I lay on the couch dozing as my children watched their 10th straight hour of NickJr. I knew so much TV was horrible for them, to say nothing of the empty juice boxes and cracker crumbs that surrounded them on the floor.
It wasn't my proudest parenting moment.
But what else could I do? It happened a few years ago. I'd come down with the worst case of the flu I'd ever had, my husband was deployed, the kids weren't enrolled in daycare, and I didn't have anyone nearby I could call for help. My strategy became to simply to keep the kids safe and within my sight and reach until I was well enough to get off the couch.
I pulled a play yard (aka, brightly colored baby cage) into the living room and filled a laundry basket with diapers, wipes, juice boxes and convenience foods, enough to get us through a few days. Then I guided my crawling baby and toddler into the middle of the cage, turned on the TV and collapsed on the couch.
We stayed like that for three days -- the kids watching TV and napping on the floor while I roused only to dole out more food and to change diapers.
There are no sick days for Must-Have Parents.
In a perfect world, we'd all have a friend or relative nearby who could pinch-hit for us in such a situation, but I haven't found that to be the case for most of us, most of the time. There just aren't a lot of people in our lives who can drop their own responsibilities to help with ours. So we have to make do.
That said, I have been blessed to have had either work-from-home or extremely flexible work situations since becoming a parent. There have been only a few times when one of my children was too sick to go to school and I had a work obligation that could not be rescheduled, and I've been able to work out a solution each time.
All of this comes to mind because right now it's snow and flu season. The other day, I was talking on the phone with a friend, a stay-at-home dad and MHP like me, and he commented that between snow days and sick days, his kids have made it to school only a few times this month.
"What would I do if I was trying to work full-time?" he observed, and I agreed.
"If I had started a job at the beginning of the year, like I had thought about doing, they would have already fired me by now," he said. "My wife can't take off from work."
We then talked about the very few couples each of us knows where both parents have demanding, inflexible careers. Without fail, those couples all have either close relatives living nearby or full-time nannies.
I've been blessed, yes. But my flexible job situation is also by design. I could earn a lot more money if I were willing to trade in that flexibility, but flexibility is worth more than money to me right now.
I know that as a Must-Have Parent all child care falls to me. I haven't even entertained the idea of taking on more demanding work because asking my husband to do a daycare run or to stay home from his job just isn't an option.
I am Plan B. (And Plan A, C and D), so putting myself in a situation where I might need help is just not wise.
Back when I was working full time, I had a co-worker who would occasionally bring her one of her sons to work with her. Her husband had a long commute for work, so she was the on-call parent for their kids
Now that I have children, I'm amazed at how well-behaved her kids were. They would sit by her feet, usually under her desk, and color or sleep while she worked, scarcely making a sound. Many times when I was at work late or working on a weekend, I would see her in the office making up the hours she'd missed because of something she'd had to do for her children.
Which makes me curious, how do other parents manage, especially MHPs and single parents? What do you do when you get sick, or when one of your children can't go to school because of illness or weather?