When lice lessons are life lessons

As parents of young kids, my husband and I have had it pretty easy. We have weathered our fair share of stormy tantrums and sleepless nights. But save the occasional ear infection, runny nose or low-grade fever, serious illnesses have eclipsed our household…

….until ten days ago when we hit the motherlode.


All last week, if anyone asked me how we were doing, I wanted to reply, “Lice” as though that should convey everything I was feeling. I have run every line in the book with other parents: how some parents would prefer a stomach bug over lice, how simply discussing the topic made them feel itchy, how incredulous they would be over contracting lice.

I am no lice expert. I know exactly what you would know if you frantically googled phrases like “my child has lice” or “dealing with lice” or “can lice jump?” multiple times over a week. I know exactly what you would know after hysterically texting several friends who had recently dealt with lice as it was going around our preschool. But after a week of reading, thinking and ultimately consulting with a lice professional (yes, there are professional nitpickers, but I prefer to call ours “the lice lady”), I have learned a few valuable tidbits about both kicking lice and about parenting.

I am also not a doctor of medicine, but that won’t keep me from sharing our guide to kicking lice here and some lice lessons gleaned from a week of hysteria below:

[Spoiler alert: if this list sounds pithy, that is because it is. But if you think you won’t say these things to yourself in a disgusting parenting crisis, you are mistaken.]

Don’t panic: Lice is lice. It is gross to think about live bugs in your hair or anyone else’s hair for that matter. It is terribly disgusting to think about lice spreading from family member to family member. But, as the parent, it is not your job to panic. If you panic, no one will keep your kids calm. And when delousing your family, you need calm kids to sit still while you comb out their hair, strand by strand, multiple times in one week. Your serenity keeps them calm.

Know when to stick to your rules and when to suspend them: In our house, we have a few very serious rules about television watching and screen time. I am a little smug about never sharing my smartphone with them, and we try so hard to limit television watching to less than two shows a day. In order to keep my daughter still while I checked her head, I cued up show after show to keep her busy. Hell, the lice medication directions even encourage “a distraction for your children.” Getting rid of lice was not time for keeping the rules about television or juice or candy, and our kids understood that. A movie on a weeknight? You betcha. Juice with every meal because you’ve been “so good”? You better believe it.

It could be worse: Lice are annoying and they are an enormous hassle. But discovering lice is not a terminal diagnosis. They make you FEEL crazy but they won’t make you sick. Your job it to manage the situation and get ahead of the lice. Every parent has their “it could be worse” scenario in their head. Access yours and thank your lucky stars that it’s only lice.

Ask for help sooner than you think you’ll need it: Do not be a hero and think you have this situation locked down. If you are a hero and you do have it locked down, fabulous for you. But so many parents try to fight lice on their own, and either don’t have the time or the skills to get rid of every little nit. It’s exhausting and frustrating and worrisome to think you might be getting it wrong. This goes for dealing with lice OR life. We don’t live in a collective, village-oriented society and we often don’t reach out when we need help. Now is not the time to look inward–seek out help if you need it for lice or other parenting challenges.

Own your choices: There are lots of ways to get rid of lice–see my protocol here. We went for the strongest medicine you could put on the hair and scalp of a five-year old child. Many people would find it objectionable to use a strong medication like that–one friend even told me that she didn’t peg me for a “prescription poison” sort of girl. While others find it objectionable to use pesticides as shampoo, I find it objectionable to have live bugs in my hair. So, I owned our choice in this situation and I didn’t feel strange justifying it to other friends.

Be mad, but don’t stay mad: Fuming or moping about the situation was not going to get rid of the lice. My husband and I (with the help of our lice professional) would get rid of it. Lice won’t last forever and this too shall pass.

I am happy to report that after ten solid days of worry, at least two dozen loads of laundry, and extreme policing of head-to-head contact, we are lice free and ready for summer.


About rglw

Sociologist mom writes for work and for pleasure.
This entry was posted in everyday life, family, health, kids, lessons learned, parenthood, personal and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to When lice lessons are life lessons

  1. The one and only time I got it as a child, my mother threatened to shave my head if it ever happened again… It took her FOREVER to get ride of them because I had super thick hair down to my waist. Lol

    • rglw says:

      And when we discovered the first bug, all I sadly thought was, I don’t want to cut her hair. Can’t we just make it through the dance recital in two weeks? Oy!

  2. ponymartini says:

    I think I’d rather have to deal with ants in my house than lice. My daughter has a boatload of plush, so I can just imagine the detox process for them. Ugh. Glad you guys made it through in one piece. That is a terrible way to start the summer!

  3. Gradmommy says:

    We had a horrible case of life in my daughters first grade classroom for months. Months. Thank all that is good in the world that she never got them. But I itched for weeks just thinking about it.

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