my mom is embarrassing me with my boss

A reader writes:

My mother and my boss are casual email acquaintances. They’ve also met in person, and my boss has given her some contract work over the last few months I’ve been here. So they have a relationship that is not-friendly but not quite professional either. I don’t mind that he gives her work, because she’s job-seeking and could use the cash, and he’s a laid-back guy who is willing to help my family any way he can. That’s not my issue at all.

My birthday was on Saturday of last week (the 29th). Today, I went into my mother’s email at her request to find something for her while she was away from home. I got what she needed, and then happened to notice a gmail snippet between her and my boss (you can see the beginnings of conversations in gmail without opening the actual email) in which she actually REMINDED HIM that my birthday was on Saturday. I must confess, I opened the email at that point, because it concerned me. 

His reply was short but cordial (“I know, I’m taking her to lunch next week.”), and he hasn’t mentioned anything to me, but GOOD LORD. I am really embarassed, because I feel like this made me look entirely unprofessional and I think my mother overstepped her boundaries here. I asked her to PLEASE not do that again (and yes, I told her I read the email and she wasn’t upset about that), but I’m wondering, should I apologize to my boss for my mother putting him in what seemed to be a “aren’t you going to remember my baby’s special day” position?

Please advise – I am TRULY embarassed over this one!

Don’t freak out too much. As long as you’re you’re professional and mature, your boss is going to be smart enough to separate you from your mom. But if it will give you peace of mind, you can tell him you were mortified when you found out about this; he’ll tell you not to worry, and then if your mom does do anything like this again, he’ll have it in his head that you are Not On Board With It.

But you also need to sit down with your mother and have a serious talk about professional boundaries. Ask her to handle her relationship with her boss as if he doesn’t know you. No references to you, zero. (This is actually slightly overkill, but since she’s already overstepped the boundaries once — that you know of — it’s not unreasonable.)

Now, this would work on some mothers and wouldn’t work at all on others. If your mother doesn’t take you seriously, I’m not sure what else you can do, short of threatening to call her boss at her next job and ask him/her to remind your mom to take her calcium supplements or something.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 11 comments… read them below }

  1. Karyn*

    Thank you for responding to my plight! I have talked to my mother and, while she doesn't believe she did anything inappropriate, she has agreed NOT to do anything like this again.

    My boss, I haven't decided whether or not to talk to. He hasn't brought it up and he hasn't acted weird about anything, but at least I know how to handle it if he does. Thankfully he's a pretty cool guy, so I don't think he really believes I was On Board With This, but you never know.

    Thanks again!

  2. ImpassionedPlatypi*

    "If your mother doesn't take you seriously, I'm not sure what else you can do, short of threatening to call her boss at her next job and ask him/her to remind your mom to take her calcium supplements or something."


  3. HR Key Functions*

    The advice you have given is appropriate.
    At that time Karyn does not need to talk to her boss. As I see the guy has a good professional behavior and a talk on this subject could raise additional unprofessional reactions.

  4. Anonymous*

    Glad things seem to be working out for the OP.

    In my first job in college as an office assistant, my mom started calling the head of the department. I apologized to the dept. head for my mother's misunderstanding. Ever since then, she knows as little as possible about where I work (though she can google) and have told her I'll get fired if I take personal calls at work.

  5. Caitlin*

    I work with my mom in a small office and things have been fine, and she's professional. As Alison suggested, we refer to each other as we would other coworkers – I call her by her first name, and she calls me by mine. Obviously there's an occasional slip-up where she'll start telling a story about "my daughter," but for the most part it's been fine.
    I think the asker could help reinforce the "not on board" thing by referring to her mother by her first name etc. around her boss. Make it clear she sees the boundaries even if her mom sometimes wanders across them.

  6. Mike*

    So can we give those young folks a break when their helicopter parents decide to interfere? Or is the SOP still to throw out any and all resumes and applications for folks who have had family members call on their behalf?

  7. Jason*

    Depending on the wording of the reminder ("By the way, Sara's birthday is next Saturday." vs. "don't forget my snoogie-woogum's birthday!") and the relationship between mother and boss (not quite friendly, not quite professional means what exactly?), this may be a non-issue. If another co-worker or supervisor had reminded him using the former wording, would that be inappropriate? I suspect not.

    Unless you got special treatment due to this reminder or were referred to in an inappropriate manner, I wouldn't worry about it. In fact, if your boss really is the laid back type, making a big deal over this is likely to backfire as you'll look high strung as he'll wonder why you are making such a fuss.

  8. Anonymous*

    The first thing that came to my mind was a thought of wonder if your mother is trying to play matchmaker. *shrugs* Why would she remind the boss when your birthday is? Does he really care about any employee's birthday?


    I don't think I would bring the subject up with the boss. This is something between you and your mom right now, and your boss doesn't need to know that you were snooping in your mother's email. Yes, your mother gave you permission to view her email account to obtain something specific. You actually had no right to read anything further, even if it pertained to you. I know from your post here your mother is fine with what you had overseen, but your boss may not, especially when you read something he wrote back that wasn't intended for your eyes. It might be something different if your mother had printed it out and left it on the kitchen counter for the whole family to see, but it was in the privacy of her email (and you didn't have her permission to click it open). Would you open her (snail) mail from the boss if you somehow knew it'd be about you?

    Putting aside those logistics, you might be putting your boss in a more awkward position than he may already be in with your mother's birthday reminder. I don't know why he wrote to her that he'd take you out for a birthday meal, but by telling him about the email interception, he will realize you know he suggested at taking you out and hasn't come through with it. It's just a disaster waiting to happen.

    I'd leave it alone based on what I wrote above. I think you should handle on the mother's level, and when you are at work from now on, she's another coworker. Leave personal life at home and leave the working life at the office.

  9. Marsha*

    Your boss sounds great, but maybe it's time to help mom find a job somewhere else – or to improve her helicopter skills.

  10. Rebecca*

    I read "improve her helicopter skills" and it made me think that there should be a reality show where helicopter parents are trained to fly helicopters.

  11. Ask a Manager*

    Hey Mike, you wrote: "So can we give those young folks a break when their helicopter parents decide to interfere? Or is the SOP still to throw out any and all resumes and applications for folks who have had family members call on their behalf?"

    I think the difference is that an employee has presumably proved herself as mature and self-sufficient, whereas a job applicant is an unknown, and just like other small things can sink an applicant (typos, a missed phone call), so can something like this. Sort of along the lines of what I wrote here:

Comments are closed.