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A reader writes:
I am a single mother to an 8-year-old and a 19-month-old. My youngest gets sick quite often, and when she needs medical attention or simply a day home from day care, I don't really have anyone to rely on to help me out. This usually means I have to miss work when she is sick.
In the past 2 months, I had take 3.5 sick days for her and to leave work early twice. I'm anxious this is going to reflect poorly on me, especially since I just started my job here 3 months ago.
What can I do, besides finding alternative child care, to prevent this from reflecting poorly on me? What do you think I should expect as a consequence?
Talk to your boss.
The worst thing that you can do when you're worried about something at work is to say nothing and just stay anxious about it. Nearly always, the best thing to do is to talk to your boss, using this framework: Acknowledge what's been happening, say that it concerns you (or that you know it could be a concern to your manager), and then talk about your plan for it going forward and/or ask for your manager's input about it.
In your situation, you could say something like this to your boss: "I realize that I've had to stay home several times with a sick child since I started, and I'm a little concerned about it, since I'm relatively new and I don't know what the norms are for handing this type of thing." Then wait and hear how he responds. He might tell you that it's fine as long as you're getting all your work done (which is typical in many jobs), or he might tell you that it's fine as long as it doesn't keep happening, or he might tell you that yes, it's a big concern.
Even if it's the third response -- which is probably unlikely if you haven't already been getting that sense from him -- you're still far better off discussing it openly with him than just worrying but not really knowing for sure.
The thing is, there are some jobs where this is perfectly fine and barely noticed, some jobs where it's not ideal but they can accommodate you, and some jobs where it's legitimately problematic. You need to figure out which this is.
Regardless of your manager's response, I'd look into lining up back-up care if at all possible, especially since you say your daughter gets sick often. This is obviously easier said than done and I don't know what's available in your area or what's feasible for you or what you've already explored, but if you haven't already explored back-up drop-in day care centers or back-up care agencies, those could be worth looking at. Even if your employer is accommodating, in general it's better not to have this many unplanned absences ... so if you can find alternatives, use them.
But what you don't want to do is to ignore your concern, especially since you don't expect this to be the last of it. Get it out on the table and figure out how to proceed.
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