Working & Parenting With An Illness

Being a working mother, whether single or married, means having the dual responsibility of managing professional and care-giver roles.

As a businesswomen, not only must we care for ourselves, we are also more often than men required to care for our family during times of illness.  For some women, every doctor visit, office lateness or out-of-office time may put them at risk of jeopardizing their career or pay.

Based on a report published by the National Partnership Organization, women make up more than fifty-percent of the workforce and forty three percent of these working women are not able to take a single paid sick day when they are ill.


  • More than half of working mothers (54 percent) do not have even a few paid sick days they can use to care for their sick children.
  • More than half of Latina workers (54 percent) and more than four in ten African American women who work (42 percent) are not able to earn paid sick days.

My Story:

As a single mother, I understand these issues all too well as I have a huge responsibility to care for my son which has resulted in me using more sick-time than normal for doctors appointments, those days my son catches a cold, and weather closings during times when my job is still open, among other unforeseen occurrences in life.

This was compounded when I became ill with Lyme Disease and realized that I had no remaining sick-leave for myself.  Dealing with my major illness, made me think how many other women – mothers like me- have to exhaust leave because they are sick.

In 2013 all of my annual leave which consisted of 20 days between vacation and sick leave were exhausted by the end of May. For every appointment after that I had to use leave without pay until my leave renewed in January 2014.

There might be times where you have felt alone in this health maze. I remember feeling alone when my health started crashing October 2012 not knowing what was wrong. There were days when I didn’t know how I was going to function, how was I going to pay bills once my leave was exhausted and most importantly,  take care of my son.

There were moments when fear struck as I dealt with just trying to get out of bed in the mornings.  I was suffering from fatigue, poor balance, shortness of breath, leg weakness, tremors and a myriad of other aliments that impacted my day-to-day.

At first I felt alone in the battle of being off so much due to illness, but as I met other mothers, I found a support peer group of women who too had exhausted all of their leave.  For some of these women, aside from dealing with illness and financial challenges,  they were also unsuccessfully struggling to keep their marriages.   The risk of divorce is unfortunately higher when the wife gets sick versus when the husband does, according to various studies.

What do you do if you do if you were just diagnosed with a chronic illness such as lupus, diabetes, Crohn’s Disease, cancer, sickle cell, or like me, Lyme Disease, just to name a few?

Below is a listing of things to help you better manage, cope and beat your illness everyday:

  1. Physical touch: There is nothing like a kiss or a hug from your child or having them cuddle next to you when you’re not feeling well. It’s truly healing. Children are healing and beautiful angels sent from God and if you have a spouse please let them help you and also accept their love.
  2. Pray
  3. Meditate
  4. Work-out: If you can move then do light workouts, do them,  and ask your family to join in.
  5. Do small activities: Do small activities with your kids like color, read a book to them or they can read to you.
  6. Talk to your kids:  If you have older children talk to them about their day and if they want to know how you are feeling tell them the truth.
  7. Record school activities: If you can’t attend school activities have someone record them or Skype.
  8. Stay positive: Try to stay in a positive place mentally…you’re allowed to go to dark places at times (we are all human) but don’t stay there.
  9. Connect with family: Connect with parents on or offline whether they are friends or through support groups like The Healing Well
  10. Write: Write in a journal, things you want to do with your family once you’re well…dreams…goals…
  11. Try something new: Try to do some of your favorite things that don’t require a lot of energy
  12. Review your circle of friends: Be careful of the people you keep around you (work, family and friends). Your circle of friends might get smaller and that is okay.
  13. Eat better: Change your diet as certain foods will inflame your system
  14. Believe: Lastly believe deep in your heart that you will beat this. Keep telling yourself it is temporary. If you have a terminal illness I know that is harder but try to stay as positive as you can and ask those around you to do the same.

If you are the parent or loved one of someone who is ill the one thing you can do is to reach out to them and ask how you can be of service to them. Whether it is a phone call, a visit, or a letter, every bit of support goes a really long way.


Serena Wills with her son weeks before initial tick bite which caused Lyme Disease.

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Walker's Legacy is a growing global women in business collective founded to establish networks of empowerment and access for women of color in business.