my coworker brings her five kids to our work meetings

A reader writes:

I work from home, for a start-up. My only coworker has five kids, ages one to 11, and very little access to childcare (husband thinks she’s doing just swimmingly at this SAHM+working-parent thing and doesn’t want to pay for a nanny). This means she brings between one and five kids to all meetings and working sessions that we have, plus (during the summer) managing all five of them at home, all day every day.

My house is VERY much not kid-friendly (clawsy cat, Lego display sets, lots of stairs, etc), but it’s usually the best place to work for both of us if we need to actually get something done. It’s fine when just the baby comes — she’s very tactile, but can be happy gnawing on a dead Xbox controller for a good long while. The problem is the older ones — they’re hobgoblins. Literally, in a one hour lunch-meeting at a restaurant they: broke a lamp, tore down an umbrella that was over one of the tables, had a “who can scream the loudest” competition, almost broke a window (rammed a baby stroller at speed into it … whole plate glass shuddered and bowed), and a bunch of other stuff I can’t even recall anymore. I’m terrified of having them in my house … and if they’re there, no work gets done, anyway.

My coworker, from the looks of it (and sounds of it, she’s admitted as much), has given up controlling her brood. She’s in survival mode, which I totally get, but it also means that all that behavior mentioned above gets very little correction … and they know that at this point, the more distractions they make, the more attention they get from mom. I get the feeling they intentionally act worse when she’s trying to concentrate on something else.

All of this adds up to missed deadlines, broken promises and very uneven workloads.

Would it ever be appropriate to offer to pay for a babysitter for an afternoon, so that we could work in peace? Is that insulting?

And as a coworker, how do I deal with this? She’s a smart woman, and I appreciate her work when she can do it, but those deliverables are rare and now even rarer that school’s out for summer.

I don’t want to be a dick about stuff, and I’m trying to be a good, feminist, supportive-of-working-parents coworker … but man, I don’t know how to navigate this. I realize offering dog crates and Nyquil would be a bridge too far.

Being a good, feminist, supportive-of-working-parents coworker does not mean that you shouldn’t speak up when kids are getting in the way of your ability to work.

Tolerating a little bit of kid noise in the background on a call, sure. Understanding when your coworker needs to stop working at 5 on the dot to make it to her child care pick-up on time, yes. Advocating for flex time, parental leave, and other policies that support everyone’s ability to have a life outside of work, yes.

But bringing one to five kids, some of them very young, to all meetings and working sessions you have? Letting them run around breaking things, screaming, and otherwise being a huge distraction? Paying so much attention to the kids that deadlines are being missed and she’s not carrying her share of the work? No, no, and no.

In fact, I’d argue that feeling obligated to be okay with that stuff is actually a disservice to other working parents, who go to great lengths to not operate like this, and who are harmed by people getting the idea that this is what working parents do.

It sucks that your coworker is in this situation — it really does. But the way she’s handling it isn’t an acceptable solution. If paying for child care isn’t an option for her, it might be that this particular job doesn’t fit her life right now. And I know that’s a blow to say that when someone is trying to maintain a career, but it’s really, really not okay for her to put the burden of this on to you, her coworker. (And really, there’s a reason that most companies require remote workers to have child care in place for young children. It’s not heartless or unsupportive of working parents; it’s because work can’t get done otherwise.)

I don’t think you should offer to pay for a babysitter. She may or may not be insulted by it, but you shouldn’t have to pay for this yourself. It would be like paying to bring in a temp because your coworker wasn’t finishing all her work — it would solve the immediate problem, but at inappropriate expense to you.

All you can really do here is to lay out the problem in a kind, sympathetic tone. As in: “Hey, can I talk to you about something? When you bring the kids, it’s hard for us to get work done. We’ve even missed a few deadlines because of it. When we meet from now on, can it just be us?” If she says that she doesn’t have child care, then you say, “I totally get that and know that you’re in a tough spot. But it’s not working to have them at our meetings.”

Also, you didn’t mention how your boss is handling these missed deadlines, broken promises, uneven workloads, and rarely delivered deliverables. Does she know this is happening? Or are you stepping in to try to cover for your coworker? If the latter … it’s one thing to cover for someone when they have the occasional emergency (that’s just being a good coworker), but when the problem is systemic like this — when someone’s work outputs plunges for an entire summer because they’re caring for five kids when their boss assumes they’re working — that’s not something you can or should try to cover for. That’s a legitimate work problem that you should talk to your boss about.

{ 621 comments… read them below }

  1. Doittoitville*

    One thing not considered above is the liability aspect. There is no way you should have three destructive children in your home when no one is there to supervise them properly. If her kid gets injured, will you have to pay? Your coworker may sue you to get your home liability insurance to cover. This is not your burden to bear.

    1. Clorinda*

      Clearly, LW can’t have those kids in their home. What happens if they have the meetings in the mother’s home? It’s probably a mess, but so what–at least the five kids will be on their own turf with their own toys. And if LW is covering for the mother’s problems, they should stop. That family needs a wake-up call; they’ll have to spring for childcare during school vacations (look for local college kids, particularly early childhood education majors).

      1. Clare*

        At the very least the LW should refuse to have any more meetings in her house until the coworker makes appropriate child care arrangements. Go to the coworker’s house, go to a restaurant or coffeeshop, literally anywhere but her own home.

        1. JokeyJules*

          but at a restaurant or coffee shop, the kids are even more of an issue. OP seems really stuck

          1. WellRed*

            She’s not stuck. She needs to tell her coworker that this isn’t working, using Alison’s script, but I also think she needs to bring this to the attention of her manager. I’d be pretty PO’d to learn an employee was watching/not watching five kids when she’s supposed to be working. Assuming, of course, the boss doesn’t know.

            I am also side eyeing the husband and worried for the coworker. What’s going on there?

            1. 5 Leaf Clover*

              Regarding the husband – it may actually help the coworker if the people she works with speak up and say she can’t have the kids at meetings anymore. Then she will have more justification for hiring childcare. Not that one should need an excuse like that, but unfortunately in this situation it sounds like the husband needs more than his wife’s word.

              1. Laurelma__01!*

                Co-worker should look to see if her employer offers Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account. Also look into the employer’s benefit packages, some employers offer a certain dollar amount for childcare per month. I had a friend that got $200.00 per month towards childcare from her employer. It didn’t cover the full cost, but it was still better than nothing.

                OP, maybe you should look into the options and find out what is there, or not. And talk to your boss. This is unacceptable. I would have been crying foul after the first time this happened. The babysitter might be mandatory by the OP’s employer, just may not be aware of it. By the way, both of my cats would have bitten and scratched the first time they were handled roughly. You carrying the burden of both of your work loads shouldn’t be happening. Your boss might be ignoring the situation as long as you are covering, or may be unaware of how bad it is.

                1. DCGirl*

                  It sounds like, as a start-up, these kinds of benefits may not be offered. That may be part of the problem.

                1. Friday*

                  He’s definitely blissfully ignorant about what kind of care his kids actually need. How in the hell does one get to that point when they’ve been in the game for 11(!) years. OP definitely needs to stop having the kids over, and if coworker can’t figure something else out, needs to tell the boss what’s up. Yes, it sucks that there’s no good way to make this work that doesn’t involve coworker spending money on childcare, but that’s not OP’s issue.

                  FYI Flex Spend maxes out at $5K, which with my two kids, we used up in the spring (and I was on mat leave with one for two months). It’s just a way to spend pre-tax dollars on childcare instead of taxpaid dollars, which helps but not that much. With five kids quite honestly you’re in either a private nanny situation or a one-parent-doesn’t-work situation, definitely not a childcare center situation, given the cost.

                  This year it would be cheaper to send my two to our local state college, than to infant care for the babe and after school/camp care for the older one.

              2. MM*

                The ideal scenario, I think, goes like this:

                >OP talks to Coworker and offers a reality check.
                >Coworker sits her husband down and draws a firm line. This can’t go on. I mean, just for her own sanity, it can’t. No one was ever meant to raise 5 children essentially alone–this is part of what extended family and communities used to be for (“it takes a village” is not a metaphor!). I suspect she probably feels guilty for needing help because it means she’s a bad mother or not enthusiastic enough about being a mom, or something like that (which her husband is probably reinforcing), but even if that’s not the case, at this point it’s just a pattern because it’s all she can do to get from one day to the next. Hopefully a reality check from OP can help her try to change the situation.
                >Husband comes to Jesus and agrees that they can spend money on childcare or engage family if they’re local, something, anything.

                I would bet, however, that Husband is not going to be reasonable. No sane person could think this is a workable situation. Just taking care of 5 kids is a lot without also working at, of all places, A START-UP. At that point, it really becomes an issue in Coworker’s family. OP can and should be supportive–within limits–of helping her arrange a better situation for herself, but that does not include enabling the problem by putting up with the chaos. I would say to just throw the whole husband away, but with 5 kids…whoof. I really feel for Coworker.

                1. Positive Reframer*

                  Yeah I’m 100% sure that survival mode is an accurate description so now she is not being a good parent or a good employee. 5 kids 11 and under is a big undertaking, there might be some jobs that would be compatible with being the primary childcare person and still bringing in income. (I know a nurse or two who work weekends but are home during the week.)

                  Dad needs a STRONG dose of reality, any chance of a week long business trip no kids allowed?

            2. Observer*

              I was thinking the same thing about the husband. If CW an idiot or is Husband – or both of them?

              1. HRperson*

                Seems to me that both the CW & husband are in denial. They both seem to think that they are killing it with the situation as it is. I once had a CW who told our boss that both her & her husband were going to work full time but never put their child in daycare. My boss was like that’s not realistic you have to get childcare. She got childcare alright- from her friends so she spent a big portion of her day transporting her child around to different friends- child is with Bob on this morning for two hours then CW takes child to Susie for four hours then CW takes child to John for last four hours. I swear the CW spent more time driving child around to various friends than actually working. No one ever really put their foot down which is a shame because my old CW was clearly taking advantage.

              2. Creag an Tuire*

                OP doesn’t go into CW’s financial situation (and may or may not know it), but the vibe I’m getting is that hubs wants a stay-at-home wife and mommy, and is only willing to tolerate her career as long as it doesn’t cost any money.

                CW may be clueless, or she may be in denial because she knows that if she tells hubs “this isn’t working”, his response will be to tell her to quit.

                1. mrs__peel*

                  I also wondered if he’s intentionally trying to sabotage her job so she’ll have to give it up.

                  At best, maybe he’s just (somehow) clueless about the amount of work involved in raising kids. At worst, maybe he’s abusive/controlling and wants to hobble her career and make her more financially dependent on him.

                2. Kaitlyn*

                  It could also be that the income from her working would be immediately lost to any childcare. This is the boat I’m in (I work during naptime and in the evenings, and I try to schedule meetings for the same or I hire a babysitter), and it’s also the reason we’re only having one kid. My unpaid, full-time job is childcare; my part-time work is also necessary to pay bills. Rock, meet hard place.

            3. PersonalJeebus*

              The coworker sounds a bit stuck; OP is not, and she shouldn’t let her compassion for her coworker keep her in this position. Setting a boundary might give the coworker more ammunition to bring her husband around. Or it might bring about an ultimatum where the husband insists coworker give up her job rather than shoulder the cost of childcare. (Which in turn could motivate coworker to stand up for herself.) In any case, the coworker’s home life is not the OP’s problem; OP’s work life IS her problem. And she isn’t truly helping anyone by enabling this nonsense, as kind as her intentions are. I say that with all possible compassion for the coworker.

              1. TinaB*

                Agreed. However, I notice that the vast number of comments here are assuming that the OP (worker) is a female. I got the distinct reading that the OP is likely MALE. The person said they don’t want to “be a dick”, have Lego Displays (young adult men are heavily into these), and is trying to be a “good feminist”. That’s all speak from a young male…as I am friends with many of them.

                Since we’re likely talking about a MALE worker here, it makes it even more difficult to broach the subject.

          2. Clare*

            But at least the LW wouldn’t have to worry about them destroying her home and terrorizing her pets (though it still doesn’t solve the underlying problem of course- really the coworker needs to get a babysitter!).

          3. Calpurnia*

            She’s only stuck because she’s trying to be too nice. She needs to shut this down now! So unfair–the mom needs to give up on this idea of perfection and admit that this situation is untenable. I can’t believe she isn’t overcome with guilt putting her coworker through this. She is why people are leery of breeders.

            1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

              Ouch. Calling the mom a “breeder” doesn’t help anything here and is kind of offensive.

                1. CandyBuns*

                  I agree with Calpurina though 5 kids she won’t even bother to teach right or wrong and can’t afford. Someone just wants a welfare check…

                1. Observer*

                  Also stupid. You would think that only people who have kids are stupid and place a burden on others…

        2. RUKiddingMe*

          I wouldn’t tolerate this even a second time. I think the OP should refuse to have any more meetings with the kids in attendance at all…and loop in the boss.

          Like Alison says helping out occasionally is just being a good coworker but this is beyond that. This is disruptive, intrusive, and could materially affect OP’s career if things aren’t getting taken care of because it will reflect on her as well.

          The coworker’s husband needs to stop being suck a dbag and quit refusing to pay for child care…or he needs to take all five kids with him to work. Coworker is not a SAHM, she is a working mom and she and her husband are confusing things by crossing the streams.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        Yeah, as an immediate fix to a part of the problem, do all meetings at her house. (In my going-to-playdate years, it was normal for the mom of the smallest child to host, so said small child could go take a nap in their crib as needed while the larger ones raced around.)

      3. nnn*

        This is an excellent point, and LW could use it to sell Co-worker on the idea of meeting in Co-worker’s home. (“It would be less disruptive for your kids – they could do their own thing rather than having their whole day interrupted to pile into the car and having to sit around listening to boring grownup talk.”)

        Should their meeting scheduling have to take into account the needs of Co-worker’s kids? Of course not. But this is where they are right now, and “let’s meet somewhere where the kids can do their own thing” is more immediately feasible than “Get childcare for five kids when your husband disapproves of you doing so.”

    2. mark132*

      My house hasn’t been child proof in years, so any time we have a small child in the house they have to be watched closely for their own safety.

  2. Detective Amy Santiago*

    It doesn’t sound like your house is really the best place to get things done if she’s bringing her kids. Would it be easier for you to go to her place?

    1. Justme, The OG*

      So that the co-worker can not get work done at her own house? I feel for the mom in this letter. I’m a single parent and child care is expensive. But she is doing a disservice to herself, her co-workers, and her children by allowing this.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        My thought was the kids might be less distracting if they are on their home turf.

        1. JokeyJules*

          yeah, that could be helpful. Like if the kids could all hang out in one room while OP and her coworker get some work done

        2. Renate Koenig*

          I believe the OP said that the kids act up, vying for mom’s attention. I don’t know how deprived they are when mom is working, but it sounds like these kids are crying out. As a retired school teacher, one of the rules is that children will seek positive reinforcement, and if they don’t get it, they’ll actually seek negative reinforcement rather than be ignored. I would say CW needs to set up a reward system where everyone wins.

      2. neverjaunty*

        So that until the OP can resolve the situation, at least she isn’t getting her windows broken.

        1. Doug Judy*

          This. It’s an immediate, temporary solution until they can work something out long term. Depending on where she lives there might be wait lists for daycare. Plus you don’t want to have just anyone do childcare, so it could take some time to get that situated.
          But absolutely agree that having meetings at her house, with the caveat that she still needs to find childcare is a good starting point.

        2. aebhel*

          Yeah. It’s not a tenable long-term solution, but it at least prevents OP from getting her house trashed in the meantime.

        3. Dove*

          If I read the letter right, the almost-broken window (and other vandalizing the kids were doing) happened at a work lunch at a *restaurant*. Which is almost worse – at least OP knows the kids are the culprits and can go “Coworker is a lovely person, but the kids old enough to be independently mobile can’t come over”. A restaurant won’t know those details and also won’t care; Coworker bringing her kids to *every* meeting, including working lunches at restaurants, is running the danger of getting the company banned from those restaurants. Which isn’t a great look for Coworker or the company.

    2. K*

      Even if her place is out of the way or she doesn’t have the best setup for working, it’s still got to be a better temporary option than having the kids at your place. The kids could be told to go play in their rooms (though from the sounds of it they wouldn’t stay out of the way for long). But at minimum, anything they break is their own and if anyone gets hurt you’re not liable.

      1. Fergus, Stealer of Pens and Microwaver of Fish*

        No, there is no temporary option. Coworker needs to find a place for her kids, or call in for a day of PTO, or quit. This getting paid to not do her job while actively preventing the LW from doing her job is bullshit and needs to stop yesterday.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          I agree completely. Admittedly I am one of those horrible people who do not like the company of children in general at all so I know my feelings tend to color my tolerance level. However, this is work. The coworker wouldn’t be able to take the kids with her to an office, ergo she has no business taking them to work meetings out of office regardless of the location.

          That Coworker and her husband see the coworker as a SAHM is also bullshit. Like I said in an earlier post, they are crossing the streams. Coworker is a working mother who needs chid care accommodations…yesterday and her husband needs to just get on the same page with that…also yesterday, or try to take five unruly kids to work with him.

          OP says this is a start up. Maybe Coworker would have some luck talkign to the boss about subsidized childcare? Probably not, but what a completely cool thing it would be for them to do an dhow good would they look doing it…if Coworker can sell it to them that way?

        2. I woke up like this*

          I mean, I agree with you. But you just listed all the things the coworker needs to do, yet she isn’t the one who wrote in. The LW can’t force the coworker to get childcare, and she can’t fire her. Refusing to let the kids in the LW’s house and suggesting they meet at the coworker’s house until there’s a more permanent fix IS something that’s in the LW’s power to do.

          1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesInYourHouse*

            LW can simply state they need to meet somewhere without the kids and be prepared to go to boss. This is absurd. No way should LW have to put up with the kids. LW needs to frankly inform boss and work on her own and explain why.

      2. Mongrel*

        As a fellow collector all I could think was “Won’t someone think of the Lego?!”.
        Currently my front room has about 100hrs and £2k of collectable sets (and many more shelved), many of which aren’t ‘playable’

    3. CanCan*

      OP: you absolutely can put your foot down when it comes to having kids at your house. Seeing their past behaviour, you can say that you’re not willing to take the risk of either the kids breaking something or hurting themselves (as your house is not child-proof). Either the coworker comes to your house alone, or you go to hers.

      Your job doesn’t require you to accommodate kids at your house. You can be firm on this with your boss as well.

    4. LilySparrow*

      This seems like a useful temporary solution. Even if LWs pushback gets CW & her husband to hire childcare, that doesn’t happen overnight. You have to shop around for centers or interview sitters, coordinate schedules, etc. It could take a couple of weeks to get care started.

      Meeting at CW’s place would allow her to send the older kids outside. That’s what Outside is there for – rambunctious kids burning off energy that is destructive in confined spaces.

      1. Fergus, Stealer of Pens and Microwaver of Fish*

        Most people do all that finding childcare stuff BEFORE they get the job. It’s not like she got hired and then, gee willikers, five small children just showed up at her house! LW is being entirely too nice about this situation because it is in no way her responsibility to make this easier on this slacker.

        1. Melissa*

          I’m struggling to ask you not to judge two children based on a brief report of a rough visit to a restaurant when I really want to judge you as being mean-spirited and bigoted based on one blog post comment. Whatever manners you think your parents imparted to you are not adequate in this instance.

          Also, complaining about overpopulation is just an updated way to tell everyone you are pro-eugenics.

        2. MassMatt*

          Elizabeth, your rants about overpopulation, birth control, etc are out of place, and your emphasis on bashing the LW for her “choices” is mean spirited. The comments are intended as a forum for the readers to share knowledge and perspective to help the LW’s, not bash them or get on a political soap box.

        3. PersonalJeebus*

          Since the Coworker can’t go back in time and arrange childcare (even assuming her husband were on board) before starting this job, people are suggesting solutions that can be put in place now and in the future.

          Calling the coworker a slacker is way out of line. Based on the information in the letter, she is busting her ass day and night managing her kids. Everyone acknowledges it’s unfair and unsustainable for their shared PaidJob workload to fall on the OP. But she isn’t a slacker, she’s just misusing her energies. Things won’t get any better until she gets serious about changing the terms of her home life. If she isn’t being abused (which is a possibility, her husband is psychologically controlling *at best*) and can safely take independent action, then she should actually just arrange the childcare herself and inform him of it rather than waiting for permission.

          I think the coworker’s side of this can be really hard to understand if you’ve never been with a controlling partner long-term–I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

        4. RG*

          Right, but that’s not the situation here. I get that meeting at CW’s place as a temporary solution is a courtesy that OP shouldn’t have to extend at this point, but if the other option is for no work to be done, OP might just have to grin and bear it.

  3. Katieinthemountains*

    Wow! Her husband sounds pretty out of touch, and I feel for her, I really do. But a) it is NOT working to have the kids at your work sessions and b) you shouldn’t be paying someone else’s childcare. I think you should tell her that the kids are breaking stuff and being really loud, and it’s not working to have any of them at your house anymore. You might want to loop in your boss so that he understands that you’re not a terrible mean person who suddenly for no reason at all banned her darling children and perhaps let him draw some conclusions about the rest of her work day.

    I have a four year old who would sit in silence for three hours if I gave him a tablet, but my 16 month old is a nut and I’d never try to work with him awake. I get a sitter for the fieldwork and do the paperwork during naptime and after bedtime (I work occasionally – it’d be a lot harder to work fulltime this way).

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I switched to freelancing when my first was born, and work requiring focus or concentration is just not something you do in conjunction with looking after kids under 10. Some of them go through phases like your four year old, and the older end will sometimes be happy to occupy themselves for longish periods.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Hit post too soon.

        … Even if dad thinks it’s a great idea, it’s not working. The family needs to experience some real pushback on his idea that kids just occupy themselves. Sometimes they do, on the older end–but it’s in a way that you can do some chores or light reading while they play. Not things that require sustained focus not on them. If half your attention is on laundry and half on listening for suspicious noises/silences, that works. Not if you’re trying to do things more complex than laundry.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Yeah, but they have to be raised to do this. Coworker isn’t even doing that–she’s setting up the expectation that normal behavior is to run wild and be loud, unchecked. My siblings and I would have happily sat and read books, but then our mother would not have allowed us to interrupt her while she was working, and she made sure we knew how to occupy ourselves with quiet things when we needed to.

          1. TootsNYC*

            I feel like the coworker is thinking, “I can’t interrupt work to discipline my kids–I’ll look bad. This is work time, and I should be only doing work.”

            1. PersonalJeebus*

              She’s probably trying not to give them her attention when they start behaving badly, but at some point their behavior is so egregious (e.g. slamming the stroller into the window) that she has no choice but to intervene. Then the kids know exactly how badly they have to behave to get mom’s attention.

              Childcare really is the only answer. She has to make herself totally unavailable for periods of time so the kids can learn to exist without her attention, AND she needs total separation from them in order to concentrate properly on work. Periods of separation would be good for both her and the kids. Maybe that would be a good argument to use on her husband.

              If she doesn’t make this change soon, the baby will become a toddler and pick up the same behavior, and mom will end up with five little terrors instead of four!

      2. Rana*

        What Falling Diphthong said. Also a freelancer, also primary caregiver for our preschooler. She’s very good at quiet independent play, but little children have a positive knack for sensing those moments when you’re trying to have a complicated thought and interrupting at just the wrong instance.

        When I have projects on deck, I either leave her with someone while I go out of the house to work, or I save my work for after bedtime. The most I can accomplish while she’s awake is an email or two, or one short call. Anything else results in frustration for both of us.

        I cannot comprehend how the OP’s coworker gets ANY work done, let alone while the kids are awake, let alone to a high-enough quality that the OP thinks well of her. Does she sleep?

    2. Anita-ita*

      I feel terrible for women with husbands like this. Although we don’t know anything about him or their marriage, the fact that he believes she’s okay working full time and being a mom to 5 at home is very telling. Perhaps there is a lack of communication or perhaps he is controlling and not sympathetic. Either way, she needs to make it clear that she needs help and not leave it up for negotiation.

