Quick: You have two kids with you, one gets hurt badly enough to have to go to the hospital, but the other one isn’t allowed to ride along in the ambulance. What do you do? Or! You slice your finger up real good while prepping dinner and you know stitches are necessary but the kids are running around and your partner isn’t home yet (or you’re a single parent). Now what?
Most of the time, we can line childcare up in advance. And even if that care falls through for some reason, and now we’re going to be late to a meeting, it still doesn’t really classify as an emergency. We can make some phone calls, send some text messages or drag the kids along with us just this once. But when serious illness or injury happens and now you’re faced with trying to get the sick or hurt person the help they need plus not abandon your children, things get dicey. Even more so if you are, gulp, travelling.
Jancee Dunn writes for the New York Times that these situations are why all parents should have an emergency childcare plan. She discovered this is a good idea after travelling to Maine with her husband, daughter and nephew; they were still on holiday when her husband started having severe stomach pains:
Tom, we soon learned, had appendicitis. Being far from our Brooklyn home, I had nowhere to park the kids—so for the next 36 hours before and after Tom’s emergency surgery, I pasted a jack-o’-lantern grin on my face and attempted to keep my nephew’s and daughter’s spirits up.
That task, as it turned out, was harder than caring for my husband.
Create a contact list
Start your emergency childcare plan by thinking locally. Reach out to four or five friends or family members in your area and ask if they’ll be on your emergency contact list. (You should also offer to be on theirs; it’s only fair.)
It’s best if they all live close by, and try to pick at least one fellow parent from your kid’s school (in case you need drop-off or pick-up assistance) and one or two neighbours (because sometimes you really only have a moment to go pound on the closest door).
Store them in your phone in a way that makes them easily accessible, such as “favourite” or emergency contacts.
Share important information
Next, create a shareable document—Google Docs is a good option so you can easily keep it updated—to store important information an emergency caregiver might need, such as their school schedule or allergy information. Also include your child’s own medical history, paediatrician contact information and health insurance information, just in case, as Dunn points out, they also need medical attention while in the person’s care.
If you’re out of town (or no one is available to help)
Of course, the most epic of frantic caregiving emergencies can happen while you’re far from home—and far from your support system. Before leaving on a trip, do some research about the area to see if there are any local emergency childcare services.
Hospitals often don’t have 24-7 emergency childcare services on site, so you’ll want to be prepared with another option. But in a pinch, you can also ask a hospital’s on-site social worker for suggestions, as it’s an issue they’re likely to have encountered before.
Once you know what your emergency plan looks like, communicate that with your children. Tell them in advance who is on your emergency contact list and that you trust them to take good care of them until things calm down.