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The Lowdown on ‘Man Flu’ and How to Survive When Both Parents Are Sick

Why men might experience the flu differently and how to cope when sickness hits home


Published on: July 26, 2019

Man flu

When the first hint of a cold hits a parent, their mind starts racing with all the possibilities. Is it allergies, a slight cold ... or the flu? Anytime a parent gets sick, the normal routine of the house gets off track. If you’re a mom, you may feel like you power through anything while Dad whines on the couch. If you’re a father, you know the man flu is real and your partner just doesn’t understand. 

Is “man flu” really a thing? 

Dads, you are in luck. Science is on your side here. The term “man flu” was recently added to the Oxford English Dictionary. To further validate your feelings, some studies have found that adult male mice show more illness symptoms than their female counterparts; male mice experience more temperature fluctuations and take longer to recover. 

No men, you are not being compared to mice. Another study by the American Journal of Physiology discovered that men take longer — sometimes twice as long — to recover from illness than women. Findings in the study suggest that estrogen (which naturally circulates in women’s bodies) dramatically reduces the amount of flu virus that replicates in infected cells. Time even reported on a study that shows that men may have weaker immune systems and lower immunity overall because of higher tendencies for risk-taking behavior. 

And maybe it’s just because women have built up a stronger immunity to those germs the children constantly bring home. Either way, when both parents are sick, you both have to muster up as much energy as you can to keep the household running. Here are some ways to do just that.

Tell the kids

Just like in any other situation where your schedule is different, telling your kids what is going on and what will happen next is necessary. Something along the lines of, “Mom and Dad are both feeling sick and we need your help and patience today” will be enough. Some kids will jump at the opportunity to play nursemaid and others will not so silently rejoice that they can play video games all day. Lay out the updated house rules, explain that you need to take a nap, and let the chips fall where they may.

Parent tip: Use words your kids can understand: Mommy’s tummy hurts; Daddy’s throat is sore so he has to whisper. 

Prepare in advance

You’re going to get sick at least once while parenting. Probably multiple times a year with all the germs your littles pick up. And the chances of both parents getting sick at the same time are pretty good. So, take a few minutes when you’re not sick to prepare. Hit the thrift store or dollar store and grab some puzzles, coloring books and little toys, and then store them in a bag in the closet. When you’re both sick, get the bag out and ration those new items over the next few days. 

Parent tip: Keep common cold medicines, canned or packet soup and Pedialyte in the pantry so you’re not having to make trips to the store when the plague hits your house.

Lower your standards

The last thing you want to do when you’re sick is to stress over the state of the house or what the kids are wearing. Take this time to focus on your health as much as possible and let the rest go. Unless your kids are heading off to school — which will make your life that much easier — no one really needs to get dressed. Or eat meals on time. And the vacuuming can wait until everyone is better, because you’ll want to do a deep clean then anyway. 

Parent tip: Hire a cleaning service for the post-illness deep clean.  

Parenting is constantly surprising, even if you’ve been doing it for many years. But the first time you and your spouse are down for the count is going to make it seem impossible. Take a deep breath, call in some favors, and remember, “This too shall pass.” 

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