Friday Feb 03, 2023

Parents Working from Home: Cold & Flu Season

Parents working from home have multiple things demanding attention. I know, I do it every day. And, yes, I know people working from home without children also have a lot of things demanding their attention. So, relax. It’s not a competition.

I can tell you from personal experience that when I started as a work from home parent that there was quite a learning curve involved. So, my objective is to help new parents working from home form a plan on how to handle cold and flu season…rona season…stomach bug season…whatever reason. Working from home when sick happens, be it for our children or for us. When and how you do it is up to you…but it never hurts to have some feedback from someone who’s lived through it for almost a decade now! Empowering parents to work from home is one of my dreams. And I know it’s hard as hell when someone is sick. So, let’s talk about it.

Working from Home When Sick: Taking Care of You

Working from home when sick has become my specialty over the last couple of years. I finally received a diagnosis…two of them, in fact: ankylosing spondylitis and enteropathic arthritis. And I’m ANA positive. I do have about $900 more in bloodwork to take care of to ensure there’s nothing else happening (because, trust me, these two are plenty). I was also diagnosed with “excessive daytime sleepiness.” That’s the new way to say narcolepsy. I’ve struggled with it most of my life, but it’s been particularly bad the last couple of years. I’ve started the right meds. The main issue is that one of them impacts my immune system just a smidge. I’m writing this on Nov. 15, 2022 (although it might not go live for a day or two). Within the last 2.5 weeks, I’ve had COVID (again, first time was in 2020), strep throat, and now an upper respiratory infection. Oh, and I was diagnosed with Crohn’s as a teenager…but it rarely gives me any issues (but apparently enteropathic arthritis is the gift that Crohn’s gave me).

Related: Working from Home When Sick

When you first begin as a work from home parent, it can be more difficult to take time off when you get sick. This happens because:

  1. It’s unlikely that you have enough money put away to miss work. More than 50% of US adults couldn’t cover a $1000 emergency if it were to happen. So, considering your expenses (which clearly I don’t know) plus added expenses from being sick, you could find it insanely difficult to take time off if you’re sick. I worked in 2020 while I had COVID. I took a lot of naps in between projects, but I also apparently worked on projects I can’t remember. Thanks to COVID and my immune system, I was sick for months. I certainly couldn’t take months off of work.
  2. You won’t make any money if you’re not working on projects for clients. There was a reason why this site was dormant for so long. It took all of my energy and focus to take care of my clients. Money may not be the “key to happiness” but it is necessary.

When Your Kids Are Sick

For me, when my kids (even the adult ones) get sick, I am the mom who worries…I don’t always show it on the outside. For the adult kids, it’s a call/text: are you good? Do you need me to get you anything or arrange a grocery/medicine/food delivery? They aren’t married so I’m not stepping on any toes.

My middle son, now 22, was sickly as a baby and little one. Once he finally had his tonsils and adenoids removed when he was five and recovered, he became better and finally slept a night through (yep – that’s right…for the first five years of his life, he did not sleep a night through). My oldest, now 24, didn’t get sick often. However, when he did, he got very sick. When he was 18 months old, he had the flu and an ear infection. When he was about 3, he got strep and the flu together.

Uriel, now 13, would get everything that went around…but strep for him was always the worst! It was really hard for me with him because he was totally nonverbal (other than screaming – when he was little). One night, it was just the two of us and we went out to eat. He was…four? Maybe five? Anyway, he wouldn’t eat which was unusual but had NO fever. I finally coaxed him to eat a little because I thought if I could get him to take a bite or two, he’d eat (it was spaghetti – one of his favorites). So, right at the end of the meal, he vomits everywhere. The next morning, he had a trunk rash. Of course, we go off to urgent care because it was a weekend. And it turned out, vomiting and rashes are his code for “I feel like shit because I have strep!” Now, he just seems to sleep a lot and power through (it’s just who he is), but it’s easier to get some kind of answer for what’s wrong. Or, at least, he doesn’t hit and kick when we’re trying to look at his throat or otherwise figure out what is wrong.

Being a parent who works from home when your kid is sick is miserable. When my kids were smaller, I’d work when they were asleep. One benefit of working from home is the flexibility. I could take them to the doctor and take care of them without really worrying about anything. Now that they’re older…well, the older two can take care of themselves (most of the time, ha). With Uriel, it’s easier because he’s older and he’s matured. I can usually work during the day, but I still have no problem taking the day off if any of my sons need me.

I had to take off work a lot when I was a paralegal and the older two were school age. They always caught something…and I’d have to use sick leave (mine), vacation (bleh), or miss the hours. It made for a financial struggle because if I use my sick leave and then I get sick, I had to concern myself with my paycheck. I hated using vacation days (but I would) when they were sick because then how do I take time off to spend with them in the summer and on spring break? Missing the hours was truly an issue for my budget.

Create Your Personal Care Plan

I can tell you with absolute certainty that parents working from home need a personal care plan when they are sick or when the kiddo(s) are sick. I guess to be more specific, you need two plans. The first plan is how you’ll handle work, family, and taking care of yourself. The second plan is how you’ll handle your kiddo’s illness and time caring for them, work, family, and still…caring for yourself.

My plan, when I’m sick, depends on how sick I am. Generally, though, it is:

  1. Readjust my schedule. I move things that I can.
  2. I work between naps.
  3. Housework waits or my husband handles it.

Related: 5 Tips for Boosting Your Productivity & Accomplishing Goals

I tend to sleep a lot when I’m sick.

When Uriel is sick:

  1. I start my day early anyway…so I work until he wakes up.
  2. Make his breakfast, give him whatever medicine he needs.
  3. Depending on how sick he is, it’s off to the doctor or I get him settled in to watch movies.
  4. I work when he lets me. If I can’t work, and I’ve already adjusted my schedule, I get things done around the house and keep an eye on him.

For both, I let my clients know (when necessary) if things for that day can’t happen as scheduled (such as a meeting).

If one of us is really sick, I set my out of office responder after sending an email about being out for more than a day (again, if necessary – a lot of my work is asynchronous so it doesn’t matter as much).

Coming up with at least a skeleton plan that you can work with helps you feel like you’re not losing control of everything. Let me know your thoughts.

Robin Bull

You may not know me by name but you know my words. I've helped you connect with clients, educate audiences, and inspire loyalty. And I also LOVE helping people work at home, whether they are stay-at-home moms, retired professionals, or folks with disabilities.

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