John Adams of dadbloguk.com writes about the sick kid scenario
“John, would you write something about trying to balance work with looking after sick children?”
This was the request from James, editor of workingdads.couk. The timing was quite staggering. The very next day, I had to arrange a doctor’s appointment for an ongoing, minor ailment that was bothering one of my daughters.
Organising a doctor’s appointment is difficult enough for most people, more so if you have school-aged children.
Why so? Well, most surgeries release that day’s appointments at 8am so it clashes with the school run. Years of being the main carer for my kids have taught me you never telephone the surgery and request an appointment. Oh no, you turn up with your children in tow and make sure you’re outside the surgery door before 8am so you can make the appointment in person. Phone up at 8am and you’ll get the engaged tone as hundreds of other people all call at the same time and try to arrange an appointment.
I hoped I’d be able to get an after-school appointment but no, this wasn’t possible. The only appointment I could get was later that same morning. This meant my daughter had to spend the morning with me at home until I could take her to see the doctor.
This, I should add, is on top of the two working days one of the kids spent at home the previous week because of a stomach bug. Oh yes, it’s been a demanding time in this household.
In fairness, this is an atypical situation. Kids are kids and they occasionally fall ill, but unexpectedly having to accommodate ill children for two and a half days over a 10-day period is rare.
Even so, I was able to accommodate this scenario and keep disruption to family life to a minimum. Yeah yeah, I got a bit lax with the ironing and we’ve eaten a few more packet meals than usual but c’est la vie. Things have kept going and I was also able to keep working.
Oh sure, it was a bit scrappy. I had to work late one night and get up early some mornings to make up for lost time, but I met all deadlines and managed to keep publishing blog articles as I had originally planned.
I used to dread these moments when I had an employer. In fact, it was one such instance that was a major contributing factor to me deciding to leave the workforce.
I can still recall it vividly. My eldest daughter was about one year old at the time. She fell ill and couldn’t go to nursery, so I stayed at home and tried to work from home while also looking after her.
There was a brief moment, and it was very brief, where she was crying out for me to pay her attention while I was in the middle of working. I knew at that moment that my wife and I couldn’t continue the dual-working parent lifestyle, or certainly not as we had up until this point. Things had to change.
Soon afterwards I left to work part time. Financially and career wise I became the junior partner and if a child fell ill or there was some other domestic issue, it was agreed I would be the one to stay at home. My wife had greater earning potential and worked an hour-long commute from home, so this was very much a practical, conscious decision.
I was fine with this. Something had to give. Many will disagree with me, but I genuinely feel that far too many people, men and women, try to ‘have it all’ but end up getting stressed and burnt out. Sacrifices have to be made when you’re raising children.
I was happy to put my career on ice and concentrate on the family. For a while, things went well. My kids were at nursery the three days a week I was working. When my eldest child started school, however, family life changed completely. Balancing the needs of a pre-schooler, school child and employer was too much. I left the workforce altogether, eventually turning my blog into a cottage industry that I fit around family life.
Things are much easier working for my own company compared to when I had an employer. I miss out on certain benefits, such as employer contributions to a pension plan and paid holiday entitlement.
What I get in return, however, is incredible flexibility. Deadlines still have to be met, but I answer to myself. If I need to look after one of the kids because they’re ill, I can make it happen. I don’t have to tolerate passive-aggressive emails from a boss saying such things “can’t be avoided” but asking me to do my best to ensure it doesn’t happen again in future (yes, I have experienced this).
Within my relationship, there is still an expectation that I will take up the reigns at home if one of our offspring can’t go to school for some reason (snow day school closures are another good example). I’m absolutely fine with this, my work is primarily home-based so it makes sense for my wife and I to make things work this way.
There is also a pay-off. Although my wife is the one with a job in corporateland, it’s me that occasionally does the odd bit of travel. In fact, my blogging exploits have taken me as far afield as Australia and Canada. Sure, I have to arrange special childcare for the kids so it doesn’t impact on my wife’s work day, but my wife will pick up the slack once or twice a year when I do go overseas.
Everyone’s situation is different. Some couple can rely on in-laws to provide help and assistance. Some people only have the one child so there isn’t as much to juggle. Quite how single parents manage, I don’t know.
What I can say is that flexible working is well worth exploring if you have a young family. You can still have a career, you can still have job satisfaction and you can still earn money. Most importantly, however, when the youngest members of your family need you most, you can give them the care they need.
John Adams is a father, blogger, writer and media commentator