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Cancer Among Us : Work and Family Dynamics Around a Seriously Ill Child

Marc-Antoine Berthod, Yannis Papadaniel, Nicole Brzak

When a child becomes severely ill, parents are forced to revisit how they balance their private and professional lives in order to best apportion tasks related to work, family, and care for the sick child. This article is based on an anthropological study conducted in Switzerland over a period of more than three years involving parents, other family members, colleagues, and superiors; its aim was to analyze the impacts of changes brought about by the child’s illness on the parents’ employment situation and on family dynamics. Using the example of Switzerland, where salaried employees are entitled to only three days’ paid leave to arrange for the care of a sick child, it highlights the discretionary powers that characterize negotiations between employees and employers in these situations and illustrates that, as a result, they are handled on a case-by-case basis. This finding, which is not limited to countries that lack legal support measures for such parents, points to significant failings in how today’s states, employers, and families make arrangements to care for sick children, in particular those who suffer from cancer; it is the parents of these children who fall through the cracks.