Tuesday, January 31, 2012

One Downside of Parenting: Recurring Illness

I've mentioned before that being a parent is not - contrary to what some people would have you believe - an experience composed entirely of sunshine and roses and happy bunnies who fart out rainbows and a deep spiritual bond that distance will never weaken nor time ever sunder.

Sometimes, it's... well... kind of tiring.

Sometimes it's exhausting.

And sometimes - as, hypothetically, when you're trying to extract a half-sick toddler in a poop-inflated diaper from farthest corner of the gerbil tunnels at a McDonald's playground, while his older brother argues about why it's important not to leave yet and, failing that, moves on to explaining at high volume that forcing him to leave now is evil-evil-evil, and you're fully aware that even if you get the toddler down to the car you have already used every single one of the diapers you brought along, and... where was I? Oh, right - sometimes being a parent sucks.

Or, well, let me offer another example: being sick.

When I was younger, being sick wasn't that big a deal. I mean, I'd take a couple of days off, drink a lot of liquids, and sleep as much as I needed... and eventually I'd feel better. As a parent of small children, being sick is a bit different.

For starters, kids get sick a lot. Particularly younger children, who haven't had a chance to really develop their immune systems, and particularly as they start to attend school and daycare and even play dates, where they will be exposed to all manner of intriguing new microbes. Our pediatrician recently told us that kids in our age range get sick, on average, ten times a year - so about every five or six weeks, if the diseases are evenly spaced. (Ha! We should only be so lucky!) And since most children will cheerfully come home and share cups, slobber on their parents, and rub germy little hands on every available surface, it's good odds that as a new parent, you'll be sick a lot, too.

That leisurely approach to recovery that I described earlier? The one that involved resting and taking it easy? Well, guess what? That's probably not available anymore. Because if you're sick, it's most likely because your kids are sick - and they'll want you to take care of them. So much for taking it easy. Alternatively, you'll be sick and they'll be well... in which case they'll have all their energy, and they won't understand why you don't want to do anything and everything with them. So, again, you won't get much chance to recuperate.

And every once in a while you'll get into a wonderful cycle that I like to call "musical diseases". This happens when the members of your family start passing their illnesses back and forth, so that just as one member of your family finally starts to feel better, they pass their disease to a new victim. Eventually it makes its way through the entire family, and starts over again. There's a point in here where you start to feel like none of you will ever be healthy again.

All of this presumes, of course, that you're basically healthy; that you can take time off from work when you need it; that you have access to (and can afford) quality medical care; and, in all likelihood, that you have some sort of support network in the form of friends or family. If you're working two part-time jobs (with no insurance) just to make ends meet, a year or two of recurrent illness can be disastrous. If you have a physical disability, or chronic pain, or mental illness - conditions which, by the way, may limit the amounts or kinds of medications you can take - then being sick adds another layer of exhaustion and stress. If you don't have a good support network, you have to do everything yourself - meaning that you don't have time for yourself, to help you get better.

We're lucky: we're in a very-nearly Best Case Scenario when it comes to the boys getting sick. We have decent insurance - I'd say very good insurance, by modern standards. We have kith and kin who live nearby and are very willing to help out. (Thanks for taking over on Monday, Nana!) We have access to good medical resources and the money to afford them. And if we have to, we can take time off work.

But - and this is important - not everybody does.

This is one of the reasons why, despite the strong love I have for my boys and my role as their father, I take issue with people who insist that children are always a blessing, at all times, under all circumstances. For me, with my wife and my two boys, it's totally worth it. But that isn't true for everyone. Not everybody wants children. Not everyone should have children. There's no shame in that, and there's certainly no shame in acknowledging it.

And if you're part of that peculiar lunatic fringe which believes (or at least preaches) that the cure to all the world's ills is for everyone to Have More Babies, well...

Think again. It's more complicated than that.


  1. I remember when I first went back to work after #2 son was 18 months old. I swear, I thought we'd never all be well at once. There I was, trying to establish myself as a reliable employee and it seemed like every month (if not every other week) one of the boys was sick and I was out of work. We had no health insurance; it was lunacy.

    Fortunately we now have both a) health insurance; and b) far fewer illnesses.

    Yeah, I'm not with the "have kids! More and more kids! It's The Will of God!" or whatever folks. I love my boys, wouldn't trade 'em for the world (although there are days when I'd cheerfully rent them out); I wouldn't even have minded one or two more if it would have been a financially responsible move... but it wouldn't have been. And it wouldn't have been fair to the children I already had to stretch already meager resources to the breaking point.

    I wonder where folks' brains are at times. I really do.

  2. Glad you made it past that. I'm looking forward to getting to a less "Oh, look, another illness!" stage myself.


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