      1. Laurelma__01!*

        Something tells me that she does everything, because she’s home all day. Male Chauvinist. OP needs to loop in the boss, and do an email so it’s on records that you cannot work with the children in your home and cc your boss. Basically if she’s being paid for 40 hours of work per week, she should have a babysitter, childcare facility or nanny for those 40 hours. I had one employer that when lay offs came around, the women that couldn’t manage the childcare & job were the first to be laid off. We had one manager that always had children crying in the background on the weekly conference calls, would be driving her kids to places when calling. Another — separate issue, but the clients would complain about everything that she mailed out had dog hair in it. Working from home is considered a privilege by many employers, when you have an employee behaving of your co-worker, it is a reason that the privilege is revoked, or never allowed for new employees. The employees that were regional (work from home) that misused it, were laid off first time around.

        1. Laurelma__01!*

          I have a mean thought. CO needs to get so sick she’s hospitalized, maybe for anxiety / mental break for a few days and let the husband handle them for 2 – 3 days on his own. Maybe family (out of town) has an emergency, and needs her help. Naw, husband would make her take them with her.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            That actually happened to my grandma. The burden of five kids just fell to my aunt, who was like 12 at the time. (Notice, it wasn’t slightly her older brother. . .it was the oldest female child.) My grandfather worked all the time, and that’s likely true here, too, since the husband is away enough to be oblivious. I don’t recommend the CW disappearing from her family in any way.

          2. BeautifulVoid*

            Last time I was hospitalized for my chronic illness, when my kids were toddlers, I was fielding phone calls from my hospital bed about laundry and how the dishwasher works. :-\

          3. TardyTardis*

            When my mom had surgery, I was the youngest at 12, but still ended up with all the house responsibilities anyway. Whee.

          4. Khlovia*

            Aunt Matilda needs to get sick. Aunt Matilda lives in a studio apartment. CW would be sleeping on the couch and there’s no room for the kids. The rowdiness of the kids would probably kill Aunt Matilda; doctor has ordered a nine days of complete rest and stillness in the dark, being waited on hand and foot. Aunt Matilda has no Internet; the kids could not survive. Husband needs to take a week of leave, and attain enlightenment thereby. Meanwhile CW spends a restful week poolside at a hotel across town, and she and OP can get some work done in the hotel room.

        2. The Original K.*

          I’m sorry, I cracked up at “everything that she mailed out had dog hair in it.”

          1. Lora*

            This would happen to me if I did mailings, even working from the office. When my werewolves are having their spring shedding season, everything I own gets covered in floof, including clothes which were wrapped in dry cleaner bags until I was less than 10 feet from the door.

            1. Marion Ravenwood*

              Me too. My (black) cats are super-sheddy right now – though I don’t think the heat is helping – and despite daily hoovering and brushing, it feels like I barely have to walk into my house and everything I touch is covered in fluff.

      2. AnotherAlison*

        Wellll.. . is she not a grown-up human being with a voice of her own? The husband does sound like a problem, but she (the coworker) needs to step up and tell him it’s NOT working, regardless of what he thinks. It may not be feasible for her to work at the start-up full time if they have to pay for childcare, but it’s not feasible for her to do it without childcare, either. I know more than one family with five kids, two employed parents, and no childcare (but who are not not dragging kids to office environments). There are some creative ways to do it, and the coworker needs to figure it out.

        1. Jenny*

          Exactly. Husband have unreasonable expectations but that doesn’t mean it’s OP’s job to fix that (reasonably, she can’t anyway and any interface there would be a big boundary stomp).

        2. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

          Agreed. I guess I don’t get the coworker getting a pass on this arrangement.

          1. MM*

            It’s not that she gets a pass–she can and must speak up and set new terms and boundaries for how her family works. But there are multiple comments that seem to come from the perspective that the whole thing is her idea and she thinks it’s working fine, which is not the impression I got from the letter at all. It seems to me that Coworker knows it’s not working, is miserable, but doesn’t see a way out. She needs to be encouraged to draw a firm line with her husband, not condemned for being “an idiot” or trying to fill the gaps that have been left to her.

            1. Elizabeth Frantes*

              Are you implying that the lady was forced to marry and have children? She made her choices. And now she wants OP to carry her. That’s not fair to anyone.

              I judge people by their dogs and their children. Misbehavior of either indicates the problem is with the dog owner or parent. I don’t expect all dogs to be obedience champs, but at least teach ’em how not to attack or annoy others. Same with kids.

              Keep ’em leashed and muzzled if they don’t respond to verbal commands (sarcasm alert!)

              1. AsItIs*

                “Are you implying that the lady was forced to marry and have children?”

                It still happens today, even in developed countries.

              2. The Rat-Catcher*

                You cannot control another person without resorting to some pretty damaging tactics. Even if that person is your child.

                The type of behavior correction you’re talking about requires hours of investing in each child every week – and that’s assuming five neurotypical children who haven’t experienced trauma in their lives. There’s no way CW has time for that while also working full time and possibly all the household cleaning and cooking as well.

            2. Genny*

              There’s just no way to know the dynamics between coworker and her husband from this letter. He could be a jerk or she could be bad at communicating clearly what she needs from him or they may both have unrealistic expectations about balancing work and childcare or any number of other things. Ultimately though, it doesn’t matter to LW. The situation coworker has placed LW in is untenable, and she needs to set and enforce appropriate boundaries with coworker and push anything that can’t be resolved between them up the chain of command.

        3. Nita*

          Been there. I tried to get through to my husband for MONTHS. No luck. Maybe he would have noticed if I got fired, but just plain being on edge and losing more weight than I could afford didn’t seem like a problem. Just hiring a nanny without asking would have been out – which makes a kind of sense, normally a couple should be on the same page about big decisions. I suppose I could have left, but once you have kids even that isn’t a great solution. In hindsight, no idea what was going on there other than massive stupidity + stubbornness on his part – he’s not normally mean, abusive or insane, but sometimes he gets a dumb idea into his head and nothing will get it out. No idea what’s happening with the coworker, but having experienced this, I think it’s possible she’s trying to resolve the situation and hitting a rock wall.

          Of course, it’s also possible she just doesn’t see her kids’ behavior as a problem, or hasn’t even tried to advocate for herself. Hard to say with just the info in OP’s post.

          1. Curious*

            Why would your hiring a nanny without asking been out, but your husband making the unilateral decision to maintain the status quo was acceptable?

            1. Nita*

              So, it wasn’t a unilateral decision. We both thought I could handle the work, as long as he handled everything else. The problem was, we made that decision when the kid was very small and basically slept all the time, and I was not yet back to work. Once I started working full-time with a three-month-old, it became clear very quickly that this was a stupid idea and I need help. It became clear to me, but unfortunately, not to my husband.

              It really didn’t help that at the same time, my job had gone from being mostly report-writing (which is not time-sensitive), to very time-sensitive management work. Or that our jobs are very different to start with – his is also pretty stressful, but the stakes for not getting things done on time are much lower.

              1. PersonalJeebus*

                So it sounds like you have this figured out now, but for anyone else reading who’s in a similar situation: if you say to your partner “This isn’t working!” and they respond with “La la la can’t hear you” or “Nah, it totally is!” then I hereby grant you a pass to get that childcare without continuing to beg. At least make a list of viable childcare options and present it to your partner with a tone of, “I need help whether you think I do or not, and now is your chance to have a voice in what kind of help I get.”

                There are a lot of life things you can do without needing your partner’s approval or agreement. The biggest is breaking up with them–it only takes one “yes” vote to approve a breakup. Getting help when you are drowning is another. If you are struggling, you deserve help.

                1. boop the first*

                  “There are a lot of life things you can do without needing your partner’s approval or agreement. The biggest is breaking up with them–it only takes one “yes” vote to approve a breakup.”

                  Wow, strong point.

      3. MM*

        I feel the same. It really bothers me how many commenters are making this about the mom being irresponsible, when what she’s doing is trying to pick up the enormous slack her husband is insisting ought to be her problem. She’s taking too much responsibility. Just on paper, the proposition “handle 5 children under 12 and also work at a start-up” is ridiculous and nobody can possibly claim to believe otherwise in good faith. Her husband is absolutely coasting on patriarchy and she (and by extension, OP) are paying the real cost, as usual.

        This doesn’t mean Coworker doesn’t have a responsibility at this point to change the situation. She has to draw some kind of line for her husband, and OP of course can’t do that for her. But ground zero for the problem here is in Coworker’s marriage.

        1. Creag an Tuire*

          CW has agency, but limited options if hubs won’t see sense. Even if she DTMF already, that still leaves her trying to figure out how to juggle five kids and job on her own.

        2. PersonalJeebus*

          How so? I think SystemsLady is saying the coworker’s husband is the real antifeminist here, and the OP is not. The coworker isn’t even mentioned.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Ditto. He’s set her up to fail and is blissfully unaware of the burden she’s handling (because caring for children is so easy that a person can hold a full time job while doing it with no support, amirite?). I don’t want to delve into his psyche, but I started seething at the idea that he thinks she’s doing swimmingly when she’s clearly drowning.

        1. MM*

          Right? If I met this man and he insisted to me he truly believes his wife is fine, I’d just have to say “I don’t believe you.”

        2. RUKiddingMe*

          But, but, but, she’s female so naturally she can handle it. I mean it’s her natural affinity to birth a bunch of babies and handle all the domestic stuff…AND have a full time job at the same time with zero help (I’m betting 99.9999+% of the house crap falls to her) at all.

        3. ginger ale for all*

          Your comment made me think of Andrea Yates. Her husband Rusty thought she could handle five children under the age of seven and didn’t see how she couldn’t do it either. Not that I think that the situation will end that way but sometimes, if you are not home with that many kids on a regular basis, you have no idea of how hard it is.

          1. AsItIs*

            He didn’t so much think his wife could handle it, more he expected her to handle it. :(

        4. PersonalJeebus*

          “Blissfully unaware” is the best case scenario and probably too charitable of you. I like to give total strangers the benefit of the doubt, but he’s got to know what a handful his kids are. He lives with them.

          1. Rana*

            I bet you dollars to donuts he comes home at bedtime, gets to do the fun stuff like reading bedtime stories while the kids are tired and happy to see him, and then is out the door before the morning madness begins.

            1. Cedrus Libani*

              About a decade ago, I went to a conference where there was a work-life balance Q&A session. One researcher (a legendary workaholic who routinely put in 100-hour weeks) talked about his own policy. No matter how crazy things got, if he was in town, he would stop work at 8pm sharp. He would then spend an hour with his kids, no phones or TV, but quality family time.

              The men mostly thought that was admirable. Here was a busy, important man selflessly making time to be an equal parent.

              The women thought this guy needed to leave the conference immediately, go home to his saint of a husband, and give the poor fellow a night off. Equal parenting?! The husband was clearly spending a whole lot more than an hour a day attending to the needs of his family. Meanwhile, the researcher was swooping in, spending an hour (when in town!) just hanging out with his washed, fed, happy, and well-raised children in a clean and safe house.

              Some people have just never been forced to realize the “obvious” stuff isn’t done by magical elves.

      2. Elizabeth Frantes*

        So you’re saying women are completely helpless, are forced to marry and have children?

        1. pope suburban*

          I think the idea is more that the husband is the party not pulling his weight in what ought to be a more-or-less equal partnership. When both of them are working, one person doing 100% of the childcare is not fair or reasonable. And in the larger context of the world, both socially and in the workplace, there is a distinct tendency to push all of that work off on women, and to undervalue/diminish it.

          For myself, I’m not terribly comfortable speculating a lot about their relationship, simply because we’re getting a secondhand, incomplete picture. I mean, he *probably * could be doing more, but he might also be strictly prohibited from bringing the kids to his workplace and it might genuinely be a financial issue with them, and that’s a tough nut to crack. Obviously it can’t continue, but there’s so much we don’t know here.

        2. PersonalJeebus*

          We’re saying that once a woman is married with children, she can find herself with fewer options over time, and telling her “You shouldn’t have married and had children!” is supremely and, I suspect, deliberately unhelpful. It honestly sounds like you are taking smug, superior pleasure in other people’s difficulties.

          People don’t always know going in that their partner is going to be controlling and/or abusive. And once they’re in it, getting out can be unbelievably difficult. Seriously, if you’ve never lived it, you would not believe how difficult it is, and I’m happy for your lack of experience in this area.

          In the real world, women do not always have full control over their reproductive systems, and they do not necessarily have much of a choice in the number of children they have. This is especially true of women with abusive partners.

          People can’t fully control what kind of children they have. Children are people in their own right, they are not only and precisely what their parents teach them to be.

          None of this makes women helpless (although I could write you a long article on the mechanisms by which abuse diminishes people’s abilities and makes them believe they are helpless). But feminism doesn’t mean women are all-powerful islands unto themselves.

          1. bloo*

            Thank you for this kind perspective. This was the case for me. I couldn’t see clearly until I was in my forties, kids grown and dealing with suicidal ideations that maybe, …just maybe, I wasn’t the problem.

        3. Mari*

          Have you never encountered cultures that practice some degree of arranged marriage or religions that prohibit use of contraceptives? Or do you think that sort of thing happened only once upon a time in a land far far away?

    3. Creag an Tuire*

      I have a six- and a three-year old, and in extremis I can productively WFH with one child at home playing on a tablet or watching cartoons.

      Both girls at once? Fuggedaboutit. And they’re relatively well-mannered for their age.

  4. Oh Heck to the No*

    I’m a parent and I would NEVER visit my brood upon a work meeting. You need to tell her she has to pay for a babysitter AT HER HOUSE when you are working together. Her husband may say she doesn’t “need a nanny” but a babysitter who comes in for a few hours so she can work is a requirement here. (Also her husband clearly doesn’t know what she needs at this point…I’m willing to bet a week at a spa and a case of wine)

    1. Oh Heck to the No*

      Can’t edit, so I will add: She needs to pay for the babysitter at her house, so you both can work at YOUR place.

    2. Lance*

      Yeah, she should definitely be talking to her husband about his apparent expectations, and what she’s actually going through, because this isn’t going to be serviceable forever. She needs something actually set up for the kids so she can actually work, and bringing them to a coworker’s house for meetings, where things are being broken and any number of disruptions are being made, is very much not that thing.

      1. Clisby Williams*

        I don’t see why she needs to talk to her husband about it – other than to tell him she’s going to hire a babysitter. She might not need a nanny – to me, “nanny” implies someone with particular education credentials – but she needs someone to keep the kids out of her hair while she works. Presumably she’s getting paid for this job, so she can pay for the child care. The federal child care tax credit can offset some of the expense.

        1. I'll think of a clever name later...maybe.*

          I agree that she needs to hire a sitter, but the conversation with the spouse is needed. He has unreasonable ideas of how this SAHM + working parent thing is going and he needs to be enlightened. I share all expenses with my spouse in a carefully maintained household budget. Any deviations from that – even much needed ones like a sitter! – warrant a discussion. LW’s co-worker NEEDS to have that conversation!

          1. Thlayli*

            Yeah the husband seems to be the problem here. I know OP only hears one side of the story and it might not be as simple as this but the impression I get from the letter is colleague wants to hire childcare but husband is refusing. This situation is untenable. She’s not getting her work done and she’s probably so stressed and sleep deprived she can’t even realise how bad the situation has got.

            There are very very few jobs it is possible to do while minding five kids, and it doesn’t sound like this is one of them. Even a “mother’s helper” would be better than nothing – that’s usually a teenage kid who isn’t left alone with the kids but minds them while mother is in the house.

            OP this is not normal “working parent” stuff – this is way outside normal behaviour and if the husband is actually controlling her so much she’s not allowed childcare while she works, then I would go so far as to say it’s a very concerning relationship dynamic (and possibly even abusive, but it’s really impossible to say that from such a small amount of info).

              1. church lady*

                Yes on the controlling/abusive husband. I could see my ex blithely going about his day, bragging about how his wife is amazing, does it all, has the hardest job (raising kids), yadda, yadda, yadda…it’s all bs. There are still throwback men out there who really think that being a SAHM is a vacation so why would it be difficult to make a little money while you’re “home” all day doing nothing? He needs a reality check as much as coworker does.

                1. Laurlema01!*

                  I’m hoping that there isn’t physical abuse in the CW’s home. He has to see the stress his wife is in, but doesn’t care and turns a blind eye. I feel for her. She might be afraid to bring up the subject with him. But regardless of the situation the employer expects full day of work. It might take the threat of losing her job to make him listen. This could also be the husband’s passive aggressive way of forcing her to quit and be totally dependent on him. We can read a lot into the situation. That women needs daycare or something to keep her sanity.

            1. True Story*

              Yeah, I second the “mother’s helper option.”

              When I was anywhere from 10-14 I spent summers minding a family friend’s young children (both under six years old) at her house so she could work from home.

              I would make meals, play outside, and organize arts and crafts stuff for the kids — and most importantly make sure that they never went into mom’s office.

              She paid me maybe $10-$20 per day to do this (I got more money when I got older). Only time I interrupted her was when one of the kids exploded from both ends and I was not sure how to clean it all up. heh.

              Not every 10-14 year old would be capable of doing this, but I was obsessed with taking care of small children when I was myself a small child. It worked out because I was so young that $10 was a lot of money to make AND my mom got childcare for her job out of the deal too.

          2. TardyTardis*

            Aren’t any of the children school age? Or is the husband insisting on home schooling?

        2. Pollygrammer*

          If you’re talking babysitting and daycare for 5 kids, the issue might be that her salary wouldn’t actually cover it and they’d be losing money vs. her staying home with the kids. I know people who this is the case for.

          1. Zombeyonce*

            Exactly this. Babysitting isn’t a one-price-for-any-number-of-children deal. It’s more per child and with 5 kids, it may very well be an unaffordable expense. I have 1 child and work and if I had 2, I could probably afford childcare for both. But 3-5 kids? It wouldn’t be worth either me or my husband working since childcare would quickly outpace income. LW’s coworker needs to do some math and figure out if one parent needs to stop working. (And I can’t help hoping it’s the father, because he needs a serious wake-up call about how difficult providing full-time childcare really is.)

            1. Pollygrammer*

              And it’s way more complicated than just calculating salary vs. childcare expense. Having consistent work history may mean higher income 5 or 10 years down the road, even if continuing to work puts her in the red now. And heck, staying home with the kids when you’d rather be working can take a serious toll on somebody’s mental health.

              1. GlassHouse*

                I mean, if I had a kid, I’d HAVE to stay home, because childcare expenses would drastically outpace my salary. My husband and I could afford our lives on just his salary if we had a kid, but if we had a kid and I continued to work but daycare cost $5-$7K more than I make? We would literally be unable to pay rent. So, have more earning potential five years in the future or a home now?

                1. Zombeyonce*

                  It’s definitely a tough decision but your situation would be pretty simple to decide if it’s a lot more than you make.

                  It’s more of a big decision when your salary is pretty close to the cost of childcare. Like Pollygrammer said, it’s more than just money you’re giving up. It’s work history and, even more important IMO, loss of all the raises and experience you’d get over those years you were home which make your starting salary at a new place higher. And sadly, it usually falls to the mother to give up a job, though that seems to be changing very slowly.

                2. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

                  Agreed, also add in Social Security contributions, 401K matches, and stability in case working spouse ends up without a job.

              2. Cat Herder*

                Right. And mom may be getting benefits (health insurance, retirement fund match, etc.) which in themselves could make it worth it in the long run, even if a lot of salary gets eaten up. Plus the expense of getting fired eventually because work’s not getting done…

            1. Lora*

              This. From OP’s description, I was wondering if they’re at home because they were expelled from day care.

          2. ABK*

            YUP! and unfortunately, it seems like this is a very small, informal company so she might not be getting paid very much and not have the tax-free childcare benefits. I’d guess, depending on region, a babysitter for 5 kids would be about $25/hr. That’s at least $100 for a 4 hour work session, just to give everyone some perspective.

            1. Oatmeal*

              Where I live babysitting is $15-20/hr minimum for one child. She clearly needs it, but childcare costs are a real barrier to keeping women in the workplace.

          3. Rusty Shackelford*

            Yes, childcare is very expensive. But that doesn’t change the fact that she needs to stop bringing her kids to work.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              This. It’s totally normal for coworkers or bosses to state that bringing with you small uncontrolled people who literally attempt to smash the windows is a no-go.

              I think the best we as third parties can do is assure OP, as a second party, that this stuff is NOT normal working parent issues and it’s normal to say ‘no.’ The first parties, the parents of the hobgoblins, didn’t ask anyone for advice.

            1. ABK*

              Couples can be more creative about the arithmetic, though. Like why not take the childcare dollars out of his salary? He apparently wants to work and doesn’t want to take kids with him to work so he can pay for childcare. It’s even more reasonable since it is probable that he is making more money.

            2. Zombeyonce*

              Or the father should try and take the kids to work with him if he thinks it’s so easy to handle.

              1. Aveline*

                Or, maybe OP should ask to schedule the meetings at times when the father can watch the children.

                I’d bet he’s never the one to care for all of them at the same time. My guess is he has no idea the level of attention they actually need.

                I had a friend with a husband like this. One weekend with her away at her dying mother’s side was enough to convince him to cough up the dough for a part-time sitter.

              2. Koala dreams*

                Yes, that was my first thought actually. If it’s the husband that thinks it’s great to work and take care of kids at the same time, why is it the wife, who thinks it’s exhausting, that is doing that?

          4. Turquoisecow*

            Yeah, when my sister was little and in daycare, my mom figured out that she was basically making just enough money to put my sister in daycare so mom could go to work so sister could be in daycare. The job wasn’t really a “career” for her, so she quit and stayed home for my sister and the rest of her kids’ (myself and a younger brother) early childhoods.

            If this is a startup with two employees, they may not be offering a large salary, and CW and her husband may have come to the conclusion that they’d prefer not to spend a lot of money on childcare if the job and the company aren’t a sure thing.

            If husband is away at work all day, I could see him not having an accurate view of the chaos of trying to work with five kids. If he’s getting home late, maybe some of the kids are asleep by then, and he doesn’t experience how energetic they are during the day. This isn’t excusing his behavior by any means, just a possible explanation.

            In any case, this is not the OP’s problem. Pass on the information to boss, and then move on.

          5. Thlayli*

            I suspect that is part of it and it’s not just “husband won’t pay” its “we actually can’t afford”. If that’s the case she needs to have a conversation with her husband about which of them will give up work for a few years until the kids are a bit older and childcare costs go down low enough they can both afford to go back to work.

            1. Aveline*

              Or it could simply be that the coworker is the caregiving parent and that the husband/father has no idea how much work his own children require from a supervising carer.

          6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            This was certainly the case for my mom. She went back to work, then had to quit because childcare was more expensive than her salary, and there were only three of us. She didn’t go back to the workforce until we were all in grades 1–12 for school, and even then, I think it was only possible because I became the de facto babysitter at a way younger age than most DCFS/CPSs consider acceptable.

          7. J.B.*

            The part I don’t get is why does she have all 5 children at once? Unless she had multiples then at least some of the children should be school age by now. If she is homeschooling and trying to work IMO she can’t accomplish both things.

            1. Shannon*

              The letter stated that the older children are home because it’s summer break for schools.

              1. J.B.*

                Ah, I see. So little ones all the time, older ones too during the summer. That actually reduces the potential cost of part time child care by a lot. Summer is the time of cheaper camps. Not to say cheap! But husband needs to get on board with the need.

          8. Sandman*

            With just three kids, we were paying for me to work – not much, but we weren’t breaking even.

        3. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

          I think this is when you have to start getting creative. I’ve known many parents that made a decision to work opposite shifts to cover child rearing, employed family help, cobbled together other resources, etc.

          And then there’s the fact that as couples have more children their options start to self-limit. It’s not fair or unfair, right or wrong, or anything but simple reality.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            Exactly. Unfortunately, both spouses need to be involved in this, though, and it doesn’t sound like the husband thinks it’s his problem. The other issue is that it can often involve some pre-planning in career choices. I know a large family who owns their own business and they both work in it, and another who work in retail (husband) and the medical field (wife), which all have more than 8-5:00 options. But, they’re in it now, and they need to FIO.

