I’d had an absolute shocker of a week – far too much was going on for me to handle on top of all the usual family goings-on – so it all came crashing down one hot January day. The weather was humid and sticky and the kids and I were sick of being stuck inside while unsuccessfully trying to keep cool – all three of us were tired, grumpy and miserable. Stress was at a max and I could not see myself getting through the next day without losing my mind, so I sent a message to my (now ex) husband, ’I’m chucking a sickie tomorrow.’ He replied sympathetically as to my bad day, but I quickly replied, ’I’m deadly serious. I’m taking a sickie tomorrow.’
Nothing further came of the discussion as he was very busy at work, so when I went to bed, I made sure that I would somehow remember to get up and get myself organised to go out before my husband awoke for work. Luckily I did remember, and as soon as he walked out of the bedroom the next morning, dressed and ready to go, I handed him my son and told him, ’I’m going. Bye!’
As I walked out of the front door, I felt so guilty for leaving like that, but I knew I really needed to do it for my sake as well as the children’s – I had never felt so on edge before and needed the fresh air to gather my thoughts and re-compose myself. I drove off, but still being stuck in my mummy brain, I ended up coming home after about ten minutes, as I remembered that we’d run out of milk and bread. I picked some up (along with some yoghurt I saw that the kids liked – gee I must have felt really guilty!) from the local supermarket, took the groceries home before dashing out again. Take two.
Apart from feeling a little sad that my son was crying at the door for me, which I knew would stop before I hit the next street anyway, I finally started feeling excited about having the whole day ahead of me, all to myself and for no-one else whatsoever! It was the first ‘sick’ day I’d had to myself in four years and it felt GREAT!
First of all, I decided to go clean the car thoroughly inside and out, at a do-it-yourself car wash station. After all, if I was going to have a kid-free day, I wanted to be in a place that didn’t remind me of what a day with the kids was like. I couldn’t believe the amount of junk I pulled out of the car, food (eck!), rubbish, toys, clothes – it was almost embarrassing – I was worried for a minute that the owner was going to come over and charge me extra – an excess rubbish fee! I vacuumed the carpets, washed the car on the outside and then…. oh no! Guess what happened… my jeans were soaked at the bottoms. Oh well, I just had to go and buy myself a brand new outfit! Shame that!
Just down the road was a great place to shop for clothes, so I began wandering around and realised it was already 12pm, so I sat myself down and drank a nice, HOT cuppa – I think the best cuppa I’d had in years – as well as a yummy panini. Now to the average person, you would think it was just something usual and boring you might do at lunchtime, eat and get on with it. But to a very tired and busy mother, it was absolute heaven. I felt like a queen! I slowly drank my cuppa without wearing a single drop (due to being jumped on by two little munchkins) and without it going cold, while at the same time, eating something also without it ending up all over me or being pinched from me. Oh, not to mention the blissful lack of interrogation about what I am eating and ’what’s in it?’ and ‘can I try it?’ and finally, ‘can I have it?’
After this lovely lunch, which was the best I’d had in a very, very long time, I found myself a great outfit and felt fantastic, like a new woman. I was having a ball and had lost all feelings of guilt – in fact I knew this was the best thing I could have done in a long time. I ended up doing some other general bits that I had wanted to do for ages (but without kids) before going home. When I did get home, I knew that I had to do this again some time or if the need arose.
I don’t know anyone who hasn’t chucked a sickie or had a sick day when working for someone else before. So why as mothers do we find it so hard to ‘chuck a sickie’? To even seriously consider taking a sick day in the first place, I think things have to be fairly bad for a mother to contemplate giving herself some time ahead of the children – we are forever neglecting something equally as important as our children’s health – ours.
I think every mother should exercise her right to chuck a mummy sickie every now and again – I’m not saying every time things get difficult to opt out of the situation, but personally I hadn’t had one in four years and life had to get very difficult for me to realise I needed one! So if we were to have mummy sickies scheduled every now and again, I reckon we’d have much happier mummies by far, who have nice clean cars too.
Parenting author Pinky McKay agrees that mummy sickies should definitely be written into a mother’s job description. She says, “Mummies don’t get sick leave – unless they take it themselves! The thing is – when we are actually ‘sick’ we seem to end up with a bed full of kids, extra mess to catch up on, meals to cook – we even have to get our own drinks. Last week I had a cold – felt very much like sipping chicken broth so went out and bought chicken, made soup – THEN hopped into bed for an hour!”
“The biggest likelihood of all is that we caught whatever made us sick off our kids so there also is a very strong probability that we will also have sick miserable kids to care for when we get sick ourselves. So I vote regular RDOs / sickies should be in the job spec for all mums – we could call them mental health days!”
A Final Note
I realise that chucking a random sickie could land your partner in hot water, especially if they have projects, deadlines and other urgent work they need to attend to. In my case, it just seemed to be one urgent thing after the other for years on end, and requests for help fell on deaf ears. I never had a day off, even with gastro, because either he had it too or he decided that work was more important. I felt like a single parent raising our two kids while he worked, and it was no surprise that I went into physical and emotional meltdown.
The mental and emotional wellbeing of mothers is such a serious issue that needs far more understanding and support; I never would have done such a thing if I didn’t feel desperate enough to do it. I hate being away from my babies especially when I know they will be sad without me! But what happens to the desperate, drowning mother that calls for help are left unanswered and she can’t ask her partner for a sickie? In Australia, the leading cause of maternal death postnatally is suicide, if this isn’t enough of a red flag.
At the end of the day, if you can plan your sickies in advance, that is obviously ideal; an agreement with your partner that every month/two months/six months – whatever you think you need and what works for you both. But make it an essential, locked in, no escape clauses (excluding genuine emergencies) event you look forward to. Mothers NEED mental health days to be the best mothers they can be and the best lovers they can be. But most of all, it gives them permission to be kind and loving to themselves. When a mother is overflowing with nurturing and love, she overflows in giving it… to her partner and her children most of all.