What to Do When Your Child or Nanny Is Sick

The only thing working parents dread hearing more than the words "I feel bad" from one of their kids is an early-morning phone call bringing the news that their nanny is ill. Instead of praying it won't happen and going into a panic when it does, make a plan.

What are the options when I can't use my usual childcare?

Backup options generally fall into one of two main categories: finding someone else to take care of your child and staying home yourself. Do your best to make some kind of arrangement before you need it. Here are several possibilities.

Finding someone else:

  • Ask your nanny. She's likely to have suggestions, since nannies often know other nannies. If you get a recommendation, arrange to meet this person so you can see whether you'd be comfortable having her care for your child.
  • Ask a relative. If you have a reliable relative nearby who wouldn't mind looking after your child occasionally, you're truly blessed. Many people would pledge their share of the family fortune for this setup. "I actually moved across country to get the backup support of my sister and mother," says Susan Webb, who came from Boston to San Francisco. "Okay, maybe that wasn't the only reason, but it was a strong factor in our decision."
  • Try share care. If you and another family in your neighborhood both have someone who provides daily at-home care, see if you can make a deal: They'll take your child when your nanny (or other caregiver) is sick and you'll do the same for them. If you don't have a nanny but one of your friends does, this can still work: When you need the help, you pay your friend's nanny for that day and promise your friend that you'll babysit on an upcoming evening or weekend (if she has no need of an extra babysitter, at least buy her flowers).
  • Call an agency. If you found your nanny through an agency, ask if it keeps a roster of emergency caregivers. More rarely, you may be able to find an agency near you that provides in-home care for sick children. The service is usually pricey, but it may be worth it if you just can't miss work.
  • Track down sick-child care. A few hospitals and childcare centers specialize in looking after ill children; check the yellow pages. Like in-home care, this option tends to be expensive; for example, Wheezles and Sneezles, a sick-child center serving the Berkeley, California area, charges $80 per day. But some companies will subsidize the expense to keep a key employee from missing an important meeting or presentation.

Large cities sometimes have company-subsidized centers that offer last-minute childcare for healthy kids, which can come in handy if your caregiver is the one who's under the weather. Ask your human resources representative whether your company has an agreement with a nearby center.

  • Tap into your community. Resources include the nearest community college or, if you go to one, your church or synagogue. The college might be able to refer you to reliable student nurses. Your minister or rabbi may have a list of willing helpers. Either way, meet the person before leaving your child with him or her for the day.

Staying home yourself:

  • Take the day off. If you've earned enough vacation days, if you're allowed personal days, or if your company is liberal with sick days (and you can use them to care for your child), this may end up being your only choice. If you've used all your days off (or haven't earned any yet), see whether you can work something out with your boss: Offer to work extra hours during the week or weekend to make up for a day you take off to look after your child.
  • Work from home. In today's wired world, many employers allow their employees to telecommute now and then. Just give a little thought to whether you can handle taking care of a sick child and getting your work done.
  • Take turns with your partner. If your child's sick for a few days, the two of you can alternate days at home. Or do as Sylvia and Jim Shragge of Berkeley, California, do: Split each day down the middle. "We've always handled it the same way," Sylvia says. "Tag team! If our son, Nick, is sick the night before, I'll go into the office extra early, stay a few hours, and bring work home. Then Jim goes to his office."

References

Pantell, Robert H. M.D., James F. Fries M.D., and Donald M. Vickery M.D. Taking Care of Your Child: A Parent's Illustrated Guide to Complete Medical Care, Eighth Edition. 2009. Da Capo Lifelong Books.

CareGuide. Hiring the Right Nanny.

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