#993: “Every day is ‘take your kids to work day’ for my boss.”

Hello, nice readers! Let’s take the intensity down 10,000 notches today.

Hey Cap’t!

I’ve been scouring the Captain Awkward archives for advice regarding my current work predicament and couldn’t find an answer so I’m writing to you for your help. Any advice would help!

I’ve been at my job at a small private consulting firm (less than 10 people total) for about a year now and even though I’m not happy, it’s a good stepping stone for my career and it helped me get away from my toxic family situation after I graduated with my Master’s degree. Recently however, things at work have been getting out of hand. My boss (D) keeps bringing in his kids (8 and 4 years old) EVERY DAY to work during the summer and they’re very disruptive. It’s hard for me to concentrate when they’re around and my anxiety goes through the roof (neck spasms, nausea, etc), which hinders my work productivity even further. It’s gotten to the point where I have to take sick days because the nausea and the anxiety get so overwhelming that I can’t go into work. 

I feel bad because D is a single father; however, he can afford a nanny/daycare for his kids. The older one actually goes to camp in the mornings but then D picks him up and brings him back to the office in the afternoons. I brought up my concerns with our secretary and she told me that it’s a touchy issue with our boss. He knows that bringing in his kids is an issue and other people have brought it up to him but he refuses to do anything about it. She speculated that it could be that since this is his company, he feels that he can bring in his kids whenever he wants to or that because he’s going through a custody battle with the younger son’s mom, he wants to demonstrate to the courts that he does take care of his sons by bringing them to work even though he doesn’t attend to them and leaves it to everyone else to deal with them. He has even dropped off his sons and left when people in the office were leaving to go to lunch without asking anyone to watch them.   

It’s frustrating because I don’t have D’s ability to “block out” his sons’ disruptive behavior and to be honest, I’m not the biggest fan of kids in the workplace. If this job mentioned that I’d have to deal with kids on a regular basis as a condition of employment, I probably wouldn’t have accepted it. 

I do work outside but it’s been so hot (upper 90s) lately that I don’t want to deal with heat stroke (it’s happened to me before and it wasn’t pleasant). I’ve also started to looking for jobs elsewhere because I can’t keep tolerating this at the expense of my health but it’s difficult because I don’t have a lot in savings. I’m planning on talking to my supervisor as well on how to best approach this topic with my boss but besides that, I don’t know what else to do.

Please help!


Not a Workplace Babysitter

Dear Non-Babysitter:

That sounds really annoying. The unsupervised lunch thing is just wrong. Bosses, don’t do this!

I think family-friendly workplaces are awesome, I used to work in an office that had a day care for the employees on the first floor and it was totally cool at lunch or the end of the day to see (short) toddler visits, I love the stories about professors who tell students “if you can’t find childcare, bring the baby to class, we’ll all deal,” but none of that is what’s happening here. Your boss isn’t making an “Everybody! Bring your kids to work in the summer! We’ll have a babysitter and activities and snacks!” policy (annoying the hell out of you and yet saving parental employees basically their entire salary on childcare), he’s making a “the workplace is family-friendly-for-me but un-workfriendly for you” policy.

There’s also the fact that he hasn’t really asked y’all or even told y’all about what’s going on. Even a “Hello, I’ve got my kids for the summer and I’m temporarily without a good childcare solution, so they’re going to be in the office in the afternoons for a while. We’ll all do our best to keep it to a dull roar, please feel free to close your doors/wear headphones/ignore the box fort being made by the copy machine. BTW we’re also going to institute summer hours – let’s take every other Friday off (with pay) until after Labor Day. I really, really appreciate this.” The boss who would send that email would also be the boss who would know to hire a dedicated person to watch them even if he did have an imperfect solution of needing them to be close by.

What are the chances that most or all of the people being expected to take on impromptu kindercare are women? 90%? 100%?

Here are my recommendations:

A) Look aggressively for a new job. You aren’t happy where you are anyway and you wouldn’t have taken the job if you’d known the environment would be like this. Put 85% of your energy around this situation here. Take a planned personal day in the next couple weeks to jump start working on your resume and researching listings.

B) Schedule your days around the disruption. Two examples that come to mind: You know the afternoon will be loud/annoying/anxiety making, so, schedule important stuff that requires concentration for the morning, i.e. “An afternoon meeting is better for me, I need to knock out some of Project X in the morning tomorrow.” Move less intense stuff and offsite meetings to the afternoon wherever possible. Also, leave for your lunch break slightly earlier if you can. Someone else might get stuck sitting with kids if your boss leaves, but not you, not ever.

C) Slow down. Keep your expectations low for what you can get done in the afternoons. When someone asks you when you can have something done for them, start adding padding to your deadlines to account for the fact that you are going to be close to useless for part of the day. Go easy on yourself about what you expect to get done under these circumstances. Right now it sounds like you’re letting the stress impact your health in order to keep up with the work. What if you let the stress impact the work, instead? If anyone (like your boss) asks why something that used to take one day now takes three, it’s the perfect opening for the conversation about the noise. Speaking of…

D) Ask for accommodations. Assume that he will keep bringing his kids to work at least for the rest of the summer and that right now is the new normal. To manage it, ask for accommodations around the “noise in the afternoons” or “the noisy work environment.” Yep, the noise in the afternoons is caused by the boss’s unsupervised kids who shouldn’t be there and we all know it, but you want to avoid anything that comments on his parenting or custody situation or his precious babies. Script:It’s been noisy in the afternoons, and I am having trouble concentrating. I think I could be more productive if…

And then ask for what would actually work for you, for example, “I need an office with a door I can shut” or “Can I work from home a few days a week, at least for the rest of the summer? I need quiet for writing these proposals and reports.”

Keep it focused on the work that you want to get done. “I want to do my best work, and to do that, it turns out that I need _______.” Help D (or your direct supervisor if he is not) help you by giving them an option that will make you happy, or at least functional. If you can tie it to client satisfaction, so much the better. “I need a quiet, private place to have phone calls with clients.” “I need to keep my mornings free of meetings, and calls right now, since that’s the quiet time of day that I need for high-focus work.

Consulting works on billable hours. Are you billable, by chance? Are these distractions and lost days reducing the number of billable hours you work, or sending projects over budget? That would be interesting data. “I feel like the noise level is losing me about 3 hours of productive billable time/day. I really want to stay on top of my projects and billing, what do you suggest?

See how far you get. Keep your expectations low, keep your asks short and sweet, keep your reasons few and as neutral as possible, and give people the opportunity to surprise you with “yes, of course we can do that.”

E) You may have to level with him. If he won’t accommodate you or laughs it off, this is your reminder to keep on that new job looking thing, but also, you might end up saying “Hey, you’re a working parent and I can see that you’re doing the best you can, and everyone is trying to do the best they can to support you so we’ve been quiet about how disruptive it is to have the boys here. Are you able to hire a dedicated babysitter for them in the afternoons? They are great kids and obviously doing their best to behave themselves, but even normal kid behavior can be pretty distracting.” 

If you make this direct appeal, it will affect your relationship with him, and not necessarily for the better. He needs this all to work, he needs to keep thinking that it’s working, that he’s got it all under control. He may not react well to someone who implies that he doesn’t in fact have it all under control. It would be better coming from a coworker who is more senior and also a parent, someone who can say “I know how they can be, it’s not you! You’re doing your best!” Whereas, you’re new, you don’t have much authority in the office, and summer doesn’t last forever. Stress headaches and anxiety attacks and needing sick days is bad, but so is getting fired by an unreasonable dude who expects his staff to babysit for not being a “team player.” You know him and your relationship with him best, use your judgment.

When to *definitely* level with him, perhaps despite the consequences:

If you end up in a position where you are expected to be the default kid-watcher (when everyone has gone to lunch and you’re the only one there) and he’s about to drop them off and leave the office, I think a “Excuse me, but who will be watching the boys?” is a very, very good question to ask.

As a hilarious friend (who is both a manager and a parent of a small child) noted: “100% this dude thinks the answer to the question “Hey, who is going to watch them while you’re out of the office?” is “Oh, they will take care of themselves.” He will believe this, he won’t even think he is lying or trying to sneak something over on the staff.”

Narrator: “They will not, in fact, take care of themselves.”

If When he says or implies “You will,“* then you can say “Excuse me?” and at least make him say it and, if possible, repeat it. Right now it feels like it’s all in unspoken assumptions, like, he assumes y’all will watch them but he never actually asks, and that way nobody can ever actually refuse. Make him actually sayI’m going to need you to babysit my children for me for a few hours” out loud. If he says it, then you can push back on it in future discussions, for instance:

  • To be clear, are you asking me to watch your boys for the afternoon? I’m not comfortable with that.
  • “I’d feel more comfortable if you took them with you.” (Hilariously, he’s going to say “I can’t, I have a work meeting” and you will say “Precisely!” inside your head while leaving a long, awkward pause in the room.
  • If it’s an emergency one time favor for you of course I’m not going to let them come to harm’s way, but that also means X billable hours won’t happen and I won’t meet Y deadline for the client.

Heyyyyyyyy, did I mention looking for new job as an overall strategy? When asked why you’re leaving your last job, try “I learned so much during my time there, but as I explore this career more I want to find exactly the right environment and fit.









238 thoughts on “#993: “Every day is ‘take your kids to work day’ for my boss.”

  1. And I thought my supervisor’s anxious dog was bad! LW, this sounds awful and I am so sorry.

    1. lol are you me!? Dog whines for boss whenever boss leaves the room. We all have to deal with the yelp cry barking and the occasional demands for walks.

      1. This dog whines/barks/growls whenever anyone in our open-plan office moves or makes a noise (opens a drawer, swivels in their chair, staples something…), and my boss doesn’t understand how dogs work, so she pets the dog and says, thanks for warning us about the danger, or whatever. She thinks that’s soothing when it’s actually rewarding the behavior. And the top two most distracting things for me are noise and lack of logic. So, it makes for a great working environment!

        1. “And the top two most distracting things for me are noise and lack of logic.”

          Ha! Me too.

  2. All great advice. One more: not sure if your company has a separate human resources department or person, but if so, might be a good time to consult with them. You said it’s small so you might not have that option, but worth a shot if you do.

  3. Seconding the Captain’s suggestion to aggressively job search.

    Being a single parent is hard- been there, done that. I never took my kids to work with me. Your boss is getting away with it because he is the boss. I’m sure there would be an issue if any of the other employees brought their kids in and expected others to watch them while they when out to lunch or a meeting or let them just wander around the office. I’m sure they kids are bored to tears being stuck in an office all afternoon.

    1. I’ll lay odds that the boss is also getting away with it because he’s a guy and most of his staff is female.

      1. Even if numerically not the case, I would also give odds that male staffers are just going to ignore the kids that much more easily than LW, because minding kids is “women’s work” and they have never been trained to care about kid safety and so on.

        1. Really? I find that comment quite insulting. Not all woman are trained like pavlov’s dogs to react to kids and babies. I have the maternal instincts of a rock and can (and do) ignore small children. Having them screaming around the office would drive me absolutely demented. I’d have started looking for a new job, like, yesterday.

  4. My boss (and the owner of the company) at a previous job used to do this with her two smelly, ill-trained dogs. Nothing quite like having an hour-long meeting in a small, enclosed space while someone cradles a reeking, wriggling dachshund because if it’s shut out of the room it’ll bark and whine at the door. (Did I mention I’m allergic? Yeah.) She would also laugh it off when they relieved themselves on the floor of someone’s office (on more than one occasion)… and then leave it to that person to clean up.

    That was only the beginning of the dysfunction at that workplace, all centered around missing-stair boss. Being laid off from that nightmare was the best thing that ever happened to me, so all I can offer is a sincere wish of all the luck in the world for your job search.

    1. Can we not compare kids to smelly, ill-trained dogs, please? It’s not nice to the kids, and it’s not a comparable work situation either: it’s legal to leave dogs unattended in the home.

      1. I didn’t intend any comparison beyond them both being situations where the boss introduced an incredibly disruptive factor to the workplace and the unstated expectation was for everyone to let it slide, even as it made the situation untenable for employees? My ex-boss brought her kids in occasionally too, but they were of an age and temperament to quietly self-amuse without constant minding so it wasn’t as disruptive. Of the two, I preferred her kids–they were decently behaved, and I wasn’t allergic to them.

        1. For what it’s worth, I read your comment as comparing the behavior of one crappy boss to another, and not some weird kid/dog equivalent. I can’t speak to why anyone else would read that into it.

          That sounds like an awful place to work, and I’m glad you’re out!

        2. Seconding Yolanda.

          Also as someone who *does* childcare… they’re not un-similiar. Kids are smelly sometimes too, and if they can definitely be ill-trained 😛

          1. My dog has been having gastrointestinal issues (that lean heavily toward the “intestinal”) and my friend is trying to toilet train her toddler. We have a LOT of the same issues right now.

        1. Plus when you put a kid in a crate for a few hours a day people call the authorities.

      2. I agree and yet my dog is way chiller than most kids, definitely these. 🙂 (I still don’t take him to work.)

    2. What. The Actual. Eff. I am one of the most anxious, conflict hating-est people alive and I would flip my shit if that happened in my office (or better, flip the dog shit at the boss…seriously, WTF)

      Being laid off in general sucks, but congrats from being laid off from that place. it sounds like a nightmare.

  5. What might work – at least for the noise – is to get headphones that cover your entire ear. If noise-cancelling headphones are within your budget, that would be even better. If you get a set from a big-box store with a microphone built in, you could do any phone calls without ambient noise filtering in from the outside. When you aren’t on a call, putting in earplugs underneath the headphones could reduce the noise further.

    It’s not fair that *you* have to spend money so that you can get work done in your workplace, but as a stopgap while you look for another job, it’s my best suggestion.

    1. It might be possible to request work provide this, though (or to expense it) as part of asking for accommodations – “Hey, since it’s a bit noisy in the afternoons, is there any way the company could get me a set of noise-canceling headphones/headphones with a mic so I can take calls without disruption? I researched and the lowest priced options are ____.” LW can judge how well that might go over, but at a lot of work places it wouldn’t be out of the question.

