my boss’s kids are incredibly distracting on video calls

A reader writes:

My job went to 100% remote so I’ve been reporting to my manager virtually for the past few months. She has three kids, all under five years old. Sometimes all of them are home and sometimes it’s just one.

At first, the kids popping up were cute in our video calls. Now I find it utterly distracting and I cringe having to meet with her, especially right in the morning, when all I hear and see are kids screaming and crying. When we meet as a whole team, you can tell everyone else is also over it by their facial expressions — completely stone cold when her kids comes into the call.

She’ll acknowledge that she’s aware her kids are being disruptive — such as “ugh, I’m sorry” — and then super passively tell her kids 500 times to go play in another room. Then minutes later, it all happens again and again.

I don’t want to come off insensitive. I understand working from home and juggling kids is difficult. But it’s really affecting me now, as I feel like she’s not 100% present in our calls and I find myself repeating the same things week after week.

This is an extremely sensitive topic right now and I have NO idea how to approach this. Is it even my place? We have a great working relationship but this distraction is affecting my own output at this point and isn’t a good look for her either, and I’m not sure she understands the severity of the distraction.

The answer for this right now is different than the answer would be in normal times. In normal times, this would be totally unacceptable and any of you could just explain it was hard to hear her and focus on the call with the distraction of the kids and ask if there was a different time she could meet. If that didn’t solve it, you could discreetly have a word with someone in a position to intervene.

In these times … well. What she’s doing is still problematic, but it’s happening against the backdrop of presumably having no child care options. It’s unlikely that this set-up was her first choice; it’s more likely she has found herself here because the pandemic closures mean she has no alternatives.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to minimize the impact on you and your coworkers. We’re not in a position to know what would work for her specific situation (and her specific kids), but potential options are things like: scheduling meetings for different times of the day (it sounds like the disruption might be worse in the mornings), doing calls only while the kids are napping (even if that means the times need to be fairly loose or change at the last minute), using different communication methods altogether (would this be less annoying if more of your communication was happening over email or in Slack?), using phone rather than video and keeping herself muted, or delegating authority to others to move these meetings forward without her.

Again, we can’t know what will work for her situation, but ideally she’d be thinking creatively about whether there are ways to minimize the impact on the rest of you — or at least conveying that she’s taking it seriously and trying to find solutions, even if they’re not great ones. And since you said that sometimes some of the kids aren’t home, maybe there there are quieter times and other adults available, at least sometimes.

As for what you can try on your end, you do have the standing to say, “I’m having trouble hearing you over the background noise. Is there a time that might be quieter later today that we could reschedule for?” (The honest answer to that might be “no such time exists” but it’s reasonable to ask.) You also have standing to say at some point, “I know you’re in a tough situation, but I’m finding it hard to focus on our calls when there’s so much activity happening with the kids, and I find we’re having to cover the same things over and over because of it. I know there aren’t easy answers here, but I wanted to mention it in case there are other ways for us to cover the items we need these calls for.”

From there, it’s pretty much up to her. You’ll have made her aware there’s a problem — when she genuinely might not have realized the impact on your side — and from there she’ll need to figure out what, if anything, she can do about it. Ultimately the answer may end up being “not much” — but it might at least improve things from where they are now, and it’s reasonable to let her know about the legitimate problems it’s causing on your end.

For anyone in your situation right now, there’s going to a bit of “is it really fair to tell her it’s causing a problem when she may not have a solution?” But she’s your manager, it’s affecting your team, and that’s info she needs to have, even if she can’t do anything about it right now.

{ 461 comments… read them below }

  1. glitter writer*

    As someone stuck at home with two children under six (since March!) I just have to say: I’m sorry. I know it’s terrible for everyone else, too, and I hate it as much as you do. :-/

    1. Generic Name*

      Seriously. My son is 13 and has literally interrupted me 5 times this morning in the span of an hour. Once he interrupted me to tell me to come look at the cat because “she’s staring into space”. Unfortunately I don’t really have advice for you OP beyond maybe think about how distracted and annoyed you are and multiply that by a million. That’s likely what your boss is feeling. This situation sucks for everyone.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Generic, you’ll be able to laugh about it later. Remind your son of that day in a speech on his wedding day as revenge (in fact I’d advise any parent to start a list of embarrassing things to bring up in wedding day speeches asap).

      1. NotJennifer*

        My 9 year old still interrupts me to tell me He. Is. Going. To. The. Bathroom.

        Luckily, this hasn’t yet happened on Zoom. But I do have to give multiple hugs and kisses before a zoom call, as if I were flying out for a 2 week long out of country trip. Because this whole pandemic has been **amazing** for everyone’s mental health.


        1. The kid would kill me if I signed my name*

          Mine has stopped closing the door when using the bathroom just down the hall from my computer. So far I’ve been muted every time that sound happens… but I dread the day it isn’t.

      2. Ellen N.*

        I’m sure you didn’t mean your comment to sound condescending to the poster, but that’s how it comes across to me.

        I don’t have children. I’ve been told by parents that I don’t know the meaning of love, that I have no right to say that I’m busy, that my big life events pale in comparison to their having children.

        Now it sounds like you are saying that people who don’t have children have no idea what it means to be annoyed and distracted.

        1. BoozyAccountant*

          Ellen, I took this as less “you have no idea what it’s like to be annoyed and distracted” and more “it’s even more annoying and distracting when you are the one being interrupted by your children the entire working day”. OP can get off the phone and do their job without boss’s kids popping in continuously. The boss presumably still has those interruptions all day, on and off of calls.

        2. Lavender Menace*

          I am happily childfree by choice, but I think that we can all admit that barring special circumstances, being distracted and annoyed by three children under five is on a whole different level.

        3. Annabelle*

          But it’s true, WFH with children is extremely distracting and annoying. This is why during normal times, WFH policies typically stipulate that parents have childcare. I’m childfree and I honestly can’t comprehend how parents are managing during these times.

        4. That's a tough one.*

          Slightly off topic: as a parent, I am so sorry that some self-involved glassbowl parents have said these cruel and stupid things to you about love and business and big life events. I cringe when I hear or read people saying things like this, and I apologize on their behalf.

        5. MCMonkeyBean*

          They’re not saying that OP doesn’t know what it’s like to be annoyed, just pointing out that the source of this particular annoyance is living in their boss’s house 24/7.

    2. straws*

      Yes, this. It’s awful for the parents too! I will also say that even if she can think creatively, she may not have the bandwidth to. I’m normally a dive-in, tackle-it-head-on, problem solver. I’m completely overwhelmed trying to deal with a 2 year old, a 5 year old who just started virtual Kindergarten, a full time remote job, and managing the household duties that my husband (an essential worker at a physical job) isn’t able to take on. It’s a lot, and if someone made what might seem like an obvious suggestion to me to help lessen the disruption on phone calls, it’s entirely possible that I’ve been too disoriented to let that suggestion get in front of me long enough to consider it. So if you think something like muting more will help and you don’t want to speak up because it seems obvious – do it anyway! Be polite, but it’s possible that with all the craziness and stress, it might get through better when it comes from someone else doing the thinking part.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        Seconded, please make suggestions! I’m also working at home with 2 small kids and I am lucky enough to have some help most days. Even then, it’s still so distracting with them running around and interrupting me or even just hearing them in the next room that it’s hard to concentrate and come up with the solutions that would have been immediately obvious 6 month ago. Everything is harder for everyone right now, so the more you can offer up ideas, the more likely you are to get some relief.

        1. cosmicgorilla*

          I listened to a parent coach the other day who suggested a red piece of paper that you put up when you absolutely need quiet and need them to not come in and interrupt you.

          She suggested turning it into a game. You put it up, they comply, they get a sticker. After 5 stickers, there’s a prize.

          You don’t use it more than once or twice a day. Don’t overuse it.

          They can use it too. Make a really big deal. “Oh, I wanted to come tell Billy to put his toys away, but he put the red sign up, so I can’t!” Again, make it a game that they can play too.

          Her point was that kids don’t understand why we are in these meetings and why they are important. She also said that you can tell kids in the AM that you’re going to have a meeting where they need to be quiet, but they’re not going to remember.

            1. Atalanta0jess*

              This is not consistent with my experience of parenting. My kiddo actually complies with a sign really well, without external reward even.

              1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

                It depends on the kid and also the kid’s need at that moment in time.

                Under five is going to be very hard to control.

                I have an 8-year-old who is pretty “normal.”

                When he needs something and can see I’m on a call, he’ll approach me from the side off camera or at the edge of the camera. Imagine Capt Kirk being interrupted by an ensign looking for a signature. For sure it’s distracting to others, but in most situations not beyond what can happen in a meeting in an office. If I have to talk I can wave him away for a few minutes, then mute and do something fast.

                If it’s a very small call with someone he recognizes from work he may pop in and wave.

                1. AgeAppropriate*

                  This is exactly my situation. That’s a good age in terms of beginning to recognize boundaries. But not too much younger than that!

          1. Cinnabar Red*

            Yeah. I was pitching in front of 20 senior clients and my 12 year old wanted to talk to me. I shooed him away. He tried to fix his connection problem himself, but actually disconnected my WiFi router. Then burst into noisy sobs because he’s interrupted my important call.

            Red cards don’t work.

          2. Pennyworth*

            I had a friend who taught her kids to never touch something with a red sticker on it – after she had to replace a TV they had ‘played’ with. They were under five, and it worked quite well.

            1. allathian*

              Yeah, it really depends on the kid. The same things definitely won’t work on all kids, and even siblings can be very different in this respect.

          3. Ginger Peachy*

            I love this. My mom used to have a cardboard ‘stoplight’ she hung on her bedroom door when she was working from home years and years ago. Green meant ‘come right in’, yellow meant ‘knock first and ask if it’s okay’, and red meant ‘unless you’ve lost an appendage, you better not make a peep!’

          1. Vincaminor*

            Being outside *may be* a solution, but it’s far from guaranteed. My brother and his fam are near LA, and between the heat and the smoke, they can’t even open windows, never mind go play outside. Even with temperate climate, good air quality and supervision, you can’t leave a kid outside for an entire work day.

        2. Zombeyonce*

          Sorry guys, I didn’t mean I wanted suggestions for me, I meant for OP to please make suggestions to the manager.

          1. DiplomaJill*

            Op suggesting things like sticker awards and red cards is NOT going to go over well. Better to stick to the script Allison gave.

      2. BethDH*

        Agreed. Also, I worry about my suggestions seeming like an even bigger imposition because it’s forcing people to change their schedules or ways of working for my home life. So particularly if there are things you don’t mind doing, suggest those! I would be so happy if one of my colleagues suggested a willingness to meet during naptime on Friday, for example, but I don’t suggest it because we’ve always had meeting free Fridays so others can focus on big projects.

    3. catherine gronlund*

      If she gets a head set it will cut way down on the background noise. I use a Plantronics Voyager wireless headset and at times when I’ve apologized for loud background noises (such as a bulldozer
      breaking up the street outside my window) my co-workers insist that they don’t hear the noise.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        I think it’s not just the volume of the kids though (but I do agree, I got a “gaming” headset for WFH and it really does make things a lot better, I don’t have kids but do seem to get a lot of noise coming in through windows where they are tearing up the road at the back of us, etc) – but also that the manager gets distracted and interrupted during the calls meaning sometimes she doesn’t really take information in or OP has to repeat herself.

    4. charo*

      There’s no law that says you can’t have a babysitter while you’re home. If you’re the boss you can afford it, and when you have tiny kids, they need to be watched. 3 under 5 yo sounds almost like child abuse, to be untended.

      Maybe the staff can think of someone who can use a PT sitting job and “ask” the boss if she knows of anyone who’d want one. If everyone is tested and the kids play outside, it might work.

      1. BeachMum*

        There are still places (like where I live) where having someone in your house is considered unsafe. I know I haven’t had anyone who doesn’t live here in my house since March, and don’t plan on doing so until the numbers here are much lower. When 50 – 100 people are dying each day in my county, a sitter or pod isn’t really an option. (I’m also being way more cautious than many people I know. I also have teens, so I might be more willing to consider having a sitter if my kids were younger.)

        1. Third or Nothing!*

          Same boat here. I live in Texas, and I have asthma. My husband has upper respiratory issues as well. My daughter has food allergies, which means she’s at least some level of immunocompromised. The only possible dedicated childcare solution that doesn’t involve one of us quitting our jobs is to somehow manage to locate a live-in nanny who would be holed up in our home with us and have no outside contact just like us. I don’t exactly have the funds laying around to finance that, so here I am working from my kitchen table while my toddler watches her fourth episode of Octonauts. (I hear the Creature Report song in my dreams y’all.)

            1. Third or Nothing!*

              It’s an immune system response so I always figured there was some level of issue with the immune system as a whole, but maybe not according to TL below? It’s not like her doctor is a whole lot of help.

          1. TL -*

            Food allergies aren’t a result of being immunocompromised and aren’t an indication of the immune system underperforming. They’re just an immune system that has identified the wrong thing(s) as the bad guys; at most, it means your immune system may be slightly on the hyperviligant side.

            (food allergies can be a symptom of other underlying immune disorders but lacking any other symptoms and/or diagnosis, food allergies themselves do not indicate a person is immunocompromised.)

            1. TL -*

              And just to be clear, it is very rare the food allergies exist as part of other problems. The vast majority of the time, they’re just food allergies.

            2. Third or Nothing!*

              That’s actually quite helpful, thanks. I’ve had to navigate this all by myself since her doctor is kind of crap. You hear COVID affects people with compromised immune systems, and you know your daughter has an immune response to something, and you think HOLY GUACAMOLE I gotta be extra super vigilant!

              1. TL -*

                You’re welcome – glad I could help!
                All allergies – severe, mild, food, seasonal – are your immune system mistaking a neutral/good thing like peanuts for a harmful invader like a virus or bacteria. It can happen to anyone and definitely isn’t indicative of an underlying problem, just a fairly common oopsie of the immune system.

                The immune system has to make the good guy/bad guy decision for literally everything you come in contact with (everything you eat or breath in or that gets in a cut), and it’s fairly accurate but mistakes can happen as normal error.

      2. NW Mossy*

        I’ve written several comments in varying levels of tone to try to respond to you here, but I’ll leave it at this: the widespread failure of many parents to take up your one-sentence solution strongly suggests that it’s not as simple as you’re making it out to be.

      3. Uranus Wars*

        I don’t know that a manager can “afford” it. Kids are expensive, you don’t know their financial situation – maybe they are helping a parent, maybe they have a spouse out of work or who took a paycut, maybe their 2nd stream of income is compromised. Maybe they can’t find someone willing to come into their house everyday and agree to not go anywhere else on their days off. There are a million scenarios.

        I think the manager might need to ask for help, but I also think the employees asking is an option, too. When you are stressed to the max you don’t always have your head on straight, either. I think this is an important time to extend some slack to parents.

        I have zero kids but a lot of rope for parents with young kids right now.

        1. 867-5309*

          Also, “manager” doesn’t mean the same thing everywhere. Plenty of managers are bringing home $40k per year and that isn’t some mile high salary that enables a lifestyle with a nanny or sitter or someone else. And particularly if they had other childcare and family assistance before, which isn’t available right now.

          1. Pandemic Parenting is Miserable*

            40K is actually a full-time nanny salary in my area. We make 200K combined household and can’t afford a full-time nanny.

            I’m an open-minded person who fully endorses the kids are a choice philosophy, thinks child-free people are less selfish than I am for indulging my desire to procreate, and regularly corrects my kid that not everyone is a mama/dada/grandma/grandpa because there are lots of ways to have a family – but non-parent folks need to stop giving me

          2. Jenna*

            Yes! I was once a low level manager making $28,000/year. I could basically afford my own care and feeding and that’s it.

            (And of course, as many have mentioned, bringing more people into a home is a risk.)

      4. some dude*

        Having someone in your home is a risk. Many people in the babysitting pool are likely to also be a risk – have multiple roommates, live with family members who are essential workers, or just be a young person who is hanging out with lots of people and not taking COVID super serious. If your children are school-aged, and you live somewhere with a hospitable climate, doing an outdoor play group might be an option. Her children are all too young to do that. Grandparents, the old childcare standby, don’t work so well in a COVID situation because they are also high risk and if the spouse works outside the home it might not be safe for the grandparents. That’s the situation a lot of my friends with small children are in. If there was a tenable, safe option they would take it, but there isn’t one.

      5. Allenkey*

        In my city (Melbourne, Aus), schools and daycare are closed and it’s also currently illegal to have visitors in the home for any reason other than medical care or because they’re your intimate partner who usually lives elsewhere. Yes, visitors includes other family members who don’t live with you and baby sitters or mothers helpers.

        It’s a great idea but it’s also not always practical.

      6. Lavender Menace*

        Who is going to come by and babysit the kids in the middle of the day during a pandemic? There are all kinds of risks inherent in that.

        It’s also definitely not child abuse to take a meeting while your three small children are at home during a pandemic (or any other time, really).

      7. Paris*

        Your comment is alarmingly uncompassionate. Suggesting that the boss is abusive because she is trying to work and supervise her children at the same time is ABSURDLY hyperbolic. Regardless of the safety issue of bringing an employee into the house (which should be her choice based on her own assessment of her family’s safety needs), paying an employee $10 for 40hrs/week (which would be outlandishly low for a nanny of one child, let alone three) is almost $20k/year not including employer taxes. It is unreasonable to assume this boss can take a sudden 20K pay cut. She’s a supervisor, not a corporate fatcat.

      8. LibrarianMom*

        Seriously?!? You should never deign to know someone’s financial situation and what they can afford in regards to childcare. This plan to pull one over on the boss to get a part-time sitter is ridiculous; don’t you think she’s explored all her options? If you’re a parent and juggling EVERYTHING during a global pandemic, you’ve thought through every scenario and you’re doing what is going to work for your family.

      9. Nope.*

        “If you’re the boss, you can afford it”

        It’s really best not to count other people’s money. And suggesting to your boss that she put her kids at risk by introducing other kids and more staff? We’re in a pandemic.

    5. Box Jumps*

      Same. This is painful. You’re home with the kid(s) and you struggle to pay attention to your work while simultaneously feeling guilty because you worry that you cannot pay enough attention to your kid. There’s also the anxiety that comes when your kid appears in your Zoom meeting because they need milk/have to poop/want to say hi/are lonely. Is your credibility suffering? Will you be considered unprofessional? Will your team’s focus suffer because your kindergartener swung by to shoot the shit about Star Wars during your group check-in?

      I dunno. We’re all doing the best we can. We’re in a non-profit sector that has been absolutely decimated; I’m doing the job of 4 people with no light at the end of the tunnel. My team is patient with my “my brain is on overdrive 24/7 and sometimes I forget or repeat myself” mode. They’re good eggs, this is shit, and I am always looking for ways to demonstrate my appreciation to them and ease their burdens. Even if it’s just “hey, take a paid afternoon off, I will cover for you, and don’t worry about using any of your leave time.”

      1. some dude*

        I try to remember that we are in month seven of a pandemic, with no end in sight, and (at least in the U.S.), no real plan to do anything about it at a national level other than to actively undermine the CDC, politicize any type of reasonable intervention, and pretend there will be a magic vaccine before election time. It is a shite, unsustainable state of affairs. Your colleagues’ inability to wrangle their toddlers on zoom calls isn’t a failing on them, it is a failing of the system.

        1. Pomona Sprout*

          Amen to this!

          I’m actually rather surprised, no, gobsmacked, atvthsuggedtion that bringing a sitter into someone’s home during this pandemic is even a halfway viable option for most people right now. (Maybe if you think the virus is a hoax, like some people I could name, lol… but for most us, nope.)

          1. Metadata minion*

            In some situations it can be pretty safe, but that requires just the right setup, which the manager in this letter probably doesn’t have. If, say, there’s a recent college graduate who’s unemployed and has been responsibly isolating with just their parents, who live within walking distance, it’s probably not a huge risk to have them come babysit. But even that is assuming you don’t have a spouse who’s an ER doctor or something like that.

        2. Box Jumps*

          I hear that. My kid (the aforementioned Star Wars lover) is preternaturally chill for his age and can manage well. My team are independent and awesome. My workplace is understanding and doesn’t give me crap about the blocks I put on my calendar for childcare-only times. I know the system in the US is broken and that I’m doing my best. And yet, so, so much guilt.

      2. Lavender Menace*

        I realize that I may be in the minority, but I am incredibly impressed by the parents on my team right now (both the ones I manage and the ones I don’t). I think perhaps it’s because I used to work in childcare – which is can be an incredibly exhausting job – and I can’t imagine doing full-time at-home childcare and homeschooling while also working a (different) full-time job. To me that displays excellent organizational, planning, and time management skills. The parents on my team are being at least as productive as everyone else.

        1. Elise*

          As one of those parents, I feel like I need to prove that I’m still productive. I’m back in my office due to a safe learning center I managed to find for my kid that oversees a small group of kids in their virtual learning. But when I was at home, I definitely didn’t want anyone to think I was spending all day on childcare. And I always felt guilty if I was short with my daughter. It is a huge no-win situation for parents and everyone. As a manager, I don’t have any parents of young children who report to me, but I make sure not to assume this is easy just because you don’t have them.

          1. Box Jumps*

            I mentor in a professional capacity in addition to my day job, and YES. My mentee does not have kids. COVID has basically paralyzed them emotionally and they’re unable to work like they normally do. They’re incredibly overwhelmed and are struggling with self-compassion. My work team consists of parents of young kids and child-free folks. They get equal leeway from me. I will never, ever play oppression olympics with folks when it comes to dealing with children or live-in dependents. We are all struggling in our own way.

