and no other choices, but I don’t think I’d be as understanding if she was calling in because she thought her child deserved a day off.

    1. doreen*

      I could be reading it wrong – but since the OP said “when she needs medical attention or simply a day home from day care”, I think she was referring to the child being sick but not needing medical attention rather than the child deserving a day off.

    2. Sarahnova*

      I am presuming she means when her child is sick enough that a daycare won’t take them, but only mildly ill so doesn’t really need medical attention or treatment.

  20. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

    I think that business do well to design policies that allow people to take time off for whatever it is that they need to take care.. I had a new employee ask me recently if she could have extra PTO because she has three small children. No – it’s not appropriate to design benefits packages by family status. Other people have aging parents, chronic illnesses, a sick pet, several deaths in their family in a row, whatever. I really don’t want to be in the position of deciding whose needs are more valid.

    So, we provide plenty of time off, and then expect that, barring a catastrophe, people will manage their work and their time so they can stay within the limit of what is provided and save a little for the unexpected. Our people get between 5 and 8 weeks a year, and we say yes to PTO requests 99% of the time. If you aren’t able to come to work at least 45 weeks out of the year, that doesn’t work – we need you here. I know this doesn’t work in every workplace, but it sure makes my life easier.

  21. sam Conklin*

    The OP can contact the HR department and apply for FMLA, which will protect her job (it does not protect the paycheck, so if she runs out of entitlement (sick time, vacation, etc.), her time away will be unpaid. I have a team of 19 specialists and more than half of them are on some type of FMLA (for themselves, and/or their family). They have two days to report to HR that the unscheduled time is FMLA related and I have no recourse to the unscheduled adherence policy. I have one or two that seem to abuse it, but for the most part, it helps them with taking care of chronically ill children (and one needs to take care of his mom, so he uses his FMLA time when she’s having a hard time). I believe FMLA comes in at 400 hours a year (rolling 12 month period), but I’m not sure.

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