    2. And either way, a functioning pair generally isn’t all that expensive, so it’s very doable unless the boss takes offence at the sight of them.

      In which case, foam earplugs.

      1. The only difficulty I see with this is that it may reduce the distractions but ramp up the anxiety.
        If there were a 4-year old loose in the room with me, the only thing that would make me more tense than hearing what they were up to would be … not hearing what they were up to.

        At any rate, LW, if this solution does work for you, you probably want to get into the habit of taking the headphones off and looking around before you push your chair back or stand up, lest there be legos.

        1. In my experience they don’t actually cut out child-noise; they just take it down to ignorable levels.

    3. From sad experience I can tell you that noise-cancelling headphones, even the terrifyingly expensive Bose ones, do not effectively cancel screaming children.

      Source: 9 hour plane flight with a screaming child. The headphones did nothing…. except really effectively cancel out the jet noise so I could hear the screaming child more clearly.

      1. Yeah, but a four-year-old and an eight-year-old aren’t screaming for four hours straight. They’re just shouting about spaceships and dinosaurs and asking questions about what that’s for.

        1. Strongly disagree. I’ve met 4 year olds who throw screaming tantrums on the regular. Some kids just suck.

          1. 4 year olds don’t ‘suck’, they have poorly developed emotional regulation because their brains are still developing. They’re also just barely developing the capacity for empathy; until 3 or 4 children are like sociopaths, their brains just haven’t developed empathy yet. Their communication skills also aren’t up to par and they can have trouble effectively communicating what they want

            All kids are different, and have different temperaments, and parenting does have an effect but isn’t the sole factor.

      2. I have not found that headphones marketed as noise-canceling are very effective in general. What I have found works better is to go to Home Depot or a similar type place and get the headphones that are geared toward doing construction work or shooting guns. They don’t have the benefit of a headphone jack–you can’t listen to anything through them. However, I’ve found that a pair of earbuds fit quite comfortably underneath them.

        This is what I use every time I fly. It doesn’t 100% cancel out all outside noise, but it does the best job I’ve found.

  6. I work in a giant corporate environment which has its own foibles (ask me about how many time sheets I need to fill out!), but every time I read one of these stories about tiny companies with no HR and no management structure I just think about how lucky I am.

    1. After working at one of those tiny companies, “has an HR department” is a non-negotiable qualification for anywhere I consider working in the future.

      1. THIS. And by HR department, I mean “at least one person whose job is ONLY HR.” For a long time, my smallish nonprofit has only had one–but it’s been enough, because whenever I had an issue I knew exactly who to go to and what the process my issue would go through to be resolved was.

        I can’t imagine living like this.

        1. That process part is key! If I ever was looking to work at a company that small again, I’d be asking a lot of very pointed questions during the interview process about examples of how they have handled HR issues in the past and whether there’s a written employee code of conduct, etc. NEVER AGAIN the “oh, we’ve never had any problems, but if something comes up you can absolutely go to the severely-overworked person who does all the billing and payroll (who is coincidentally the boss’s agony aunt) and she’ll sort it out” times.

        2. And who has had some training. The number of companies friends have worked at where HR was owner’s spouse is quite high. One of them, HR!Spouse was a former second grade teacher, and treated all employees like second-graders complaining that someone was hogging the blocks.

      2. I’ve worked for three tiny companies. One was terrible, the others were great. None of them required us to put up with loud kids or dogs every day. Reasonable people don’t need HR to tell them not to do this.

    2. “I work in a giant corporate environment which has its own foibles (ask me about how many time sheets I need to fill out!), ”

      (derail, sorrry)
      Ooh, ooh! tell me about multiple time sheets! and the many variations between paper and electric! in triplicate! uphill both ways!
      *waves in sympathy*

  7. It’s awful to be in a situation where you feel you can’t be upfront about this to your boss. Stating the problem directly is so much easier! If only you could be sure your boss would simply appreciate your input & solve the problem! That’s what a good boss would do, I think. It’s terrible that you have to perform a complicated social dance about a problem that’s in itself easy to solve.

    1. For real. “Boss, I know you are doing your best, but the kids-in-the-office-thing is really not working. Can you find another solution?” should not be a hard, anxiety-making, will I lose my job or damage this relationship kind of conversation. And yet…capitalism & power.

  8. Wow. Wow. LW, I’m giving your boss all the side-eye I can muster. The situation as it is now is, at best, neglectful for the kids, and, at worst, dangerous for the kids and for the company.

    Leaving two minors unattended for hours each day can be a recipe for disaster, specially if one of them were to come to harm (let’s hope that doesn’t happen!) while at the company (which I’m guessing is not child-proofed?). The company could end up dealing with a lawsuit from the kid’s mother or Child Protective Services. If you, LW, are the one stuck in the same room as the kids “keeping an eye on them”, you could be the one dealing with a lawsuit if they were to come to harm “while under your watch”.

    That’s why I’d recommend setting a cast-adamantium boundary around your responsibilities as an employee and your lack of responsibility towards the kids. Are you, by any chance, a certified, professional child-caretaker? Have you signed any documents in which you either assume or waive any responsibility of protection towards the kids?

    If not, here are my scripts for you:
    Boss: some variation of “Could you keep an eye on the boys for a short while?”
    LW’s script A: “(I’m sorry, but) I can’t. I’m not a professional child caretaker”.
    LW’s script B: “I cannot and will not take care of minors in any professional capacity”.
    LW’s script C: “I am not assuming any responsibility for your sons while they are on the premises”.

    And then, *document the conversation* (you could send an e-mail to your supervisor along the lines “Boss asked for this, here’s what I said, just wanted to give you a heads up”). It’s important that there’s dated, written documentation somewhere where you explicitly state that your job doesn’t involve any kind of child minding whatsoever and where you explicitly refuse any responsibility for the kids.

    This might sound harsh, specially for the kids, but I ran into this exact same problem last year (working as a TA in a highschool with minors, teachers wanted me to teach their classes unaccompanied, refused on the grounds “I’m not allowed to be left alone with a classroom full of minors because that would mean me being legally responsible for their well-being and that is explicitly *against* my job description”). So, please, document and cover your back while you’re there. Hopefully nothing will happen, but if it does, I want you to be protected.

    1. Asking as a ‘what if’ scenario – should Boss be cc’ed on the email to the Supervisor or HR?

      1. In my opinion: it could be a bit nuclear? But it would remove any hint of plausible deniability behind which the boss might try to hide, which is good. I am not a lawyer, however.

        In that case, I’d write something like this and cc:supervisor:
        “Boss, I just wanted to follow up on this morning’s chat to make sure everything was cleared up. According to my contract, my job description does not involve any childcare whatsoever and, as I don’t hold any professional qualifications that allow for minors to be left in my charge in a professional setting, I must refuse any and all responsibilities towards your sons. I hope their needs can be met in some other way”.

        Again, I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t know if “e-mail statement to boss” is better than “verbal statement to boss + e-mail follow up to supervisor” and, if it is, by how much.

        1. It is worth noting that if the LW is working in the US, they likely don’t have a contract. You mentioned upthread you were in teaching, where you do usually have a contract, but they’re really unusual in most jobs.

          1. Every job description I’ve ever had has had “and other duties as needed” tacked on at the end. An employer can shove an awful lot through that hole.

          2. To B. (nesting exceeded): It is very common in the US to get an offer letter containing the job description and the salary/benefits agreed to, but it usually contains explicit “this is not a legal contract, this position is at-will and can be terminated at any time by either party” fine print.

            The flip side of at-will employment, of course, is that you can leave a position at any time without notice or penalty.

            Real employment contracts are most common in upper management and in commission-sales positions, to detail more complicated bonus/compensation methods . There are a few other common exceptions to at-will employment (union jobs have explicit contracts, and the state of Montana has some different labor laws).

            And as NotPiffany mentions, “other duties as needed” is a frequent catch-all.

            But yes, labor laws in the US are very pro-business, not pro-worker.

    2. This is a great point. Thank you for bringing it up.

      Anyone who asks me to watch their kids gets regaled with the story of how I got fired from my first (and last) ever babysitting job. Supervising children is NOT my job for very good reasons.

    3. Yeah, I’m concerned for the safety of these kids, as all the co-workers are actively ignoring the kids, hoping that someone else will “keep an eye on them,” and NOTHING is specified or actually decided.

      Now, an experienced childcare-giver can tell the difference between annoyed screams, play screams, and pain/danger screams. They’ll respond to a pain/danger scream. They’ll have no choice when that ingrained response kicks in. But, an experienced childcare-giver knows that such screams can be avoided almost entirely by actively watching the kids, and steering them away from pain and danger. Accidents still happen, that can happen to anyone. Human beings trip. But they don’t have to trip while running with scissors.

      I second your motion to get it in writing, one way or another. In fact, if everyone there gets it in writing that they are NOT watching the kids, and are NOT responsible if the children are injured, then the boss had better step up and get someone specific into the office (or into his home), for responsible childcare.

      I used to be a professional child caretaker, although “professional” in this case means I did it, exclusively, and not that I was in any way board-licensed or anything like that. Licensing was for day-care centers, not for in-your-home baby-sitters, no matter if you did put them on a retainer, it just wasn’t a thing in that time and place. Basically, I was an unofficial nanny, but that was how I made my living, so yeah, I called myself a professional.

      1. In teaching where I am, it’s part of your professional duties, so being responsible that the kids in your care do not come to harm goes hand in hand with your job as a teacher. For example, if I were a licensed teacher and a kid had an allergic reaction during my class and I failed to administer the medicine on time, I could be found guilty of negligence if there was a lawsuit.

        If licenses aren’t usual in the US, then the LW can adapt her scripts to fit the situation. FWIW, Michelle, I don’t think you need a license to be a good professional 🙂 It’s just that, if at all possible, in this case is better to have it in writting that the LW is not qualified for childcare and is not responsible for the boys.

        1. * can adapt their scripts, I mean. I don’t think the LW mentioned any pronouns, so I’m sorry for the potential misgendering!

        2. No, you don’t need a license to be professional-quality, and a lot of jobs don’t require a license. I think that some areas actually do some form of licensing, though, and so claiming professional status in those areas kinda requires a license.

          1. There’s a couple areas where if someone tells you they have a licence, you should run fast and far because *licences do not exist for it*.

  9. UGH I have been in your shoes, but it was many MANY years ago. I worked at an advertising agency in the creative department (which as a rule was very loose – the industry alone is pretty loose…) and one of the male Creative Directors used to bring his three (!) girls to work. Everyone of course lauded him for being a great involved father – who, due to his position, spent hours off campus at client meetings. Meanwhile his kids had the run of the department. One time, they got in a fight amongst themselves and the oldest THREW HIS JAMBOX DOWN THE HALL AND PUT A HOLE IN A WALL.

    Of course meanwhile, one of our Associate Creative Directors (female) had to bring in her nephew for about a week when her brother died (not sure on the details, I just know the parent passed). She was reprimanded.

    I’d echo the Captain’s advice about keeping it about the work, the billables, etc. If you can work from home, offer that up. Another option (which is a pain if it doesn’t work for you so feel free to disregard) is shift your hours up – come in at 7, leave at 3. I did that at a law firm I was temping at.

    You have my sympathies! Good luck!

    1. Yup. I’ve definitely seen this dynamic where Male Parent does X and is FATHER OF THE YEARRRRR! and Female Parent does X and clearly can’t handle motherhood AND a job, must be getting distracted, etc. etc. etc.

      Just to be clear I don’t want kids in my office at all, but I find it super shitty that the same behaviors are read way differently between the genders.

      1. Yeah. Plus there’s a world of difference (gender irrelevant) between that coworker bringing her nephew in for ONLY ONE WEEK after his parents have just died but she’s apparently expected to be coming into the office despite this obviously emergency situation and that woman’s
        boss deciding that at the office is a general childcare solution for his kids. This story gives me so much rage.

  10. A couple of thoughts….

    …is this the main reason for unhappiness at the job? If yes, and there is an end in sight (end of summer?), perhaps approaching this from a viewpoint of, “how can we make this work,” is a good approach. Something like the following: hey boss, I get that the kids have to be here, I’m finding that it’s making it harder for me to concentrate and get my work done, what can we do?”

    …if this isn’t the reason for the unhappiness, then it’s better to focus your energies on finding s new job

    I’d also like to gently point out that the LW (though in a really bad spot here), probably doesn’t know for sure that the boss can afford childcare and also doesn’t know what efforts he made to secure childcare before making the decision to bring the kids to work. Maybe he had something all lined up and it fell through last minute and now he can’t find someone he trusts to watch the kids with so little warning. We just don’t know. I know brining my kids to the office would be one of my last choices!

    None of this is your problem, of course, and the situation you’re in is rough, for sure. I really feel for you and your co-workers. My long-winded point here is that I have found it helpful For Me when in similarly frustrating spots to try to find a place where I can empathize with “the other guy.”

    1. It’s possible, but a good boss would tell people in the office “Hey, I’m sorry, my childcare fell through. I’m working on finding something new but thanks for your patience in this transition period”. Plus it sounds like LW felt out the situation by speaking to a coworker who confirmed this is the status quo for boss.

    2. I mean, yeah, MAYBE the boss has a legit reason for not having secured alternative childcare for the kids, but he definitely DOESN’T have good reasons for A) not explaining what’s going on to employees, B) ignoring employee complaints about the situation, nor C) leaving the office while the kids are still there.

    3. I honestly wouldn’t care what the boss’s “good excuses” were. LW isn’t a babysitter, and doesn’t need to empathize with their boss’s choice to introduce daily distractions to the workplace.

      1. Agree. This is a “get off my foot” type situation IMO. Why the boss brings his kids there is irrelevant. LW did not sign up for this and it’s actively hurting her job performance AND physical and mental health.

    4. I agree with chenglish, John, and Novel deVice below, but really appreciate you pointing out that the LW can’t know whether or not the boss can afford childcare, Chickie Feels It All.