          2. Detective Amy Santiago*

            This is how both of my sets of parents handled it. Dad/Stepdad worked overnights and Mom/Stepmom worked days.

        4. Dove*

          “Nanny” doesn’t imply someone with particular education credentials, to me, but it does imply someone who’s spending the majority of their day (or at least the kids’ day) looking after kids that aren’t related to them. Whereas a babysitter is normally only looking after the kids for a few hours.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        She’s not asking enough of him so he’s getting off easy and has no incentive to change.

        1. CMart*

          That’s an awfully unfair assumption of an extremely common relationship/parenting dynamic.

          We certainly don’t know CW’s dynamic with her husband so it’s useless to speculate (and not the OP’s issue to try to navigate around in any regard), but in my experience with the parents I know it is depressingly common for the father to outright refuse to do anything other than the bare minimum, and then either deliberately neglect the children when something is asked of him (see: not changing a diaper for 6 hours, not feeding the kids anything but popcorn and pop all day, not putting them to bed because it’s ‘hard’ and keeping them up until 1am) or berating the mother for days/weeks afterwards for being so unfair to him as to have made him do that, or both.

          Sure, sometimes it’s a matter of one person not holding the other accountable, but my purely observational experience would assume that if CW was able to ask more of her husband, she would.

          1. Starbuck*

            As an adult and parent, he should be able to hold himself accountable. It’s certainly not his wife’s job to babysit him, too.

        2. Starbuck*

          Why is it up to her to ask him to take care of HIS OWN CHILDREN? He should be seeing the need and stepping up on his own. He’s an adult, after all.

          1. Former Employee*

            “Why is it up to her to ask him to take care of HIS OWN CHILDREN? He should be seeing the need and stepping up on his own. He’s an adult, after all.”

            Because he is at work. It seems pretty clear that he is the main breadwinner in the family. If he “stepped up” to take care of the children, that would mean he quit his job. I doubt they would survive very long on her salary as a work from home employee of start up.

            1. WS*

              Well, not necessarily. He doesn’t work 24 hours a day. Could the mother have meetings in the evenings or early mornings? Does he get a childcare subsidy through work? Does he have the option of flexible hours, such as working extra time some days to get a day or half-day off (this is what my dad did way back in the 80s)? Is he self-employed and could have at least the older kids at work (which is what my partner’s dad did, also in the 80s)?

              We have absolutely no idea what his set-up is or what he can change.

      2. Katieinthemountains*

        Well I’m obviously speculating wildly, but I imagine he’s a conservative dude who follows traditional gender roles and imagines that if his wife wants to trouble her head with a career, that’s on her.

        I know someone who balked at paying for preschool for his very extroverted eldest because he has a stay-at-home wife, and another dude who didn’t think he needed a nanny even though he and his wife are both doctors and she’d occasionally have to work all night, finish charting while holding the baby he’d just brought to the hospital, then go home and solo parent without having slept. I think there are a lot of dudes who just don’t know what their wives do all day long and are perhaps frugal to a fault.

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            Frugal: giving up, for yourself
            Cheapskate: taking from others

            Unfortunately, this mom is taking pay that she’s not earning.

            Caring for one child under 10 can be done around a part time job, or one that lets you shift the work to a time when the child is asleep. Caring for 5 can’t. Options for OP’s coworker, if she ever sees this:
            1. Full-time nanny (need a pro, and no, it’s not cheap)
            2. Part-time nanny (might be able to get a college student for this)
            – Schedule mtgs for when the nanny is there
            – Time shift remaining work for when husband is home, and let him do childcare.
            3. Out of the house care
            – My city has inexpensive camps, 9 – 5, for kids 5 and up ($55/week, 1 pool day).
            – Younger kids, at least part time at a care center

            The kids need structure and attention – a project manager for the home. Coworker Mom can’t do that on top of a job; it’s hard enough to do that with five kids if that’s all you do!

            OP, it’s not your job to fix it for her.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          My head is exploding in anger at the doctor couple. He brought the baby to work? It’s not frugality—that kind of behavior is so careless/thoughtless, selfish, and controlling that it borders on abusive.

          1. Cornflower Blue*

            Same here. I can’t BELIEVE that anyone would bring a baby to a hospital and expect a doctor to look after it WHILE DOING HER WORK, do you even know what the baby would be exposed to and how difficult it would be to work while holding a baby?!

      3. Genny*

        I suspect he isn’t seeing the complete and utter chaos that is this woman’s life (either because he’s checked out, completely oblivious, or everything really does look more or less okay by the time he gets home from work). To him, everything is working, so why change anything? Meanwhile she’s desperately trying to keep all of the balls in the air, but not really succeeding at that. Clearly these two need a heart-to-heart to discuss what’s actually going on, but that’s not something the LW can control. All LW can do is set and enforce reasonable boundaries and leave it to coworker to figure out how to meet expectations.

        1. RVA Cat*

          This. Maybe it’s the coincidence of the 5 children, but I can’t help but think of Andrea Yates as the worse-case example of this situation.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          It could be that he sometimes does stuff plus watch kids–but the “stuff” is watching a football game, or mindless housework–he doesn’t take them along to his job and try to do his job while giving half his attention to monitoring what the kids are up to. He thinks of her work as being like laundry, which you can often do while watching a three and five year old.

          He comes across as ridiculous here… but a lot of wives would have responded to “we can’t hire a nanny because you can be super mom” with “ha ha; now we will keep talking and be serious.”

          (Also possible that he would be amenable to different solutions but his wife is caught in “I said I could do it all; I can’t admit I was wrong and nannies are SO EXPENSIVE and I’ll just cope…”)

          1. Antilles*

            It could be that he sometimes does stuff plus watch kids–but the “stuff” is watching a football game, or mindless housework
            That was my thought too. He might watch the kids, but it’s when he’s doing things which are easy to start and stop – if the kids need something right now, I can put down the broom or pause the TV/game or etc, go deal with this for five minutes, and come right back where I left off. Whereas for work, it’s a much bigger deal because it requires a lot more focus (and also affects others like OP).
            Also, as a general thing, I’m guessing he’s normally watching the kids in their own house where they’ve got all their normal toys/distractions/video games/etc to keep their attention, which is completely different than being at someone else’s house or a (boring) restaurant.

        3. aebhel*

          Yeah, it’s not his problem, so he doesn’t worry about it. I know a lot of dudes like this (and they’re not all from conservative backgrounds). They just don’t register childcare as something that they need to worry about at all.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Yeah, or they have no idea what childcare actually entails, so they think it’s easy. It’s part of the invisibilization and undervaluation of women’s unpaid labor.

        4. Aveline*

          Or he does know, but hey, it’s working for him.

          Selfish people don’t care how hard their partners dance as long as their lives aren’t disturbed.

          We can’t know.

          Whether husband is clueless, selfish, sexist, a cheapskate, or simply can’t afford a babysitter, the advice does not change.

      4. Temperance*

        Eh, it’s easy to blame him, but she’s an adult and can use her words to advocate for what she needs. Sure, it’s definitely a thing where a certain type of man just defaults to assume that “parenting = a woman’s thing to deal with”, but usually those people don’t have two working parents.

        I mean, his kids are probably hellbeasts around him, too, so this is not new information.

        1. Clisby Williams*

          She doesn’t need to “advocate for what she needs.” She needs to tell him she’s going to be hiring a babysitter with the money she earns.

          1. Just Employed Here*

            I don’t see why it’s specifically her salary that should be spent on childcare. As others have pointed out above, childcare is expensive (unless subsidised).

            Surely caring for their children is a household expense that both parents should be contributing to, not something that concerns just mommy?

            1. Dust Bunny*

              Yes. I don’t think anyone means literally *with her money*, just that she’s also working out side the home and therefor some of their combined income should go toward childcare.

              1. Just Employed Here*

                You’d be surprised how many people somehow do find that groceries and childcare come out of mommy’s purse, whereas more investment type expenses such as the mortgage and car payments are paid for by daddy (which depending on your legislation may mean they’re *his*)….

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I don’t get this. Shouldn’t he be paying for childcare out of their joint wages because they’re a married couple? Childcare is what makes it possible for him to work, too, and right now he’s outsourcing that work to her for “free” (i.e., at the cost of her sanity, professionalism, and employability). Childcare should not come out of only one parent’s wages unless there’s a discussion and the other parent’s wages are offsetting other, equivalent expenses.

            1. Not Australian*

              PCBH, it could well be that *her* money is the only money she has any control over. Been there, done it etc.

          3. Creag an Tuire*

            The problem there is that unless she’s extremely well-paid, there’s no way she can hire a sitter for 5 kids on her salary alone. Two kids used up slightly over half of my (reasonably middle-class) take-home.

      5. Jessica*

        I wonder if her husband isn’t taking her work seriously because it’s sounds like a pretty small operation (start-up founder + two employees?) with an irregular work schedule (deliverables with sporadic deadlines). Maybe he thinks of it as an MLM or some other type of slightly scammy work that doesn’t really have professional standards.

      6. smoke tree*

        Yeah, I’m wondering if the husband is the true problem here. I was feeling a bit uneasy about the fact that he seems to control the finances, and then after hearing that he seems to have no problem with his wife being completely overwhelmed by their kids… and then I wonder if he’s the reason the LW can’t come over to their house. My guess is that at the very least, he thinks his wife should do all the childcare, doesn’t want her to work, and is making it as hard as possible for her to keep her job.

        1. bunniferous*

          This. Alarm bells are going off in my mind here…..but at any rate what is going on now cannot continue.

          1. Sunny Side Up*

            I think we’re hearing about the husband 3rd-hand, and speculation about his understanding or not of childcare (and all the related issues) is becoming a distraction from the OP’s problem.

            I said this below, but I think the coworker knows perfectly well that she can’t afford childcare for five kids because what kind of job pays enough to cover that and still make it worth your while? Five kids is a small daycare where I’m from. The coworker is kidding herself and taking advantage of the OP.

            The husband is a red herring and it’s a lot of speculation about a third-party, without giving the OP practical advise on dealing with her situation, or giving her perspective of how Not Normal this is. I know if I bring even one of my kids to work it’s not normal, it’s a kindness from my coworkers, and I always acknowledge. Who pretends all five kids is ok? I’m side-eying the coworker.

            1. smoke tree*

              It’s true that regardless of what’s going on with the husband, the situation can’t continue. Obviously we don’t know all of the facts, but I got a few hints from the letter that the husband may be seriously controlling, which may affect how the LW chooses to handle it. Not that she shouldn’t say anything, but just recognizing that it constricts the coworker’s choices.

              1. Yikes*

                I think that the husband’s motivations are relevant to how OP should handle the situation to the extent that is or is not realistic to assume the husband might have a (physically) violent reaction to push back about the childcare. I understand the attitude that this is only OP’s problem insofar as it is impacting OP’s work, but I like to imagine we live in a world where OP would be willing to explore the possibility that what coworker really needs is assistance connecting with resources to help her extricate herself and her children from an abuse situation. I think the possibilities here range from “CW is blaming husband when he’s begging her to get a nanny” to “husband is clueless dolt” to “husband is scary.” It’s impossible for us to know. But I think it’s valuable for OP to be aware of the possibilities here.

                1. Former Employee*

                  How did we get from the husband is clueless to the husband is abusive and it’s the OP’s job to help co-worker find a way to leave him?

            2. Chinookwind*

              From what my sister told me, with her 3 kids, they ran the numbers and realized that it was just as expensive to have a nanny as it was to pay for daycare and after school care. It shocked her because we always thought of nannies as something for the rich, but running the numbers showed her it not only works but also gave them much more flexibility for their schedules (especially since they included rent in her salary and she lived in their basement suite).

    3. DirectorOfSomething*

      So…it bothers me that her husband’s opinion about the nanny seems to carry so much weight. She is trying to do her job while watching her kids, which obviously is not working. So she needs to hire a babysitter/nanny or have the conversation with her husband that it’s either that or she must quit the job. His opinion that it’s not needed is irrelevant because unless he is sharing the childcare responsibilities during the work day then he’s not the expert in this scenario, she is. And if she’s being blind about the situation it’s definitely time for the OP to have a frank conversation about how it’s not working and can’t continue.

      I feel for this woman, but honestly, it’s time to get real and make some tough choices for the happiness of all involved (kids, coworker and herself!). She’s put unreasonable expectations on herself and runs the risk of feeling like a failure for not being able to do everything!

      1. moosetracks*

        Could it be that “my husband doesn’t want to” is to cover for “we can’t afford it”?

        I’ve known people who use “spouse won’t let me” as an excuse with regards to spending money when they’re actually just skint. Of course, a stronger possibility is that he’s a clueless jerk.

        1. Anon Today Anon Tomorrow*

          That is what I wonder. If it’s a financial thing versus a control thing.

        2. Aveline*

          Or “I don’t want to do it”

          Or “he’s borderline abusive”

          Or any number of things.

          We don’t have enough facts in evidence to do anything but speculate.

          Her reasons for saying it ultimately don’t matter. It isn’t OPs issue to fix for her.

      2. PersonalJeebus*

        I bet her quitting her job is exactly what he’d like to happen. She probably wouldn’t even be attempting to stretch herself this thin if her work wasn’t important to her, and it sounds like she’s good at it when she has the chance to do it.

        The husband’s opinion about the need for childcare shouldn’t carry any weight whatsoever anymore, in my opinion. This has gone on for 11 years and he still refuses to get a clue.

    4. PersonalJeebus*

      Right. The coworker should have a say in what she needs, and at this point she should state it categorically and then go get it, if she safely can. Her husband is telling her the sky is green, and he should be disregarded.

      If he doesn’t like the kind of childcare she gets, he can suggest an alternative form, but he has no leg to stand on in telling her no.

      Maybe he should try taking all five kids to HIS workplace and see how that plays.

    5. Barbara*

      Why does she need her husband approuval anyway ?If she pays a babysitter with her own money what is he going to do ?
      Alternatively she could bring the 5 kids to his work and leave them to him. It would be the best way for him to realise.

  5. TeapotAutomationSpecialist*

    I work full-time remote. I have multiple children under age 10. Often people look at me and say “Wow! That must save you a LOT of money on child care!” My response is “That would make me either a negligent parent, or a fraudulent employee! Nope, I have excellent child care, and am very happy to pay every penny for it.” This situation is really not okay. Your co-worker wasn’t hired to fit in work around her full-time parenting. Please push back, report this up the chain, etc.

    1. BRR*

      All of this. As often mentioned here, remote work agreements frequently require child care arrangements. I had a coworker mention once how they wanted to work from home (it wasn’t allowed) because of their kids and I cringed internally, my coworker continued that they would like to work from home because it would eliminate their hour+ commute each way and they could help get the kids off to school in the morning and spend more time with them each night.

      1. Middle School Teacher*

        To me that’s legit. Get kids off to school, come home and work quietly all day, pick kids up? Good WFH arrangement. This situation? Chaos.

        1. BRR*

          Yup they’re very different situations. I like how my coworker articulated how working from home would support them as a parent without thinking working from home meant childcare.

      2. Lia*

        I worked from home for six years, and had to prove I had child care as a condition of employment. In my current role, we are only sporadically allowed to work from home, and only in the case of weather/emergency — and largely due to situations like this one.

        1. Alton*

          Out of curiosity, how does someone prove it, though? I feel like requiring, say, a copy of a daycare contract would really penalize parents who, say, live with a partner or relative who helps care for the kids during the day, or someone whose child is old enough to take care of and entertain themselves for a few hours. I would be more of a fan of giving people the benefit of the doubt unless problems arise.

          My mom worked from home a lot when I was a kid, and I just…accepted that there were stretches of time where I couldn’t bother her unless there was an emergency. Once I was mobile and potty-trained, I was pretty good at playing by myself for hours at a time without attention. I’m glad that my mom was able to trust her judgment and comfort level on that and didn’t have to pay for a babysitter or daycare needlessly.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            I know someone who had to prove she wasn’t paying for childcare in order to qualify for a mortgage. She just got an “official” (notarized? witnessed? don’t know) letter from her mother, who was providing the childcare. (Why did her lender even know she had a young child? So many mysteries here.)

            1. Why not look ahead*

              Applying for a mortgage exposes your personal finances to an embarrassingly intimate degree. Since tax credits come with young children, they have a neon paper trail attached.

              1. Autumnheart*

                Plus it’d be mentioned in your tax return if you claimed dependents or child care.

          2. Totally Minnie*

            I feel like a company that has this requirement will have a process they use to fulfill it. A simple form that asks for the name and signature of the person providing childcare is really all it would take.

            1. Lia*

              And that is exactly what we had to provide. I got my babysitter to sign and date a form that she cared for my child x hours per week, and sent it off to HQ.

      3. iglwif*

        That seems completely legit to me (although with the caveat that the school day + walking to and from school is usually still fewer hours than a “standard” office workday). They’re saying they’ll work while the kids are not home, just like in the office, but will also get to spend more time with the kids when they ARE home.

        This is actually exactly what I now do: my job is remote and 75% FTE, so my working hours line up pretty well with kiddo’s school hours. When she gets home, we chat for a while (unless I’m in a meeting), then she disappears into her bedroom to do homework ~or whatever teenagers do alone in their rooms~ and I do another hour or so of work. Everyone at my job tracks their time on a cloud-based thingy, because many of us work slightly wacky hours and/or are in different time zones from each other. If I’m putting in my hours AND getting my stuff done AND am present and on the ball for meetings, nobody cares if my breaks during the day are at non-standard times.

    2. BF50*


      Trying to do both parent a child and work at the same time means she is doing neither thing well. I don’t think it’s making a huge jump to speculate that the lack of attention is why her children are so wild.

      I do work from home without childcare when my children are sick, but only when they are just sick enough that they lay around all day, but not so sick that they need me to actually take care of them. And even then, I only count the hours when I’m actually working, not cleaning up or feeding or putting back to bed or whatever.

    3. Thursday Next*

      Yes to this. LW, your situation isn’t tenable. The work has to get done! You’re not being an unsupportive colleague to insist on that. Your coworker has to be the one to figure out how to make that happen—or whether she can make that happen.

    4. Clisby Williams*

      Yes. Twice, I had one small child at home while I was working half-time. I had generous flex time, but I still paid for child care for 12-15 hours a week. The thought of having multiple children at home without child care is making me twitchy. Plus, it’s not good for the kids. They don’t necessarily need a “nanny” – but they need somebody who can actually give them attention, which a parent really can’t do while focusing on work.

      This isn’t the LW’s problem, and she shouldn’t let it become her problem.

    5. Jenny*

      I am a mom with a telework agreement and I am even cautious about using telework when my husband is home taking care of the baby because I know I am not really fully focused when she’s around, even with a fully capable adult there taking care of her.

      1. AMPG*

        Yeah, my job allows me to work from home as needed but I rarely do because my preschoolers are cared for by a sitter in my home, and when I’m there they insist on “checking in” regularly.

        1. BF50*

          The few times I have worked from home while my husband was home with kids, I have snuck into the office while they were brushing teeth and closed the door. My husband told them “Mommy is at work.” Not a lie, just not specifying where I was at work. Then there are no interruptions until they go looking for a toy in the office and find me or I come out to eat lunch. It usually gets me half a day of interruption free work, but bathroom breaks are tricky. :D

          1. AMPG*

            Unfortunately, I don’t have a home office, so there’s no way to be completely out of sight. So I generally only work from home if I have an off-site meeting that’s closer to my house than the office – I’ll work a few hours until it’s time to head out.

          2. BF50*

            By the way this is how we handle snow days. Working from home with healthy kids is a whole different animal than working from home with sick ones. My husband can’t really work from home, so he gets kid duty unless he wants to brave the roads.

        2. DataGirl*

          After college I went overseas as a nanny for a child whose mother worked from home. It was awful- anytime I said no to anything she would run to her mother. If she was bored, she’d want mom. Sad- mom. You get the drift. It was very, very hard on both of us.

    6. Artemesia*

      yeah my daughter works from home and has a full time nanny for her infant; you cannot deliver as an employee while caring for one kid, much less 5. It is crazy expensive.

      1. GreyjoyGardens*

        Childcare costs are through the roof in most areas, and I’ve heard that mentioned as a reason to stop at one or two kids if both parents want to keep working. With three or more kids, unless they are spaced far apart, you’re looking at either: big, BIG bucks for childcare whether that’s a center or a nanny, or absolutely saintly, self-sacrificing grandparent(s) willing and able to wrangle small children in the multiple, or, most commonly, one parent (usually mom) stays home.

        Once they’re in school, the costs taper off, but even after-school care, not to mention extracurriculars, adds up.

    7. yasmara*

      THIS. I was 100% remote for 10 years and my company was very, very clear that I was expected to have full-time childcare for my children (and I did). Of course, they understood sick days/snow days/school holidays/etc., but this was an explicit condition for working remotely.

      OP needs to 1) discuss this with co-worker and tell her it needs to stop during their meetings immediately, and if it continues 2) bring it to management. I’d give co-worker a chance to remedy the situation, but it would need to happen quickly.

      1. PersonalJeebus*

        This and Arya Stark’s comment below are making me start to think that this situation is a tiny bit on the OP’s employer. (I still think it’s mostly on the husband, with the coworker a close second.) The fact that the coworker has been able to pull this off for this long is a sign that the employer isn’t paying enough attention.

        It would be nice if we could all just trust one another as adults to make the correct/mature call, but even people with the best intentions will often take on too much and/or cut corners as a way to manage their resources, and the employer needs to protect their business by communicating expectations and enforcing boundaries. Even a startup.

    8. Arya Snark*

      I manage a remote team and I won’t hire anyone who is primarily responsible for the care of another human being during work hours whether it’s an infant child or an elderly adult. It’s literally the very first question I ask during a screening. I can understand having to deal with issues on occasion when your kid or parent has an emergency but anyone attempting to regularly care for 5 children while working would either not be hired or fired.

  6. Sunshine*

    When I worked from home, I scheduled my meetings in the evenings or on the weekends when my husband was home and could watch the kids. Are evening/weekend meetings an option?

    1. LCH*

      yes, please try this so he gets some incentive to change. if he thinks she can work while watching the kids, it just sounds like he has never done it himself.

    2. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      So now the OP has to work odd hours to accommodate the coworker’s kids? No way am I giving up my weekends and evenings because of somebody else’s kids who doesn’t want to get daycare.

      1. The Original K.*

        Yeah, I wouldn’t do this either. This is akin to the OP paying for a babysitter for the coworker’s kids, to me – it’s a significant and unreasonable personal sacrifice for the OP.

      2. Sunshine*

        Personally I feel the same way and that LW needs to ditch this employee, but the LW seemed like they really wanted to make it work and this is one suggestion of how to do it.

        When I worked from home, I was lucky in that people were accommodating. We would meet over coffee or dinner and make an evening of it. (I should add here that the managers had more flexible work schedules. If they stayed with me in a coffee shop until 7, then they could come into the office at 10 the next morning.)

        1. Seriously?*

          It sounds like the LW has the option to fire the employee because they are a coworker.

      3. Doug Judy*

        It’s a start up, and we don’t really know the nature of the work or what the coworker brings to the company, she may be essential. Not saying all nights and weekends need to be taken up, but start ups by nature can be a little unpredictable on hours.

        Regardless the status quo isn’t working and needs to be addressed with the long term goal of the coworker securing child care.

        1. Zombeyonce*

          I can’t imagine the coworker is that essential if she’ constantly missing deadlines.

          1. Doug Judy*

            Probably not, but you never know. But I’ve seen where someone is kept around because they have a niche skill set that’s hard to find, or they have access to clients that would be hard to get with someone else. It’s hard to know what this lady brings to the company that her bringing 5 kids to meetings has been put up with for this long. My thought is she has to have something valuable to offer. But maybe she was just cheap or was hired as a favor to someone.

      4. PersonalJeebus*

        It’s not a good long-term solution, but trying it a couple of times or sporadically could be one way of educating the husband (assuming he’s not being obtuse on purpose, which seems likely) or at least of forcing him to contribute marginally more to his children’s care. I bet the coworker would consider it a respite, even if she’s doing paying work during that time.

