Full Family Flu: Parenting through Sagas of Sickness


Remember the ad campaign with the tagline, “I haven’t got time for the pain”? Never does that line ring truer than when you are caregiver for ill and utterly dependent children.

How can Mommy manage when one, two, or more babies are sick—especially when they may be too young to verbalize what ails them? Whether your babies’ pediatric diagnoses are made via phone, office visit, or for lesser illnesses, Dr. Google, stay calm. Realize what you can—and cannot—control.

What can help ease the strain and duress of the recuperative period?

Reassuring attitude and extra affection

Perhaps no occasion merits the softening of words quite as much as a household bout of illness. Physical energies and spirits are depleted, and everyone’s nerves are on edge. 

Lightening the mood with softened terminology like “Beep-Beep” (ear thermometer), “Purple juice” (grape-flavored Pedialyte, or its generic), “Boogie sucker” (nasal syringe) and “Spitting the Ickky” (vomiting) has had a mentally coddling effect not only for our twins, but for us as parents. Verbally reinforcing that sickness is a temporary state, and we’ll all feel better soon, helps. 

Although you undoubtedly proclaim your adoration of your children frequently, during times of illness, a little extra lovin’ goes a long way. Stabilize their sense of dis-ease by reminding them often of your constant love…with words, kisses, and hugs.

Dry erase board

Keep track of which child receives what medicine and when; which baby has a temperature and when, which has eaten what and when, which has vomited and when. Your pediatrician will have numerous factors you will need to track. Even if only a single child is ill, a dry erase board comes in very handy for noting specifics regarding the ill baby’s status and progress.   

Appropriate means of medicine dispensing

Children’s age and development play a role in how best to administer medications.

Measuring accurate doses that correspond to such a small amount of fluid mandates a dispensary more reliable than the flatware teaspoons our parents used.

Over-the-counter infant drugs and vitamin supplements often come with a conveniently calibrated squeeze dropper included in the cap. As the babies get a bit older, an oral syringe works well. We found it helpful to pour a half-shot of medicine into the shallow cup that comes atop many bottles of non-prescription drugs. Then, from that cup, syringe up the amount needed—as opposed to awkwardly submerging the syringe into the neck of the medicine bottle and attempting to siphon from there.

Regardless of whether you are using a dropper or oral syringe, when giving the meds to your babies, aim the outflow toward their inner cheek.  They will more likely (and calmly) swallow the bulk of the dose.  If you aim for the back of their throats in order to “force” the swallow, you’ll likely be met with an anxious and fighting patient when it comes time for the next dosage.

[SIDE NOTE: Do seek out the unusual minor tasks that bring smiles amidst the chaos. Deftly pouring the exact amount of liquid medication into a pharmacy-given dispenser spoon with the well-practiced precision of a Manhattan bartender always proved a joy bringer for me.]

High chairs and videos

If your children are old enough to sit up (God willing you won’t have a tummy bug before that time), high chairs can be a tremendous aid in establishing your in-home infirmary. Excessive TV and/or videos are rarely advisable for young children. However, when our twins were sick, our limits were loosened. I found it helpful to place the high chairs in our living room, and set up a mini-entertainment (or more accurately, distraction) area.

When our twins were in high chairs, their mobility was restricted…forcing rest, quelling the temptation of overexertion in moments of sudden energy, and containing not only their bodies but any unsavory bodily output as well. Dispensing medicines, an often-messy process, was easily accomplished in the high chairs. Likewise, the doling out of saltines, dry toast, and other crumb-prolific, bland solids for recuperating babies is more easily contained using high chairs.

Vinyl mattress covers

Your babies’ mattresses should always have these under their adorably patterned sheets, but when rotavirus or some other dreaded stomach destabilizing illness is in-house, ease your intensified workload. Strip the fitted sheets and have babies sleep on the washable/wipe-friendly cover. Cozy them up with soft receiving blankets that can easily be thrown in the laundry when soiled, and reduce your voluminous quantity of wash by a significant fraction.

Antibacterial cleaners, wipes, sprays

Mattress covers, exersaucers, small toys, highchair trays, the nursery, the playroom, the changing table, the baby bathtub…when you have had a major bout of a contagious illness in your home, you become keenly aware of locales where germs can multiply and be spread. Put Lysol, Purell, and their cleanliness-loving cousins to use when sickness visits your home. Pediatricians stay remarkably healthy in the sickest of seasons with relentless exposure to communicable diseases. How? Repeated hand washings between patients. Employ the same methodology they do to make every effort to stay well. 

Whenever your household experiences a wave of unwellness, treat it as you would any other obstacle. Remember, maximize your resources. Err on the side of caution by taking no unnecessary risks. Most importantly, when the sickness saga seems insurmountable, focus on the transience of your challenge.

Never forget Annie’s optimism, “I love you, tomorrow. You’re only a day away!”