    6. Mama Bear*

      I attended many routine meetings by phone only and kept myself on mute, pre-pandemic. There’s also the joke that so many meetings could have been an email. I think it’s legit to suggest to ask the whole team what really needs to be done via this call and if there’s another way to accomplish it. For example, does it need all players? Could it be a report review vs an open discussion? Could (for example) the PM create a one-page report that only needs a meeting “as necessary”? Even folks with older kids might be troubleshooting zoom links, dragging tweens out of bed, etc. This could be a win-win for everyone.

      This letter makes me think of the guy whose kids crashed his interview with the BBC, only it’s daily.

  2. Holy Guacamole*

    I definitely feel you, because my manager’s very cute, very shrieky three year old pops up regularly during our zoom meetings and makes talking so difficult! My manager wasn’t wonderfully proactive at dealing with the noise levels at first, so every time Smol Kid popped up we would very politely ask if she could mute herself until the little one went away, so the rest of us could carry on the conversation. A few months down the line and my manager’s way more proactive about muting herself when the kid’s yelling, so I’d definitely recommend that (although I’m less sure about how to handle the distraction when you’re in a 1 to 1).

    1. Sincerely, The one who wrote in to this question!*

      Totally- she will mute herself here and there. When it’s a 1:1 I do end up hinting like “sorry can’t hear you” and then she reprimands the kids, but other than that I usually have to hear it.

      1. Spreadsheets and Books*

        Is there a reason she can’t wear headphones with an attached microphone or a headset vs using computer audio? That’s pretty much universal on my team among those who have small kids, or even those who have a spouse at home and want to be respectful.

        1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

          Yes, this is the obvious solution. She should wear a headset, so the background noise isn’t channeled into the call.

          Even if she opts to do an earbud-style headset so she can leave one out so she can monitor the gleeful shrieks to make sure they don’t transition into emergency shrieks, it will translate to a ton less noise in the meeting for everyone else.

        2. Uranus Wars*

          I think a headset is a great idea. I know with our computers at work we had to order special ones (no aux input, had to be USB and were $300 a set) and they were on a 8 week delay. But that was at the beginning – now they are probably easier to get. Our company paid for ours.

        3. JSPA*

          Absolutely. If someone has never worked a phone job they may be unaware of exactly how directional and selective the mike pickup on a miked headet can be.

          That’s a blind spot, not willful negligence. Just let her know that her mike isn’t doing what it needs to be doing.

          If you didn’t hear the kids, and if she knew that you didn’t hear the kids, she might be much more effective at ignoring them / not shushing them / not being distracted by their presence.

          The other answer is, “playpen or interior screen door.” I get that you can’t normally close a door to block out an under-5 (let alone a set of them) because of how quickly a child can do something lethal. But if they’re within line-of-sight, that’s really different.

          a temporary install of a normal ‘pet safe’ exterior screen door (door, two hinges, a deadbolt and catch for the deadbolt on the inside the kids can’t reach, some screws, drillbits if you don’t have, hand-drill if you don’t have, some lath to apply to the doorframe if there would otherwise be a gap) is a pretty simple DIY task.

          plop the youngest (or two youngest) in a playpen, add a screen door, add a headset, schedule a 5 minutes “stretch break” every 30 minutes, and people on the other end of the call will rarely know they are there.

          1. JSPA*

            What we used to call toddler playpens are now apparently “playspaces” or a “child corall” or a kid tent or a popup tent. It should be rated for the appropriate age.

            Though if she has an good stroller, that’s also an option for an hour or so at a time. It’s no more horrible than having them in a car seat for an hour, in traffic; they’re getting no more and no less stimulation and learning and interaction than they would be in a car, and we treat that as normal, in normal times.

  3. Detective Amy Santiago*

    I feel like at the very least, switching to audio only calls would help mitigate some of the distraction. Why do you all need to be on video?

    1. Sincerely, The one who wrote in to this question!*

      Because we’re remote my manager likes the face-to-face aspect since we don’t see each other. But actually what you said this is something I have been doing too- I have been taking my video off and just not showing my face because I feel like I have more opportunity to distance myself and not have to wave “hi” to the kids or “entertain” them being on the call.

      1. PollyQ*

        I agree with midnightcat that it’s worth trying to move as much “business” as possible to email or other message-based communication. Even if it doesn’t eliminate meetings altogether, at least it would mean that you might be able to get the work done outside of them.

        Another option, although it’s not really fair to you, is to shift your hours so that meetings could be held in the evening, after the kids are in bed.

      2. Important Moi*

        The face to face aspect could be about control. She can “control” that aspect of the meeting by insisting her subordinates be seen. Other things, not so much. Good luck.

      3. Another JD*

        You absolutely do not have to wave hi to the kids or acknowledge them. Getting attention from someone else may make them more likely to pop up to say hi.

        1. Oh No She Di'int*

          Oh, I’m glad you said this. I have a similar problem as OP, though not as extreme. We have a few babies/toddlers in our group, and whenever any one of them appears, there’s a lot of cooing and laughing and waving “hi”. I’ve personally stopped doing it, however, as I’ve realized that the kids are interruptions. No judgment, no emotions over that. It’s just a description of a fact. So while I don’t have to make a federal case out of it, I also don’t have to indulge the disruption and pretend that it’s something other than what it is.

        2. irritable vowel*

          It also might be communicating to your manager that you actually enjoy seeing them and therefore it isn’t a problem.

          1. boop the first*

            Honestly, this was my first thought when OP said “it was cute at first.”

            I have to trust that manager really does feel powerless when the kids come in, but with that line and the lack of effort makes me wonder if manager just likes showing off her kids and doesn’t realize that the cute comments have halted.

        3. Zombeyonce*

          +1! As the parent of a small child that sometimes interrupts my meetings, please don’t give her attention, it only makes her want to interrupt more! Just keep talking about the TPS reports like she’s not there and she’ll get bored and wander off.

          1. Zuzu*

            Ugh yes, my kids are 6 and 4, and my old manager LOVED when they popped up on video calls and would try to engage them. Meanwhile, I’m trying to teach them they need to be quiet and independent when I’m on work calls. It’s like trying to train a dog not to jump and then people are like “oh, I don’t mind!” except that I do! Anyway, everything is a nightmare and I have sympathy for everyone with no good solution.

            1. Tabby*

              lol yeah, that’s a thing. While I do indeed not care if a dog jumps on me (I only say, “I don’t mind!” because I’m always wearing dogwalking clothes covered in dirty paw prints anyway, what’s another set?), I always help the owner by reinforcing the ‘down’ command and only petting the happy puppy when all paws are on the ground.

              Is there an appropriate way to do this with kids?

      4. Detective Amy Santiago*

        My department has been fully remote for six months now and we haven’t had a single video meeting. It’s all been phone calls or emails and it’s been fantastic. Good for you on turning your video off!

        1. Angelinha*

          Wow! What kind of work do you do?
          We have people who keep their video off a lot of the time, and it’s not a requirement to turn it on, but I’ve found it helpful to be able to see each other’s facial expressions and stuff during so much time away from each other. Every now and then someone will schedule a group phone call and I find it a lot harder to communicate that way now.

        2. Dust Bunny*

          My department has had like one short video meeting a week. Everything else is email. We’re all on our computers all day, anyway, so we’re unless something is a screaming emergency (which we can’t handle remotely, anyway), we’ll see it soon enough by email.

          1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

            Too many video calls is a problem, just like too many meetings are a problem. But having no video calls seems really bad that this time. I mean, in the office do people not talk face to face sometimes? Email cannot replace all meetings – just some or even many.

            We have more video calls now than we used to, with some participants switching to only voice is they have connectivity problems or if distracting things are happening around them. These meetings are strong because we use them when we need to talk ideas fast back and forth – actual conversation. Email is not the same as these calls.

            We have started more use of IM to replace some kinds of calls – quick little things. When they turn into a quick IM back and forth, we often convert to a quick video call.

          2. WorkingGirl*

            We have ~2 video meetings a week and it’s worked great. One is usually about 40 minutes, the other is about 15 minutes. Any more and I’d scream! Lol!

      5. Dust Bunny*

        Your manager is at least partly responsible for this problem, then. Doing more by email and less by video call is one of the things that would make this whole situation better even if she can’t change her childcare arrangements.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Point. And the answer is probably not as often as they’re having them if my corporate experiences are anything to go by.

  4. ElizabethJane*

    This is definitely just a crappy situation all around. My husband and I are both home with our 3 year old. We also hired a nanny to distract her during the day. But the reality is we live in an 800 square foot 2 bedroom house so even if she’s cheerfully playing with the nanny she’s 3 and she’s loud. I keep myself muted and work behind closed doors when possible but sometimes there’s background noise and I’m sure it’s irritating.

    1. Sincerely, The one who wrote in to this question!*

      Totally- I recall from my babysitting days the kids would still want mom + dad although I was there to watch them. But I totally respect you wfh and juggling your little one, appreciate the understanding from your POV!

      1. ElizabethJane*

        Yeah I know it’s not a great situation from anyones perspective. It is annoying when she pops in on calls. It annoys me (pretty sure it annoys me more than it annoys my coworkers) but I’m just not comfortable with the current situation.

        Around here daycares are open but we just had one that had a positive covid case and didn’t tell parents for 48 hours because they “wanted to take the time to review video footage to see who had interacted with the infected child”.

        So she’s staying home because I just can’t with that.

        1. Sylvia*

          Geez, that daycare.

          At a local school here ( I don’t have kids, but one of my bosses does and he shared the story), a parent sent their child to school with Covid symptoms and while waiting on test results. Kid got the call while at school that they were positive.

          1. allathian*

            Yikes! My son got a cold and although schools are open here, he stayed at home for a week. He had fever as well and we were able to schedule a COVID test for him. It was negative, but I’m glad we kept him home. He was basically sick on the weekend and recovered enough to do most of his schoolwork during the week. His teacher is great about letting parents and kids who are at home know what they need to do while they’re away.

        2. Sincerely, The one who wrote in to this question!*

          I 100% agree and understand – I would have done the same! I can also imagine it bothers you more because of the fact you’re with your little one 24-7 whereas for me or any team at that, sees them for a mere 30 mins! I really appreciate your reply.

    2. AnonInTheCity*

      Solidarity, my husband and I have the same size house and an 11 month old. I just got off a call where I found myself apologizing because the nanny was feeding my kid spinach and he was shrieking with delight between every bite.

      1. Badger*

        I’m not going to lie, it would kind of make my day if I was on a call where the noise interruption was because a baby was SO DAMN EXCITED ABOUT SPINACH.

        1. AnonInTheCity*

          He’s a great eater and he’s pretty happy about any food, but for some reason spinach is by far the winner. Luckily, almost everyone on my team has kids, he is objectively a very cute baby, and we do have childcare the majority of the time, so his minimal interruptions have been well received.

        2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          I must admit I’d be cracking up over that too. Pretty sure nothing much would ever get done in meetings where my colleagues’ babies popped up because I love babies much more than I ever loved work.

      2. allathian*

        My son absolutely adored broccoli when he was that age. He would’ve eaten a whole head of it by himself if we’d let him… Sadly, he grew out of it. But he still likes broccoli au gratin.

    3. Van Wilder*

      Yeah, I have two kids under 4. Someone is always with them besides me (their dad, the nanny, a grandparent) but that doesn’t stop them from sometimes wandering in because they want mama.

      LW – I can’t speak for your boss but passively asking them to play in another room might be the best she can do. If I insist that my child go in another room, she feels that I’m pushing her away and she gets more clingy. Or we have a tantrum in the middle of the call. Not saying your boss shouldn’t set boundaries but if you’re thinking that she could somehow force them to go away right in that moment, she probably can’t.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        She might not be able to get them to play in another room, but in that case she could perhaps set up a “workstation” for them next to her, with colouring books and a toy phone, to keep them quietly busy during the meeting. Or give them a choice of noisy game in next room or quiet activities in with Mummy – mine always chose to stay with me when they were small.

  5. anonymous slug*

    Do your meetings have an agenda and is anyone taking notes or sending a recap? You mention that you repeat yourself so maybe that would be an option so she has something to reference later on. Even without kids, if something is spoken about and I haven’t written it down, it might as well have never been said since auditory recall isn’t a strong suit of mine.
    Another question is “can this meeting be an email instead?” Or can you meet with the team separately in the morning and send her a status update? I know not all meetings can be eliminated but that might help curb your frustration a bit.
    My boss’s children are a little older so they are minorly less distracting but they still interrupted meetings plenty of times this summer, so I do have some experience with dealing with this!

    Good luck!

    1. Ashley*

      If you find yourself repeating yourself weekly I would send a follow-up email myself if you don’t have a designated minute taker. When I send these emails I try to bullet point the action items and maybe have a few headings like urgent, before our next meeting, and long term. It doesn’t always get results but it at least gives a reference point.

    2. Sincerely, The one who wrote in to this question!*

      Really love this idea too! I do tend to also find myself writing emails recapping (sometimes, not always) and she ends up asking about these things again. So then it’s kind of like “well did you even read my emails?”
      I 100% agree I dislike having meetings anyway if it’s something that can be easily emailed. Definitely going to take your advice as well, and will be sure to exhaust writing these recaps and do my best to resort to email vs. meeting. Thank you for your POV!

    3. Jules the 3rd*

      This is what I came to say. If you’re repeating yourself in later meetings, meeting minutes would be a huge help.

    4. Uranus Wars*

      Yes, I don’t have the distracted-by-kid boss but I do have a doesn’t-write-things-down-and-forgets boss, so I go into our one-on-ones ready with a last week we talked about X, Y, Z and here are status reports on each. I know a lot of people don’t like to manage their bosses that way but since learning this trick it has saved me a lot of frustration and he always remembers when I tell him.

  6. Sincerely, The one who wrote in to this question!*

    Thank you so much Alison! This is super helpful and how you spun those questions is PERFECT, it’s exactly in the tone I was looking for because I wouldn’t want to come off rude in any way. I’ll definitely have these questions ready in my pocket for when it happens again. Really appreciate it!!

  7. Vinnycrackers*

    I was going to take to one step further….maybe just a Teams chat might be a benefit. That’s what our team does every morning at 10. I am sure there are times people step away for a few minutes, sometimes that person is me! It allows the team to be engaged while minimizing the weird distractions.

      1. Sincerely, The one who wrote in to this question!*

        Agreed + maybe I can get her to make it more short + sweet vs. 30 mins-1 hr. Thank you!

    1. Tisiphone*

      We do Teams chat as well. We’re supposed to announce when we’re online, when we’re taking a break, when we log off so no one is wondering who’s available and who isn’t – especially with people taking time off more often in the summer.

    2. Lilly76*

      Also if you use teams you can take notes within the meeting itself so she has something to refer back too when she has a quieter moment and also you can record it too so you can rereview later

  8. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    I feel like the goodwill and cooperation that we all extended to each other about suboptimal home working environments is starting to wear thin. When we thought it would be maybe a month, we forgave each other almost anything. But now it’s six months, and looking like a year or more …

    As with all no-fault situations, there is a point where someone can’t actually do their job effectively. Is this boss approaching that point? Have all practical alternatives genuinely been exhausted (eg Alison’s suggestions of chat or delegation or rescheduling)? How much loss of productivity can the team absorb? If boss is a major revenue generator then perhaps it is worth having everyone else endlessly working around her.

    I’ve struggled at home with my children and work so I’m very sympathetic, but I wonder how long this can really be sustained.

    1. SusanB*

      Agree. I’m home with older kids. A 12 year old and an 8 year old. I know those kids are older and I can pretty much let them be and they’re on the computer or watching TV all day but even I am losing patience with the smaller kids. I’m very much a “You need to go into a room because I’m on a meeting right now” kind of mom and I’m noticing that there are parents who are like that and other parents who are like “Oh! Ashley is joining us, I’ll have Ashley sit on my lap right now” instead of “Ashley, watch Frozen for the 8 millionth time because I’m on a meeting.”

      My work has a bajillion different video calls and I feel like I’m pretty accepting of interruptions during the normal day-to-day team meetings. There are just so many of them. It’s fine. Whatever. I wish they wouldn’t pick up their kids and let them sit on their lap during the call and interrupt but I’ll deal with background noise, no problem at all. My annoyance comes when it is a very important meeting. Like a job interview for someone or an employee review. During those very important meetings, I really want the focus to be on the meeting and I get way more annoyed with those interruptions. I know a 3 year old can’t be like “This is dad’s normal morning meeting and not something more important.” but I wish there was some prep work ahead of time to TRY to limit the interruptions. I know that they happen. I’m a mom of two . But TRY. Put on PBS Kids. Give them a snack and drink ahead of time. TRY.

      1. Sincerely, The one who wrote in to this question!*

        Agreed, I was also raised in a household exactly like you mentioned- “go put the TV on mom has something important to work on” and we knew that she meant no bullshit. But totally understand how a child that’s say, 2-3 years old can’t comprehend importance, so that is a great point as well.

        1. 2 Cents*

          *raises hand* I have that 2.5 year old. He’s a well-behaved kid, but also a toddler who doesn’t understand why Mommy has to lock herself in her room to “talk to other people” multiple times a day or can’t sit and play all day when I’m clearly right here. It is a crappy situation for all involved. I normally worked from home 2-3 days a week, *but* society was open — my kid was at library story times, at the grocery store, and doing other outings during my workday. Because of the virus, he hasn’t seen any of those places since March.

        2. Third or Nothing!*

          Yeah, I swear kids have some sort of radar that detects when a parent is on a call. My 3 year old can be playing happily outside in the backyard, and as soon as I get on a call with a vendor she bursts in the back door covered in sand from head to toe and declares she’s gone potty outside. Thankfully all the vendors I normally have to actually call and talk to instead of emailing are also all working from home, so they’re super understanding.

      2. Marcy Marketer*

        Honestly, the kids may shut up only if they’re allowed on laps. I have a nanny so I’ve been spared the pain a lot of parents are facing but the times my toddler has gotten into my office there is kicking and screaming unless i placate him by letting him sit on my lap (not on meetings though!). So I’m just saying if I was in a meeting and there was no adult to pull him out of the room, the only option that would allow me to avoid the more disruptive toddler meltdown/screaming would be putting him on my lap.

        1. Zombeyonce*

          This is one of my kids. The older one will happily go watch Frozen, but the younger one doesn’t have any interest in screen time and will either sit quietly while I bounce him on my lap during a meeting or scream from the floor or pound on the door if I shut it. I’ve fed him, changed him, done everything I can to make him happy ahead of time but he doesn’t know a regular meeting from a review. Sorry SusanB, doing the best I can here.

      3. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

        This is my situation now.

        8-year-old for me. He’s actually on calls (with a tutor or friends) in the background behind me sometimes, wanting ME to not be too loud distracting him. So we both often use headsets. It’s like a cube farm but it’s our living room, and he’s learning from the experience….

        Three kids 5 and under would be a very different story.

      4. Lavender Menace*

        I know you have kids, but every kid is different. Some kids can’t be plyed with watching a movie for the 8 millionth time – or at least not in that moment. I’ve watched some of the parents on my team tell their kids “you need to go into a room because I’m on a meeting right now” and the kid complies…only to come back 1 minute later. Or doesn’t comply and bursts into tears. Or insists “but it will only take ONE minute. OK, 30 seconds. OK, 15 seconds, I promise!” Or any manner of other things…because they are just children! I also have colleagues who have children with special needs.

        I love my job and work is important, but at the end of the day sometimes I have to pull back and be like…we’ve been working from home for six months under enormously stressful situations with no end in sight. And these folks are responsible for keeping 2-3 tiny humans alive and fed and relatively happy, when those kids have no idea what the hell is going on and are probably stressed out, scared, worried, anxious, and bored themselves. I’m kind of in awe that they can get anything done at all.

    2. Monty & Millie's Mom*

      Yes, I was coming here to say that. I hate that we have to say it, but sympathy, understanding, goodwill and cooperation can only take you so far. At some point, those tough questions need to be asked and answered/looked at honestly. It’s crappy that we just don’t know how much longer this will go on, too – if there was a firm end date, we could plan around that, but there just isn’t, and that really sucks for a lot of people, on both sides of this! I kind of hate it!

      1. Oh No She Di'int*

        What keeps me up at night is not only when the goodwill runs out but when the money runs out. I’m in a very small business (8 people). This is the kind of business that has no room for error. Everyone’s got to pull their weight. Right now a couple of us are doing the work of 1.5 people. That’s not sustainable. Nor is it affordable to just hire another person to get the work done while someone else just sort of rides along producing less than their salary. Our margins are such that everyone employed by the company has to be producing substantially. Right now, some employees are being floated by other employees working late nights and weekends and by small business loans the company is taking. There’s no way that is going to last long.

        1. cabbagepants*

          I feel this. I am an extremely lucky person in that my company is stable, WFH will run through at least summer 2021, I’m healthy, and I have no childcare considerations. I am grateful to the universe, I really am! But when I am covering for 2 people on top of my own work because one of them has a sick kid and the other caught covid from traveling out of state and not social distancing… it’s not easy, either.

    3. Anononon*

      This response makes me uncomfortable because it’s implying that, at some point, the boss may need to be fired for this, and I don’t like that at all. This is why women are being pushed out of the workplace in mass. Also, for this letter in particular, while it certainly sounds annoying what’s happening, it doesn’t sound like there are major productivity issues, especially ones that can’t be resolved if the boss adopts different means of communications.

      1. Sylvia*

        I definitely don’t think anyone was implying that the boss should be fired, but just that we need better solutions (as much as humanly possible) for dealing with this. The person was simply asking if Boss had truly exhausted all other possibilities for making these meetings a little easier/more effective. If Boss has and literally nothing else can be done, then so be it. We deal with it. But there’s nothing wrong with trying to think up some creative solutions that haven’t been tried yet.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          Actually, I was implying that boss may end up fired, if her bosses decide she isn’t doing her job – “may end up” is not “should be”, however. I should have been clearer that it was a pessimistic observation rather than a recommendation!

