'I'm a mum and I never feel I'm sick enough to be 'off sick' - just me?'

I mean, I'm still doing school runs and dinner orders too

(Image credit: Getty Images)

So, I’ve noticed that being a mum while being sick is a special kind of challenge. And being a mum while being sick who works outside the home adds a whole other dimension, I think it’s because I was brought up with a ‘if you’re well enough to do XYZ, you’re well enough to go to school’ approach to resting. Well, I kind of have to continue doing XYZ now so that my kid gets fed…

I remember growing up, that to have any time off school sick, I had to be literally immobile. It was to make it boring I suppose, an approach that was taken to try and stop me ‘pulling sickies’ and faking illnesses. But wow has that come back to bite adult me in the proverbial.

You see as kids, we internalise all that we’re told and do in our childhood, and now I’m constantly worried people think I’m faking ill. Rychel Johnson, M.S., LCPC, a mental health expert and licensed clinical professional counsellor told us, in our article 'do you have a critical mum' that a child may internalise feelings of never being good enough and develop insecurities that linger long into adulthood. She says; "Our childhood experiences can indeed profoundly shape our mindsets and behaviours as adults, including our parenting approaches." This makes total sense to me.

In addition to always feeling like I'm faking, I never rest when I need to because I feel I’m ‘not ill enough’. When in reality you can feel ill and still do things. I’m a mum, and I work outside the house full-time. So if I have time off work because I’m ill but I’m still doing the school run and cooking dinner, my inner voice is screaming at me, ‘You can’t be that sick look you’re up and about still burning fish fingers as per.’ It's loud and I hear it and fear I’m skiving, so then I rush back to work never fully recovered and thus the cycle continues. I’m not the only one, right? Hands up.

We do it because we’re mums, it’s what we’re ‘supposed to do’. We push through the fever and the chills, we soothe little ones through the night, and we make sure everyone is fed and cared for, even when we’re barely holding it together.

Sick looking woman at laptop

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Remember those days before you became a mum? Stay with me I know that distant memory has probably fogged over with interrupted sleep, endless early mornings and your needs living at the bottom of the list… but… Remember your life pre-kids (PK) when sick days meant time off work to collapse into bed at any time of the day, with all your drugs, your water bottle and snacks you might need, drifting in and out of sleep resting and healing, against the backdrop of Friends/Greys Anatomy/CSI Miami reruns - and it was this, on loop, until you felt human again? Those days have been replaced by a new reality: sick while mum-ing. And oh boy, what a reality it is.

Picture this: You've been hit by a nasty bug. Your head is pounding, your throat feels like you've swallowed a cactus, and your whole body aches from the inside out. But instead of stopping and letting the world carry on without you, you're still on duty. Because, surprise, kids don’t really understand the concept of sick days.

The alarm goes off, and by ‘alarm’ I mean your eyelids are pulled open by a little hand telling you they’re hungry. You drag yourself out of bed, feeling like you've been run over by a truck. There’s no snooze button, you have a little human and they need breakfast, they need clean clothes, and they definitely need you to ‘mummy watch’ their Sonic run while they tell you about the dream they had where their Minecraft character came with them to Legoland. You plaster on a smile, even though every fiber of your being is begging for just five more minutes of sleep.

"Remember when you felt you might be coming down with something so you’d take a NightNurse and drift off into a peaceful, uninterrupted slumber?"

Though let’s be honest, parents don’t really get sleep anymore. I remember when I was living life PK. I would roll my eyes when parent colleagues talked about how tired they were (sorry I hate young me too) I was all “Jeees, Julia just because you’re a parent, you don’t get to monopolise tiredness. I’m tired! I was out until 2am and up at 5am for the gym. I’m tired too Julia!” And then I had a kid and yes, yes we do get to monopolise it because it’s a tired I have never in my life felt. There is no rest.

Remember when you felt you might be coming down with something so you’d take a NightNurse and drift off into a peaceful, uninterrupted slumber? Now, I’m lucky if I get two hours before someone my kid wakes up needing water, a wee, or just a hand to hold. Stumbling through the dark, groggy and disoriented, trying to soothe your child without tripping over the Lego creation on his bedroom floor.

And then there’s dinner time, after you’ve dragged yourself out and crawled into the car, hopped up on Nurofen for the school run of course. Pre-mum life, you might have had toast and called it a day. Now, you find yourself in a feverish haze standing over the hob, stirring something nutritious, because the tiny human in your house needs real food. And, the bins? Yep, it’s bin night they still need to go out and guess who’s doing it? That’s right, you, antibiotics and all.

"My inner voice is screaming at me, ‘you can’t be that sick look you’re up and about still burning fish fingers as per’ and it's pretty loud"

It’s not that your partner doesn’t care. Of course, they do. But sometimes, you just desperately wish they would take one look at your pale, exhausted face and say, "You know what, love? I've got this. You stay in bed. I'll handle the school run and dinner tonight." But that offer often feels like a unicorn – mythical and elusive. And asking for help? Well, that’s a whole minefield. You don’t want to start a row over it, and sometimes it just feels easier to soldier on. Though I know this is my inner martyr talking too, my friend Jess just 'downs tools' when she's ill. "I refuse to do anything when I'm ill, I stay in bed. Because I know when he's ill he stays in bed. He's set the bar I just rise to it," she tells me. Maybe she's read up on 'how to explain the mental load to your partner'. Though I do believe Jess is the (brilliant) exception not the rule, as every other mum I've spoken to just gets on with it.

My other mum friend, Kiran has two under 6 years old and tells me that she just 'powers through' too. She says; "I always feel like I have to power through, especially as we don't have any family around to send our kids to. But, my husband also powers through so I have to give it to him, we're both done in."

But here's the thing, fellow mums. Nothing will change if we don't make changes. We need to recognise when our bodies are waving the white flag. It's so easy to fall into the trap of doing it all, even when we’re running on empty. We think, “Just one more load of washing,” or “I’ll rest after the kids are in bed,” but that rest never truly comes. And before we know it, we’re hitting that brick wall of illness, and it’s ten times harder to recover.

We have to give ourselves permission to slow dow. And to ask for that help without guilt or fear of causing a fuss. It’s okay to say, “I need a break.” It’s okay to do toast for dinner or let the house get a little messy. The world won’t end because you took a day (or three) to rest and recover. You’re not failing if you take a break – you’re being smart and giving yourself the chance to bounce back better.

So, please let's embrace the chaos with a little more kindness towards ourselves and remember that it's okay to not always be okay. I’m not saying I’ll go first, it’s just something I’ve noticed…

Motherhood is seasons, and some feel harder than others, remember you're not alone if you hate playing with your kid, struggle with toy rotation or if you don't want mum friends.... you do you. And know that no matter your choices or style, we promise you're not alone in it.

Stephanie Lowe
Family Editor

Stephanie Lowe is Family Editor at GoodToKnow covering all things parenting, pregnancy and more. She has over 13 years' experience as a digital journalist with a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to all things family and lifestyle. Stephanie lives in Kent with her husband and son, Ted. Just keeping on top of school emails/fund raisers/non-uniform days/packed lunches is her second full time job.