As the parent of a 6-year old and 3-year-old twins, I’m certainly no stranger to snot, coughs, sneezes, and other lovely excretions that emanate from small children.
I’m also acutely aware that littles tend to lack manners when it comes to keeping those germ-ridden emissions to themselves. And that poses a problem for pretty much every parent whose children spend their days in a school environment, because it means that, inevitably, their kids will catch some version of whatever is going around.
And there’s always something going around. Most of the time, thankfully, it’s nothing more than a pesky virus or cold. But sometimes it can be more serious. The disease du jour can be of the flu or stomach variety — both of which are miserable for the afflicted (and their parents) and potentially dangerous.
So with that in mind, I’m here to drop the following plea bomb upon my fellow parents out there: Please — pretty please — do not send your children to school when they’re sick.
To be clear, I’m not saying that kids need to stay home the second they let slip a sneeze, or start to drip from their teeny little nostrils. I mean, if I kept my kids home every time they coughed or sniffled, my son would probably fail kindergarten and my daughters’ preschool tuition would utterly be for naught. Rather, I’m talking about the people who send their kids back to school just eight hours after puking their guts up because they’re seemingly “over it” and therefore “no longer contagious.” I’m talking about the people who send their kids to school the morning after a raging fever, when we all know we’re supposed to wait 24 hours.
Look, I’m a working parent, too. I get it: You can only take so much time away from work before it starts to catch up with you. The fact that most sick leave policies typically don’t extend to dependents is a major problem, but that’s an issue beyond this discussion. That’s also why I tend to extend a little more leeway to working parents — those who may have to push their kids back to school just a bit sooner than what’s ideal, in order to avoid taking yet another day off.
But if your child is in some sort of preschool environment — and if while your kid as at said environment, your only obligations are cooking, cleaning, or getting errands done — then please, pretty please, pretty pretty please, do everyone a favor and keep your kid home if he or she isn’t quite recovered.
I’m not trying to minimize the need for stay-at-home parents to have time to themselves. When you have kids, the three hours or so during which they’re in preschool might be your sole window to cook dinner, return those clothes with a receipt that expires at the end of the week, or pick up the dry cleaning before the shop owners start to charge you rent. But if your child isn’t well, and you’re not putting a job on the line by keeping that child home, then please keep him or her out of school. Not only might doing so spare another young child from getting sick, but it’ll give your own child a better opportunity to recover.
I’m not saying stay-at-home parents should martyr themselves. If need be, tap your resources so you don’t fall behind on life’s many obligations. Ask your spouse or partner to work from home that day. Beg your retired mother-in-law to pop by for an hour or two so you can get errands done. Ask a fellow stay-at-home parent whose kids aren’t sick to run to the supermarket for you. Nobody likes to impose on others, but when your kids get sick, you do what you need to do.
But for all of you working parents out there — don’t think you’re off the hook. If your child is notably not well, it’s clear he or she shouldn’t be at school, regardless of what job-related deadlines you happen to have. But it’s that gray area that’s tricky: They’re not feverish or hurling, but they’re still “off,” or “under the weather.” In that case, it’s a judgment call. If your child is old enough to describe his or her illness, use that information to guide your decision. For example, you might ask, “Do you feel worse than you did the last time you had a cold?” and take it from there. Nonverbal kids are harder to read, but do your best to gauge their discomfort level: Are they eating and drinking, albeit less enthusiastically than usual? Or are they slumping down in their chairs utterly refusing their breakfast? I’m no doctor, but if that’s the case, chances are they should stay home.
On my end, I’ll typically keep my kids home when they’re not acting like themselves, even if they’re not feverish at that moment — in my experience, that cranky, lethargic behavior means a fever is on its way. If I have a pressing deadline, I throw them in front of the TV and juggle. (I’m able to do my job from home, and I acknowledge that I’m fortunate in this regard.) Is that ideal? No. But again, you do what you need to do.
Maybe I’m setting a double standard for working parents versus those who stay home. Maybe I’m not being fair. I don’t mean to be a jerk here. I’m just trying to keep my own kids — and basically all kids — safe and healthy during what’s so far proven to be a whopper of a sick season. And if that means reminding folks with leeway to err on the side of keeping their children home, so be it.