Sick Kids and Academics: How to Strike a Balance


We’ve all been there. You’re ready to start the day, not expecting anything outside of the norm. You go to wake your LO so that the morning routine can commence and then BOOM! Runny nose, fever, diarrhea, tummy ache; these are just a few examples of what you may encounter. The bottom line is that your kid is sick.

“But what about my well-thought out plans?” you ask. What about that presentation you have for stats class? What the group meeting? What about meeting with your advisor about course selection/dissertation? What about your shift at work? And most importantly, what about your LO?

Illness is unpredictable. However one thing is certain. Sooner or later your LO will get sick. This will most likely occur at the worst possible time. To be clear, it doesn’t even have to be flu-level illness. The basic, run-of-the-mill common cold is enough for many daycares to turn your child away. These are the moments when I most envy parents who have been blessed with a family member to watch their LO, either as regular childcare or on an as-needed basis. Grandma might not mind watching your snot-nosed sweetie-pie. Plus, there is the bonus of knowing that LO will be loved on and comforted all day long, while you go take care of business. Sadly, this situation just is not a reality for many parents. My in-laws live nearby, love spending time with Boogie, and are very supportive of my husband’s and my professional goals. However, they still have full-time jobs and bills to pay. This leaves us dependent on daycare. My husband works full-time and is the primary breadwinner for our family. He is also involved in his fraternity, multiple professional organizations, and sometimes his own educational pursuits. Add on my schooling and part-time work and our family schedule can become quite the balancing act. Thus, an unexpected sick day can throw off a number of things.

Beyond the logistical aspects of a kiddie sick day are the intangibles. I’m specifically thinking about managing the perceptions of others. I know. I know. We shouldn’t care about how others view us. Being a parent is hard work. Unless you are prepared to take over for the unconditional love and support (of all kinds) that a parent provides to their children, it really doesn’t matter what you think. Or does it? In reality, the perceptions of others can have a real impact/influence on the academic and/or professional aspects of our lives. One of my biggest fears as I returned to work and school after the birth of my son was that I would be overlooked for opportunities due to some erroneous belief that motherhood had rendered me less capable of getting things done. I hate being underestimated! Has it been an adjustment? Heck yea! However it can certainly be managed. Maybe I can’t make spontaneous commitments or say yes to every “opportunity” that comes my way, but with a bit of planning and prioritizing, most important things are attainable.

How to Deal

  1. Back-up childcare (preferably in-home): I love the idea of having a back-up sitter. As stated above, childcare centers or any arrangement that caters to multiple children are likely to have strict health policies. If LO is just a little under the weather, having another trusted person that you can call upon at the last moment is indispensable.
  2. Taking online courses whenever possible: In general, an online course will provide you more flexibility than an in-person course. Asynchronous courses allow you to log on whenever it is convenient for you. For a synchronous course, maybe you get permission to remain off camera and/or mute your microphone.
  3. Identify your allies: You don’t have to travel this road alone. Try to identify instructors, teaching assistants, staff, and fellow students who are both understanding and in a position to be helpful to you. See that girl a few seats down? The one who always beats you to class and actively participates? You need to make friends with her. I know you woke up 3 times with the baby last night and don’t feel like speaking to anyone at the moment, but, trust me, it’ll be worth it when you need the notes or assistance deciphering the homework.
  4. Make your to-do list each night for the following day: Just because you have to stay home with LO, that doesn’t mean all hope for productivity is lost. After LO falls asleep each night, take a few minutes to make a prioritized list of what you would like to get done the next day. It should  ranked and possibly even include estimates of how much time each task will take. You could also take this a step further by gathering any materials you might need to complete your to-do list items. When tomorrow comes, you’ll be prepared to maximize your time whenever LO is napping or otherwise occupied and content.
  5. Build up your defenses: The only thing worse than a sick kid is a sick household. Children typically aren’t known for their hygiene, so you need to disinfect like your life depends upon it. While your at it, do your best to eat well, and talk to your doctor about any homeopathic, over the counter, or prescription meds that might help you guard against the germ party happening in your house. Since you sadly do have a good chance of getting sick (my kid has literally coughed in my mouth before!), being productive while you can is of utmost importance (see #4 above).
  6. In the immortal words of that Frozen song, “Let it go! Let it gooo!” Sometimes you just have to accept what is. You and LO may just have to curl up on the couch, he with his Pedialyte and you with your wine, pick out some family friendly movies, and ride it out! Your child deserves your comfort and you deserve to give into your mothering instincts while indulging in all those snuggles. This won’t be the solution for every case of sniffles, but sometimes its going to happen.