Care and Feeding

My 2-Year-Old Co-Worker Is Keeping Me From Working at Home

It’s really hard to get my job done with a toddler in the next room!

Exasperated woman working at desk, giant crying two year old.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Thinkstock.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Email or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

How do you manage working at home when your toddler knows you’re in the house?! We have a nanny so my 2-year-old is routinely at home. I work from home three days a week. On the two days that I’m in the office, she is fine with the nanny all day. On the days I’m home and in a different room, she’s a complete wreck. Having to leave the house to work in a different location seems to defeat the perk of working from home. Any suggestions?

—Hiding Mommy

Dear HM,

I don’t think you should be going the nanny route at all, actually. For some years, I was in your nanny’s position, taking care of two toddlers while their mother worked in the home office. Even as the actual dad it was a constant struggle. I imagine that for a nanny it’s even worse. What you have now is simply not workable.

I suppose you could ask your nanny to take your toddler out of the home more frequently and for greater stretches, but even the most intrepid and inventive sitter can only wander the city for so long. The reality is that the only way work-from-home works is if one of you is out of the house. And if it’s not going to be you, it’s going to have to be your kid.

So it makes me wonder why you have ruled out day care for these work-from-home days. It would allow your kid some much-needed social time, and you some much-needed solitude.
It’s a transition that takes some time, sure, but it’s an inevitable one anyway. Ultimately it sounds like an all-around win for everyone (except your nanny, who I’m sure will recover). I would give it serious thought. Otherwise you’ll just keep finding that working from home is traumatic, tedious, and incredibly stressful, and who needs more of that? You might as well just suffer in the office.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

Last year a good friend of my boyfriend passed away after a long struggle with cancer. He leaves behind a wife and two kids, ages 6 and 3. I’ve been friends with this couple for three years, and my boyfriend has for longer. We’re pretty constant fixtures in the kids’ lives.

The 6-year-old daughter is dealing with ongoing grief, which is understandable. A little while back, she hit her first Father’s Day without him, and her class was making some kind of art project for dads. The teacher did not have a good plan in place for her. She was told to make one for her grandfather, but neither grandfather is in her life either. The experience left her very upset. So much so that day or two later when we stopped by for a visit she was up in her room crying about it. She eventually came down and played with us, and her dad came up naturally in conversation, and she seemed happy to talk about him. We try to let her lead these things, not impose talk of her dad on her when she may not be up for it, but also not making her feel like she can’t talk about him if she wants/needs to. What are some ways of helping a kid deal with such an intimate grieving situation?

—Grief Is Hard

Dear GIF,

Yes. Grief is hard. It appears that you are committed to being an important, consistent part of these children’s bereavement and that’s great. I can only imagine how difficult this is for the remaining parent, to suddenly become a single mother to two elementary-age kids while also mourning the loss of her partner. She has a great deal on her emotional and logistical plate these days and would love to have other adults flat-out take on some portions of this outsize responsibility. If you are doing this, then really do it for the long term, because grief takes time.

It sounds to me as though your instincts are right. Let the child lead conversation around this issue. Let her talk about her father however she would like, whenever she would like. Your job is to be available and to make sure she knows that however her grieving manifests, it is the right way. Your job is to make sure she knows that she is loved and accepted and that there is nothing wrong with her. Your job is to give her your time, to whatever extent you are able, so that she can slowly explore and uncover the myriad and ever-changing feelings, thoughts, and behaviors of grief. She may be angry, she may be reticent, she may be sad, she may be weird.
She will likely be all these things at one moment or another. But the one thing I can guarantee is that she will be looking for signs that she is still loved, and still safe. You can help this by allowing her to share her feelings without rush, control, or judgement.

You can also help with some concrete tasks, like sharing specific memories of their father, making photo albums and memory boxes, or writing down stories about moments they shared. Avoid “elephant in the room” syndrome, in which you fear her father is so painful a subject that you never talk about him at all. So far what you’ve described of the daughter’s behavior sounds like a perfectly normal response. But if you notice either of the children withdrawing socially, experiencing sudden sleeping and eating problems, or becoming aggressive towards others or toward themselves, then it is time to talk to the mother about including professional help.

