update: working from home with a four-year-old

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.

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

Remember the letter-writer who was working from home with her partner’s four-year-old? Here’s the update.

My partner and I had plans to move to a different town together because of a very insanely beneficial housing situation. I would move first to start my new job, on a Monday. The Friday before my start date, the job was yanked out from under me, and that made me reconsider my entire life.

I broke up with my boyfriend because things weren’t working out with him for several reasons. He was a really great boyfriend to me and full-time father to his daughter, and he treated both of us really, really well. We were our own little family and loved each other, but he could not get his life together because his mental health was so incredibly bad. He took care of things as they came up in the day-to-day, but bigger picture things like finding a career path, maybe going back to school (he only has a few semesters of undergrad), things of that nature, were too overwhelming for him. I know this is because he’s basically had adverse experiences for his entire life, and I think he did his best, but it became too exhausting to try to keep up with all of my big picture stuff AND all of his big picture stuff. He was very proactive about all his daughter’s big picture stuff. She never missed a medical appointment, and he would have had her in daycare if free childcare hadn’t had a year-long wait-list in the area we were at.

So I let him and his daughter keep the amazing housing opportunity (a mutual friend of ours had offered that we stay for extremely low rent, in a nice rental house he owns in a nice neighborhood with lots of kids and a playground), and I started leasing a room from my close friends who own their home. I decided to get out of the career path that I had been on, because it just wasn’t working for me. I now do something completely unrelated, and I’m a lot happier in this field, as it aligns more with what my brain can/wants to do and has far more opportunities for career growth, especially considering that I’m at the management level for a start up. My ex and I remain on good terms, but no longer speak regularly.

As for the advice offered, I can’t honestly say it was helpful, because the problem wasn’t just that the four year old kept bursting into the room. It was also that I didn’t want to do the extra work, especially after coming home from working all day. My particular job involved driving around for hours each day, and I don’t like driving, so when I would get home the last thing I wanted to do was open my laptop and do…. more work (the WFH aspect of that job came in the form of report-writing, which is also hell for an ADHD-er). This was compounded by the fact that my boss was Not Nice about me missing deadlines for said reports, and my office space in that apartment being cramped and dimly lit. So add in a kiddo bursting in constantly, and I didn’t even want to fight the distraction. Nor did I want to go to the library to do the work. Nor did I want to do it after she went to bed. And it’s like, I so much did not want to write those reports that they felt pretty impossible in a way I can’t explain. Maybe it was a discipline issue, maybe it was burnout, but I’ll just call it “that job sucked anyway and my home environment made it even worse.” Maybe I should have included all of those details in the original letter, but I wanted to be brief.

One thing that I didn’t appreciate were people in the comment section bagging on my partner and jumping to the conclusion that he was dumping his daughter on me while he just did whatever. That was definitely not the case. My ex was and is an amazing father, especially given the circumstances (he has been through more than most, and the mother is no help at all), and the reason she would do those things is because he was engaging her! It would have been easy to just stick her in front of a TV–she would have been entertained for hours like that–but we agreed that TV should really not be something she watches for hours at a time. So while they ran around playing Bad Guys or Unicorn Veterinarian or whatever else, she would burst into the office area wanting me to join in. And taking her out of the house only works if you have money for somewhere indoors (we didn’t, and you can only go to the library so many times) or if the weather permits, and we had a miserably, at times dangerously hot summer this year.

Long story short, I broke up with my boyfriend, moved to a new city with a new job and new career path, so the problem has been resolved. And, my ex wasn’t a shitty partner or father to me and his daughter as some commenters assumed. I don’t really blame anyone for the circumstances that prompted me to write the letter, they were just bad circumstances because of trauma histories, neurotypes, energy levels, and mental illnesses that didn’t mix, all living under one roof.