          It’s something I was terrified of when all my children were at home (schools have reopened here now) and I’ve heard of more than one person who has been let go or had to resign because they simply couldn’t make it work longer term. It sucks.

      2. anonymous 5*

        YES. I was uncomfortable about that too. And especially when you think about young kids–6 months is a significant portion of a young kid’s life, and so their natural development alone can mean that systems for care/attention/discipline/etc that would have worked in March don’t work the same way now, never mind the pandemic. The fact that it falls disproportionately to women to figure all of this out means, in normal times, that it’s the women who have to coordinate the outsourcing of care–but at least in normal times, there are usually a few “care” options available from which someone can probably make a choice that fits their situation. Now, most of those options don’t really exist.

        The expectation that women will figure out how to keep the kids “out of sight/out of mind” without even showing any evidence of the effort required was never actually reasonable. We’ve just come to take it for granted.

      3. Sylvan*

        I’m uncomfortable with that, too.

        My manager is taking care of his son during the day while his wife works outside of the home and there aren’t other childcare options available. I don’t think people should be penalized for things like this when it’s not causing problems. It doesn’t send a good message to parents, or to employees without kids (like me) who like to know their employer’s understanding everyone’s difficulties during the pandemic.

        1. Sylvan*

          Never mind, OP’s said that they’re doing their manager’s work for her at this point. So it’s causing problems. :/

          1. serenity*

            What? That’s not in the letter at all.

            What the OP said is that this situation has resulted in her repeating things in meetings. Not ideal maybe but that does not mean there is a lack of productivity or OP is “doing their manager’s work”.

            1. serenity*

              I see OP’s comment below, I assume that’s what you’re referring to.

              I’m still uncomfortable with how she’s framing this. “Boss is distracted and I have to repeat some information more than once” does not equal “I am doing two jobs” to me. Maybe there’s more context that’s necessary but the update and the letter are sending out “I am less sympathetic to working parents” vibes than OP perhaps realizes.

              1. serenity*

                I’ll amend this to say that, yes, it seems like OP has a workload issue that’s being exacerbated by her manager’s lack of attention. I hope she’s reached out to her boss by email to address this. If video meetings are where the boss is most distracted, this needs to be addressed in another medium – preferably in writing so there’s a trail!

      4. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        It is definitely uncomfortable.

        And I should have explained that I’m coming at this probably more from the manager’s side as I’ve been the one working from home with three children the oldest of whom was then five, and it was always awful (I was very part time then and frequently made up my hours late at night).

        If a person *can’t* work without a preschooler present then must that be ok? Does it depend on role and seniority and field? Because that only compounds the gender issues which you’ve already highlighted. If women are more likely to have non-outsourceable caring duties AND less likely to be treated leniently when those duties impinge on their work then we collectively have a huge problem.

        But more generally, I think compassion fatigue will be playing a part, on all sides.

      5. Marcy Marketer*

        I agree 100%. This comment sounds like it’s inevitable people will need to quit or be fired if they can’t find care and that means a lot of women will be affected.

      6. Temperance*

        I think it’s more of an issue that fathers need to step up instead of just mothers assuming responsibility for all daily childcare during work hours.

        1. Zombeyonce*

          I know in my house this just isn’t possible. I have assumed most of the childcare responsibilities because I am able to work from home while my husband is not. He can’t exactly take the kids to work, so we’re stuck with this situation where I’m significantly affected and he’s not. That’s just how it worked out. He does what he can by going in later in the mornings, but the rest of the day it’s a different story.

        2. Parent of 3 Elem. Kids*

          This is a much more complicated issue than that. My partner has increased his childcare contributions to the extent that his company will flex but he makes 3-4 times as much as me, works longer hours, has a second part-time non-optional job (military reservist) and our family is entirely dependent on his income. If I got fired, we’d be fine- if he lost his job, we’d be in a very difficult position. There are probably times that my co-workers wonder why I can’t get more help from a devoted and engaged dad (which they know him to be) and it is because he literally runs out of hours in the day to do his work if I need his help. We are currently spending my entire income to hire a nanny to manage our kid’s online learning. She’s great, but we had to pay a lot to find someone who agreed to limit her other contacts and has the skills to work with a child with special needs. Very few families can afford that.

        3. Lavender Menace*

          I wouldn’t assume that’s not happening – a lot of my female coworkers are splitting and trading parenting duties with their partners as equally as possible, when they can. However, kids will be kids and sometimes they want one parent or the other, and they’re not old enough to truly grasp “no, this 4 hours is Daddy’s shift.”

        4. DataSci*

          Even with an equal share of childcare / remote-school supervision, you still don’t get to an eight-hour workday with kids who need constant supervision without doing things like “work from 8 pm to midnight every single night”. Which works once in a while, but not for 6+ months.

      7. just no*

        Women do not automatically = mothers. I’m sick of certain people framing all women’s workplace issues as “mother” issues

        1. MayLou*

          The vast majority of women trying to juggle work and childcare are mothers, though, and that is what we’re talking about here. As a childless woman I’m well aware that my WFH pandemic issues are very different from those of my mother colleagues (I only have two male colleagues and in both cases their children are adults now).

    4. Marny*

      I think a lot of the reason for people’s waning goodwill is because they aren’t understanding how parents haven’t figured out some solutions (or at least how to mitigate the difficulties) by now. Whether that means fewer meetings, working around kids’ nap schedules, muting, disciplining kids, etc., I think there’s an expectation that there should be some improvements to the situation after 6 months of this. I don’t have kids and I don’t have co-workers with kids who have been a disruption, so I don’t have any dog in the fight. But I can certainly imagine that the frustration has really built up at this point for everyone.

      1. Ranon*

        Honestly, I think it’s getting harder for most parents going into the fall, not easier, and most have more problems to solve rather than fewer. Virtual school is a nightmare for parents to handle, especially as many districts are expecting kids to be on screens for up to 6 hours a day which is just not happening for younger kids without pretty constant parental intervention. And then comprehension is garbage in a virtual format so parents are having to put in even more work so their kids can understand the materials. It’s really, really bad, especially for families with multiple young school age children.

        1. Blackcat*

          “Virtual school is a nightmare for parents to handle, especially as many districts are expecting kids to be on screens for up to 6 hours a day which is just not happening for younger kids without pretty constant parental intervention.”
          I am so glad I do not have a kindergartner, because our district is requiring 5 hours of synchronous remote instruction *for kindergartners.* Kids who can’t type! Kids who can’t read instructions to operate anything on the computer! Once our district came out with this plan, a ton of parents pulled their kids to properly home school, on the grounds that they could not keep their jobs and meet the requirements of remote school.

          1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

            Once our district came out with this plan, a ton of parents pulled their kids to properly home school,

            With my cynical hat on I wonder if this was planned/predicted on the part of whoever made the decision that it would be 5 hours a day of ‘live’ work?! (Whoever in the administration makes that decision, I mean.)

        2. Guacamole Bob*

          Yes, this. My first-grade twins need a lot more from me with school going on than they did without. It’s not so much more time, but instead of taking an hour break to take them to the playground at a time that worked for me and then telling them to have an hour of playtime together, I have to spend 5 minutes at a bunch of times specified by the school schedule to make sure they’re signed in and have their materials and come back from break on time, tell them to get back to their desks, etc. etc. It makes focusing and keeping the distraction out of my meetings much harder.

          And compared to what I’ve heard from others, we’re having a pretty okay time with distance learning.

        3. Generic Name*

          Yep. While it certainly feels like parents should have figured something out by now, the truth is that it’s really not any better or different now than it was in March. Except now I’m used to being home all the time maybe. This is why most companies with work from home policies require that employees with children have arrangements for childcare during the workday. It’s just not possible to be 100% attentive to your job when you are also responsible for the care of children, and there’s no magical solution that could have been ascertained in 6 months.

        4. Businessfish*

          Agreed – harder not easier! My 4 year old’s behavior has totally deteriorated over the past 6 months without the structure school provided her.

          1. glitter writer*

            Same for mine. They’re becoming little animals with no school structure, no camp structure, no friends, no playdates, no outings, and mom and dad always working.

          2. Third or Nothing!*

            Yep, same with my 3 year old. She’s starving for attention and stimulation and this whole situation is breaking my heart pretty much every day. But Mama has to stay employed to keep a roof over our heads. :/

        5. AnotherAlison*

          I’m also a lucky person whose only kid at home is a junior and our district is hybrid, not full remote. BUT. My work also unexpectedly called us all back to the office at the end of last month. Sort of. Some people are on a rotating schedule due to office space limitations, and as long as your performance is acceptable to your manager, other people with kids at home can continue to work from home. I don’t see a whole lot of people whose performance is NOT impacted. Even if they’re producing in off-hours, they can’t be on daytime calls without interruptions, etc. I’ve also seen a lot of people in the random local Facebook market type of groups asking what people are doing, and the local park and rec has some virtual learning centers set up (i.e. you pay money to drop your kid there all day, like summer camp, and someone will supervise their online school). No one has a good answer here. I work in a professional office that can give us some flexibility, but obviously if you have a different type of job, you’re SOL. I don’t have a good answer here, but I just don’t see how the broad societal answer is just, “Well, figure it out, ladies.”

          I also think if this was a forever thing, we could figure it out, but our district normally starts school in mid-August. In early August, they moved that to 9/8. Around 8/17, the board announced all online school, and around 8/24 the board changed positions and moved to hybrid. It was around the same time that my company took a left turn from “this remote thing is fine with us” to “get back in the office”. How can someone plan for that? There are a lot of things you think you can manage through for a few months and it seems silly to make dramatic changes, but in the current scenario the only answers might be moving closer to grandma or an ex-spouse, getting a different job, etc. You could make it work, but you just don’t know if it’s time to resort to the last resorts yet.

          1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*


            Our district is either FTF or one-semester Virtual Academy. Because TPTB were so inept, we pushed school back to a 9/14 start instead of today (which seems to be the better part of my State, at least the SE metropolitan area of). Our teachers got their logins to begin their VA training last Thursday at 3:30 pm. We don’t have schedules (for grades 6-8), or schedules are in a complete flux (9-12).

            I’ve asked to WFH the first week, at least, simply because this is all shaping up to be a complete conflagration in a green-metal-box waiting to happen.

        6. sfdgf tr*

          This is it exactly. I work with a lot of people with kids at home, of all ages. At the beginning meetings were missed or cancelled, and if not lots of background “kid noise” and interruptions, but now it is a LOT better. I have no idea what they all did, but collectively there are a lot less kid interruptions and missed meetings. They have figured something out. It’s not perfect, there is still an occasional interruption, or even meltdown, but it is occasional and not even every day let alone every meeting. I can see why if it’s just as bad as in March/April or getting worse, why others would be frustrated. *Especially* if it’s affecting their work, as it is for OP.

        7. Lynn Whitehat*

          Exactly. In the spring, school expectations were basically non-existent. “Whatever, just get to June with no fatalities. We’ll worry about learning later.” But now, with the realization that this isn’t ending any time soon, schools are trying to actually teach things. But it’s *very* labor-intensive for the parents. Also after six months of this, the kids are bored sick of all the things that used to be “special treats” to keep them quiet and out of their parents’ hair during the day.

        8. Jackalope*

          Yes, once school gets figured out it *may* get easier, but parents are just about to negotiate a whole new system including (depending on location) possible supervision of all day school remotely, hybrid schooling where students need transportation figured out on in-person days, possible emergency plans for sudden quarantine and/or school closure… These things can be figured out but they are something new that couldn’t be worked out sooner since we weren’t loving through them yet to know how they’ll work. (Not to argue against there needing to be a solution, just pointing out that even though it’s been 6 months there are still new issues cropping up.)

        9. Sandman*

          This is exactly right. We’re going into week 3 of virtual school and one of us has to be on-duty 100% of the time. Tears every single day. And our school has one of the best programs I’ve seen so far. It’s a nightmare.

      2. Blackcat*

        “I think there’s an expectation that there should be some improvements to the situation after 6 months of this.”
        The thing is, if people are in areas where cases are high enough that daycares are still closed/they don’t feel able to send their kid to daycare, there really *aren’t* any solutions. It sucks and it’s hard. I’m very grateful to have daycare back, but I’m so aware I could lose it at any time. With 3 under 5, the boss is in a rough situation. The oldest probably doesn’t nap at all. The youngest and middle may nap at entirely different times and the youngest may not have a set napping schedule (my kid took to a regular nap schedule at 6mo, but there was a really rough phase between 11 and 14mo where he would take one nap some days and two naps the others). There’s not a way to “discipline” a toddler to give you peace and quiet. Whether or not a toddler will be quiet while a parent works is a crapshoot and temperament dependent.
        The reality of the situation, though, is that if our daycare closes again, my husband will take unpaid leave. Which is also very, very not ideal.

        1. Marny*

          I’m not saying the expectations of improvement are realistic, just that the expectations exist and are causing people to lose patience and goodwill.

        2. Temperance*

          Why is the mother the only parent providing childcare during the day, though? I don’t see any context in the letter that she’s a single parent.

          She’s the one scheduling these meetings and who wants face-to-face communication.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            For the purposes of giving advice to the OP, it doesn’t really matter. It’s not her place to ask about that sort of thing or suggest that boss’s spouse step up.

            1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

              I think it would matter a bit to the OP’s attitude, as in if the mother/manager genuinely doesn’t have any other options, vs if there is a spouse etc who could contribute but isn’t.
              Rightly or wrongly I think I’d feel more inclined to be accommodating to the first one.

          2. ...*

            There’s no indication she’s not a single parents either. Spouse could be working at an essential or in person job, job is requiring him in the office, spouse is disabled, she is single parent, etc.

          3. Zombeyonce*

            Maybe she has a partner but they do a job that can’t be done remotely, like mine. Or maybe the OP doesn’t know if she’s a single parent or not.

        3. AnonInTheCity*

          Parent of an 11 month old here and REALLY FEELING the “he takes one nap some days and two naps other days” thing hard. It makes it very, very challenging to schedule meetings around naptime when naptime is dependent on the whims of a baby. And we HAVE a nanny.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            And there’s nothing quite like scheduling something important around a regular nap to have your toddler suddenly decide that Today There Is No Nap, Only Yelling.

          2. Blackcat*

            If it helps to know, besides a 3 week hellish period back in May (when we had zero childcare), from 14mo now to 31mo, my child has blissfully slept 1pm-3/3:30pm every. single. day.
            We had a part-time nanny for June/July (couldn’t take the no nap situation with work, so we got a nanny… then he started napping again), and it was very hard to do calls when he was in the house. Our solution, which was workable where we are, was that the nanny basically kept him outside for the entire time she had him. That way, he didn’t hear my voice and start screaming “I WANT MOMMY!”
            For now, we have daycare and it is glorious. No idea what will happen if cases spike here again, though. The “good” news is that COVID tore through our household, so there’s a good chance (but not guarantee) that we won’t get sick *again.*

      3. Kiki*

        I think part of the issue is that a lot of parents have figured out how to mitigate what difficulties they can. Things are still chaotic because what they’re being asked to do– keep up their job and simultaneously care for three kids under five– is absurd to have to do alone.

      4. AnonInTheCity*

        Because in March my child was five months old and slept for a majority of the daytime, was happy to sit in a bouncer and stare at the ceiling, and could not move from where he was placed. He is now almost a year old and none of those things are true. We’ve figured out solutions, it’s just that six months is a huge chunk of time in a kid’s life and those solutions are constantly changing.

      5. CheerfulPM*

        For all those who are questioning why there aren’t “better solutions” or improvement that working parents have “should have” figured out right now, I’d like to highlight a few of my own struggles:

        (1) Finding reliable and safe childcare. Many childcare centers are full. Babysitters are an option, but you have to consider their covid safety. Wanting to err on the safe side, means encouraging babysitters to check their own symptoms and report/miss the day to get a test. Plus turnover – summer babysitters are now back in college. Workers who were let go from their position due to the pandemic sometimes find a new job. We’ve had 4 different babysitter arrangements since May. (And every new situation is a transition for the kids that spurs anxiety and crankiness.) (And don’t get me started on how time consuming this is to do.)

        (2) Affordability. Childcare is almost as big a bill as my mortgage. The amount that we’re currently paying is 3 times what we had outlined in our 2020 budget. This comes as my husband (small business owner) has been unable to take a paycheck most months despite working 50-60hrs a week himself to keep the business afloat.

        (3) Unreliable planning – Back to school was a rollercoaster. Plans changed every 2 weeks. We didn’t know if the younger one was in one preschool until 1 week ago. As mentioned, we’ve had days when we expected a babysitter only for her to report a fever and sore throat. (Again with the time-consuming comment.)

        (4) Screens are not a cure-all. Regardless of liberal use of screens – kids will tire of them and it will be the moment you’ve stepped into a presentation to the board and told the kids that the ONLY interruption should be if someone is bleeding or choking.

        Working parents and working moms especially are doing EVERYTHING to try and improve the situation.

        Businesses HAVE to start doing more to accommodate not just parents but our coworkers as well. Give everyone more time off. Cut back on goals and expectations for the year if possible. Keep the business running, but do just enough.

        1. computer10*

          I agree. I don’t have kids and I know enough that at the moment for some parents there is literally no solution. The question then becomes, ok but what are companies going to do about it instead of just pushing it onto other workers who are in a better position (which may include other parents, not just the childless).

          I feel like trying to solve OP’s Boss’s childcare isn’t the right response. We should accept the problem exists and look at what will be done about it to ease the burden on OP.

          1. CheerfulPM*

            I’ve noticed at my own work that expectations seems to be returning to “business as usual, just at home” and like you said, it’s not fair if work just gets passed off – but everyone’s burdens still need eased.

            At the same time – many businesses are struggling right now. It’s possible that the OP’s manager has a lot of different/new responsibilities on her plate and doesn’t/shouldn’t be the person knowing explicitly how to run a query, but rather, just needs the data. Possibly the OP’s team needs more hands; someone who could be expected to ask once how to run a report and produce it weekly for the manager.

            I think sometimes and even more frequently during this pandemic and working remotely, it can be easy to assume that when you’re not on a meeting/hearing from someone, that they’re not working at all. I would err on the side of believing that everyone is working a lot more.

      6. Lavender Menace*

        But figure what out? This isn’t just that a parent has suddenly lost their childcare; this is a global emergency pandemic when most child care options are closed or not available. Children don’t actually nap that long after a certain age – my friends’ daughter, who just turned 3, naps for 1.5-2 hours a day. Once they’re 4-6, they may not be napping at all. I know some parents who have “solved” this by working evening hours after their kids are in bed, but that means they are exhausted since they are doing childcare all day and working while they should be sleeping. I don’t want that for any of my people. Muting only goes so far – it stops the noise but not necessarily the distractions. And some people don’t have the option of fewer meetings, depending on what work needs to get done.

        I get that these issues are complicated, and I’m not saying that people don’t have the right to be irritated or annoyed sometimes. But, like…there are no options. It’s not that parents have rested on their laurels or something while options abounded, refusing to take advantage of them. In my country (the U.S.), at least, there are no options. In a lot of places, all the daycares are closed and there are no affordable ways to get a carer in your home. Your only choice, short of leaving your kids unattended and unsafe, is to do what parents are doing now.

    5. Sincerely, The one who wrote in to this question!*

      @General von Klinkerhoffen You’re right in the beginning we were lenient with a lot with the expectation this would be over soon. It’s come to the point where I am doing her job for her because she’s so distracted she doesn’t know what’s going on, so she resorts to me for everything.

      It’s impacting my productivity in the sense that I’m doing the job of 2 people when I actually need to focus on what’s going on with those that report to me and the processes they carry out. For example, I’ve showed her time and time again where to grab data and yet she still has no idea where to go regardless of me stating it’s in XYZ doc in cell B45. I have to walk through the processes my team carries out which is redundant process that’s been occurring for months now. I am wasting my time at this point when she should be taking notes and be thoroughly engaged in what I’m saying. So to that point, I am unsure what the future will hold for this manager.

      I do need to exhaust more of those alternatives you + Alison and other replies have mentioned and see where that takes me.

      1. Sylvia*

        Just curious, OP, did your boss have issues with listening/staying organized/remembering what people tell her before the pandemic? Or are these completely new issues that have suddenly started due to all this?

        1. 2 Cents*

          ^Figuring this out will help. If she was having issues before the pandemic, this has only amplified them. If it’s only since the pandemic, that’s something else. (I have a 2.5 year old and have noticed I’m more depressed, anxious and scatterbrained than before.)

          1. Sylvia*

            My thinking is if these issues have only recently started, then I say cut Boss some major slack because she is doing her best in a bad situation. But if it’s a pattern of problems that has only been amplified, that’s more of an issue to figure out how to deal with.

            1. Georgina Fredricka*

              I think the Q is, though, how long can you cut some slack when it’s significantly adding to your responsibilities? People are okay with working weekends or extra hours for a couple months to pick up the slack, but 6 months of that? A year of that?? I would try to find another job that point or refuse to do the manager’s work unless I got a raise.

              1. Sylvia*

                Yeah, I agree. OP can only do so much. I was just pointing out that if these are new issues, then you know it’s because of all the problems caused by the pandemic and that Boss really is probably doing her best, as opposed to being a problematic boss from the start.

      2. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        That’s the red flag. This is more than disrupted meetings. If your boss is not able to do the work and it’s being “delegated” (really dumped) on you, then you do need to speak up. I empathize with your boss’s child care needs, but dumping things on you is not a tenable solution.

      3. KWu*

        Maybe assembling an FAQ for her where you add to it each time she asks a question you’ve already answered? Something that she can ctrl-F through, so with some key phrases she might search on.

        More importantly, sounds like the discussion needs to be focused on whether the time you have for working is spent on the highest priority items. You shouldn’t be doing both her job and your job, you should be doing whatever percentage split (40%/60%, 30%/70%) matches up to stuff that can’t be dropped.

