my older coworker won’t stop mothering me

A reader writes:

I have been at my job about six months and am by far the youngest person in my office of 10-15 people. I am in my mid-20s (second job out of college) in an office where everyone else is 40+. For the most part, everyone works together well and the age difference doesn’t matter. But I have one coworker, an older woman we will call Sue, who insists on “parenting” me and getting involved in my personal life. She often brings in “treats” to the office and will email everyone that they are available, but will insist on bringing some to me at my desk “since she knows how much kids eat.”

The first time I took a day off, the next day Sue asked me if I got sick unexpectedly. In confusion, I told her, no, I took a pre-approved vacation day. She said that she was “surprised I didn’t tell her about this beforehand” and proceeded to ask if “I was visiting my boyfriend.” We are on totally separate teams and our work does not overlap at all! There is literally no work-related reason she needs to know everything I do, and even if she did, she doesn’t need to know what I do outside of work.

This pattern has continued. If I take some time off, she will either ask about it before or after (depending on if she notices it on my calendar beforehand) and pry into why I need time off (“are you visiting your parents/visiting your boyfriend/taking a personal day/sick?”).

Recently, I went in for a kidney surgery and was out of office for a while. Sue, via Facebook, decided to contact my mother! She asked my mother to keep her up-to-date on my surgery and progress. My mother, thinking it was a nice gesture, agreed to do so. During the time I was off, see texted me regularly to ask how I was doing, and if I didn’t respond within a few hours, she would contact my mother.

Now that I have returned to the office, Sue keeps monitoring me and asking health related questions such as “Are you feeling okay? You’re drinking a lot of water today” and “I noticed you’ve gone to the restroom a lot today. Everything still working down there?” I asked her to please stop asking me because it makes me uncomfortable and informed her that I would come to her if I had an issue I wanted to discuss. Afterwards, Sue messaged my mother on Facebook to ask her if I was okay because I was unusually rude to her!


Sue is out of her gourd.

The “I know how much kids eat” thing is pretty amusing. Does she think you’re 14 and having a puberty-induced growth spurt?

But amusement aside, she’s crossed multiple lines here. Being mothered by coworkers is annoying in general, but Sue is going way beyond the usual annoying parenting that 20somethings sometimes have to deal with. Contacting your mother?! Monitoring your bathroom use?! She’s so far out of her gourd in this area that the gourd is in another solar system.

From today onward, cut Sue off cold turkey. You’re no longer going to entertain even mild remarks or inquiries about your personal life from her. She needs to hear, clearly and repeatedly, that this is unwelcome and not okay. That means:

* Tell your mother immediately not to have further contact with Sue. Ideally, if Sue tries to contact her again, your mom would say, “Jane is an adult and manages her own life. I’m not the right person to contact about this.” But if your mom won’t do that, she needs to at least ignore Sue and not respond to her. (Also, if I’m inferring correctly that they’re now connected on Facebook, ask your mom to sever that connection.)

* When Sue asks about your time off, say, “Why do you ask?” If she continues to pry (“are you visiting your boyfriend?”) or does anything other than back off, say, “Sue, I’d rather not discuss it. Please don’t continue to ask me about how I’m spending my days off. Thank you.”

* If she expresses surprise that she didn’t know about your planned days off or anything else about your life, say, “I’m confused. Our work doesn’t overlap at all. Is there some reason I’m missing that you would need to know?”

* If she continues to ask questions about your health, say, “I’ve got it under control.” If she continues to ask after that, say, “As I said, I’ve got it under control. Please stop asking.” And/or “it’s weird that you’re monitoring how much I’m drinking / using the bathroom. Please stop doing that.” (If that feels too rude to you, please know that it’s not — she’s the one being rude and it’s perfectly appropriate for you to assert boundaries with her. But if you know that in reality you’re not going to be able to use that kind of wording, then you could just stick with “I’ve got it under control.”)

* If she makes more weird age-related remarks like the one about bringing you treats since she knows how much kids eat, say, “Sue, I’m an adult. That’s a really weird thing to say to a colleague.”

(In fact, that frame — “that’s a really weird thing to say to a colleague” — should be your positioning on all of this. What she’s doing is super weird, and it’s totally reasonable to let your face, tone, and words convey that.)

