I recently took my kids out to eat at Chick-fil-A. Shortly after my daughters finished their nuggets and dashed off to the indoor playground, a mom and her three young children sat at the table next to me. I immediately saw that one of her boys was very sick.
His nose was bright red, thick mucus running from it, his eyelashes were caked in pus, and he was coughing every few seconds -- not once covering his mouth.
After a few minutes, I heard his mom say that he could go play on the playground with the other children as soon as he finished eating.
I couldn’t believe my ears.
I wanted to say something to her about not letting him rub snot all over the playground equipment and cough in the faces of the other children, but I couldn’t muster the courage. All I managed to do was get my own kids out of there in time before the ten plagues of Egypt came bounding in.
I regret keeping my mouth shut. I know parenting is hard enough without parents judging each other, but when it comes to behavior like this, my well of tolerance is running dry.
A couple years ago, my then 1-year-old daughter nearly died from getting a terrible cold that turned into a virus in her developing lungs.
After days of getting worse instead of better, my wife took her to see our pediatrician. She thought he’d prescribe the usual “plenty of liquids and sleep,” but instead he checked her breathing and immediately ordered an ambulance to put her on oxygen and rush to the nearest hospital. From there she was taken via Life Flight to another hospital that specializes in children’s emergency care.
She was diagnosed with a serious case of Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV. I’m so grateful she recovered fully, but we had two different doctors say that if my wife hadn’t taken her to the doctor when she did, our baby wouldn’t have survived another night at home.
To this day I’m still frustrated knowing that we possibly could have avoided the trauma of that harrowing week in the hospital (and the massive hit our savings took as a result), if another parent had kept their sick child at home.
Of course I know stuff like this can’t always be prevented, and not all parents can provide round-the-clock childcare or call out of their jobs last minute. But I also know sometimes parents can do more to avoid spreading germs.
My kids have picked up bugs from many places where it could have been avoided. My wife and I can usually track the source of an illness whenever one of our kids get sick. Parents talk to other parents and note symptoms. Teachers do, too. And kids are the most unfiltered sources of information of all.
I’ve seen parents drop off their sick kids for full days at school or church. We’ve even had a neighbor girl over for a play-date who threw up in our daughter’s room shortly after arriving. Her first words to my wife as she was scrubbing the vomit from our visitor’s clothes: “I told my mom I was feeling too sick to come over.”
I understand that keeping sick kids away from other children can be inconvenient and frustrating. My own kids have missed out on fun opportunities because we kept them home when they weren’t feeling well. They’ve had to do make-up homework, and my wife and I have had to share the burden of taking care of our kids during the day when we would have preferred they be out of our hair, learning at school.
But we do so because it’s the right thing to do. We do so because we know other parents care about the health of their children just as much as we care about the health of ours. We do so because sick kids get better, faster, if they’re resting at home. And we do so because parenting means sometimes we have to put the needs of children before our own – no matter of how much we’re craving a chicken sandwich.
Daryl Austin is a writer and small business owner from Orem, Utah.