Dearest moms, dads, and benevolent guardians:
At some point this season, your children are going to get sick.
The illness du jour will catch you by surprise at the most inconvenient time, and your precious little ones are going to be down for the count for a little while. The onset of the sickies — yes, that’s the technical term — is ground zero for responsible parenting. And that’s where a select few are messing it up for the rest of us.
That’s where the BIG mistake comes in.
The responsible parenting in question can be condensed down to this: if your children are sick, they belong at home where they can rest and recuperate. That’s it. Yes, they may require medical attention, fever-reducers and prescriptions, cool liquids and hot soups, but really, it’s all implied in that one directive: stay home.
That should be the end of the story. But it’s not. Because these select few parents — half of them harried and well-meaning, the other half entirely selfish and oblivious to others — parade their feverish darlings around, thereby spreading the germs to scores of other children and adults in their path.
This is a serious party foul. It’s the equivalent of showing up to a lovely gathering, empty-handed and with uninvited guests, only to behave badly, and draw unnecessary attention to yourself whilst double-dipping — and licking in between — every chip and vegetable within reach.
No. And no again. We just don’t behave that way in civilized society.
I love visuals. And this is one of my new favorites: Parents’ A+ guide to sick children. I think it does a fairly good job of getting the point across, don’t you?
There are two simple points to consider:
- Your children are sick. If they’re little, they’re entirely dependent upon you. They may teeter through sickness well, arms waving with as much contrived excitement as they can muster, but that doesn’t mean they’re well enough to be out and about. They have no other option than to go where you take them, and carry on as best they can. That’s not fair to them. Let them be sick — at home. Let them rest and recuperate — at home.
- There are other people around you who don’t want to get sick. Did you see their breath hitch and eyes widen in alarm as your zombified children started to play with theirs? You didn’t imagine it. It happened. They were mentally racking their brains, trying to work out what their chances might be for beating this particular illness, and how many tubs of disinfectant wipes it might take to do battle once it started.
There is probably a really lovely person reading this right now, already starting to feel needlessly guilty. To all of you who are getting those calls from daycare or school, then shaking your heads in wonder that your little ones could possibly be sick for the umpteenth time this season (haven’t they caught everything by now?), this isn’t for you. This is not a not an exercise in guilt-flinging. You’re doing the best you can.
Some of you don’t have the option to keep your children at home when they’re sick. They have to be entrusted to a grandparent or other caretaker, while you do everything in your power to provide for your family. Again, this is not for you. I applaud your efforts, and hope your babies get better as quickly as possible. You’re being selfless, not selfish, and that’s the key difference.
No, this is for the moms and dads who feel those feverish foreheads, hear those barky coughs, and see those runny noses, and who willfully administer a dose of fever-reducer before dragging them off to school, the next planned concert, sing-along, or church event, or shipping them off to an unsuspecting babysitter so they can enjoy the sparkles and glitter that adulthood entails. Reducing a fever with an over-the-counter remedy does not wipe out a virus or an infection. We all know that, right? It reduces fevers, so your children can be more comfortable while their bodies continue the work of fighting off the sickies. It is in no way meant to serve as a mask, so they can continue to go to school — or any other place — for your express comfort and convenience, all the while spreading germs.
A few of you might be ready to argue that where you take your children when they’re sick is a matter of personal preference and parenting style.
You would be terribly mistaken.
The brand of medicines you use? That’s personal preference and parenting style.
Selecting a pediatrician–
Serving homemade chicken noodle soup versus canned chicken noodle soup–
Taking a temperature via forehead scan, or an under-the-tongue thermometer–
Encouraging eating a lot or a little, bundling up or taking cool baths–
Blowing, wiping, or inhaling gentle vapors–
All of these things can conceivably be part of someone’s parenting style. But the decision to expose everyone else to your child’s illness? That’s no longer personal. When your “parenting style” infringes on the health and well-being of others, it ceases to be a style, and dives headfirst into a shallow pool of selfishness.
So this is my request. Please, be courteous to those around you; please, take care of your kids. We’re all in this together, and no one wants to get sick.
If your kids are starting to look a bit pale, please consider this:
- You don’t have to go to church this Sunday. In fact, we’d all be incredibly thankful if you stayed home. That lesson you needed to teach, that meeting you were scheduled to attend, the piano you were supposed to play — it can all wait. Family comes first, and your church family will be better off staying well.
- That dinner party you planned? It’s probably time to cancel. We’ll all understand, and we’d rather not pick up the germs while visiting your otherwise lovely home.
- That event you’ve been waiting to attend? Again — it’s time to politely change your response to “decline”. A conscientious host or hostess will not only understand, he or she will probably kiss you (once the risk of contagion is over) for saving them the frustration and embarrassment of having sick guests spreading germs all over the place.
- The sale you’ve been waiting for all year long? Call your sister. Call your neighbor. Call anyone else who might be able to go in your place. Or better yet — save your money and wait until next year. You can probably get by.
I could come up with a hundred similar examples. I’m sure you could too. Because we’ve actually had to do some of these things in the last few days. My son drew the short stick this year and came down with the flu. As a result, we’ve fallen behind in daily tasks, and missed a class party, a sing-along, a not-to-be-missed birthday party, a highly-anticipated church service, dinner with a dear friend who lives thousands of miles away, precious time with loved ones who also live thousands of miles away — the list goes on.
Was it fun? No.
Was it the right thing to do? Yes.
Going forward, let’s continue do the right thing.
If you’ve made mistakes, start fresh. I might recommend printing out the above chart and posting it on your refrigerator.
Again, we’re in this together… each in our own homes with a can of disinfectant spray, of course.
Sarah Elizabeth is a wife and mother residing in a small Southern town filled with rolling green hills and thousands of kind, beautiful faces. She once enjoyed a life with a slightly faster pace as an award-winning television journalist, and marketing professional, but these days, her life is much more quiet. She writes about her daily observations, experiences with Inflammatory Bowel Disease, chronic illness, and occasionally, her love of Jane Austen. Latter-day Jane is her blog. Click here to follow her on Facebook.