Real parents share their best hacks and apps for balancing work, family, and the flu.
working mother with sick child
Credit: Ericka McConnell

Balancing work and family can be hard anytime, but it's most difficult when your child is sick. For working parents, here are six tips for balancing sick kids and the job.

1. Seek out sick-child resources

Some daycare centers, and especially corporate daycares, offer sick-child care. When her daughter was an infant, Seattle lawyer Kelli Schmidt discovered that her local hospital, Virginia Mason, had a mildly-ill daycare service as a staff benefit. When the clinic wasn't full, it was open to the public. "It was a life-saver since it was staffed by medical folk; my regular daycare won't take kids until at least 24-hours after fever or diarrhea, and I was a single-parent and breadwinner with no family nearby," says Schmidt.

2. Get creative to decide who stays home

Talk the Talk: Have discussions with your partner about how sick days will be handled well before the flu arrives, says Morgan Case. "Set the expectation that one parent is not expected to be the default caretaker. Then when the time comes, have an honest conversation about current work assignments and flexibility."

Alternate: Small business owner, Mark Aselstine, of Uncorked Ventures discovered that a simple system for who takes off work—established before the school year—lowered stress in his household: Alternation. "I take the first day and my wife, who is a high school counselor, takes the second," says Aselstine. "That seems to remove the conversations about who has the worst looking schedule on any given day."

Go Halfsies: Alison Elizabeth Sokol Blosser, co-president and CEO of Sokol Blosser Winery, and her husband often split the day, which allows each person to get a half day of work done. That works for Angela Roeber, director of communications for Project Harmony, too. "If our daughter is ill and needs to stay home from school, we will split the day(s) when possible. He may go to work in the morning while I stay home with our daughter, and then he'll come home at noon so I can go into work for the afternoon—or vice versa."

Randomize to Save the Marriage: Marketing executive Sue Brockmann used a coin toss to decide who stayed home when her kids were growing up. "It diffuses a potentially difficult conversation about whose work is more important," says Brockmann.

3. Know your employer's benefits and use them

Some companies, like the University of Washington in Seattle, have on-call babysitters who will come to your home within an hour or two for a sick kid. If your not sure what benefits your company provides, speak to a human resources representative.

4: Disregard screen-time rules—and put calls on mute when working from home

While you have rules about television and iPad for a reason, when you're working from home on a kid's sick day is not the time to enforce them. "Horton Hears a Who gets you a one-hour phone meeting plus 30 minutes of email," says Marissa Nickle, a senior strategy director in Seattle.

When you can work and take conference calls from home, work smart to limit awkward interruptions, says Miller. "Always, use mute when not talking to avoid 'Mommy, I pooped' as background noise."

5. Prep the second string

Teacher Therese VanDamme always has emergency sub plans prepped, including having a bin of plans and activities ready to go at a moment's notice. And, while it's not her responsibility to find a sub for the day, she does have her favorites on speed dial.

You needn't be a teacher, though, to execute a killer backup plan. Know who on your team can pinch hit in an emergency situation, whether that means asking the natural salesperson on the team to stand-in at a client meeting or relying on the most junior, yet most organized, colleague to ensure a deliverable meets its deadline.

6. There's an app for that

Apps like UrbanSitterHello Sitter,  SitterCity, and Wyndy connect parents with local sitters, many of whom are available on-demand. For a nanny-on-wheels, Kango is an app-based service that provides rides and childcare for kids. Drivers can pick sick kids up from school and watch them until someone gets home from work.