This Thanksgiving holiday, I had a house full of extended family and a weather forecast full of rain. Despite the gloomy prognosis, I'm thrilled to announce that the visit went well. The kids all got along - no meltdowns, no big brawls. The adults all got along - no meltdowns, no big brawls. We went on several adventures and had plenty of time to build forts and make messes at home. Overall, it was a successful week... except for one thing: I got sick. Really sick.
My throat began feeling sore at the beginning of the visit and by the time my sister and her daughters boarded their plane for home, I had a high-fever and could barely swallow. My doctor confirmed a diagnosis of strep and I went home with a prescription and an order to "kick up my feet and rest".
For most moms I know, kicking up their feet and resting is a near impossibility. There are kids that need to be fed, bathed and bedded. Life doesn't just stop because mom or dad isn't feeling well. As these spot-on Nyquil commercials imply, Moms and Dads don't get PTO or sick days, amIright?
After 11 years of being a parent, I've done the sick-parenting thing many, many times, and I'm here to offer you support and suggestions (that actually don't involve Nyquil, although I know parents who swear by the stuff):
1. Be like a sloth and do the bare minimum: Forget the laundry. Pull out the paper plates. Housecleaning, baths and phone calls can wait. Make sure everyone gets fed and stays alive. All other tasks and priorities can be put on hold. The more your rest, the more quickly you will feel like yourself again. You can catch up on everything when you are well. And you will catch up - like Superwoman on steroids, because you'll feel like a new person!
2. Call in the troops and ask for help: You're probably thinking, Duh... This one is kind of a no brainer. But for many of us parents, asking for help and handing the reins to someone else can be challenging. When you are the captain of your ship, and your know exactly how your kids like their sandwiches cut and precisely what routine will help them go to the sleep at night, it is hard to ask someone to step in and do your job. Even your spouse. On the last day of my sister's visit, my illness had rendered me pathetic. My husband was out, so I asked her to handle the last meal of the day with the kids. I could hear pans and dishing clanging in the kitchen and I made the conscious choice to let go and let her be in charge - not something that comes easy for me.
3. Make it a lesson in empathy: You know what? It is OK and even beneficial for our kids to see us being vulnerable and human. Moms and dads get sick too - we aren't robots. As your little ones get older, you might be surprised with the tenderness and empathy they exhibit when they see you suffering with a cold. My 10 yr. old takes on a whole new level of independence when he observes me looking like death warmed over. Capitalize on these moments of role reversal and allow the little people to care for the caretaker (or at the least entertain themselves).
4. Keep your germs to yourself, please: There is only one thing worse than parenting when you are sick. Parenting when you AND your child are sick. Mark those episodes down as all time lows in the kid-rearing adventures. My recommendation? Wash your hands often, avoid close contact and cup sharing and let your partner or another healthy adult handle bath time and food prep if at all possible. Most of the time, it is fine to breastfeed because you are actually boosting your baby's immunity, but be sure to ask your doctor. If you can keep the rest of your crew healthy, it will help to speed along your own healing.
5. Throw your "Perfect Parent" hat out the window: Perhaps you usually limit your kids to two hours of screen time a day? Maybe you make it a practice to get your baby out on a walk in the fresh air every afternoon? You probably have wonderful routines that make you the great parent that you are. Forget about all of that. Don't worry about the TV being on non-stop or cold pizza being served for dinner. Your number one priority should be resting and getting well.
And now that I've given you those 5 tips, my final advice is...
6. Avoid getting sick in the first place: Do what works for you to keep your immune system strong and your stress levels down so that you stay healthy and well during the cold and flu season. (I'm really lecturing myself here.) Elderberry, Vitamin C, Zinc -- pick your potion and drink your liquids. Because, no matter how many tips I give you for parenting when you're sick, it still kinda sucks. So wash your hands, get your sleep and keep your body strong. You're doing the hardest job there is, and you need your strength to do it!
Kirsten Brunner, MA, LPC is a Licensed Professional Counselor and married mother of two rambunctious boys in Austin, Texas. She provides sanity-saving tips and private workshops for expectant and new parents at Baby Proofed Parents. Follow BPP on Facebook or Twitter for real-time tips and humor to help you "bring sane to baby brain."