I remember when my firstborn son was a baby, and I’d shamelessly brag all the time about how healthy he was. “He’s never even had a sniffle!” I’d tell my friends and family.
It was true. He really didn’t get sick his first year of life. I sang the praises of hearty genetics and breastmilk—both of which helped to some extent, I’m sure. But it was more than just that. Looking back, I see that much of it had to do with circumstances, and probably a lot of it had to do with good, old fashioned luck.
I was a stay-at-home mom to an only child. We definitely left the house, but he lived mostly in my arms or in a stroller. The fact was, my son almost never encountered germs! No wonder he was never sick.
Of course, all of my obnoxious bragging came to a screeching halt when he became a toddler and started interacting with other kids. In his second year, the kid was sick ALL. THE. TIME. The common cold, norovirus, Hand, Foot and Mouth disease, strep. You name it, the kid caught it. I’m actually surprised he had as many playdates at he did at that age considering he was sick pretty much every other week.
I'll admit that I was hard on myself about it. OK, very hard on myself. Even though I knew these sorts of things happen, I immediately began blaming myself. My kid was a super picky eater, and I wondered if I wasn’t nourishing him properly. I went out and bought every immune boosting vitamin known to man, and started making him green smoothies every night.
Nothing helped much.
Besides the guilt, the whole thing made life pretty miserable for me. Some kids aren’t very bothered by illness—it just makes them more sleepy and snuggly. My kid, on the other hand, always seemed to get a “man cold.” Any little ailment would keep him up all night. To top it all off, we discovered that he had virus-induced asthma, so colds were never just colds. They were week-long stress parties, complete with nebulizers and even oral steroids on occasion. (WARNING: oral steroids make your kids literally bounce off walls.)
The fact was, unless I kept my kid in a bubble, he was going to get sick. Probably a lot.
At some point in the middle of all this, I remember bringing up the frequency of my son’s illnesses with his pediatrician. She brushed it off almost completely, telling me that she sees this kind of thing all the time, and the fact that my son visited her less often than most kids meant he was healthy as a horse. “Whatever he gets, he fights it right off,” she said. “Don’t worry, you’re building up his immune system.”
That was definitely a turning point for me. I realized that I had been beating myself up about the whole thing—stressing and obsessing for no good reason, really. The fact was, unless I kept my kid in a bubble, he was going to get sick. Probably a lot. And all I could do was schedule him for his well visits, visit the doctor when he needed to, and keep him comfortable when he was under the weather.
The silver lining is that the little two-year-old who was sick for months on end is now turning 10, and rarely gets more than a mild cold. I have a younger son, too, and we’re just exiting the years of total nonstop, back-to-back illnesses. It was definitely easier to go through it a second time, knowing there was a light at the end of the tunnel.
But having gone through the whole thing twice, I can say with certainly that dealing with constant colds and other illnesses can really suck. It’s one of my least favorite parts of parenting, and it’s an area in parenting that has caused me more stress than I usually admit.
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So, to the parents who are still in the trenches: You haven’t done anything wrong if your kids are sick all the time. It’s normal, and unless your child has an ongoing medical issue, it will most definitely pass. Also, there’s probably not much you can do but suffer through it, unless you want to keep your kids inside all the time.
I know it can sometimes feel like your kids are the only one who could possibly be getting this often, but they absolutely aren’t. Also? You’re totally not crazy for stock up on 50 bottles of hand sanitizer, buying elderberry syrup in bulk, and praying to the gods that your kid never catches norovirus again.
We’ve all been there and it will be a thing of the past before you know it. So hang in there, mama!