The Golden Rule During Cold And Flu Season

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 

I get it: Germs are everywhere. Yes, sometimes I fantasize about living in a bubble or never leaving the house. But I know my kids are going to be exposed to a ton of germs this fall and winter, and they’re going to get sick sometimes. I’ve stocked up on tissues, and I’ve got an empty bucket waiting under the sink for the vomit fest that strikes us at some point each year.

My son is in elementary school. He brings home a different breed of virus almost every month. He also passes them on to his little brother, who goes to a toddler program and comes into contact with his own share of yuck. I’m lucky that my kids have decent immune systems and usually fight off the bugs or, at worst, recover pretty quickly.

I know that I have little control over them getting sick. I used to be the mom who carried around a gallon of hand sanitizer and freaked out over every sneeze, but I have surrendered. I have raised the white flag to the onslaught of viruses that will be marching into my children’s bodies over the next few months.

However, I do have one thing to say about germ spreading, and it’s a matter with etiquette and friendship. Germs that are all over the place at school and in other public places are one thing—you can’t avoid them. But when you are coming to my house or I am coming to yours, we have some control over what happens. Plus, our kids are going to be in pretty close contact when they play together.

So, dear mommies and other humans: I have one small request, and I’m going to make it as politely as I can:


You don’t need to give me a whole play-by-play of the illness. I would like to know if, say, Junior was throwing up two days ago. Junior might be fine now, but I may not want to take any chances if my kid’s birthday party is coming up in three days, or if that trip to Disneyland that we’ve been planning for a year is tomorrow. And if Sally “only has a head cold,” I would like to know because colds don’t always stay mild for my slightly asthmatic children (nothing a few days on the nebulizer can’t solve, but still).

Let’s just be open about what is going on in our kids’ noses, lungs and intestines. I don’t usually cancel over a drippy nose, but if something important is coming up or if my kids have been endlessly sick over the past few weeks, I might take a pass. Oh, and if your kid has been puking in the past few days—even if it’s over—I’m going to stay away for a bit (I’ve learned the hard way that those puke germs stick around for quite some time).

I’ll do the same for you. My little one caught a cold a few days before his birthday party, and although he was recovering, I told each of our guests the status. I thought it was the polite thing to do. One of my friends, in turn, told me that her son had come down with a brand-new cold, and she was planning on keeping him home. Open lines of communication and mutual understanding—awesome.

I totally get it, too, that sometimes your kid didn’t seem sick on the way over and then just got sicker while at my house. Or you thought your kid had recovered from yesterday’s bug, and then things took a turn for the worse. I know this is not a foolproof system. All I’m asking is that we keep each other informed, take precautions, and respect one another when plans need to be canceled.

Most of my mom friends are pretty good about this, but there have been times over the years when the golden rule wasn’t followed, and I was pretty pissed (hello, weeklong flu). But I think the biggest problem are people who don’t have kids—or the ones who had them so long ago, they don’t remember how easily kids catch stuff. They don’t remember that a slight cold for an adult can turn into an up-all-night snot fest for a little one.

So let’s not freak out too much about germs. Let’s remember that kids need to be exposed to all kinds of stuff to strengthen their immune systems. But let’s practice good old-fashioned manners when it comes to making plans while we are under the weather.

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