When the Caregiver Gets a Cold


Jennifer Fink

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It’s a Murphy’s law of parenting: You will get a cold exactly when it is most inconvenient for you to have one. You find yourself coughing  and hacking and otherwise feeling miserable on the day that your spouse is out of town, your day care is closed, and your oldest child needs rides to and from three different extracurricular activities.

Colds strike even the healthiest of moms and dads – and while we don’t catch as many colds as our young progeny, a parental cold can wreck far more family havoc. Children can take the day off and lay on the couch with little consequence. You can’t, because your kids need care and attention and food, whether or not you’re sick. That’s why you need a Parental Sickness Survival Plan.

Here are the five components of a successful plan:

1. Lower your standards

If you try to parent, work, or maintain your house to your usual standards while sick, you are setting yourself up for failure. Instead, give yourself permission to do only what is absolutely necessary. Yes, your children need your attention and supervision. But that doesn’t mean you need to play brain-stimulating games with them while battling a pounding sinus headache. It’s perfectly OK to park your kids in front of a screen for a bit, so that you can get the rest you need! It’s OK to skip helping your kids with their homework, and it’s all right to suggest cereal for supper.

2. Call in help

Consider your local support system: who can help you out, and in what capacity? If you’re lucky enough to have family nearby, you may be able to delegate some of your parenting and adult responsibilities to another family member. Or you might have a friend who’s willing to take care of your kids for awhile. Friends and family members can also help by running to the grocery store for food, or to the pharmacy for medication. A sick day is not the day to be shy about asking for help; it’s a time to let your friends, family members, neighbors and colleagues help you. Your kids can help too. School-aged kids can bring you fluids and help with simple household chores. Older kids can help with younger kids.

3. Prioritize rest

The sooner you’re better, the sooner life can get back to normal. And the quickest way to get better soon is to get plenty of rest.

Yes, that’s easier to say than do. But if you don’t prioritize rest, if you push yourself and ignore your body’s need for rest, you’ll likely get sicker, and that will only delay your return to normal. So rest up!

Here’s how: Seize any possible any opportunity to snooze. If your child is napping, lay down. If someone else is watching your child, lie down and rest instead of working or doing housework.

No one to help you? Lie on the couch and let your eyes drift shut while your kids watch TV. If your kids are old enough, you can simply ask them to give you 30 minutes or an hour, or whatever, you need to rest. Your children may surprise you with their compassion or understanding. If you have a baby and really, really need sleep, it’s perfectly OK to put your baby in her crib or playpen for awhile, even if she’s wide awake, so you can rest nearby.

4. Stress hygiene

The last thing you want or need is a sick family. Colds are extremely contagious, so take steps to halt the spread of germs.

  • Wash your hands after your blow your nose, and dispose of used tissues immediately.

  • Cough into your upper arm, instead of a cupped hand, and turn away from family members when you cough or sneeze.

  • Wash your hands before making or handling any food for your children, and ask your children and spouse to hug you or kiss your forehead instead of kissing your mouth.

  • Encourage (and remind) all family members to wash their hands frequently.

5. Seek medical attention

Treat yourself at least as well as you treat your children. If you’re getting worse instead of better, go see your healthcare provider instead of toughing it out at home. What you thought was a cold could be something else, such as a sinus infection. Finding out exactly what why you feel sick and getting the proper treatment can mean the difference between a quick recovery and a lingering illness.

Follow these five steps, and you’ll be back on your feet before you know it.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Jul 14, 2017

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Medical References

  1. Sinus Infections (Sinusitis). American Academy of Family Physicians. http://www.aafp.org/afp/2011/0501/p1064.html#
  2. Cover Your Cough. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/covercough.htm
  3. Stopping the Spread of Germs at Home, Work and School. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/stopgerms.htm

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