      That line in the letter hit a sore spot for me — I’m currently without a car, and when I mention it to my coworkers (small org where we’re all well-paid), I’ve received a couple incredulous “Why don’t you have a car??!?” reactions. Well… I’m going through a divorce and paying my ex more than my rent in support each month, and my legal bills have passed the $20K mark, and ugh I won’t mention this to you all anymore because you assume my financial situation looks like yours.

      That being said, boss absolutely needs to be handling this / communicating about this better.

  11. ohhh man, can I identify with this. My first job out of high school was a retail job in a high end hotel. The manager had two kids under ten, both she and her husband worked, and one of them probably should have been a stay at home parent. My manager brought her kids to work all the time and the staff became an impromptu baby-sitting service. It did not work out. They would tear apart the store and we (the staff) would have to put it back together. The kids were unhappy and acted out at school (one shift my manager had to abruptly leave because her son had lit something on fire at school) so my manager left work all the time, messing US up because we needed a friggin’ manager to run the store.

    I didn’t stay long at that job but I have to say as someone with anxiety/panic attacks/tendency towards agoraphobia I had my first severe panic attack at that job when one morning when I opened (6:30am) my manager called and said, ‘oh, little Timmy’s sick again so I’m not coming in. I don’t have anybody else lined up so you don’t mind working alone until the next shift comes on right?’ the night shift didn’t come on until I think after five pm.

    Part of the reason why it flipped me out so much was that the hotel gift store I worked in had a policy that the gift shop store DOES NOT CLOSE from 7:00am to 3:00am for ANY REASON. To close the doors even to go to the bathroom, would get the store in huge trouble. So essentially I was trapped, and I freaked out.

    I know most people would be irritated and just suck it up but for me, a kid right out of high school with severe anxiety that hadn’t been treated at that moment, well it sent me into a screaming panic attack because it put all the pressure of running the store on me. It’s not my fondest memory, and I’m angry that I didn’t realize at the moment that I could have said no, I could have told her she needed to figure out how to get at least ONE other worker in here so I could at least take a bathroom break, but I didn’t

    Let me tell you how it ended. I DID eventually have a minor breakdown – employees were quitting right and left and I had WORK ETHIC (I.E. too young and dumb to realize that I could say no to abusive practices) so I was determined to be the best worker I could be but eventually after working 14 days without a break (and I was part-time mind you) I walked into the store and just started bawling like an idiot and quit on the spot.

    Soon after THAT, the store completely fell apart and the main branch CEO actually came in and fired the manager and whatever staff that was left and had to build it from the ground up.

    So, for the love of GOD, do what is best for you and don’t wait until it grinds you down into a sad meat paste shaped human being. I used to have literal nightmares about that place for years afterwards – I would dream I had a sleeping bag beside the register and I could never leave. GET OUT.

    1. Ooof, I’m sorry. It wasn’t nearly that extreme but I had a similar issue in a bookstore cafe – we were understaffed and everyone else that day called out, so I was the ONLY person working, open to close, which meant I was both ringing people up and making the drinks (so the lines got very long) and I had no time to clean anything or empty the trash, let alone go to the bathroom. Eventually a store manager reprimanded me for the overflowing trash can and I burst into tears because I literally had not had a 10-minute break all day.

      I quit the next week – there were other reasons involved, but that was a HUGE one.

      1. Solidarity bump, my friend. I know exactly how you feel. I still have trouble to this day with taking extra hours and shifts – it brings up that horrible terror of being trapped, stressed, anxious and the boss don’t care. The part that really bugs me is that this isn’t even an unusual practice – a lot of business practice is ‘work your workers until they quit’. Like I remember asking for a sick day almost got me fired and I had to work while I was ill because I got guilted into it. WHO DOES THAT!?!?

      2. In that situation I’d get fired, because I’d look the manager dead in the eye and say, “If you’ve got time to tell me off when I am clearly running my ass ragged over here, then you’ve got time to empty the damn trash yourself!”

      3. That’s awful, and completely a result of the manager not doing zir job. Scheduling sufficient staff to cover the needed duties – making the call to close if circumstances make that impossible – is part one’s job as a manager, a core part.

        I just started a management job a year ago, and with no qualifications or training for it, I felt completely unprepared, and there definitely were (and probably still are) things I’m not doing well. BUT, even in that circumstance, I’m horrified by things I commonly hear about – managers not doing *their* jobs then blaming or berating their employees, taking credit for others’ work, being mean/authoritarian for its own sake, actively preventing employees from getting what they need to do their jobs instead of enabling their work. Especially shocking is that so much of this is actively detrimental to a company’s bottom line, so it can’t even be explained as a problem of capitalism. On the plus side, all the horror stories have helped me with knowing what not to do.

    2. I don’t have much to add re: advice but OMG that sounds so similar to my last retail job. Like, down to the working 14 days straight despite actually being “part time.”

    3. Minor in comparison, but I had a job where I had to stay at my post until a sup took my place for my one 15 min break per 6 hr shift. They often asked me to work doubles (I only did 2 triples, and it hurt), so the time between bathroom breaks over 12 hours… The one time I had to call the office repeatedly, crying, because I’d been holding it for 6 hours and no one was answering… I definitely gave myself at least one UTI from holding it, and eventually figured out how to discreetly urinate into a cup in semi-public (skirts, fyi)… Yeah it’s amazing how easy it is for not-normal work stuff to become normalized with not even that much repeated exposure.

      1. Sorry, the time between bathroom breaks *over a 12 hr shift. I never had to wait more than 6 hours. (She says, as though 6 hrs wasn’t completely demoralizingly awful lol)

    4. >>The manager had two kids under ten, both she and her husband worked, and one of them probably should have been a stay at home parent

      The solution of “bringing them to work” was obviously non-optimal, but that’s a pretty big assumption to make about how someone else’s family works!

  12. Enter a Bohemian Rhapsody’s worth of “Nope Nope nope nope NOPE NOPE NOPE nope oh mama mia nope”

    Boss is not handling his childcare problem at all. Having them at work and leaving is not solving the problem.
    Just repeating this for emphasis. LW, it’s not you, and you’re not unreasonable in any way.
    I also don’t think the courts will be impressed to learn that this is D’s idea of taking care of his sons, but that’s another story.

    I don’t have any advice other than YES DO LOOK FOR ANOTHER JOB ASAP THIS IS SO NOT OK
    Best of luck.

    1. I also considered the “ex wife would be interested to know this information” idea but that seems like a Whole Thing that LW does not want to be involved in.

      1. This is your Captain speaking: A HARD NO on informing your boss’s ex about this. He may be a shitty boss (and not the world’s greatest dad) rn but that is a headache you do not need.

  13. “Women and femmes” is really controversial in contexts like this because it implies some dodgy, potentially homophobic and transphobic things about the groups of people disadvantaged by sexist inequality: that women and/or women-aligned nonbinary folks are typically feminine, that trans women / trans nb woman-aligned people are typically feminine, that trans womanhood and trans femininity are parallel tracks, that masculine (or less feminine) people are less aligned or identified with womanhood, that masculine women/nb people are less impacted by sexism or less likely to be burdened with the expectation of emotional or feminized labor, that there is such a thing as “masculine privilege” that AFAB and AMAB people and cis and trans people and men and women equally enjoy, that butchness is male identified or necessarily aligned with conventional norms of masculinity or privileged, and so on. And there’s the way in which the term has been taken out of a highly specific set of in-group LGBTQ+ contexts and repurposed for much broader use. Tl;dr: it can become essentialist and binary in its own right, just based on gender expression rather than say biology or gender identity, and its use as a more-inclusive term is complicated.

  14. Wow, LW! This sounds rough! Sorry to hear the situation is causing you all this unpleasant stress symptoms. I work with preschoolers and it’s fantastic and I love it, but it’s tiring. Child care is work! It’s a job that requires a whole lot of important skills, and 100% attention (okay, if the kids are older maybe you can be more relaxed – but still, it’s work). You already have a job that requires the energy and your attention. I’m disgusted on your behalf that he hasn’t thought of any childcare arrangements beyond “dump it all on my employees”.

    I enthusiastically second B.’s documentation idea above! Yes, emails are a good plan, and minimising kid time as much as possible until things change to the point where you can bail for a new job seems like the best way to go.

    Good luck to you, LW!

  15. I love the Captain’s advice about suggesting the boss hire a nanny to supervise the kids at the office. Of course he shouldn’t be bringing them to the office, but since the letter writer has been told he would respond badly to being told not to bring his kids, a paid nanny at the office would solve part of the letter writer’s problem.
    I am not sure hints about the noise would go over well. I think it would be obvious that it was a veiled criticism of his bringing his kids here, and it would also be interpreted as a veiled criticism of his kids.

    1. It is 100% veiled criticism of his parenting and his kids.
      The veil is the diplomatic part.

  16. All the sympathy, LW. Heck, I work in elementary schools as a replacement secretary, and even *I* don’t have to have kids in my office when I don’t want them to be. This does NOT have to be your normal. Even if you adore small children, they are exhausting, especially if you don’t have any of your own. (I am given to understand from my friends who do have small children that it is still exhausting, but it’s an exhaustion you’ve brought upon yourself.) There’s also a reason that we pay day care providers and babysitters the money that we do – it’s work! And any time your boss leaves anyone in your office in de facto charge of his kids, he effectively saddles y’all with two jobs. Three, actually. Your regular job, plus one from each kid.

    I wish I had concrete advice to offer, but the Captain has said everything already. Perhaps we should flash the Ask A Manager batsignal in the sky?

    1. IME, other people’s smalls are considerably more exhausting than your own bc you have no idea what kind of chaos they’re likely to get into. Like, I know my 2yo will demand attention and perform for all the grown ups, but she’s not going to climb up on something and plunge to her doom, so I. I know what hazards to move out of her sight and then i can check on her every few minutes. When I’m looking after her cousins, I have to concentrate three times as hard because they’re a lot more physically adventurous and I have no idea what’s going to appeal!

    1. PS Her commenters are also really excellent. Make sure to read the comments sections as well.

      1. Seriously, yes. Alison GETS IT about moderating a comment section, and the generally good behavior over there reflects that.

        1. Yes! I could not believe how many folks wrote to Alison with issues about their coworkers bringing kids to the workplace. It was not something I ever thought I’d have to deal with unless I actually worked in a daycare, but I was wrong! My former boss used to bring her daughter to work, and while her daughter was really sweet and well-behaved, it was still a little weird to have a meeting interrupted by an 8 year old who needed her iPad fixed or something.

          Like the LW, I don’t particularly care for kids and they make my shoulders go up around my ears, so I don’t see myself as someone who could deal with a workplace in which this was the norm. While I am hugely in favor of good work/life balance policies and long, paid maternity leave and workplaces that enable employees to balance work and children, I will admit (this is my own thing to deal with) feeling kind of snarky about my former boss bringing her kids to work. I really doubt her husband would have done the same at his office. I don’t plan to have kids myself and while I will always support policies that make parenting and careers possible, I personally do not want to ever have to deal with a coworker’s child unless they’re there to help on an office project.

          There’s a particularly horrible AAM about a coworker who brought her kid who had NOROVIRUS into the office KNOWING he was sick, didn’t supervise him, and he got into a buffet lunch and ending up infecting several coworkers – including a coworker’s immunocompromised child who ended up in the hospital and another coworker’s elderly parent.

          1. I’m with you. I’ve actually worked with kids a lot and I like them fine, but they do not belong in a typical office environment. To me, companies that want to be genuinely family friendly should set up in-house daycare and generous maternity leave policies. But bringing kids into your workplace – unless it’s like, a daycare – isn’t fair to the kids or coworkers.

          2. Personally, I like the idea of children in my workplace. Providing of course that my workplace was a school, not an office. I know that if a co-worker brought their children into work, then ignored them, I’d get no work done. My children or not, I’d be watching all the time to make sure they were safe and not likely to hurt themselves.

          3. The co-worker who brought her sick child into work and infected others with the Norovirus – Like another commenter on here, I can hear Freddie Mercury saying, “No, No, No, No, No, No, Oh Mamma Mia, Mamma Mia …….NO!” So wrong, so very very selfish and wrong. Not just to those who were infected, but to her own sick child who needed to be in bed.

    2. AAM is *great*, but be warned – you will end up stuck in there, compulsively reading the archives, until kingdom come. (Most likely shaking your head at the many and varied crazy work situations others find themselves in, much like the Letter Writter.)

  17. Here’s my guess, based on some reading in between the lines.

    According to the secretary, the boss is in the middle of a custody battle with the mother of the younger child. (Man, kids this young, and TWO ex-wives already! He’s not exactly a good catch for wife #3, whoever she turns out to be!) I’m guessing that ex-wife #2 is telling the court that he doesn’t really have the resources or flexibility to have part or full custody, and he’s trying to prove her wrong. (From what you are saying, she is right on the money on this one.)

    Second, you think he can afford a nanny but you’re probably wrong. At least he thinks he can’t, because if he could he’d hire one. Regular daycare probably won’t satisfy the court, or that’s what he fears. (“My ex-husband says he can care for the kids, but what really happens is that he drops them off at daycare at 6 am and doesn’t see them again until 7 pm.”) Lots of people pretend to have more money than they really have, and I’m pretty sure this boss is one of them. This whole thing strikes me as an “on the cheap” solution. (Even if he lives fancy, he may have big debts you don’t know about.) Remember, two ex-wives.

    So this guy is between a rock and a hard place. He doesn’t have an out which is acceptable to him. He wants to keep his kids but in fact he does not have the resources to care for them properly all by himself. Nothing on earth will induce him to admit this. And he can’t keep a marriage together, which suggests that he has personality problems. (Actually we’ve already noticed this.) He may be inclined to shove his responsibilities off on other people, like, whoever is currently married to him. Also the people who work for him.

    He knows perfectly well that his current arrangement doesn’t work. Remember, he works in that office too. So pointing this out to him is probably dangerous as well as pointless. The interests he thinks he is serving are more important to him than his employees; he’d gladly fire the lot of you before he’d admit that he can’t care for his children properly.