      4. oof*

        I understand – I’m in a similar boat with my boss. I think that they’ve missed that while they have been given as much leeway and understanding as they need – that doesn’t mean everyone has that same experience. I’m cracking under the weight of the workload, as our my childless colleagues. But when a full time position is now, for intents and purposes, part-time, it’s a huge difference.

      5. Myrin*

        Alison, would this additional information change your script? I feel like OP would need to approach this slightly differently than if it were solely like she described in the letter, but I’m having a hard time putting my finger on how.

      6. Marcy Marketer*

        In this situation, I’d say that you cannot keep doing the work of two people. That’s ok. In a pandemic, it’s the company’s job to find work arounds, not yours. Are there things you can cut? Can you do things at a lower quality but just faster? If your boss asks you to take something on and you can’t, say “Sure, but I will need to reprioritize. Taking this on will mean X and Y will get delayed until Z”.

        You can also be really direct with your boss— “I have been sustaining a really heavy workload since COVID and I can’t keep it up. What can we take off my plate?”

      7. Jane Plough*

        But the things you’re describing sound like performance/workload issues, regardless of whether the kids are on the video calls. Was she like this before the pandemic or is this a new thing? It sounds like the kids might be a secondary issue here, and what’s really problematic, is that your boss is adding to your overall workload unnecessarily, potentially as a result of stress or even burnout.

        Have you had a 1-1 conversation with your boss where you talk to her about your workload and tactfully bring up the fact that she’s contributing to it? Ultimately that’s a bigger problem here and is something your manager needs to work with you to resolve (or potentially to work with her own manager to address her workload in turn, to take time off, or to develop better strategies for keeping track of things – none of those are your responsibility though). That may be a more productive avenue than making it about the kids, since that likely isn’t something she can really change at the moment.

        1. serenity*

          I wonder if the OP has tried addressing the redundant work process issue via email?

          I agree, this is not related to kids being annoying on video calls! And if she’s not receptive, or unable to concentrate, on video calls then she needs to address this in writing.

      8. Anonforthis*

        I echo other’s questions too – is this new behavior in the pandemic? Have you always expected your boss to take notes in your meetings or be thoroughly engaged in what you are saying? A few strategies to consider – to avoid pestering our CFO with questions, she created a folder especially for our management team with key financial documents so we can quickly go there. (otherwise it was literally – navigate to this folder which is 25 layers below the main folder, go to sheet 15, cell XY145 and you’ll find the info). Is there a quick cheat sheet you can make up for her – or have someone on your team do it? Some other ideas – does she have an assistant? Can you suggest the assistant join calls so she can direct these ancillary requests to someone with more time on their hands? I agree it is not possible to continue working two jobs, so you may need to have a conversation about her vision for your priorities in this new environment.
        Can you ask her to direct her informational requests to someone that works for you, so you have more time to focus on your core responsibilities? If these aren’t possible, you can also say that you are spending more time responding to informational requests now than pre-pandemic, and as such other responsibilities have to cycle off your plate. Good luck!

    6. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      While I get what you’re saying, what’s the alternative? Many parents have no choice because so many things are closed or virtual. My patience for being stuck at home more often than not is wearing thin, but I can either accept it as the current situation and make the best of it, or turn into a raging bitch to the people in my house. Maybe the OP can set up an after hours one on one with their manager (when the kids are asleep or someone else can watch them) and have an honest discussion to see how they can make the situation better for everyone. But OP needs to realize that things are the way they are, be flexible and make the best of a bad situation.

      1. Anon-y-mous*

        Well, what was the alternative pre-Covid?
        I don’ recall companies and managers ever having much flexibility, empathy or sympathy, right? It didn’t matter if it was a long commute, asking for occasional WFH privilege, child care needs, inability to work overtime, shift work, long-term illness/disabilities or whatever. You were expected to suck it up or you couldn’t meet the requirements of the job and you had to look elsewhere. At some point, I fear companies will take that mentality again, pandemic or no pandemic.

        1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

          If your company has NO flexibility for any of the things you listed, then your company sucks and you need a new job. I’ve never been made to “suck it up” because I’m not a robot and shit happens.

          1. Anon-y-mous*

            Many people get fired if they won’t suck it up. Or they are forced to find another job for potentially less pay. If you’ve never been in that situation, I guess you’re a very lucky person.

            1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

              The problem is that you act like the “suck-it-up” option is the norm, and while we see examples of shitty companies and management every day on this blog, there are also plenty of companies who treat their employees like humans. Regardless, your point is moot because this isn’t pre-COVID.

    7. Melonhead*

      It’ll have to be sustained for as long as it takes. All of us being sick of the pandemic changes things not one iota.

  9. That's a tough one*

    Re: “super passively tell her kids 500 times to go play in another room”

    I know it looks frustrating to watch, but if it helps, keep in mind that she can’t discipline her kids in quite the same way when she is in front of her colleagues. A stern “Mommy is working and you need to play in your room until I am done or there will be a time out” is already going to make a tense and embarrassing meeting for a lot of people, and when it is inevitably followed by the child’s return (that’s a little kid’s job–to push boundaries and see what happens), the “That’s it, time out” followed by shrieking and crying is going to be a helluva lot more distracting than what you are seeing now.

    I suspect she is already trying a lot of the things Alison suggested re: time of day, napping, etc. Getting kids to nap at the same time was a rare occurrence in my house and definitely couldn’t be planned–it was totally luck of the draw. And inevitably, the kid who always always always naps for an hour will nap only 10 minutes on the day you really needed that hour.

    This is an impossible situation for her and for you. I am sorry.

    1. Lily Rowan*

      I have a colleague who was accidentally NOT on mute when she screamed at her (older) kids that she was IN A MEETING WITH [IMPORTANT PERSON] AND YOU NEED TO BE QUIET!!!

      Everyone else thought it was funny, luckily, including [important person].

    2. Guacamole Bob*

      Boss should really be saying “excuse me a minute” and muting and turning off video and coming back once she’s gotten the kids into a different room. Because yeah, parenting small children in front of spectators is super uncomfortable.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        It’s a nice suggestion but if they want her to be present for the entire meeting, this will make meetings last 3 times as long. I don’t think anyone wants that.

    3. Washi*

      Yeah, she may be thinking that verbally saying “go play in another room” is less distracting than getting up, frogmarching the kid out with accompanying shrieks, and disappearing for several minutes to get Kid distracted with something else.

      Maybe OP could say something like “should we take a 5 min break here so you can get Kid settled?” Signaling that you’d rather just pause and answer your emails for 5-10 minutes than deal with 30 mins of kid interruptions might help.

    4. Malarkey01*

      One time a very good friend saw me do the “mom eyes” and “mom face” to my little one and was so taken aback. Just super normal mom knock it off disciple, nothing over the top, but when you don’t see another adult act the way it is SUPER JARRING to see not-messing-around mom.

    5. Karou*

      Thank you for saying this. Parents are often in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario when it comes to discipline in public — too gentle and it looks like they do nothing, be more firm and get judged for being too harsh.

    6. Pandemic Parenting is Miserable*

      Plus the math with 3 kids under 5 means that some of them are too little for screens to work as entertainment, and possibly all 3 of them are too young to obey verbal commands like that. I know this whole commentariat loves to opine on parenting but for my single 4 year old, her behavior has deteriorated horribly in the last 6 months due to tons of TV while I worked and the stress of never seeing her grandparents bc they have cancer and are high risk, and obviously rarely leaving the house at all. Me shutting the door on her means she screams for an hour, which yes, is more disruptive. My husband works out of the house and I work from home; me covering all childcare is not a gendered thing it’s a logistics thing. We took the risk of sending her back to daycare since we’re already pretty exposed via husband’s job, but for 3 kids your boss likely doesn’t have childcare options for all of them. If I had a kid under 2 here I’d have no options. (and FYI – I worked with a nanny in our house for two years and the kids are still really prominent background noise, I was so grateful to have other options once mine turned 2.)

      Alison’s suggestions are good, this isn’t your fault but it isn’t your boss’s fault either and I’d wager her mental health, capacity for problem solving and concern about losing her job are all awful right now. We’ve all been screwed by our government’s abdication of responsibility here.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        The screen time fatigue is real! My older kid is getting so much more than she ever did and it shows. After 2 hours straight of it, she’s a mess of over-emotional pre-schooler and if she gets it multiple times a day when I’m trying to keep her managed if I have a lot of meetings and no help, she can’t control herself and everything is horrible for the next 24 hours. I don’t know why screen time does it, but it’s terrible.

      2. Melonhead*

        Thank you for this. Kids 5 and under can’t reasonably be expected to go play quietly by themselves for any length of time.

        And of course it’s mothers who are paying the biggest price in this pandemic.

  10. Blackcat*

    As someone who has a toddler and whose husband is essential (and works out of the home), my recommendations are…
    1) Ask if there’s a time when one or more of the kids is still napping, and if that is a good time to meet (3 under 5 means one or two are likely to still take a nap).
    2) Encourage her to make *aggressive* use of muting. Is it a pain in small meetings to constantly mute and unmute? Yes, but it makes a big difference.

    1. Blackcat*

      I also might tell a white lie to help.
      “Oh, my neighbor was talking about how the new Critter Fixers show on Disney + keeps her kids transfixed for a full hour!”
      (I was so, so desperate to get my kid to watch TV at the start of the pandemic. I tried SO many kids shows. It took me three months to realize nature documentaries/shows with actual animals will actually hold his attention.)

      1. GreenFields*

        You really think that she hasn’t considered the novel and unique concept of letting her kids watch TV? This suggestion would be so condescending.

        1. Blackcat*

          As someone in this situation… I would have really appreciated someone telling me that if cartoons don’t work to keep kids’ attention, try nature-based stuff. It took me months to figure out. And 45 minutes of peace and quiet that I had not otherwise been able to get was priceless.

          1. Tamar Rowe*

            We weren’t expecting it, but my toddler loves ballet, and there is a lot of it on YouTube. It’s got a lot less of the problems of screen time (quick camera changes, flashing lights, inappropriate language) than cartoons.

  11. AndersonDarling*

    I switched jobs recently and it is was light and day how different the kids in meetings changed. At my first company, kids were constantly running into calls to play, cry, beg, and the parent picked the child up and continued with the meeting along with the crying, begging, playing. A call announcing layoffs was interrupted for 10 minutes while the director’s kid showed us his toy dinosaur.
    Since changing jobs, I have only seen one child and they quietly lurked in the background to investigate what was happening in a call.
    I think it became the normal at the first job to have kids in meetings. So I wonder if the OP’s manager is in meetings where there are child interruptions, and maybe those interruptions are coming from meetings with folks higher up on the ladder, and it becomes normalized to a point where it doesn’t seem to be something that needs addressing.

    1. Valegro*

      I can’t even imagine how that felt! It’s like you’re losing your job, but hey my kid is cute and look at his toy! So incredibly insensitive.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        I’m guessing the director didn’t think to move things along because he knew we were the group that retained our jobs. But we didn’t know that. We just heard, “Sorry to schedule this at the last minute. I just got out of a meeting about the layoffs and furloughs and…” “Hey Daddy Look at this!”
        I can’t imaging the screen of a dozen of my teammates stifling their horror and trying to play cutsey with the director’s kid.

    2. Guacamole Bob*

      Yeah, I wonder about this, too. My manager has had a kid appear in the background a handful of times during the pandemic, my office director occasionally has to say something off screen to his somewhat older kids, and mine have been in the background of calls lurking to see if they can see themselves on video or whatever for maybe 20 minutes total over the past five months (they’re first graders, older than in this letter). People sometimes have babies sitting on their laps if it’s a meeting where they can be on mute, but if the baby is super fussy and/or they have to talk a lot they hand the kid off to someone else.

      My company has been great about flexibility, but the culture is not to have your kids on camera all the time.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        “they hand the kid off to someone else”
        That’s nice that they have the option to do that. Many people don’t have anyone to hand the kid off to.

        I don’t think it’s a culture thing to have kids on camera all the time or not. I think it’s a demographics thing about your company. Does your company employ a lot of people that aren’t of childbearing age? If they are of that age, do you work for a company with high-ish wages? Then people are more likely to be married or can afford childcare. It’s not culture, it’s privilege.

    3. Zombeyonce*

      While that’s upsetting about the layoffs call, please understand that the large majority of parents with their kids showing up during meetings do not want them to be in the meeting. They just have no other option. They’re doing what they can to make the situation work but addressing it isn’t going to change anything because it’s not going to make childcare magically appear. It’s likely you just changed to a company with different demographics.

    4. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      A call announcing layoffs was interrupted for 10 minutes while the director’s kid showed us his toy dinosaur.

      If I weren’t one of the people being laid off already, this incident in itself would send me to instant job search mode, because of all of the assumptions (on the director’s part) and history that must be behind this.

    5. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      “A call announcing layoffs was interrupted for 10 minutes while the director’s kid showed us his toy dinosaur.”

      That ain’t right.

  12. Delta Delta*

    I think at first people were willing to engage with others’ kids and pets and houseplants or whatever else was going on in their workspaces. But now this is How Things Work, it seems like everyone ought to work together to figure out cooperatively how best to make it work. If that means Boss needs to find a time when the kids are napping, or that Boss needs to nanny-share, or whatever, then Boss has to get this figured out because it’s having a negative impact on the team.

    I like the suggestion of talking to her about times that may work better when it’s quieter, or about replacing So Much Zoom with emails instead.

  13. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

    I have a coworker that started in April, and at the beginning you could tell he was there because you could hear his two kids screaming so loud it seemed they were murdering each other. Thankfully once the restrictions loosened IT sent him a headset, so now the background noise as lowered.

    1. Quinalla*

      This is a good point, does she have a headset or earbuds or something? Any of those will help minimize background noise at least and may help her to pay attention better, though honestly if she is the one watching the kids while working, she’s going to be distracted. My SIL was (kids are back at school/daycare for her for now) in this spot since my brother owns a restaurant so she was home trying to work FT with the kids whenever he was working and yeah I don’t know how she got anything done. None of her three kids can be left unsupervised, maybe the 6 year old for a little bit, but he gets into trouble pretty quick, but the 4 and almost 2 year old, nope.

      Anyway, I would definitely bring it up with her and even if she can’t do anything, at least she knows it is a problem so she can accommodate for things taking longer, etc.

      As a parent of 2 7 year olds and a 10 year old, I am SO glad I don’t have any toddlers during this time. My husband and I have enough trouble both trying to work FT with distance learning for school, with toddlers we would have to fully do split shifts or something, at least with distance learning I can usually still email/Teams while I’m keeping an eye on them to make sure they are at least half paying attention /sigh, so I can get something done.

  14. Manchmal*

    Now that the pandemic is starting to stretch out and the newness and panic of the first couple of months has past, I’m not sure why someone in the boss’ position wouldn’t hire a babysitter/nanny to come in to the house. I get not wanting to take kids to daycare (which, are open in my area anyway). But having a single person come in, who is doing distancing responsibly in their own household is a pretty low risk. It’s actually a little cheaper than daycare for 2 kids. I’m in higher ed, and I’m teaching classes live for large parts of the day. My husband is working his job full time and is often in meetings. There’s no way we could entertain our 2 and 4 year olds all day long without help and still do our jobs. I get that there might be financial or health reasons why someone would prefer not to do this, but taking care of young kids IS a full-time job which would pretty clearly be incompatible with one’s actual full-time job.

    There are lots of solutions that don’t involve constant interruption. The parents could also switch off, which would allow the boss either the morning or afternoon to schedule meetings. If she has an important meeting and her partner isn’t available, she can stick them in front of a cartoon. At a certain point, it’s not fair to everyone else to just not deal with this issue. (Obviously, I don’t know this person’s particular situation, and there can be reasons why what I’ve suggested wouldn’t work. But I would also imagine that the boss might be more forthcoming with that information just to let people know she understands how annoying/disruptive it is.)

    1. KWu*

      It’s pretty hard in normal times to find a nanny and I expect that now, single people in distanced households with childcare experience are in extremely short supply. Slightly higher if you’re willing to let a nanny bring their own kid(s) with them, but that causes its own issues as well.

      1. Manchmal*

        Well, there’s a big crop of college students who are now doing school totally online and thus have more time during the day (which is the situation with our babysitter), and lots of them are taking gap years. There’s a lot of unemployment. It’s probably easier to find someone now, given all of this.

        1. Alli525*

          Why would students doing classes online necessarily have more time during the day? I work in higher ed and my students are all sticking to fairly normal class schedules because we’re doing mostly synchronus learning, as are many other institutions. Maybe if OP lived in China or the UK this would be less of an issue (students at U.S. universities who are stuck in their home countries may be doing asynchronus learning).

        2. Jennifer*

          Someone that’s unemployed may not necessarily want to take care of kids all day. They also may not feel comfortable going into the home of someone they don’t know. Plus, they may not even be qualified to watch children.

          I don’t see how taking online classes gives you a significant amount of extra time during the day.

        3. F.M.*

          As someone currently taking and teaching classes online, allow me a moment of bitter laughter at the very concept of having “more time” because of this. More like everything is twice as draining and half again as long to do.

        4. AnotherAlison*

          My son graduated this year, but his former university (a 2,000 person school) returned to campus, as did my alma mater (the largest uni in the state), the other large state university, the 3rd largest school (a community college), and every other local university that I have any knowledge of. I know of a few people who decided to take gap years, and one of them is actually working at a childcare facility, but I don’t think there are 1,000s or even 100s of students now standing in line to be a nanny. Regional differences in employment and job-seekers are probably huge, and we don’t know where the OP is located.

    2. These Old Wings*

      It sounds like she has at least part-time care for 2 of the 3 kids, so there is probably a reason why the 3rd is still there, like she is very young or the babysitter can’t handle more than 2 or maybe she can only afford care for 2 (I myself received a 35% paycut at my job that is still ongoing, and while I was able to send my 2 year old back to daycare, I can’t afford to send my first grader to any of the virtual learning programs because we can’t afford it). Unfortunately, there really are no good answers here. Many people (mostly women) are likely going to end up quitting their jobs because it’s all so overwhelming and impossible to handle. I’ve been making mistakes at my job that never would have happened if I was in the office without kids underfoot, and it’s awful.

    3. Jennifer*

      Well, it’s not something the OP can really suggest. And as the other response states, hiring a nanny isn’t as simple or affordable as you’re making it sound.

    4. Marcy Marketer*

      I definitely had the same feeling regarding another coworker whose kids were always screeching, like always! Anytime she came off mute they were screaming…. like can’t you trade off with your spouse? Or hire someone? It’s hard not to make assumptions based on our own experiences but I’d just tell myself that I don’t know what her situation is like. Maybe they have financial issues or their house is so small that a nanny won’t help… My brother has worked from home watching his toddler this whole time and he’s refused to hire anyone because he still has to pay to hold his spot at daycare. I suggested even part time help would work but he was really ambivalent. I found hiring a nanny to be challenging but doable, and finding back up care when she calls out has also been challenging but some times doable. I certainly would not be able to do my job without care.

    5. AngryOwl*

      We had a nanny until my daughter was 18mo and then she went into daycare—the daycare is much, much cheaper. If you have a nanny above the table, costs add up quite a bit between taxes, paying a payroll service, and the actual amount the nanny charges (which is incredibly variable across the country).

      In addition, finding someone you trust to care for your kids and who you trust to *also* be at the same level of Covid-caution as you is not nearly as easy as you’re making it sound.

      There are certainly things the boss can do to mitigate this (more prep ahead of time perhaps, a headphone, etc.) but “just go get a nanny” is not a magical fix.

      1. MayLou*

        I am a part time nanny for three families and the only way that I could do it full time (and limit my exposure by not interacting with other households through work) would be if I was being paid substantially more per hour than the typical rate for childcare, and working full time hours. At least one of the families I work for wouldn’t be able to afford that – I suspect their hourly rate is lower than what I’d need to charge.

    6. Anhaga*

      It’s really not that easy, no. And college students being online doesn’t mean that college students have time for full-time jobs (online coursework takes more time for *everyone* than in-person; the research has shown this, as has anecdotal evidence from pretty much every instructor who has taught fully online [like me; I taught fully online for about 10 years]). I’m not sure what nannies go for in your area, but in mine, they’re more expensive than daycare, and daycare is bad enough. The OP’s manager might also simply not be paid enough to afford it.

    7. Quinalla*

      It really depends on her situation, a nanny is NOT always cheaper than daycare for 2 or even 3 kids, it depends on cost of living. And some folks have a risky enough health situation that even a nanny isn’t an option unless they are going to pay the nanny extra to stay completely isolated with their family.

      Anyway, speculating on this sort of thing doesn’t help honestly. The OP just needs to raise it and hopefully the manager can do more, but things that seem like obvious solutions aren’t always something that is possible.

    8. This Old House*

      Depending on their set up, it might not help much. We live in a 800 sq. ft., 2-bedroom house. I could hire a nanny, but there’s nowhere she could be with my kids that you wouldn’t be able to hear them. I’ve been outside to take a call and had a coworker comment (cheerfully) that she could hear my kids – who were inside, behind a closed exterior door. Or if one child is napping, there’s literally nowhere else in the house for the other child to be besides in the main room where one of us may be working. It’s not like we haven’t found solutions – right now we mostly alternate, which means we don’t get disrupted during meetings but also means we are then often left with a choice of either not getting our work done or not sleeping. Because my kids can suffer, my health can suffer, my marriage can suffer, but God forbid my work not get done! Or my coworkers have to hear background noise!

    9. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      You’re making the assumption that the manager hasn’t thought of these or similar options already and it’s not something OP can suggest to their manager without coming off like an asshole.

      1. KWu*

        OP has sounded pretty compassionate in her comments and has babysitting experience at least, but yeah, I would be so peeved if anyone I worked with suggested “find a nanny for childcare” and thought they were being helpful and suggesting a new idea. The vast majority of working parents have spent a lot, a lot of time thinking about childcare and are quite aware of the available options.

