How to handle a sick kid and childcare

Coughs and sniffles, fevers and colds. Your kid is sick and how do you determine when they are too sick to go to daycare with a nasty cold or another common bug? How do you handle back-up childcare if you have to miss multiple days of work? How do you negotiate which partner stays home, especially when one or both partners has the kind of job that can't really be done from home?

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The following predicament was posed to one our specialty groups, and the conversation evolved into two parts:


1) How does a dual-income-both-parents-are-working family handle it?

2) How do single parents manage? 


Original poster:


Hey everyone,

My 7 month old recently started full-time daycare, and, naturally, got a bad cold almost immediately (and so did we! yay!). I realized over the last week that this can get really tricky really fast... and you can end up feeling like you're basically failing as a parent, a partner, and a professional all at the same time! Whoo-hoo!

My questions:

Daycare says the baby can't attend if she has a fever in the past 24 hours (duh), vomiting (duh), a "persistent cough," etc. This seems clear but then you have a baby with an occasional but nasty sounding cough who hasn't had a fever in three days and is happy as a clam and you are about to miss your fourth day of work and.... what exactly is a "persistent cough"??? But then you see the snot streaming from your child's nose and hear the phlegm in that cough and you imagine getting some serious side-eye from the daycare teachers and other parents. Seriously, how do you decide what is healthy enough to attend, balancing baby's needs, your needs, and the needs of the other kids at daycare?

And suppose that it's your first week of school (and you're the teacher!), but your partner is having the worst week ever at his job... and now your "we'll take turns" plan seems like a cruel joke. How do you negotiate who stays home?

What about backup childcare? We used a babysitter website on two days last week, once with a sitter we know and once with a new one, but that only sorta worked (and gets so expensive!). Plus, we didn't always know for certain that we'd need care until the morning of... Is there a better way?

Help! I feel like I'm going through some kind of new-parent hazing and it's awful!




Take turns with your partner. Consider FMLA:

“Our daughter has been in daycare for over a year and we're still figuring this out. When she was around the same age (7 mo) her persistent cough wouldn't respond to meds and two months later we realized it was actually asthma. At some point in between, the fever and runny nose went away and we decided she had to go back to daycare. We called and spoke with the owner and had a conversation and she agreed that it was OK, because the pediatrician had cleared her. That's usually what they want to hear.

As far as leave, my husband and I have taken turns, and it has been very hard on us both at work. This year, I am thinking about applying for FMLA for these baby sick days. You can take the time intermittently for care of a minor, but you need to apply in advance. All you need in most cases is a letter from the pediatrician that says you have a baby who will require intermittent care.  This doesn't limit the work that piles up when you're out of the office, but it prevents the workplace from holding it against you.

I wish I had better answers but I’m hoping someone else does! Good luck.”


Another family took the take turns approach:

“I completely feel your pain... my son's first year, it was a constant cycle of a cold to an ear infection, to meds. And then all over again. Throw in some hand foot and mouth (which I caught as well), a couple bouts of diarrhea, and bronchiolitis. 29 doctor visits in his first year of life (when we transferred his medical records to a new dr I counted them up).

Anyways, the policy at his daycare was always a fever. But, I will admit to medicating him up with Advil and hoping to get through the day. His teachers were pretty forgiving and would silently look the other way if they knew the fever was because of an ear infection and not contagious.

We managed through with a series of each parent taking turns. Or sometimes we'd do a half and half - one of us would do the morning and one the afternoon - that way, we each got some time in the office and could move things around a little and not have to give up a whole day. At the time I also worked for a much more forgiving company so it was a little easier.

Here's the bright side - like one of the others, his immune system has been great ever since. Literally maybe one cold in the last year and a half.

It is ironic though once you're going through it how difficult it is to plan for - I always see comments from people that they prefer daycare to a nanny because they don't want to worry about the nanny calling in sick. And I always think, well, your kid is going to have more sick days home from daycare than a nanny ever would!"


Take turns. Cobble together care from nanny's friends, family members, babysitting fliers at the coffeeshop, and the PSP classifieds:

"We have a nanny share, not daycare, so we've probably had slightly less illness to deal with in the past year (and I'm hoping it'll be even better this year), but I thought it might be useful to hear from another teacher. (we also follow "daycare rules" with the share, according to our agreement with the other family: no fever for 24 hours, no vomiting, but runny nose and cough is okay to send.)

1. whenever our baby is sick enough to go to the doctor, we ask when or if she can go back to daycare or be around other kids. our pediatrician is usually happy to give pretty concrete guidelines. that makes it easy to communicate with our share family. it sucks to send your germy baby to play with a currently-healthy baby, and it REALLY sucks to knowingly send your healthy baby to play with a germy baby, but it's slightly less guilt-inducing when the doctor has okayed it.