        Odd hours now and then may not be that big a deal to people working for a startup.

    3. Temperance*

      That is just punishing LW because her colleague refuses to be a responsible adult and work out a childcare solution. This isn’t good for LW or the kids.

    4. CoffeeCoffeeCoffee*

      I see how that would be helpful for urgent deadlines; but I don’t think this setup is totally fair for LW or their other coworkers. Like someone said above, LW’s coworker was hired to do a job, not to fit her job in around what is really full-time parenting; why should all of her coworkers give up their weekends and evenings if they’re already working normal working hours? Unless it’s a job that is not traditionally done during normal working hours, I don’t think it’s reasonable of her to expect coworkers to be available after hours or on weekends for a non-urgent work meeting.

    5. Quiet Observer*

      That doesn’t sound like a fair option to the OP. If they had taken this job to work days, suddenly switching to evening/weekend meetings may upend their life. It’s time for a child care option: summer camp, babysitter, child care…but this shouldn’t fall on OP’s schedule to fix it.

      And yes, Dad probably should spend some alone time with the kids to see what mom is dealing with.

      1. Cat Herder*

        It could be fine for the OP — one can’t assume that odd hours are necessarily an imposition. I am **finally** going to be allowed to flex to work weekday evenings and/or weekend afternoons. I’ve been asking for years. I’m looking forward to have a couple of weekday afternoons out of the office. (Nothing has changed in the nature of my work — boss just finally said, that’s a good idea.) If this works for the OP, then they can suggest it. If it doesn’t, then not.

    6. Nita*

      Oooh. That’s a really good idea. Also, OP should suggest that the kids be left with the husband because this is a Very Important Meeting. Maybe he needs a good taste of trying to keep the five of them quiet for a solid hour.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        Except that he doesn’t have to keep them quiet during that time since he’s not working; he’s just keeping them occupied. It might wake him up a bit to the situation but keeping kids occupied in their own house is infinitely easier than keeping them quiet in an unfamiliar place while simultaneously working.

      2. Damn it, Hardison!*

        I think Dad should try taking all 5 kids to work with him and see how much he gets done!

    7. Peter the Bubblehead*

      I could see co-worker’s husband, upon being asked to watch the kids on a weekend while the co-worker goes to a work meeting, sneering and saying, “I’ve been working hard all week! Do you really expect me to give up my golf game and afternoon with the boys at the bar to watch the kids just so you can catch up on the work you should have done during the week like I did??”

    8. Scubacat*

      That’s an interesting solution that could have merit. If the OP is okay working flexible schedule, it’s a better option than having the children run amok. Plus it could be enlightening for Co-Worker Husband on just how much work it is to care for five young humans.

      Though the OP should not feel that they need to do this. If traditional hours are the norm in their field/the OP isn’t thrilled by an odd schedule, then don’t try this. I’m not quite sure what the Real Solution is, but the current situation is not reasonable.

  7. Dust Bunny*

    Yeah, no. H-E-double hockeysticks, no.

    You need to go to your boss and explain that this is not working out. Your coworker’s complacent husband, spinelessness, and more kids than she can handle should not be your problem. If you (y’all) have a boss, that boss needs to step in and require her to do something.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      And, no, d0n’t pay for childcare. Not your kids, not your responsibility. I wouldn’t have had them over in the first place but the first time they interrupted work or broke something would be the last.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I think it’s fair for the OP to have a conversation with the coworker before going to the boss. Then if nothing changes, loop them in.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Oh, of course, but then it needs to go to the boss without a lot of dithering. I know people want to help working parents but if she and her husband want a big family, it’s on them to learn to manage it, and they’re not.

    3. Traffic_Spiral*

      Yeah, it sucks that coworker has a crappy husband, 5 kids and no support, but that can’t really be LW’s problem.

    4. Pollygrammer*

      And I disagree with framing this–even initially–as a request. It shouldn’t be “when we meet from now on, can it just be us?” It should be “When we meet from now on, it has to be just us. Hosting your kids is my house is no longer an option.”

      1. MLB*

        100% this. Nothing about this situation is okay, and I would not frame it as a request either. LW can be civil and still insist things change because it’s not fair to her or the children. Letting them run loose will only make things worse as they get older – kids need discipline and structure, and it doesn’t sound they’re getting either.

    5. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I’m confused because the OP says she has only the one other coworker. Does that mean that CW is also her boss? Is CW the company owner? Or is it just that she and CW are the only people on their team and there are other CWs and a boss? Did I miss something?

      1. VioletEMT*

        I read this as a startup with a boss/founder and two employees: OP & CW. So a 3-person shop.

  8. Celeste*

    It’s a real disservice to the children, because they have actual needs. They need to have not only enough supervision to be safe, but enough structure that they can thrive. I feel for this woman. It needs to be made clear to her (and she needs to make clear to her husband) that childcare is a cost of doing business here.

    1. moosetracks*

      I feel awful for these kids. I’m an educator, and even my best-behaved 11 year old is going to get antsy if you leave her without something to do. Also, all kids need the ability to blow off some steam.

      It doesn’t seem like the parents are providing things for these kids to do (coloring books, movies, video games, etc. — though most of the things I can think of would really only work for the older end of the age range anyway). It certainly doesn’t seem like these are environments condusive to moving around enough, or that they’re getting the kind of supervision they need.

      Since they’re being asked to keep quiet/still for hours on end many times, now… I’m not a psychologist, but from my understanding, if a child is repeatedly ignored/treated like an inconvenience (the dad doesn’t think it’s necessary to hire a sitter, the mom says she’s “given up”) it’s not abnormal for them to wreak havoc.

      None of that really addresses the LW’s problem directly, and obviously that’s all on the parents, not on the LW. If your boss refuses to do anything about it, meeting at a McDonalds/park isn’t an awful idea.

      1. Oranges*

        As a person who is intensely interested in child psychology. You are correct.

        Children need structure and attention. They are getting neither. They will act out more and more until they find the “limit” aka how much chaos it’ll take to get attention. Even if she didn’t work, with five children who are competing for her attention things can get a bit… hectic unless there’s very good time and expectation management.

        With the job? Yeah, I’m not surprised about how chaotic they’re being. I’m actually sad for them since this is teaching them they have to act out to get attention. I also feel for their teachers.

      2. Cornflower Blue*

        I have to say, I feel REALLY BAD for the kids AND LW here.

        Both my parents worked full time so after school, I would sometimes be taken home by a babysitter (public transport+walking+her waiting with me until parents arrived), sometimes have after school activities that kept me at school until they could pick me up and sometimes, I’d go to the office, sit under their desk and read quietly because I was a total bookworm from age 6 and needed nothing more than some books and a chocolate milk to be happy.

        I got to try a lot of different activities (ballet! circus training! scouts & guides! embroidery! swimming!) and got adequate supervision to keep me safe.

        Know what I didn’t get? A stressed out mother who had to balance working with a high-attention child and whose husband was zero help.

        It doesn’t sound like LW’s coworker is managing to be a good mom OR a good employee and while that sucks, the solution isn’t LW paying out of her pocket for childcare.

        The solution is the father stepping up and taking the kids at least part time if they can’t afford childcare. The solution is LW telling the coworker that this is not working, and telling her boss the same thing so that she doesn’t get penalized for the coworker slacking off. The solution is getting those kids into summer camps or over at friend’s houses, anywhere that’s safe and not the LW’s office or business meetings.

        Best of luck, LW! You sound like a wonderful, patient person but it’s time to put your foot down and give your coworker an ultimatum. The childcare situation may suck but “not my circus, not my monkeys”.

        Your circus is failing because your monkey-tamer is failing. It’s on the monkey-tamer to fix that now.

        (Disclaimer: I love kids, I love monkeys, I’ve nicknamed my favorite cousin ‘monkey’. None of that is meant to be a slur on kids or monkeys!)

  9. Kathy*

    I gotta say, you are much, much kinder than I am. If one of my coworkers showed up at my house with one to five (!) kids in tow, the only thing they’d get out of me is a “oh, hell no.” That being said, I do agree with Alison’s advice–I feel like it’d be overstepping to do more than that, in terms of talking to your coworker. And in talking to your boss, I like to remember Alison’s past advice of making sure that you’re focused on the work aspect, so that it doesn’t come across as tattling. I don’t really like kids myself, but I would be working hard to emphasis the, “hey, this is affecting work, what can we do?” instead of “the children are menaces.” Good luck!

    1. Bunny Girl*

      Yeah I don’t even let my friends bring their children over to my house. If a coworker showed up with that, I would absolutely tell her to go home. I feel for this woman, but OP needs to tell her that her current arrangement is impacting the workflow. If she can’t come up with a solution, it’s time to wrangle the boss in. I wonder if they know about this?

      1. Health Insurance Nerd*

        Ha, I’m kind of at the same place in my life right now. My kids are adults (and I use that word VERY loosely), but because I had them pretty young, most of my friends still have small children. My house is neither baby-proofed nor child friendly, so when we have get togethers at our house we always make it clear that it is adults only. I used to feel bad, but a set of chocolate handprints on my couch, and a juice stain on an off white rug cured me!

        1. Middle School Teacher*

          My aunt and uncle are no longer friends with a couple with young children for that reason. My cousins were older and they finally had a nice (meaning not child-proof, with nice furniture) house; the friends had younger children who were, to be euphemistic, quite spirited. Finally I guess my aunt sat them down and said “we love you as friends, and we are happy to visit you, or host you without your kids, or you need to keep a closer eye on your children.” And I guess the friends huffed out, and friendship over.

    2. Guacamole Bob*

      One kid on an occasional basis would be fine with me depending on the kid, because parenting is a hard gig and sometimes people end up with child care gaps. An infant who was a good napper could be only mildly disruptive, and a kid who is maybe 5 or older and is happy to read or play on a tablet for an hour would be fine (not all kids are happy to do that, but some definitely are). But a toddler or preschooler is a hard no at any time, and multiple kids is a hard no, because they are much more likely to rile each other up.

      – Signed, the parent of two preschoolers

    3. Red Reader*

      Same. My house is not kid proof, my dogs are not kid friendly. (Well. One is. The other is young, excitable, prey-driven and has a play setting that was calibrated by 6’4” dudes. So while we’ve never had any problems with her and kids, I prefer not to test it.) People don’t show up at my house with kids barring explicit invitation and actually make it in the front door.

  10. GreyjoyGardens*

    I think it would be a good idea to bring this to your boss, because it affects not only you and your workload but the whole company. This is not “being a tattletale” or “throwing a coworker under the bus” – it is sticking up for yourself, and making things work better for the company. I know Alison has been over this concept before, and it’s one of the (many!) things I’ve found so helpful to me in my own work life.

    Definitely do not have the kids at your house – as is pointed out above, if one of them gets hurt, or clawed by the cat even if the poor cat is just defending himself, the parents could sue you, and even if they don’t win, that’s a colossal headache. And don’t pay for a babysitter – you don’t need to take this responsibility on yourself. This is mom’s and boss’s problem to solve, NOT yours. Just don’t let the kids in your house, and do your best to work with mom around the kids while holding up your end of the work.

    I feel sorry for mom here, especially because her husband sounds unhelpful at the very best. But this is HER problem and she’s an adult, so don’t feel YOU have to step in.

    1. Kate R*

      “This is mom’s and boss’s problem to solve, NOT yours.”

      I agree with this so much. Is the boss aware of these problems? Or is everyone just in a constant pattern of covering for the coworker? Being a SAHM+working-parent really isn’t a thing. You’re either one or the other, and it’s really on the boss to tell her this arrangement isn’t acceptable. I agree that as a coworker, you want to focus on how this is affecting the work so it’s not coming across as tattling, but I think this conversation should be happening with the boss, and the boss needs to talk to this coworker.

      1. JosiePcat*

        Yes, the fact that it is affecting deadlines means this is jeopardizing your reputation. You are probably taking up more slack than you even realize as well. Does your boss even know this employee has 5 kids with no child care? Or do they know and assume everything is hunky dory because no one has told them differently?

    2. Jenny*

      I agree. Talk to boss. The idea that this person is contemplating paying out of pocket for something that is not even kind of a reasonable expectation is insane. Boss needs to be aware of this situation. This is not tattling, this is 100% a reasonable issue that needs to be addressed.

      1. Sunny Side Up*

        And does OP have any idea how much childcare for five kids would cost? Even for only the younger ones, that’s at least 2-3 kids. That’s not cheap.

    3. TootsNYC*

      yeah, my thought was, “where’s the boss in this?”
      Boss needs to know, and boss needs to address.

  11. Boop*

    …anyone else wondering if the baby was in the stroller when they tried to break the window?

      1. A tester, not a developer*

        It’s really hard to get work done in one of those places – they’re full of screaming kids…


    1. Kittymommy*

      Was anyone else thinking the restaurant manager probably had a heart attach when this happened??!!

      1. Blue*

        Yeah, the poor staff at these restaurants/coffee shops. If I were the OP, I wouldn’t be able to get work done anyway because I’d be so self-conscious of the kids’ destruction and glares from the other patrons.

      2. Slow Gin Lizz*

        The poor restaurant manager should have kicked them out after the first thing they broke. That group must have been terrifying.

        1. Anon Accountant*

          I was thinking they may be banned frimtbeg restaurant now. Breaking a window from misbehavior?!

            1. Slow Gin Lizz*

              Right, but they did break other things – a lamp, an umbrella – so I can see the confusion. Regardless, almost breaking a window is still pretty bad, especially since the whole pane of glass rattled and probably came really close to breaking. I *hope* they are banned from the restaurant.

              1. Dove*

                Hopefully, yes – and it’d be completely reasonable if they are.

                Unfortunately, this is one of the reasons why it’s really important for LW to be firm about Coworker not bringing her kids along to meetings any more: in cases like this, it isn’t just “oh that’s awkward, embarrassing, and potentially expensive, and possibly someone’s going to get hurt”. I’m assuming a reservation was booked at the restaurant, and it got charged to the company cards…which means that if the restaurant did ban them? It’s not just Coworker and her kids (and probably LW and anyone else who was with them) who are forbidden from entering the premises any more: it’s probably anyone even *associated* with the company.

                Which makes doing things like, say, booking restaurants for another working lunch, or taking clients out to eat a lot more difficult because now your options have narrowed and your company’s starting to look like the kind of place with employees who behave badly enough to get banned from restaurants.

  12. otterbaby*

    Also, is this really a great environment for 5 children (excluding baby)? Summertime is an opportunity to sign those kids up for some fun outdoor activities where they learn new skills and progress their social development, not keep them in a stranger’s house all day where they can’t touch anything. Their energy must be through the roof!

    1. Thursday Next*

      Agreed. This situation isn’t good for anyone. (Except possibly the husband, to them I say, WTF, dude?)

    2. AdminX2*

      Agreed. My partner is a tutor and they have an older kid who basically is at the tutor center all day, every day as the parents are using it as “structured” summer vacation care. Of course by the end of the day he’s checked out so no real work gets done.

    3. Dot Warner*

      Yeah, I was having the same thought. The older kids should be at some sort of camp during the summer (not necessarily sleepaway camp – day camp is great too). It’s too late for that this summer since depending on where they live, they might be only a couple of weeks out from school starting, but maybe OP could mention it to her coworker now and coworker could consider it for next summer.

    4. Fellow Traveler*

      I totally agree that summer is prime outdoor run around energy release time! But…camp is expensive and can be a logistical nightmare. Where I live it is about be $275/week to enroll just one kid in camp from 9am-3pm and then (because most of us don’t get off work in time for a 3pm pick up) you have to pay for before and aftercare. And most camps only run for a few weeks so that you have to jigsaw puzzle a full summer for your kid. With five kids, I can’t imagine the expense of camp and the challenge of finding a camp which will take all of them all summer. Summer is the hardest time for childcare. And you have to figure it out anew every summer.
      On the other hand, there are plenty of high schoolers looking for summer jobs- hire one of them to kid wrangle!

      1. Dot Warner*

        I mentioned camp only as something the OP’s coworker should think about for next summer – loads of time to save money and figure out logistics between now and then. Depending on where they live, school might be starting in 2 weeks or less, so no point in worrying about it now.

    5. LilySparrow*

      That’s what I was thinking, too. The most well-adjusted kids in the world will turn into hellions if you keep them cooped up all day with nothing constructive to do.

  13. Temperance*

    You have a coworker problem, not a coworker’s husband problem. She’s an adult, and if she can’t work full-time while taking care of her badly behaved kids, she needs to admit that to him and hire a damn babysitter. She’s working and bringing in an income, so it’s not like she has no say in the matter.

    You need to not have those kids in your house more than you need to help her. I’m not clear on whether you need to work with her or not.

    1. Thursday Next*

      More than anything, LW needs to get work done, and if coworker isn’t delivering, that needs to be addressed head-on. This isn’t about LW’s house, first and foremost, but about the work not getting done.

      As a side note, coworker isn’t doing her children any favors by toting them around like this. They need to be engaged in age-appropriate activities, including physical activity.

    2. Totally Minnie*

      Right. Whether or not Coworker has a husband problem is not OP’s issue. That’s for Coworker to deal with if she needs to. I agree with the people who have suggested that OP bring it up with the boss.

  14. Ladyphoenix*

    Just… wow. Did the restaurant ban her and her kids?

    Yeah, I wouldn’t want any single one of then to be anywhere near my house. I do not want to be the curmogeon “Dang kids get off mah lawn” (because I am 27)…. but no. No no no. I don’t want those kids in my house, bteaking ny things, terrorizing my pets, etc. just because they are acting out against their mom.

    That is the mom’s whole can of worms and if she can’t find anway to make them behave and get her work done, then she needs to find a job that will let her do it.

    You are her coworker, no the kid’s second mother or babysitter.

    1. Ladyphoenix*

      Ugh, this soundsnso child hating but…
      Ugh no. Screaming kids who break things is on my list of NOPES.

      I don’t blame the kids for this (even if I won’t tolerate their shenigans). I blame the mom and dad for poor child care. They either need a babysitter or the dad needs to get off his butt and watch them.

      1. iglwif*

        Yeah, no, I love kids but I am sooooo with you on this.

        It isn’t the kids’ fault–it’s the parents’–but it’s still unacceptable. And not only that, it’s setting those poor kids up for a lot of rude awakenings later :P

      2. The Original K.*

        I like kids, but I don’t like when they behave badly. That’s a perfectly reasonable stance to take. I like my friends but I don’t like when they behave badly either. If my grown-up friend ran around my house acting a fool and breaking my stuff, she wouldn’t be invited back. Same with kids.

      3. Jadelyn*

        It’s not the kids’ fault that they’ve been allowed to be unholy terrors who leave destruction in their wake – that’s on the parents. But it still doesn’t mean I should feel obligated to let them leave their trail of destruction through my home and my stuff. It’s not child-hating, it’s just having very reasonable boundaries about one’s personal space and property.

  15. Tiny Tiger*

    Oh, I would’ve been so done the instant the “hobgoblins” started running around a restaurant and breaking things. I’m not even the biggest fan of children when they’re behaved, but being actively destructive in a public area? Hell no! That would’ve been grounds for me to turn to the mother and tell her “Either get a handle on your children, or I will do it for you and they won’t like it.” The fact that OP says the mother has outright given up trying to control them is very telling…
    OP, bring this up to your manager ASAP! Someone else’s lack of parenting should not be affecting how you do your job.

    1. Just Employed Here*

      “Either get a handle on your children, or I will do it for you and they won’t like it.”

      I wouldn’t recommend threatening other people’s children.

      Also, it’s not that she needs to “get a handle” on them, it’s that they shouldn’t be there in the first place. I’m seriously side-eyeing anyone who thinks they could discipline five kids into behaving like robots or adults in a not-at-all-kid-friendly environment like this.

  16. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

    /not a terribly helpful response

    I really really have commend the OP for the use of ‘hobgoblin’ Seriously underutilized word if you ask me.

    /end unhelpful response

    1. savethedramaforyourllama*

      I was very entertained by the whole of LW’s letter. I am guessing a male wrote it (but obviously not certain on this) and for some reason that made it all the more entertaining and heart warming (I really think LW has the best intentions)

      1. Pollygrammer*

        I don’t love the idea that gender should impact how LW’s “intentions” are perceived.

        1. Jenny*

          Part of me does wonder if someone would try this insanity on a male coworker. I doubt it. There is this expectation that women are supposed to be more kid tolerant.

          1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

            I think that’s a fair question. There are two ways to look at it. 1) Mrs. Hobgoblin thinks that she will be able to impose on a woman because, woman = nurturer who can help 2) Mrs. H thinks another woman will empathize and let her get away with this.

        2. savethedramaforyourllama*

          That wasn’t my assertion, the LW has the best intentions regardless of gender. It just read to me as someone somewhat distant to the whole idea of children but that wanted to be as helpful as possible (like an observer of the situation from the outside) – not that being a male automatically makes you distant to the child thing, or that being a female automatically makes you more familiar with it – anyway, all I was saying was I was entertained by the way LW wrote the letter (and I incorrectly guessed it was a male writer).

          1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

            I did as well, largely because my brother would use the word hobgoblin.

      2. TinaB*

        Same here! I think it was the “don’t want to be a dick”, “Lego Display Sets”, and “want to be a good feminist” that gave his gender away. :)

        I don’t think he was hiding his gender; I think most women were assuming that it was a female coworker. To me, it makes more sense why he would be so overly polite about her “hobgoblins” (his word) and is really treading carefully.

        For the record, I have a guy friend who sounds just like this guy. He is part of a Tech start-up, owns a nice home, is a self-described Feminist (not gay), and has completed Lego Sets on display (Star Wars mainly)…and he even has a cat!

        I realize that women have these things too, but the “be a dick” solidified it for me. Also, women have an easier time trying to help wrangle other women’s children (at the restaurant, esp.) or to broach the subject of childcare. A young man, still proud of his Lego Displays and who has a deep respect for women, is likely not to that point…just yet.

    2. RVA Cat*

      The only difference seems to be that D&D hobgoblins are Lawful Evil. In this case that would be co-worker’s husband….

    3. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      I came looking for the thread where I could cheer on the brilliant use of “hobgoblin.”
      A perfect choice. Four stars. Will recommend.

      1. Jenny*

        I love kids, but this is accurate. New puppies and toddlers are similarly destructive. My younger sister, in the space of 20 minutes due to a miscommunication as to who was watching her (she was 2 and a half), once cut off all her hair, cut off the dog’s hair, and took the scissors to the couch (my mom is a sewing genius and re-covered it, but still).

        1. Happy Lurker*

          While cooking dinner one night I was so pleasantly surprised that I had 10 whole quiet minutes to prepare. Until I realized that was about 9 minutes too long.
          My 5 year old colored my 1 year old’s face with marker. Don’t worry it was non-toxic. Multi child eyeballing and dinner making fail.

          1. Nita*

            Ahh, cooking dinner… my two-year-old once drew all over her legs with non-washable black Sharpie while I was in the kitchen for 10 minutes. The same Sharpie that her big brother took from my purse, swearing up and down that he knows it’s not for kids, and that he’ll keep it out of her reach. I got her in the bath fast enough to wash most of it off. She still looked like a zebra for a week…

          2. Melissa*

            See, it just goes to show the *unreasonable* pressures that parents are under that you consider this a fail. To me it sounds like a parenting win. The kids were happy and entertained and you got time to make dinner.

    4. Nita*

      I am borrowing that word! My normally well behaved kids have done everything OP describes, even the ramming incident. I had to kick the ringleader out of a crowded laundry room when they wouldn’t stop ramming carts at each other. They’re very nice when they’re not bored and in a small space together, but when they are, I wonder why I wanted my own circus full of drunken monkeys at home…

      1. Former Employee*

        Thank you for “circus full of drunken monkeys” (hilarious) and for being honest about your own kids.

  17. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    Alison, how would you respond if the LW were the boss/business owner? Is there any world in which it would be reasonable/appropriate to offer to pay for child care?

    (I’m wondering because I have a similar situation with a coworker right now. She uses public transit to commute and doesn’t have a car — in a region with not-very-good transit — which means that it’s difficult for her to attend our relatively frequent early morning meetings. She knew this coming into the job and assured us that she could make it work, but it’s been a problem. We’ve decided to pay for her to take a Lyft.)