    10. CheerfulPM*

      (Reposted from above – but I have many problems with this response.) Here are some things that I have had to deal with since going remote in March:

      (1) Finding reliable and safe childcare. Many childcare centers are full. Babysitters are an option, but you have to consider their covid safety. Wanting to err on the safe side, means encouraging babysitters to check their own symptoms and report/miss the day to get a test. Plus turnover – summer babysitters are now back in college. Workers who were let go from their position due to the pandemic sometimes find a new job. We’ve had 4 different babysitter arrangements since May. (And every new situation is a transition for the kids that spurs anxiety and crankiness.) (And don’t get me started on how time consuming this is to do.)

      (2) Affordability. Childcare is almost as big a bill as my mortgage. The amount that we’re currently paying is 3 times what we had outlined in our 2020 budget. This comes as my husband (small business owner) has been unable to take a paycheck most months despite working 50-60hrs a week himself to keep the business afloat.

      (3) Unreliable planning – Back to school was a rollercoaster. Plans changed every 2 weeks. We didn’t know if the younger one was in one preschool until 1 week ago. As mentioned, we’ve had days when we expected a babysitter only for her to report a fever and sore throat. (Again with the time-consuming comment.) We had a babysitter quit with 2 weeks notice and another one not show after we had interviewed and screened her.

      (4) Screens are not a cure-all. Regardless of liberal use of screens – kids will tire of them and it will be the moment you’ve stepped into a presentation to the board and told the kids that the ONLY interruption should be if someone is bleeding or choking.

      Also – on the note of being more forthcoming – I assume that my coworkers don’t really want to know all this. Maaaaaybe my best work friend – but she doesn’t have children, so does she really want to hear how hard it is?

      I am very sympathetic to the direct report taking on her work – but maybe this is work that could be dropped/re prioritized. Maybe that gets more to the heart about why she’s just not that interested in these sessions?

      1. HR Bee*

        Affordability is huge. My daycare bill is BIGGER THAN MY MORTGAGE. And I only have one kid. Both my husband and I are considered “essential” (him – government, me – food manufacturing) so we’ve been able to keep our son (2 years old, btw) in daycare once it opened back up for essential workers only. But I have to trade that with my anxiety over my son DAILY interacting with other kids of the most exposed workforce groups. It’s terrifying and also the only option, when its open.

        When a kid or teacher gets covid? We shut down for two weeks and I’m home again (it’s happened three times since we’ve been back). With a 2 year old. Who doesn’t nap. It’s not that there are no good options, it’s that there are no options period. I’m on calls with the CEO and my child in screaming in the background. TV doesn’t hold his attention for longer than 10 minutes at a time because he’s only 2. My Exec team has been extremely understanding, but it’s still tough. I am sometimes working until 11:00 PM or later to get things done because there is no other option. Our closest family lives a 7 hour drive away, and it’s not like I can hire a babysitter to watch my kid when he’s been potentially exposed.

        And I think that last part it another question. How much is the manager working during off hours when the kids are in bed for the night? If she’s not able to complete her full workload during the normal hours and is also not attempting to make up for it during nights/weekends, I think that’s more of an issue.

        1. CheerfulPM*

          Yes! I meant to mention that. I have several friends in that same situation. One friend is taking FMLA in hopes that in a few months, she can return to work and schools will be at least partially reopened.

          I hear you on the risk front and there’s also a reliability issue there that you mention. One of my healthcare worker friends has had her kids in their daycare since march, but their guidelines are so strict, that she gets turned away and told to keep them home about once every other week. (But at the same time, they haven’t had a case, so hopefully that means the precautions are working.)

          For us, it’s more that having to get this much extra care was not in the budget this year. This fall was supposed to be the first school year that we didn’t have to pay for weekday care!!! (2nd grade and public preschool that is paid.)

          I think the end of the story is that we are all very much still *in it* and some businesses are back to putting normal (or even increased) pressures on employees. Parents and non-parents are burning out.

          Personally, I have moved most of my daily check-ins with reports to slack, but that has issues too. Sometimes their update will come when I’m on another call/caring for a child. Sometimes I’ll read it, but forget to respond and get distracted be the end of the day. Recently, I heard through the grapevine of my supervisor that one of my direct reports is really missing the daily calls as it was his only way to connect. We can’t win right now.

    11. Anonforthis*

      I just want to comment as someone who has had a nanny for two young kids – having a nanny is not cheap, as in – in our major urban area which does not have a high standard of living compared to other urban areas – it is $40-$60k annually. This is obviously an enormous expense, and nanny and baby sitters are in very high demand now and have the ability to charge even more.

    12. Pandemic Parenting is Miserable*

      Unless you personally have secured in-home childcare in the last 5 years, please don’t casually weigh in on this. Pre-pandemic, waitlists for infant care (under age 2) in my city were 2 years long. Tuition is 1800-2400 per month. As a last resort I used a nanny share which meant for 30 hours a week, I paid $1800 per month, not including taxes. I think our part-time nanny was 30K a year for us? The wage I paid 2 years ago is no longer an appropriate one for care of 2 infants. (And that meant me working with 2 infants in the background. They are not silent. Toddlers are louder.) College students have schedule changes each quarter/semester, don’t want to be paid above-board so you’d have to take the risk of paying them illegally under the table, and frankly have been too unreliable for me to use as full-time care. Date-night and weekends, sure (lol with WHAT MONEY child care was more than our rent) but to enable my professional life, no.

      That was pre-pandemic. The child care sector is estimated to lose millions of spots by the end of the year and there already was a severe shortage. No bail-out has been provided for them; Delta Airlines received more money than the entire child-care sector. Personally, when our daycare was closed we continued to pay our full tuition in the interest of having that option hoping they re-opened. So securing substitute care was not an option. We are fortunate in that we relied on grandparents for fill-in support pre-COVID; they have cancer so we are no longer comfortable with seeing them in person. Daycares that have re-opened are limited in capacity bc in our state they need to have groups of 10-12 max. (Ours has gone from 35-40 kids to 10-12.)

      I realize this is a rant in a long thread so people probably won’t read it but This is Not Our Fault. Parents do not have any options. None of us were paying child care bills for kicks. It’s not your fault as a child-free person either but people working from home with their children have been abandoned by our government and we are ALL trying to survive in a mismanaged pandemic. Companies need to adjust everyone’s workload or make a big-a** fuss to their state and local government for better solutions.

      1. That's a tough one*

        I feel this rant in my bones. So much yes, especially to making a big-a** fuss to state and local government for better solutions. Adjusting workloads can only go so far. Healthcare workers at all levels are in short supply: can’t reduce their workload much. My pet is running low on his prescription because supply and manufacturing are down, and that’s going to start happening for human prescriptions too, if it hasn’t already. Nationwide shortages of treadmills are sort of funny; other shortages won’t be.

        And “better solution” does NOT mean forcing a bunch of librarians to act as babysitters or tossing all the underprivileged kids together into infectious untraceable “learning hubs.”

        1. Third or Nothing!*

          Shortages for human prescriptions are already happening. My husband’s been waiting for a refill of his anxiety medicine for almost 2 months now.

  15. LogicalOne*

    Your boss may want to check her Zoom settings to see if background noise suppression is turned on. The default settings on Zoom have this option turned off. It can help minimize unwanted sounds (though I doubt it would work against a child screaming). Hopefully turning on this specific setting can help cut down on other unwanted background noise. Here is the link on how to do so:

    Good luck!

    1. Sincerely, The one who wrote in to this question!*

      Ugh thank you- unfortuntaely we use Hangouts as our company meeting platform. But will def keep this in mind if we transition! I’ll also see if there’s anything specifically for Google Hangouts. Good idea!

      1. LogicalOne*

        You’re welcome! :) And I apologize, I assumed you used Zoom. I hope there’s a similar setting in Google Hangouts! Good luck !!

  16. Knitting Cat Lady*

    I’m autistic. If there is too much noise, especially if it’s other human voices, my ability to understand speech shuts down. Being hard of hearing doesn’t help either.

    It helps when people have headsets or dedicated microphones with a directional pick ups.

    But open mics like many people are using? Awful.

    Does your boss mute herself when she’s not talking?

  17. Guacamole Bob*

    One thing I’ve noticed is that parents kind of tune out kids’ noise, especially from their own kids, and often don’t find it as distracting as others do. My manager had his 5 year old in the office for a couple of hours pre-pandemic once, and we had a meeting while the kid was coloring at the table with us. There was the usual background parental talk of “here’s your red crayon” and “here’s another piece of paper”. My manager seemed able to focus on our meeting pretty well, and I have kids the same age and didn’t find it distracting, but our third coworker in the meeting just could not deal. At all. And that was find and understandable, and we rescheduled.

    I’ve noticed this also when people without kids hang out with their friends with kids, sometimes they feel like they can’t have a real conversation, and the person with kids doesn’t feel that way at all. It’s definitely not always the dynamic, but I’ve seen it repeatedly.

    This is just to say, your boss may not realize just how big a problem this is for you. She probably knows it’s annoying, but she feels like she can still have the meeting, and you need to let her know the impact it has on you.

    1. Sincerely, The one who wrote in to this question!*

      Your right- everyones tolerance is different. And like you said “She probably knows it’s annoying, but she feels like she can still have the meeting, and you need to let her know the impact it has on you”

      Thank you!

    2. Joielle*

      Yeah, I’m a no kids person, and I find kid-related noise SO disruptive. None of my coworkers have small kids at home so it hasn’t been a problem there, but I’ve noticed it in my personal life. Last summer we went on vacation with my husband’s family, including a 12-year-old, 4-year-old, and 6-month-old, and basically every waking hour involved TikTok, YouTube, Sesame Street, music, and a variety of noise-making toys, all in the same room, all at top volume. All the parents seemed to not even notice the noise. After we left that vacation I listened to nothing but silence for a week. I don’t know how people do it!

    3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      As someone who has a stepson who was 8 when I met his dad, I can say that if any of my friends thought they could have a productive conversation with me while the little ones were interrupting them every 5 seconds, they were in denial. In fact, I have one friend who has an 11 and 8 year old and she’s so distracted that I don’t even bother trying to have a meaningful conversation with her when her kids are around because her kids won’t leave her alone for more than 5 minutes. Yes parents are generally able to tune out kid noise, but there’s no way they could have any sort of productive meeting or conversation and be 100% in that conversation.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        Probably we parents are just used to it and better at lying to ourselves that we can work around it!

    4. Uranus Wars*

      I think this is a great comment! I know when I talk with friends who have kids or I am visiting a friend with young kids I stop every time the kids make a noise or are like “mom/dad/sis look at me” and feel like I can never finish a sentence. The parent is always like “why do you keep stopping?”

      It’s so very very different.

      1. londonedit*

        Definitely. I love my friends’ kids, but I don’t have or want to have children, and I find it tough when I meet up with a friend and they have their children in tow, because you really cannot have a conversation that a) doesn’t revolve around the children or b) isn’t interrupted by the children. I understand that kids are the biggest thing in parents’ lives, but sometimes I want to catch up with *them* as a person, rather than everything ending up being about what the kids are doing, or without conversation constantly being interrupted by the kids wanting attention or by the parent’s attention being distracted by watching what the kids are up to.

      2. Tamar Rowe*

        I’ve been the person saying “why do you keep stopping?” when my kid is interrupting – it’s not that I don’t realise that they’re interrupting, it’s that I’m nodding to them so they think I’m listening so I can actually hear what you’re saying!

  18. Colorado*

    This is so tough. I can guarantee your boss hates this as much as you and is trying her best to hold her shit together right now, as we all are. It’s getting old, the kids are bored, and people are terrified of losing their jobs. Add on caring for other people who are in the home and it’s a freaking nightmare. It kills me that my kid sits alone all day while I’m on constant conference calls, kills me. My spouse is an essential worker in a hospital. As far as “passively tell her kids 500 times to go play in another room”, I’m sure she wants to scream after time 100 but she can’t. She’s the boss on a conference call with 3 kids under 5(!!!). I feel for her and I feel for you. Maybe resort to voice only calls and ask her to use mute as much as possible. Or take turns running the meetings. It sucks, all the way around, for everyone.

  19. Emily*

    If I were handling 3 kids under 5 right now, “my staff think I’m not 100% present on phone calls” would be comically low on my list of problems. Sure, send emails before meetings w/ the decisions that need to get made so she’s prepared, and send follow-up emails after reiterating what happened. That’ll make it easier for everyone. But I’d be real cautious about complaining or expressing irritation about this, or about implying that this isn’t a good look for her. Focus on doing your job and what you need from her to do it better.

    1. KWu*

      I think this is good advice. Talk only about the impact on you from having to repeat yourself etc. and not about your ideas as to the cause.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Except it sounds like OP is doing at least part of the boss’s job in addition to her own and that is not sustainable.

      1. Emily*

        If that’s the case, things you can say to your boss include: “I’m burnt out”, “the hours I’m working aren’t sustainable”, in addition to “I have trouble concentrating on our morning phone calls; can we talk about other ways to exchange information.” How it affects you, not at what level of focus you think your boss is committing to your phone calls.

        1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

          things you can say to your boss include: “I’m burnt out”, “the hours I’m working aren’t sustainable”,
          I can almost guarantee that the response will be some variant of ‘I have it worse’, ‘yes, but there’s nothing we can do about it’, ‘we’re all in it together’, etc.

          1. Emily*

            If that’s the case, by all means, add in critiques of her parenting, her level of focus, and how she’s coming across to leadership.

            1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

              I appreciate your optimism! (i.e. I infer, hopefully correctly, that you think that ‘I have it worse’ etc responses are unlikely).

              Unfortunately in my experience — admittedly I’ve never had to deal with a pandemic of this scale before, but I have had to deal with bosses in straitened circumstances on several occasions — the response I’ve had, almost without exception, has been a defensive statement along the lines of “but I’m working even more hours than you [no comment as to whether they are productive, mind you, and doubtful if being logged on means actually working]”, “yeah, but I only get to see the kids every 4 weeks due to the divorce settlement so can you cover this one for me [for no pay] as a favour”, “I’m off on holiday in Italy [pre-covid, obviously] so you will need to take this one” etc.

              I’ve characterized this type of thing succinctly on my CV/Resume as “Deputizing for Manager in increasingly frequent circumstances where Manager was unavailable”.

              1. Emily*

                I think OP is making a lot of judgements about their boss here and what their boss should be doing, and avoiding bringing those into the conversation certainly doesn’t guarantee it’s going to go well, but it increases the chances of it going well, and decreases the chances of permanently damaging a working relationship by commenting on their priorities or parenting. Absolutely, it could still end in “I’ve had it worse”, and then you either escalate/document/leave, or you live with it, like anything else.

              2. Professional Straphanger*

                For women there is this unspoken assumption that we will all have kids and that “now it’s your turn to step up to help the parents, and when you have children other people will step up to help you.” For those of us who opt out of parenthood, life is one long series of defensive statements about how parents have less time, more strained resources, and it is somehow our responsibility to subsidize them, figuratively and sometimes literally speaking, because “it takes a village.”

                I get that parents have it tough and agree 100% – nobody could plan for this and everyone is trying to navigate it the best they can. I don’t envy people trying to work and get their kids to do their lessons at he same time. But I’m also tired of being the unacknowledged reserve capacity.

                I understand that everyone has to pitch in to cover others now and then, but I’m burned out too. Nobody cares, though, because it’s all about parents and their problems. I make arrangements to take a day off and before I’ve gotten out of bed I’m getting messages about “can you do X because person Y has to help their kid with school stuff.” This is not my problem and I resent people trying to make it so.

    3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I agree but I still think it’s worth a conversation with manager. Not a venting session, but more of a “how can we make this work for all” while being empathetic of what she’s going through right now.

      1. Emily*

        Oh, absolutely. I would just stay hard away from anything about parenting, the boss’s level of focus, how the boss is coming across, or really anything that isn’t “here is my specific set of issues/goals/challenges.”

  20. WhatswiththePets*

    While we’re talking about this, can we talk about how people seem so annoyed by other peoples’ kids, but somehow it’s often acceptable to spend the first 10 minutes of a meeting ooohing and awwing over everyone’s pets? Seriously I was in a meeting that started this way more than once, and while I like specific animals, I do not have that generic “every pet is cute” gene. It’s pretty distracting, and since every minute I am in a meeting is another minute my kid is playing video games, I find it disrespectful of my time also. If my kid walked all over my laptop and stuck her rear end in front of the camera there would be an outcry. But somehow it’s not seen as annoying when a cat does it?

      1. Commenter*

        But no one is telling my coworkers they have to shoulder extra work and expect to not hear from me during working hours because I have a dog. That’s what my childless colleagues and I are told though. Not really comparable to politely ignoring the occasional bark.

        1. Thankful for AAM*

          I have to shoulder extra work all the time for people who get sick or who are caring for a family member or when we are short staffed. Being told to shoulder extra work for parents is just like any other reason for doing so. I have a friend who is a manager and she complains all the time when a direct report uses the full benefits allowed to pregnant women and parents. Its their benefits!

      2. Temperance*

        If someones dog or cat shows up on a call, they just either walk through, or cuddle their person. It’s not disruptive, for the most part.

        I think parents get a lot of leeway and understanding, especially now.

      3. Daisy*

        I agree that in the case where this is happening at the beginning of the call it is annoying to allow people to do it for pets and not for kids. I think the thing with pets though is that they are mostly silently in the background, occasionally popping onto screen. Sometimes I heard a bark or something, but generally they are just a lot less distracting than a child actively demanding the attention of their parent. It’s not that I think parents shouldn’t be afforded the same patience, but I think kids are often way more difficult for others to ignore. I agree though, if people are getting annoyed at a kid quietly walking across the background of the screen they are being super unreasonable.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Based on past experience, this is almost definitely going to head into a kids vs. animals debate that will be derailing and not related to advice for this letter-writer, so I’m closing this subthread.

  21. Jennifer*

    I honestly don’t know how to say to tell someone to manage their kids without potentially offending them. I think we all my need to just change our tolerance for kid noise. Many childless people seem to have no tolerance for it but we have to adjust.

    Also, I am noticing that some people just have no idea what to do with their kids all day when they were used to having childcare and not spending much time with them pre-pandemic. I don’t mean to sound judgey there but I have to imagine it’s a big adjustment and they just don’t know how to manage their behavior. We just have to be patient. I know it’s hard.

      1. Sylvia*

        Empathy should go both ways. I’m one of those childfree people who simply CANNOT focus with annoying kid noises around. I certainly have empathy and don’t expect parents to come up with a magical solution because they’re really in between a rock and a hard place right now. But in the same vein, I simply cannot just flip a switch and suddenly be able to focus with all of those grating noises. I have tried, believe me.

        1. Jennifer*

          Right but the level of empathy should be proportionate to the problem. I have empathy for people that have difficulty concentrating due to kid noise but I have more empathy for people who are trying to manage small kids with no childcare while working full-time to support their families. The two problems just don’t compare.

          1. Temperance*

            Sure, but presumably, most of these folks aren’t single parents, so I’m genuinely flummoxed that people like LW’s boss are just not splitting childcare duties with their kid’s other parent. Why is LW’s boss responsible for all the toddlers all day?

            She’s also not getting her work done, which is an issue.

            1. Jennifer*

              Maybe the other parent is an essential worker. Maybe they’re deceased. Maybe they’re divorced and they decided switching the kids back and forth between households was a bad idea. Maybe they’re ill and can’t physically help out. Maybe she actually is a single parent.

              We just don’t know their situation and you can’t really tell a coworker that’s not a close friend (and maybe not even then) that their child’s co-parent is a deadbeat.

            2. AnotherAlison*

              Um, their partners work outside of the home? They’re essentials? Any number of reasons that have nothing to do with willingness to co-parent?

              I am a project manager with 20 years of experience, so I could consider myself “people like LW’s boss”, except my kids are much older. I was strict WFH for 5 months, and my husband went back to work operating his essential business outside of the house after 2 weeks.

            3. Dahlia*

              Even if someone else is physically taking care of the children, they still exist in the house. And unless your house is pretty large, they’re probably going to be audible.

            4. Third or Nothing!*

              I wish I could split childcare duties with my husband, but alas he is a welder and has to go into the plant to work. And since we can’t afford for either of us to quit our jobs, I’m stuck taking care of our toddler while attempting to get in 40 hours a week from my kitchen table.

            5. Generic Name*

              Because not every family is comprised of 2 parents who work from home and have absolutely equal job flexibility. My kid’s dad and I are divorced, and I was a single mom for a while. I am now remarried, and while my husband would absolutely split childcare duties with me during the day, he can’t because he works in construction works outside the house.

            6. DataSci*

              Splitting childcare duties does not magically mean people can work all eight hours of the workday. It does not mean they can make every meeting.

              Here’s my situation, which is easier than LW’s manager’s:

              Both my spouse and I can work from home and have flexible schedules. We have one seven-year-old child, who is capable of playing outside by himself or with friends but needs some supervision for Zoom school and full supervision for the “enrichment” portion of school.

              We take four-hour shifts of “no kid duty” work, which we decide based on when our critical meetings are. This means that sometimes less-critical meetings get missed. We can do some non-meeting work while supervising Zoom school, which gets each of us about two more hours a day. Currently while the weather is nice Kiddo can go play outside or ride bikes with friends (we are OK with him having socially-distanced outdoor interactions with neighborhood friends, which not everyone is) for about an hour after school, so we get an extra hour each that way most days. So we can reasonably put in six and a half or seven hours a day, but we can’t necessarily always be instantly available, and we do miss meetings.

              Everyone is doing their best. Just because an option is bad doesn’t mean it isn’t the best one available.

