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Moms are used to being the caregivers of the family. We are experts at helping when our kids are sick. Things sometimes fall apart, though, when we’re the ones who are ill. Loading up on NyQuil to sleep things off or settling down in front of Netflix to rest in a quiet house are definitely not options. You’ve got a family that needs you, and depending on the age of your kids, they might need a lot of care. So, how do you parent when you’re sick? I’m not going to lie. Taking care of a family when you feel terrible yourself is no fun, but these strategies can make it more bearable.
Get as much sleep as you can
When you’re the main caregiver in the house, finding time to sleep might be really difficult. Your body needs rest in order to recover, though. Try some of these strategies for getting more sleep:
If you have a baby: pay attention to that old adage “sleep when the baby sleeps”. This saying used to infuriate me as a new mom, because those times were the only times I could actually do something I wanted to do without a baby in my arms. While you’re sick, though, you should definitely take advantage of times that the baby is sleeping to catch up on a bit of rest yourself. If you’re a terrible napper like me, you might like this nap meditation from The Honest Guys.
If you have toddlers: My kids both stopped napping before age two. I have heard mythical tales of children who napped through Kindergarten and beyond, though. If you’re lucky enough to have one of these kiddos, nap when they nap. If not, take advantage of the fact that they probably go to bed early. There’s no shame in hitting the sack at 8 p.m.
If you have older children: implement quiet time. This is a good opportunity to allow your children to practice empathy. Point them towards quiet activities and then shut your eyes for a few minutes.
Rest your body even when you aren’t sleeping
At the times you are unable to sleep, let your body at least be still so that you can rest. Consider moving Mom Headquarters to the couch or the bed, and set up that area with everything that you need.
If you have a baby: make sure diapers, wipes, diaper rash cream, easy-to-fasten onesies, etc. are all within an arms reach. Consider quarantining a mobile baby with toys in a safe space nearby. Although screen time might not be your first choice for your baby, desperate times call for desperate measures. My dear friend, who recently suffered through stomach flu while solo parenting with an infant, swore that Baby Einstein and Cocomeleon saved her. She also had the excellent tip of FaceTiming Grandma as a sort of virtual babysitter while mom lay on the floor nearby. It ain’t ideal, but we do what we have to do.
If you have toddlers: I’m so sorry. I think this is the worst time you can get sick. These kids have boundless energy, no empathy, they can make a ton of mischief if they’re left alone, and they want to be with you all the time. That said, you got this. Here are some ideas for keeping those little buggers occupied.
Use the electronic babysitter if you need to
I know. You probably have feelings about screen time and tablet use for your kids. Look at this as an opportunity, though, rather than a cop out. The kids don’t just have to watch cartoons all day. You could watch a family movie, a concert, or an educational show together and discuss it (if you have the energy). The kids could get some of their wiggles out with the help of the GoNoodle app or Cosmic Kids Yoga videos on YouTube. You could put on an audiobook or ebook for them. (My library has access to thousands of these through the Tumblebooks app). Your kids could practice drawing via the Art for Kids Hub on YouTube. They could work on phonics with the Teach Your Monster to Read app. This extra electronics use is temporary, and there are lots of opportunities for enrichment here. No guilt allowed.
Bring out new toys
If you’ve got some toys that are brand new or haven’t been played with in awhile, now is an excellent time to bring them out.
Have fun together while you lie around
- Let them play doctor with you as the patient.
- Have them ‘read’ to you from a picture book.
- Send them on a scavenger hunt to find random items (or things you need) from around the house.
- Verbally direct them on an obstacle course encouraging them to crawl/hop/spin, etc.)
- Ask them to build you a particular thing out of Legos
- Have them color you a picture
- Direct them in a play or a puppet show
- Help them make a fort with a dark corner in which you can rest.
- Stick some contact paper sticky side out on the wall near Mom Headquarters, and give them small paper cutouts or tiny trinkets to stick there
If you have older children: Let them help you. Older kids can grab you a glass of water, heat up a pot of soup, or help out with younger siblings. Again, this is a wonderful opportunity to help them practice empathy and to allow them a little more freedom and responsibility.