You might be able to get it under control this way — if you refuse to let her mother you, hopefully the lack of gratification will eventually get her to stop. But you might need to have a big-picture conversation with her as well, either now or if doing the above for a couple of weeks doesn’t stop it. That would sound like this: “Sue, I’m not sure if you realize how differently you treat me than the rest of our colleagues. I’m an adult and I don’t need mothering. I’d like you to stop monitoring my health and my days off, asking about how often I’m drinking water or using the bathroom, or generally acting like my mother. And speaking of my mother, please don’t continue to contact her. I need you to treat me like you would any other colleague, rather than a young person who needs your assistance. Can you do that?”

Ultimately, whether or not Sue stops isn’t fully in your control. But your response to her is, and you have a lot of power to starve of her of the info and responses that make this rewarding for her. Try that, and I bet that even if it doesn’t stop 100%, she’ll pull way, way back. And meanwhile, colleagues who see you handling it this way will see you being mature and reasonable and her being … quite strange.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 478 comments… read them below }

  1. Stephanie*

    Oh yikes. My former boss at work (who’s 15-20 years older by my guess) was kind of fathering me (I tried not to cringe when he was like “You let me know if they give you any trouble in your new department! I’ll go talk to them!” or other similar instances). But this is insane.

    1. neverjaunty*

      Yeah, this. I am middle-aged and work with younger people, and they occasionally joke about me ‘momming’ them (stuff like getting extra napkins for the table when we go out for lunch), but I would never, NEVER presume to poke into their lives like I had some kind of parental authority. Sue is out of her gourd.

  2. UKAnon*

    I think that “nothing” is a perfectly valid answer to any and all queries about how you spend your time, and it gives her nothing to reply to. This is beyond infuriating and you are absolutely in the right to try and make this stop. I would also keep a notebook or similar handy, so that if she approaches you with treats/concerns about your bathroom use/other weird miscellany you can reply with “I’m really sorry, I’m busy with work right now.” And then be busy. Very, very busy. I would also explain to your mum that you need her to stop engaging with Sue because it is having a negative effect on your career.

    1. Lanya (aka Camp Director Kim)*

      Yes – Mom really needs to cut off contact with this stranger, and should not be giving out any personal information!

        1. BenAdminGeek*

          I may yell at my mum preemptively just in case this ever happens to me. Just to be safe.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I need to mention it to my entire family if I were to publish something, especially if it did well. “Do not speak to anyone asking questions about me; refer them to [agent] [manager] [whoever].”

      1. Mephyle*

        Mom didn’t know that this was a meddling Other Mother and thought she was a helpful, concerned work friend of her daughter’s. It’s high time to clue her in to the true situation.

        1. Lanya (aka Camp Director Kim)*

          Yep. There are so many parents in general on Facebook who don’t think anything of sharing their adult kids’ information and whereabouts on social media. I have a friend who had to tell her mom to stop posting about where they were going together that day or what they were doing, or where she would be all weekend. In some cases, it’s not only an issue of privacy, but security. Lucky for Mom, “Other Mother” in this case did not wish the OP any harm when she was reaching out as a “helpful work friend”.

    2. Ella*

      And since Sue already apparently thinks the OP is a teenager, replying in the manner of a noncommunicative teenager might be kind of satisfying.

  3. Dawn*

    Uh… dang. That sounds annoying as all hell.

    Also be prepared for her to gaslight the hell out of you if you respond as suggested above. This woman is probably going to either try some variation of acting like she has no idea what you’re talking about how could you possibly have thought that she meant it that way, or she’s going to act like you’re the biggest most horrible meanie on the planet for not letting her coddle you.

    I suggest that you start writing down incidents of mothering (and all that you can think of in the past) with date and time and your response and be prepared to go to your manager if this woman won’t stop.

    1. Not me*

      +1 to all of this, especially being ready to go your manager.

      She’s monitoring your bathroom breaks FFS.

      1. So Very Anonymous*

        Not only is she monitoring your bathroom breaks, she’s speculating on why you’re going “a lot.” EEeeeeEEEkkk.