Losing a parent is difficult. There is no getting over it. There never will be. The more you accept that, the better it is for everyone. But they are incredibly lucky to have their mother and you and your partner. Let them avail themselves of your love as much as they can.

Extra Care and Feeding

“To me, our son is a typical 4-year-old, and I try to empathize with what’s going on in his unruly and undeveloped brain as he explores and makes sense of the world. I offer choices, give him power and agency when appropriate, look for teachable moments, and show flexibility when circumstances call for it. … My husband sees this as inconsistency, lack of respect, and letting our child run roughshod over us. He believes his word is law, and children should obey their parents in matters as small as what to eat for breakfast or what shoes to wear.”

Slate Plus members get more Care and Feeding from Carvell Wallace every week.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a question about how, or if, family members can intervene on a child’s behalf when parents will not. My sister recently married a guy with a 4-year-old son from a previous relationship. During the two years we’ve gotten to know the little boy, “Landon,” he’s become part of our family. We all love him terribly. The trouble is, he lives on the opposite coast from our family (including his dad and my sister) and doesn’t have regular visits ​scheduled because his dad is not on the birth certificate. My brother-in-law and sister want to get partial custody of Landon, but my brother-in-law hasn’t taken the steps to do it. They say it’s because they can’t afford a lawyer, and they don’t want to pay Landon’s mom child support because she will just use it on herself.

While there may be some truth in that, I am worried about Landon’s well-being. Landon’s mother is homeless and living on a friend’s couch. She also recently lost her job. Additionally, he has arrived at his last two annual visits quite skinny and wants to eat constantly, which makes me worry he doesn’t have enough food at home. He also starts acting out when it’s time for him to return to his mom. I’ve also been told the guy Landon’s mom was (is?) seeing is physically abusive to her.

Is there anything I or my parents can do here? I know the obvious answer is to encourage his dad to take action, but that has been fruitless. Calling social services in Landon’s home state would likely result in putting him in an even worse situation, so I don’t see that as an option. I don’t know what to do, and I’m so worried about this little boy I love.

—Auntie in Distress

Dear AiD,

I wish I could tell you there was a lot you could do here, but there isn’t. I will, however, point out some things that strike me as odd about your description of Landon’s father. If my child were hungry, intermittently homeless, and possibly witnessing intimate partner violence, it’s hard for me to imagine what would keep me from seeking custody literally right now, but I don’t think it would be legal fees. I would be on the phone with every pro bono, legal aid, social services nonprofit possible to get the ball rolling; I’d be emailing anyone I’ve ever met who ever had a roommate who took half a semester of law school; I’d be setting up crowdfunding. Between this, living across country from his kid, and the line about not wanting to pay child support because she’ll use it for herself (how do you not pay child support while your child is visibly starving?), this guy doesn’t sound as earnest about caring for his child as you might wish he was.

So, on the one hand you have a mother who is not operating at a high level; on the other, a father who seems fairly content to wring his hands without actually putting them into action. I really don’t think there’s much that you, the sister of the father’s new wife, can do from across the country…

Unless you petition to have Landon come stay with you. I don’t know how far-fetched that is given your life and the wishes of his parents, but it sounds like the only serious option. If mom were amenable, it might be much, much better than what he’s facing now. Were I in your shoes, I would look further into social services in his county, because they tend to want good placements for kids and will advocate and support a situation in which a child can have such a placement. They do not want more kids living in group homes or shelters. Sit with the idea of Landon staying with you for a while. And if it seems doable, run it by his father. Perhaps that will spur him into action. Or perhaps it will release him from the charade of pretending like he’s actually going to do something about it. I don’t know.

At the very least, stay in Landon’s life however you can, through letters, calls, cards, emails, gifts, and visits whenever you are able. I have a feeling he needs as much of you as he can get.