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Are you wondering how to parent when you’re sick? Learn what to do when you need a sick day–how to get rest and what to do with the kids.
I woke up this morning with that “off” feeling. You know the one. Throat a little scratchy, body a little achy, head feeling like it used to when I partied too hard the night before.
Unfortunately, there was no party last night. I’m definitely getting sick, and because I’m Mom, there will be no loading up on NyQuil to sleep things off or settling down in front of Netflix to rest in a quiet house.
Did you wake up sick, too, Mama?
We’re gonna get through this together. Here’s what you need to do.
Get as much sleep as you can
Don’t roll your eyes at me.
I KNOW how difficult it is to sleep when you’re the grownup. 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
When you’re unable to sleep, at least keep your body still so that you can rest a little. 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 Cocomelon 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: You have my sympathies because this is absolutely the worst time to get sick. These kids have boundless energy, they want to be with you every second, and they can make destroy your house if they’re left alone. 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. Seriously. Put those kids to work. 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, they need to get busy helping out. 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
The only thing worse than being sick yourself is knowing that tomorrow there’s a good chance that you’ll be feeling just as crappy and caring for a sick kid, too.
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
If you are a mama who’s used to holding herself to impossible standards, now is a great time to practice squashing those tendencies.
Your goal, for now, is to keep everyone alive. Period. Cut out all non-essential activities. The house will be messy. The laundry might 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).