          2. Sylvia*

            Trying to compare problems comes too close to telling people who is and is not allowed to feel/experience certain things based on how badly someone else has it for me. Such as the people who say stupid things like, “Oh, you have a chronic illness? Well, toughen up! Some people have cancer!” Just…no. Everyone deserves empathy.

            1. Jennifer*

              I don’t get your point. If someone on your team has cancer and you have a mild case of the sniffles, yeah you do kind of need to toughen up and deal with it because the team member with cancer needs more support. Doesn’t mean that I don’t care about both people’s problems but one would get more of my support and attention. That’s just life sometimes.

              1. Sylvia*

                Clearly the person with cancer gets more support, such as medical leave when needed, donations to pay for expensive treatments, etc. My point would be that a person having cancer does not mean that my sniffles aren’t there. I don’t believe all support should be equal, because some problems are clearly more important than others. I just believe that smaller problems shouldn’t be minimized as if they don’t exist.

                1. computer10*

                  My understanding is that someone with long term medical issues would have an adjustment made to their work. Like if you couldn’t perform your job fully, like OP’s boss, you’d have to cut back to part time or something or it would be openly acknowledged you’d handed over some responsibilities. It would be planned out what the go is.

                  With parents it just seems like some have the strategy I’m going to keep working ‘full time’, keep collecting full pay, not do my job and everyone is going to pretend like it’s fine because it is politically incorrect to argue about it?

                  I don’t really recall it being common for other people with long term impediments to work being allowed to openly half ass it. Maybe in some companies but normally you’d have to account for what your plan was for your ‘issue’ and your work ability.

                2. Jackalope*

                  Yes, it’s not a Pain Olympics, and everyone needs support. Just because someone like the OP’s boss may need MORE accommodation doesn’t mean that someone like the OP needs NO accommodation, or that the needs of people without children aren’t relevant. Those of us without kids know things are easier in some ways for us right now. I’m not complaining to my friends with toddlers about how hard things are for me. But that doesn’t mean it’s not hard, and that doesn’t mean that some sort of help can’t be given to someone else (or at lest sympathy) just because they don’t have the worst problems ever, anywhere.

                3. DataSci*

                  Trust me, parents are not half-assing anything. We are suddenly being asked to do two full-time jobs in an incredibly stressful time when even a trip to the grocery store requires stress and advanced planning. If we work our asses off and put in 12-hour days every day for months on end – and I know people who are – we’re still going to only get six hours of work done and six of childcare / remote-school supervision (and kids under five do need full-time supervision, so there can’t be any overlap in that case). It truly does suck that LW’s boss’s situation means more work lands on LW, but it’s not because LW’s boss is being lazy or failing to just say the right words to have Mary Poppins come and live with them to care for the kids.

          3. Dust Bunny*

            But this is asking people to run at a high level of mostly one-way empathy for monthss on end/into the distant future if need be, and it’s not sustainable. One, non-parents are also stressed, and two, having empathy doesn’t reduce stress. It’s just asking more of people who already have a lot going on.

            I feel like there’s is a lot of forgetting that childless people don’t magically have empty, stress-free lives.

            1. Jennifer*

              I don’t think anyone thinks that. I am childless and my life has stress and problems like anyone else’s. My problems don’t really affect my ability to do my job. If a childless person has an issue that is actually affecting their ability to do their job, like a sick spouse or relative they need to care for, they should definitely ask for accommodations. If they just don’t have enough hours in the day to get their work done, that’s something to bring up to management too.

              1. Jill*

                The problem in this scenario is the issue actually affecting LW’s ability to do their job is her manager, and her manager didn’t decide to have a conversation about it before offloading her own issues onto LW. There’s literally no way to measure if someone’s childless everyday life is less stressful than someone with children, or more complicated, or more rewarding, or whatever, everyone measures stress at different levels. You might think your life is easier because you don’t have children but some people want children more than anything and don’t because taking care of themselves is too hard already.

            2. Lavender Menace*

              It has to be sustainable because we’re in a global pandemic. This is not normal times. We are all doing what we can to survive. I’m childfree and I have an anxiety disorder – I know that childless people can still have lots of stress – but we don’t have any other ethical choice but empathy for our coworkers with children (and other kinds of things that may cause a distraction).

              1. Jill*

                That’s great for your anxiety disorder, but what about someone else’s? Or depression, how can you expect someone would automatically pick up the slack at work when they haven’t been showering the whole quarantine. Pick any of the disorders/disabilities/life situations that could come up, ethics and empathy have to work both ways and you have to take care of your own boundaries first. Lots of people are childfree by choice or not with incredibly stressful lives and none of it is more or less, it’s all just there.

                1. Anonymous Comment*

                  Yes – some people are childfree *because* of their otherwise stressful lives. My spouse and I will most likely never have children not because we don’t want them, but because we wouldn’t be able to balance taking care of them with dependent care for my mother-in-law with schizophrenia on our own, and nobody from either of our families would be able to step in to help us out with either childcare or dependent care. I do have empathy for my co-workers with children, but it does feel one-sided.

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      When I spent lots of time with my kids pre-pandemic, I’d take them to the library, the playground, the splash park. We’d have play dates with other families. We’d hop on the train and go downtown to the museum and then stop for doughnuts. I’d take them to the craft store and let them pick out materials and take them home to do a project. We’d go to activities at church, and classmates’ birthday parties.

      How much of that can we do right now? How much can we do *while I’m working full time from home*?

      Not being able to keep kids from being bored and acting up when stuck in the house all day where the grownups are all trying to work and can’t really focus and engage with the kids does not make people bad parents.

      1. Jennifer*

        Of course, and it wasn’t my intention to imply that. I’m sure most people are just trying to do the best they can.

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          Thanks. The “not used to spending much time with them” and “don’t know how to manage their behavior” sounded a tad close to the “why even have kids if you’re going to pawn them off and let daycare workers raise them for you?” attitude that one sometimes runs into. Sorry to bristle when that wasn’t what you meant.

      2. Myrin*

        But your first paragraph means that you aren’t in the group Jennifer talks about – you definitely did spend time with your children, even if it was to do stuff outside the house/together with others! But I have 100% met people – mostly fathers, honestly – who don’t know how to engage with their children in any kind of meaningful way because they basically never do, and that was pre-pandemic; I would assume that currently, they indeed “have no idea what to do with their kids all day” or at least did in the beginning and really had to actively learn how to interact with their children.

        1. Lavender Menace*

          I think the point is that’s kind of irrelevant right now. Even the most involved parent doesn’t have a whole lot of options to occupy their kids – especially small children under 5 who are stuck in the house all day long.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      I agree, it’s taboo to say anything about another person’s kids unless it’s “they are so cute!” Even if a meeting is nothing but screaming children in 5 different households, I’m not saying anything. There is too much of a risk of it turning into war between parents and non-parents, or parents of young children vs parents of older children. There was just an article that came out about big tech companies giving paid leave to parents but not to non-parents and, as to be expected, it did not go over well. But the comments on the article quickly turned into “Those selfish people without children” vs “Those selfish parents that want me to do to the work for them.”
      It is far to touchy a subject to bring up, and I am not brave enough to do so.

    3. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      I’m happily childless myself and don’t like kids noise but have learned to tolerate it on calls etc, even where I live there are a lot of kids and I reframe noisy football games on the street (yes, they are still a thing in some places, haha) in my mind as “it’s great they are out getting some exercise instead of sitting around being bored indoors”…

      But it’s a different response (emotionally – I don’t let it show, or at least not too much!) when it’s interruptions to meetings due to children, dogs, etc. What particularly irks me is if I am asked a question in a group setting, such as “what’s a good way to test that this problem is resolved?” and I’ll say something “well, I would go into screen A and where it asks you to put in the purchase date in dd/mm/yyyy format, try putting in something like ‘lizard’ in there instead of a date, now it should come back with the new error message rather than just crashing” – and about halfway through this, I’ll get “sorry, I wasn’t listening because my kid just asked about the thing on TV, what screen was it and what should I put in?” or “BUSTER!!! Don’t jump on the couch!!!! Sorry what were you saying” or whatever… It gets wearing when it happens 5-10 times a day, usually with most of the same people.

      I’ve no idea how to tell people to manage their kids, and I wouldn’t attempt it as I don’t think that’s the appropriate response, but I totally understand the intolerance (even if at this point it is just a ‘gut’ response that we can then think more rationally about).

      It is all “death by 1000 cuts” though in that each of these incidents erodes my impression of that person a little more!

      1. Grapey*

        One work based solution is to write out your test cases the way you did here after the first instance of being interrupted.

  22. No Tribble At All*

    Manager should also use a virtual background — both Zoom and MS Teams let you do this. That way the kids are visually hidden as well. If she does that & mutes herself when not speaking, that should cut out a lot of the small-child-interference.

    1. JustaTech*

      WebEx also has virtual backgrounds now too. They’re very bland, but good enough that I was briefly fooled into wondering “since when do we have several conference rooms that look like that?”. You can also do custom backgrounds in WebEx, but maybe only at some permission levels.

  23. OhNoYouDidn't*

    There are a lot of great suggestions on here. I’m wondering if you have a good enough relationship with your boss to have a private, gentle conversation with her about the issue. Doing this privately in a collaborative manner rather than in the middle of a team video call may help her save face. You could express your sympathies and understanding of the issue, and then go into an explanation of her inattention and the distractions and how they’re affecting you and the team, etc. If it’s done in an empathetic manner that conveys, “You’re not the problem, the situation is the problem. Is they a way to alter the situation to minimize the problem,” then she might be open to creative ideas. I know I could easily have a conversation like this with my current boss, but I’ve had other bosses where that certainly was not the case.

    1. KWu*

      “You’re not the problem, the situation is the problem. Is there a way to alter the situation to minimize the problem” is such kind framing!

      1. JustaTech*

        In addition to being kind, it’s also the way you would frame the problem of say, having an internet connection that is not up to doing video conferencing. It’s just as hard to understand a meeting when the audio keeps dropping out as when there’s extra screaming audio.

        So then the request isn’t “make your kids go away/make Comcast install fiber”, but it’s “how do we work around this situation that isn’t going away”.

  24. We hear you!*

    I appreciate all the frustration, this stinks for so many people and we are getting collectively to our wits end!

    Two things we have implemented to try to manage a similar situation:
    1. Changing the calls to different times, especially evenings after children are in bed. It’s unusual to have a 1-on-1 at 8:30 but if everyone’s at home then anyway, why not try (do though start your work day later and make sure to keep blocks of time for yourself)
    2. Switch to asynchronous work, so that you are not having to get stuff done in a meeting but instead plan out a workplan with clear deliverables that can be achieved solo, with input over email/Slack.

    Good luck to you and everyone out there handling this type of situation.

  25. Anonforthis*

    Hi – a few weeks ago I read a big article about how the pandemic is going to force many people to leave the workforce because of lack of childcare options, the majority of whom will be women. This question really demonstrates that. I would definitely send minutes after the call, and re-send right before the next so she has it at the top of her inbox. I also agree offering to do emails during off times – even if they are unconventional hours if you are able – could be helpful. She. may have more coverage early evening/early morning. At the end of the day, your employer may be choosing to tolerate interruptions from kids to retain employees. I also manage 30 people, and 1/3 of them have asked for accommodations to take care of their kids since schools and daycares are still closed where we are. I’d lose virtually all of them if we set a standard that there couldn’t be kid background noise on calls, and frankly, I think it would be a policy unfriendly to women, since they by default tend to manage more of the stuff at home. I’m sure some employers are taking a hardline (which I hope also includes not having pets/pet sounds on calls, partner/partner sounds on calls, landscaping, etc.), and their workforce options will be more limited because of it.

    As a practical point – I’ve got two kids under 3 and there is no way that I can have a meeting while supervising them without background noise. They don’t even like TV, and it is unsafe to tell young children “go to your room, I’m in a meeting.” Further, the expectation that young children (or any children) should have to sit in front of screens all day so that a parent can work, which they have to do to put food on the table, is so upsetting to me as a parent. All this to say – this is a no win situation – I’m so sorry your work is suffering, and I’m sorry for your boss who must be absolutely exhausted and having to choose hourly between meeting the needs of her kids and doing her job.

    1. That's a tough one*

      Re: “As a practical point – I’ve got two kids under 3 and there is no way that I can have a meeting while supervising them without background noise. They don’t even like TV, and it is unsafe to tell young children “go to your room, I’m in a meeting.” ”

      Agree. LOTS of kids (including mine) are sick to death of screens, so trying to put them in front of a show or movie or video game is a nonstarter.

      So many of the proposed solutions in these comments are not options the huge number of single parents supporting families and people who can’t afford nannies. Not to mention all the folks I know raising kids in one-bedroom apartments, where “You have to play in the other room” comes with the even-more-distracting screaming and pounding on wall or door.

      Parents haven’t found solutions by now because so many things are getting worse as the shutdown continues. Money is getting tighter, virtual school demands more from them and has also taken older siblings (who used to babysit the younger) out of the equation or else they miss out on their own schooling. They are out of allotted time off. Eviction suspensions are ending and people are facing homelessness.

      I have sympathy for OP (I get impatient with kid interruptions too, and I AM a parent myself). The situation is not sustainable and is destroying families.

    2. Snark no more!*

      I’m intrigued by the mention of the appearance of landscaping on Zoom calls. Who could be annoyed by landscaping?

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I think it meant the sound of active landscaping, rather than the appearance of completed landscaping. So, heavy machinery.

      2. Anonforthis*

        Thank you @General von Klinkerhoffen. That is what I meant. This was a timely letter because over the weekend a few people on our HOA board (we live in a very densely populated urban are) were tired of young kids “shouting” in the neighborhood during work hours and tried to institute a no kid-noise ordinance between the hours of 8am-4pm. Another Board member and I pointed out that there are a million things that cause noise during the day – including the very loud, association hired landscapers (I regularly have to relocate in my home during work hours due to the sounds of mowing, weed wacking, etc.) and various contractors that use saws, hammers, etc. I think all interruption related rules should address all things that cause interruptions, as opposed to making kids – specific rules (e.g. we also have a colleague who is caring for his mother with dementia, her caretaker cannot come during the pandemic, and she often interrupts him during calls).

        1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

          In the next board meeting propose a no-landscaping etc ordinance between the hours of 8 and 4…

          1. Anonforthis*

            That’s what I did! It’s also illegal for HOAs to have child-specific rules, so between that and the no landscaping or contractor noise permitted the other Board members backed off.

        2. Hillary*

          At my last development we regularly had people complain that there were kids playing on the grass. Apparently the grass was there to look at? Our wonderful property manager (who was worth every penny) would patiently explain that families were one of our main buyer demographics and it was in our best interest to be family friendly. It usually stopped the complainers when an appeal to decency wouldn’t.

        3. Lavender Menace*

          Also, for Pete’s sake, what are the kids supposed to do? The only fun they can safely have is running around outdoors, and now you’re trying to tell them they can’t even do that?

  26. Anon in Texas*

    Ohhhhh…as a single dude with only a cat in my company I can only say that I have SOO SOO much compassion for you parents out there.

    Seriously, I have 24/7 peace and quiet and podcasts playing in the background. I would have lost my mind with misbehaving toddlers and having to juggle work, childcare, and virtual learning. I know this isn’t easy for y’all. I usually let this kind of stuff go and chalk it up to the “new normal.” I have no problem being flexible for parents – we’re all doing our best.

      1. OwlEditor*

        Yes @Anon in Texas. I also have sympathy for the boss. I’m single with two cats (who, alas, are not cats who like to be in meetings. They leave the room!), so while I don’t have that distraction or have kids, this pandemic has made my depression and anxiety worse and my work has suffered. I have to be extra vigilant or I miss a lot. As a peer review revealed last week.
        This makes me have a lot of sympathy for the boss. I’m sure her mental capacity is suffering too! Make suggestions, sure, but she’s doing the best she can and that’s all any of us can do right now.

    1. Third or Nothing!*

      I actually teared up a little. Thank you. This is really hard and I only have one kid who’s really a pretty great kid overall. I’m so burned out. And sad.

    2. F.M.*

      I feel the same way. Dealing with teaching and taking classes under these circumstances is challenging for me, I have financial anxieties and I worry about health things, but… I’m in a quiet, clean apartment with a single small dog who mostly naps beside me while I have endless Zoom calls. Meanwhile, half my professors have small children, or elderly parents who need assistance, or both at once, on top of almost all the same stress points I have.

      It must be amazingly hard. Heck, I get impatient after an hour of entertaining a friend’s child in Animal Crossing, and that’s playing a video game where we communicate by text, not wrangling a toddler or trying to deal with an infant who has no way to communicate needs other than wailing. I am more than willing to extend compassion about some missed deadlines and repetition of topics.

    3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      100% agree. I have a stepson, but he’s 15, only here 50% of the time and only comes out of his room for feedings.

    4. Generic Name*

      Thank you. While I’m very lucky my kid is a teenager, he’s also autistic and has adhd, so he needs a lot of support to keep him on track. We just got a massive cold front with snow, and I’m looking down what feels like the barrel of a long, cold winter trapped at home with no end in sight. It’s very overwhelming, and sympathy from an internet stranger really does help. :)

  27. computer10*

    There was an article in the NYT a few days ago about how at tech companies childless employees are feeling like the accomodations made to parents are unfair.

    It’s an impossible situation. Parents have lives and it’s unfair to mostly women. But it’s also super, super unfair to childless workers to have to do more work or to be made to look bad when team members fail. I know we live in a society but it’s not a childless workers choice to have children and they don’t really benefit from this except in the abstract way of society needs children and we all help each other.

    My solution was always to give bonuses to people who are doing more work, or promotions. But if no one notices you doing more work you’re left with the ugly option of throwing a team member under the bus by complaining about them and pointing out you’re doing their job.

    I have read a tonne of articles about working parents this pandemic and one from childless workers. It’s like childless workers are just expected to forfeit their rights for the greater good. I feel for parents – and moms especially – but I don’t see why parents holding it together should be at the expense of those who don’t have kids.

    1. Valegro*

      Yeah, Slate had an article suggesting parents could just be paid to stay home with their children while the childless apparently got to risk our lives at those jobs serving the public in close contact. Not well thought out at all. I’m an essential worker who had close contact with multiple people a day who refuse to wear masks or wear them improperly, but at least I’m getting paid well to do it. It’s not ok to force the childless to do these jobs “for the greater good” or foist more work on them in general. I had to take off a week just for my mental health.

    2. Sylvia*

      Yep, and you’ll see that same mindset in this comment thread. I think we can all agree that this isn’t an easy situation for anyone, and that parents have it really difficult right now. Maybe even more difficult than they have ever had it before, so a lot of empathy and understanding is needed. That said, I dislike the implications that I should be picking up all of the extra slack, working longer hours, and generally accommodating everyone around simply because I don’t have kids.

    3. CTT*

      Agreed. I hate how quickly it’s become Us Versus Them. And the flip side to people being overloaded with work is that some aren’t getting enough. I’m an attorney and our firm is giving parents of school-aged children a billable hours credit up to a certain number for time spent helping their kids with virtual school. Which is great! But I’m young enough in my practice that I still need a lot of guidance from the attorneys above me before I can move forward with things and I have so many things that are buried in someone’s “to review” pile. It’s hard not to slip in the mindset of “why don’t I get some credit for not being able to work because they’re dealing with their kids?” Intellectually I know that they aren’t getting to bill for sitting around eating bonbons all day and a lot of them are going to burn through that cap quickly, so my situation isn’t at all comparable, but emotionally I want some acknowledgement of the way in which my life is being disrupted as well. And I have absolutely no idea what that should look like.

      1. Sylvia*

        This is a really great perspective. And interesting about the billable hours, I didn’t know some firms were doing that. I work in a law firm too (though I’m admin, not an attorney). One of our attorneys is due back from maternity leave next month and I’m really wondering how it’s going to go, because her husband is an attorney as well at a different firm. But I completely agree with you. No one is asking for parents to fix an impossible problem or shoulder an unbearable burden alone. The rest of us would just like some acknowledgement that our lives have been changed too.

    4. NW Mossy*

      I’ll tell you what I did: I gave up my job so that a person without children could have it. This is the best I can manage to support the childless right now.

    5. WS*

      My business hired more people to do the same amount of work. But that’s only really possible because we’re in healthcare and are in the fortunate position of having a ton of work and no pandemic-related downturn, plus we live in a tourism-heavy area where a lot of people have lost their jobs and are looking for work. A company that has lost income due to the pandemic is not going to be in that position.

    6. Anon for this*

      I work at a large well-known tech company (one of the ones cited in the article) and I’ve heard people grumbling about this, and it makes me want to rage. I’m childless, for the record.

      First of all, those of us who work at the big well-known tech companies have tremendous flexibility in our schedules already ON TOP of already excellent benefits packages. At my company we start with 3 weeks of paid vacation and 2 weeks of paid sick leave.

      The additional accommodations that parents are getting at the big tech companies are mostly to help them manage the contingencies that come along with the pandemic. My company, for example, added an additional 12 weeks of leave for parents who needed to take the time to help their kids set up for virtual school or get them settled into daycare or whatever else. I don’t have kids who need to set up for virtual school, so I don’t need additional leave. I’m not “forfeiting any rights.” It’s a benefit extended to parents so that in a global emergency situation when they have few options, they can keep their jobs. It’s like getting mad that someone else got to take parental leave. I don’t need parental leave…because I’m not a parent.

      It’s also not like these folks are taking leave to go on a lavish vacation in Bali or something. They’re taking leave so they can struggle through something difficult and stressful, usually so they can pay attention to their job when they return.

      And most of the grumbling I’ve heard is from people who don’t realize that our generous leave packages also include leave options that would accommodate their situation. I had one person grumble “what about me? I’m stressed!” and pointed out that we have short-term disability leave paid at 100% as well as other leave options for caring for mental health. We have family care leave for people with other family members other than children that they need to provide care for. We even have special leaves for civil service!

