Real responses to real-life questionsNonprofit experts Gary G. Godsey, executive director of the Association of Texas Professional Educators, and Kathryn Engelhardt-Cronk, MissionBox co-founder and CEO, have teamed up to create MissionBox DoubleTake — a column that offers opinions about the peskier aspects of working in the nonprofit sector. The opinions offered here are based on the authors' personal nonprofit experience and may not reflect the opinions of MissionBox, Inc. These opinions should not be considered legal advice or used as a substitute for professional legal consultation. MissionBox readers are invited to submit alternative responses, which may be published here as well.
Is it OK if I bring my children to work with me when I am unable to arrange for childcare?
I work at a nonprofit that provides after school mentoring and homework help to teens.
Occasionally, I have to bring my two boys to the office if my mother — who is my primary babysitter — is ill or unavailable. My salary is on the low side and I cannot afford to use emergency daycare. My sons are friendly and fairly quiet, but I get the feeling that this situation sometimes irritates a few of my co-workers.
I checked our employee manual and it says nothing about bringing children to work. I don’t want to break the rules or bother my co-workers, but I don’t have a choice.
Any thoughts on this practice?
Gary says ...
Typically, I don’t think bringing the children to the workplace is such a good idea. Children can oftentimes provide distractions in the workplace that disrupt or even stop the flow of business. While I certainly understand that things can happen, which may require you to briefly have your children at the office, by no means should this be a normal operating practice.
I would urge you to find a backup plan that doesn’t involve having your children in the workplace. Not only is that the professional thing to do, it also respects others who occupy your workplace and allows them to get their work done without unwarranted disturbances or interruptions. What if everyone decided to just show up with their kids? Could you imagine what kind of situation this might cause?
If you still believe this is a good idea and want to pursue it, I would strongly suggest you work directly with your executive director on developing a plan. Perhaps he or she would be more understanding than I would.
Kathryn says ...
There are several issues you touch on in this letter.
The first and most obvious is the child care part of your question. I do think it is OK to bring your child or children to work occasionally in an emergency. But the truth is that offices are not safe places for children — especially toddlers and smaller children. There are no office work spaces, supply rooms or kitchens designed to be child-proof. Think scissors, tangled power strips and computer cords, staplers, piles of books, et cetera.
And while your co-workers may not mind the occasional family visits, it's not easy to get work done when children are running around. Even if you try to keep them confined in your office, they are likely to be a distraction.
You brought up a second issue in your letter that also caught my attention: a salary so low that you cannot afford any option but free daycare. I’m also wondering if you have benefits such as vacation or sick leave you can take when you have no childcare coverage. As dedicated as you are to the teens who receive your services, a living wage with benefits may be a necessity.
Unfortunately, while the gap is narrowing, there are still wage and benefit disparities when comparing nonprofit to for-profit organizations. This disparity also has a gender component with (surprise!) women sometimes receiving up to 25 percent less than their male counterparts, particularly in leadership positions. The numbers are beginning to improve, but nonprofits have a long way to go to get this issue right.
I don’t know your role or even if you are full or part time, but I’d at least consider the possibility of requesting a small raise that would allow you to set aside some funds for an occasional emergency babysitter. Meanwhile, try to host weekend playdates for your children with relatives, friends or neighbors. They might be willing to return the favor during a weekday afternoon to help in these emergency situations.
One final thing: don’t think I don’t know that my suggestions are somewhat "standard" answers to what is a very complicated work/life challenge. My own children watched movies in my office more times than I care to think about when I ran nonprofits. I wish you the best and congratulate you on being a good mom and a good employee.