How to Take a Sick Day: The Mom Edition

Are you the go-to person when one of your people is sick or in crisis? Me too! I’m the woman for the job if you need a meal train mobilized, girl friend troops rallied, or just a voice of reason in a crisis. In my house, I’m the partner most likely to wake up in the middle of the night when our daughter is sick and I can make a pot of homemade chicken noodle soup faster than you can say ‘achoo!’ I know you can relate. The only problem with being the go-to person is that there will be times when you cannot get up, much less, well, ‘go-to.’ You might be down for a few days, or several weeks for a major recovery. Whatever the case, your superhero cape will tear and you will get sick.

This happened to me recently, when I learned that I needed a surgery that would require a six-week recovery. At home. No work. As you can imagine, the prospect of staying home for six weeks left me feeling all sorts of anxious! If you are a working-outside-the-home mom, you may be thinking, ‘I would love six weeks off! Netflix marathons! Yoga pants! No work email!’ I’ll admit, I caught myself building a Netflix queue in my mind as I sat at the doctor’s office letting the news sink in that I would be out of commission. Reality hit, however, when I woke up the first day out of the hospital and felt lost. What to do? I didn’t even have anything to yell about, which is usually the only way I know it’s morning time on a weekday! Today was different. My husband had tiptoed out of the room with our six year-old at 5:30 a.m. and locked the bedroom door so I could sleep uninterrupted while he got her off to school. I shuffled out to the living room around 9:00 where I was handed a steaming, hot cup of coffee and directed to the recliner to rest some more. This sounds like a dream scenario that we’ve all had more than once after a hectic morning. But in reality, it was weird.

My routine, when I’m firing on all cylinders, is busy. We live in a multi-generational household, have a kiddo and one parent in school, and the other parent is a full-time worker. Sound familiar? Not moving, not doing, not working was strange, and I even felt sad that I was sidelined from my normal routine. I cried more than once to my husband about not really knowing what to do with myself, not knowing how to slow down, much less stop all together. I knew I would have to figure this thing out if I was going to make it through six weeks. I needed a healthy frame of mind to focus on healing my physical self. The reason I had to put my life on pause was not ideal, but the surgery was successful and my body was healing. I started to think that stepping out of normal life could be a good thing. Also, you can only cry about sleeping in and wearing elastic-band pants for so long before your friends and family desert you. And I had a great support system. A husband who was at the ready with coffee, heating pads, soft pillows, a shoulder to cry on, and loads of patience to deal with my stubborn self. If I couldn’t overachieve at work, I decided I would excel at recovery!

I started by saying yes. One of the hallmarks of a go-to woman is a hesitation to accept help. I decided to get over myself already and accept help. When a friend offered to organize meals I said yes…and I’m so glad I did! Ladies, say yes to worry-free meals when you’re sick. How had I lived in the Midwest for nearly ten years having never tried tater-tot casserole? I was overwhelmed by the generosity and my family loved having new things to try. When other moms offered to have my daughter over for play dates, I said yes. Those few hours of uninterrupted rest during the day was the best medicine! Each time I had a glimmer of guilt about others doing things for me, I would remember how good I feel when I deliver a meal or do a favor. Why deprive others of the same good feeling that comes from being generous?

The other important lesson I learned during my sick days was that I’m not a bad mom, even if I’m focused on caring for myself. In the first few weeks, I would get these pangs of guilt for not staying awake long enough to do the bedtime routine, for not being able to pick her up, and for not cooking her well-balanced lunches and organizing fun-filled play dates once she was home for the summer. My sister Sara cured me of this one. I was lamenting to her that I felt like I wasn’t doing enough, not being a good mom, and she said, ‘She’s six. Tell her that you need your rest to get better.’ I needed that reminder. Being sick doesn’t make me a bad mom. Oh the relief when I stopped worrying and served my daughter chicken nuggets with a side of Nick Jr.!

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I also got sick right at the moment when “adult coloring books” were on trend. Bonus. I spent hours coloring with my daughter without having to choose between Mickey Mouse or Dora coloring pages. I found myself wondering, in between selecting just the right shade of blue for my mosaic coloring sheet, why I hadn’t engaged in more of these chill activities in my normal routine. Note to self: You don’t have to be “sick” to sit still and relax.

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If you find yourself needing a sick day, be kind to yourself. If you have a solid support system, take advantage and lock the bedroom door for a good long sleep. If you are going it alone, remember that you are a good mom and do just what the kids need to get by without the place burning down. Everyone will be OK and your body will thank you.

Sherri is a transplant from Oregon who came to be a Hawkeye in 2006 and stayed for the sweet corn...and for the Iowa boy she met along the way! She and her husband (Kyle) have a 9 year-old daughter, Aissa. Sherri earned her Ph.D. in Higher Education and Student Affairs at The University of Iowa and works for Ruffalo Noel Levitz as an Enrollment Marketing Consultant for colleges and universities. When she's not working, you can find her with her family, enjoying Iowa City and cheering on the Hawkeyes.

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