updates: the no-tattoos policy, the working mom with little kids, and more

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

There will be more posts than usual this week, so keep checking back throughout the day.

1. It feels impossible to be a working mom with little kids

Oh man what a time that was in my life. I wish I could say the quarantines ended and I bounced back at work but unfortunately I’m one of the many many women who had to tap out.

My life was in shambles at the time I wrote the letter and there was no time for fun or joy and I felt like my kids were getting the absolute worst of me. I hated everyday.

My intention was to stick it out at work and I believe things would have gotten easier considering daycares don’t close for so long now, however I was just done. I never envisioned myself being a stay at home mom but it’s going well and I don’t see a situation where I’d go back to the work force in the traditional sense anytime soon. My oldest was diagnosed with a rare disease in July and that surely would have been the nail in the coffin of my career anyway. The comments were so cathartic and hard to read. I really hope that childcare in the US gets the attention it deserves soon because it’s a shit show. My husband took on more at work to make this happen and things are tight budget wise but also we cut out about $1700 a month in child care tuition. I do truly miss my working life pre-pandemic. The hard part for me is feeling like I didn’t have the choice.

Does it suck being a “statistic”? Yes. Are we all a lot happier now? Yes.

2. My new job didn’t tell me their no-visible-tattoos policy until after I was hired

When I wrote to you, the situation was already a few months in the past so I didn’t really have the opportunity to use any of the advice I was given for that particular scenario. Ultimately I decided very quickly that this environment was not going to be the place for me- the tattoo and piercing fiasco was maybe the biggest issue, but I had a few other concerns about COVID safety and communication with administration. I actually sent a resignation immediately after my first day. (I’m aware that this is definitely not the best practice, and under most circumstances I would like to try and stick it out for a bit and at least give some proper notice. I did, however, make this decision with the knowledge that my first two weeks would have been training and I would not have been needed to meet classroom ratio requirements during that time).

Luckily this turned out to be a great decision. I was able to fill in my employment gap by taking up some short term nanny work and babysitting, and this gave me the opportunity to put in an application to and interview at the amazing school I’m working at now. I did take your advice and asked the director during my second interview if my tattoos or piercings would need to be covered or be an issue in any way. She said not at all, and actually responded with a very brief soap box moment about how no one should have to worry about things like that when applying for jobs. This was a major green flag for me, indicating that this might be a great place for me to work- and it was right!

3. Should I stop saving time slots for clients who regularly cancel? (#3 at the link)

Your advice really helped! I decided to make a firm cancellation/reschedule policy that my clients agree to before I cook for them. With the policy in place, I almost never have cancellations. And if they cancel without proper notice, I charge a cancellation fee (so long as it isn’t an illness or family emergency).

Business is also better. So if I have a client who cancels a lot, I don’t feel bad about dropping them and finding someone else who will respect my time.

It’s not a perfect system, but it’s working so much better than before. It feels great to respect the value of my own time, and to require others to do the same.

4. My old company won’t return my belongings (#4 at the link)

Part of my concern was that I’m a notary and my notary materials were among the belongings my old job had failed to return to me. Notaries are required by law to keep their materials in their possession. I contacted the Secretary of State in my former state, since it’s the governing body for notaries and their website instructs notaries to contact them if an employer refuses to return a notary book, but nothing came of it.

I finally found out what happened to my stuff and it’s theoretically on its way to me, not because the company did anything but because my former co-workers are super thoughtful people. Apparently part of the issue was that the company had packed everyone’s stuff up and put it in storage because they were renovating that section of the office and no one knew where my stuff was amongst all the boxes. When renovations were done and they returned all the boxes, one of my former teammates recognized my things and reached out. She ended up circumventing all the bureaucracy I had been trying to navigate by shipping it all to another friend/former colleague at the local office here.

I still haven’t gotten my things, but I’m not surprised given how long international shipping takes. Both of the people helping me finally get everything back have gone above and beyond to make sure everything I want/need is returned and I’m so appreciative of them.

To me this just further underscores how important it is to build positive relationships with your colleagues, because the individuals you work with will always care more about you than the company itself does.

5. I’m the head of the office. Can I skip the holiday party?

I wrote in November or December 2019, asking whether, as the director of my organization’s local office, I really had to attend a Friday evening holiday party that I hadn’t planned. You published the letter in Slate, saying “yes, you really should attend the party” – which of course I already knew, despite my hope that you’d give me permission to skip it.

