When they’re sick, we stop. When your kid struggles to breathe past the phlegm that’s building in her chest, you’re there. When they’re crying because their tummy hurts, because they itch, because it hurts to lie down, there you are. Your life, your sleep, stops. You stop when they are sick.
Because you have to. Because who else will? There’s no one else.
Who else will sit by the bedside holding hands through the bars? Who else will have hankies to hand for phlegm? Who else will stay awake even as they do finally manage to get to sleep if only to check their breathing. It’s all on you.
There’s no wonder we often feel overwhelmed as parents. The scale of responsibility is immense and the – I’m sorry there’s no other word for it – disruption to your life is huge.
It’s true that in your world that when they are sick nothing else matters and of course you’re there. But what if you are also working to pay the bills to keep you both in heating and peanut butter? What if your employer employs you and a host of other, childless, employees who will work late and not have to take time off? Who will they favour for promotion?
I work part time, but my role when I do work is deadline based. I can’t not show up, because if I don’t, a magazine doesn’t get published and doesn’t make it to all the events it needs to go to. And while that’s not terribly significant when your kid is sick, it matters to my boss. And to my boss’s boss.
I have worked through two miscarriages because I had to. And as inconvenient as that was, It only affected me. Well, me and my colleagues; I definitely had a shorter fuse and snapped unnecessarily at colleagues whose procrastination I normally tolerate far better.
I don’t have a plan B for if Nives is sick and needs me. I know that I’ll have to juggle and wheedle and rearrange just so I can be there for her when she needs me.
I overheard a conversation the other day in the shared office I work in. A woman behind me was talking about another colleague or contact and was saying how she “couldn’t be bothered to work anymore so she’s having another kid”. It wasn’t said in a fond way, it was said in that way that other women tear other women down in front of men. It was said meanly, in the same way someone would allude to someone doing something scandalous at work, or embarrassing. It made me ache for the woman they were gossiping about and made me instantly judge the mean girl who said it.
(But this is how we are talked about, when we ‘leave’ to have children).
Faced with this sort of attitude is it any wonder some women feel the workplace isn’t for them?
What provisions are there for if you need to not-work because your child is sick and you need to be with them? Are there any? Well yes, say the TUC, there are. The body says that in the UK and as a working parent you have the right to take reasonable time off to deal with a domestic emergency, which includes when your child is ill and you need time to make alternative arrangements for their care*.
The TUC says that around quarter of working parents use this right each year.
Sometimes I tell my husband that I am tired after a night of sickness and nightmares and general fuckery. I tell him that it feels like I am walking through glue, like, as my friend Jane says, an actual slug. He’ll tell me to “nap when she naps” forgetting that it’s not that easy to just grab time. To stop your life, your day, the hour you were hoping to use to get through the laundry, or to deal with your inbox, or to fire off that proposal or finally finish the project you’re already overdue on. To be able to actually go to the shop and buy food without having to deal with toddler hell. And if they are sick you have to be present. They won’t sleep deeply, they’ll call for you. They want your hand, your attention. They need you to snuggle into, their safe place. It is a constant. You don’t get time off from that.
*However, this time off doesn’t need to be paid- there’s nothing in place to require employers to pay employees if they take Time Off For Dependents.