My kids have been sick. Between midnight baths and coughing children in bed with me and soothing a baby burning up with fever and wiping endless runny noses, I’m pretty tuckered out!
When kids are ill, our duties as mothers are inescapably important. And this is an area of particular challenge for working moms. While I might have to miss Bible study or cancel a playdate when somebody is sick, a working mom (who is ten times more likely than dad to stay home with sick kids) is often missing a day of pay to stay home. Or–as countless posts on this topic on parenting blogs and message boards confirm my own experience as a classroom teacher–working moms frequently send their kids to daycare or school sick because they feel don’t have a choice. Even if her workplace has generous sick day benefits, she’s worrying what her coworkers are thinking about her time off. As a recent Washington Post piece explains, “taking a lot of sick days to care for children seems to hit the vortex of working mom anxiety — the ultimate test of whether we can manage both the home front and work front when both demand our attention at unexpected moments.” In other words, since you can’t plan when your kids are going to be sick, you’re forced to face the reality that you can’t do everything well. It’s one of those things I wish we’d tell young women about before they commit to juggling career and motherhood.
I don’t want to give the impression that those of us who are already home with our kids have it easy when they get sick (cleaning up vomit at 2 AM is never fun, for housewives or professionals!) or that being home automatically makes us better nurses to sick kids. There’s a huge potential for any worn out, sleep-deprived mother to lose it with the sick child who has just wakened her again in the night, crying for a drink when the water bottle is right next to her pillow. It’s easy to resent a baby’s runny nose when you really, really wanted to make it to Bible study this week. If we’re inclined to feel this way, Edith Schaeffer reminds us to have compassion on sick little people because we’re teaching them how to have compassion themselves. We are blessed to be able to care for them at home until they’re all better. We don’t have to worry about what our bosses are thinking because we are doing exactly what we’re supposed to be doing! Do we ever see these tough days as opportunities to show tenderness to our big kids when they’re feeling vulnerable and want to be held? When my almost-8 year old son is willing to sit on my lap and be hugged, I want to treasure that time, even if I have a third load of sheets in the washer in one day because of him. One of my friends talks about sickness as a blessing that forces us to slow down and focus on what really matters. I certainly do a lot more snuggling, reading aloud, and one-on-one time with my kids when they’re under the weather!
On my social media job descriptions, I usually put “wiping four little noses to the Glory of God.” It’s not as glamorous as some of my friends’ jobs, but it’s what God has called me to do. The most mundane tasks–wiping runny noses, cleaning urine-soaked carpet, washing loads of vomited-on sheets, reading endless books to feverish toddlers–can be glorious when done for the right reasons. Hugs to you, fellow mommy of sick little ones. May you be encouraged to press on through this illness (and the next, and the next). Your work is precious in His sight!