    Your best strategy, if I’m right about all this, is to use whatever strategies (rescheduling, headphones, whatever) enable you to do the work as well as possible, and double down on that job search.

    1. “Second, you think he can afford a nanny but you’re probably wrong.”

      I mean it may or may not be applicable here, but as a childcare provider? Not a fan of our labour being devalued or cheap or whatever.

      1. Boss may be unable to afford a nanny, but he may also be (a) cheap, (b) oblivious to what childcare means, and/or (c) making a case for how many hours he “spends” with the kids.

        No matter what the root cause is, the lack of good judgement Boss displays is going to affect the workplace in other ways, and LW really should polish the resume and get out of there. And yeah, companies with real HR offices are usually better (I say usually not always).

      2. I think this might be a misreading of the comment. I was a nanny and I made 10$ an hour 10 years ago. That was about 400$ a week, 1200.00 a month. While this *may* be affordable for many, many nannies can and do charge twice that (and are worth it). I’ve seen salaries in the high five figures in major metropolitan areas. So, depending on his expenses, he may or may not have 1200-2400 dollars a month.
        So I think what Barlow Girl is saying is that “while many people think of a nanny or child care provider in terms of a babysitter who you chuck two 20 dollar bills at at the end of the night, nannies are not that. They are VERY expensive.”

        1. So I think what Barlow Girl is saying is that “while many people think of a nanny or child care provider in terms of a babysitter who you chuck two 20 dollar bills at at the end of the night, nannies are not that. They are VERY expensive.”

          Indeed. I’m not down for people being like “you obviously can afford a nanny BECAUSE they’re so cheap”. I don’t particularly care about the boss’ financial situation so much as the idea that a nanny is a cheap solution.

        2. Yeah, my closest friend has been a nanny for years and she makes more than I do at my office job. Though I wonder if Boss could hire a babysitter?

          Seasoned nannies are pricy, but there may be local teenagers looking for summer work that could handle taking care of a 4 and 8 year old.

          1. I was thinking that as well, especially with that part about it being summer break. It may be that there would be a teen would would be quite happy to have a regular sitting gig. Also, if there were a babysitter hired, the babysitter could stay at Boss’s home with the kids “because then they’d have access to all their toys and games and I’m sure they’d like that better than being in an office with a bunch of boring adults who are working.” Even if Boss could get a sitter for one or two days, that could be a help, especially if LW could arrange to work from home on other days.

          2. I took the comments about the boss affording a nanny as, “boss can afford it because he’s the boss and seems to have plenty of money.”

    2. Oh, you’re so much nicer than I am. My very cynical and probably unfair guess is that he’s trying to get enough custody to significantly cut his child support obligations and the kids’ Mom, like any other woman who is a single parent, has child-care arrangements so he’s trying to one-up her in court by NOT having the kids in childcare. Sadly, this has a fair chance of working.

      Either that or summer is his custody time and he didn’t bother to make suitable camp and daycare arrangements, expecting Mom to rearrange her life to make it work, and she called him on it.

      And I’m gonna shut myself up now because how this mess got dealt is largely outside the parameters here.

      1. That’s what I guessed, or that he’s in some zero-sum peeing contest with the ex – he’d rather have them at his house in a situation where everyone involved is miserable (the kids, the employees) than let the wife have them even if she has a more suitable child care set-up.

      2. Yeah, that would be my read too. I worked for a group of attorneys including some who handled family and custody law and it was uh-mazing how many dads (sorry, if it was ever a mother I would have said parents but I never saw it) had zero interest in parenting their children until they got divorced, then they were champing at the bit to have as much custody as they could. Usually it was more about punishing the ex/not paying child support than actually wanting to parent their kids.

        Often this meant the kids got pizza and a babysitter on their nights at Dad’s or got foisted off onto the grandparents. Or, you know, taken to work every day.

        1. My best story like that is the client who only wanted custody so he could avoid prison time.
          I don’t think it worked – but I left that firm before the case was resolved.
          I did feel really sorry for the kid, though.

          1. That was a rather bizarre theory on the client’s part… people with kids get sent to prison every damn day.

        2. I knew someone who discovered that on “his” weekends her ex was picking up their child, driving him across town, and leaving him with my friend’s parents until Sunday night, and then pick him up from Gramma’s and taking him back to my friend’s house. My friend asked her lawyer if she should tell her mother not to accept the child, and her lawyer smiled showing all three rows of teeth and said “Oh, this’ll all come out when we go to court. Don’t even let on that you know.”

          1. Wait, the ex-husband was taking the kids to the ex-wife’s parents’ house and he thought she didn’t know? What a maroon.

        3. I’ve personally observed that the stereotype about women wanting kids and men not is not true, or at least that it’s more complex. On average, I’d say men actually want kids more – it’s just that more of them tend to be like, “Oh, kids, sure, that’d be nice,” where women are often more all-or-nothing. And even the men who passionately want to be dads sometimes have an undercurrent of thinking they’re there to be backup for the kids’ mom. Fatherhood is perceived to be modular – something you can graft onto your existing life without changing the underlying structure. Motherhood is total identity overhaul.

          1. This so much. Men get to treat kids as an accessory. They want to “be fathers” kind of like some people want to “be writers” – be known for having a kid/writing a book, but not actually do any parenting/writing.

            Women have to do a LOT more work and must, necessarily, treat the decision with more importance. Even the most egalitarian and loving of fathers still gets that male privilege.

          2. I will preface this by saying that I definitely have a lot of bias given my work history, but I’ve found that most of the fathers we worked with liked the idea of being a father, but in their mind parenting was 20 minutes of playing baseball in the backyard with Junior, and the kids just magically disappeared the rest of the time.

            Most of them had really very little idea of what parenting actually is and that it’s an all-consuming job and that kids don’t just turn themselves off when you’re done playing with them. Being solely responsible for their children for the first time ever was a rude awakening.

          3. ^^ THIS. I’m a woman and I don’t want kids for precisely this reason – because I KNOW what motherhood is like. And I know I can’t do it.

          4. I think you’ve just nailed how I think my partner feels about kids. I’ve never been particularly interested in them myself, and he knew that –
            he wasn’t 100% sure he wanted them either, but he always assumed he would have kids until I said ‘well, what if we don’t’.

            And I’ve said before that I think we’re both too lazy to have kids anyway (which I still believe). Or at least to do a good job of parenting.

            But THIS comment I think is perfect for how the parenting would have played out, given the dynamic I observed in his family home, when there were still teen kids living there. I’m so glad I’ve avoided that (permanently and deliberately surgically avoided). And now I feel like I better understand why.

        4. That’s similar to my male coworker’s attitude towards his kids. Before the wife left him, very much a Kodak dad. After that, he’s now trying so hard to be father of the year. He conspicuously uses his sick time to call in whenever any of the kids are sick, even if it’s minor. It’s quite the act and for two purposes – to avoid paying child support and to show that he’s a better parent than their homewrecking, cheating mother. She was the one who worked part time to not have to pay for daycare and was the active, involved parent for most of their lives, not him.

    3. I was starting to think this myself though there’s always the possibility the situation is radically different (ie, mom has an out of control substance problem, or any number of other toxic things) but ultimately it doesn’t really matter for the LW. I agree we can’t assume about boss’s financial situation. We DO know a good boss would communicate about any thing that could significantly impact the work place and give at least a timeline on what to expect and how to work with the inconvienence – so LW is right to work on an exit plan if they can’t safely ask these sorts of things.

  18. This depends VERY MUCH on how small your area of business is and how much you will be relying on this particular firm / boss for references, but if there’s anything approaching an exit-interview then I would take the Captain’s:

    ““I learned so much during my time there, but as I explore this career more I want to find exactly the right environment and fit.””

    and, IF SAFE, tack on a not-so-obvious variation of “…and an environment with shouty kids is not it.”.

    I do feel for the boss; arranging childcare of any sort is inevitably expensive and time-consuming and head-space-consuming, but presumably if he has custody issues then he also want – NEEDS – his company to be a success, and if multiple staff are flagging this up as an unpleasant workspace, and at least one is wanting to leave, then it needs to be kept in his attention and he needs a different approach.

    In the meanwhile, LW, yup, keep building that lifeboat.

    1. It would be better not to mention the kids in any way during anything resembling an exit interview. LW is still going to need references from this workplace. The kids do not exist among reasons of the LW’s leaving the job. It is all about better fit, new opportunities, expanding personal skill set, room for upward promotion or lateral focus-change in work.

      Snark at work is a terrible idea.

      1. I want to signal boost this. As tempting as it is to go full nuclear when you leave a job, just…don’t. Even if you don’t plan to use a reference from that place, if it’s on your resume there’s a larger-than-zero chance that a hiring manager will call that workplace.

        I just left a job that I would dearly have loved to have roasted on my way out the door, but I declined the exit interview, had a VERY diplomatic meeting with the new manager, gritted my teeth and smiled at Awful Manager Who Made Everyone Quit for my last two weeks, and left on good terms.

        1. if it’s on your resume there’s a larger-than-zero chance that a hiring manager will call that workplace

          That is a really important point. Employers are allowed to call whoever they want for references, they’re not restricted to only calling contacts you give them. It’s also not unusual for people to use backchannels and friends of friends to get a feel for a candidate’s reputation.

          Personally I’m more than a little skeptical about exit interviews because the company would have fixed things while you were still there (or at least started fixing them) if it had any intention of doing so. There’s an argument to be made for executives not realizing a problem is really that bad until people start quitting over it, but you know, you’re allowed to fix problems even if they don’t drive people to quit.

          In this particular case I have pretty strong doubts any good can come of telling boss something he already knows in an exit interview. The tiny chance it’ll help just doesn’t seem to balance the risk of damaging LW’s reputation.

        2. Not to negate your experience, but to provide another:

          At Old job things were great, until we got moved under a new Director. My workload increased sixfold. Most people’s doubled. I went to my managers numerous times, and they were great about trying to find ways to help. Everything they suggested got nixed by the Director before it could be implemented, or worse, after a few days of the change. There was never a reason provided. Trust and employee morale were dropping hard. When I put in my two weeks, the Director promised me my Dream Position if I’d stay. I asked for it in writing, and it turned into “same title, same pay, but you’ll be doing different work, we swear!”

          At my exit interview (which was with a HR rep from another branch of the company. I specifically called out those things I mentioned above, and several more. Within a couple of months of my leaving the Director was fired for “diminishing employee trust” and for having been the cause of the loss of good employees. Plural.

          While I don’t take credit, I feel like my exit interview may have opened an investigation that severely needed to happen.

          1. In my case we’d had four employees (in a very small department) leave within 2 years and all had cited Terrible Manager as 99% of the reason they were leaving. I figured that a fifth exit interview wouldn’t make a difference, since it was common knowledge that Terrible UberManager had read all the exit interviews and dismissed them because she and Terrible Manager were friends.

            I did have somewhat of an exit interview with New UberManager (Terrible Manager didn’t get the promotion she was gunning for because people were finally starting to realize that she was the problem) and gave her the information I felt would be useful for her to have, but I didn’t feel like the formal exit interview was worth my time. I’d been there for five years; the problems had been the same for five years and at any point Terrible UberManager could have met with me but chose not to.

            So, I guess, YMMV when it comes to that sort of thing. With the department reshuffling I do think some of the issues are going to be addressed, but it happened to late for me. I’d already gotten another job offer.

        3. Depends on the size of the company, I think. I had a very good and satisfying exit interview when I left my last job (a large national company) where I answered all the questions about the senior management of my directorate diplomatically and honestly and had the pleasure of seeing the HR adviser’s eyebrows disappearing into his hairline as he filled the margins of the form because the boxes weren’t big enough. I had nothing but good things to say about my direct line manager though, and she’s my actual reference.

          1. The larger the company, the more likely it is there are rules and penalties for messing with them. There’s also costs for training employees visible on a spreadsheet, as well as a money loss for driving them away.

            WIth a smaller place, especially in a smaller town or profession, there are less rules and far more egos swinging around like a crane out of control.

      2. Ah, crossed US/UK signals here – as Mary points out down-thread, here in the UK a prospective employer cannot contact a past place without permission. And even then, every form I’ve ever filled in says ‘References Here’ and then ALSO ‘Can we contact these people in the case of a serious offer Y/N?’ i.e. even when you’ve written down your references they still need your say-so to actually contact them, and then only if they’re already genuinely about to offer you the place.

        The thought of some new place being able to willy-nilly contact anyone I’ve ever worked for makes me break out in a cold sweat!

        1. In the US, it is legal for a hiring manager or HR rep to call anyone about you. If they reach out to HR at a former company, they are likely to only get confirmation that you worked there and y/n on your eligibility for rehire. But that has more to do with liability concerns than legality. And a random contact may say good or bad things, again mainly limited by their concerns about liability and the policy of the company (IF they are still working at the company where you worked together.) That’s why you see so much advice about curating your online presence before job searching.

  19. Am I the only one here who is evily laughing at the thought of his ex realizing that kind of neglegt and winning the custody battle?

    1. For the sake of the kid, I hope she gets full custody (she can’t be worse than Mr. Neglect, right? Right?), but mostly I just feel sorry for the poor kiddos and employees 😦

  20. LW, is there any way you can get paid for the time you’re losing to the kids?

    I confess to never having done that sort of work, so I don’t know how the billing works, whether you’re on salary and the company bills for you or what, but when this happened to me, back in the day – ALSO a custody battle issue, come to think, and while I was dispatching, so there were some raised eyebrows about the crying coming over the radio, but at least it was an infant, so portable – I did at least have the consolation of knowing that my hourly wage wasn’t bad pay for babysitting.

    I mean, this isn’t any kind of solution, because this is not work you enjoy, but if you’re babysitting for your boss, that’s work and he’s supposed to pay you your hourly rate for it.