          1. So Very Anonymous*

            Ha ha! “Either that or the herpes. I’m not quite sure. What do you think?” (RUN AWAY. RUN AWAY.)

          2. Cato*

            Ha! I agree, it’s better to be sarcastic/funny than passive-aggressive. I feel like Alison’s wording suggestions are super passive-aggressive.

      2. 2horseygirls*

        Apparently the “buzz” around the water cooler is that I ** le gasp ** am putting on my makeup when I go to the bathroom.

        Now, in full disclosure, I do, but it’s not a full-scale Kardashian production, and I’ve timed it – I’m gone for about 7 minutes at the longest. And I only go maybe one other time a day (part camel ;) ).

        However, it is apparently not an issue when my co-workers “run across the hall” for 5 minutes every hour = 40+ minutes a day.

        And yes, one of the perks of working in higher ed is having someone monitor your potty breaks ;)

      3. Ethel*

        +1 on documenting everything, esp b/c you’re young and new. Monitoring your bathroom usage is teetering on sexual harassment, certainly it’s personal harassment. HR wouldn’t be happy about that.

    2. Window Seat Anon*

      This! Be prepared OP! Plus, you’re mom might be mad, she might like this woman as friend now, so you may end up taking fire from many sides. Be strong!

        1. alter_ego*

          Yeah, I’ll have to ask her later, but I’m 26 (so around the same age as the LW) and I cannot IMAGINE my mom’s response to this facebook message, but I doubt it would be positive. Because I’ve had a job since I was 16, and it has always, even when I was a minor, been my job to communicate things with my coworkers and bosses, not hers.

          1. LBK*

            I can imagine my mom’s response – it would be something along the lines of “are you effing kidding me?”

            1. Window Seat Anon*

              I could totally see my mom thinking the same thing as the OP’s “oh what a nice gesture, look how much your co-workers care about you…” and she would totally think I was being rude, obstinate, and obnoxious enforcing boundaries when “clearly this woman is just nice.”

              1. Chocolate lover*

                My mom would probably tell me “well you weren’t going to tell them, so I did.” Yeah mom, there was a reason I wasn’t going to tell them!

              2. The IT Manager*

                My mother is not a boundary crosser, but she would still think this is a nice gesture – at least during the illness/surgery/recovery. And then she’d still be her friend on FaceBook unless I told her not to. But even she would think the messaging on Facebook to ask her if I was okay because I was unusually rude to her! was weird.

              3. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

                Yuup. And after the “your kid was rude!” message I’d never hear the end of it from my mom because didn’t she teach me to be nice???

              4. Honeybee*

                My mom might do the first part, but if I explained to her that Other Mother is a meddling loony coworker she’d get on board pretty quick.

            2. Kyrielle*

              This. If I was really lucky, my Mom would not have friended or responded to this person.

              If I was unlucky, she would have told them exactly what she thought of it, probably in terms they might hold against me. Then again, I’d rather that than having her pass them this sort of info. Yikes!

              1. AnonAnalyst*

                Ha, this is how I could see my mom responding, too. Although, best case would probably be that she would send back a polite but clear note that she wouldn’t be getting involved, something like, “I’m afraid this is something you’ll need to discuss with AnonAnalyst.” Of course, she would tell everyone when speaking with them exactly what she thought of it, but at least that would be unlikely to actually get back to the nosy coworker!

                1. Liz in a Library*

                  Yep. Couldn’t be more pleased that my mom thinks anything more in-depth than email and shopping on Amazon is too hard and a waste of time!

              2. simonthegrey*

                Most likely, if it was not someone I had talked about OFTEN, my mom would immediately contact me and ask why the hell someone she did not know was asking her about me, and if she needed to tell them to mind their own business.

              3. stellanor*

                Reading these, I’m so glad that if this was me the mothering coworker would get radio silence and I would get a perplexed text message, probably asking me if this was some sort of internet scam.

                My dad and I have taught my mother to be a VERY suspicious internet user via years of “IF YOU DOWNLOAD THAT YOU WILL GET A VIRUS AND IT WILL DELETE ALL YOUR STUFF” doomsday warnings.

