The 5 stages of THE CALL: Realizing you have to balance work & a sick kid

mom on phone working from home with child balancing work with sick child
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Sick season is in full effect. You name it—flu, Covid, stomach bug, RSV, pink eye, hand foot & mouth—someone in your school has it and your child is about to get it (if they don’t have it already).

Every day as a working parent feels like a game of roulette where you hold your breath and wonder, is today the day I’ll have to figure out how to balance doing my job and taking care of my child? Is today the day that it will just be too much to handle?

There is no “good” timing for your kid to be sick. It’s heartbreaking at any point to see them in pain, but at least if it’s over the weekend there is no juggling of professional vs personal responsibilities to be had.

The unwritten rule to parenthood, though, states that your kid will be sick more times than you can count throughout the year, typically condensed into a two to three month period so that it’s just one revolving door of sickness, and that it will most definitely not be contained to the weekend.

No, the rule is that you’ll send your kids off to school, get sucked into work and then get THE CALL. This is the dreaded call from your daycare or school that your child needs to be picked up within the hour because they are sick. It usually comes right when you’re about to present in a meeting or desperately trying to meet a deadline.

As the saying goes, if you can’t laugh about it you’ll cry, right?

5 stages of processing the dreaded call

There are 5 stages of processing THE CALL and the fact that you’ll need to take care of a sick child and balance your work.


This stage is fun. It can involve a delusional idea that maybe daycare didn’t take your child’s temperature correctly and they don’t actually have a fever and don’t need to come home. I can’t believe this is happening today is probably going to cross your mind, as well as I don’t have time for this today of all days <insert important thing that has to get done>.


After you’ve come to terms with the facts that your child is sick, the next stage is a panicked rush of negotiation. The first round of negotiation will be with your calendar, where you’ll flip through your meetings and workload for the day and decide what can be pushed off to later this week, what you could try to be present for and what will need to be done after bedtime.

After that’s done, it’s on to negotiating with your partner to see how you can split duties for the day. You’ll usually need to do this via text since you’ll both be trying to cram in a few more minutes of work before you need to pick your kid up.


At this point the worry will set in. How many days will they be out of school for this sickness and how will you manage the rest of the week if they’re home? Whatever you do at this point, don’t look at the rest of your calendar for the week. You’ll just see the pile of things you pushed out in hopes that your child will be back at school, and it’ll create more worry.

Besides, there is plenty more to worry about! Like whether you’re putting more work on your coworkers and if their sympathy over your sick kids has run out, or whether your boss is mentally noting all of the times you’ve been out lately and if that will show up in your performance report.


This happens right before you drive off to collect your child. There’s usually a big sigh followed with the acceptance that you won’t get any sort of mental break today. You accept that you’re going to have to work after bedtime to not fall too far behind , and that you won’t have any time while they’re sick for any other relationships. It’s grim, but there is really no choice. Sick days aren’t unlimited, and at many places sick days are vacation days. You resolve to just get through it, whatever it takes.


This is the worst stage, and it never ends. There’s the guilt of feeling like you shouldn’t have factored work in at all when you heard your child was sick, and that you should have dropped everything instantly to take care of them. There’s the guilt of knowing that, while your child is sick and you’re trying to work, neither thing will get the attention they should.

There’s the guilt of knowing that your child is probably going to watch too much TV and be a zombie at the end of the day, but that it’s the only way you’ll be able to manage any work. There might even be some guilt over sending your child to daycare in the first place vs being a stay at home parent and knowing they probably wouldn’t be as sick all the time if they were home.

If you are taking care of a sick child and trying to balance work it’s tough. Hopefully you win the round of roulette tomorrow and don’t get THE CALL. If you lose, hang in there.