  21. Ugh. I completely understand how distracting and infuriating this is, LW. I used to be an assistant/receptionist for an acting studio. My boss already had issues with forced teaming and asking me to do tasks that were well outside my job description and pay grade, but then he and his wife would bring their two young daughters and wholeheartedly expect me to babysit them. I like kids, but entertaining two of them while doing all my other work was ridiculous, and I knew if I complained it would either make the work environment super hostile or I’d lose my job. Some good things came out of that job experience, but needless to say, I don’t miss the place or those people. Good luck! I hope The Captain’s advice helps (All the suggestions were spot-on). 🙂

  22. Hey Cap, I feel like you link to Ask a Manger a lot – are you in contact with Allison? I feel like she may have some super good advice on this subject!

    1. I mean, your advice is great, of course :), didn’t mean to imply otherwise. Allison just sometimes has legal-ish advice that can assist in these crazy situations. Plus this person is totally a contender for her “worst bosses of year” column.

      1. Oh the worst boss of the year (2017) goes to the boss that was harassing her prettier employee to the point that they need to involve a lawyer. This guy is bad but not nearly as bad as that boss

    2. Alison and I know how to put up the respective “Manager” + “Awkward” signals and she’s neat. I don’t automatically link to her on every work post because our audiences overlap a lot and people know, and she’s got her own inbox so I don’t Tom Sawyer her into answering mine. Does that answer your question?

      1. Perfect sense! The company is too small to require an HR dept. and she usually defers to lawyers on legal stuff anyway. I feel like she would suggest something like earlier in the thread about documenting conversations anyway.

    3. I’m sure this is in no way constructive, but this is the second time this thread with “Manger” instead of “Manager”, and I’m just imagining what that would be like.

      “Had any divine babies recently?” “No, just horse feed.”

  23. HI LW! There’s a kid running around my office as I type so BOY do I feel your pain! He often bounces a basketball down the hallway. I’m in customer service, so on the phones…you can guess how much I appreciate basketball bouncing outside my door.
    I think the Captain’s advice is spot on and I have nothing to add except – Jedi Hugs if you want them!

  24. This guy really ticks me off. It’s unfair to the employees, it’s unfair to his kids (“here, deal with this terrible and boring summer situation so I can look like a good father”), and there’s probably a local teen or seven who have started getting bored with their unstructured summer and would love $9/hour for a couple of afternoons a week to keep some kids entertained on the premises.

    And for what? I highly doubt a judge will find his (lack of) day care arrangements a compelling argument for custody.

  25. If you do approach the boss, keep the comments to “X is what’s happening when the kids are here and Y is how it’s affecting my ability to get work done.” At the end of the day, the boss has a company to run and the more he hears from people about how actual work and clients and billable things are being negatively impacted, the more it might help.

    I say “might” because I also second the advice to look for a new job. It sounds like this is not a situation that will change.

    I’m so sorry, LW. It sucks to have to look for a new job for reasons that are totally not your fault.

  26. Is bringing your kids to work an American thing? In our part of Europe it never happens, no matter the size of the company. The only time we have kids in the office is when Santa visits and they’re invited. Otherwise bringing your kids to work is something that doesn’t happen. If childcare arrangements fell apart you would ask to work from home or call in sick, but never ever come to work with your child.

    1. Seconded. I don’t think it’s legal, bringing your kids to work in Germany. Either you watch your kids (and can’t work), or you work (and can’t watch your kids).
      We do have (marginally) more affordable childcare, though (I think at least?),.. and paid maternity/paternity leave, “Elterngeld” which is 60 % of your income for 14 months while you are home with your child…

      1. I’ve been to my parents workplaces a couple of times in Germany, so I really don’t think it’s illegal, but it’d definitely not a “thing”. I was older and able to sit at a desk and color or find a corner to read a book or sth like that, and it was only for like a day in 2 years, but it did happen.

    2. Idk if it’s uniquely American, but childcare here can be prohibitively expensive or just hard to come by. Obviously this isn’t the case for the boss, but I’ve also had coworkers bring kids to previous workplaces because we didn’t get paid sick leave and they couldn’t afford taking a day off.

      1. My former boss brought her toddler into work when he was too sick for daycare but she didn’t want to stay home (we had a generous sick leave policy/work from home policy; staying home was definitely an option!) more than once and he got other people sick. I am never around small children and my immune system legit cannot handle them. Every time I’ve been in close proximity to a toddler in the last 7ish years I’ve gotten some kind of nasty sinus infection.

        1. Yikes, that’s the absolute worst :/ I’ve fortunately only experienced people bringing kids to work because of school holidays and stuff rather than sickness.

          But I feel you on the toddler/immune system clash. I worked at a family-oriented photography studio during college and people ALWAYS thought it was fine to bring sick kids to get their pictures taken. I can’t even count the amount of sinus/respiratory infections I had during my time there.

    3. I was thinking the same. I think a great difference is that bringing children to work (that is not equipped for childcare) is generally seen as neglectful by the courts.

      In all these years I have been working in several tiny little offices, I had to watch the boss’s kids only once. He was actually the one suffering from anxiety and stressed easily, so working with him was problematic at times. One day – on a Wednesday afternoon, traditionally slow – he found out that the court session he was attending as a lawyer would take all day. He barely got admission from the judge to take a break to pick up his kids from school, and had no time to get them home. But the office was within the constraints of time. The big difference is that he asked me what felt a thousand times if looking after his girls was okay and that he thanked me just as many times AND brought ice-cream afterwards. The girls were only mildly disruptive – I didn’t get much done that afternoon because of their constant questions, but they quietly did their homework and didn’t shout or run.

      My sympathies. Even a fraction of what the LW endured was enough to keep me from work, and if the children hadn’t been well-behaved or I had to do that all the time, I would have been a wholly unproductive wreck as well.

    4. if only that were true and not bringing your kids to work (outside of a work based day care) isnt really a thing here unless you are OWN the company or are high enough of a person in the company that you can get away with doing whatever you like and that is unfortunately true about so many things in regards to work and life in the states

    5. I think it very much depends on the individual company, the kind of work you’re doing, and your boss and co-workers. My Mum didn’t bring me to work when I was little and needed looking after, and I never spent a whole day there, but I’ve visited her plenty of times from the age of twelve or so – I’d mostly sit in her office with a book, and nobody cared.

    6. It really does depend on the organization.

      My workplace, a call center, is a secure facility- exceptions have been made for employees to bring in their infant for a half hour to show off the new baby to coworkers, but otherwise I’ve never seen a child in the building and never will.

      On the other hand, my father’s office with our state’s transportation department never minded if my brother and I stopped in near the end of the work day so Dad could give us a ride home. (His work was a reasonable walk from shops we liked downtown and an easy drive home, whereas taking the bus home could take 3 hours if we didn’t time it right.)

      Of course, in both these cases the presence of the child is infrequent and designed for minimum impact on the work day. That’s not the case with what the boss here is doing and I cannot fathom how he justifies the impact on his business.

    7. It’s done pretty regularly in Australia, at least in the government, education and not for profit sectors. When I worked in a state government agency in Victoria, Australia, the standing order was that people who generally worked at home (of whom there were many – nature of the work allowed for this) were summoned in for an all-staff meeting or something, we were 100% allowed, nay, encouraged, to bring pre-mobile infants or older children who were old enough not to be disruptive with them, so we didn’t have to arrange ad hoc childcare. I have breastfed all three of my children (as little infants) through all-staff meetings! It was also routine in school holidays for people to pick up their kids from holiday programs (that usually finished around 3:30 – 4pm) and bring them back to the office for the last part of the day (usually the final hour). At times, we had up to 30 kids there at once, but it was only for an hour or so and no one was expected to watch anyone else’s kids, so that’s a key difference.

      When I worked at a university, kids coming to work with dad or mum was even more common, but it got so out of hand that the university ended up making a policy about it (which more or less said, “pre-mobile infants and school-aged children are OK if: a) for a limited period b) manager approves it and c) parent is 100% responsible for child at all times” but set some expectations around screamy toddlers etc). In the unit I was in, every single person had children aged between 4 and 14, and we saw all of them (mine included) on occasion. The key phrase there is “on occasion”. In my case, I had to bring my 4-year-old in for two hours or so on maybe 5 separate occasions over a 12-month period – on my usual work at home day when I had to come in for meetings, once when her kindergarten session was unexpectedly cancelled. I won’t claim she was entirely silent – she was not – but she did not leave my sight while on the premises and any disruption to work was mine to deal with. (My older two children only came in once, and that was on “bring your kids to work day”, when they were explicitly invited!)

      1. I work in a government department in Australia and it’s definitely not common in my office. Some people work from home with their kids around and you might hear them in the background on phone calls, but that’s all.

      2. My sibling and I went into Dad’s work after school, generally when we had non-school sports, which it was Dad’s job to ensure that we got to and were in a condition to be at said sports practices and/or games. Like your examples, we were generally happy to do homework or otherwise amuse ourselves quietly while work was done in a normal fashion (Dad had zillions of printouts destined for the bin that I could draw on the back of)

  27. Hello! I have lurked a long time but finally have a suggestion 🙂 the LW’s situation sounds awful and I am very sympathetic. I think that the Captain’s advice is spot on as always, as a consultant working on billable hours though may I add that the LW’s mileage may vary on the following point:

    “Consulting works on billable hours. Are you billable, by chance? Are these distractions and lost days reducing the number of billable hours you work, or sending projects over budget? That would be interesting data. “I feel like the noise level is losing me about 3 hours of productive billable time/day. I really want to stay on top of my projects and billing, what do you suggest?””

    In my geography/industry, the owner’s response would likely be to “suggest” that the LW to make up those hours in LW’s own time, and this would be a not uncommon expectation in the local market.

    I am now thankfully senior enough to treat such a suggestion with the disdain It deserves but I think I read LW as fairly new to the industry and therefore less capital to push back. You know best, LW, how this will work out for you! 🙂

    1. Welcome! 🙂 I think it’s a good idea, but if the LW can’t push back, maybe they could tell their boss “Alright, that will be $$ per hour, shall I bill the company or the department?”, were $$ reflects the going rate for consultants in the area and industry.

  28. Who the fuck leaves a four-year-old somewhere and just assumes someone else will watch them while he’s gone?! An eight-year-old I would probably be okay leaving alone over a lunch hour (depending on the kid), but for fuck’s sake, at least tell people that’s what you’re doing! Either this guy is so certain of his power as the boss that he doesn’t even bother to make sure someone is there to watch his children, or else he’s so oblivious that it doesn’t even occur to him that they need supervision while he’s at lunch or in a meeting. Ugh.

    1. I know, right?! My niece is five and I wouldn’t look away from her either inside or outside the house. Bathroom breaks are the only exception.

    2. When my husband and I were on honeymoon, we were wandering along a mostly-deserted beach, not paying a huge amount of attention to anyone else around, when we realised that the toddler near us didn’t seem to have an adult in the vicinity. We looked around for one, and a minute later the child’s mother hurried back over the sand dunes carrying something (folding chairs, I think) and thanking us for having kept an eye out for her child. Apparently she’d had to get something from her car and had decided to just assume – WITHOUT saying anything to us – that we would keep an eye on her child for the few minutes it took her to get to the car park and back.

      On a beach. As in, seconds away from a huge and moving body of water that the child could have strayed into. With literally zero knowledge of who we were, whether we were actually paedophiles or kidnappers or what.

      Luckily nothing bad happened, but it was one of those situations that reaches such levels of ‘WTF’ that you look back and think ‘Did that actually even *happen* or did we just imagine it?’

      1. Last month I was at a show featuring historical re-enactors, including a guy who put on a fantastic demonstration as a Mongolian horse archer. Arrows, swords, throwing axes, big whip. On a horse. “Move the babies back please! Two metres please!” he said before starting, on seeing a bunch of small kids right up against the fence. Did the parents step up and move the kids? Fuck no. HELLOOOOO.

      2. I can maybe understand why she’d assume both members of a couple wouldn’t be child molesters or kidnappers. It’s the “without saying anything to us” that boggles my mind. As if you’d automatically realize that you were supposed to be looking out for her before she made a beeline for that huge and moving body of water.

      3. This is actually a huge liability for you! A few years ago I reviewed a case in which a man successfully sued a neighbor after his toddler wandered into a stream and drowned.

        This “parent” had a habit of letting his toddler roam unsupervised in their development, which backed up onto an unfenced stream. The neighbor had once or twice seen the toddler wandering and returned the toddler to the parent, so according to the lawsuit she’d assumed a duty of care to the child despite never having agreed to take responsibility (she really didn’t know the neighbor at all and never babysat or anything like that – she just happened to live next door) and he was suing her for negligence after his child’s death.

        He actually WON THE LAWSUIT. It was overturned on appeal later, but (at least the U.S., where I live), an action like the woman mentioned above can be considered to be you having assumed a duty of care for a child and a subsequent injury could (legally, not logically!) be considered negligence on your part. (This is kind of how people who own pools end up getting sued for children who trespass on their property and drown in their pools despite not being the pool-owner’s child.)

  29. Just chiming in to reinforce that yes you’re right, your boss is being a jerk.
    One of the managers at my work sometimes brings in his kid. The difference between him and your boss is that he is 100% aware that she is his child and therefore his responsibility, and definitely not something the office at large has signed up to deal with. She stays in his office. He makes sure she has quiet activities to keep her *quietly* amused. He spends lunch hour with her, and he never expects her to be anyone else’s responsibility but his.
    Your boss *could* do all these things, but he’s chosen to act like an ignorant jerk instead.
    I wish you all the best of luck with your new job somewhere that is else, and send you jedi hugs if you would like them.

  30. Oh man, that sounds awful. I’m sorry your boss is an insensitive jerk.

    My dad used to take me to his work too when I stayed with him, but I was a little older (13-14) and so could be left to my own devices in an empty office with a computer. I was also old enough to understand and comply if a worker asked me to lower the noise level.