              1. LBK*

                My mom sent me an email about something that happened at work a couple weeks ago. I forwarded it to my boyfriend as an explanation of why I am the way I am – clearly runs in the family :)

            1. Anx*

              As someone with a semi-estranged parent with whom I communicate, but keep at a very calculated distance due to a complicated relationship … this would bother me so much.

          2. Connie-Lynne*

            I could totally see my mom getting confused here and thinking the “other mother” is just a concerned friend. My mom assumes the best in everyone and is occasionally sucked-in because of this very charitable attitude (she continues to regularly associate with a family friend who is quite delusional about her relationship to our family, for example).

            Luckily, if I told her to stop contact with this woman, she would.

    3. Erin*


      This is probably not going to go over well. Documenting stuff couldn’t hurt, even if you end up not needing to use it.

      1. SunnyLibrarian*

        This is what I was thinking. The advice is great, but the “she was unnecessarily rude” comment makes me think this lady is going to go from zero to martyr in a heartbeat.

    4. LBK*

      Agreed minus the documenting. Be prepared for her to be completely aghast if you call her on it and stay firm in knowing that you are in the right here – especially if she argues that she’s just trying to be nice, this is a situation where good intentions are clearly not resulting in good actions.

      On the documenting, though, I wouldn’t waste your time. If this needs to be escalated at some point, your manager will either believe you or they won’t; having it written down doesn’t really make a difference.

      1. nofelix*

        The documentation doesn’t necessarily have to be used as evidence. Just knowing a record exists bolsters your confidence if other people try to dismiss your numbers.

        It’s also useful to offload remembering these things so you can focus on other tasks.

        1. LBK*

          Confidence in what? That it really happened? Unless the OP is being gaslighted, I’m not sure how she’s going to forget what’s occurring.

          1. Lanya (aka Camp Director Kim)*

            I think when someone else is saying “oh I was only trying to be nice”, it becomes very easy to second-guess what happened and tell yourself the situation wasn’t that bad…when indeed it is.

          2. Ethyl*

            Yeah exactly — once she starts pushing back on Sue, Sue may well pull the whole “I can’t believe you took things that way, I was only being nice,” that kind of thing. Plus, depending on Sue’s relationships with her coworkers, the coworkers could very well start telling the LW “oh I’m sure she didn’t mean it THAT way, you should be nicer to her,” etc. These are all pretty common things that happen when someone pushes back on this type of egregious boundary pushing.

              1. Ethyl*

                Sure, but that kind of sustained rewriting of history can start messing with you, so if you have it all written down somewhere you can remind yourself of what really happened. Boundary-pushers will try all sorts of manipulations and strategies to keep their preferred victim compliant. I know that sounds insane and like these people are some kind of evil monsters, but this stuff DOES happen and until it happens to you, it’s hard to fathom how much you can second guess reality.

                1. Elizabeth West*

                  Oh absolutely. I did that at Exjob just to convince myself it really was as annoying as I thought–plus, it gave me a place to vent. (In Notepad on a flash drive that I took with me every night.)

            1. Myrin*

              But she may also pull that kind of “But I was only being NIIIIIICE” whether the OP has documentation or not. I mean, I totally would write that crap down for my own satisfaction and because I like lists but I doubt that would deter Sue – she would just agree with everything OP has written down but claim they were all just nice things.

              1. Ethyl*

                No, not for Sue, for the LW. So the LW can remember what ACTUALLY happened when Sue starts trying to rewrite history.

          3. JB (not in Houston)*

            No, but she can forget details, exact dates, context, that kind of thing. I would. And that makes it hard to convey exactly the extent of what’s been happening. It’s great if you could remember exactly what happened and when for every instance this kind of thing happened, but not everyone has that kind of memory. If the OP has a memory like mine, documenting is essential if she ever plans on having a conversation with a manager about it, or a conversation with the coworker, for that matter, if the coworker is of the “when did I do that/what did I say that was inappropriate” type.

            1. Kyrielle*

              Yes, this. I would do it for my confidence when Sue starts protesting that she didn’t mean it that way, and for my ability to remind myself that it really was “three incidents a week” or “every day” or whatever, that I’m not overplaying the frequency in my mind / just stressed about it / in bitch eating crackers mode. Otherwise, it would be easy for me to second-guess myself.

