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Cold season creates conflicts for parents
Winter's tough on parents who balance jobs, caring for sick kids

 Six-year-old Olivia Roudabush rests while she's home sick. Olivia, a student at Smith Station Elementary, has been battling a sinus infection. Her mom and dad have alternated taking sick days to stay home and take care of her.
photos by PETER CIHELKA/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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Date published: 1/10/2013

BY AMY FLOWERS UMBLE

Flu and cold season are in full force, and area parents are building fortresses of vitamin C and hand sanitizer around their families.

They know that when one family member succumbs to illness, the rest are almost sure to fall, too. And in addition to battling coughs and upset stomachs, many also face the stress of juggling work with child care.

Some working parents have flexible employers with generous sick time policies, while others fear losing money or even their jobs if they need to take too much time off.

Many area parents said that they simply called in sick to work when their children get ill. But other parents are fighting to hold onto their jobs in a shaky economy.

Robin McBrayer, a financial analyst at Dahlgren, had to use quite a bit of sick time when her 12-year-old daughter got the flu just before Christmas.

When the winter break ended, McBrayer's daughter was sick again--this time with a viral infection--and had to miss a few days of classes at Dixon-Smith Middle School in Stafford County.

McBrayer said she was lucky to have supportive employers who didn't make her feel guilty about missing work.

Amy Roudabush, a special education teacher at Smith Station Elementary School in Spotsylvania, said that understanding bosses make a huge difference during a child's illness.

"The teachers and administration, they're all parents themselves, so they do understand what it's like to have a sick kid," Roudabush said.

Her daughter, Olivia, is out today with a sinus infection. Olivia has missed three days, and her mother and father have alternated using sick time to take care of her.

But not everyone can use sick days to stay home with their children. A recent study by the Carsey Institute, a University of New Hampshire research center focusing on children and youth, found that more than half of working parents don't have enough sick leave--or can't use that leave for family members.

The report found that parents who could take sick leave to care for children had greater job satisfaction.


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The American Academy of Pediatrics offers these tips for knowing when to keep your child home from school or daycare. Keep them home if:

their temperature is 101 degrees F or higher. Wait until children are fever-free before letting them return to school.

they're having diarrhea or have vomited at least two times in the last 24 hours.

they're diagnosed with strep throat. Keep them home for 24 hours after starting antibiotics.

they have pinkeye. Keep them home for 24 hours after treatment begins.

they have a rash that hasn't been checked out by a doctor.

BE PREPARED FOR SICK DAYS

If you're one of the lucky parents who hasn't had to stay home with a sick kid, your time is probably coming. Here are some things you can do now to prevent illness--and to be prepared if it does hit.

Talk with your boss and plan for how to handle sick days. Discuss options to work from home or work unusual hours.

Learn your company's policies on sick leave and whether you can use it to care for family members.

Make a list of people who can care for your kid if you absolutely can't be home. Think of family and friends nearby, but not those with weakened immune systems or who might be more vulnerable to sickness.

Practice prevention techniques: frequent hand-washing, covering coughs, avoiding contact with sick people and getting enough sleep.