  31. Not directly relevant to the LW, but may be in other workplaces: there is always the small possibility that an employee has actual prohibitions against being around children, but has kept that quiet because they did not have any legal obligation to disclose, they did not think it would ever come up as an issue at work and did not want to make trouble for themselves unnecessarily. In these situations it’s often more about perception than actual risk, but blood runs hot and things can get extremely nasty – I’m thinking of something like a historic statutory rape conviction where the parties were close in age but it got prosecuted anyway, and the person is on some sort of sex offenders register as a result. They are not a danger to anyone’s children, but people won’t always make that distinction.

  32. My first thought was hire a babysitter and bring the babysitter to work with you, and then invoice the boss for the babysitter’s bill. Copy all the co-workers who have complained about the kids being in the office.

    However, I think the Captain’s advice is probably better. Less satisfying in the moment, perhaps, but better.

  33. I used to do a lot of babysitting. These kids are getting shoddy babysitting, even when the office completely full of adults, because the adults are actively trying to ignore them.

    EITHER you babysit, OR you do the job for which you were hired. You can’t do both effectively, and if word of this gets to his wife’s lawyers, he’s more likely to lose custody of the kids.

    Just sayin’.

    If he ever does actually come out and ask you to babysit, then make it clear that is ALL you are doing. Sit on the floor with the kids and play with them. Focus on them, exclusively. If anyone asks you for anything work-related, say, “I’m sorry. I’m off-duty for all company business, at this time. The boss asked me to babysit, instead.”

    Be the best baby-sitter in the world! And make sure he’s paying you accordingly – which may very well mean paying you MORE than you make per hour in your regular work. Seriously, good babysitters can really rake in the dough from desperate parents. Research babysitting rates in your area, especially with higher-rated, adult sitters, rather than with teen sitters.

    BUT, you can only do this if your boss has actually, out loud, said the words that he expects you to babysit.

    1. ‘If he ever does actually come out and ask you to babysit, then make it clear that is ALL you are doing.’

      ‘And make sure he’s paying you accordingly – which may very well mean paying you MORE than you make per hour in your regular work.’

      ‘BUT, you can only do this if your boss has actually, out loud, said the words that he expects you to babysit.’

      Great points, and would probably be ideally done by a conversation to happen along these lines:

      Boss: I’m just off to lunch. Keep an eye out for my kids.

      LW (in same polite and friendly tone that would be appropriate for any discussion of work arrangement): You want me to leave what I’m doing for now and take care of your kids instead?

      Boss: Sure – just until I get back from lunch.

      LW (still in same polite and friendly tone): OK, just to clarify; the rate for that is (gives rate) (pulls out already-researched list of babysitting rates in area) which is __ per hour more than my usual job. The job I’m working on currently is [project] so that will be delayed by an hour or so while you do this. OK?

      Boss: Wait… no!

      LW: Sorry, it won’t be possible, then. I’ll leave you to make whatever other arrangements you need to.

      (Only to be tried if a) the LW thinks it won’t backfire on her, which I realise is iffy, and b) the LW is actually OK with a possible outcome of needing to follow through on this and spend that hour babysitting at proper babysitting rates. Pretty big ‘if’s. But I had fun imagining it.)

      By the way, this is pretty much the same strategy I’ve used in the past when reception staff would put extra patients on the end of my list when I was doing GP locum work; I’d send them a message saying ‘Noticed you put X numbers of extra patients on the list and just wanted to check you know it’s [amount] extra per patient so that you can clear it with the practice manager. Let me know whether that’s OK.’ Interestingly, although the amount I charged per extra patient was actually trivial, the extra patients would normally disappear from the list at that point; I think it was just that reception staff had often not realised that you simply can’t throw in extras willy-nilly and expect them to be covered under the original fee, and, once it was pointed out to them in professional terms that this thing they were doing was actually extra work which would be charged for, they thought twice about it.

      1. Man, if I still worked with GP locums I’d be ALL OVER telling them to do that! Hats off!

  34. Just picking up on Captain’s point about it only being a ‘crèche’ for the boss’s kids. This is a fantastic opportunity for work-based childcare if he’s open to it. Perhaps some of the employees with children could put forward a proposal where all their kids would be safe, well taken care of and had fun while their parents got on with work. They’d need to sell it to him on the grounds that not only would his boys benefit from having a child-friendly play zone, but they’d also have the opportunity to socialise with other children. Heaven knows the current arrangement must leave them bored to tears. There aren’t many fun activities for you in an office when you are 8 or 4 years old. They will understandably be bored (and probably tired) and when children are bored and tired, they are usually cranky and challenging. This is especially true when you are only 4 years old, you’ve only recently stopped needing an afternoon nap, and there’s nothing for you to do all afternoon but bicker with your brother. It’s no a surprise that LW struggles to get any work done.

    Potential rough script for employees with children: They could say (if they have the kind of relationship with him that would allow it), “Look, we know things are difficult for you at the moment, but what we do best here is work as a team. Can we work as a team on this too? If we pool our resources, it will be a win/win situation. Our children will be in a safe, friendly environment, with fun and appropriate activities (and snacks!). We (yourself included) will worry less knowing they are well taken care of, and in conjunction with the quieter work environment [because the children will be elsewhere in the building], we will all be much more productive. What do you say?” The worst he can say is no.

    But if he has any sense, he won’t. The judge in the custody hearing might feel (and I would probably agree) that an office with all it’s potential hazards is not an appropriate place for unsupervised children**. I was thinking of fizzy drinks near computers and curious little fingers becoming stuck in printers. Not only that, at the moment, LW’s boss isn’t even meeting his children’s most basic needs. An 8 year old needs supervision and a 4 year old needs care, which their father just doesn’t seem to understand. And it doesn’t count as ‘spending time with them’ if a) he’s working or b) he walks out and expects his employees to just take over his parental duties and obligations.

    Also, if he’s expecting the 8 year old to look after the 4 year old, then perhaps he shouldn’t be the main custodial parent. There, I said it. I don’t know about the US, but in the UK a child has to be 12 before they can be left alone. It doesn’t mean you are obliged to though because you know your own child. It doesn’t mean either that they are capable of being responsible for younger children. I’d leave my son alone for a few hours at a time from the age of 12 up to 14, gradually allowing him more freedom and responsibility. But even when he was 14, it wasn’t fair to saddle him with the responsibility of looking after his 11 year old sister, who could be very hard work. That was my job. But the LW’s boss’s children are 8 and 4, for crying out loud!!! The 8 year old is way too young to care for his younger sibling. He’s not even out of single figures himself!!

    However, if LW’s boss can demonstrate to the court that the needs of his children were being met with bells on, the judge would be more likely to rule in his favour. I initially wrote ‘ his behaviour’ – Freudian Slip or what? But I digress. What really matters though is he should be taking care of his children anyway as a matter of course. These are two little boys who are depending on him to do what is right and take care of them properly, not palm them off onto other people, with nothing to occupy them and lots of ways they could hurt themselves. They deserve so much better.

    As for LW, if she wanted to work in childcare, she would have trained as a nursery nurse. It doesn’t say anywhere in her job description that she would be expected to (simultaneously and in addition to her actual job) act as unpaid babysitter to her boss’s children. *Drops mic*

    **’As a hilarious friend (who is both a manager and a parent of a small child) noted: “100% this dude thinks the answer to the question “Hey, who is going to watch them while you’re out of the office?” is “Oh, they will take care of themselves.” He will believe this, he won’t even think he is lying or trying to sneak something over on the staff.”

    Narrator: “They will not, in fact, take care of themselves.”’ Indeed.

  35. I hope this isn’t hijacking this thread, but along the same lines, I have been hired twice for administrative work in tiny offices, and then found out after hiring I was also expected to clean the place. The first time, the other worker and I politely demurred when the owner/boss pointed out it was really easy to just clean the toilets once in awhile. NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS would he have asked a man to do that.

    The second time was a part time job I really wanted in a doctor’s office and so I did the light cleaning twice a week, since all of his other office managers had also done it previously.

    I’m retired now, but honestly, it takes an entire lifetime to figure everything out, doesn’t it?

  36. If you really really really want to go full nuclear, call CPS over the next time he leaves the kids unsupervised again. (Only do this if you can call CPS anonymously, which I believe you can’t, and even if you can it can backfire all on you and you alone, that’s why I call it extreme-blaster-destructive-full-nucular option). He likely won’t lose custody in the end (male privilege+good attorney+”but the kids weren’t actually alone because my employees!”) Yet he’ll completely flip out that CPS got called on him during his custody battle, and a nanny/professional caretaker will be hired in no time.
    But again, only do this if you are 104% sure he can’t know YOU contacted CPS. It’s surely better to follow CA’s advice.

    1. Please don’t do this. CPS is not for being vindictive or for trying to get better working conditions. CPS is for legit actual abuse and neglect situations- which this isn’t. Boss is a shitty dad, no question (although having been a single parent, I can appreciate how difficult, expensive and just plain hard childcare can be, especially for short terms like summer or on a schedule that isn’t predictable), and he’s a terrible boss, but real neglect is so beyond this. It’s leaving kids alone at home for hours. It’s leaving kids in cars while the parents work, or dropping them off with relatives who then leave the kids alone. It’s not feeding the kids, or bathing them or clothing them appropriately. It’s not someone relying too hard on his office staff to keep an eye on what sound like healthy, otherwise cared for children.*

      CPS usually does not have enough resources to help all the kids who need them. Calling them because you’re annoyed at your boss keeps them from kids who really genuinely need help, whose problems can’t be solved by a bit of part time babysitting. Please don’t do this. Refuse to babysit, look for a new job, suggest actual childcare to boss- those are reasonable responses.

      *I didn’t get the sense from the letter that this wasn’t the case. If it isn’t- if the kids are dirty or unhealthy looking or don’t have shoes or something- my thoughts would be different.

      1. As an addendum (from a social worker perspective), calling CPS ≠ children are immediately seized forever. In most states, child services representatives are trained to ask specific questions that can help determine the extent of neglect or abuse, and (in my state, anyway) they will flat out tell you on the phone if what you’re calling about doesn’t merit an investigation. From LW’s limited description, it sounds like the children are getting their basic needs met (i.e. food, appropriate care in other regards), and being bored in an office, while not beneficial, doesn’t constitute neglect. TL;DR, she can call if she wants, but it’s not likely go anywhere, so she may as well look for another job instead.

      2. This. CPS is obligated to follow up on all reports, and they’re already understaffed. This would be taking time away from kids in situations that NEED to be investigated, and potentially a traumatic experience for the children. This is the equivalent of calling 911 because your neighbor’s dogs are noisy. Don’t do it.

    2. I really wouldn’t recommend that, nuclear option or not. I don’t know how CPS work in the US, but I can imagine that they are likely to call the police to pick the children up (that’s how it’s done here at least), which can be potentially traumatising for the kids and, frankly, given how trigger-happy police in the US are, potentially life-threatening for any non-white person in the building, including the children.

      Calling CPS could likely also involve opening an investigation on the company as well. It’s one hell of an escalation.

    3. But he will certainly know that *someone* in the office called CPS, and will likely retaliate against the LW or their coworkers. The LW must be prepared for this if they take this route.

      1. Calling CPS, even anonymously, is more hassle than the LW needs. It diverts resources from kids who really do need help, it brings the legal system more into kids lives (a dubious benefit). As are grandiose solutions like “get him to set up a day care in the office.” Disengage!

    4. Please do not call CPS. There is 0% assurance that children will survive being taken by the state – in VT numerous young have DIED after DCFS took them. No matter how much you hate the work situation, this is NOT at the level where a risk of being killed by the state is better than the risk of staying with the parent.

  37. LW, I’m going to basically boil the Captain’s advice down to “look for a new job”. Seriously. I have been in jobs where the environment and culture didn’t work for me (funnily enough noise featured highly there too) and it turns out getting a new job was like this huge weight lifting from my shoulders. I left that job because of a whole bunch of stuff but the fact that my new team values quiet and concentration is *wonderful*. It’s easy to think of looking for culture fit as some kind of HR BS but it’s a real thing and seeking it out is a good idea for employees as well as employers.

    Also, I would tread really carefully around criticising a parent who also owns the company you work for. Personally I think it’s better to quietly dodge baby sitting, quietly look for work, and then when you find it, politely give your notice and enjoy never having to think about it again.

  38. LW I’m so sorry your boss is putting you in such a horrible position.

    I would definitely look into the legal side of being made responsible in any way for the wellbeing of these children, for your own protection.

    Most offices are not child-friendly spaces and sometimes kids start playing with equipment that’s not intended for their use.

    It may be worthwhile also looking at the workplace health & safety policy of your workplace. And at what requirements are necessary to be a childcare provider if you aren’t a family member.

    This may assist you when you need to ask your boss to clarify any instructions or when he leaves the building.

    And I totally agree with the advice to seek another job.
    This sounds awful and so stressful for you. Hugs if you want them!

    P.S. I once was in a relationship with a man whose ex wife advised him he’d have full custody of their 11 year old son for 6 weeks with lots of notice so he could make some suitable arrangements. Readers, he expected me to care for his son although I had non-child-friendly work hours and a job with zero paid leave. I refused to take on the childcare, we broke up, and he took his son in to work in an office environment every weekday for 6 weeks, missing school & playing computer games all day. I really felt for his son, it wasn’t his fault.

    1. The fuck is up with men who just hand off their kids to new partner/their mother/their ex-mother in law/their aunt/the mother of one of the kid’s friends? I can’t believe that still goes on. You’d think loving fathers who don’t have day to day custody of their kids would be super organised and stoked to have their little babies all to themselves for six weeks.

      1. Right?? My partner has kids from past relationships, and if one is visiting, he will even make sure to ask if I can keep them company so he can take some time in the restroom or reply to a work email. And even then, if I am freaking out and just can’t, he’ll deal with it… Because they are *his* kids and he respects my desire to not be a parent and we have communicated about *all* of this in excruciating detail beforehand and continue to talk about it because obviously it is not a perfect situation in any way (like maybe I wouldn’t freak out if the exes honored the visitation agreement and we saw his kids more than once every few years? Who can say) but we *respect* each other enough to talk about this, and even though kids freak me out I want these tiny innocent people to have a good time with their wonderful dad whom they rarely see. And he wants to make the most of the few days he gets to see how his kids have grown since their last visit, so hell yes he is planning in advance to make the most of it!