    1. savethedramaforyourllama*

      If you pay for childcare or transportation (outside of a rare exception, as in, 99% of the time the person not having a car is no big deal but we asked them to go across town for work so we pay for transportation there), then you are essentially giving that person a pay raise. Every other working adult has to figure out how to 1) address their childcare issues and 2) maintain proper transportation on their allotted salary.

      In your situation, especially if these regular meetings were known to the person at time of hire, the person should have said to themselves, ok I will only be able to make these meetings if I use Lyft, $x goes into Lyft budget.

      1. GreyjoyGardens*

        And if the coworkers are the ones “chipping in” for a Lyft (or child care or…) then that employee is getting a raise *taken out of their coworkers’ pockets.*

        It’s one thing to occasionally help out if someone needs a Lyft once or twice a year, but subsidizing regular transportation on a *volunteer* basis (not tax-free commuter benefits that a company offers) is not fair to coworkers and it’s not a solution to employee issues.

      1. neverjaunty*

        Hey, she said she could make it work! And she is, by getting her co-workers to pay for it.

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          To be clear, the organization is paying for it, not her coworkers as individuals.

    2. Genny*

      Not Allison, but to me, it would depend on the quality of the employee. If the employee in question brings a lot of value to the company, it might be worth it to pay a couple hundred dollars extra a year to keep her (just like you might offer a stellar employee a higher salary or allow them to work from home). If the employee is average or below average, it’s harder to justify the additional expense.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yep. Stellar employee, let’s talk about it. Average employee, no.

        Victoria Nonprofit, I’m curious if you’ve said, “We really need you at these meetings, like we talked about at the outset. It might be that you need to take Lyft or arrange a different form of transportation, but we can’t be flexible on this.”

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          I don’t mean to derail with my own question, so please feel free to not respond or delete this thread entirely.

          I’m not this person’s manager. I control the program budget (for the program that requires the early morning meetings) and I’m happy to pay $200/year to make sure we have the support we need at the morning meetings. It’s a negligible amount, the program can afford it, and if she isn’t there I have to be and, frankly, I’m not eager to add a bunch of 5:30 a.m. starts to my life.

          … but I’m frustrated that we’re accommodating what I see as her unreasonable inflexibility. When this first came up — when she sent an email on a Sunday evening saying she couldn’t come in for an early-morning Monday meeting — I immediately raised it with her boss (who is the VP of our division, my boss’ boss; she’s his EA) and he recommended the we-pay-for-a-Lyft solution. I don’t know what he’s done in terms of managing the performance aspect of it.

          1. LQ*

            This sounds like something my boss’s boss would do. Sometimes when I get annoyed at the costs that are incredibly unreasonable he will hand me a calculator and make me do some math, which inevitably proves the point that the time spent fighting about it will always, always be more than the amount of the thing, and you sometimes have to come at those problems from a different angle. Your vp may have made the decision that the cost on this is small enough to be insignificant and that the program can afford it and having to fight about it will cost more than it’s worth to do that.

            Not saying you shouldn’t keep an eye on it, but he may have already made that decision. Fighting every battle doesn’t make sense for anyone. (I say this as I avoid something that I have to do because my boss doesn’t want to fight this fight because the much, MUCH bigger battle is still in progress and you have to correctly marshal your forces.)

          2. Sally*

            Forgive me because I work in government world not non profit world but wouldn’t it be an issue if you were audited and money coming into a non profit was towards’ someone’s cab expenses? It just doesn’t seem like a necessary expense to me. And wouldn’t other coworkers potentially resent this? I can’t imagine this being offered to one employee and not the others unless it was a reasonable accomodation (ADA/legally speaking)

            1. Namelesscommentator*

              I work at a non profit that pretty regularly uses lyft/cabs to do our work. Sometimes we are coming and going late at night, and public transit is unreliable at best, unsafe at worst. A cab from the airport is cheaper than public transit becausr i live so close, sometimes meetings are so back to back that a cab makes sense. Sometimes we bring in materials from home that can’t be carried on public transit. We don’t do normal commutes with reimbursed lyft – but a 5:30 start is not normal, and a lyft is more expensive than a typical drive commute, so it doesn’t seem that inappropriate for a company to pay for it. It doesn’t read as an audit risk at al for me.

            2. Finance Face*

              I’m currently finishing up and internal audit and in the midst of a statutory one in a nonprofit, I could easily justify cab fare for a 5:30am meeting. As a finance person I would ask for written justification, file it away, and not bat an eye.

          3. Nerdgal*

            If the meeting is an offsite, required business meeting, the I would think the company would pay for EVERYONE’S expenses to attend. Pay by the mile to drive your own car if you have one, pay for taxi or uber otherwise. In my field this is standard. You could set guidelines for maximum payment or class of service if you wanted to though.

    3. BRR*

      I thought for a moment the LW might be the boss/owner and was pondering this. I think, with some conditions about the situation, it would be acceptable and wonderful if they paid for childcare.

      For your coworker, I don’t think you should be paying for their Lyft. Partially because it wasn’t a surprise and partially because you work for a nonprofit (making a guess with your name). Regular transportation for regular business hours (I’m including a slight stretch to 9-5 as normal business hours) is almost always the employee’s responsibility.

      1. GreyjoyGardens*

        I always thought that one requirement for taking a job is “figure out how to get there.” Drive, train, bus, Lyft, whatever, but it’s on the employee to figure out their own transportation and pay for it. (Paying for a Lyft or taxi once or twice a year to the office Christmas party or summer retreat is fine. But subsidizing a regular taxi? No.)

        Tax-free commuter benefits are great – these usually involve encouraging people to take public transit by helping to pay for ticket costs, and I’m 100% in favor of that (and have been a beneficiary!) but coworkers paying out of *their own pockets* for a Lyft for one coworker? Oh hell no.

        1. Les G*

          This. Hell, I’d “choose to be carfree” too if I knew I could just get my employer to pay for cabs! Adulting, it’s not always fun.

          1. Not Australian*

            I had a boss who pretended not to be able to drive, just so that he could get our employers to fund cabs for him everywhere. He outed himself when he turned up one day at the wheel of his own car. As far as I know, there were no consequences whatsoever.

      2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        It’s not normal business hours (she needs to be be at work by around 5:30 a.m. ~20 times a year), but the irregular hours were disclosed as a part of the hiring process.

        1. Alton*

          I think the fact that it was anticipated puts more responsibility on the employee. I would have more sympathy if she signed on for specific hours that she knew she could make work but the job requirements changed unexpectedly.

        2. Rosemary7391*

          I know full well that 5:30 am is an unpleasant time to get to work. I managed it when I was 16 or 17 – granted my workplace at the time was within walking distance and I usually cycled, but I knew it was my problem to get there when I agreed to do those shifts! I think your coworker is very fortunate not to just be told to get on with it…

        3. What's with today, today?*

          Are you sure she just doesn’t want to get up that early? My regular work hours are that early (5 a.m.- 1 p.m.) and it is practically impossible to call in sick because no one wants to be at work that early(Im the only one there until 8ish, radio business). Vacations happen, but no one likes being the person that has to cover for my mornings.

    4. Antilles*

      As a general thing, there’s a fairly widespread expectation among companies that if you’re working from home, you will still typically have childcare – especially with young kids as the situation here. It’s simply not realistic for someone to be productive when they’re also managing a toddler and four other kids at the same time.
      Would I pay for it? I mean, I’d want to…but I really doubt it’d be financially feasible. This came up in the comments a couple weeks ago, but child care is crazy, ludicriously expensive – like on the order of a monthly rent/mortgage payment; in fact multiple people said childcare was significantly more expensive than their mortgage…and for the record, that discussion was more along the lines of “1 to 2 kids”, not five.
      So we’re probably talking about an enormous expense – in the five digits range. . That’s completely unrealistic for most business owners, even ones who are very employee focused – after all, if I had that kind of spare money just floating around, I’d have given it out as big raises/bonuses!
      I’d be very sympathetic. I’d definitely be willing to entertain alternatives if there’s a way to alter the workflow so she can do most of her work in the evening when the husband is home to deal with the kids. And I’d give her time to deal with it. But…at the end of the day, paying for childcare is likely fiscally impossible and the current situation is completely untenable.

      1. Antilles*

        That said, for your Lyft situation…I’d really figure out how often these are going and how much it’s costing me. If it’s once a month, I’d probably just accept it – $20 a month is only a couple hundred bucks a year; which is pretty fair.
        But if it’s more frequent than that, then you get into my last paragraph – I might be sympathetic and willing to figure out alternatives if there’s something that makes sense…but there’s a real financial limit here. If I’m paying for a Lyft twice a week, we’re looking at a couple thousand bucks – that’s just not a reasonable ask.

        1. Blue*

          How is a couple hundred dollars a year fair? A one-off would be fine, but I have way better things to spend hundreds(!) of dollars on than my coworker’s transportation costs.

          1. Antilles*

            A couple hundred bucks is a small enough amount that I’d put it under the typical “manager’s discretion” part of the budget – similar to sending a co-worker to a conference or buying a piece of software or generic office supplies or replacing a monitor or etc. It’s not taking money out of your pocket to give it to her, it’s money that would otherwise be spent on various small stuff.
            Also, as a general thing, I’d certainly keep it in mind when it comes to divvying up the bonus/raise pool for next year, since it’s (effectively) a couple hundred dollar raise.

      2. savethedramaforyourllama*

        I think that is part of the problem here, in the original case, because I would venture to guess that mom’s salary doesn’t cover childcare costs for 5 kids (or not much beyond it) so she would be working to cover childcare so she can work. Since its WFH they probably assumed they could just use all the extra money from mom’s paycheck without having to consider that cost.

      3. Clisby Williams*

        Business owners should not be paying for child care – that is, in essence, a pay increase, and you shouldn’t be giving raises to people just because they have children. I worked for a couple of companies that provided on-site daycare, but really all they provided was the space and the utilities. The parents who used it footed the bill for the actual daycare program.

        1. Jenny*

          I am super grateful for my excellent, on site, daycare that I get a big discount on due to employee status. That is great. I do not expect full coverage.

          1. Bend & Snap*

            I get a 3% discount at our daycare. In my area, for one pre-K kid, 9 hours a day, daycare runs about $18K a year. If this woman has young kids, her salary may not cover childcare.

            Which in no way excuses this behavior, and in the OP’s shoes, I’d be discussing it with my manager.

        2. McWhadden*

          Business owners should pay whatever they want to keep the employees they want to keep, though.

          1. aebhel*

            Yeah, if the employee is actually bringing a lot of value to the company, it may be worth it to the owner to foot (all or part of) the childcare bill in order to keep her.

            …that doesn’t sound like it’s the case here, though.

        3. Rat in the Sugar*

          But if a valued employee would not otherwise be able to stay in their job, then you wouldn’t be giving a pay increase just because they have children, you’re giving a pay increase to retain your valued employee.

    5. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Are these meetings being held at your regular workplace during her regular working hours? If so, then it should definitely be on her to get there. If not, I think offering reimbursement for a Lyft is a fair idea.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Regular workplace, not regular working hours, but the irregular hours were disclosed as a part of the hiring process (and are within the range of normal for her job/our field).

    6. Dr. Johnny Fever*

      Do you pay for Lyft for other employees?

      If not, you are giving this employee a perk that cannot be shared by others, and that is fair to the others. It’s on her to solve the issue, not on you.

      How long until you are paying busfare, or Lyft to work in general?

      1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

        That is *not* fair, it should say. And I read that multiple times. Need more coffee.

      2. WellRed*

        I am on the fence with this, only because requiring her to be at work that early is a bit of an outlier. On no planet, would I want to do that, so…let her have the Lyft (as long as she is also a good worker).
        I’ve applied to jobs in the past where there was one day a week you had to be there at like 4am. They sent a car.

    7. Bea*

      If you pay for hers. It has to be offered to everyone. This also means everyone is entitled to a free Lyft.

      Otherwise you’re opening up a giant can of special favors for a lawyer to slurp up one day someone is denied the same perks.

      There are places with child care and transportation assistance programs. They’re awesome but need to be open to everyone. So it means a larger budget.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        This actually isn’t true. You do need to ensure that your perks don’t happen to be different for people of different races/religions/disability/sex/national origin/etc and that they couldn’t be perceived that way. iAnd while generally it’s smart to ensure that similarly situated employees are treated similarly (“similarly situated” could refer to performance, seniority, type of role, etc.), there’s no legal requirement that everyone be offered the exact same things.

        1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

          The nonprofit wouldn’t have to pay to Lyft everyone to work, but shouldn’t it offer other subsidized transportation choices to match what this employee gets?

          The cost may be low, but the benefit is high. It must be noticed by other employees.

          1. Emilia Bedelia*

            I think this is still a stretch.
            One of my coworkers works from home 4 times/week because she lives 2 hours away. I don’t work from home at all, because I live 5 minutes away. It’s not “fair”, because she chooses to live far away, but why would I begrudge her a perk that doesn’t really make a difference to me?
            In my opinion, adults should be able to recognize that sometimes, people get certain perks/flexibility that others don’t get because of their circumstances. As long as management is willing to be flexible about all sorts of circumstances (eg, in my example, my boss will let me go to appointments during the day), I really don’t think it’s necessary to invent similar perks for other people.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            It depends on the details. Sometimes it makes sense to do something special for a stellar employee who has a weird situation, especially one that couldn’t have been foreseen (which is not the case here), but you need to be able to defend why you’ve done it there and not in other cases.

          3. Rae*

            No. One of my co-workers developed a sudden and unexpected issue that would prevent them from driving. We had outgrown our parking lot and used another (about 2-3 miles from the office) and were already using a shuttle bus. The bus met him at a corner near his house, only a block away. They paid for a taxi a few times. It was very clear to everyone that this was a situation that blew chunks for him as he tried to figure out how to live his adult life without driving in a state that has an overall “walkability” score in the 20’s (out of 100) and a public transit score of 0. No one was jerk enough to demand special treatment.

      2. Antilles*

        You’re allowed to treat employees differently as long as your differentiation is not based on a legally protected characteristic.
        As a perception thing, there might be an argument against the special treatment – especially since “shows up in a Lyft every other week” is an obvious and noticeable perk (far more so than, say, giving an extra day of PTO or whatever).

    8. Ann Perkins*

      It’s not appropriate to pay for an employee’s child care and opens up so many cans of worms. Even with the Lyft example, it really should be the coworker’s responsibility to make it to the meetings. If you’re paying for Lyft for one, are you giving gas cards to other employees who have their own transportation in order to get to work?

    9. Totally Minnie*

      A business owner always has the right to provide subsidized childcare or transportation for her employees if that’s the business model she wants to work with. But it has to be implemented equally if it’s going to be provided by the company. It can’t be “Matilda needs a stipend for childcare so she can do X work, but Hector has to figure out the costs on his own.” If you’re going to subsidize childcare, it’s got to be across the board.

    10. Tim Tam Girl*

      Victoria, I was the co-worker in this situation: I lived in a city but did not drive and so walked or took public transportation every day. When I had to do pre-6:00 am starts or post 9:00 pm finishes (1-4/month on average by the time I finished my employment there), my work would reimburse my Lyft fare home.

      My boss and my only co-worker both chose to drive every day and paid annually for on-site parking, which was discounted by our employer but therefore couldn’t be reimbursed for occasional, specific off-hours starts. (If they hadn’t had dedicated spots and had driven in for an off-shift, their one-off parking costs would have been paid for.) But my boss was still adamant that paying for my Lyft home was a right and fair thing to do for me because a) it was a safety concern (our workplace and its closest public transportation stops were in a very, very dodgy area) and b) my willingness to do these shifts meant that no one else had to do them. My co-worker resented doing them so he wasn’t willing to argue the money point.

      This is a long way around to say that again, ‘fair’ and ‘equal’ are not always the same thing. Was it strictly ‘equal’ that my occasional transport was paid for when my boss and co-worker paid for parking regardless? No. But was there an overall benefit to the team? Well, my being there meant that no one else had to, and I was much more willing to do it when I knew I had dafe transportation; I was capable and reliable; and my consistency in doing those off-shifts meant that I built really good relationships with the other organisational staff involved in those early starts. So I would say that yes, there was an overall benefit and that it broadly shook out to be ‘fair’, even if not strictly ‘equal’.

      1. Cassie the First*

        I work at a university and employees have to pay for their own parking. Employees who take public transportation can get a subsidized pass (the university pays for half of it) but that’s part of the sustainability program.

        If the employee is asked to come during non-regular work hours (say on the weekend or early morning) where they can’t use their regular mode of parking/transportation, the university allows the cost of parking to be covered by the dept. I’m not sure if they would/could cover the cost of a taxi/Lyft but I think it should. When I was younger, I probably would have said “no way, that’s not fair”. But if you think about it, the dept/supervisor is asking this person to come in at a time that is not their normal working hours, they should help cover the cost of the inconvenience if possible. The amount is so minuscule, it’s not a regular perk, and the dept is getting something in return (i.e., the person coming in during their off-hours). If someone else wants the “perk” of a free Lyft ride, then they can offer to take the early morning shift!

  18. Inspector Spacetime*

    I’m completely flabbergasted that you would allow these kids in your house after the first time. I truly am gobsmacked.

    I’m not trying to be mean here, but if you have pride in the quality of your work, it’s time for you to put your foot down.

  19. Rusty Shackelford*

    When we meet from now on, can it just be us?

    You know, I wouldn’t phrase it this way. I wouldn’t ask her. I feel like asking is the default tactic women are expected/demanded to take, and it seems inappropriate. I’d say “I can’t work when your kids are around; they’re too distracting.”

    1. CM*

      I agree, I think it’s too soft and gives her an opportunity to say, “I’d like that, but I have all these kids to take care of, so it’s not possible.” Instead of “can it just be us” I’d say “We need to have meetings with just the two of us so we can focus. Can you make childcare arrangements when we need to physically work together?”

    2. MuseumChick*

      I agree. “Jane, going forward I need kid-free meetings. I find it very difficult to focus on work when the kids are around and we have missed X deadlines so far this month/year/whatever. We need to be able to focus on the work.”

      1. Thursday Next*

        I’d delete “I find it difficult to focus when the kids are around.” No need to explain that, or make it sound like LW finds it hard while others might not. State the need (“kid free meetings”) and the bottom-line (“we have missed X deadlines”) and the expectation (we need to focus so we can produce quality, timely work).

        1. MuseumChick*

          Good point! Can I just some say something I love about this site is the community script edit aspect? It really helps fine tune language/verbiage.

          1. Thursday Next*

            This is a great place for that! And for honing critical thinking skills, like examining different perspectives. I find it so useful.

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          I see your point, and I would do that if I were her manager, but I think if I’m telling a coworker that she needs to make that kind of change, it’s good to give some rationale. Also, it might help pre-empt whatever argument she wants to make. But they’re good kids! But I don’t have a babysitter! But they’re not bothering ME! etc. Nope. Your kids distract me, I need to work without them.

          1. Thursday Next*

            That definitely makes sense as part of a back-and-forth among colleagues. I see your point.

          2. Jennifer Thneed*

            That follow-up line is so important. Too many good scripts assume that the other person will just agree. I like Alison’s and Capt Awkward’s because they give the line to use after the other person blows you off.

    3. madge*

      Yes. “We need to meet about X. When is a good time for you to meet without the kids?”

      I love my kid, love having lots of his friends over, and happily use vacation time to volunteer at his school. And there is no flipping way I would tolerate co-worker’s kids at any location.

      OP, you have been more than understanding. But you must worry about how the missed deadlines are affecting your professional reputation. It’s expected at most places that employees’ children will not interfere with work, and it is your co-worker’s responsibility to make that happen. If she can’t/won’t, you have to take it to your boss, before *you* are the one that takes a hit.

  20. LiveAndLetDie*

    Goodness gracious. I work from home full-time and am a mother and I *never* try to do the two things simultaneously. On rare occasion it happens because the nanny calls out and I have to make do, but it’s not ideal, nor is it the norm. Nor SHOULD it be. When you’re at work, you’re at work. You cannot focus on your work wholly with ONE kid in tow, let alone five. No wonder she’s overwhelmed.

    Unfortunately it honestly sounds like she isn’t an effective employee at all, and if I were the boss I’d be looking at her work output and telling her to figure out some kind of childcare or lose the job. OP has made it clear that the deliverables are few and far between. This woman’s husband needs a dose of reality–either the kids get childcare, or his wife stops working. She’s incapable of doing both simultaneously.

  21. iglwif*

    I am EXTREMELY curious about the husband’s attitude here–how out of touch do you have to be with your own family to not realize that this situation is (a) happening and (b) a Really Big Problem?? Not just a problem for his spouse, who I’m guessing is feeling pretty desperate a lot of the time, and for her employer and co-workers, whose work is being HELLA disrupted, but also for *his actual children*, who are not getting good care right now. Absolutely nobody is winning in this scenario … except him, I guess, since evidently none of it is being allowed to eff up HIS life or HIS job.

    I have a kid. I have colleagues who have kids. Yes, every so often one of us has a Parenting Emergency (e.g., kid threw up at daycare, kid has sustained an injury at school) and has to bow out of work for a bit to deal with it, but the very reasonable expectation is that we do our work and our employer gives us (a) money and (b) a bit of flexibility — like, one colleague works from home one afternoon a week, I work 75% FTE, people choose the daily work hours that work best for them. Being the full-time caregiver for 5 kids under 12 goes so far beyond that kind of reasonable flexibility that I have to suppose this person’s boss has no idea what the real situation is! (Or else the boss sucks a lot.)

    OP, don’t pay for childcare! Don’t have these kids in your house! And do talk to your co-worker and your boss! This sucks for everyone involved, but the only part you can actually fix is the part where you identify and articulate how the situation is affecting you and your team’s work, and bring that to the people who *can* resolve it.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I think the solution here is for coworker’s husband to try working from home for a day while also taking care of the kids.

      1. savethedramaforyourllama*

        I agree, I think for a lot of people (men and women) who have never spent a whole day with 1+kids you have no idea how exhausting it can be. I’ve only done it in the babysitting context, but that is enough to know that there is no way you could manage 5 kids and be productive at work (I know a lot of SAHM who would like like a 5 min shower and that is asking too much).

      2. iglwif*

        I like the way you think!

        (I work from home, and we have both a teenager and a puppy. Every so often Spouse works from home–like when I’m on a work trip–and … let’s just say he is not as good at balancing and compartmentalizing as I have had to become…)

      3. BRR*

        Yup! Or he should take them to a restaurant for a business meeting :). I see this as a combination of being out of touch with child care and out of touch with working from home.

      4. Yorick*

        I agree with you, but it might not even work if it’s one day. They might be better behaved when they hear “Daddy’s trying to work” because they see him as having a job separate from their household, and they probably don’t see that with their mom. It might be easier for them to understand that he needs quiet and to be left alone.

    2. the_scientist*

      Yes, this. Nobody is winning in this situation, except maybe the husband who gets to carry on with his pre-kid work life without having childcare emergencies disrupting *his* career or making any sacrifices in the name of work-life balance. Eyerolls forever.

      As much as I agree that the coworker and her husband need counselling (and the husband needs a real Come to Jesus chat), the husband isn’t really the LW’s problem. Her immediate problem is with the coworker, so it’s reasonable to say ‘kids not allowed’ at her home, or “solo meetings only” going forward. And to tell the boss what’s happening, because yikes!

    3. Clare*

      I am so curious about how long the coworker has been working full time. Has she been a SAHM until recently and the work is new? Has she been doing this for months? Years??? I mean either way the husband’s attitude is still bizarre and clueless. I could see someone fooling themselves into thinking they could work at home and take care of one kid, but FIVE?! What is this husband thinking??? How does he not know this is a problem, and how has the coworker not lost her mind yet?

    4. Thursday Next*

      A resounding yes to your first paragraph.

      There’s a reason babysitting, nannying, and daycare are jobs…because they are work. It does not make sense to expect to be able to do two mutually exclusive jobs simultaneously (childcare and pretty much anything else).

