Workplace Policies Need To Change, But Keep Your Sick Kids Home In The Meantime

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 
Child sleeping in mothers arms
Ray Kachatorian/Getty

For many years, I have been a huge advocate of “keep your damn kids home when they’re sick.” I’ve written about it several times for Scary Mommy. And I practice what I preach.

I don’t send my kids to school when they are a few days into a raging snot or cough festival. I never send them to school when they have a fever, and always wait till they are fever-free at least 24 hours. I also wait at least 24 hours to send them back to school after they’ve puked or had diarrhea.

For me, it’s of course about taking care of my kids, because if they are unwell, I want them to be home, resting and under a parent’s care. But it’s also very much about keeping others safe. As the mom of two asthmatic kids, I know that “just a cold” can mean a lot more for someone with a chronic health condition, or someone who is immunocompromised.

The thing is, whenever I share these views, or when I see other folks doing the same, there are always parents who express the opposite point of view. They think telling folks to keep their kids home when they’re sick ignores the fact that many parents work and simply don’t have enough sick days to miss work and care for their kids.

Case in point. A few weeks ago, when Scary Mommy shared a meme with the message to keep your kids home when they’re sick, the comment’s section got pretty intense, with varying, very passionate points of views on the topic.

Some parents felt like I do—that keeping your kids home isn’t just common decency, but also a safety concern, because what might look like “just a cold” to your child may be something else entirely to someone’s else’s more vulnerable child.


“Yes, as mom to an immunocompromised child — please, be like Amy,” wrote one commenter. “I know it’s hard […] But the things that take your kid out for two days have the potential to put other kids in the hospital. Or worse, kill them.”

In reply to this comment, many parents even shared pictures of their children hospitalized with serious illnesses. Obviously, you can’t always blame your child’s illness on another parent specifically sending their child to school with a virus, but it goes without saying that the fewer sick kids your child interacts with, the less likely they are to pick something up.

Other parents, of course, did not share the same sentiments about keeping their kids home.

Many pointed out that school policies often limit the number of sick days your child is even allowed to take, sending your child home with threatening letters if they miss too many days. Others pointed out the very real fears and consequences working parents face from missing too many days of work due to staying home with sick kids.

Some parents mentioned the idea that they would likely get fired if they took too many sick days.


Others don’t get sick days at all and would lose money if they missed work.


Now, look. I think we all need to take a deep breath here. When you read the comments on this thread—or really any thread like this—it can feel confusing and polarizing.

I think it goes without saying that when it comes to this issue, so many parents are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Workplaces around the country generally do not have family-friendly practices when it comes to sick days. And many parents don’t have alternative childcare policies for their sick kids.

This freaking sucks, and I do understand why it’s extremely stressful for parents to sort these things out, and to try to figure out what to do when their kid gets their millionth cold.

Yes, we can totally be pissed at the companies and workplaces who haven’t realized that it’s 2020, that usually both parents these days need to work, and that parents are going to need more sick days—or options for sick days like working at home.

But in the meantime, I don’t think the answer is to give your feverish kid a dose of Tylenol and keep your fingers crossed that the school doesn’t call when it wears off. (Yes, this is an extreme example, but some parents do this).

Inti St Clair/Getty

So what’s the answer here, considering no one wants to lose their job or not be able to pay their bills?

First, I think we need to clarify some things. I do believe there is a difference between one kind of sick and another.

For example, I do send my kids to school or other activities when they have a mild cold, or that clear drip-drip that happens for weeks afterward, or when they have one of those nagging coughs that seems to lag on forever after the initial infection is gone.

There is a difference between the first few days of a cold, when kids are most snotty and contagious, and the many days that follow. I agree that if we kept our kids home for every cough or sneeze, they would almost never be in school. I don’t think anyone is advocating for that extreme.

However, I think we all have no choice but to follow the basic protocols that most schools lay out when it comes to illness. For example, these are the protocols my kids’ schools follows:

– Never send your kids to school with a fever (and don’t use fever-reducing medicine to hide it).

– Don’t send them when they are having a raging cold or hacking cough.

– Wait 24 hours to send them after they have vomited or had diarrhea.

– Wait until they’ve been fever-free for 24 hours before sending them back.

Like, use a little common sense, right?

Here’s the thing to keep in mind as well. If you get on the bandwagon of keeping your kids home when they are sick—and if more people were to follow suit—there would overall be fewer illnesses that circulate in school and your kid would need to take fewer overall sick days. So it’s a win-win all around.

Kathleen Finlay/Getty

I am fully aware that we aren’t there yet, and meanwhile it’s really tough for working parents. But I also think it’s important to acknowledge that the whole “keep your kids home” thing isn’t a black and white issue, and no one is trying to jump down anyone’s throat here.

Being a parent doesn’t come without sacrifice. And this is one of those areas where you just have do the right thing, figure out a way to make it work, and ask for any help that’s available. You can also work hard at teaching your children good hygiene, and campaign for schools and daycares to sanitize regularly and encourage hand washing.

I also think it’s important to have some perspective here. The season in parenting when our kids are sick all the damn time is temporary. I have found with both my kids that by the time they are six years old or so, it’s only a few times each year that they have to be out sick. And even by the time they are four or five, they are sick a lot less than during the preschool and toddler years.

I know that still feels like a long time, especially when you are in the thick of it, but I think it helps to understand what you are facing here, as you make your life/job plans.

Being a parent can really be a shit-show at times, especially when our kids are sick and we need to figure out how to care for them, protect everyone else from their ick, and keep our jobs in the process. But it’s not something we really have a choice about. It’s something that we just need to do, by hook or by crook.

And by God, employers all over seriously need to get their shit together ASAP and offer more options to working parents. No excuses.

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