In the Time of Swine Flu, What’s a Parent to Do?
by Meredith O’Brien
One of my children was recently diagnosed with swine flu and missed a week of school. That’s just the icing on the cake as far as sickness and kids go in my house these days. Between my swine flu kid (who’s one half of an 11-year-old set of twins), and my 8-year-old, at least one child has been out of school due to a cold or some kind of health ailment during almost every week of this young school year. It’s been one sick day after another, and that’s not including the six half days the kids’ve already had. I haven’t actually quantified the number of days when I’ve had at least one sick kid at home, but between the sick days, half days and handful of vacation days, I know that we’re talking a substantial chunk of my work hours over the past few weeks.
This year, more than any other school year, I’ve felt absolutely blessed to be able to work from home, have a flexible schedule and the ability to make up the time at night after the kids are in bed or on weekends. If I worked in an office or off-site somewhere, I’d likely have already been reprimanded and/or considered a less-than-dedicated professional for having missed a substantial slice of my weekday hours because I’ve had to be home with sick children, or because there’s a half day of school. Yes, it’s true that I have a husband and that if I were working in an office that wasn’t located inside my house we’d be obliged to divvy up all these days, sick, half and the lot. However since I do work from my domicile, it’s simply easier for me to take the kids to their sick doctor visits, bring them their boxes of plush tissues and deliver trays of soup and beverages to them as they lie wanly in my bed watching Nickelodeon, the Disney Channel or ESPN with their glassy, cold/flu eyes.
What do other parents who don’t work from home, who don’t have flexible schedules or sick days do when their kids – as in more than one child -- get sick, on different days, particularly in the time of swine flu (never mind being home for a half dozen half days of school)? A New York Times story () provided an ugly answer: Parents whose companies offer no or few paid sick days wind up sending their kids to school even if the children are ill and report to work themselves when they’re sick, even when the illness in question is the H1N1/swine flu, about which the federal government has declared a national emergency:
“Tens of millions of people, or about 40 percent of all private-sector workers, do not receive paid sick days, and as a result many of them cannot afford to stay home when they are ill. Even some companies that provide paid sick days have policies that make it difficult to call in sick, like giving demerits each time someone misses a day.
Public health experts say policies like these encourage many people with H1N1, commonly called swine flu, to report to work despite official warnings from the government and most companies that they should stay home.”