Gillian Harvey: Why a simple tummy ache can derail your entire working day when you’re a mum

Read the latest column from on the trials and tribulations of trying to have it all from freelance writer, author and mum-of-five Gillian Harvey.

When you have five children, a day rarely goes past without one of them complaining of a tummy ache just before the school run. I sometimes search their bedrooms convinced that they’ve drawn up some sort of rota just to keep me on my feet.

It’s easy if they complain of a fever, or vomit all over the carpet.  A no brainer – back to bed and a phone call to teacher.  But tummy ache is a different beast.  In a child it can mean anything from “I need a little poo” to “my appendix is about to burst.”

It’s even worse when you’re working from home.  You don’t have a boss to blame or a train to catch. It’s your call, and they know it.

And they don’t understand the problem – surely they can lay and recover on the sofa and mummy can still get her work done?

It’s impossible to explain to them that I need to be able to walk into the kitchen without a little voice requesting a sandwich, an orange juice or a biscuit. I need to shut my office door and not have it immediately opened by a child who cannot find his favourite toy.  

I need to be able to make a phone call without someone loudly asking me to wipe their bottom. Just for a few hours, five days a week. To help me pay the bills. (Plus give me the energy to do the dinners, the baths, the bedtime stories; to smile at their anecdotes and apply nit lotion to their hair).  

Don’t get me wrong. If a child is sick, they’re sick. If they need to be home, I’ll keep them home. But without the aid of an MRI, a lie-detector and a crystal ball, how am I meant to make the right call?

Do I send them in, and face the prospect of a call from the school when they vomit all over their French book?  Do I keep them at home, knowing that more likely than not, they’ll suddenly rediscover their health and spend the rest of the day complaining of being bored?

I’m already an overthinker, but when presented with the ethical dilemma of whether to believe your child without physical evidence of rogue bodily excretions or a temperature, I tend to crack under the strain.

The only thing certain, is whatever call I make is likely to be the wrong one. And that there will almost definitely be a new case of appendicitis/wind/laziness for me to diagnose and agonise over tomorrow.

Gillian Harvey is a writer and mum-of-five. Her debut novel Everything is Fineis out with Orion in May 2020.