2. it's helped us to have a pretty strict "taking turns" policy and to stick to it. my husband and I are both teachers at the same school. at the beginning of the last school year our daughter had a pretty terrible case of roseola (very high fever for a solid week). we hadn't made a specific sick day plan ahead of time and it led to some tension about who was going to miss work when. also, how crappy does it feel to be arguing about who wants to go to work instead of taking care of your child? that was almost the worst part of it for me, psychologically. anyway, after that we decided we would just take turns being absent, period. there were a couple REALLY inconvenient days over the course of the year but it was nice to not have to think about the "who is staying home?" aspect of things.

3. we've cobbled together care from nanny's friends, family members, babysitting fliers at the coffeeshop, PSP classifieds... it was super stressful. but we found that for most illnesses, it was only one day of absence for each of us. exceptions were roseola and coxsackie virus.

have a great first day with your kids! I'm going in super-early tomorrow because my classroom is still not totally set up, since I was on kid-pickup duty today... :)


If your child is in daycare, it's facility specific. For backup, consider an agency like Bright Horizons:

"First of all, this is so hard and I completely empathize with your situation!
I find that it is very facility specific. My daughter went to a daycare that frowned upon any slight sniffle (we had to move her out of there!) which was a major hardship for me and my husband. My son went to a daycare that relied on fever so if he was totally happy and social, they let him stay.
All that being said, I used my own judgement on this. I'm sure that many a working mom has thought her kid was coming down with something but needed to get thru one more day of work so gave (medicine of choice) in the hopes of squeezing out 4-6 hrs of work before the dreaded daycare call.
I would say that in my family, although my husband's job is more conducive to working from home, I am more frequently the one to actually do it. I'm not a teacher so I can only imagine how hard it must be to have to miss a day. My job can't be done from home and it's a big deal for me to miss but It's definitely not like having a class full of people waiting for me.
As for back up care, my company has a contract with Bright Horizons so if I need them for a sick day, it only costs $6/hr. Does your partner's company possibly have something like that? I know that the BOE doesn't.
The only thing I can say is that the first year is usually the worst. Then your child's immune system adjusts and can battle anything!

More reviews for Bright Horizons, from this conversation and others, are located on the reviews section of the Park Slope Parents website:

Bright Horizons reviews

reviews for emergency childcare services


In response to the question, how do working mom's do it:

"They lose their job!!!!! Here I am! My son is 4 now - and starting K today and unfortunately he wasn't just sick with flu and usual stuff, he has partial hearing loss caused by ear infections, and ended up needing two surgeries, and lots of therapy to recover from it, LOTS.
I used all my time off, vacation, unpaid leave and then I was asked to resign. I begged for the entire time to be given a part time assignment, it was not a high pressure job, but in the end the whole department was not well managed and ended up being shut down after I left.
It was terrible.
I am freelancing now, and ...ah! I guess I will never go back to full time work, it's sooooooo hard.
Terrible. My ex actually was so traumatized by how much was needed to take care of our son, he decided to go deadbeat in the end.
In better cases than mine, relatives and support groups help.
It's actually a very interesting experience, I earn a lot less. But I also get to spend a lot of time with both my children and that is priceless.
I hope I will be able to get more work and go back to earn more, but for now it's actually a miracle, I work 10 to max 20 hours a week and I was able to keep them in the same home, same schools, same swimming-gardening-go figure classes AND our main major cut was the nanny, and they do not miss that at all. I am a better cook!!!!! :-)
Of course my savings took a major beating and I hope now that he is better and that he is in regular school to be able to go back to work and earn a little more.
It can be done. Not easy, but don't ever panic, when there is a will, there is a way.”


Find live-in help:

"I am a single mom and while I tried to think ahead (I adopted so I had some time) and plan for situations like illness and daycare, I learned very quickly you can plan but...  I am grateful that my daughter's daycare (Imagine Early Learning Center) is for the most part very understanding and will only refuse to take her if she has a fever at the time.  We had an diarrhea incident recently where the doctor did not prescribe any medication and I had to plead with them to take her as it ran its course or end up out of work for the week. They asked for a note and then worked with me for the next three very long days.
I have backup daycare through Bright Horizons [see more opinions about Bright Horizons below]but as a warning they reject for any little thing so it is not a good backup for illness.
We just had a meeting at work (I am an attorney at medium sized law firm) where it was emphasized that we do not have a work from home policy. ... felt a little like I heard a whisper of my name, when that came up...  But I can keep track of emails and log into the system remotely when I need to be out.
I recently agreed to have my young cousin who is a junior at a local college move in partially into the spare bedroom because I broke down and realized I need whatever help I can get.  Of course my child will only be sick on the days my cousin has classes but even if there is someone to watch her while I log on to work after hours for a few hours that would be a help.  I did have a co-worker offer me the use of her nanny in such instances, she has older kids and wasn't concerned that they would get sick but while that would be a consistent backup, it is costly.
My daughter just turned one year old and has been in daycare since she was four months.  It is new parent/daycare hazing and I remember thinking "what in the world" when my girlfriend had to leave her job because I was so sick and couldn't take care of an equally sick child.  But the good news is... they get stronger, you get stronger and it does get better."


Related Reading:

Childcare and working parents topics

Last Minute, Backup, and Drop-in Childcare Ideas

 Reviews for emergency childcare services