6 tips to manage work when your kiddo is sick

Reading Time: 5 minutes

It’s Monday morning @9:30 AM, I get a call at my desk from tiny o’s childcare to say he has vomited. I pack up immediately and make the hour-long journey home, desperate to see the poor dote. On arrival, I am greeted by a child who’s morphed into Casper and is wearing a frilly pink polka dot vest he doesn’t own. He’d vomited five times so annihilated all of his spare clothes. As I closed the créche door cuddling him in my arms, his little voice pipes up, “Can I go play with cars and choo choo’s now Mammy?” In that moment, I think I catch a whiff of Ferris Bueller off him. He never vomits again (“Doo, bow bow, chick chicka chicka”). Still, I keep him off for three-days of TLC.


Being a Working Mammy with a sick child is tricky and it can lead to two-fold guilt:

  1. First and foremost, I want to care for my kiddo 

  2. Crap! I’ve left work in the lurch with no notice

Here’s some tips that help me manage when tiny o is ill and might work for you too.

1. Having a sick child does not make you unprofessional 

Immediately remind yourself of this when the shit hits the fan. Families existed on earth far before workplaces. Most employers with a smidgen of empathy will understand that you have to leave when your wee one is sick. We’re not machines; we’re humans. Humans get sick. Fact of life. Most of us, including the Ebenezer Scrooges of this world, will care for someone ill in our lifetime. Even if we don’t have children- a partner, a parent, a close friend. They should always come first. It’s Murphy’s Law (my godforsaken ancestor) that a call from childcare will ring-a-ling-a-ling when you’re about to enter a job interview. Or, you’re standing in front of a dragon’s den and your future livelihood depends on your performance. If you have a partner agree with him/her who will go home. If you don’t, seek support from someone close to you and then get to your kiddo as soon as you can. Remember, they’ll be in safe hands.

2. Reserve annual leave for sick child days

Since having tiny o, myself and Big O keep a reserve of holidays for sick child days. This is a big stress buster as when an emergency happens, we have this time as back-up, ready to use. I see how colleagues with older children can often work from home when their kid is sick. With a toddler, this isn’t always feasible. Also, I want to provide my full care especially when tiny o is so little and feeling miserable. At the start of a year, we might agree between us that we need eight days holidays for tiny o emergencies and sickness, so four holidays each. So far this year, we’ve only taken one each but last year when he started créche, we used a heck of a lot more (as you would if you have more than one child). Flexible working, parental leave and unpaid leave are also options to explore.

3. Call on your village 

This is a common theme in my blog entries but we have a sacred village of family, friends and neighbours who we would honestly struggle without. When tiny o was sick, I took the Monday off work, Big O took Tuesday and my Mam and Dad took him on Wednesday, which he loved. He was fine to go back to créche as he hadn’t vomited in 48 hours but we still felt he needed 1-1 care. Obviously, if he was contagious, we couldn’t call on our village as tiny o’s germs would take them out like the plague. Most folk when asked to help will do their utmost for you. You can follow-up with a little token to say thank you!  Every Christmas, we organise a special meal for our parents to thank them for their support throughout the year. 

4. Focus on your Most Important Tasks

tiny o in high productivity mode

In reality, sometimes you need to follow-up with work when a sick child is napping or later on at night when s/he is asleep. If you do, only focus on your M.I.Ts; your Most Important Tasks. Do not, I repeat, do not, venture down an email rabbit hole responding to everything in your inbox. The average worker checks her email 74 times a day and 28% of our working hours are spent reading and responding to email. If you received 200 letters in the post in one day, would you think it’s realistic to respond to them all? No, you would chose the letters that are critical to your work. You’ve limited time so turn on your out-of-office to manage expectations. Then scan your email and respond only to urgent requests/blockages. Even better, work offline. Research shows that people who check their email in batches i.e. only a couple of times a day are more productive and a lot less stressed (check out Unsubscribe by Jocelyn K. Glei for more tips).

5. Find a working parent buddy 

Like most places, there are a lot of working parents in my organisation. I share a small office with two working mammies and a working daddy. They’ve got my back. When I had to fly out the door @9:30 AM, the immediate response was I hope tiny o is OK and how can I help? From informing other colleagues that I’m unavailable, following-up on urgent queries, cancelling meetings or indeed, attending meetings on my behalf, they’ve done all of these things. Fricking legends. I do the same for them when they’ve a sick child. Seek out a colleague who’s a working parent, establish a relationship and offer support or cover when they have a family emergency. This will be reciprocated tenfold. Having colleagues who genuinely empathise is invaluable. Develop your camaraderie in the trenches of parenthood and you’ll help one another navigate the battlefield of work and childcare.

6. Take time to recover 

Myself and tiny o worn out to the bone ;-)

Caring for a sick child is at once fulfilling and exhausting. Delivering  undivided attention while juggling the logistics of work and other childcare/school if you’ve a brood, is bloody tough. I often find I get sick when tiny o recovers. This is a combo of being infiltrated by his toddler contagion and exhaustion taking a sledgehammer to my immune system. Same goes for Big O. Once your little one has recuperated, take time for yourself. It’s probably unrealistic to head off to the Powerscourt Hotel spa for three days, I get it. But you can manage to wrangle one hour for yourself. Get out of the house. Go for a walk and breathe in fresh air, it’ll rejuvenate your sanity and your system. Go to a class you enjoy. Meet a friend. Or grab a good book, head to a coffee shop and get yourself a delicious slab of cáca milis. You deserve it. To quote Maya Angelou on motherhood, ‘I do my best because I’m counting on you counting on me.’ And, that’s what you do – your best 😘

One response to “6 tips to manage work when your kiddo is sick”

  1. Ah, this is really tips. Sometimes working mom worries a lot and I believe this tips have helped so many mother out there

What do you think?

Hey Mama!

I’m Jen Murphy, award-winning blogger and wellness advocate for working mothers. I created Working Mother Wellness as a platform for mums to share our wellness experiences. Sign-up to build your own Working Mother Wellness toolkit. You will receive updates on Kundalini yoga and meditation practices, wellness tips, and info on upcoming workshops and programmes.