Working mothers are always one cough away from complete chaos.


Your world runs like clockwork, until someone’s ear starts to hurt.

Being a working mum is only manageable when the kids are well. When they sick, everything falls into a spectacular pile of shit.

It doesn’t matter how organised you are…

It doesn’t matter if you just won a multi-million-dollar contract for your firm…

All that matters is that your child is sick and they can’t go to school, so one of you – either mum or dad – is staying home.


Or you can do what I did.

I had an early day. I’m a freelancer on retainer, with other work commitments and a uni degree in the works. I have some wiggle room in my schedule – all of which I used up last month when my oldest had whooping cough and the remnants of which I then used up last week when ALL THREE of my children were sick with bronchitis, an upper respiratory infection and an ear infection. So I cancelled my week.

There were a lot of apologies, begging, the lodging of IOUs, and I managed to muddle through the week meeting as many commitments as I could from home in my kitchen, eating all the fun-size Milky Ways and Mars Bars I had bought for after soccer (remind me to buy more before Saturday, will you?).

Over the weekend we were all well enough to resume normal life and last night I was filled with the joy of someone about to be freed from the imprisonment of childhood illness, medicine applicators and aloe vera tissues. I fell asleep with a smile on my face. What a fool.

At 3.30am I woke up with a start. My daughter, Caterina, 5, was standing by my bed quietly crying.


“My ear hurts,” she said, effectively puncturing my happy bubble in a million places in seconds. In my head I said, “No it doesn’t, your ear doesn’t hurt” but out loud I told her to lie down with me and try and go back to sleep. “Maybe she’ll sleep it off” – the fool said.

She refused to take any pain-relieving medication so I wasn’t holding out much hope and her quiet sobbing kept me conveniently awake for the remainder of the early hours as I frantically tried to come up with some way to get through my crazy busy day.

3.57am… Maybe my sister can take her?

4.12am… Maybe Mum will be home?

4.38am.. Maybe I can take her to work with me?

5.07am… Maybe I’ll just send her to school?

As I showered at 5.23am, sick of trying to get back to sleep, I realised it was way too early in the morning to ring and ask anyone for help. I had no choice but to knock on doors in the wee hours. How much did my family love me? I was about to find out.

Oh no. It really is a fever. And you can’t even fake that.

We got ready and left the house. The boys were going to before-school care and we just so happened to be passing the home of my sister first. I knocked on the door. Her startled husband answered. He’s a builder and tends to be up early.

“Can Marina look after Caterina? I have to go to work and she’s sick. Does she have any meetings today?”

He called for my sister who stumbled out of bed wondering what she’d ever done to deserve such a rude awakening.

“Sure,” she said, blessed angel that she is, “but I have a meeting at 10.30.”

“I’ll get Mum to pick her up,” I assured her as I lay my sick daughter on her lounge, feeling slightly ill at abandoning her in such a state.


I went to my first work commitment then rang my mum – who was awake by then – on my way to my second work commitment. She agreed to look after Caterina however she’d already committed to another grandchild later in the day so the clock was ticking.

What the hell do parents do who don’t have flexible work arrangements?

Somehow I managed to concentrate on the job and hand and then a miracle occurred. My husband finished work early and picked her up, just in time, and took my daughter straight to the doctor. As I drove home, marvelling at the day, a few thoughts occurred to me?

What the hell do parents do when they have no family to ask for help?

What the hell do parents do who don’t have flexible work arrangements?

What the hell do parents do when they don’t have beautiful, understanding bosses?


Is there ever a solution to this?

Most families require both parents to work. As long as the kids are healthy, that is possible. When they are sick, it is such a ridiculous notion.

Might I just suggest you stock up on olive-leaf extract and citrus fruits now and start pumping them into your little ones? Otherwise you’ll be asking the lovely older couple down the road to move in, which will make for an awkward first meeting seeing as you’ve never had a proper conversation with them save for the occasional “Good morning” while they walk their Maltese.

Good luck.

Has your family been hit by winter illness yet? Who looks after your kids when they are sick?

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Finally a working-mother study we can bask and revel in.

Carrie Bickmore returned to work; nearly sprang a leak.

This woman judged working mothers. Then she became one.