Try to get help
It goes without saying that if you have a husband or older children in the house, you should put them to work. I, unfortunately, haven’t always had this luxury. We live 3.5 hours away from our closest relatives, and my husband travels frequently for work. In the seven years I have been a mom, I have often had to get creative when I was unable to do it alone.
If you have a baby: could a friend or neighbor come to hold the baby for even an hour while you rest? Maybe a young teenager you know would appreciate the experience of working for a bit as a ‘mother’s helper’.
If you have older children: can they go for a play date at a friend’s house? (You can return the favor later). Are there drop-in Mom’s Morning Out Programs, in-home childcare options, or drop-in daycare locations in your area? Could a relative or friend who lives far away come to stay for a day or two or take the kids to her house for a day or two?
As a side note while I’m talking about help: do get help from a doctor if your symptoms seem really worrisome. Loading the kids in the car for a trip to urgent care isn’t fun, but if your gut is telling you that something is really wrong, get assistance before it spirals out of control. You can’t care for your family if you’re totally incapacitated.
Try not to get the rest of the house sick
Unfortunately, viruses seem to often work their way through every member of the family. To keep the illness from spreading to your loved ones, remember to wash your hands frequently, cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough, and consider wiping off surfaces like doorknobs and light switches that you’ve touched.
If you have a baby: You are unlikely to get your baby sick, especially if you are breastfeeding. Breastfeeding during most illnesses is safe, and reportedly boosts baby’s immunity. Check with your doctor, of course, especially if you are taking medications. Although Dr. Google isn’t a substitute for the real thing, the NIH has put out this website which allows you to check if a medication is safe to use while breastfeeding. The site might be helpful if you’re trying to decide what you can take in the middle of the night.
If you have toddlers: Let’s be honest. They probably gave you their illness by sneezing in your mouth in the first place.
If you have older children: Remind them to keep their distance and wash their hands.
Lower your standards
I suspect that a lot of you are perfectionists like me. You’ll need to squash those tendencies when you’re sick if you want to get well quickly. Your goal for now is to keep everyone alive. Period. Cut out all non-essential activities. The house will be messy. The laundry will pile up. You can fix it later. (Be sure to encourage older children to help where they can.)
You might consider such energy-saving things as having groceries/food delivered or eating off of paper plates. Let everyone in the house have a PJ day.
If you have a baby: Consider using your super-absorbent nighttime diapers during the day so baby won’t need changed quite as much (make sure you put on butt paste first to prevent diaper rash.) Consider feeding purchased baby food (or foods that can be chewed easily without cooking them first if you’re doing Baby Led Weaning).
If you’re reading this and you’re not sick yet, plan ahead!
- Check your medicine chest and stock it with anything you might need. Do you have pain relievers, cold medicine, stomach meds and tissues?
- Make sure you have easy-to-prepare food in the pantry or in the freezer. You don’t want to be making yourself soup from scratch or running to the store for saltine crackers when you feel awful.
- Give some thought to who might watch your kids if you became ill. Look into drop-in daycare centers or Mom’s Morning Out programs in your area.
- If they’re old enough, make sure you’re working with your kids to encourage them to take on some small responsibilities such as dressing themselves, cleaning up small messes, and getting easy meals and snacks for themselves. Set up your home in such a way to make it easy for kids to do things on their own. Healthy snacks and kid dishes should be on shelves they can reach, for instance.
- If you’ve got young kids, hide a small stash of toys to thrill them with on a day when you’re feeling under the weather. A new coloring book, a few extra Lego pieces, or a car they’d forgotten about will delight them and give you a few minutes of peace while they play.
- Take care of yourself. Are you taking your vitamins, drinking enough water, and getting as much sleep as this gig allows? Do prioritize your own care. You know, and I know that your family won’t run nearly as well with you out of commission.
Hopefully, the tips outlined above will help make caring for your family while you’re sick a bit more bearable!