I’ll be treading lightly here, since I don’t want any mobs with torches coming to my Internet door. Please be aware that these thoughts are my own, and we are all entitled to our own opinions, even if you think me wrong. Also be aware that this is not a vaccination article; if you’re looking for that fight, please feel free to go elsewhere. This post is intended to stir discussion about the less viewed perspective–addressing the (possible) why that some parents take their sick kids out in public.
Flu season in America is generally from winter to spring and this is when my kids seem to get sick every other week, no matter what I do to keep them healthy. Previously, when they’d get a cold on and off, I’d do my duty and hide them away in our cold-infested house until any trace of a runny nose or light cough disappeared. I’d sanitize my house down, getting every nook and cranny, so any visitors could be comforted having seen my obvious attempts to keep germs away. And yet, the kids would still get sick, I’d still feel the worry of germs, and I’d still get the silent judgment from parents on the playground giving me the side eye when they saw my kids be kids (aka, sniffing, rubbing their nose, clearing their throats). All that work, worry, cleaning, staying home constantly, and still nothing to show for it because the common cold kept hitting us over and over.
So this past flu season, I decided to chill. I decided to stop worrying so much about every single microscopic germ.
I let my kids play on the McDonalds play set before their nose had stopped running completely. I took my kids to church with me when they seemed perfectly normal, despite the cough that hadn’t gone away. I ran my errands with them in tow before I had given them a bath to clean them from their weekend of illness. I forgot to wipe down the shopping cart handle they touched before leaving. And I told friends who wanted to set up play dates about my kid’s nose status but didn’t forbid them from my home.
I know all about the dangers of bringing my kids out to public places while still technically sick. I know it’s impossible to really tell how long someone is contagious and what are allergies verses a real cold, so I understand the worry all us parents carry. I do think often of the children who have low immune systems or are battling health issues in which a single cold could become life threatening. I know how much it sucks to be the parent of a sick kid, waiting on them even more than normal and worrying for their health. I know and accept all of this—so why was I still willing to risk it all and head into public this past flu season?
Because I am a flawed human being who just needs a little social time to stay sane.
Because I am a mother who never sees another adult when my kids are sick, and after weeks of that, I just can’t stand the four walls of my home anymore.
Because I am selfish and want some me time, despite knowing children are sometimes inconvenient but my obligation is to them first.
Because I feel every kid deserves to have fun and shouldn’t be punished for constant illness they cannot control.
Because I can’t control what will happen to myself, my kids, or your kids, even with killing myself to catch and wipe every single germ.
Let me make this perfectly clear right now: Obviously we all need to use our best judgement in this matter. I NEVER take my sick kids out when they are at the beginning or height of their illness and are undoubtedly highly contagious. If the illness is beyond the common cold, random fever, or something else less serious, I don’t want to risk anyone’s health so I do my duty and keep the kids home. When I happen to go out, I still do my best to wipe up snot quickly, sanitize hands, and watch the kids diligently. I do still try to keep them away from others as much as I can (though sometimes, that’s not really possible). I care very much about the common health of the community so I do vaccinate and get flu shots. What I’m talking about specifically in this article are the weeks of on and off colds that begin to drive even the most amazing of mothers mad. I’m talking about the lasting days of each cold that seem to drag on as if personally punishing each member of the family. I’m specifically referring to those moments when others will assume your kid is sick, but you know your child and the situation better than anyone and know they aren’t deathly ill.
But when a child is sick with a cold, it’s not just him that is suffering—the mother suffers too. The mother who has to cancel her plans that had been set for a month because of another bad timed cough. The mother whose fridge is running dangerously low because she hasn’t had the opportunity to go shopping, since the noses have been flowing endlessly. The mother who feels so sorry that her kids have missed yet another religion class, another play date, another fun activity because the colds just won’t go away, despite her efforts. This past winter, I was that mother.
So yes. I let my children come to reading time at the library with their runny noses and 3-day-old pajamas. We sat at the back, contained as much as possible, but we were there. Because I’m sick of the common cold dictating my child’s life (and by extension, my life, as well). And if you’re being truly honest, I bet you’ve taken your kids out before they were fully back to normal, too. But as annoying as it is to spread germs, I won’t judge you for it.