A program of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation
It’s no surprise: kids only seem to come down with an illness on the eve of a major work deadline or when one parent is gone. As a result, working parents know all too well the sinking feeling that comes from staying home in order to care for a child. What can be even worse is when staying home isn’t an option, causing more stress, frustration, and panic.
Military families living far from extended family can’t utilize relatives as emergency caretakers, which leaves parents scrambling for secondary options on short notice.
What can parents do when their usual arrangements go awry, or they struggle to find any backup options at all? First and foremost, don’t panic. Start by thinking creatively to seek out solutions that will work for you and your family:
Without relatives nearby, your close circle of “family” might instead consist of close friends, fellow parents, and neighbors. Start building a network in your own neighborhood and grow from there. If you know a neighbor or fellow parent who is often home during the day, ask if they would be willing to be an emergency sitter. Consider starting or joining a group for the parents in your neighborhood or at your children’s daycare or school. Not only will these groups provide you with extra peace of mind in an emergency, but they’ll also give you an opportunity to establish new friendships.
You may have more available connections than you realize through the people and relationships you have in your local community and the organizations you already belong to. Community groups, a church, temple, YMCA, or other cultural group are all great places to look for trusted individuals who can provide daycare in a pinch. Many of these groups also offer childcare options on site, and they may allow their daycare providers to work in your own home on their off hours.
Search for a backup sitter or nanny through several online services currently offered, such as care.com or sittercity.com, both of which offer discounted membership rates for military families. Databases of qualified babysitters make it easy and fast to find individuals who are available on short notice or on a standby basis. Always be diligent to properly screen candidates before hiring them to come to your home. Most sites require background checks and references, but it’s also wise to meet a candidate in person and interview him/her ahead of time.
Though still a fairly new service in many locations, some daycares offer a designated sick care center, specifically for children suffering from mild illnesses. One example is the Get Well Place at Leaf Spring daycares in several Virginia locations. On staff nurses provide care for children with common childhood illnesses such as colds, flu, stomach bugs and more. Children are cared for in separate rooms according to the type of ailment they have and fees vary depending on location.
Unfortunately, facilities like this are the exception and not the norm, but several employers have also jumped on board with the same idea. The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota offers a similar sick care service, but it is reserved for Mayo Clinic employees only. Check with your local hospital or daycare licensing state agency to see if there are centers in your area offering a similar service.
Child care duty for a sick kid usually falls to one parent by default, based on the employment situation. With the often erratic and demanding schedules of military members, there are plenty of reasons why active duty parents wouldn’t stay home with a sick child, but that doesn’t mean he or she can’t. Negotiate the terms of who will stay home in the event one parent needs to, and don’t automatically assume the civilian spouse must make that sacrifice every time.
Can you and your spouse split the day, with one of you going to work late and the other coming home early?
Can either of you work over the weekend instead?
What about telecommuting from home?
Military members can have or request flexibility in their schedules depending on the type of command they are assigned to and the job they have.
The split in responsibility will likely never come out even, but it’s possible to share a fair expectation so that both careers are treated with the understanding and respect they deserve.
The worry and stress of missing work can sometimes take more of a toll than putting in the effort to come up with a solid backup child care plan. Keep in mind that even the best planning can fall apart when sitters are unavailable, or weather closes daycare centers, so do your best to line up care providers that run three, four, or even five layers deep.
Once you have a solid list of options; go over them as a family to make sure everyone is on the same page for when the need arises. Your military lifestyle has prepared you to be flexible and responsive in times of uncertainty. This is a perfect time to utilize your resourcefulness and turn an otherwise painful situation into a more manageable piece of your family care plan.
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A Program of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation