Why I encourage my children to take sick days from school

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock 

School hadn't even been back for a week before I had a sick kid at home with me this year. How sick was he? Well, he wasn't 100 per cent but my eight-year-old son still could have gone and probably made it through the day. But I let him stay home with me.

When I was a kid, I had to go to school unless a limb was hanging off or I was vomiting. I ate so much toothpaste trying to induce a hurl as a child that I'm still a bit triggered by the smell of spearmint. 

I could probably count on one hand how many sick days my mum actually let me have though. And when I did have them, I was usually at home by myself, with the TV for company. 

I grew up in a single-parent household, and my mother had to go to work each day or she didn't get paid. We lived somewhere very close to the poverty line, and taking a day off every time one of her kids felt a bit queasy just wasn't doable for my mum. I was blissfully ignorant of this fact until much later though, because Mum made sure we never felt like we were missing out. She just had to work, that's all.

Mum wasn't around after school either. So my older brother and I would let ourselves in to watch TV and eat Milo from the tin until we saw Mum's headlights in the driveway around 6pm. 

It was a reality I found to be lonely and isolating. It's something I always hoped I could do differently with my kids.

As things have turned out, I'm a single mum just like my mother was, but there's a big difference: I'm lucky enough to work from home. So when one of my three children is sick, it's easy to keep them at home with me. 

It's something I can do to make my children feel cared for in a way I missed when I was young. And so far, they don't seem to be taking advantage of my sick-day-soft-touch attitude. 

But it's not just about righting the wrongs of my own childhood. Allowing my kids to stay home is also about the overarching messages I'm teaching them about self-care. We tell our kids it's important to take care of themselves, and we know (in theory at least) that being a martyr doesn't help anyone. This is a great opportunity to put our money where our mouth is. 

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Taking a day off to rest and recover – whether the need is physical, mental or emotional – is something we all need to do from time to time. If one of my kids needs to take time out from their hectic schedules (is it just me or are kids' schedules way more hectic than they used to be?) to sit and be, and perhaps get some one-on-one time with me, that's okay with me.

I can't always take time off because even though I'm physically there with them, I still have deadlines and meetings. But I'm still there.

I know I'm lucky. Not everyone can work from home and make this possible, but this is one of the reasons I do what I do. My response to having an absent working mother was to design my life around being available for my kids. 

I could earn more money working in an office somewhere, but I'd miss all these little moments. And my kids would be eating Milo from the tin every afternoon.

I like this way better.