Can We Please Stop Sick-Shaming Parents?


I’m sitting here trying to write this between hacking cough sessions and trips to check on my son and husband. You guessed it, we have a young child in the house and we are sick. AGAIN. We were sick two weeks ago and yet, here we sit, missing school and work. AGAIN. If you are thinking to yourself anything along the lines of how immune sickly we are, filthy non-handwashers, or just overall judgement because your children never get sick, this post is just for you. This post is about sick shaming parents (and children) and how rude and ineffective that is to keeping others well. In fact, my son has always been the kid that only went to the doctor for well checks. Before his double surgery this year, leaving his throat an open target for germs for up to a YEAR, he was the child that never missed a day of school. We got the occasional tummy bug, maybe a light cold. But I never, ever judged the moms with sick kids. Because frankly, and according to public health officials, they are simply unlucky. And more normal than not, considering the average preschooler has 6-8 colds per year, and that doesn’t include the stomach virus, ear infections, or other common ailments. After my sons double surgery, we’ve struggled with sickness like never before. We wash our hands. We eat healthful foods and drink mostly water. We sleep adequately at night. We take Elderberry almost daily. We are doing everything in our power to stay well despite cold and flu season, so being judged over illness is unkind and frankly, it hurts my feelings. What happened to support? Have Mommy Wars gotten so bad that we literally don’t even care if a child is sick, we just feel like WINNERS because it isn’t our child? Is childhood illness a topic of gossip?

Children Get Sick More Frequently Than Adults for a Reason. Babies carry some immunity from birth to around six months of age. At that point, their immune systems are pretty new to life and they are most susceptible to germs. Up until the age of 5 or so, this fact remains the same. The average doctors waiting area is mostly full of children aged 1-5, preschoolers, building their immune systems by getting sick. There are over 200 viruses that cause the common colds and flus of childhood. There are stomach viruses which are among the most contagious of all. There are also secondary infections like ear infections and even pneumonia which occasionally win the fight with children. All of these illness render the immune system stronger. But here’s the catch: if a child comes down with a cold, they are more likely to catch another common ailment within the following two weeks than if they were well. And a second cold is more likely to cause a secondary infection, like their ears, than the first. Do you see the trend? It takes one sickness to open up a cycle of illness. But still, we are labeling these kids as ‘sickly’ or ‘malnourished.’ That’s unacceptable. I have a good friend whose child suffered several illnesses this fall, and wrote a post about on Facebook. I was amazed how many ‘OMG you guys were JUST sick’ responses she got. Hello, that’s how sickness works sometimes, and I’m pretty sure she remembers that they were JUST SICK. Moms don’t usually need reminded of the last time their child vomited on them or didn’t sleep through the night for a week. Trust me, they remember. Which bring me directly to another point:

Children Can’t Care for Themselves. That means that when their child is vomiting, they must be there to assist, clean up and very likely, get puked on. When their child has diarrhea, they must be there to assist, clean up and very likely, get pooped on. When there are coughs, they get covered by mom. Sneezes, cleaned up by mom. Fevers are checked and treated by mom. You can’t quarantine a child to their room and expect them to care for themselves. Thus, mom often times gets sick as well. This gross overexposure to germs leaves parents constantly fighting illness and feeling tired and haggard. Most often when my son has been sick, I’ve been able to fight it off. But not always. Not this year. And I see the looks I get when I tell people that we are cancelling a birthday party RSVP because mom and dad are sick. AGAIN. I can’t say for sure why this year is harder than most, but I can say for sure that we are overly courteous and cautious when it comes to spreading illness. If the doctor says three days, we give it five. We don’t give our son Tylenol and send him on his way, because we know how hard it is for some of the children stuck in the loop of winter sickness. So, judge away about us being ill, um, twice in one winter. But we won’t be the one’s spreading it around, not knowingly anyways. I vote for saying things like “what can I do to help?” or “I really hope you guys feel better soon” when a friend and their children are sick. Just my vote, but anything else is just sick shaming.

Do your kids get sick? Have you ever felt like you had to defend their health to a friend or family member?

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