      Additionally, with the bonuses…it’s one year, and everyone got the highest bonus. If I got a lot of money why do I also care if someone else got a lot of money? No, it’s not “fair” that I may have to carry an additional burden (which I don’t think I necessarily do), but it’s also not “fair” that millions of parents are stranded in a wealthy developed country where their government has abandoned them almost completely, and that their schools keep changing their plans every other week and sending kids home disrupting their lives again, or that different schools in the same district are on different schedules so some parents have 2-3 kids with completely different daily schedules, or that some schools expect kindergartners to sit still in front of a Zoom call for 4 hours a day.

      I don’t mind picking up some extra slack – or granting my teammates some flexibility – so that they and their children can survive during a pandemic. Thinking only of whether this benefits me, or doesn’t, is kind of how my country got into this mess in the first place by stripping the social safety net so thin that we left a giant hole everyone could fall through when we have a crisis.

  28. TiredMama*

    I think you can tell her the problem and then brainstorm solutions together, bonus points if you bring solutions to her. Like, how about I send an email with details from the call to help cut down on repeating information and she can refer to it later when she can be 100% (after the kids are in bed).

  29. Potatoes gonna potate*

    Irony is that as I’m reading this while taking a 5 minute mental break, baby’s up and crying. I’m finding it difficult to work with a baby who only wants to stay in my arms and won’t be put down, and I have a husband who pulls his weight in parenting and I’m still struggling especially b/c it’s a new job. I can’t imagine what it’s like with school age kids.

      1. Thankful for AAM*

        I was going to say that. I had a baby who only wanted to be in my arms and it was so hard and I was not working at the time. I had to try several “wear your baby” contraptions before I found one that worked for me but when I did, it was so much better. The one that worked for my back put him in front and that made it tough to use my arms the way I wanted but the compromise worked for me.
        I hope you find a way that works for you!

      2. Blackcat*

        I wrote about half of my dissertation while wearing my baby, using a yoga ball as a chair gently bouncing.

      3. Third or Nothing!*

        I had a Velcro baby too. I found a lot of great tips for survival on The Fussy Baby website. Babywearing is definitely one of the things that helped us a lot.

    1. Anhaga*

      So much sympathy! I was in a similar situation with my oldest about a decade ago. I gave birth to him and then started a new, remote job 2 weeks later. He was one of those “YOU MUST HOLD ME OR I WILL DIE!!” babies who would go to sleep on my lap in the Boppy and then wake up when I placed him in his crib, no matter how careful I was. My husband was working outside the house at that point, as well, so I was on my own. I had a terrible time adapting to both the job and the baby at the same time. The solution that sort of worked for me was babywearing, though babies are hard to type around, and creating a workspace on a coffee table that let me sit on the floor with Dear Son playing next to me on a playmat or asleep on my lap on a Boppy. It wasn’t easy and I’m still not sure how I got through it . . . there was definitely some PPD in there. :-(

      1. Natalie*

        I have attended so many meetings from the floor of my daughter’s room. Thankfully I am usually mainly listening so I can be muted while she babbles.

  30. Jennifer*

    Do meetings have to be video? Could you all get on slack or some similar program and talk things out? Is it something that could be sent in an email. I’ve found many meetings actually could be.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Also, some meetings/videos/long email chains that could actually have been one person saying “we’ll do (proposal) unless anyone submits any objections by close of business Friday”.

        Not everything has to be a collaboration.

  31. GarlicMicrowaver*

    Ugh. I hate this whole thing. There is no good answer. But what has surprised me about some of these comments is that people are assuming it’s appropriate to say, “Oh we’ve reached our sympathy threshold. That’s it. Time for business as usual.” It doesn’t work that way. This thing is not going away. This is the equivalent of employers pulling the “pandemic fatigue” on employees whom they are requiring to return to work when still unsafe.

    I also disagree with Allison’s second dialogue. OP doesn’t really have standing to tell her boss her kids are being distracting. What if they removed the kids from the dialogue all together and focused on seeking out alternative meeting methods and times?

    Also, for what it’s worth, this really IS the kind of situation no one can personally understand unless you are a parent or caregiver in this situation.

    This sucks. I get it. I don’t think it’s fair that OP is getting dumped on. But there really may not be a solution. Can they ask for a raise?

    1. computer10*

      I think sympathy fatigue is valid, but time for business as usual is not. We can’t just expect parents to wave a magic wand and be back to business because everyone is over it.

      But we can say that everyone has a limit on how much charity they’re willing to give. And that’s what’s being asked of some childless workers – charity. Donate your work time and effort to parents. While many people may be happy to do that for a month, it’s a give and take that normally is returned in some form, endless months of charity is too much to ask.

      But it’s not up to parents to solve this. Companies need to come up with a way to be fair to their childless workers, maybe with additional compensation or job title upgrades or promotions.

      1. Ranon*

        Companies and more importantly, governments need to be dealing with this. Faster, frequent, cheap testing, getting case loads low enough that outside childcare and school are real options- that’s what it really takes. Caring for children is work, educating children is work, we as a society pay taxes so that that work is not being done solely by parents, but without better testing, better disease control, and better science we’re all suffering, parents, non parents and companies.

        1. JustaTech*

          100% This. 1000% This.

          This is a world-wide problem, and it can not be solved by individual actions, it has to be the work of collective actions.
          I can be as flexible as possible to work around the school schedules of my coworker’s kids, but only senior management can say “hey, we’re going to slow down the roll out of this new project”.

          Companies need to look a the realities of life and realize that all those plans they made in January just plain aren’t going to happen, so let’s do this in a controlled way.

          1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

            only senior management can say “hey, we’re going to slow down the roll out of this new project”

            But presumably that project (and all the others like it) is part of the business plan, potentially part of contracts with customers that are already signed and sealed, announced to shareholders if the company is public, in any case factors into the profitability of the company as a whole.

            If the company doesn’t survive that, it won’t be the school schedules of your co-workers’ kids, it will be the school schedules of people (both parents and non-parents, just to be clear) who no longer have a job due to the company going under.

            As I’ve said here before it only makes sense to think of the long term if you can get through the short term first, and slowing down projects may not be the way to do that. In some cases (depending on industry) they may need to be accelerated!

            Companies need to be lining themselves up to come out ahead of the pack if/when things ever go back to somewhat more normal, not shooting themselves in the foot by delaying projects.

      2. Joielle*

        Yep, exactly this. Everyone has a limit on how much charity they’re willing to give – which is why relying on charity instead of having strong social safety nets will never work. The need doesn’t go away just because people can’t or won’t give any more. It’s a societal problem that can’t be fixed by relying on individuals to do more than their share for an extended period.

    2. Sylvia*

      No one is saying that it’s time for business as usual, but empathy and compassion fatigue is a very real thing. It happens all the time to social workers, caregivers, etc. That doesn’t mean that people don’t care, but just that people have limits of how much they can take before they burn out or explode. People had a ton of compassion for parents when this whole thing started, understandably. Now it’s months later, industries are being shaken up, people are being laid off, and there are still those who are constantly insisting to everyone that parents need more empathy. People just don’t have it to give.

    3. Anon-y-mous*

      I think many people are remembering how very UN sympathetic managers and companies were about child care pre-Covid. And about well, unsympathetic or empathetic about a lot of things, really. It doesn’t make it right, but it explains why people say there is a limit. And their feelings are valid whether or not everyone agrees this has been a sucky situation.

      This is an issue that will divide the workforce unfortunately. There was a big article about how tech companies were giving parents 6 paid weeks off (yay!) but not non-parents (boo!), who of course also want that same PTO benefit. And why shouldn’t they?

  32. HGS*

    Thank all the gods my toddler’s daycare is open again, but solutions I employed (and my heart goes out to parents of more than one kid because if I had more than one I would’ve just laid down and died) included playing In The Night Garden all goddamn day (it’s like a drug for him), and just tossing crunchy snacks onto the floor for him, like a dog. Also taking meetings from my phone/earbuds with camera off so I could push him around in a stroller.

    1. Thankful for AAM*

      “tossing crunchy snacks onto the floor for him like a dog” was the phrase I needed to hear at the moment, thanks!

      It brings back a similar memory. When we were moving from overseas back to the US, I had to do days of talking on the phone with my husband’s employer, passport agencies, govt officials, etc to get the paperwork done to get us back. My son was 2.5 years old at the time. He learned to pull a chair over to the fridge, climb it, open the freezer, and take out a fudgsicle. But he could not open the paper wrap. He ate an entire box of them one afternoon when I was on a particularly delicate call and needed him to be quiet – he would bring them to me and I would slowly open them for him. It was a funny time!

  33. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    Are all of these meetings necessary or if they are, can they happen less frequently? I don’t have little ones but work with someone who has 2 boys under 5 and when there were no daycare options for her, we sometimes had to setup meetings after hours when they went to bed. Was it ideal? Of course not. But we had to be flexible, because it was either take double the amount of time to figure something out when she was distracted and couldn’t focus, or meet later with no distractions. I get that’s it’s frustrating, but you need to be flexible right now. And while it may seem that your manager is passively trying to get them to go away, she’s probably beyond annoyed and trying not to lose her shit on camera.

    1. Mannheim Steamroller*

      Some bosses believe that it’s more important to repeatedly talk about the work than to actually do the work.

    2. NW Mossy*

      The trouble with this is that for a manager, meetings ARE their work. Meetings are the vehicle to develop and coach employees, coordinate efforts with other teams, steer projects, develop/relay strategy, and so on. A manager can’t say “I don’t do meetings” or even “I only do meetings under X conditions.” It’s tantamount to saying “I don’t do my job,” and even the most forgiving organization in the world can’t be expected to tolerate that.

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it” is not a reason to not make changes. Clearly this isn’t working, so they need to figure out how to make it work best for everyone.

        1. NW Mossy*

          My own personal threshold for “this isn’t working” was to give up my managerial job and hand it to someone without kids. It simply wasn’t reasonable to expect 12 direct reports to put up with my situation (a small fraction of what the OP in this letter is dealing with), to say nothing of the negative impact my parenthood had on peer leaders and my own upper leadership. No one was classless enough to say so outright, but the blunt reality is that I was the only manager-parent of small children in my department and everyone knew that I wasn’t performing up to my pre-pandemic standard.

          My work colleagues are generally very tolerant, but they are entitled to my full commitment and engagement during normal work hours – that’s what they signed up to get from me, and I wasn’t living up to my end of the deal. As many other commenters have noted, parents must absorb the fallout of the pandemic themselves and should not rely on the rapidly thinning compassion of their colleagues.

          1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

            The difference is that your personal situation is happening to a lot of parents right now, so all of them quitting is not at all realistic. While it’s not fair to rely on the thinning compassion of their colleagues, it’s also not fair to expect managers to step down because of the current situation in the country that they have little to no control over. It sucks for everyone. The only solution is to come up with changes that will meet everyone’s needs.

            1. Tabby*

              Actually, that IS a good solution. You cannot effectively manage under the current conditions? Step down. It would certainly prevent a lot of problems. I have actually turned down supervisory roles because I know I can’t effectively supervise or manage other people, so I don’t see why a stepping down of manager-parents who can’t handle the workload is terrible, even if it’s a temporary thing. And it probably can be, especially if the manager is otherwise great, but unable to balance the two. They’ve decided to do the best possible thing under the circumstances, because trying to supervise various adults AND various children all at the same time is a nightmare, and if the childfree person can be more effective in this crisis? The childfree person gets the role, hands down.

  34. Remote for Life*

    I hear the emotional exhaustion of parents who feel like there isn’t anything they can do. And that’s often true when it comes to the kids or childcare situations, where it has become clear that we are in this for the long haul.
    So then, I think especially for managers, it’s time to think about how to change the work. That will look different for different people, but its worth going back to the drawing board to figure out what is reliably doable for OP’s manager, and if there are other ways to get OP what they need.
    As a permanently remote employee, I can tell you that camera-free meetings where you are muted unless you are speaking is the assumed standard in my industry. At minimum, switching to that model wouldn’t require extra effort on Manager’s part, and would reduce the impact of interruptions on everyone else (and manager can silently drop a note in the chat if they have to go AFK to help a child).
    But all of the above suggestions about scheduled chats, putting things in writing, trimming non-critical meetings, streamlining workflows, etc. are worth talking about with your manager, OP.

  35. Dust Bunny*

    Two thoughts:

    1) If managers are insisting on video meetings when they could do the work at least partly by email, they are bringing some of this exasperation on themselves. Don’t use video calls any more than you absolutely have to just so you feel more “present” or “in control” of the situation.

    2) If subordinates are taking on more work because managers are juggling home lives, make sure those subordinates aren’t getting in trouble for not getting work done as quickly, efficiently, and thoroughly as they used to. Nothing will wear out reports’ goodwill as quickly as fear of losing their jobs because they’re picking up work on behalf of managers who aren’t getting it done.

  36. BlueBelle*

    I don’t have children at home, but I am as empathetic as I can be. I have been making my meetings shorter and blocking time after it in case we need to go over because there were interruptions. Parents don’t have a choice right now, and what we need to do is come together as humans and a team to help with their stress. Not being able to teach their kids properly and not being able to get work done is likely sending their stress and anxiety through the roof. Let’s be as flexible as humanely possible and not get upset or irritated when this happens. If she had a choice or a way to deal with it, she would have by now.

    1. Sylvia*

      Disagree. People are allowed to get frustrated when they literally cannot do their jobs properly because of someone else’s kids. That doesn’t mean anything can truly be done about it, but the emotions are real and people are allowed to feel them.

      1. The Original K.*

        Right. “What we need to do is come together as humans and a team to relieve [parents’] stress” – what about the stress non-parents have? OP is clearly stressed and is doing the manager’s work; “suck it up” is not a nice tack to take. OP’s feelings and stress aren’t less important than the manager’s (or other coworkers who have kids).

    2. Dust Bunny*

      “Humanly possible” literally does not mean “endlessly”, though. This situation may have reached the end of its human possibility if the LW is not longer able to handle the workload and the manager is effectively not doing her job.

      1. BlueBelle*

        What are they supposed to do? School isn’t in session? Daycares are closed? What are they supposed to do?

        1. Dust Bunny*

          What are their non-parent coworkers supposed to do? Work 80-hour weeks? Work the equivalent of two jobs? The fact that parents don’t have answers doesn’t mean that the people filling in for them have endless capacity.

          1. Anon for this*

            It’s a no-win situation. We live in suck-ass times. I don’t know what to tell you. Being upset isn’t going to change this manager’s childcare situation, though.

    3. Temperance*

      This is not necessarily true or helpful re: OP’s boss. Her boss is the one who wants these video meetings that she can’t meaningfully participate in because her kids are running around in the background. There’s a very easy solution to that; no longer hosting frequent video meetings, and instead focus on being available via e-mail (and actually reading/responding to her email). Or wearing a headset with a microphone. Or doing meetings with push-to-talk enabled, so people are by default muted and have to hit the space bar to speak.

      Most of my colleagues are parents. I try and schedule around their childcare needs. I pick up a lot of the slack at work. I put in far more than my 40 hours each week. I do wish that there were more honest and frank conversations about how to meet everyone’s needs.

    4. Anon-y-mous*

      I ask you this. Pre-Covid, were managers and bosses very empathetic about WFH or what was deemed to be unprofessional behavior? Hm.

      1. Natalie*

        What point do you think you’re making? It shouldn’t be a big surprise that things are different during a time when many people’s primary and frequently only source of childcare is unavailable.

  37. AngryOwl*

    OP, this sounds really frustrating, I’m sorry. It sounds like you have a decent relationship with her otherwise, so I hope you can have an honest chat about feeling overworked and the possibility of using headphones or the like to minimize noise.

    The two months my toddler was home when her daycare closed were, frankly, awful. My husband I were both in the house working full-time, but we were both still exhausted by trying to be good parents and workers. I can’t imagine having more than one young child in the house. And things are actually worse now than in March, in some ways—virtual schooling, about to enter flu season, and (in some parts of the country) the kids can’t even go outside because of fires/storms.

    It all sucks. Definitely speak up about bandwidth issues, but other than that, we all just have to white knuckle our way through.

  38. Ubergaladababa*

    Or deadlines could get extended, work could happen more slowly, less could get done, additional people could be hired, even temporarily. Obviously businesses have to stay viable by why is the fight between workers with and without kids with no mention of just introducing a little more slack into the system/making it thr business’s problem?

    1. sfdgf tr*

      Because if deadlines get extended, work happens more slowly, and less get done then they won’t be able to afford to keep the same number of people employed. If you’re OK with that, great. But just doing less doesn’t seem very viable to me.

      1. Oh No She Di'int*

        Yeah, I had a whole response that said basically this. But I didn’t want to come across as letting companies off the hook.

        In theory, I agree that the companies absolutely should be part of the conversation and part of the solution. And I assume there are big companies out there that have the sort of bandwidth that would allow them that kind of flexibility. But I’m guessing that even more companies are in the boat mine is in: we’re staffed appropriately to produce X number of teapots in Y amount of time. When that dips, it means product isn’t getting shipped. When product isn’t shipped, sales decline. And then, yes, that’s going to end in a layoff at some point because that is the very definition of being overstaffed.

    2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      introducing a little more slack into the system/making it the business’s problem?

      But the real problem is… there is no “the business” or “the system” that exists outside of individuals.

      A business or a system isn’t an entity in its own right (concepts like ‘legal personality’ notwithstanding) but rather is just an aggregration of a bunch of individuals.

      I don’t understand the arguments I seem to see everywhere these days that things ought to become the problem of “the business”, that they are bigger than any one individual, they need to be solved systemically, etc.

      There is no “business”, there is no “system” or “society” existing independently outside of the aggregation of so many actions taken by individuals (and ultimately that’s why what’s good for business is also good for people).

      So work happens more slowly and becomes the business’s problem, rather than the problem of individuals. So does that make it go away?… No! It just means the business ultimately folds, and then that becomes an immediate problem to individuals who no longer have a source of income… Introducing “slack” into businesses isn’t without effect, as businesses don’t exist really outside of the individuals that make them up.

  39. Books and cats*

    I have sympathy for both the letter writer and her boss. I have 5 adult children, grands, and great grands. How anyone, the parent or others on the call is getting anything done amazes me. My hat is off to you all.
    Our youngest went completely virtual 4th thru 12th. Those younger years require a lot of involvement from parents.
    I have some suggests that may or may not help someone.
    1. Consider if there is an older/senior neighbor or relative near who could come over for a couple of hours a few days a week. They have probably been isolated and if you have too the risk would be small. They may be thrilled to have company (and feel useful) and a couple of hours playing with the kids, watching tv, or reading may be a win for everyone. If kiddos are virtual learning they can help with that, too. You could offer to give them some money, and if they decline, consider a meal, gift cards, etc. My 80 year old Mom and I are helping my niece. Her’s are 2, 3, and 6. The oldest is in first grade. One takes the littles, usually Mom, (her choice) I do school.
    2. There are college students, and even high schoolers, that might be able to do a couple of hours in the afternoon.
    3. How about another work from home family and you “trade” the kids once or twice a week. It could be scheduled for when you each need a time without interruption.
    4. Also is there a stay home family you might be able to ask for help for those important quiet meetings? Offer to take their kids so they get a break or pay them for a couple hours of their time.
    None of these ideas are great, but it might be worth a try for some.
    LW, you might be able to bring up some of the suggests you’ve gotten from others during a one on one with boss by saying, ” I was reading a blog with some of the inventive ways people are managing work from home… ” Just be sure to add nonparent things, too, unless you have a good relationship or you don’t think she will be offended.
    Good luck.

    1. GreenFields*

      This is condescending AF. You don’t know the manager’s situation at home, how comfortable they would be with an outsider coming into their home, and how risky it would be to the outsider to come into their home. What if the Manger’s partner is on the front lines working with COVID-positive patients? Or in another high risk field.

      None of this is any of the OP’s business.

      1. Lord Peter Wimsey*

        I think Books and cats was trying to offer some practical solutions to what is obviously a difficult and contentious situation for all. Everyone should try to lead with some grace and compassion here, even in the comments.

      2. 867-5309*

        I do not think Books and cats was condescending at all – I think she was kind and trying to give OP some options. We can argue whether or not OP should even be making suggestions to our boss at all, but I wouldn’t berate Books and cats for the ideas.

        1. RandomPoster*

          The insinuation that a parent trying to work while minding 3 very young children hasn’t already considered (and obviously ruled out) getting a babysitter is insulting. That’s like functional parenting 101. If she hasn’t been able to secure some sort of childcare arrangement it’s because there is a reason she is unable to.

    2. Ranon*

      My daycare isn’t even hiring college students right now due to that age group’s higher level of social contacts and risk, I blame individuals not one iota for feeling similarly

  40. mynameisasecret*

    I’ve noticed people seem to be getting annoyed with even pets on calls now. I had my cat come up behind me and meow really loudly and start swatting my head on a SOCIAL Zoom call and expected people to laugh, but everyone just dead-fish-eyed and pretended it wasn’t happening. I usually make sure she’s elsewhere for this reason, but it’s a studio apartment and sometimes she catches me off guard. She did meow really loudly once when I was interviewing a candidate but luckily for me the candidate did find it funny.
    I feel like we’re in a situation where if we don’t laugh we’ll cry… and dogs and babies and kids and cats are kinda the best we’ve got right now.

  41. Anon-y-mous*

    I think suggesting/rethinking timing is probably the most important thing. And also the nature of the call/meeting.
    If the meeting is super-important and detailed, she really ought to be trying to get the spouse/partner/babysitter to take the kids somewhere for at least a few minutes (outside, another room, whatever), or move herself to a private room and shut the door for 30 minutes This isn’t 100% always going to happen of course, but it sounds like she is just letting the kids walk in to where ever she is sitting at, and honestly that can get rude, even IF this is a very understandable thing right now that happens on occasion (on occasion compared to every meeting getting derailed through the whole meeting). I have heard that some harried parents are even utilizing their vehicle as a mini office for video calls because it’s the only place with quiet kid-free privacy.

