One of the parenting issues that I cannot really wrap my head around is figuring out when it is or is not OK to take your recently sick (or becoming sick) child out into the world to interact with others. It seems like it should be black and white. If they are sick, keep them home. If they are well, take them out. But any parent will tell you that it is not that simple. Kids get sick all the time, as I can tell you from firsthand experience this holiday season! Our three were sick from December 19th until now! They have not all been sick with the same things or even at the same time, but it has been an interesting few weeks to say the least.
I am just not sure at what point it is OK to throw them back into the world of playdates, school, extracurricular activities, parties, etc. The schools lay out the rules for you, but even those rules are not completely objective. Sure, there is the rule about no vomiting or fever for 24 hours (some schools even state 48 hours!). But then there are the subjective parts regarding nasal congestion levels and coughing and such. But how do you really tell when it is OK?
I have really been battling with this issue recently, and my husband and I do not always see eye-to-eye. He is definitely more liberal than I am. He thinks that as long as they are not vomiting now, it should be fine. Ok, maybe not that liberal, but you get the idea. He just doesn't think it is a big deal to take the kids out soon after they have been sick. I always get a quick, "They're fine!" from him. But, their health is not always what worries me. It's also the health of all the other kids (and adults) that will interact with ours once we leave the house.
My fear is becoming "that mom". You know, the mom who takes her super boogery child to the children's museum where she proceeds to sit back and watch as her child's green nasal discharge gets smeared all over the toys that everyone else's kids are handling... the one who does not realize that just because her child stopped vomiting a couple hours ago, it does not mean the virus has fully cleared from the child's system... And then when you mention to her a few days later that your kids are now sick with the same illness, she says something like, "Oh, well that's unfortunate, that must be around right now..." (Sidenote: I do not think any of my friends are "that mom"! I am just giving general examples! :) I don't want people to think that their kids are going to become sick from being with my kids, just because I am typically careless and rush them back into social interaction too soon. I am afraid that if we don't take the time to really evaluate the kids' health and the appropriateness for them to be around others, people will start to avoid us like the plague! Sometimes I think my husband is "that dad". :) I have to really fight him sometimes, as I think he can be too quick to rush the kids out when they are still too contagious in my eyes.
At the same time, I don't want to be know as the mom who cancels playdates and plans when her children so much as sniffle. I have seen this, too. I understand that you don't want to spread your sick child's germs all over town, but when it comes to colds, it can take a few weeks for a child to fully recover. You cannot expect everyone to keep their kids locked up in their homes until a cold clears up completely. Sure, you can choose to do that for your kids, but you cannot expect everyone else to do that. Honestly, I think that is a bit drastic. The problem with being "this mom" is that people don't want to make plans with you. Sure, you are doing your part to not get others sick, but then you become so unreliable that people don't want to deal with constant cancellations.
Sure, kids will get sick. Sometimes you can do everything in your power to keep them from getting sick and they will still get sick anyway. This is where the gray area comes in for me. I am torn between two philosophies. The first being the idea that you cannot keep your kids locked up in the house for the entire cold and flu season... the second being that you cannot take your kids out too early or you will compromise the health of everyone else.
Yesterday was my nephew's baptism and although the kids have been fighting off a cold for a couple weeks, Lucy had a bit of a cough yesterday that started that morning and Charlie had a runny nose (clear discharge, though!). I was totally not sure what to do. My husband is the Godfather, so he of course had to go, but I had to make the decision about whether or not I would take the kids. Lucy and Charlie attended all the Christmas events, but Henry missed them all due to his illness. He has since been on antibiotics and doing much, much better. Seeing that a couple weeks had gone by since the start of all this, we decided to take the kids to the baptism. For whatever reason, though, Lucy's cough became something she could not control. It was constant the whole time.
With 3-year-olds, you do not always get an appropriate, covered-mouth cough. We kept reminding her. We kept moving her away from babies or food, so she would not cough on everyone/everything! But, I still felt like "that mom", despite the fact that I knew that she is at the tail end of this cold and that her cough was a dry cough. She was getting looks from not-so-pleased guests as she coughed, and I was not sure what to do. I of course wanted to be there for this important family event, but I also did not everyone at the party to hate us if they or their children ended up sick a day or two later! I know I would end up feeling so awful especially if our nephew or his 1-year-old cousin ended up sick! Ryan of course did not think it was a big deal, but I don't know that he was really seeing all the reactions. Maybe because I am sensitive about the issue, I was more concerned about it that he was... thus, I noticed those reactions that he did not see? I am not sure.
But, it never gets any easier to make the call. We did stay for the party yesterday, and we had a great time (despite having to correct Lucy's coughing etiquette). Now we just have to cross our fingers and hope that all the other guests stay healthy. We got through the decision for this particular event, but we will most likely have to make the call at least a dozen more times before this cold and flu season is through. I just hope that others will realize that we are trying to make the best decisions we can to try to keep our germs to ourselves without locking ourselves into a bubble until March!