        Long rambling agreement that the assumptions of some of these dudes are incomprehensible. Also proof that good communication can make even an occasionally awkward situation like ours liveable.

      2. Oh lord. Here’s one along those lines. My partner was on his way out when he got a phone call. I heard him say, “No, I can’t help you. I’m on my way out to an appointment.” Pause. “Um. Well. I…I’ll ask her.”

        He comes to me and says, “Please don’t think you have to do this, but…My friend SomeNerve is having back spasms and needs to go to the chiropractor. He doesn’t have anyone to watch LittleNerve. I told him I can’t, and he asked whether you could help him out.”

        I was kind of taken aback by that — I’ve never even MET SomeNerve — and it showed. “You really don’t have to do this. I can tell him ‘no’.”

        But having had back issues myself, I thought I’d be helpful.

        SomeNerve told my partner that it would only be a little over an hour or so. Besides which, LittleNerve was almost 10 and would be bringing a computer game so he’d practically watch himself! After all, it was only for an hour or so.

        LittleNerve told me he hadn’t eaten yet that day (it was almost 1 p.m.) so could I fix him something? And while he did spend some time on his game, he kept wanting to talk with me (he seemed lonely). I work at home, and had planned on DOING some work, but that kind of went out the window.

        Andddd……Four and a half HOURS after SomeNerve dropped off the boy he finally came back for him. And honked the car horn when he arrived. I could understand not wanting to get in and out of the car with a backache, but I was pretty pissed off by then. During those four and a half hours he’d never called to say “I’m running late” or “the doctor had a full office and I’m still waiting, so sorry.”

        Did he call to say “thanks” later, or send a note? He did not.

        At that moment I vowed that if he ever asked again, my partner would be instructed to tell him, “She’s free today, yes. Her usual child care rate is $12 per hour.”

    2. Missing school? As in, the kid could have been at school but the father couldn’t be bothered to drop him off and pick him up? That is really something.

      1. Yes, missing school during the school term without a suitable replacement (he could have temporarily attended another school or completed distance education units if impossible to physically be at a school).

        The father’s workplace was about 45 minutes away from his son’s school & home. So he would have had to make an effort (shock! horror!) to make it work. Actually his ex wife offered for him to stay in her house while she was overseas for that 6 weeks so their son could go to school. But he wasn’t prepared to do that, and instead ‘hoped I would support him when he needed it.’

        1. Wow. Well I guess it’s nice when people let you know to stop dating them so clearly? Hope the kid’s mom never left him with dad again.

        2. Depending the rules of the school system that kid was in that dude might have caused his kid to fail a grade or be unable to sit exams. Can’t imagine his ex would be very pleased with that.

      2. For *six weeks*?! That is a LOT of school to miss.
        On a side note, a friend of mine broke up with a partner when she realized that if he asked her to marry him, get pregnant and have a child with him, she’d say no, it was too soon and she didn’t really want that anyway – but she was already the de facto stepmom of the kids he had from a previous marriage. And, sure enough, when she announced that she was leaving him (and moving three provinces away for a new job, thank goodness) he pulled the old “But what about THE KIDS, they’ll be crushed” routine. This relationship lasted eighteen months from beginning to end, by the by.

  39. I’m still roiling over boss going out to lunch and leaving his kids. When were they going to eat? Children’s behavior gets worse without food. Adding in the “where’s daddy” anxiety doesn’t make that better. And it sounds like lunch time might be the only time the kids might have dedicated time from him, too. Fie. Fie on him, I say.

    LW, if you’re ever with the kids or of earshot of dad, I’d casually ask them whether they’ve told their moms how much fun time they get to have at Daddy’s office. You don’t have to report Boss for him to be found out. Not with kids involved. They have their own brains and mouths that don’t stop.

    I volunteer with children. There is no way I would agree to be left alone with a child not related to me. Having two+ adults around protects us from any hint of wrongdoing.

    1. And in the same breath they’d tell that to their moms, they could tell them that it was the LW who asked. And that information could make its way over to Boss’ ears, which could mean that the LW gets fired before they can afford to leave the job or that they get a bad reference.

      Look, I get where you’re coming from, and I absolutely hate the situation the kids are in, but the LW has enough anxiety about this already. Let’s not put any more responsibility for this on their shoulders. They didn’t cause the situation, it’s not their fault the kids are left unattended, and it’s not their responsibility to ensure that Justice Is Done. I believe that disengaging, rather than getting more involved, is the better course of action here.

  40. Hey LW,

    there is so much good, kind, constructive advice here, I have nothing to add on that front.

    But I did want you to know you’re not the only person who gets an anxiety response around children. It makes me feel strange, inadequate, and like I’m not a good enough woman making woman enough choices. In my last (mostly male) office, people would bring their wives and kids in to see the office / meet coworkers / get lunch… Hoooooboy. Sounds so innocuous yet I’d have to either walk away (if I knew the dude had problems respecting boundaries), put big headphones on and listen to death metal and look busy, or get stuck in introductions that were no good for anyone. My face of panic has made babies and children cry, and that just adds to the complex feels.

    So yeah, you’re not the only one who has this struggle. I remember ever so well how it felt to have anxiety build up in slow layers over the course of a workday, almost imperceptible until the weight of those layers began to restrict my guts and suddenly my head is swimming and my stomach is churning and “did I eat something bad for lunch or does Bring Your Kid to Work Day really cause me this much stress??”

    Good luck in your job search. I’m between jobs right now, because in the end I was feeling that, asking myself that (replacing bring kid to work day with literally every other aspect of that toxic job) every day, and like you it hit me that I deserve better.

    1. Ha, I also never know what to say/do and am grateful that my co-workers haven’t asked me yet to hold one of the basies.

  41. This is just me latching on to the other commenters with the “legally speaking I can’t look after children” thing. But where I am from in order to be left alone to deal with children outside of your job description (unless you are the parent) you are legally required to have a special card not only that but you cannot be left alone with a kid without another adult In the room (who also needs a card fancy that).
    If there is something like this in your ‘country’ (state?) Can you use it to your advantage? If only to save yourself the distraction.

  42. The speculation about boss’s custody dispute and nanny troubles may be fun, but they are ultimately beside the point. Boss may or may not be a bad parent. But we know that he is definitely a bad boss for not managing the situation better, and that’s what LW asked about.

    1. Yes! The Letter Writer’s best strategy is to DISENGAGE as much as possible from thinking about or speculating about what’s going on with the kids, not get deeper involved!

    2. Yeah, it’s getting pretty nasty against dads too. I know some folks are not good dads, but it’s not every one, it’s not even most dads?

        1. Sorry my shoulders go up around my ears when I feel like I’m reading the alt-gender version of an MRA comments section XD

  43. What gets me is that he honestly thinks this is going to score him points in the custody battle for his younger kid. “Yeah, I drop them off with strangers whose job it ISN’T to watch them. Every afternoon. I’m a great dad!”

    I am, of course, going on the assumption that he hasn’t hired a pedophile, and at least in this small office he knows the staff, etc. But I promise you he’s also the guy who drops these kids off at the library, toy store, or bookstore for six hours while he runs errands, just assuming that the employees will A) watch them for free, B) notice before they are kidnapped/wander out the door, and C) does not pay for any damage wreaked by his offspring once he comes back for them.

  44. Something that might make thinking about getting a different job easier: Let’s pretend for a second that you liked kids and were considered great with them. Let’s further pretend that these 2 particular kids were especially easy, that like any kids they needed attention and supervision but that were otherwise pretty easy to supervise and keep entertained. And let’s say you were glad to put your regular work aside to step up and do what the boss obviously needs someone to do. You take care of the task at hand to take care of kids. In this play-pretend world, you do so because the job needs doing and someone needs to do it.

    What do you think the result would be in your boss’s eyes?

    Would it be a year-end evaluation or job-end recommendation that reads along the lines of: LW was terrific in stepping up to help to do anything in the office. She’s great at multi-tasking under difficult circumstances, and I admire her greatly for that.

    Or would it read more like: LW was hired to do xyz job and learn qrs skills. Unfortunately she did nothing but play around all day with kids, never got her work accomplished and really has no more job experience now than she did when she started.

    *I* think that childcare is difficult important work, but there’s this funny disconnect in the culture at large. It’s important to do, and you want people who do it well, but at the same time, no one wants to do it, if they like it, they’re not paid for it, and if they’re willing to do it, they’re somehow supposed to do it while doing something else.

    I read over the original letter and see so much self-blame in it, like it’s somehow your own fault you get anxious and nauseated and sick when you’re put in an untenable position. It’s like Single Dad gets the sympathy because if a father does anything for his kids, even the bare minimum that’s not abuse, that makes him a superhero, but when a woman doesn’t do everything for kids, even kids that aren’t hers, that makes her incompetent.

    1. This. So much this, all of it. I don’t want to assume the LW’s gender, but if they are read as a woman this very much applies.

      Letter Writer, it is *not* your fault that those kids are left unattended. It is *not* your job, either as an adult or as a professional, to take care of them. It is totally understandable that your anxiety is going through the roof because of this situation, but you didn’t cause it, and it’s not your duty to fix it.

      1. True, the LW only says that the employer is male, doesn’t say anything about whether the employees are. I remember an entry-level restaurant job. I was hired as a cook with the idea of working my way up to being a chef. As I later learned is the case in many restaurants, it’s easy to find chef helpers, much harder to find reliable dishwashers. In an effort to make a good impression and show my can-do attitude, I cheerfully helped with the dishwashing whenever that was needed. When it was time for raises and promotions, turns out management realized I was mostly a dishwasher and an overpaid one at that. I had little experience doing the actual cooking. No way I was going to be moved up sous chef. I thought I’d be valued for all my volunteer spirit, but I was the most expendable of the bunch and didn’t even have much on my resume for my next job. While I still believe some amount of sexism was involved, I also realize management wasn’t entirely wrong. I mean, they definitely weren’t fair, but they weren’t wrong either.

        1. Wow, this is a really eye-opening story. I also have the instinct to volunteer at work to show my team spirit, and this shows how it can backfire. I’m sorry that happened to you when you had such good intentions.

          1. Nothing wrong with volunteering. Just make sure you get credit for it. Appreciation from co-workers doesn’t count. It has to be credit from those in a position to do you good, the ones who can promote you or write your recommendation, give your evaluation, or give you a raise. A comparison I rather liked: You wouldn’t a hundred dollars cash in the breakroom where anyone could pick it up. Credit for work done is like cash. If it’s yours, you have to keep it in a safe place or anyone else could walk by, see it, and pocket it. If you don’t say *I* did the hard work and that was MY idea, then someone else will see the hard work and good idea lying around and just take it. You’ll look as ridiculous trying to back up and say “wait that was mine” with work or an idea as you would suddenly claiming the money in the breakroom. With my example with the dishwashing, I sort of demoted myself to dishwasher’s helper or substitute dishwasher. If I could do it all over again (and this was years and years ago), I might still help in an emergency, but I’d go to the kitchen manager, point out that there was an emergency, and make sure the manager and chef knew that I had a handle on everything going on in the kitchen, was capable, and maybe suggest that others take turns filling in to help with what was the kitchen manager’s staffing problem. Back to how I started: Nothing wrong with volunteering, but make sure you drop statements (not hints) promoting yourself whenever you do something within your stated work parameters and outside them. “Glad I could help today with Hummingbird’s project.” “Good thing I was able to finish up for Sprite.” “Do you want me to step in for Iridescent, or do you want that to wait for another time?”

          2. Even if the bosses notice and appreciate you helping out, bosses’ appreciation is not a good substitute for appropriate experience in the work for your chosen career path. “Notices problems and steps up to help out” is an add-on quality to demonstrate, over and above demonstrating skill at the actual tasks of your job, and plenty of bosses will be only too happy to have your helpfulness without giving any consideration to what that will do to your career. Even if you’re explicitly asked to help out, always ensure that you’re getting suitable career-relevant experience as well.

            I’m in academia, so I see versions of this far too often — postdocs essentially running the senior prof’s lab, but when hires are done, informal experience in mentoring students loses out to lead-author publications, or to bringing in a new expert while the junior person still stays junior. Women seem to be particularly vulnerable to buying into, or having expectations on them framed into, the myth that if you’re only helpful enough, and do whatever you’re asked to, someday the promotion will be yours. In practice there’s often some outside rising star that applies, and the right-hand person is told “we’re very sorry but of course you can see we had to hire X instead” while not having much in the way of options to go elsewhere. Gratitude is no substitute for leverage.

          3. @Clarry

            This is excellent advice. I think the problem I run into is that I apply principles of charity (such as, it’s best to do things for others in a quiet way that doesn’t make them feel too embarrassed about having been helped) to the professional world where you need to document your accomplishments in order to survive. I have to keep reminding myself that “Ahem, I am doing something that is not in my job description” is different from “Look everyone, I just gave money to this homeless person, I am truly a superior human being”

        2. I’ve heard stories about this sort of thing in various fields. Mostly women, mostly raised to be helpful, end up taking a disproportionate share of extra tasks that DON’T count toward raises/promotions/recognition. Doubly so when the extra tasks are in any way coded feminine, like washing up or what have you.

          The patriarchy IS out to get you.

          1. When I worked in an office, I deliberately forgot how to change paper or unjam a copier, and not being a coffee drinker I never learned how to make coffee.

          2. Yeah, in my workplace at the moment, if it’s not in my job description, it’s got to be worth it. If it’s in someone ELSE’S job description, I handball that task/email/query so fast, it gets whiplash on the way to the appropriate person. Who sometimes wants to tell me all about the problem, so.. that… I… can… fix… it? Yeahnah, I forwarded it because Not My Problem 😛

        3. Bringing this back to the LW:

          I’m not available for child care. That takes too much attention from the job I’m doing with clients.
          No, I couldn’t possibly watch your kids and meet the deadline for the finance report. It’s never been late since I started.
          I was hired to program these computers, and I believe you’ve noticed my excellent progress with that. The kids are getting in the way, and I don’t want my important work to flag.
          Sheesh those were some unpleasant customers, but I worked my magic on them, and they walked out of here satisfied and recommending the company. No way I can do that and mind children too.