    And yeah, I mean, everyone knows this school situation sucks and is willing to be forgiving of it. To a point. But it’s been 5 months of WFH now. When we were all in offices there was often like zero considerations for WFH, overtime and sick, child/elder care issues, and a take it/do it (suck it up buttercup) or else leave it mentality. If you had done some of these things on a WFH call back then, I guarantee your manager probably wouldn’t have been quite so forgiving of it, it would have been considered unprofessional, and you probably would have not been granted WFH “privilege” ever again.

    1. GreenFields*

      1 – There are a millions reasons why she may not have an alternative care giver for her children during the meeting. And none of them are the OP’s business or concern

      2 – In the before times, expectations were different because the options available for parents were different. This is a nonsense argument

      1. Anon-y-mous*

        WERE expectations really all that different though? I think not. Many, many bosses and companies were NOT forgiving about childcare even in the best of times. It didn’t matter if you had a sick kid you couldn’t send to school or daycare or not, you were expected to find childcare options (whether those were viable options or not) and be at work on time and working “presentism” or risk being fired. Fortunately for parents, there has been a lot of leeway given that wasn’t given before because of the pandemic.

        But I predict there eventually will be a limit to it if performance suffers and people cannot be functional in their jobs as this drags on. Whether kids go back to school or not! Because there was never much help for working parents to begin with. This letter is likely the tip of the iceberg of many to come from both sides of this debate — parent’s getting pushed out and non-parents being resentful if they don’t also get accommodations if/when they need them.

  42. Green Door*

    It might help to reframe the interruptions as “same as the office, just a different kind.” Meaning…how often in an office job are you interrupted? Someone pops their head in with an emergency, people coming into your meeting room because your meeting ran over and they didn’t realize you weren’t done, your work phone buzzing with new text messages while you’re trying to listen to a presentation, something distracting outside the office window.

    I try to reframe it as – my kid asking me to help him spell the same word I just spelled for him 10 minutes ago is no different than Larry stopping in to complain about TPS report he has to do. It’s still frustrating, but the reframing usually helps my level of irritation go down.

    1. TTDH*

      I mean, this really depends on the nature of the interruption. A child coming by to ask for spelling help and a child literally screaming are very different in terms of urgency and ability to tune things out, and hopefully you don’t have people screaming in your cube farm. I think it’s a helpful trick but only applicable in some cases.

  43. Important Moi*

    I am disappointed as to how this discussion has devolved. I don’t think offering suggestions is condescending. The assumption that the boss has thought of everything is no more valid than the assumption they have not.

    The assumption that the boss has thought of everything, because they are a parent and thus know every single thing…well, I guess that’s one way of looking at things.

    1. computer10*

      I don’t have kids but I wouldn’t really want my childfree employee offering me childcare advice. OP can just state the issue to the boss without offering advice on childcare or child rearing.

      1. TTDH*

        I don’t imagine most people would really want any of their employees giving them unsolicited childcare advice, no matter how timely it is. Whether the boss has thought of a thing or not is immaterial; the suggestion is likely to be taken poorly regardless.

        1. TTDH*

          To clarify, this isn’t only because the LW is the boss’s employee. I expect most people wouldn’t actually want this type of advice from a peer or a superior either, they might just be more willing to take it and not say anything.

    2. Adrienne*

      as a person who has heard ‘why don’t you just’ too many times in the last few months I can tell you that almost all my time is spent considering how to work things. The perspective of a people who have never been in my shoes, all those suggestions, has absolutely felt condescending and it is eroding my ability to remain pleasant to the givers of the sage advice.
      Unless you have real, lived, parenting in a pandemic while trying to keep your job in a world that considers your kids a private and unnecessary extravagance, I prolly dasn’t care to hear it.
      What’s devolved is everything. This conversation seems to be going fine.

  44. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

    OP has asked what we know on StackOverflow as an X-Y problem… i.e. person writes in asking to solve problem X, but it gets determined (through comments, subsequent answers, etc) that their problem is actually Y, and thus they are asking the wrong question.

    In this case OP asked how to deal with distraction on video calls from background noise of kids, interruptions, etc. (Problem X).

    The real Problem Y as flushed out by the comments though is actually “As a manager of people myself, my workload has been significantly increased due to having to take on a portion of my own boss’s workload due to her distraction with having children at home. How can I proceed?”

    1. CheerfulPM*

      This is very well put and yes, I think the real problem (and what makes these meetings all the more unbearable by OP) is that his workload is too much.

      I also wonder if he’s sometimes doing work that might not be directly serving his managers goals – hence the not focusing/remembering. Both might be helped if these face-to-face meetings transform into a priorities/blockers check-in. My own manager has a tendency to take a long weekend and then come back with 17 new ideas and they all can seem very urgent – when really it’s still the two major projects that he wants me spending the majority of time on.

  45. CheerfulPM*

    Yes! I meant to mention that. I have several friends in that same situation. One friend is taking FMLA in hopes that in a few months, she can return to work and schools will be at least partially reopened.

    I hear you on the risk front and there’s also a reliability issue there that you mention. One of my healthcare worker friends has had her kids in their daycare since march, but their guidelines are so strict, that she gets turned away and told to keep them home about once every other week. (But at the same time, they haven’t had a case, so hopefully that means the precautions are working.)

    For us, it’s more that having to get this much extra care was not in the budget this year. This fall was supposed to be the first school year that we didn’t have to pay for weekday care!!! (2nd grade and public preschool that is paid.)

    I think the end of the story is that we are all very much still *in it* and some businesses are back to putting normal (or even increased) pressures on employees. Parents and non-parents are burning out.

    Personally, I have moved most of my daily check-ins with reports to slack, but that has issues too. Sometimes their update will come when I’m on another call/caring for a child. Sometimes I’ll read it, but forget to respond and get distracted be the end of the day. Recently, I heard through the grapevine of my supervisor that one of my direct reports is really missing the daily calls as it was his only way to connect. We can’t win right now.

  46. Reality Biting*

    Sincere question from someone without children, so that I better understand the issues: A lot of the stress and angst here seems to have to do with parents trying to school their young kids–kids too young to manage themselves. What happens if you just say f*** it? What happens if you say, I’m going to let all this garbage with the school system sort itself out for a year, and in the meantime my kid is going to spend a year playing with bugs, riding her bike, and watching videos? I’m honestly wondering what is the terrible outcome of having to do, say, 2nd grade a year later than planned?

    (I realize this doesn’t directly address the issue of kids interrupting meetings, but given that the comments have become widely ranging about parental stress in general, I think it’s relevant.)

    1. Free Range Obstacles*

      I appreciate this question, and thank you for asking it. I feel like the answer (as I see it) might illuminate some of the responses, but who knows. This relates to the struggles that many parents of young children face these days. I am pretty sure that from the time I could walk, my parents spent about 90% of their time not being aware of where I was and what I was doing. My mother did not work outside of the home and they were not neglectful. It was the way things were (in the 70s). They used to leave me in the car while they ran errands, for example. Doing so today will land you in jail. As a parent of a child in the 2010s, I can tell you that style is OUT. And even if you WANT to ignore your child – let’s say you live in a home with a yard and a place that is secure and there’s not a lot of traffic and your kid can ride around on a bike or scooter yadayada. Guess what? “Well-meaning” neighbors will creepily follow your kids home and berate you for being neglectful. I had a police officer drive by and scream at me once because my toddler was naked in our front yard. Many of us are trying. I am fortunate to live in a neighborhood where kids play outside, and where there are a few yards that are accommodating, and that there are enough parents at home (now, during the pandemic) that someone is always watching. But that is not the case for people who live in cities, or apartments, or neighborhoods with no other children, etc. My nephew can spend five hours looking at ants. My son can’t handle two minutes without some sort of interaction/stimulation with another human being. He’s been that way since birth, despite my best efforts to train him out of it. Also, I would say that there’s a big difference between having a 3-year-old and an 8-year-old at home. If he comes up to me while I’m on a meeting, he usually gets it and goes away, but if I have to reprimand him – I have to have to also remember to a) mute my audio if it’s not already muted, b) turn off my video if it’s on, or c) have my coworkers watch me pull my evil mom face and give a stern look that they don’t really need to see, and then d) remember what the heck everyone was talking about or, more likely, remember what the heck I was saying, because kids’ timing is impeccable. And what if the kids are outside and get into fights? (which they will) There’s no letting them sort it out themselves. Parental involvement all the time. I estimate that a fight breaks out in my neighborhood every 11-13 minutes among the boys, aged 7-11. That’s our culture. Even if you rebel against it, it’s like society is there to stop you at every turn. Look up “Free Range Kids” to see some of the craziness that is going on. I have been really fortunate during this pandemic -only one kid, at an age where he can handle himself, mostly, and live in a place that is pretty old-fashioned in terms of kids running around. But I know people whose marriages have dissolved over disagreements in how much leeway to give the kids, people (mostly women) who have had to quit their jobs because there is just no other way right now. Frankly, OP should be happy to have a job – I know many who have lost theirs in these times. People also seem to think that parents are “asking for it” because we “chose” to have kids. True. But I don’t think there’s been a time in history when parents were expected to mind their children 24/7 all by themselves in a little hut with no other help and lots and lots of judgment. I had a child fully expecting that he would a) be in daycare all day as a young child and b) be away at school once he started kindergarten.

    2. That's a tough one.*

      Human beings are wired to be social, so while some kids might be fine bug hunting and video gaming on their own, most kids the age you describe will want a fair amount of interaction with people throughout the day. Many also desperately need structure, especially in scary times. Online school sucks but at least provides these things, along with the necessity of parental interaction. An isolated bug-hunting, video-watching childhood that doesn’t leave the child desperate for interaction won’t be an option for most families today.

      In Ye Olden Days, most kids whose families couldn’t afford school or a full-time governess would be working all day on the farm or in factories or elsewhere. You didn’t need parental supervision if you had a boss.

      People have different comfort levels with the idea of groups of unsupervised kids (bullying concerns, overall safety), and pandemic protocols have made things harder. My rule-following, docile, well-behaved daughter got a lot of instructions before going to a friend’s house, and the first thing the two of them did while unsupervised was share lipstick and eyeshadow. Unsupervised kids on monkey bars with spitting contests and drinking fountains and other things aren’t doing what school closure was designed to do.

      School is a whole lot more than learning subtraction and how to find Venezuela on the map. We have taxes for school because we believe that giving all children the opportunity to go to school benefits the entire community, those with kids and those without, and part of that community benefit is that kids who have structure and safe interaction–whether homeschooled or in regular school–are better for everyone than groups of unsupervised children on their own everywhere.

  47. BunnyMom*

    I would like to know how often they are meeting. If it is only once or twice a week, can’t she get a sitter or a relative to take them out to eat or something? She’s saving a ton on daycare and commuting…

  48. PlainJane*

    I wonder if any of this can be moved to a less immediate form of communication–is the meeting necessary, or can the information be shared via email that can be answered when things aren’t quite so hectic.

  49. Kelaine*

    Another perspective – it is good to realize that many small children, even toddlers, can be taught to obey rules and word commands such as “quiet please” and ”it is quiet playtime now“.
    I’m a mom of 2 (now grown) kids and I learned this astonishing fact from my kids’ (excellent) daycare center. 1 week after my barely 2 year old twins started at this daycare center (after previously being in a home daycare), I visited and was astonished that all of the children, including my rambunctious 2 year old twins, had been taught to put on their snow pants, mittens, hats, parkas, and snow boots – before play time outside in the winter – all by themselves! In addition, they put toys away when asked, sat in a circle on the floor when asked, and lay/slept on their cot or played quietly for a whole hour when it was nap time for the class.
    It was a revelation to me to realize that my children could and would do these things. Afterwards, I had an easier time dealing with my own kids at home (I was a single/divorced parent) because I just channeled the daycare workers’ cheerful, matter of fact, and very polite way of giving orders: “hey everyone, it’s reading time now, time to get your books and sit quietly now, please” etc. And of course, cheerfully, immediately, and firmly following up if there was a revolt. It worked like a charm!
    Eventually, I managed to write several successful grant applications (and earn tenure) while working at my kitchen table with my kids playing quietly on the floor by my feet with their books and dolls and cars and blocks and drawing tablets (no screens back then).
    So I do not believe that children always have to be noisy and uncontrollable. If the pandemic goes on much longer, it might be worth parents trying to act more like one of their schoolteachers. After all, children when at school can’t act out and make noise while in class because the teacher sets expectations (I’m talking about neurotypical kids – some kids do have legitimate challenges being quiet).

    1. CheerfulPM*

      @Kelaine – I think for many of us, even parents of younger kids (I have a 3 and 7 yr old), the kids are incredibly well behaved and listen to us. We follow routines to keep expectations consistent. They get fresh air and exercise; TV when it’s junky out. We rotate toys, make snacks easily reachable and healthful, have red light/green lights for mommy’s desk, and wear a noise cancelling headset. However, what you might be looking at through rose colored glasses – kids….especially ones who have been stuck in their house for days, weeks, months (yes, mine get outside more than ever these days, but they’re also in the house for longer) – ARE VERY LOUD. It’s not because they’re necessarily misbehaving or needing parents to do things for them, they just are – even when they’re happy and pretend playing. My best friend is a single mom with two rambunctious boys who’s neighbor has called the cops on her because of how loud her kids are (the officer was very understanding and told the neighbor that there is no noise violation occurring). It’s also one thing to be interrupted while writing and another while you’re on a zoom meeting (which is also different than a phone call) – add to the fact that many times people are on zoom calls for hours straight and you’re going to have interruptions. Heck, my office was an open office and it was a rare zoom call where I wasn’t interrupted once or twice by colleagues walking by. All this to say – this is a different deck of cards that we’re dealing with. The kids were picked up from school mid-march and haven’t seen their friends in person since. They’re dealing with a lot; adults are dealing with a lot. Based on the OP’s comments in this section – the heart of the issue doesn’t actually seem to be the kids – it’s that the OP is feeling overloaded and burnt out and his manager isn’t giving him the attention/prioritization that is needed AND the kids are interrupting meetings.

      1. That's a tough one.*

        I appreciate this intelligent and kind explanation of why good, consistent parenting with reasonable expectations and calm instructions doesn’t necessarily keep all children quiet and “controlled” in regular times, let alone times with the additional burden of screen fatigue, cabin fever, and high stress for them and all the family members. Thank you.

  50. Lp*

    I second the headset advice. Even my son’s school requires headsets because the sound quality is significantly better. The over the ear gaming headsets are really the best.
    I worked from home when my son was tiny too. Don’t recommend past the newborn stage, although I limped through until preschool. I distinctly remember saying in an online meeting, “Just let me get Blue’s Clues going, and then you’ll have all my attention.” Desperate times call for desperate measures.

  51. asdf ghjkl*

    Perhaps this not-perfect solution would be good enough to greatly improve the situations of many parents, kids, employers, and co-workers:
    Gainfully employed parents A, B, C, and D are each the only adult in their household who can do much child care right now. Never mind why.
    A, B, C, and D all live close enough together that any one of them can get to or from any of the others, with kids in tow, in 10 minutes or less. A, B, C, and D agree to the following schedule for Monday-Friday:
    5:30 AM: B, C, & D, with their kids and with food, toys, school stuff, and entertainment stuff for the kids leave home.
    5:40 -5:45 AM: B, C, D, kids, and stuff arrive at A’s home. A will look after ABCD’s kids till 8:45, at which point A will take kids and stuff to B’s home.
    6 AM BCD are back home, seated at computers, beginning their paid workday, in a quiet, childfree environment, knowing exactly where their kids are and with whom.
    8:45 AM A takes ABCD’s kids and stuff to B’s home. A then returns to A’s home. B will look after ABCD’s kids till 11:45, at which point B will take kids and stuff to C’s home.
    9:15 AM A sits down at A’s computer, beginning A’s paid workday, in a quiet, childfree environment, knowing exactly where A’s kids are and with whom. A’s employer and co-workers know they can count on A from 9:15 AM to 5:45 PM.
    11:45 AM B takes kids and stuff to C’s home. B then returns to B’s home. B works for B’s employer from 6 AM to 8:45 AM, and then from 12:15 PM to 5:45 PM. C will look after ABCD’s kids till 2:45, at which point C will take kids and stuff to D’s home.
    2:45 PM C takes kids and stuff to D’s home. C then returns to C’s home. C works for C’s employer from 6 AM to 11:45 AM, and then from 3:15 PM to 5:45 PM. D will look after ABCD’s kids till 5:45 PM.
    5:45 PM ABC will shut down their work computers and go pick up their kids from D’s home. Since D started D’s paid workday at 6 AM, logging off from work at 2:45 PM was not a problem.
    ABCD would have to do nothing but child care when children were with them. ABCD would have to accept that nobody else is going to treat your child or deal with COVID exactly the way you would. ABCD would not have to pay any money for child care. ABCD would get to keep their jobs and actually do their jobs. ABCD’s employers and co-workers would get employees and co-workers who took a predictable several-hour break each day, but who were fully and reliably present (not doing childcare) when they were logged into their paying job.

    1. Amtelope*

      It’s not like people don’t know that co-op day care is a thing? But it requires finding people who want to participate who you trust with your kids, and trust to limit contacts with other people — a quarantine bubble of four families is already a fairly big bubble, and then if even one of those families is seeing a few other people … it escalates quickly.

    2. Tableau Wizard*

      I would be honestly shocked if this scenario would work for more than a dozen groups across the world.
      It’s been the challenge of my time as a mother to find other working moms, let alone ones who are geographically close to me, have similar enough values that i’d be willing to share childcare with them (especially during pandemic), have kids in the right age group AND have flexible enough employment for this scenario.

      While it sounds ideal, and maybe it has worked like this for some people, it’s unlikely to be a workable option for most people.

  52. Storie*

    I’d just leave it alone and ride it out.

    I might be in the minority, but I think there’s very little she can do differently with kids those ages. She probably already tried everything. Even if she hasn’t, not sure if you commenting on the obvious, as tactful as Allison’s script is, is going to go over well.

    IF ANYTHING—I might make a very light pointed joke about it, maybe when you have to repeat yourself. Like oh yeah—you probably couldn’t hear me over the little voices happening, haha. Maybe she will get the picture.

    But seriously all parents are just trying to do the best they can and I promise you they do not think it’s cute to have their kids Interrupting the zooms.

  53. Laura H.*

    I’m 30 and live with my mom who WFH and this is a big concern on my end- I don’t want to embarrass her on a call accidentally. Difference? I’m 30, understand established and clear “she’s working” signals, and do occupy myself decently. I also cannot physically get into her office which helps my anxiety on this well enough. (walker is too wide for the doorway- that’s fine it isn’t my space. I’m addition there’s a gate to navigate.)

    The boss’ kiddos likely don’t have that capacity to self-occupy yet. Plus under 5 probably means that she has to be in “parent mode” a lot to help keep the kiddos safe. Barriers don’t do any good if they’re not understood, and as she may not have a designated home workspace- a barrier may not be practical. There’s no win win solution. Rooting for you to diplomatically address this OP! :)

  54. Pumpkin215*

    LW, I completely understand as I have to deal with this at work all the time from my own boss. There are plenty of people that have kids at home during this time that are managing the very best that they can. I do believe that. And then…there are people like your boss and mine that seem to have no control whatsoever.

    Yes I’m being critical because it has become so obvious as to whom can navigate both worlds and whom can’t. I don’t mind the occasional interruption as I have those interruptions myself- from animals. What I’m facing constantly is screaming matches, loud video games, things crashing/breaking and ear piercing shrieks. I’m asked to take notes on calls we both attend because she can’t hear the meeting over her spawn. I’ve had to end calls with her more than once because I can’t deal with the shattering screams in my headphones. Her response: “Sorry, [husband] is not home right now”. But YOU ARE HOME. Why are you not handling this? I don’t expect complete silence day in and day out but I don’t believe for one second that every parent has a tornado come through their living room every day.

    If she were my employee vs my boss, I would have a talk with her about it. It doesn’t look good when you come across as such an absentee parent. People are going to judge you on that. This is a problem that is continually ignored and people are talking about it behind her back. It is also easy for me to say “back in my day…” but seriously, my mom would have throttled me if I was anywhere near that out of hand. I would have acted that way once and not gotten away with it.

    The best I can do at this point is say “Let’s talk another time”, but it does happen over and over. Thank you for letting me piggyback off your problem with my own rant.

  55. Jenny*

    I think the manager needs to find a childcare solution. I have kids at home and it is hard enough with older ones. It must be completely impossible to juggle work and 3 littles. She needs to look at childcare apps or look for teens who could be a mother’s helper. She is not doing either job well and I am sure she is frazzled, but it is completely unfair to her employees.

  56. DirectorOfSomething*

    Depending on your relationship with her and standing on the team, you might be able to say something like, “I can only imagine how hard it is to parent and work from home during the pandemic! I know it’s especially hard during team meetings. I’m wondering if there’s some way I might be able to help. I would be happy to facilitate the meetings so you can just be on mute and available to your kids as needed. Or be the official timekeeper/scribe to keep us on track. It’s also possible the team would be fine with an online chat rather than face to face which could make your life easier” or something like that.

    If that’s not realistic, I’m wondering if you might need to change your expectations for the meetings. In my office pre-pandemic, meetings were generally very productive. Now, I seem to have a lot of Zoom meetings that are really just social time for people to chit chat and share what’s happening in their lives. It used to be extremely annoying when I was actually trying to get something accomplished…but now I just grab a cup of coffee and think of it as social hour and time well spent to reduce everyone’s sense of isolation.

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