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  • Writer's pictureMegan Furman, LPC, LCPC

Parenting Through Sickness

When it comes to viruses, we’ve had a rough start to the year. My family has already been through stomach bug, COVID, and two more colds (including a cough that refuses to leave) in the span of 7 weeks! If I’m being honest, I’m sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, and it has inspired me to write a post about parenting while feeling under the weather.

From what I hear, I am not alone this winter! I think it’s safe to assume you all know what this feels like, and maybe you came here for a little mutual venting/commiseration, normalization, support, and suggestions.

Sickness, of course, comes in all shapes and sizes. I’m not talking about chronic illness here. I’m talking about a brief sickness; the ones where you feel miserable for 2 days to 2 weeks, likely around the same time as your kid(s). You name it, as parents we’ve had it: cold, flu, mastitis, UTI, gastrointestinal virus, COVID, etc.

Whether you work inside the home or outside the home, being sick as a parent is a losing battle. I don’t mean to sound all doom and gloom, but any way you slice it, being sick as a parent is ROUGH! If you’re a solo parent or lucky enough to be sick at the same time as your partner, that adds another layer of fun.

I apologize now if this post is laden with sarcasm – apparently that’s a symptom of parenting through sickness. Other common symptoms include impatience, irritability, fatigue, social isolation, mood changes, difficulty concentrating, worry, stress, and sleep difficulties. If you’ve read my other blog posts or experienced mental health challenges in your life, you may be thinking… hmm, lots of these overlap with symptoms with mood and anxiety concerns. Yes… yes, they do. It’s no wonder being sick takes a toll on our mental health!

Being a parent is challenging enough without the additional layer of physical ailment. I want to fully acknowledge that there are so many joys and wonders of being a parent, but I also want to normalize that it’s pretty hard to see those when you don’t feel well.

Becoming a parent probably added some challenges to your relationships. If you’ve been a parent for a while, maybe you and your partner have worked through some of those. Parenting while sick brought up some of those old complaints about your partner? You bet! Arguing more or feeling the imbalance of roles? Oh yeah!

Learning the ins and outs of being a parent to your baby, toddler, or young child is no small feat. Then all of that gets upended when you and/or your kiddo are not feeling well. That nap routine that was working out oh-so-nicely? Down the drain! The playdate or library schedule you had down pat? Not happening!

Bottom line is: being sick is incredibly disruptive to life as a parent. Even though you may be physically isolated while you’re sick, you’re not alone in your misery, as many parents have felt your pain in similar situations.

Okay, okay – so now that we’ve established these shared experiences, let’s talk about what can help us manage being a parent while feeling sick. I’ll leave it to your primary care doctors and pediatricians to provide medical advice. I will, however, share some thoughts about how to manage the emotional side of sickness. And, of course, it’s well established that physical and emotional wellness go hand-in-hand.

Maybe you’re thinking, what is she going to share that I don’t already know? Some of these may seem obvious, but sometimes we need reminders and permission to actually follow our advice.

Be gentle. Show grace to yourself, your kid(s), your partner, your supports, your kid’s teacher who sends your child home from school sick, and the pharmacy tech who tells you it will be 30 more minutes until your medication will be ready. Your patience is limited, your frustration tolerance is low, and your irritability is high. While not excusing actions, remind yourself of the circumstances and how hard it is right now, make a commitment to handling the situation differently next time, and forgive yourself. Your actions may not fully align with your values right now, but more screen time this week is not going to do irreparable damage to our brains and less cooking from scratch isn’t going to upend your family meal routine forever.

Rest. Of course, a huge issue with being sick but still needing to show up as a parent is not being able to rest sufficiently. We all know that rest helps our bodies kick whatever we’re battling, but this task is easier said than done when you have another human (or multiple humans) to take care of. So, rest when you can. You may otherwise like to do dishes or watch your favorite show while your child is napping or has gone down for the night. I’m usually understanding of a clean kitchen contributing to your sanity or the necessity of safeguarding “you time” as a parent under normal circumstances. But while you’re sick, that’s time you need to be resting as well.

Be grateful. Notice (or even write down) what went well today, sweet moments, and where you find gratitude. It’s so easy to get sucked into the “this sucks” narrative and forget to see the positives. Did you get any snuggles? Witness something you normally wouldn’t if you were working? Get to comfort your little one while they vomit repeatedly? (Well, I don’t blame you if you’re not grateful for the vomiting part, but you may be glad to be there to comfort them in their helpless state.) There’s so much that’s awful about parenting while sick, but don’t forget to zoom out to get the full view of your day as a whole.

[Tip: Don’t go so far to the extreme of then feeling guilty in comparative suffering. That is, saying to yourself, “Well there are parents who are chronically ill, families living in the midst of a war zone, so my issue is nothing compared to that and I have no right to complain!” If that helps you gain perspective, it can be a useful reframe, but you’re still allowed to feel all of the things you’re feeling. If you attempt to suppress those feelings, they’ll come back up along with the guilt.]

Listen to your body. Different remedies work for different people while they’re sick, so I’m not going to tell you precisely what to do. But if you know something has helped in the past and you’re not doing it this time, try to push through your sickness and low motivation to do those things that you know will provide benefit. Some people need a still body and some people need to stretch. Some sicknesses call for soup and plain carbs, and some for protein and greens. Take a moment to assess how you feel and what you need in order to be semi-functional for you and your family.

Recruit help. Whether this comes in the form of childcare from a grandparent, a meal sent by a neighbor, a partner doing the majority of the parenting duties for the day, or paying for food/grocery delivery, getting help while you’re sick is necessary. If you’re someone who struggles asking for or accepting help, remind yourself that being sick is temporary, or that you’ll pay it forward the next time others are in need.

It's not easy, but hang in there, fellow parent! You may even find some nuggets of gratitude through all of the germs. Feel better soon!

The content on this blog is for informational and educational purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for professional mental health or psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are in a mental health crisis, please call 988 or the Maternal Mental Health Hotline at 1-833-852-6262. Consult your physician for treatment of physical illness. If you are in a medical emergency, call 911.



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