          Maybe a way to sum up is: If you’re not actively promoting yourself, you’re putting yourself down. If you do need to state something as a putdown (can’t/won’t babysit), actively tie that in with singing your own praises.

  45. It depends on what exactly your company does, but it might be worth playing the Customer/Client Confidentiality Card*. Lots of measures that get you away from prying eyes and ears also get you away from annoying sights and sounds, and taking responsibility for security can be something else to highlight on your CV when you’re looking for that new job.

    You don’t need an office with a lockable door to keep the kids out, it’s because you have financial records stored in there and you never know who’s going to wander in!

    Those noise-cancelling headphones? They’re there to let you listen to your audio notes from confidential client meetings without worrying about being overheard.

    Possibly most importantly, that badge scanner and visitor log? They’re there to track who is in the building at any given time, and that has everything to do with fire safety and data protection, and nothing to do with documenting the times your boss signs his kids in then swipes himself out for lunch without them, only for them to try and build a fort out of fragile computer monitors. A visitor log is a wonderful thing, because you’ve got the whole length of an A4 piece of paper to fill with boxes like:

    Purpose of visit (clearly nothing business-related unless your boss is into child labour)
    Permitted visiting area (maybe not so useful in a company as small as yours)
    Responsible employee (a box explixcitly saying who’s in charge of a given visitor’s wellbeing and good behaviour)

    With the right set of required information, you can take all of those unspoken assumptions about who looks after the kids and make your boss put them down in writing for everyone to see. It probably won’t prevent the bad behaviour, but it’ll be an essential resource when your office ends up with bleeding kids, broken equipment, or abruptly-appearing vacancies.

    *(of +1 Alliteration!)

  46. OP, I’ve worked with bosses who made completely inappropriate demands of workers, so I feel you.

    I just want to respond to the last part of Captain’s advice, concerning what to do if you somehow end up being the defaulter Watcher of Kids. Do NOT agree to watch the kids unless you really want to and feel confident of your ability to do so – and from your letter it doesn’t sound like this is you. It’s not healthy for you OR the kids!

    I agree with Captain on explicitly asking your boss who will watch the kids, but for the rest of the script, I don’t quite agree:

    – “To be clear, are you asking me to watch your boys for the afternoon? I’m not comfortable with that.“

    Don’t say that, especially if you’re a woman. Mentioning your discomfort makes this an issue of your feelings when it isn’t, not in the least. It’s an issue of your boss’s lack of professionalism (and frankly, good parenting). It’s an issue of having a productive, healthy workplace environment.

    If you use the above line, an asshole boss will probably say something like “Well you’ll just have to get comfortable with it” or “I don’t pay you to be comfortable, I pay you to do what I tell you to do.”

    Even if he doesn’t say something like that, he might be the sort of jerk who thinks his employees are supposed to do whatever he asks them to do simply because he pays them money on a regular basis. If that’s the case, if you say you’re not comfortable with it, in his head this turns into you “feeling uncomfortable”. Particularly if you’re female, this turns the issue into a problem to do with your oh-so-tender feelings (which is total bullshit because it isn’t). It will not look good in your annual assessment.

    Better: “To be clear, are you asking me to watch your boys for the afternoon? I’m afraid I can’t.”
    You can add: “Because I told client X that I will finish Y report by Z deadline, and I can’t do that if I’m watching them at the same time.” Or “I have a lunchtime appointment and I’m just leaving now.” Then leave and get out of the office.

    And likewise:
    – “I’d feel more comfortable if you took them with you.”

    (He will say: “Well I can’t so you’re just going to have to watch them for a bit.”)

    Again, it’s not about what makes you comfortable, it’s about what is appropriate, productive and healthy. Asking an employee who was not employed (and probably not trained) to do childcare is NOT appropriate, productive or healthy.

    Better: “I can’t watch the kids.” Or: “Sorry, I’m not going to watch kids.”

    Keep repeating this with an expressionless face if you have to. Nothing wrong with just saying “No, I can’t” over and over again (you can do this, even with assholey bosses). If he demands a reason why you can’t, see above.

    – “If it’s an emergency one time favor for you of course I’m not going to let them come to harm’s way, but that also means X billable hours won’t happen and I won’t meet Y deadline for the client.”

    No. It will not be a one-time favor even if he says it is. If you watch the kids once, I pretty much guarantee he (and probably your colleagues) will expect you to watch them again next time. You will end up doing a string of one-time favors for your boss. Don’t put yourself in this position.

    Better: “Sorry, I can’t.” (With or without “because of reason X”).

    If your boss explicitly states that looking after the kids is part of your job, and/or you have a sit-down talk with your boss on this issue, you can use part of Captain’s script: “I can’t watch the kids and meet X billable hours at the same time, and I won’t meet Y deadline for the client”

    If he is enough of an asshole to insist that you need to do this, ask him if this is officially part of your job description now – because you’re not trained to do childcare, not qualified to work as a childcare worker, and obviously not being paid for this extra duty, and childcare was not part of the job description you agreed to when you first took the job. Actually point out to him that you’re not qualified to do childcare and that you do not want to do it. In some places it would be illegal for you to be employed in childcare when you’re not licensed for it. Even if that’s not the case where you are, framing it this way should at least show him that it isn’t a good idea to leave the kids with you. If you do have the opportunity to openly talk about this with the boss, you can also say that it’s impacting your health (give specific examples of things the kids did, and the resulting impact on your health. E.g. “Yesterday, when Bob started running up and down the corridors shouting, I developed neck spasms that lasted 2 hours. This has also happened twice before, when the kids were being noisy.”)

    From my personal experience, bad bosses who own the company tend to believe that their workers must put up with every single one of their whims and fancies – so getting out is probably the only ultimate solution. But while you look for other work, do all the other stuff Captain recommended.

    1. Seconding everything you said. I think these scripts work better because, in this situation, there’s no benefit in being polite (“I don’t feel comfortable with that”) over being clear (“I can’t, I’m not qualified to do that/That goes against my job description”), and being polite could turn into a disadvantage, since the boss is so set on ignoring everyone else’s comfort, even his sons’, in favour of his own.

      1. Yep. I might even say “That’s not something I can do.” It’s not that I can’t right now. It is never going to be a thing I am going to do.

    2. This is good. If he says it falls under “other duties as required” then you could, if you feel comfortable, say, “I’m not qualified to do childcare. Had childcare been in the job description, I would not have taken this job.”

    3. This is very good advice. When in doubt, I’d lean on this part: “you’re not trained to do childcare, not qualified to work as a childcare worker.” It’s perfectly reasonably to say, “Boss, this is not a good idea. I’m not a trained childcare worker.”

      If he continues to push, “I’m not qualified for this. I do not know how to handle kids.” Or, “I’m not a kid person. I don’t do childcare.”

      I’m not sure of the legal issues involved (not a lawyer here!), but it’s possible that by agreeing to watch them, you might be liable in some way if they were harmed. All the more reason to NEVER agree to babysit.

  47. When I worked at a newspaper, those of us with kids sometimes brought them in if we were working late. As in, “Got all my interviews done but still haven’t finished writing.” I’d go pick my daughter up, get her a snack and set her up in any quiet, empty place I could find with a book or some art supplies. Another reporter (single father) brought his son to work fairly often as well.

    The kids were quiet and well-behaved and other reporters seemed to enjoy seeing them (e.g., they’d stop to chat). Once my daughter hit about age 9, the office manager started asking her to help with small chores (making copies, et al.). This office manager also occasionally babysat for my daughter, so they were buddies. The work was never onerous and my daughter enjoyed feeling like a part of the newspaper for which both her parents worked.

    And then.

    A freelancer who lived out of town started bringing his kid in and leaving the 5-year-old guy unsupervised. The first time I saw him helling around the lunchroom I said, “Hello. Does your mom or dad work here? Also, get off that tabletop because it is not a climbing toy.” Next I heard that he’d broken the treadmill in the employee workout room. (Don’t ask me how.) On another occasion, he blew up one of the microwave ovens by trying to dry his mittens in them (apparently the metal clasp sparked and ZAP! it was dead).

    Next thing you know there’s a memo from the higher-ups saying “no more kids at work.” It sparked an interesting debate in the newsroom, because the reporters stuck up for those of us who actually supervised our children. Some said they thought having kids around was a civilizing thing for a newsroom (which can be a pretty cynical place). Others said they thought that we could also train them to make popcorn and run copy. Most said, “Why is this even a problem?”

    It definitely depends on the workplace. But what your boss is doing is Not Right. Not even a Little Bit Right. Hope that one of the suggestions on this thread helps you.

  48. LW, here’s what I would do.

    Boss: *asks me to watch the kids*
    Me: “Boss, I don’t babysit. Not even my nieces and nephews.” *Looks him straight in the eye with a calm expression*
    Boss: “But! Somebody has to watch them!”
    Me: “I don’t do childcare, but I trust you’ll find someone to take care of it.”

    I think there’s something powerful about calmly saying “I don’t do X” with no apologies or excuses. You’re drawing a line in the sand without saying the word “no,” which can be super hard for people to say and super hard for other people to hear.

  49. LW here! First off, I want to thank Captain Awkward for choosing my letter and giving me some great advice as well as the CA community for the personal stories and support. It helps to know that I’m not alone and that I’m not a terrible person for being stressed about having to watch kids while at work (I forgot to include but yes, I use she/her pronouns).

    Just a couple of caveats/answers to questions that I wanted to address:

    1. The kids aren’t just in the office in the afternoons. The oldest one is in camp but doesn’t go everyday so both kiddos are in usually from 8:30ish til 4:30/5ish. I don’t have a problem with the oldest because he is more introverted and more absorbed in computer games/iPad stuff. The youngest though bounces between the women (3 of us) while the men (4 of them) are able to actively ignore him so yes, the kindercare does disproportionately fall on the women’s shoulders here. The youngest is also prone to touching everything with his sticky hands and breaking things i.e. accidentally spilling drinks on his keyboard or going through my coworker’s desk drawers when she’s not there. My boss doesn’t keep a watchful eye on him at all while he’s in the office and just expects the youngest to sit at his computer and watch TV all day, which is definitely not this kid’s style.

    2. According to my coworkers, my boss brings in his kids every summer and that this has been a constant issue. Some years he had a nanny or daycare lined up but now that his youngest has switched schools that doesn’t include daycare and he fired his last babysitter for not being reliable, he has resorted to bringing them into the office. Also, the man has a lot of drama in his personal life aka multiple ex-wives and baby mamas (for the lack of a better term) and he made sure to get full custody of the boys to where the moms don’t even really have visitation rights due to their previous substance abuse problems. So no way am I involving myself in that crazy drama.

    3. I wasn’t happy with the job from the start but I needed to get away from my family and I needed the experience. It took me a year to finally put to words what I wasn’t happy about with this job and that it’s the lack of respect and direct communication between coworkers and employers. My boss doesn’t email everyone in the office to let them know that the kids are coming in nor to ask if it’s alright with everyone and no one is really willing to stand up to him and tell him that it’s distracting having the kids in (maybe out of fear of losing their jobs since he’s also the owner of the company, I don’t know). Everyone talks about everyone’s personal matters (which weirds me out because I don’t need nor want to know such personal details) and there’s no HR nor IT department. I have been talked about in the third person by two coworkers when I asked for help and was right in front of them. My office phone still doesn’t work even though I have brought it up as an issue multiple times. Plus, it doesn’t help that I developed some trauma in grad school and had to be hospitalized and thus, I definitely am having doubts about the industry I’m in. So it could be the company or me or both but I definitely need to leave this job even if it’s nice to have a stable paycheck. It’s not worth the physical nor mental fatigue I’m dealing with.

    4. I can’t work from home because I need specific computer programs that have a pretty hefty licensing fee and I don’t get off-site access to our servers where all of our files are kept. Plus I do use headphones but they still don’t block the sound of crying or screaming unfortunately (and it makes me uncomfortable to wear headphones all day). It doesn’t help that I’m in the bullpen and don’t have a door to block out noise. There’s literally no space in the office for me to even get a door (I was relegated to the conference room for 6 months before they expanded the space and it seriously sucked getting a 5 minute notice when someone needed to use the conference room and having to work on the kids’ computer with the sticky keyboard).

    5. Update: I did talk to my supervisor (who does have kids and has been here for 10 years) about what to do and he was like “well you can talk to him and he’ll listen but he’s probably not going to do anything”. Basically, I’d have the same results if I talked to a wall. And since my supervisor wasn’t really willing to help me talk to our boss, then there’s really no point in bringing it up. He knows it’s a problem, people have told him, and he still isn’t willing to do anything about it.

    So the plan is to quit by the end of the month regardless of whether the jobs I’ve applied to pan out or not and take a break and look for some local part-time work. Thankfully, my partner is being super supportive and is willing to help me out by paying the majority of the bills until I find something. So I hope this answered some questions and thanks again everyone!

    1. Hey LW! It’s not you. This office is full of bees. Your coworkers sound like their perception of healthy work environment has been permanently skewed by working here. Everything sounds toxic about this environment.

      Side story: My co-workers are pretty up in everybody’s personal business in a way I really don’t get or like and there was a point where my Step-dad died and I was really really upset about it and I sent an email to my boss (thanks to CA advice) to say “This death happened, please tell everyone at the office so I don’t have to then please don’t ever bring it up” What was the first thing that boss said when I walked through the door the next day? “I’m so sorry to hear about step-dad, was it expected? how did he die? was it a long illness? how old was he?” followed by every other coworker coming up to me separately throughout the day to say the same thing. Basically no one understood the boundary I tried so damn hard to draw. They could not grok the fact that every mention of step-dad would send me into a crying jag and eliminate my ability to do my job for at least the next 30 min.

      Good luck getting out ASAP!

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