      1. Rosemary7391*

        Quite – I don’t know what the rules are in the US, but I think in the UK the maximum number of children a childminder can look after at a time is 6 (and not all young ones either). There’s a reason for that!

    5. Yorick*

      The husband is clueless, and there’s probably several reasons why.

      1. When he spends time with them, he’s doing fun stuff like playing with them or taking them to fun places/events. So he doesn’t know what it’s like to try to work (or even do routine parenting tasks).
      2. They may behave differently when he’s around because they don’t spend all day with him. For example, they may follow directions better for him because he’s not the one who tells them what to do all day.
      3. The mom has given up and doesn’t expect this situation to be better than it is. So she hasn’t talked to him about it past the one time when he thought paying for childcare wasn’t necessary.

    6. Frankie*

      Yeah this is either inexcusable negligence on the part of the husband, or it’s willful ignorance. No one who thinks of their spouse and kids as people with needs could think this situation is sustainable.
      For LW, though, it’s exclusively about the impact to the work. LW shouldn’t get involved in solving this problem for coworker–that’s on the coworker and the boss.

    7. Persimmons*

      I know we can only speculate, but I wondered about the husband’s viewpoint too.

      My first guess was “clueless uninvolved dad who doesn’t get how hard childcare actually is”.

      My second guess was that he knows this is untenable, but wanted to frantically sock away cash while seeing how long his wife could get away with the arrangement. Even if she gets her hand slapped pretty quickly, they’re saving hundreds of dollars a month until the smackdown hits.

    8. Lynn Whitehat*

      I’m worried about the co-worker. The husband must know nobody can work with 5 kids. That makes it seem more like he is controlling or even abusive than simply oblivious. That doesn’t mean the LW has to put up with it indefinitely. But I would treat the situation with more compassion than if she just started pursuing a side hustle or a time-consuming hobby from work because she felt like it.

  22. Nita*

    Wow. Former WAHM here, and I nearly choked on my coffee when I saw the title of this post.

    Frankly, this is a husband problem. My husband did the same thing when our oldest was born – I got permission to work from home, yay, but why would we ever pay for a nanny when he takes over all child care the minute he gets home? It was impossible to get it through to him that I have demanding clients and things that need to be resolved during the day, or I cannot do my job. Thankfully my MIL (my goodness, I miss her…) started sneakily paying for a nanny one day a week. My husband finally got his head on straight when it was his turn to take leave to be with the kid. In fact, he was so impressed by the experience he went to the other extreme and treated me like I’m made of glass when the second kid was born. Not that I needed quite that much care, but that’s a different story :)

    Anyway, I don’t know what OP can do in the long term, but that poor mom of five needs to get her husband into counseling ASAP, nicely or not so nicely.

    1. CM*

      It’s a husband problem for the coworker, but it’s a coworker problem for the OP. No matter why the coworker is doing it, she’s still attempting to care for five children while working and that is not a reasonable thing to do.

    2. Scubacat*

      You have a very interesting story! What do you think would have happened if MIL hadn’t sneakily paid for a nanny? (My brain asks this question without really expecting an answer).

      Overall, the Co-Worker needs to stop taking her five children to OPs house. I’m not sure what the long term child care options are for that family. Their personal plan could probably use lots of counselling and spa days.

      1. Nita*

        I don’t think anything would have gone very differently, just more stress and less sleep for me! It was only one day a week, so I was still managing somehow the other 4 days. Still, it was sooo nice to have one day when I could call people without being interrupted, and focus on my work for more than 20 minutes at a time. Anyway, that was just working with one kid. I cannot imagine working with five bored children!

  23. MuseumChick*

    If I ever did just one of things your describe her kids doing my mother would have killed me.

    I agree with Alison, this will be uncomfortable and your co-worker may take it personally but you need to speak up and lay out some serious boundaries. You home should be off limits unless it’s just the baby (or if any of the kids are better behaved than others you could expand this to a two-kids max rule). Heck, I would walk out of the restaurant (after paying my meal of course) if the kids acted that way again.

    She may react badly, but at this point it’s up to her and her husband to find a solution.

  24. Amelia*

    I have a toddler, am pregnant with twins, work from home 2-3 days a week, consider myself a feminist, am overwhelmed by daycare costs and I’d still be significantly less tolerant of this situation than the LW.

    I need work to be a focused place where I can maximize my productivity, bang it out and ideally be fully done by 5pm.

    Just reading this letter made me feel itchy..

    1. motherofdragons*

      Fellow twin mama here…wishing you lots of luck and happiness! And complete and total empathy with “overwhelmed by daycare costs.” Thank goodness for sibling discounts, but still!

  25. you don't know me*

    Even if you do pay for a babysitter it might be hard to find one, or to find one that will come back more than once.

    1. Lala*

      Depends on how much you pay. I put up with a lot of crazy from one set of hobgoblins back in my babysitting days because their parents paid twice the going rate. I dreaded sitting for them, but I did not dread what it did for my wallet.

      1. Ladyphoenix*

        Yes, but the MOM should be paying that double price, NOT the OP.

        In fact, OP should never consider paying for paysitting or any childcare, since they are not OP’s kids.

      2. The Original K.*

        Those parents knew what was up. Conversely, I quit sitting for a family in which the youngest child was a terror (the straw that broke the camel’s back was when he kicked me in the shin hard enough to bruise, and I don’t bruise easily) and on top of that, they paid poorly. Badly behaved kid AND you don’t pay well? I am out. I had a ton of clients so I didn’t need them and even if I did, the kicking was over the line.

  26. curious*

    I totally agree that something has to be done. This is not working out professionally. Alison gives you some great suggestions.

    However I know if this were happening to me (if I were the OP) and I knew of my coworkers unrealistic husband’s views; I’d feel guilty making an issue of it. I’m someone who goes with the flow even when I get frustrated, but I would feel horrible bringing it up to an already overwhelmed co worker.

    That being said, my feelings are for me to deal with. OP needs to work out a home/ work/ life balance solutions.

    1. Observer*

      The thing is that it’s a totally unsustainable situation. This is not about a coworker who is not quite pulling her weight, but one who is just not doing her job.

      If she needs help with an abusive husband, she needs to reach out and do something about it, and let OP and boss know what the plan is. Not all the nitty gritty details, but enough to know that things really are going to change.

      1. curious*

        Observer I totally agree with you. I, personally – not the op, would feel like I was kicking someone who was down. It just sounds like coworker is overwhelmed and using work as some kind of stable consistency in an otherwise chaotic life. If the kids were coming once or twice a year, I think I could put up with it. I guess what I ‘m trying to say is that I’m ok with taking one for the team and would question if my thoughts about the kids attending the meeting was being petty, would get someone in trouble. I do want to emphasize that in this post, I am totally on OP’s side – something needs to be done.

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      However I know if this were happening to me (if I were the OP) and I knew of my coworkers unrealistic husband’s views; I’d feel guilty making an issue of it.

      I would too, until I reminded myself that by accepting the situation, I was enabling the husband’s (and perhaps the coworker’s) unreasonable expectations regarding childcare. And that I was doing extra work so they didn’t have to hire a babysitter. And then I’d get over my guilty feelings pretty quickly.

      1. CM*

        This is a great point. You are not causing the coworker’s stress. It may be a good wake-up call for her to hear that her choices are negatively affecting other people. In fact, if a coworker (or if it escalated, her manager) was telling her outright that she needed childcare, it might enable her to tell her husband that her job is on the line.

        We’re also making a lot of assumptions here that it’s all the husband’s fault; maybe she agrees with her husband that she should be caring for the children herself and thinks doing it while working is a good idea.

    3. Bea*

      You’re sacrificing so much to deal with outrageous behavior when you roll with these kinds of punches.

      I get it. I go into grinding mode during other people’s difficult times but you need always remember to think about the suffering you take on for others. It’s not healthy and leads to burn out.

    4. Fish Microwaver*

      Sadly, the OP is enabling Coworker ( and clueless husband ) to perpetuate this untenable situation. By saying nothing and covering Coworker’s work, she is giving Cw no incentive to change. You have to speak up OP and let the balls drop.

  27. animaniactoo*

    The only thing I would change about Alison’s advice is that I would not remotely allow it to be a question “Can it be just us from now on?”

    No. Never let it be an option to be entertained. This is a MUST have, not something you are trying to ask if it’s possible.

    I would focus on “I understand there are challenges juggling kids and work, but with the kids so present there are a lot of disruptions and we’re missing deadlines and I’m ending up doing more of the work to try and get it completed by deadline. What can we do to ensure that it will be just us going forward and you’ll be able to give our meetings your full attention and get your end of stuff done?”

    She may have options you like and are willing to try. She may have ones you’re unwilling to try. If there’s no resolution, that’s the point when you need to say “I need to bring this up with our manager and see what we can do because I can’t keep operating like this. Career-wise missing this many deadlines is not good for me, and picking up so much slack is not good for my stress level and potential burnout.”

    Supporting means maybe you’re good with having off-hours meetings if you can make that work without too much of an imposition on your life. Or you’re willing to cover for a day here and there. It does NOT mean accepting regular chaos. Whether in the office or out of it.

    (and fwiw – I am entirely certain this is why my 3 sisters and I spent time at a sleepaway camp and farmed out to grandparents during the summers. Not just because those things were good for us and we enjoyed them – we did – but because they were effective childcare arrangements that didn’t involve astronomical costs.)

    Fwiw – as a feminist – her husband is also a working parent and he needs to be clued in that she is NOT rocking this thing. If for no other reason than so he can pick up more of his share of the load. Depending on her husband’s outlook, that may be problematic. But there is absolutely no point in trying to be superwoman and setting unrealistic expectations – for them and for society in general – trying to prove that it can be done. Not without a lot more strategic management of responsibilities.

    1. Free Meerkats*

      Agreed. In this case I feel Alison’s response is way too soft. This needs to be a hard no to trying to work with the kids in the same house/restaurant/zip code.

    2. mimsie*

      I favor this response. I sympathise and I know there’s a strong desire to be kind to the co-worker as she’s going through a clearly difficult time, but she’s already completely walked all over the OP on this with little regard to the OP or the work. There’s no room for negotiation here.

  28. Observer*

    This is a marriage problem, not a work problem. And it’s not on you to solve.

    The only issue that is yours is that fact that she’s consistently missing work and she consistently brings the kids, which keeps you from working and they are destructive. Loop your boss in and refuse to meet with her if she is going to bring the kids. Cancel a meeting on the spot if she shows up with them.

    Obviously, start with Alison’s scripts. You need to be as kind as possible but this is a totally non-viable work situation.

    As for the rest, don’t let her get into WHY she “has” to bring the kids, etc. From the outside you have no way to tell if her husband is just stupid, he’s a controlling jerk, or she’s a passive idiot who needs to speak up. If you suspect that it’s that he’s a controlling jerk, you could mention whatever resources are out there for domestic abuse victims when she says that her husband won’t pay for child care. But outside of that, you really can’t do much about that mess.

  29. Jenny*

    This is so so not okay. Watching 5 kids is more than a full time job. She is missing deadlines because she is putting two jobs on top of each other. You would never allow this if she was say, working remotely for another company and missing deadlines. She needs to get childcare, especially for the younger ones, or she cannot keep her job.

    I am a mom and not unsympathetic. Childcare is expensive. But there is no way an employer can be expected to be okay with this. Part of my part time telework agreement is that I will not be providing child, elder, or disability care while working and my job is my primary focus for the hours I claim at home. If she was somehow able to do her job, maybe they could talk. But this is unreasonable. And employee needs to do their work, parent or no.

    1. curious*

      I like how you laid everything out. I wonder if the coworker’s boss is fully aware of the situation? If they are working remotely and OP is picking up the slack, boss may think my team is doing great
      and be unaware of the behind the scenes.

    2. sfigato*

      Yeah, I have had colleagues who “work from home” when they are caring for kids but either their kids are in school most of the day or they shift their hours so that they get stuff done in the morning/during naps/when their partner is home in the afternoon. You cannot care for another human being and do an office job at the same time. it’s not possible. The only way to get away with it for a bit is to zombie the kid out in front of a screen, which isn’t a great long-term solution. Not to mention the time I was on a conference call while my kid was sick, and in the middle of the call she yells, “DAAAAD! MY VIDEO IS OVER AND I’M GOING TO GO POOOP!!!!” Luckily the people on the call had a sense of humor.

  30. Sunny Side Up*

    I’m seeing so many comments here about the husband, but he’s really not OP’s problem – and we’re hearing that side of things several times removed. So who knows what’s actually going on there. Personally, I’m side-eyeing the coworker a little, who seems to think that bringing her 5 kids (FIVE!!) to meetings is normal or reasonable. I get that she may be in a tough situation, but this is really stretching the limit. And I’m trying to wrap my head around what kind of job would make her enough money to cover childcare for 5 kids and make that worth it. I know often people with 3 kids find it’s not worth it to work b/c you don’t cover the childcare. All this to say, I’m not sure it’s all on hubby, and the coworker is likely well aware the only way she can actually profit from her salary is by not spending it all on childcare.

    Regardless, OP, your coworker is stretching the limits of anything reasonable or normal and totally taking advantage of you, to your detriment, since you are now missing deadlines and things. You need to speak up for yourself, and you need to understand that five kids is well above and beyond. I’m in Ontario, where 5 kids is the max limits for home daycares, to give you a sense of how over-the-top this is.

    I say all this as a parent myself. But just because someone has kids, doesn’t mean that they’re not being a jerk. Most people with kids aren’t, just like most people in general aren’t jerks. But this woman is, IMHO.

    1. Sunny Side Up*

      The more I htink about it, the more I wonder if the husband is the one who’s actually being realistic because there is no way that the math adds up here and he probably knows it. It will cost them more to pay for a nanny than she’d get in salary.

      I’m not trying to pile onto the co-workeer but the math on this arrangement is 100% not realistic and it makes me wonder if the co-worker is deceiving herself, or if she’s told hubby that she can make it work and is trying to prove it, or what. Either way, OP, you need to speak up.

      1. savethedramaforyourllama*

        I agree with you and commented similar upthread. Its possible the only reason she could take this job was because they assumed they could make it work without childcare costs, otherwise it isn’t financially feasible for them to have her work.

      2. Nita*

        She may usually be bringing only a few of the kids, so it may look reasonable on his end. Unless they’re two sets of twins and the baby, or something like that, chances are the oldest kids are old enough for school and aren’t always tagging along. Then again, as I’ve posted above, people can be very obtuse about this sort of thing, and he may really be that dense.

        Good point about the money. It’s possible either the coworker or the husband are resisting paying for care because she’ll probably spend more than her salary. Only – this situation is clearly not working, so coworker has to either find part-time care she can afford, make alternate work arrangements (doing conference calls out of her home?), or quit…

      3. Dust Bunny*

        I would guess they’re both kidding themselves. I know a lot of women who have stopped working at jobs like this because childcare cost more than they were making. That’s actually really common unless the job is pretty high-paying. But a lot of them remained in denial for far too long because they were really hoping they could spend the money on other things and so did not want to admit that it wasn’t working out.

      4. Decima Dewey*

        I wonder if the husband thinks his wife is handling the SAHM thing just fine, because the wife *tells him* that everything’s just fine. It isn’t and it’s not be OP’s problem to solve.

    2. Alton*

      One thing I was thinking is that we don’t know if co-worker might be using her husband as a scapegoat to some extent. It’s definitely plausible that he’s a controlling jerk who vastly underestimated how much work it is to handle these kids. But it’s also possible that the husband not wanting to hire a nanny is an easy excuse, or that the co-worker is framing it that way. It’s hard to know what’s going on in their marriage. Ultimately, it’s the co-worker’s responsibility to not let it affect work/her colleagues.

    3. Fish Microwaver*

      It might not be worth it to work and pay for child care beyond a certain amount of children but there are longer term benefits from maintaining career continuity. Especially when you can snow your manager and coworker into doing extra work so you don’t pay for child care AND have career continuity.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      1. Yes, inappropriate.
      2. Come on. This is not the issue. The co-worker can have as many kids as she wants. She can even throw up her hands and say she’s given up. That’s not the question. The question is, what can the OP do to make her meetings more productive without the distraction of these children.
      3. SO inappropriate.

    2. moosetracks*

      Yeah, it would be highly inappropriate.

      1. The parenting problems are not because of the number of children. I know multiple families with more kids than this who have well-behaved children.

      2. The coworker can have as many kids as she wants and it’s not anyone’s place to snark about her reproductive choices.

      3. Blaming kids’ bad behavior on people having too many kids is historically linked to some really nasty stuff.

    3. wayward*

      Oh, I didn’t seriously expect him to say that to her. Sure, there are large families with well-behaved children, and those are fine. I also understand that sometimes kids have special needs and those can be a lot of work. But I do wish that thinking realistically about what parents were able to deal with and what they were willing to give up could be part of their reproductive choices. What bothered me about OPs story was the way the mother seemed to have just given up on teaching her children to behave. You want to have five kids, fine, but they’ll be a lot of work. You’ll also almost certainly need at least some child care if you want to have a job.

      1. Les G*

        Sure, but the coworker’s parenting style is so emphatically not OP’s problem. OP’s problem is how to get this lady to stop bringing her kids to their meetings. Full stop.

      2. moosetracks*

        I didn’t think it was a serious suggestion, and I don’t think any of us did. Because the issue isn’t the whether they have 1 kid or 47. The issue is that their mismanagement of their kids is affecting the LW.

        “What bothered me about OPs story was the way the mother seemed to have just given up on teaching her children to behave.”
        And the father thinks childcare isn’t that hard, which might be a huge contributor as to why the mom feels like giving up.
        If that really is the sticking point for you, I feel like a better joke would be “I guess it would be inappropriate to offer to pay for a parenting class”?

        Unless you’re suggesting that these people are unfit to be parents? Parenting is (at least partially) learned, not innate.

        1. wayward*

          TBH, the description of the children being allowed to run wild in the house sounded negligent, and I wondered if it was much better at home. But there’s no way to know that from the OP’s letter. Sure, if parenting classes improve the situation, that would be a very good idea.

          1. moosetracks*

            My point is that birth control is irrelevant here, and making a joke about it isn’t super okay.

    4. Ladyphoenix*

      Yes, and a black eye would be an understandable, even if innappropriate response. Wtf?!

    5. Autumnheart*

      What would even be the point of saying it? Birth control doesn’t take existing kids back for a refund. Gross. And sexist, she didn’t have these kids through immaculate conception.

    6. CristinaMariaCalabrese (do the mambo like-a crazy)*

      (hi, i have a sense of humor, so i laughed)

    7. Not Alison*

      Oh, lighten up people. The commenter made this tongue in cheek and I for one find it hilarious!

    8. mimsie*

      Inappropriate and also doesn’t make any sense as 5 horses are looking behind their shoulder to a closed barn door.

      1. wayward*

        So you can’t see any reason why adding more children to a situation where the parents seem to be barely taking care of the five they already have might be a bad idea? OK.

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          The real problem is that parents of more than 2 kids report getting the “joke” all the time about knowing how birth control works. So it’s as old and tired as asking very tall people about weather and basketball.

  31. pmia*

    I can’t even believe this is an issue.
    I’d march straight up to the manager, tell them what’s going on, and tell them you can’t work with this lady any longer. It shouldn’t be YOUR problem to fix.

  32. Middle School Teacher*

    Personally I’m surprised the boss hasn’t said anything yet. They can’t be unaware that OP and CW keep missing deadlines and are not delivering. OP, please address this ASAP, even for your own job’s sake. You don’t want to be collateral damage because CW can’t get anything done.

  33. AKchic*

    All of this sounds like a woman who really wanted to go back to work but, looking at the logistics, realized that the family couldn’t afford daycare for five children (really, it is that expensive, and more) and both Momworker and husband got the bright idea of work-from-home without realizing that it actually meant work.

    Five children under 11 is more than a full time job. Especially with a baby. I feel for them, knowing how tight money must be on one income (I did it with four, so I do sympathize).
    However, the work situation is untenable and cannot be allowed to continue. This woman is obviously burned out and she is doing a disservice to her children (by her own admission, she’s not controlling them) and she sounds burned out just on the parenting aspect. Adding in a job and this is a recipe for disaster.

    LW – her life is not your responsibility to fix. Your responsibility is to the work / job. Talk to your boss. Be firm about the kids not being allowed to attend work-related functions anymore. That baby won’t be easy to manage for long, so baby cannot come anymore either. Alison’s advice is spot-on.

    1. Temperance*

      At least some of the children are in school, though. It wouldn’t be daycare for all of them, just a few.

      1. The Original K.*

        Even if it’s only two, the math might not add up. I know a number of families in which the lower-earning parent tapped out and stayed home at two, especially if the kids were close together. I remember when my best friend moved to the south from the northeast, she only had one kid (she has two now, no longer lives in the south, works remotely, and is required to provide proof of child care each year; if not it’s grounds for firing) and she commented that child care in her new city was “only” $1000/month. I was like “Only?!”

        1. aebhel*

          Yeah, mine works out to about $900/month for my two kids–and this is a home daycare in a relatively low-cost area, AND we get a discount for various reasons. It’s still more than economically feasible for us both to work, but if we had another kid my husband would probably start to think about quitting his job.

          1. The Original K.*

            Good grief. This was 5 years ago. My friend is by far the primary breadwinner; if anyone were to stay home, it would be her husband. Their older kid is in school now so there’s less of a need.

            I have another friend who told me how relieved she was when her oldest started kindergarten last year because their child care costs (two kids two years apart) were more than their mortgage.

            1. Antilles*

              I actually had a small thread here about the cost of child care a few weeks back and that was the general consensus among commenters too – you can expect the cost of child care to be right around what you pay on a mortgage for the house you live in.
              And that’s just for a vanilla “meh, it’s decent and safe” level, not like Baby Harvard or anything.

              1. aebhel*

                Mine is about twice what my minimum mortgage payment was when we were still paying on that.

        2. OhBehave*

          Here in central IL licensed, home full-time daycare is $198.00/week per kid. No way could I afford that.

    2. Thlayli*

      Yeah some people don’t really think things through. There were two women on parenting boards I frequented who came up with the bright idea of saving on childcare by working opposite shifts to partner – and totally forgot that sleep is a necessary biological function. Seriously both of them had scheduled zero time for sleep in their plan and were surviving on catnaps when they wrote asking for advice. Advice was basically all “get childcare or quit your job you need to sleep”.

      Also quite a few others who tried to set up businesses or work from home or had their partner work from home without childcare – and then were surprised when the work wasn’t getting done. It’s a surprisingly common idea that people come up with without thinking it through.

      In this case it seems the coworker wants to get childcare but husband doesn’t – which is a totally different (and concerning) dynamic.

      1. Sunny Side Up*

        Well, we only know that from the OP, via the co-worker. Maybe she’s saying that to get sympathy, or maybe she’s fooling herself. I would – how else do you pull off showing up with five kids at a work meeting with a straight face?

        I’m not as down on the husband or as worried as everyone else about their dynamic bc I think the OP may not have the full story from the co-worker.

        1. Thlayli*

          That’s true – OP only has one side of the story there. Hopefully it’s not a control thing and it’s just her fooling herself that she can “do it all”.

      2. mrs__peel*

        Anecdata: I know a few couples who’ve tried this (one parent working the day shift, one parent working the night shift) to save money on childcare, and 100% of them are divorced now.

        It’s tough making a relationship work when one person is always sleeping or out working, and you never spend any time together.

        1. aebhel*

          My SIL and her husband are doing that right now, and that’s where they’re headed at a breakneck clip. And they can more than afford childcare, so IDGI.

    3. chi type*

      This is what I was thinking. She’s probably so desperate to have something that’s not goblin-wrangling in her life that she’s not admitting to her husband or herself that it’s just not working.

  34. Bea*

    They’re hobgoblins because their parents are making them go to business meetings, they are acting out and instead of channeling their energy productively….they’re ignored.

    I would be foaming at the mouth because poorly behaved kids smashing things and a first row seat to the absentee parenting. What a nightmare. I’m sad she’s trapped in this cycle BUT she needs consequences (like the kids…) and you need to address it with your boss. You need to not spend money on this, she needs to pay for a frigging babysitter.