              But I wouldn’t plan on showing the documentation to anyone. It would be there for my sake. (And as such, I would probably use a little notebook or a phone app and make the fact that I was doing it as unobtrusive as humanly possible. My goal would not be to have documentation to show -nor- to freak out Sue or anyone that I was writing it down, just to help my own awareness/memory of the situation if later needed. And if not, oh well, notebooks are cheap and electrons are too – I could just delete it or throw it out once I knew I didn’t need it.)

              1. Ultraviolet*

                This is my feeling too. In particular, if I had let this drag on for awhile and then ended up wanting to do something about it, I would probably have trouble remembering how long it had been going on and how frequently these things (like checking in on bathroom breaks) had actually happened. I’d definitely remember what Sue had said to me, but my memory just doesn’t hold onto timelines well unless I think about it constantly, which would certainly be worse than taking a few seconds to make a note of each incident.

            2. LBK*

              I just can’t see how that information would truly be useful in any kind of future conversation, even if you forget details. The manager is going to expect you to list out each incident, dated and with full details of the conversation – frankly, if you tried to do that to me, I’d probably cut you off and just ask for the gist of the problem. I don’t need an exact calculated frequency and verbatim quotes from each incident. Give me a rough estimate of how often it’s happening and a general idea of the kind of comments she’s making. If you can’t even produce those without recording the incidents, then I suppose documentation would be necessary.

              A conversation with a manager isn’t a court case; you aren’t expected to be able to produce this kind of information.

              1. LQ*

                I agree with this but for anyone who either has experienced gaslighting in the past, or is aware of how incredibly crappy the human memory system is it can be easy if the supervisor says, “Every day? Really? Are you sure?” to start to doubt yourself.

                Go in with the gist sure. But feeling confident in saying, yes, this is really a problem can be helpful for people.

              2. Schnauz*

                While I agree that I don’t think the Op needs to produce exact stats, it can also give a better sense of the scope if the Op can say “for the month of Oct Jane asked about my bathroom habit 16 times, my health 32 times and brought me food 16 times” – it’s become overwhelming and harassing. Just gives it more gravitas than “Janes bothers me a lot about personal stuff”.

              3. Observer*

                That’s not entirely true. Obviously, if the LW needs to go to her manager, the first thing she is going to need to do is to provide a concise account of what has been happening and what she’s done to deal with the problem. But, a log of what’s been going on can be extremely useful if that gets met with “Oh, it can’t be that bad” or some other rather dismissive response.

            3. fposte*

              To whom are you reporting details and exact dates, though? As a manager, I sure don’t want to hear it, and I’d side-eye the fact that you were taking time to note those things. The kind of boss who doesn’t care when you say “I can’t stop Sue from asking about my bathroom habits and pumping my mother for information about me” still isn’t going to care when you add the dates and the times she did that.

              If you want to document for your own sake, like Kyrielle, that’s one thing; I’m still against it, because it tends to make a problem bother you more, but at least it’s just about your own stuff. Outside of pretty specific circumstances, documenting really is largely just busy work.

              1. Nerdling*

                It’s not so much that you’re reporting individual incidents TO anyone – it’s that you’re keeping track of those incidents for yourself to remind yourself that these things really did happen. Otherwise it can be easy with time and distance to say, “I think something happened, but maybe it wasn’t as bad as I felt it was. And other people seem to think it’s no big deal, so maybe I’m overreacting.” When you can go back and look at that list, it reminds you that you’re not losing your mind, and this person really is as bad as you thought. That can be very reassuring and help the OP remain resolved to tell Sue to backboff, even if she gets all, “But I was just being nice!!”

          4. Not So NewReader*

            Documenting does help you to see patterns in what is going on. Sometimes you can design a better plan of how to handle things by reading through old notes. While I agree that OP is not going to forget what is going on, documenting can be a great way to organize one’s thoughts and think about approaches to a situation.

        2. Daisy Steiner*

          Definitely. I’m fairly easily flustered in stressful social situations, and I can totally picture myself starting off strong, then as soon as Sue questions me, getting confused and forgetting all the details. If I had them written down I’d feel a lot more confident to address it.

