There is nothing more gruelling as a parent than dealing with family sickness. When the whole family is sick, the best you can do is survive.
Everyone feels super sorry for themselves. The kids are grizzly, which makes you extra grizzly. And heaven help the poor soul charged with administering the toddler his Bronchelix (hello, if the good people at Panadol can conjure up kid-friendly flavours like cherry vanilla, can the cough medicine manufacturers not follow suit!?)
Before I had kids, I had this ridiculous idea in my head of what the infamous “family sickness” would look like. I pictured my husband taking days off work, and all of us just huddling together on the couch feeling sorry for ourselves, eating chicken soup and watching Pixar movies.
Well, we all know how that fantasy pans out. The reality of family sickness is anything but sweet.There’s consecutive all-nighters with the 20-month-old unable to sleep thanks to endless chesty coughing, and a throat so sore he can barely swallow.There’s the kid who, despite his grey face, isn’t content to numbly stare at a TV screen even if that’s all I want to do. And that hearty chicken soup I imagined us all sucking down… ain’t nobody got the energy or inclination to cook soup when you’re in the thick of a family sickness.
Family sickness is a battle ground. The kids might be oblivious, but the power play between you and your partner has never been more intense than when you both want to hit pause on your roles as parents for the next 48 hours in order to crawl under the doona and hide from the world.
I know this, because my darling husband and I were head-to-head in this very battle recently. Like, it’s-too-soon-to-look-back-and-laugh-about-it recently. It was tense, man. But there is a silver lining to the experience, because it gave me some excellent coping mechanisms to share with you.
So here are my top tips for surviving the parenting battle ground of family sickness:
Open your lines of communication
Drop the passive aggressive crap. It’s never as clever or subtle as we think it is, and because it’s unspoken it just breeds unproductive resentment. Think you don’t have the energy to address it when you’ve got tissues stuffed up both nostrils and you’re dosed to the eyeballs with Codral? Think again. Addressing it now will bring all that unpleasantness to the surface.
It’s not about who’s sicker
As the one who was definitely, totally, FOR SURE the sicker parent in our house, it pains me to say it… but one person’s sicker state doesn’t negate the other person’s also totally valid sickness. Sure, I was hacking up goo and was so exhausted I could hardly lift my head, but my husband wasn’t exactly yodelling joyfully in the Swiss alps either. He was snotty. He was coughing. He was miserable. In ordinary circumstances, these symptoms totally would have granted him the right to curl up in bed for a day or two. But the circumstances weren’t ordinary, and so regardless of who was sicker, we were both bound to our parenting duties.
Ooooo, it’s hard. I know. But remember point two, suck it up, and ask each other how you’re doing – without waiting to pounce opportunistically if one of you responds with “I’m feeling a little bit better”. Say “you poor thing” to one another, hug it out, and acknowledge that it’s a tough time for both of you. Let family sickness unite you!
At the end of the day, give each other a back rub
The kids are down, the vapouriser’s topped up, and you both bolt to bed, each determined to fall asleep before the other’s chainsaw-esque snoring kicks in (thanks congestion, you sleep-hating beast). But before embarking on your last contest of the day, spend 10 minutes taking care of each other. You’ve both been so busy all day, wiping more noses than you ever thought you would be responsible for, but who has cared for you thus far? The physical connection will do wonders to soothe your angsty hearts, plus let’s be honest – you both seriously need it!
My last thought on the matter? All of the above applies to virtually any family sickness you might share… unless it’s gastro, in which case the adage “every man for himself” truly applies!
And if there’s a sick baby in the house, you might like to check out this clever hack for getting babies to take their medicine.