    1. Ladyphoenix*

      And the thing is, this is a trap of her own making. Canp, day care, husband taking on some of the child rearing, baby sitters, nannies.

      She made this mess for herself and now she is dragging OP in with her.

      1. Bea*


        And lbr daycare isn’t just for unloading a kid while you’re working. It’s so a kid is taken care of, educated and socialized to know how to act around others.

        1. tangerineRose*

          I’m worried about the kids (although of course this isn’t the OP’s problem). It sounds like they’re being allowed to run wild with little to no boundaries, and that isn’t good for kids.

      2. Thursday Next*

        While it’s not the LW’s problem to address the coworker’s marital issues, I do think it’s problematic to say “this is a trap of her own making.”

        Mothers are not the only ones who need to be accountable for children. That’s why phrases like “he helps with the kids” or “he’s babysitting his kids” are objectionable—because they imply that child rearing is primarily the mother’s job. And “women’s work” is seriously devalued.

        LW has a work problem, and it needs to be resolved. Coworker has a work problem, and also, apparently, a husband problem. I do have compassion for her—and anger on her behalf.

        1. Grapey*

          She must have known after baby #1 or 2 what kind of sperm donor her husband was going to be.

          1. aebhel*

            Sure, but he’s still just as responsible for those kids as she is.

            Not OP’s problem, but coworker definitely has a husband problem.

        2. Ladyphoenix*

          I will stand by what I said. The kids themselves are being kids dealing with negligent parents, I don’t blame them.

          I will blame the mom and dad for doing a poor job in keeping the kids under control and giving up doing any sort of child rearing when things got tough, essentially making the kids’ behavior worse.

          Child negligence I think is a pretty awful form of abuse because it is “invisible”. No one cares until the child is near death (or already dead), especially “emotional negligence” where the parents refuse to spend time with their kids and treat them like a “bother”.

  35. sfigato*

    Unrelated note: wouldn’t it be great if we as a society could, like, all set apart a small percentage of our income, pool that money, and use it to provide safe and supportive daycare for children so that their parents could work and contribute to the economy? Just spitballing here.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      It would also be great if some people realized before they had them that they can’t handle that many kids.

      1. sfigato*

        I’m all for better sex education in public schools, better access to birth control, and subsidizing contraception and sexual health or at least making sure it is covered by insurance. But telling someone with five kids they shouldn’t have had five kids is profoundly unhelpful.

    2. hmmm...*

      pretty sure part of my taxes goes to public schools despite not having children.

      also, some people think its better for kids to be with their parents and not daycare in the early years

      1. Jerry Vandesic*

        Our taxes go to repay our own ability to go to public schools. We are basically repaying that debt from our childhoods.

        1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesInYourHouse*

          Many of us are childfree an work and pay taxes for far longer than we ever went to public school and have more than repaid that debt. My parents sent my siblings an I to catholic school–and they paid for that. So why should I repay for public schooling I didn’t use?

          1. sfigato*

            Because they people serving you food, paving the roads, policing your streets, putting out your fires, working on your plumbing, providing medical care for you and your pets, making the movies, tv shows, and books you like to read, and basically most of the people around you went to are or are going to public school. And it costs way more to deal with someone who has a bad education or drops out of school than it does to just give that person a good education to start with. We aren’t islands.

    3. Sal*

      You’ve got a lot of negative comments for a relatively unthreatening proposition. Damn. (I’m with you. I also believe in paid leave for parents! Not mutually exclusive!)

      1. sfigato*


        I have one kid. Our (cheapish) childcare is about the same as my mortgage, and more than a fulltime minimum wage job would pay.

    4. Grapey*

      I would 100% be on board for this even (especially) as someone that doesn’t want kids.

    5. Sandman*

      Yes, I think that would be amazing. I’m sure all the people who commented negatively are planning on wiping their own bums and putting out their own house fires when they reach their dotage.

      1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesInYourHouse*

        Do you think nursing home workers are all youngsters? Or that children grow up and take care of their parents?

    6. Ladyphoenix*

      Actually, I did hear there was a thing like that in DC. Where people could remotely in the same place their kids were getting daycare.

    7. Barbara*

      I don’t think children should spend their days in daycare. It’s better for young children to have one parent with them (not necessary the mother).

  36. Free Meerkats*

    Before it happens again, you need to lay down the law about the kids (at least the non-babies) in your house. They are never allowed there. Period. If they have broken/destroyed any of your belongings in past visits, your coworker needs to pay you for those items.

    You don’t need to be aggressive about it, just state it as a fact and never, ever relent. Your house, your rules.

    And her husband needs a kick in the place to make sure they don’t have any more.

  37. Persimmons*

    LW: your canonization is in the mail. You’re offering to pay for a babysitter, while my version of your letter would have gone something like “Alison, I threw my coworker and her miniature demons out my house and then my head exploded. After cleaning my brains off the walls, how can I address this with our boss?”

  38. always in email jail*

    “In fact, I’d argue that feeling obligated to be okay with that stuff is actually a disservice to other working parents, who go to great lengths to not operate like this, and who are harmed by people getting the idea that this is what working parents do.”
    Yes, thank you. I’m currently in this situation, I just had my second child and took a new job with more teleworking opportunities, because I live in a major metropolitan area where the commute is horrible. This somehow turned in to “oh she left for a job where she can work with the baby at home”, which is an assumption being made because some of the men in my field have made this (and BRINGING THEIR CHILDREN TO MEETINGS) a habit. It’s very frustrating, and the fact men in my field are doing this is really doing a disservice to those of us who have childcare in place to fit the business needs of our position within the organization.

  39. Belle8bete*

    This is so insane. I’m a baby loving feminist who teaches kids of all ages in an extra curricular activity. I resent bosses who lug their kid along and proceeded to have them take up all their time and attention during our meeting. I came to the meeting, I’m not texting or multitasking, so you need to find a way to give me your focus! Get a teen to come entertain them for some extra money (it can be in the same building just keep them away from the meeting). Or whatever, but figure it out!

    Most of these folks did not have boundaries with their kids at all (hey, stop letting kids interrupt you. It’s not hard to say “I’m busy, please don’t interrupt”). But if that’s not possible due to their age or whatever THEN YOU NEED A SITTER.

    If their child had broken my stuff I’d ask the parent to pay me back and I would say “this isn’t working out…I need to be able to really focus when we have a meeting and I’m worrying about my stuff getting damaged. Perhaps we need to have a call in meeting when your kids are at daycare/sleeping instead?”

    I also have no bones about telling someone else’s kid (again I teach so all my bosses should know this about me) to knock it off. I had to do this with dumb bosses that kept their kids around the studio (out of control kids interfering in my classes). I just started addressing the kid and skipped the parent. That yielded results from the kid, who learned that even if their parent had no boundaries, I do!
    Example “hey Susie, don’t go over there. Here’s a coloring book and a sticker book (yay Dollar store) you can play with over here.”
    “Susie, we are in class. You cannot be in here.” This is followed by a gentle push out or sometimes closing the door in their face.
    “Susie, you are too loud and interfering with my class. Please be quieter.” <——this was often overheard by the boss parent who would then swoop in and be like “oh gosh Susie don’t do that” (cue my internal eye roll).

    If the parent won’t reign in their kid, I start doing it.

    That said this is BS. You shouldn’t have to parent their kids. No more meetings at your house ever again. Pick somewhere else and I would insist, with clear verbiage, that this isn’t working. Perhaps this will give your coworker the leverage to tell her husband “no we actually need childcare because my job depends on it.”

    Don’t feel bad. This is absurdity.

    1. OyVey*

      I too work in after school/weekends environment. It just so happens my kids attend the programs a few days a week. I try very hard to have my kids out of the facility when I have meetings because my kids see me and think “PARENT!!”, and don’t recognize that this time when I’m sitting at a table with my bosses is different from the times I’m just there waiting for kids.

      1. Belle8bete*

        Yeah, I actually was a sitter for someone at a studio for a while so they could teach class. I basically kept us in another area of the facility or went to a nearby park…that worked out okay. Sometimes you just need the space for them not to flip on ‘MOOOOOMMMMMMMMMMM” mode.

  40. Blue Cupcake*

    Pay for a babysitter? Are you kidding me? How long will you pay for this expense that’s not your responsibility?
    Just because you work from home does not mean the house is not a real workplace. And a real workplace does not allow children running around willy-nilly during work or meetings.

  41. LuJessMin*

    Granted, I’m not a big fan of kids, especially ones that won’t behave or act out. It is the parents’ responsibility to monitor their kids, not you. If she can’t get her work done because of her kids, then maybe she shouldn’t be working.

    1. OyVey*

      Me too. Mine are generally reasonably well behaved but . . . . but put them in a confined space and tell them they need to sit still and be quiet and they will turn into destructive hobgoblins out of sheer boredom. So they’ve spent their summer in day camps and swimming lessons and have had quite a fun time of it all around and I’ve been able to get my work done (independent contractor who can work remote frequently).

  42. aebhel*

    In fact, I’d argue that feeling obligated to be okay with that stuff is actually a disservice to other working parents, who go to great lengths to not operate like this, and who are harmed by people getting the idea that this is what working parents do.

    THIS. As a working parent, this kind of thing infuriates me, since I go to great lengths NOT to operate like that and I know I will still get tarred by the same brush by anyone who has to work with someone like this.

    It would be one thing if the kids were old enough to entertain themselves/each other while she’s working (in some cases, 10-11 would be plenty old enough for that! but clearly not this one), but they’re clearly not, it’s impacting her work, it’s making things impossible for the rest of you.

    The lack of cost-effective childcare in this country is deplorable, but that doesn’t mean that you have to host badly-behaved children in your home to make things cheaper for your coworker, or pay out of your own pocket for childcare, or endlessly pick up the slack when she can’t get her work done in a timely manner.

    1. Isabel Kunkle*

      I was gonna say: I don’t know how old all of them are, but 11? *More than old enough*, assuming no developmental issues, to either sit still with a book for a few hours or, indeed, stay home alone during the daytime. My parents both worked, and I think we had sitters after school until I was seven or eight, but after that–well, we knew what the emergency services number was, we knew not to turn the stove on, and so forth. Parents also had meetings in the house on occasion from when I was eight until I was about fourteen, or were otherwise doing work on weekends, and we got told that we had books, we had videos, we had a yard, and they didn’t want to see or hear from us from lunch until dinner unless something was bleeding or on fire.

      We neither died nor became serial killers. (I mean, that I know of.)

        1. aebhel*

          Yeah, and while a certain temperament of 11-year-old can be left more or less to their own devices, they shouldn’t be expected to look after four (!!) younger siblings in the meantime.

    2. WS*

      When my mum started working full-time, it was my job (starting age 11) to take care of my two younger brothers (ages 5 and 9) on school holidays. My dad arranged things so he got home early for after school times but he couldn’t get entire school holidays off. This was possible because a) I was a very bossy kid and they did what I said and b) my parents organised things to do in advance so I just needed to supervise. I wouldn’t have been capable of taking care of a baby or toddler, and there was an adult home next door in case of emergencies. Also, it was the 80s and early 90s, and it was much more common to leave kids alone then – these days you can be prosecuted for it!

  43. Editrix*

    Whatever the childcare situation is between coworker and the husband isn’t OP’s to worry about. Maybe he’s a jerk, maybe she’s telling him it’s all going great. The most likely reality is that people in the midst of a situation often can’t see it for what it is. Case in point: OP’s proposed solution was offering to pay for a babysitter instead of the (much more reasonable to us on the outside) option of talking to the co-worker or their boss.

  44. JoAnna*

    I have six kids, and up until February of last year I worked full-time. I feel sorry for this mom, but the situation is not tenable. Work from home jobs when you have multiple kids usually only work when you can set your own hours and not leave the house, or if you have a dedicated babysitter for the times you do need to have a meeting or similar.

    I worked from home full-time for quite a while, and it was in my telework agreement that I had to have childcare. And I needed childcare, I would not have been able to get anything done otherwise.

    I’m fortunate now that I have a 13-year-old, and I can rely on her to babysit for a few hours if I need to get something done.

    Alison’s advice here is spot on.

  45. Thlayli*

    Something just occurred to me – OP you could suggest to the wife that she go into business running a daycare. She could hire an employee or two and take in extra kids. For people with a lot of kids it sometimes works out as the best option financially since you are usually legally allowed to mind your own kids plus others (the laws vary widely by area but I know lots of people who mind their own kids and take in others. In my area it’s legal to do this without paying tax if you earn less than a certain amount per year, though of course there are limits on number of kids per adult and you have to be police vetted).

    1. Anon Today Anon Tomorrow*

      She may be hard pressed to get a license with 5 kids of her own and no additional help. And if she goes unlicensed, I think she’d be hard pressed to find too many clients (unless she’s super cheap). I think most parents who choose in home daycare often do so because they feel their child is getting more individualized and one-on-one time, and I don’t know if the co-worker would be able to provide that type of atmosphere. Besides if she is struggling with her own five kids, adding more isn’t a great solution.

      In terms of the OP, I think that they definitely need to talk to their manager (or the owner as it’s a start-up). What the OP’s co-worker is doing is totally inappropriate and unfair, and the worst part is that it’s compromising the job the OP does.

      1. Thlayli*

        Yeah I rethought this as soon as I posted it – not a good idea to suggest it.

        However to address your points – whether it would be legal to do alone depends entirely on laws in the area, and whether it would be profitable depends on laws and how many staff she hires/kids she takes in/ages of kids. There’s so many variables it’s impossible to tell. I do agree it would be hard to find customers if she was alone with 5+ kids.

        However, just because she’s struggling to mind 5 kids and work full time doesn’t necessarily mean she would struggle to mind 6 kids without having a second job. It depends on kids ages as much as anything else. A generation ago that was totally normal.

    2. BRR*

      While I know people who have done something similar when childcare costs were more than they would ever earn, I think the LW should keep their focus narrow. It could easily snowball if the LW brings up the husband or alternative careers and they should just stick to the fact that they can’t get work done.

    3. Thlayli*

      Although now I think of it she probably wouldn’t take too kindly to this suggestion. I suspect one of the reasons she is putting herself through this stress is because her identity is very connected to her career.

    4. Temperance*

      She’s clearly not fit to run a daycare if she can’t manage her own children. Eek.

      1. Ladyphoenix*

        THIS. She needs to take care of her kids first to make suee they behave and can function without her… which is definitely not OP’s problems.

      2. Thlayli*

        There’s a big difference between not being able to manage your kids and a full time job, and not being able to manage your kids plus one other. Huge difference. It’s literally impossible to do any job that requires mental concentration while minding 5 kids, but if you are able to focus all your concentration on the kids you can mind a lot of kids by yourself depending on ages etc.

        1. Thlayli*

          Teachers are expected to mind 40 kids. In the U.K. I believe the law on in-Home childcare is that one person can mind 3 kids under 3 plus 3 kids over 5 (or something similar, can’t remember. Looked it up for a friend a while ago.)

          If anything the fact that she is even partially coping with 5 kids and doing a job (albeit not very well) is really impressive. I could barely cope by myself with 2 kids and putting on a dinner!

        2. Plague of frogs*

          If I were a parent, I don’t think I would want my children anywhere near her kids at this point. They would learn their bad habits.

    5. Thursday Next*

      I’d never have sent my kids to a daycare where the person was caring for five of her own. I’d worry she wouldn’t pay enough attention to mine.

  46. Properlike*

    Not your circus, not your monkeys. Do not sacrifice your own career, reputation, and dollars for another person’s poor planning and life choices. If you’re feeling magnanimous, give your coworker an immediate ultimatum with “moving forward, we need to have child-free meetings and can’t miss deadlines. Are you able to do that?” And it would be perfectly reasonable at this very moment to contact your boss and say, “I’ve been trying to make this work and apologize for not letting you know sooner, but here’s the situation, what do you suggest?”

  47. DouDouPaille*

    Wow, sounds like two things need to happen: 1) Husband needs a stern talking-to about the need for a nanny (at least in summer), and 2) in the meantime, lunch meetings need to happen at a McDonalds with one of those outdoor play areas!

  48. J.E.*

    Without knowing the full situation, I wonder if the OP coworker’s husband is supportive of the coworker even having a job outside of SAHM? Maybe he wants her to give up the job without actually saying so, just let things get too overwhelming so she quits. Again, I don’t know all the facts so he may just be clueless if coworker hasn’t set him and down and made very clear that things aren’t working as is. I also agree with finding a meeting location where the kids can be occupied. Maybe looking into the local branch of the public library. In summer libraries have daytime activities going on for kids and they usually have meeting rooms that can be reserved.

  49. DKMA*

    I’m wondering if I’m over reading into this letter, because the description and tone of this letter made me feel like this “only coworker” was more like a “business partner” in a start-up of two. If so, I don’t think it necessarily changes any of the advice, but the LW would need to think ahead about what her response would be if she doesn’t get a satisfactory resolution. Can she go it alone? Would she be willing to dissolve the partnership over this? If answers to those questions are no, then paying for babysitting (or making it a business expense) could be a compromise solution.

    Since I appear to be the only person who interpreted the question this way, this might be a totally useless comment.

    1. Sal*

      Also read it this way. I didn’t get the vibe there was a boss to go to about this. But who knows.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      Huh. That hadn’t occurred to me–I figured the coworker was foisted on her by a distant boss, and they were a department of two in a significantly larger organization.

      If it’s a business partner then a) not a good choice of business partner b) OP actually does have standing to push back, hard, on doing their work while the kids swing from chandeliers overhead. In this case she IS the boss, so has a boss’s authority to set limits.

    3. Just trying to get work done...*

      OP here — yes, there is an owner/sponsor in the organization, and his opinion is that my co-worker’s skillset (which she does have, in spades, when she has time to apply said skills!) outweighs her “complications”. We’ve had the conversation about kid-distractions and missed deadlines and it always comes back to the idea that he hired the two best people for the job, so we just need to figure it out and get it done (hence my writing in to Ask a Manager, actually!).

      1. Jenny*

        Frankly, your boss is foisting management duties on you by expecting you to make it work yourself. That is his job and completely unreasonable. Unless there is some other great perk to this place, so may job search. His expectations are.unreasonable.

        1. Kate R*

          This exactly. Your boss is punting his responsibilities as a manager to you. You could have the conversation with your coworker that Alison suggested, but you don’t have the authority to do anything about it if she fails to fix the problem, so what good is that? I’d be job hunting.

          1. annejumps*

            Yeah, with this info I too would start looking elsewhere. There doesn’t seem a really likely way this will be resolved.

        2. BRR*

          There are so many letters where we discuss the various aspects and then we get a little more information and it’s just like, BOOM sucky manager.

      2. DKMA*

        Thanks for replying OP. That for sure makes things clearer, but maybe messier. Unfortunately, it sounds like you have both a coworker problem AND a boss problem.

        On the coworker, the one firm line you have to draw is “no kids in your house”. Even if your boss wants you to work things out, he doesn’t have the right to dictate what you do in your home, and there are way too many issues with having the kids there. Otherwise, it’s up to you how accommodating you want to try to be. I would personally require “kid free” time for actual meetings, but would be open to location changes, changing how I worked to require fewer/shorter/remote meetings and more asynchronous collaboration, etc.

        On the boss side, you need to draw a clear line on what you can possibly “figure out”. You are going to do yoruself harm if you cover for the coworker. I would create written communications of timelines and responsibilities and -cc your boss. You can be flexible on how you work, but you cannot MAKE your coworker do things, and it’s his job to manage her if she’s failing to meet expectations.

      3. Thlayli*

        Honestly if your boss is aware of the situation and doing nothing about it, it’s really a boss problem, not a coworker problem.

        You could possibly suggest to boss that he pay for childcare during meetings, but really any boss this clueless would have me searching for another job.

      4. Nita*

        Does the boss realize that he would probably be doing your coworker a favor if he “made” her get even part-time child care? I’m wondering if a letter sent to her home, with the requirement that she get x hours of child care, would be enough to make whoever is resisting the idea see reason. It’s not an uncommon requirement for remote workers, and some businesses require proof that care is arranged before they even approve work from home.

        Of course, there may be reasons that the boss is going easy here. If the coworker is in an abusive situation, or something bordering that, pushing back on this arrangement may just result in her being forced to quit, and becoming totally isolated. Do you have any idea whether this is a risk?

      5. Falling Diphthong*

        Okay. Then I’d going to toss out a bunch of possibilities:
        • Can you do meetings at times her husband would be around to watch the kids? Would the disruption to your schedule (you are totally allowed to want your evenings and weekends free) be worth the meetings being much more productive? (I used to go to (brief! with people I knew in meat space!) meetings to pick up work with my toddler in tow, so that I could use my valuable daycare hours for doing the work.)
        • Can you do meetings at her house? Not only do the kids have, say, their own gaming system to distract them, but there are no innocent third parties (e.g. restaurant patrons) a melting down child can use as leverage.
        • Can you do meetings over skype or similar? All my work meetings are remote; I know a number of people work from home (as do I) by the number of barking dogs in the background, as the delivery people of America go about their day. Occasionally there are a couple of background kids shooed to watch a video during the meeting. No one is trying to care for five attention demanding kids–or even one–during the meeting.
        • Can you as much as possible hand things off to her in discrete chunks that she can manage her end without regularly checking in with you? And vice versa.

        Finally, on “we just need to figure it out and get it done.” That sound like what one of the guys running FireFest suggested in the dire final weeks. It turned out that wasn’t enough to actually pull it off. You’ve asked him to manage, he won’t, and I suspect this is going to flail in ever diminishing circles until something changes. In the happy ending version, that’s when your coworker and her spouse get their childcare under control.

      6. animaniactoo*

        Hmmm. I would push back about “the two best people for the job” with “The best people for the job are the people who can get it done. Right now, that’s not happening due to the way the kid management is working.”

        Question: How comfortable would you be pushing back and doing less rescuing when she drops her end of the ball? So that it becomes more apparent the owner/sponsor how much her brilliance isn’t making up for the complications?

        I still feel that your approach to her needs to be “I understanding that balancing work and childcare are challenging but our meetings need to be kid-free going forward. What can we do to make that happen?” and pushing her into the mindset that she HAS to find a way to do that.

        Perhaps also approach your boss with the concern “I’m worried about how much our missed deadlines are being held against me. These are circumstances outside of my control and there’s only so much I can do to make it work. Right now I’m planning to insist that our meetings going forward be kid-free, and I’d like your support on that. I’ll work with her as much as I can to make that happen, but that doesn’t resolve the issue of late deliverables on her end that I need to continue with my parts. Are you okay with the idea that we’re just going to regularly miss deadlines? Am I thinking that missing the deadlines is a bigger issue than it is?”

        Basically – he’s trying not to have to manage the situation. Your goal is to box him into a corner where he has to either tell you it’s okay, or tell you it’s not okay. And if it’s not okay, you can push back harder at him and say “I’m sorry, you keep saying we have to work this out ourselves, but I have limited ability to push for any change in how she works or what she does about childcare so that she can work. You’re our boss. You have far more ability than I do. This is not something we can work out ourselves because I’ve tried and it’s not happening. Either you need to step into this, or you need to be okay with the blown deadlines.”

        Maybe, just maybe, being the best person for your part of the job is making your limits clear and determinedly moving reality back in front of him to deal with. Worth thinking about.

        1. GreyjoyGardens*

          I think this is excellent advice (that, and “start job hunting!” if you have skills that this employer values, other, better employers will value them too!). Set limits, set boundaries, and DO NOT RESCUE. You need to look out for yourself as far as your reputation is concerned, and if covering for her makes you both look bad with missed deadlines, etc. then it’s time to let your coworker take a fall or two and maybe – *maybe* – that will get your boss to step up a bit.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            Thirding Do Not Rescue. Rescuing is a one-off for extraordinary and unforeseeable circumstances, like her nanny got sick and was out all week. In that case, trying to catch her dropped balls would be kind and co-workerly of you. (This assumes that the person in the unforeseen fix is trying like heck to fix it, rather than sitting calmly on the sidelines watching you juggle.) It’s not just how things are all summer.

