As parents, we are consummate nurturers. We love and comfort our children, protect them from harm, advocate for them and offer loving care when they are sick. While our own offspring are clearly the centre of the universe, most parents possess some level of patience and affection for other young families and will empathize with their struggles.
That is, until someone puts their sick, germy kid near your kid. Then it’s war.
I’m being dramatic, of course, but we all know the feeling. Your kid tells you that so-and-so puked in the middle of the classroom and was sent home, and while you feel a flash of sympathy for the poor kid, it’s quickly replaced by panic and fear. HOW CLOSE WERE YOU TO THE PUKE? You’ll ask. Did you play with that kid today? Did you breathe near him? ARE YOU GOING TO BE NEXT? Then you sanitize the hell out of everything, say a prayer to whatever power you believe in and brace for impact.
This reaction is, first and foremost, because you love your child and want them to be healthy. It’s also because a case of the flu (or any sort of “tummy bug” that involves vomit) means the sudden and horrific shutdown of a household. The fever and nagging worry. The awful reality of dealing with puke buckets. The endless cleaning and sleepless nights. The agony of watching your sad, tired child in so much discomfort, and the knowledge that your other kids are probably next. And then your husband. Oh, and then you.
Everyone is going to puke. It’s inevitable.
Last year, my family was hit by a virus so bad it had one or several of us out of commission for close to three weeks. It started with my then four-year-old son, traveled to his five-year-old sister, hit my husband like a ton of bricks and then finally took me down. Just as I recovered, my son was knocked over by round two – ROUND TWO!! – before we finally made it to the other side.
I have cleaned each and every one of the projectile fluids of illness off of every surface in my home. I’m still traumatized by the experience.
When your child is sick, your instinct is to drop everything and care for them – but like with all things parenting, it’s more complicated than that. What if you’re sick, too? How do you comfort a sick child when you’re curled up in ball beside your own puke bucket? And – god forbid – what if you work outside the home?
Being a stay-at-home-parent is not easy – this we all know. But when you’re a working parent, you’re faced with the age-old dilemma of what to do when your child is sick. Do you take a personal day, a vacation day, a sick day? If you’re in a job that offers none of those options, do you miss a shift and lose pay? And then what happens when you miss work and then days later, you catch the very thing you were nursing your child through?
Well, in too many cases, you probably push on through.
Having already paused your life to care for your children, you now refuse yourself the same much-needed rest and care because life doesn’t stop when mom is sick. You answer emails from bed, check the status of work projects, make your kids a quick dinner (even if the smell of food makes your stomach turn over) and help them with bathtime. It’s not just working moms who do this – stay-at-home mothers do it, too. It’s universal. We pound back some Advil, grab a cup of tea and keep going as if nothing is wrong. Sure, you’ve got a fever of 102, a throat that feels like knives and a headache that might kill you, but it’s nothing a quick shower and another dose of ibuprofen won’t solve (or at least dull somewhat).
Moms are always at the bottom of their own list. I am horribly guilty of this, personally. My priority list probably goes something like kids, husband, friends and family, career, household management, coffee, school council, a hundred other things too stupid to list and eventually, myself. I neglect my sleep, my downtime and many other simple needs.
I’ll pack a beautiful, healthy lunch for each of my kids and then have a coffee and a granola bar myself. I make sure my kids are involved in a variety of fun, stimulating extracurricular activities (but not too many, because balance and downtime are important) and yet, I can’t remember the last time I went to the gym or quietly sat down in a coffee shop with a book. It’s mom life – it’s what we do. But really, that’s not how it should be.
Time and time again, moms are reminded that you cannot pour from an empty cup – a cliche that is all too true. We need to take care of ourselves in order to take care of others (and hell, just because we deserve to be happy and healthy in our own right). As difficult as it may seem, we need to treat ourselves with the same loving respect we offer our children and our families. We need to take sick days when we’re sick – not just when we’re taking care of our sick children. It’s a crazy concept that may just catch on in the mothering realm, if we push it hard enough.
Call upon your village, if you have one. Tell your boss you need another sick day (this time for you) and be amazed when the world doesn’t fall apart. Take care of yourself without feeling guilty about it. In addressing your own needs, force yourself to be the kind, loving person that you are to your children.
You’re a good mom – so be good to yourself. Drink some water, get back into bed, close your eyes and take the nap you’d tell your children to take. It will be ok – trust me.
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