Balancing Illness, Work and Kids

I’ve been suffering this week with some kind of virus that has lingered now for days. I’ve missed two days of work (thank goodness for sick leave) and I’m making plans to hit the road tomorrow and head into the office.

I’m only responsible for myself these days as my kids are both grown and out on their own. It wasn’t too long ago that the tables were turned and I had to balance my job and career with the ailments that kids often suffer during childhood. These predicaments affect working parents regardless of STEM careers or not and I think it’s got to be one of the hardest things to handle.

I became a single parent when both of my boys were under the age of four. From being a stay-at-home mom to getting recalled into the workforce, meant my children went from the comforts of home to the dreaded day care. Day cares are notorious breeding grounds for germs; inhabited by young children with developing immune systems who are constantly susceptible to catching everything that enters the center.

I found some of my managers to not be too sympathetic. While I was still married, my older son had yet another ear infection. My husband and I tried splitting time: he’d take the morning ‘shift’ and I’d head home for the afternoon. We had no options, as relatives lived out of state. I thought we were doing well, but it seems my co-workers, men with stay-at-home wives, were upset at my time off.

As luck would have it, I was able to leave that company to join my husband in a self-employment venture. We seem to be in a kinder, gentler environment with options available for working from home or working flexible schedules for these times.

Many were the days that with fingers crossed I dropped my kids off, knowing they weren’t feeling well, but hoping they would improve. Most of the time they did improve; on occasion, I got ‘the call’ from the administrator and left work early to care for them.

I managed to get through a two week run of chicken pox, one week per son, and missed only two days of work. I had only been working a few months for my new employer and so had not accumulated enough sick leave to take off what I would have liked to. My ‘village’ was still in the process of being built, we lived away from relatives and most of my new friends, also single parents, worked and were unable to help. A neighbor, a stay-at-home mom, sweet as could be, was terrified she might catch the pox. She did the grocery run for us, leaving the goods on the porch before running back home.

I wound up hiring a babysitter to watch the boys while I worked. A nice lady, I thought this might even work out to be a permanent thing and keep my boys out of the germ-filled day care. Towards the end of the second week, I had to fire her. Our split-level home provided too many hiding places it turns out. My younger son had been left unattended in my bathroom and threw most of my cosmetics into the toilet.

My work schedule has fluctuated from time to time. Many times my sons were the first to arrive at six in the morning. I was able to pick them up early, though. I was never one of those to leave them from open to close.

Business trips provided another challenge. We had moved closer to family by the time I had a job that required travel. The boys’ grandmother was always the first choice. When she was unable to come, other friends stepped up to help.

I think the female STEM student has to have an independent spirit to be successful in these male-dominated fields. The problem is that this independent streak can prove detrimental in personal lives. I had to learn to let people help me to be successful with both my career and family. The sooner one recognizes this, the better off everyone will be.

Children definitely bring in a different dimension where work is concerned. Develop that village of supporters fast; don’t panic and remember: Where there is a will there is a way.

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About stemzandroses

I'm an engineer and writer with a built-in need to share my nearly 40 years of experience working in a male-dominated field with the rest of the world.
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