How sick is too sick?

I think most parents have faced this dilemma: how sick is too sick?

You have places to go, things to do, and your child is recovering from one of the multitude of common, mild childhood illnesses. They are no longer hot/sniffly/spotty... but maybe they are not quite well.

It's a particularly thorny problem for working parents. Five days of sick leave don't go far when they have to cover looking after sick children, as well as the inevitable sharing of the germs.

Most daycare centres have clear policies, but it's sometimes tempting to just... bend them. Maybe your kid had a fever at 9am, and then was chipper for the rest of the day; do you ignore the "24-hour rule" that most daycares have and take him back the next day?

When my eldest got chicken pox, hubby would go into work at 4am, come home at 11, and then I'd go into my work until 7pm. After the usual plethora of illnesses that go with the first year of childcare, neither of us had any sick leave left. Fortunately, he was with a home-based carer. The other kids had all either had chicken pox before or had it at the same time, so once he was happy (but still a bit spotty), he could go back.

Not all jobs are so flexible with hours; not all childcare providers are able to be so accommodating.

The equation gets even more complicated when you add more children. Right now I have one child who briefly ran a fever yesterday, and another who is upset that she's not at Playcentre.

Technically, I could take her ("But I love playing with my friends!" is a persuasive argument) but then I'd be taking the chance that she is infectious with whatever the fever signified. I'd also have to deal with the shrieks when her brother (now perfectly hale) didn't get to stay.

I'm playing it safe. Last week I had three days at home with three sniffly, tired children. I sent my eldest back to school on the Friday. Playcentre beckoned; it was a drop-off day and I was severely in need of some quiet time. The twins seemed well, but something made me decide on just one more day at home.

My morning shower was then interrupted by Finn earnestly declaring "I'm sick. I need a bucket." I ran naked and dripping wet through the house to get one. I slipped on the tiles and landed painfully as I shoved the bucket under his nose - just in time. It was rather chilly. (I still don't know why he was sick; it was only that once, and 10 minutes later he was playing on the trampoline!)

I know I'm lucky to be home. Hubby only really needs to take sick leave when there are more vomiting kids than I have hands for buckets, or when I'm sick, too. But I'm looking ahead to when I'm back at work, and wondering how we'll manage with three kids who will inevitably get sick one after the other (and school holidays, but that's another story).

Most families these days have working parents. Given that society can no longer rely on a stay-at-home parent to look after sick kids, is five days of sick leave enough?