parent opinion

“How the hell do parents make this work?” The unspoken truth about sick kids and childcare.

I will never again silently judge those ‘dose and drop’ parents. You know the ones, who stop at the chemist on the way to daycare to pick up some medicine and dose up their child so the educators are none the wiser.

Here I am, in month five of daycare life. It’s been a whirlwind. The first few weeks were a blur of guilt and anxiety, prying my son’s fingers off me while he clung to me for dear life. 

His first bout of sickness, which resulted in a two week on-again-off-again fever, horrendous rash, a COVID test and two visits to Emergency.

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The first time I got the dreaded call, I had just unpacked my beach umbrella and dried the last of my tears away as I drank my coffee in peace. 

I was just about to head for a dip in the sparkling ocean when my phone rang, the number for daycare flashed up on screen and my stomach dropped. 

Hudson had a temperature and needed to be collected. It was the last week of my summer holiday, and I had purposefully taken the week off to settle him in.

I knew kids got sick at daycare, but what I still don’t know is: how the hell do parents make this work? 

He loves going, there are so many fun activities, he jumps out of my arms into those of his teachers... and yet the worry still exists.

"The worry still exists." Image: Supplied. 

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Every single week I am crossing my fingers that his nose stays dry, his chest stays clear, and not because I don’t want to see my little one suffer (of course I don’t) but because I am not a magician.

The last five months have been full of calendar wizardry, my husband and I balancing our own sickness (thanks to the newfound germs living in our house) and our responsibilities at work.

I now have a brand new perspective on why so many mums have extended breaks from the workforce. 

Kids are out of daycare more than they are in, your bills have never been higher thanks to the exorbitant fees, and it's likely your hours have been reduced so you can balance them with your family life. 

Before you know it you’ve rescheduled a meeting with your boss more times than you can count, and you spend your days apologising for missing this meeting and that deadline.  

As soon as the kids are in bed, you spend hours on your laptop, constantly playing catch up, trying to get ahead. 

"I now have a brand new perspective on why so many mums have extended breaks from the workforce." Image: Supplied. 

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You never have any downtime, because you're squeezing in work at any short interval you get to make up for the fact that you had to leave early, or take a day off. You don’t want to drop any balls. You don’t want to let your colleagues down. 

You find yourself almost frustrated that your kid is sick again, then the mum guilt kicks in because all you want to do is make sure they feel better. Their sickness shouldn’t be viewed as a complete and utter inconvenience, but that’s what it becomes.

So, if you're in a partnership, the question becomes: whose role should suffer? What is fair?

In an ideal world you would share the parenting load, but what’s worse? Two people who are constantly rearranging their work schedules, missing deadlines and zooming in and out frazzled... or does someone sacrifice their role/career so that at least one of you can function without the added parental stress?

Listen to Mamamia's parenting podcast, This Glorious Mess, little kids. Post continues below.

Too often this is women, which is why we retire with less super, face more barriers when re-entering the workforce and are most at risk of homelessness. 

As Head of People and Culture at Mamamia, I have recently been involved with launching the ‘Encoreship’ program, where we partnered with Alpha H and other like-minded brands to offer an ‘Encoreship’ - a paid three-month internship or 'returnship' to help women who have had a significant break from employment reenter the workforce. 

Reading through the applications, I have a newfound appreciation for what women are sacrificing when they are choosing their careers to take a back seat. 

Yet sometimes there is no other option. If you’re not fortunate enough to be able to work from home, or work for a supportive employer, I can see why you would tap out. 

It might feel easier to resign than to constantly feel like you are disappointing everyone. You're paying hundreds of dollars in daycare fees and watching your personal leave balance get lower and lower by the day.

So, I understand now why some parents have no choice but to 'dose and drop' - despite the fact that it contributes to the vicious cycle of never-ending sickness. 

Being able to take a day off with your sick child is a privilege. For some people, if they don’t work, they don’t get paid - but you best believe they are charged for those daycare days.

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We can never truly solve this issue without addressing the fact that although there’s been progress (in predominantly male industries), the unspoken rule is that dads don’t have to deal with that. Leave it to the mothers. 

But then fathers aren’t always afforded the same flexibility and understanding from their employers when it comes to balancing their life with kids and work, as mothers are. 

The more balanced and shared the responsibility can be, the less chance either parent is going to have to sacrifice their own career, and in turn, their earning potential. 

Until we change this mentality, there are truly no winners here.

Do you agree? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

For more from Nicolle, check out her stories:

'The 4 things I'd tell every new mum about returning to work after a baby.'

'I've just returned to work from maternity leave. There are 4 unexpected positives.'

"People don't warn you": 12 things I’ve learnt in the first 12 months of motherhood.

"It's 4 months since I had a baby. There are 5 things I always get my husband to do."

Feature Image: Supplied.

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