What happened the week of the party: on Wednesday, I found out that I’d been accepted to a full-time training program in a related technical field, starting the following July. On Thursday, I gave 4 months’ notice (long but not atypical in my field). On Friday, I attended the first 90 minutes of the party. My grand boss ran over to congratulate me in the middle of the event, which I think led a bunch of people to spend the weekend thinking I was pregnant. On Monday, the C suite announced my departure and we started looking for my successor.

After a challenging search, the new site director started in early March 2020. A week or two later, I agreed to stay on through the end of April to manage our health care organization’s transition to pandemic operations and help my successor get her feet under her. Presumably gestures like attending the holiday party helped give me the credibility to lead rapid reorganization and convince people to adopt new remote workflows and keep showing up to in-person work during those scary early weeks of Covid.

{ 27 comments… read them below }

  1. Sara without an H*

    Jedi hugs to OP#1! I agree, childcare in this country is a disgrace. Best of luck to you, and best wishes for a new career start when your kids are older.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Crummy childcare in this country is why spouse and I work opposite shifts. It’s really not awesome for future generations to have to watch their parents struggle to make it work.

      1. LBam*

        The cost of being a parent is THE reason my husband and I will be childless to the day we die. It’s a shame that money is such a limiting factor, but it is.

    2. KP*

      I just left my job in childcare. I have a bachelors degree with over a decade of experience. I’m required to have multiple hours of continuing education classes every year. I dealt with licensing, Youngstar, parents, and worked the entire shutdown during Covid. I made less than $15 an hour with zero health benefits. And people wonder why it is such a disgrace. 100,000 childcare workers left the field in the past 2 years. It’s only getting worse.

      1. Double A*

        I am so thankful for our childcare providers every day and I know just how little they make. And we literally can’t afford to pay them more. Childcare is one of those things that society can’t leave to the market.

        Thanks for the work you’ve done. I can’t blame you for leaving.

        1. SpaceySteph*

          Yup, this. My kids’ daycare teachers are worth every penny and then some. It is an extremely hard and extremely important job and deserves to be paid better than it is. But I also cannot afford to pay them more. It’s already the single biggest expense for our family, the only thing which even comes close is our mortgage, but it outstrips that by several hundred dollars. The equation just does not balance in the free market.

        2. KP*

          I agree that something has to be done. It won’t change unless the government steps in. The school district is scooping up the workers that leave. The pay is much higher as an aide in the district, plus benefits and the hours are shorter. Most worked 10 hour days at the childcare center. The 2 centers in our area are on the verge of closing because they can’t find enough help with the lack of appropriate pay, benefits and long hours. My low wages basically supplemented what the parents paid because we charged less than most centers. Unfortunately in the new year they will be forced to raise rates or shut the doors. We tried to do a couple of fundraisers with the parents helping so that the rates wouldn’t have to go up but the majority of them complained about helping, so the result is that they will just pay an additional $150-200 a month. I was just burnt out with all of it.

          1. Claire*

            And the schools have plenty of openings because teachers are leaving the field in droves. We just don’t care very much about children in America, or at least we don’t have policies that make it look like we do.

      2. Kate 2*

        I think we have to look to France for our model. The government should fund childcare, it’s in all our best interests that everyone who wants to work can work: brightest minds, fuel the economy, compete with other countries, etc all the things people say.

    3. Cera*

      My area has had multiple daycares who have decided to operate on a 4 day week schedule, M-Th, for the foreseeable future. I just keep holding my breath knowing that my youngest is old enough for preschool next year….because I know I cannot go back to COVID situations and doing double duty.

  2. Sara without an H*

    OP#2, I think your decision to resign at once showed good professional judgement. You didn’t force them to invest more time in training you and, by resigning promptly, you gave them a chance to circle back to any other candidates they might have been considering when you interviewed. Leave the job off your resume and don’t worry about it.

    Your new employer sounds like a much better fit. Congratulations!

    1. Michelle Smith*

      I agree, quitting immediately isn’t the bad practice a lot of people think it is. In situations like this where you know it’s aggressively not a good fit, it’s just a waste of everyone’s time. I’m so glad OP landed some place much more fitting!!

    2. Mark*

      Agree 100%. We, too, have a no visible tattoo policy and don’t allow visible piercings anywhere but in ears, but we bring it up in first interviews regardless of whether we see one on the candidate. For some people, such as yourself, it’s a deal-killer, so it saves time for the company and the applicant to know about this right away. I actually don’t mind if someone quits on the first day. If the new employee immediately feels that it is not a right fit, it makes no sense to continue on and quit later, and now I (as the employer) have wasted training time. You showed good judgement in doing this so quickly.

