Big Families and Sick Kids: Catholic All Year Mailbag Is Back!

Big Families and Sick Kids: Catholic All Year Mailbag Is Back!

Dear Kendra,

First, thank you for your blog. I've been reading it for a while now and it's been a big help me as a convert of a few years ago . . . .

I wanted to ask how you guys handle sick kids, as we move into our umpteenth minor illness of the year so far. I want to be sympathetic but also, I feel like crud myself and stuff still needs to get done. Those minor things like feeding the kids, clothing the kids, educating some of them. . . . And our kids are little enough that we have a zero screens policy with them, so no cartoons here.

Particularly, how do you handle:

  • Sick kids who usually share a room with currently well kids
  • Kids who are definitely under the weather but not exactly bedridden
  • Kids who have clearly been praying strenuously to Our Lady of Lourdes all morning based on their miraculous recovery once the thing they didn't want to do is over

I grew up with parents who had to send me to school unless I had an actual fever or D&V because they had to work, and it was miserable. My husband grew up able to stay off school whenever he wanted, even if he was just kinda tired. We both did fine at school and fine handling sickness in ourselves as adults, but I can't seem to figure out a reasonable sickness policy for our kids that's somewhere in the middle - not making my kids slog on for the sake of it, but discouraging malingering and laziness.


Hi Suzanne,

Yes, it's hard to know exactly how to handle it! As moms we want to be loving and sympathetic, but we also don't want to get scammed 🤨😆, er, let our kids wallow in sickness for longer than they need to. We've ended up needing to limit screens on sick days, to keep kids from doing that rather than sleeping or trying to catch up on homework. We allow audiobooks and if, in my determination, someone really can't read or listen or sleep, I'll allow a movie in the afternoon when homeschooled kids are done with schoolwork and they could watch together.

There's always the "Newton's first law effect" to contend with. A child having sick days tends to stay having sick days. If they're over quantifiable symptoms I have them get up and get dressed in the morning, then if they STILL say they feel sick, I'll let them stay home. But it's too easy to decide you couldn't possibly go to school from under your warm covers.

The flip side of that, of course, is what you mentioned, being too sick to do school or morning chores, then miraculously better when it's time to go to the park. So if, in the morning, you've declared that you need a sick day, you don't get to change your mind and participate in out-of-the-house activities later in the day. And you have to take a nap, which is very discouraging to my older kids. But I do encourage the kids to go out in the yard and get some fresh air if they're home sick. We've got a swinging couch outside that is the preferred napping spot of sick kids around here.

We haven't ever changed up beds. My babies are light sleepers, so the current youngest gets her own little room, then the rest of the girls have one room, and all the boys have another. They sleep like rocks and don't seem to notice if one is up sick.

Different families have different policies on this, but our policy is that kids sleep in their own beds. Kids who barf at night come to our room to tell us and I get them cleaned up and back to their beds. My kids are usually one-and-done on the barfing. But we've got an old crib mattress we keep under the bed in our room for night bedwetting training, and I'll put a kid on that if it seems like it's going to be a long night.

We are fortunate now to have big kids old enough to pick up the slack for me if I'm sick, and we don't ever seem to all be sick at once. But back when we were on zone defense, we just did our best on sick days and things like laundry and homeschool can wait a couple days until mom is feeling better. I remember being sick and setting little kids up with coloring pages and play-dough and an audiobook while I slept on the couch in the same room, and we all survived!

Anyway, I don't feel like there's any one right way to do it, but that's what we do!