      7. Totally Minnie*

        I feel like this is a “Your boss sucks and isn’t going to change” scenario. If he’s not willing to be an actual boss and tell his employees what is and is not appropriate for the workplace, this will only get worse. If the business starts to grow and take on more employees and he stays in this hands-off mode, there will be chaos. If it were me, I’d be job searching.

      8. Triple Anon*

        So if he’s aware of it and that’s his response, it seems like asking him to pay for childcare or some kind of alternative arrangement would be reasonable. It’s more between him and the co-worker, but you could point out that you can’t have unsupervised children in your home, and document the impact on productivity. That would make any business expenses easier to justify.

      9. nonegiven*

        OK, you need to have your meetings with screaming children in the boss’s office or home.

      10. Observer*

        I agree with everyone who says start looking.

        In the meantime, stop asking your boss for help, and stop discussing it with him. TELL him what you are going to do, and what you are not going to do. Not necessarily all at once, but as they come up.

        The two most important ones:
        1. You will not attend any meetings with the children, if they are not being cared for by someone other than CW.

        2. You will NOT take over any of her work.

  50. Selene*

    Is it normal to have to have work meetings at your house at all? If you have to meet in person this often, why isn’t there an office? Does your boss realize you are having meetings with your coworker at your house? And the coworker bringing her children to your house is completely absurd.

    1. WFH Mom*

      This isn’t unusual for a start up where employees work from home. There is probably not a local office so they would have to find a place to meet. If it’s only two of them meeting regularly, it might not make sense for the company to pay for a space on a tight budget or before they’re profitable. It sounds like they’ve tried different scenarios to accommodate the kids, and the option at one’s home may be the least disruptive and/or most cost-effective. It would be best for them to find a space where they can both give the meeting their undivided attention.

  51. Delta Delta*

    I haven’t read all the comments, so maybe someone else has said this.

    I feel terribly for the co-worker. I strongly suspect she knows she’s concurrently an unproductive employee and an inattentive parent. She is likely holding on by her fingernails. She probably also wants to punch her husband in the nose for suggesting she can do both things at once.

    So, this. OP probably shouldn’t have meetings at her house anymore or at restaurants, etc. It’s pretty clear the kids get dysregulated when they leave their surroundings and don’t get attention from Mom. Set clear guidelines with co-worker. Let her know that things x, y, and z need to get done and you’ll need ___ amount of time. Tell her, politely and clearly, what she already knows: that the kids are a huge distraction and that if you and she are going to get these things done, you’ve got to have some quiet work time. Maybe schedule a standing meeting during a time when the kids can be at a day program (library reading program, local pool swim camp, etc.) and Mom can be focused on work (well, except for the very little one who would probably be with her).

    I think you have this conversation with her before going to your boss. And I think maybe you also tell her you may have to go higher up on the food chain if things don’t change. That way she’s got notice that you’re at wit’s end and she has a chance to fix it.

  52. Ms Pond*

    The only thing I would do differently is say, “When we meet from now on, *it needs* just be us.” Asking, and using the word can implies this is something the coworker can say no to instead of a firm boundary.

  53. WFH Mom*

    OP really nailed it that the kids probably act out more to get mom’s attention. It’s possibly not a fair window into their normal, daily behavior. I work from home with young kids, but my spouse is a stay-at-home dad. It’s still difficult to navigate even with a full time adult caregiver present. The kids know I’m home so they will go to great lengths to make things difficult for Dad. We’re figuring this thing out, but we’ve come up with some techniques to give me peace and quiet when I’m on a call with a client.

    Is it possible for your coworker to adjust her working hours to something that fits her lifestyle? I understand that you’re meeting with her, but maybe those meetings can be held before or after Dad’s working hours so Mom can leave the house alone. If your type of work is not required to be done during traditional office hours, your coworker may need to lean on her husband to step up during evening hours or she may need to consider some early mornings or late evenings when kids are in bed so deadlines aren’t being missed. It’s not ideal, but I have a habit of longing some more hours after the kids are in bed when work needs to get done. But I do have a pretty supportive spouse.

  54. Ladyphoenix*

    Hey, remember the story where an assistent stuffed her kids in a closet filled with chemicals to poorly balance child rearing and work?

    1. Thlayli*

      That’s a bit of an exaggeration isn’t it? I’m not defending her behaviour, but it was about leaving them in a room with some cleaning products in, not “stuffing them in a closet full of chemicals”.

      Unless I’m thinking of a different letter.

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      But it’s not like they were alone in there – she forced an admin to watch them, remember? So all is well!

  55. Triple Anon*

    I would tell her it’s not a workable situation and support her in advocating for a solution – a raise, her husband’s help with child care, for the company to help pay for childcare, a different scheduling arrangement (meeting after the husband gets home from work so he can take care of the kids?), etc. Whatever makes sense for her life and this company. If you try that and she’s not receptive, then you can cross “tried to help” off your list and feel free to complain about it as needed. It’s not your problem. It’s between her and the company and her family.

    Try to very clearly divide your workloads so the company can see who’s responsible for what, who’s doing what, and how things are being done. Send your boss weekly reports summarizing what you were responsible for and what you accomplished. Or even daily reports if that seems appropriate. You want to avoid getting dragged into this, letting it negatively impact your career and this job. Be a supportive friend and friendly co-worker, but draw firm lines where the situation has the potential to impact you.

    Also, if the kids damage things, or maybe even if you don’t, I wouldn’t let her bring them to your home anymore. If they’re not properly supervised, that’s a huge fan of worms. What if one of them was injured? You could be held responsible. And you can bring that up to her and your boss. “I’ve thought this over and realized what the risks are since my home is not a licensed child care facility. The kids are great, and I want to be sure they’re safe while we’re in meetings. My home isn’t set up to be child-friendly. Is there a work-around?” That would be a very reasonable thing to say, and, really, you’d be advocating for her and the kids. Maybe if the boss sent her an email asking her not to bring the kids to meetings, she could show it to her husband and convince him to pay for child care.

    PS – I’m posting this without reading the other comments first, so maybe these points have already been made.

  56. Koala dreams*

    In addition to Alison’s great advice, I suggest that you re-schedule if/when you get to the meeting and it turns out the meeting isn’t going to be productive. Maybe it will take some time before the situation is resolved, and if you turn up at her home or a coffee place and her kids are disrupting the work, you can tell her it isn’t working. “This isn’t working, let’s re-schedule the meeting.”

    As for the feminist angle, I haven’t heard about feminists supporting mothers working full time at the same time as taking care of children full time before. Many feminists support mothers (and parents generally) taking time off work, and many feminists support childcare arrangements. Be assured, you don’t need to support this particular set-up to keep your feminist credentials.

  57. Wren*

    The letter writer simply says the husband doesn’t want to pay for a nanny, not that they can’t afford childcare. I’m really interested in whether childcare is really out of this family’s budget or if the couple are simply not discussing this openly. If not, they need to have a serious conversation about their financial goals as a family, and supporting their individual career goals in an egalitarian manner. The husband sucks if he thinks he gets to go off to work and make all thought of how his children are cared for and occupied his wife’s problem.

    1. Rainy*

      However, whether they can or can’t afford childcare is their problem, not LW’s. LW’s problem is a coworker not pulling her weight on projects, missing deadlines, and thinking it’s okay to bring her five (!) undisciplined and destructive children over to LW’s house for work meetings.

  58. RUKiddingMe*

    “I realize offering dog crates and Nyquil would be a bridge too far.”

    Don’t be too quick to dismiss these options… :-)

    1. Thursday Next*

      I didn’t want to derail on this, but since this specific line was quoted, I have to say that jokes about kids in cages are best avoided these days.

      I get that it was tongue-in-cheek, but you never know if the person reading that knows someone caught up in immigration difficulties, or is from a marginalized group targeted by immigration.

        1. Thursday Next*

          There are a lot of minefields to keep track of these days. No one could stay on top of everything!

      1. Belle8bete*

        welp the kid in cage image was a staged thing for a protest (if it’s the famous one that’s been circulating around–check out snopes for the scoop). Perhaps there’s another one I don’t know about?

        But if you don’t like the cage imagery, you can always go with duct tape.

        1. Thursday Next*

          “Babies in cages” has been front and center in rhetoric decrying family separation. It doesn’t matter that one image was staged. People who have followed this issue closely and fearfully know what this means.

  59. Dawn88*

    Years ago my office was over a large, nicely run daycare. There was always a waiting list, since the facilities were staffed properly, provided healthy snacks, activities, and had mandatory “nap time” every day from 1-3pm. There was a fenced playground outside, and drop off lane. The Owner (a former high school principal) had 6 video cameras, so he could watch everything all day from his office.

    It cost $600/month for each potty trained child, and the ones in diapers were extra. 5 kids x $600 runs the parents $3,o00 a month for decent childcare. She’d be lucky to find a college grad, or retired Grandma, to watch them at her home all day, even if paid $100 per day, which is less than minimum wage in California (and would cost $2,000 a month). The obvious issue is MONEY.

    Their boss is a complete moron.

  60. ladycrim*

    Oh no. Oh noooooo. This letter got more horrifying by the sentence. I feel very deeply for both the LW and her co-worker in this situation.

    I found this parenthetical illuminating: (husband thinks she’s doing just swimmingly at this SAHM+working-parent thing and doesn’t want to pay for a nanny). I wonder if co-worker is trying to put on a good show for the husband, or if he’s just dismissive of her concerns and believes mothers who need nannies are failures as mothers? (Maybe a bit of both.)

    I suggest co-worker tell husband he needs to either hire a nanny or HE can take all 5 kids to work himself. He’ll be calling a hiring service in no time flat.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I could see the husband as a controlling jerk, or as a guy who naively thinks that if he can watch kids while emptying the dishwasher his wife can do it while analyzing spreadsheets (and he would be receptive to logical bubble bursting), or as a guy who made one positive supportive “it’s great how you do it all honey!” comment when they started the work+sahm and his wife has taken that as gospel.

      He’s many degrees removed from us, so it’s not like he cares about our advice to him–like so many frustrating situations, most of the changes here need to come from him, from the coworker, from the boss, not from the OP. But I am always a bit leery of people offering up the explanation that there is an obvious solution to this obvious problem, but of course someone not in earshot absolutely refuses to consider it so there’s absolutely nothing they can do. Not that it’s never a legitimate statement of fact, but it seems like she has failed to have a come to Jesus talk with him about how what she thought she could manage is not working at all in practice; that what looks like doing it all when she puts on her game face at suppertime* is actually a cover for her hanging on by two remaining fingernails. (Like the rule that so often what OPs think must be obvious to their boss wasn’t at all, sometimes spouses can ask in sincere bewilderment “You said it was okay, so I thought it was okay.”)

      *There was a time period when I routinely explained to my husband that the kids and I really had had a great day up until about half an hour before he walked in the door, when they became tired and hungry as I tried to focus on starting dinner and everyone was tired and stressed when he actually walked in. I was telling him the truth, and things really were under control–I also told him the truth when I started being home full-time and encouraged him to take this flexibility to work a lot, and then our oldest thought he was on a business trip because she hadn’t seen him in a few days, so my theory about how great this was going to work wasn’t actually supported by the facts on the ground and we needed a new plan.

      1. aebhel*

        Ironically enough, it is impossible to watch my younger kid while unloading the dishwasher, because he thinks it’s the most fascinating object in the house and starts trying to climb in as soon as the door is open. :/

  61. thinkagain*

    oh dear this is an untenable situation for everyone. Yes, I do have sympathy for mom, but I have never heard of a job that lets you take your five kids to work–whether it is at your own home, at somebody else’s home, or the office. I would be very clear that you cannot do your work with those kinds of distractions. If you must collaborate in person, I would ask the boss to provide a neutral location. I think the boss does not really understand what is going on.

  62. JosiePcat*

    The other question is is she REALLY getting her job done day to day outside of meetings or are you actually picking up the slack. If it really is just meetings then you may be able to convince her to get a sitter on those days. But really I doubt she is contributing a full time amount of work.

  63. MassMatt*

    I was going to comment that the focus of most poster ire is the coworker’s husband (entirely merited!) but there is too little focus on company/boss in the situation. How this boss hired this person while she was FT caregiver to 5 young children (and considered her “the best!) is beyond me.

    Really the husband and the boss seem as though they are cut from the same cloth, “it ain’t a problem for ME so it must be going great!”

    Terrible situation, all I can think of is to avoid taking on the coworker’s responsibilities or fixing her mistakes. If things fall apart then at least the boss will have to re-evaluate whether this is really working, as it will hit his bottom line.

  64. OhBehave*

    LW – This husband hasn’t got a clue. However, he may be hearing a roses and chocolate side of the story from mom. We don’t know what she’s telling him. There’s no one on earth who could manage 5 children and work at the same time.
    Telling your CW that your home isn’t child-friendly will not work. She will come up with a lot of other options. I wonder if you or boss told her that she needs to get childcare for meetings, if hubby would change his tune. If a BOSS told her maybe that would fly with him. To be honest, if she needs childcare only during the school year (after the littlest start school), then it won’t be as expensive.
    In any case, children should not be present for your meetings. You’ve been as accommodating as you possibly could have been but it’s time to put a stop to this.
    As far as CW – you nailed it. She’s given up. She is not successful in any part of her life and she’s decided to just relinquish everything to the wind.
    If you do have a boss, please clue them in to what’s going on. If CW is missing deadlines and screwing up projects, it’s got to have an impact. If you are rescuing her by doing all the work in order to meet deadlines; stop now.
    If you say anything about this to boss or CW I’m sure we would all love an update.

  65. Namelesscommentator*

    This comment about women is much more abhorrent and misguided than anything described in the letter.

  66. Rae*

    Honestly, while everyone seems to be piling on the husband for not allowing a nanny part of this is pure ridiculousness. Like others, I have the feeling that the husband wants a SAHW but the mom of 5 doesn’t want to be one. The sad thing is that it isn’t working and they keep adding more kids to the mix.

    Someone needs to step in before this becomes a case for CPS. The scene you describe is an accident waiting to happen…and an older plate glass window could easily kill a child.

    The truth of the matter is this woman is an adult and needs to get herself together. This isn’t 1920. There are plenty of vehicles for women to become self-supporting without a husband if this is an issue. He doesn’t want to pay for a nanny? Fine. She does. Nanny costs more than she makes? Maybe they need to BOTH be adults and sit down to discuss what their family life is going to look like.

    What I don’t like is this idea that it’s a poor woman saddled with 5 young kids just trying to eek out a living. I get it, I work part-time from home with small kids…however, it’s all around their schedules. I do not put them in jeopardy even when my employment crosses over from “I need to do this work to survive” to “I want to work because I like using my mind.” It’s not simply a husband’s fault. She needs to get her priorities straight.

  67. Gorgoyle*

    In the end they chose to have five kids. Not one or two, but five. At that point it’s up to the parents to make sure they they function in the working world( whether the husband doesn’t want to hire a nanny or whatever the reason is, it’s fo for them to figure out). I would not tolerate this kind of disruption, and would very quickly say that this set up doesn’t work.

    1. moosetracks*

      The number of kids is not what’s causing the problem here.

      I get bringing it up, because managing one or two children is easier than managing five, but the far more pertinent issue is that neither the coworker nor the boss is being considerate of OP’s needs and boundaries and that neither of them recognize that this situation isn’t working.

      Again, I get why some people are bringing it up as a FACTOR in this discussion, but saying “they chose to have five kids. Not one or two, but five” is pretty judgmental of the coworker, which doesn’t solve anything.

      1. Rae*

        I’m wondering if it’s simply beyond some people’s ability to relate…or even think of how to help. There are not too many people with 5 children these days so most people can’t even fathom dealing with that many children at once. I think many who were neglected as children also are appalled by the idea that someone who is neglecting children (as evidenced by their misbehavior) is not working to correct the situation rather is continuing to have more children. Quite frankly, these children are a danger to themselves and their siblings and are likely one step away from the ER or CPS intervention (not ‘taken away’ but home visits and parenting classes for sure!)

  68. Working Mom Having It All*

    I think the truly feminist thing to do in this situation would be to look into some kind of employer provided or funded childcare. That could be the company paying for a sitter in these instances, or it could be a FSA type of setup where she could set aside a portion of her pre-tax pay to be used for childcare of her own choosing.

    It also makes me feel a little gross here that the problem is that the coworker’s husband doesn’t want to pay for childcare. I’m also a working mom, with a mostly-SAHM partner who handles the bulk of childcare for our infant. We have had a lot of talks about lining up some kind of outside care if he has a gig. In most cases it’s been trivial to bring the baby with him and let him nap in the stroller during the meeting, or things have worked out such that a friend can come over and watch him for free, or I can leave work half an hour early. But, yeah, my husband is a person with hopes and dreams and aspirations, and I’m not going to let him jeopardize his career or simply have zero going on in life aside from our child over the prospect of paying $50 here and there for a sitter. We’re not wealthy people, either. (Though we have opted to have only one child so that we would have a bit more flexibility than this family apparently has.)

  69. ZucchiniBikini*

    I have three children and worked mostly at home for years when they were younger, and when I had to attend meetings, they definitely posed a tricky dilemma. So I am sympathetic to coworker, but LW, this is not a remotely reasonable way for her to handle this.

    As you yourself identify, it sounds counter-intuitive, but babies are often much, much less disruptive than mobile children – I took all three of mine (individually!) to meetings when they were infants, when I did not have a workable other solution, and they did not create a barrier to work being done. This was an occasional thing for last-minute failure of childcare and so forth, but my colleagues commented more than once that they were barely aware that baby was sleeping in the pram or playing on a rug in the corner. I have also (occasionally) taken older elementary aged kids – 8-10 year olds – to meetings when I didn’t have a plausible other option, but each time the child has brought their tablet and drawing supplies and kept themselves quietly, non-destructively entertained.

    What I have never NEVER done and think would be an utter nightmare is taken active toddlers / preschoolers, OR ALL THREE KIDS AT ONCE, to a business meeting. I think this is an entirely unreasonable impost on both the coworkers and the kids themselves, tbh, especially as it sounds like the kids maybe need a bit more active involvement from a caregiver than what they are getting.

    I believe you are a very kind and generous person to be trying to make this work for everyone, and to even think of offering to pay for a sitter. Would it be a solution to set parameters YOU are comfortable with, and put the onus back on your coworker to solve the problem? (eg “I’m fine with the baby occasionally coming with you, but I’m afraid I can’t accommodate the older kids in my house. Let’s reschedule if you find you’re unexpectedly needing to care for the older ones”).

  70. Anon today*

    OP, tell your manager–she needs to know why work has been late and she can decide how to manage (or not manage your co-worker).
    If you still need to meet with your co-worker, do it online. Don’t let her bring her children to your house so they can break and damage your things; don’t meet her in public for the reason you wrote about; and don’t go to her house, you won’t get any work done because of her children.
    Most importantly, let go of the idea that you owe her something or that you’ll lose your feminist creds, I promise you that nothing in our handbook requires that you allow yourself to be taken advantage of by a bad co-worker, or that you spend time with an irresponsible parent.

  71. Ratedne*

    What would really help here is government subsidized childcare, so that women can have children without sacrificing a career. Unfortunately, I haven’t heard any talk about it even from progressive people in the US or outspoken feminists. I guess there are too many other pressing issues

  72. Traveling Teacher*

    Nearly broke a window???! Routinely break other stuff and generally raise hell? I am a parent and also worked as a nanny…these kids sound like they are actually screaming for attention. The vast majority of kids don’t act out like this on the regular if they’re getting the support they need.

    Coworker needs to evaluate what the stress of insufficient care is doing, long-term, to her children. She (and oblivious or worse husband) needs to get them appropriate care immediately, not least of which for her own sanity.

  73. Comms Girl*

    I haven’t read all the comments so I don’t know if this was mentioned above, but another option this couple could consider would be to have an au-pair. I did one year as an au-pair before proceeding with my Master studies and I do believe it might be cheaper than your average childcare options. The au-pair would live with them (I’m assuming, perhaps incorrectly, that with 5 kids they will hardly live in a 1-bedroom flat), take care of the kids while the parents are working, get some pocket money per week, and get language lessons to perfect her skills (mandatory in the au-pair programme as au-pairs need to be from another country, it’s almost like a learning exchange). If everyone involved in this letter lives in the US, there are tons of au-pair programmes available with no shortage of candidates (though I do feel for potential au-pair given the descriptions of the almost broken glass and fallen umbrella. It will certainly take that person some time to change the kids’ mindset)

    Nevertheless, I’m fully aware this is not the point of the letter, and I 100% agree that OP shouldn’t have to put up with this, childcare or not. OP, meeting in your house is definitely not an option, and please don’t be afraid to stand your ground on that – and do update us if possible!

    (PS – that husband needs a good reality check, maybe a “bring your children to work” day would do the trick)

  74. Dove*

    OP, I would absolutely take a hard line with your co-worker about this: she cannot bring the kids to meetings any more. They can’t come to your house, they can’t come to lunch meetings that are being held at restaurants, they can’t come anywhere if she’s supposed to be there for work purposes.

    And I second everyone else who’s said that you need to start making this your boss’s problem, and that you should start job-searching. Setting aside all the other issues with your co-worker bringing kids who cannot be trusted to behave themselves (and have proven that they *won’t* behave) and who have demonstrated that they’re destructively chaotic, this is a PR problem waiting to happen for your company. What happens if your co-worker needs to meet with clients or your grandboss, and does this? Or if she gets the both of you (and your company, by association) banned from every nice restaurant that could be used for lunch or dinner meetings?

    This isn’t tenable or even functioning, and you need to make that clear to both your co-worker and your boss.

  75. Nox*

    I don’t even think it would work out in daycare for these kids. The fact that they were breaking stuff in a public place should most likely get them thrown out of most child care places.

    This is a personal problem, all you can do is make meetings childfree and report failures of deadlines to leadership with the hope that she sinks or swims.

  76. GM*

    I’m cringing reading this. I once had my 3yo daughter yell out during a conference call (despite the sitter’s presence) because she wanted to grab a toy. A senior person on the call said “The person with the child – please go on mute!” a bit rudely but I couldn’t blame them. From then onwards I locked my room and allowed no interruptions during my WFH days. Five kids all at once while trying to get work done – even my imagination breaks down at this point!

  77. Jennifer Juniper*

    It’s also not doing the kids any favors, as they’re probably heading for undisciplined brathood. That is not cute at any age, and it gets even less cute the older people get.

  78. chickaletta*

    “In fact, I’d argue that feeling obligated to be okay with that stuff is actually a disservice to other working parents, who go to great lengths to not operate like this, and who are harmed by people getting the idea that this is what working parents do.”

    THIS. And while we’re at it, parents in general who let their kids act like asses in public are perpetuating the stereotype that parents don’t parent these days. Knock it off, ya’ll. As a parent myself, I’m just as annoyed as childless adults who are also trying to get through their meal/ride/flight/shopping.

    Look. Nobody expects children to act perfectly. They scream, they crawl on the floor, they break things. But they do expect the responsible adult in charge of them to make attempts to correct that behavior. It’s not easy. I do it all the friggin time. But that’s the thing – I do it.

  79. Big Biscuit*

    Bottom line- coworker needs to find daycare. This is inappropriate in a business setting regardless of the coworkers dynamics with her husband. OP should not have to put up with this and it’s actually her bosses issues to resolve.

  80. Angel nut*

    Arrange play dates for the older ones so only has to deal with the baby would be a way to get them out of the way for an afternoon and not have to pay child care fees

  81. TinaB*

    The OP is likely MALE. The person said they don’t want to “be a dick”, have Lego Displays (young adult men are heavily into these), and is trying to be a “good feminist”. That’s all speak from a young male…as I am friends with many of them. It would also helping with the kids while they’re acting out, much more difficult to do. Most men (especially under 30; he did mention Legos) do not want to “step on the toes” of parents, especially that of a mother.

    Since we’re likely talking about a MALE worker here, it makes it even *more* difficult to broach the subject. I really feel for him. Regardless of whether or not you agree that the OP is male, the advice was great! :)

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