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Staying Home for a Sick Child

Not too long ago, when my daughter would wake up telling me she felt sick, I wouldn’t feel her forehead and send her back to bed. I would instead feel total panic.

My first reaction was to say, “you look fine. Go to school and have them call me if you still feel sick.”

Her emotionally and physically deflated little body would slump, nod its head, and go back to her room to dress slowly because everything hurt. I cringe when I think about this, but it was hard when I knew I’d have to make long sub plans and call into a principal who was more interrogating than kind. Plus, there were my kids, my students, who needed consistency and care. They needed to see me each morning, so they knew their day was going to be okay.
“39 percent of Americans, more than 43 million people, still struggle without paid time off to recover from an illness or seek medical care,” states the Bureau of Labor Statistics. So even my previous situation of not wanting to use my paid sick time speaks to my privileged existence.

My husband works for the same school district that I do, but because of the way his contract runs, he does not have as much access to paid sick leave as I. So typically I take the days off. In this case it’s more a case of finances and less one of gender roles.

Yesterday, my daughter woke up with a wicked cough and a low-grade fever. I texted my supervisor to say I was going to take the day off. Then I sent some emails out to school staff to explain that gifted and talented services would be moved to another day. And just like that, my daughter had me home without feeling guilty that her mother had sacrificed anything to be with her. What made the difference for me?
  1. I have a supervisor who puts me first. She doesn’t make me feel like I have to choose between my family and my career.
  2. I have health insurance for children so I know I can take them to the doctor when they are sick.
  3. I have a job where I can rearrange my schedule to make accommodations for a day that didn’t go as planned.
  4. I have paid sick leave so I will still be able to pay my bills this month.

I spent yesterday reading Red by Liesl Shurtliff to my daughter. Then we played some multiplication games to make sure her facts stayed sharp in her mind. At noon, she fell asleep in front of the woodstove.
I moved her to my bed where she slept for four hours. She needed it. As she slept and I wrote, I thought of all the children out there whose parents love them more deeply than the Grand Canyon, but who must send them to school sick because of their work circumstances. I am fortunate for so many reasons, but being present for my children when they need me is my biggest treasure.


  1. I love this post! I know exactly where you are coming from. I spent years feeling guilty about the inner conflict between work and staying home with a sick kid. A few months ago, I was talking with my daughters about how working moms often feel badly about not being home. Erin said, with true surprise in her voice, "But YOU don't feel that way, right?!" "Sure I have," I replied. "That's ridiculous," said Lea. "You're always around when we need you." I will remember that conversation for a long time.


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