“Mommy, I don’t feel good.” Five simple words that, when strung together by the young children of working moms, have the power to cause the ultimate showdown of work vs. mom. We long to keep our priorities straight. But a feverish child at 3 a.m. can evoke that conflict, the showdown we want so much to avoid. Health insurance, 401ks, vacation time and sick days are all benefits of employment, yet requesting to use a sick day more often feels like a dreaded task. In an effort to meet all of our responsibilities, both at home and in the office, we are likely to forget that we have earned the benefit to stay home to care for ourselves and our family. Some of us, instead of asserting that benefit, go into explanation—and apology—mode.
It is 5 a.m. and I have been up with Johnny for over two hours. At first he woke up a little dizzy and I was sure he would fall right back asleep, but I was mistaken. After a glass of water and a few episodes of Spongebob, I finally decided at 3:45 a.m. to take his temperature and it was 101.5. I gave him Tylenol and rubbed his back for about 30 minutes and he just would not fall asleep. His fever didn’t even break with Tylenol! Clearly, he is sick and I am exhausted. I would like to use a sick day tomorrow if that is OK with you. I will be sure to check email and voicemail from home. Thanks so much. See you Friday!
Did I really need to mention Spongebob? Or the ineffective Tylenol? Read on for a description of the top three mistakes working moms make when using our sick-day benefits (and add your own in the comments section):
1. Offering Too Many Details
Due to anxiety, guilt or over-abundant honesty, we offer too many details. Our employers need not be privy to the 3 a.m. play-by-play of our sick-child routine, nor do they need to know the exact temperature on the thermometer and the time at which it was taken. When it comes to details on this one, less is more.
2. Asking Permission
Sick days are a benefit of employment, often presented at the time of a job offer as an added value to working for said company. They are earned and tracked. You have them until they are used, and then you earn more. Do you ask permission to use your health insurance? No. It should be assumed by an employer that sick days are being used as needed and not abused. After all, we are responsible adults. Asking permission to take a sick day is courteous, but with no backup plan, try not to succumb to pressure to request it, thereby leaving the decision in your boss’s hands.
3. Feeling Compelled to Work From Home
One day in the all-too-close yet distant future, you will long for these: the unexpected, fever-induced, couch-cuddle, movie-watching days. Embrace these moments. If your work can wait, and it usually can, let it. Stay an extra hour tomorrow if you have to, but right now soak up the love and affection expressed between you and your sick child. You’re creating memories; be present. No, I will not check my email and voicemail. No, thank you. I am going to cherish my cuddling moments with my sick son before I blink and he is 5 feet 11 inches tall, driving off to college.
Next time you need to stay home to care for your sick child or even yourself, try this simple trick: Think of it not as a sick day but as a benefit, and treat it as such. Your future self will thank you for the sick-day memories.