Sick kids are sent to school every day. Why do you think your child gets sick? It’s not always a straight forward judgement: my child is sick ergo he/she must stay at home. In an ideal world it would be simple to the day off work or grandparents or a significant other would be able to step in as locum parent. What if you can’t take time off work or there is no significant other or you have a special arrangement that just cannot be cancelled? Is your decision complicated by having to pay extraordinary school fees? That’s ostensibly why you’re working in the first place isn’t it to afford to pay these fees?
Most workplaces will allocate you ten personal leave days a year. When you have a few kids, leave days don’t go far. Regardless of entitlements, as a working mum with a working husband there are some days that we cannot call in sick or take the day (or days as the illness may require) to look after our children.
A straw poll amongst my girlfriends revealed a range of responses to this vexed issue some of which had my eyebrows raised with a combination of horror and mirth! One girlfriend, who runs her own business where clients rely on her to turn up to meetings that require interstate travel and the hiring of expensive equipment, having spent most of the night cleaning up vomit and washing the sheets, dosed her child up on a plethora of heavy duty drugs, instructed the child to remain quiet and crossed her fingers. She got away with it.
Another friend, who is actually a doctor and is familiar with duration of action time of medication, doses her child to give her the necessary window to see her own patients. In her view, if her child isn’t listless and groaning, he/she is good to go to school.
One girlfriend takes her sick child to work with her if she is compelled to attend. Clearly not all workplaces are as understanding as hers nor are all children content or able to sit with a book or iPad for most of the day.
And another friend told me she was desperate to have an hour of her own at the gym on her birthday so she elected to schlep her sick toddler along and installed her in the crèche.
A different friend is facing the remarkable dilemma of whether to send her healthy child to school as her child is about to undergo serious surgery and she doesn’t want her exposed to all the sick kids! You see, the surgery was already cancelled once due to her child being unwell. So not only will her daughter miss almost an entire term of school while she recuperates, she may also miss a further week during her pre-surgery quarantine. You’d be pretty frustrated as a fee paying parent having to resort to that measure.
Last week my daughter was currently unwell. She woke up with a fever, coughing her little heart out. She stayed at home with me for two days. The fever then lifted but she was still coughing. Off to school she went and off to work went I hoping she would last the day. She coped and attended the next day too. But by Friday morning she had dark circles under her eyes, she looked pale and drained. My daughter advised me her teacher had asked her whether her parents knew she felt tired and unwell. Cue feelings of guilt and indignation! She stayed home again and we visited the doctor. Predictably we were informed she has a virus, no antibiotics are necessary, she requires rest and to stay warm. And I was informed, she may have a hacking cough for another two weeks!
Is selfishness the common denominator with all these decisions? Are we parents ploughing ahead without thought to the needs of others or the consequences of our actions? Or do life’s imperatives mean we don’t live in an ideal world and a delicate balancing act must be undertaken where we feel compelled to push the system as far as we can? Anyone who is unequivocal on this issue hasn’t been in the shoes of someone torn between their home and work responsibilities and even the need to carve some time out for oneself. Kids don’t fall ill at a time of or convenience. Living in a community, we expose ourselves constantly to contagious illness: visiting the supermarket, travelling on public transport, the cinema or any contained arena. We accept that living in society there’s a certain risk exposing ourselves to our community’s ailments.
But when has the line been crossed? I think that’s a question we answer on a case by case basis because sometimes circumstances will dictate that the answer will be varied. And to the teacher who asked whether I knew my child felt poorly…what do you think?
(Previously published by Women’s Agenda on 7/9/15)