  3. Hlao-roo*

    OP3, I’m glad you were able to make changes in your booking/slot-holding system that work so much better for you!

  4. Not the virgin Mary*

    I’m gay but like not super out. Anyway, I too was once congratulated publically (for an industry award), and then came into the office to find they all thought I was pregnant. Ooops.

  5. LoV*

    OP4 “the individuals you work with will always care more about you than the company itself does”

    This seems important to keep in the back of your mind in the work world.

    1. WellRed*

      Yes this and no. 5 sucking it up and attending the party show how the social fabric of work works. (Yes , sometimes you simply can’t. That’s fine).

    2. The Prettiest Curse*

      When my husband was laid off at the start of the pandemic, he wanted to go into the office to put the files he was working with in order (he was a file manager for a law firm) and to pick up personal items. He was on good terms with the office manager and she made sure that he could get access to the office (with security on hand), even though regional management kept trying to tell him it wasn’t allowed. He was very grateful to be able to do that, and it wouldn’t have happened at all without their personal relationship.

      Relationship-building at work can often feel incredibly tedious, but when you need to call on those relationships, it can be vital.

  6. mcm*

    I wonder if OP#2 gave the hiring manager any feedback on their way out the door — it was pretty bonkers of them not to let you know beforehand and I hope that they know that they’re losing out on great candidates by being inflexible and not informing people of this policy in advance.

  7. LifeBeforeCorona*

    OP1. I remember your original post and was impressed that you were able to keep things together for as long as you did considering how much was completely out of your control. You aren’t a statistic, you are a real example of persevering through the worst times many of us have ever experienced. Good wishes going forward for you and your family.

  8. Ellen Ripley*

    To OP#1, I hope you don’t really feel like you “tapped out” or let yourself down, because you were in a tough situation and had to make the best of it. I’m sorry things didn’t turn out how you envisioned them, and it’s okay to mourne the loss of your plan.

    The feeling of loss of choice is not something to ignore either. If your husband has an EAP it might be worth using it to talk to a therapist to help work through those feelings.

    At the same time, I hope that you find some joy in your current situation, even if things didn’t go according to plan.

  9. Dawn*

    LW1, just remember that most, if not all, of this is on your (former) employer.

    If they liked you and the work you did so much, they should have made infinitely more effort to support you and equip you to continue your work with them, rather than actively make it worse, which is what they did.

    You’re not alone in that, but this is one of the places that “nobody wants to work anymore” thing comes from – the world has changed and many employers have made no effort or negative effort to hold onto their good, experienced employees and now they’re facing the consequences.

  10. MamaSarah*

    LW 1 – I became a SAHM when I got laid off in 2009. I had a 4 month old baby, it was summer, and the daycare calculus was not in my favor. The next five years were some of the best, most days of my life. It wasn’t really a choice but it the end, it all worked out. Hugs! Enjoy this time.

  11. GythaOgden*

    #5 — yeah, well done for going. In many cases I opt out, but as someone trying to network for a new job, or just trying to get out more in general (all four weekends in December are spoken for, but I’ve been able to set clear boundaries with my over-energetic mother as well. One of those weekends was my own trip out to enjoy a London landmark’s historical Christmas festivities). I’m also going along to things that I wouldn’t normally bother with. It’s part of me getting out of the rut of the past few years and just engaging a bit more with things again after the death of my husband and the pandemic.

    Sometimes the thought of going is worse than the reality, and with mine often being courses for work or needing a lift to and from the venue, I can’t always simply slink off whenever I feel like it. Once I’m there, however, I do find that I get more out of it than I realised I would, and when I get home I’m free to do whatever I like.

  12. Another glorious Morning*

    #1- I fully sympathize with you. The only way we survived the early days of the pandemic was my in laws. Both my husband and I didn’t have jobs at the time that would have allowed us to care for our kids and work. I worked in an essential field that required onsite work. We had to make the choice to take our kids to the in-laws for care.

    We literally went nowhere and neither did our parents, so this was the best choice for us at the time.

  13. I'm just here for the cats!*

    I always wondered what the school would have done if the person’s tattoos were of a cultural and/or religious nature, such as the Australian journalist who got a moko kauae traditional face tattoo. Or other tribes that often have arm tattoos.

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