WASHINGTON: It always happens this time of year. You get a sore throat, and then a sniffle, and pretty soon you’ve got a full-blown cold. Or maybe it’s your child — day care calls, you’ve got to come pick them up because they’re running a fever. You receive a note home in your child’s backpack that strep throat or cocksackie virus is making the rounds, and suddenly the sniffle your child has becomes more ominous.
None of these illnesses themselves are typically all that threatening. A cold lasts a week or so, and strep throat requires a trip to the doctor for some medicine. The time you must take off work to take care of yourself or your child, however, is what becomes a source of stress. How can you manage getting your work done while making sure everyone gets healthy?
A survey by NSF International, a trade group that sets public health standards and certification program, found that 26 per cent of Americans always go to work when they’re sick, and another 34 per cent wait until they’re experiencing the full onset of symptoms before staying home. Of course, your co-workers might appreciate if you phoned into the meeting instead of coming in. With your children, however, day care and school policies are much more strict to prevent the spread of illness in a more vulnerable population. There are a few steps you can take to make this cold and flu season go more smoothly than the last.
1. Plan ahead
Rather than crossing your fingers and hoping you don’t get sick, let’s start by accepting that we’ll all come down with at least one cold this winter. If you have children, you know they’ll get colds; children experience eight to 10 colds a year before they turn 2 years old, and they have more if they are in a day care Centre.
It’s a good idea to look at your calendar and figure out what days you “must” be in the office, and which days you can take leave or work a flexible schedule. For me, the days I teach classes are days when I must be in the office. For those days, if a child has to be home from school, my partner knows he’s on call if an emergency happens. You may have standing meetings or obligations you can’t shift. Work out which days you’ll be on call for sick-outs and which ones your partner or another family member will cover.
If your job is less flexible, such as a medical doctor or a job that requires lots of face time, figure out other options for days you know you can’t miss. First, check with your human resources department. Some larger workplaces cover the cost of a nanny or babysitter for the day, and work with special services to provide care. If you’re with a smaller firm, ask about babysitters or stay-at-home-parents in the neighbourhood who might be able to be on call. Having a few options can be helpful when your child’s fever spikes at 11pm
2. Rethink your childcare
My oldest son attended a day care Centre until he enrolled in a D.C. state school preschool program, and for my second son’s first year, I placed him in the same day care Centre. Balancing two children’s needs to be out of school due to illness, however, quickly became too much to manage. The winter right after my second son turned 1, there were only a few weeks where I worked a full five days due to small illnesses that required him to be picked up from day care. It was too much. We looked at the options, and for us, an au pair made a lot of sense. Au pairs are young (usually) woman who come to live with a family and provide childcare for 45 hours a week through a program through the State Department.
We’re now on our second au pair, and for us it’s been like having a younger family member providing loving care for our children. While not as experienced as a day care provider or a nanny, an au pair provides much more flexibility for us. Given that I can work from home one or two days a week and be on hand to provide any coaching or answer any questions, it has worked out well. An added plus is that if a child is sick, they can stay home without disrupting your work schedule too much.
3. Maximise your preventive measures — and, relax
Taking appropriate preventive measures for you and your children is essential — making sure vaccines are up to date, getting a flu shot for the whole family, eating and drinking healthfully, and exercising are all ways to make sure you stay healthy. Getting a cold, however, is almost unavoidable. It used to be that every time I got sick, I would stress out. I’d take extra vitamin C, Echinacea, zinc, and anything that was sold at the drugstore that promised to “shorten the length of your cold!”
Beyond rest and extra fluids, however, there’s little scientific evidence that the “miracle drugs” at the grocery store will do much to shorten your cold. When I feel the telltale sore throat, or when my child sneezes on me, I take a deep breath. “Relax,” I tell myself. “This will last a week, and then it will be gone. Rest and drink lots of fluids.” No amount of stressing out about my cold or my child’s cocksackie virus will make it go away any faster. So take some deep breaths, practice some mindfulness, and remember that in a few short months we’ll be saying farewell to cold and flu season — and hello to allergy season.