      2. BadPlanning*

        Sometimes documenting crazy stuff is actually good for yourself.

        I had a really weird situation at work and was documenting it (nothing complicated, a date and some notes on what happened). It got so weird that I went back to reread my notes to assure myself that this was a weird and potentially serious situation and I was not crazy or misremembering. It also helped me from downplaying prior events.

        The notes never went to anyone else and the situation was resolved — but having them helped me out for my own sanity.

        1. JessaB*

          and it’s a hedge against gaslighting. If someone starts to tell you that it didn’t happen that way, your notes written in the moment, will help you sort out your messed up mental state. And you’d be able to literally say “yes it did, then and there and this.” If you want to

        2. afiendishthingy*

          I totally agree. Not that you should be Mr. Heckles and keep a log of every time you’re irritated by “Excessive noise”, but if you have a situation that’s bothering you, where someone is really making you question your own judgment/sanity/competence/rudeness, having a record of what was actually said makes it easier to go back later and look at the situation more objectively. I can see what AaM and others are saying about it being really weird to go to the boss with a log of Sue’s behavior, and I wouldn’t show the boss the documentation. But I do think it can be helpful for your own use to help you process.

      3. neverjaunty*

        Having it written down absolutely makes a difference. 1) it helps your own memory and 2) yes, having shown that you made a note at the time it happened, rather than just now trying to remember every time Sue did a thing and what she did, does tend to bolster one’s credibility with managers and HR.

        1. LBK*

          I guess it depends on the manager. I personally can’t see an employee coming to me saying “Sue has exhibited a pattern of behavior X over the last 3 months” and me taking even a moment to verify credibility or grill them about details unless this was someone I didn’t trust anyway, and if I don’t trust them as a whole then I’m not going to trust that something was true just because they wrote it down vs saying it verbally.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            What OP is doing here probably won’t go to a manager- it’s like journaling with the purpose of helping OP organize her thoughts and handle the problem in a professional manner.

            I do agree though that from a management perspective, if a person constantly misconstrues a situation or lies, just because it is in writing does not make it any better/more credible.

    5. TootsNYC*

      I think if you write down all the incidents of “mothering,” it will be an eye opener for how often this happens, and it will help if you ever do have to escalate it, because it will “make it visible” and then you can show it to other people.

      I like answering all those personal queries with, “That’s such a weird thing to ask a colleague!”

    6. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I wouldn’t bring documentation of this to the manager. The OP is perfectly capable of cutting Sue off, and if for some reason she can’t, there’s no need for documentation of the problem. As a manager, I’d think it was really weird if someone had been documenting this kind of thing rather than just telling the person to cut it out. And if they felt they needed documentation to get a manager to believe them, I’d think that was odd too; they wouldn’t. They could just tell the manager what was going on. (But I also don’t think this is appropriate to bring to a manager unless it turns into something different than it currently is.)

      Documentation would be overkill here.

      1. JessaB*

        Yes if it’s used with a manager, no if it’s to keep your own mind safe when everyone is ganging up on you about “why are you so mean to her?”

      2. Bostonian*

        Alison, if OP follows your advice and tells Sue to cut it out and cuts her off but Sue still asks intrusive questions and contacts her mother and generally doesn’t back off, does it become something you’d think was appropriate to take to OP’s manager? I tend to agree that attempting to handle it on her own is the first step, but this is such an extreme violation of boundaries that I was surprised you didn’t suggest that OP go to her manager if Sue doesn’t back off quickly.

        Seriously, daily contact with OP’s mother if she didn’t respond to questions about her health during her medical leave? Reporting back to OP’s mother that OP was “rude” when OP tried to keep health matters private? I can’t believe that this is the only instance of Sue’s boundaries and judgment being off.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It would need to go beyond what’s currently here in order for the OP to need a manager to handle it for her. She’s capable of handing a busybody coworker herself; only if it escalates beyond what’s here would I think a manager needed to be informed.

        2. Biff*

          I agree. Anytime something gets weird, documentation should start, but with the expectation that it may never be needed. Documentation should NOT occur in lieu of addressing the problem head on, when possible, however. I think that’s what Allison is trying to emphasize.

          1. fposte*

            I would seriously counsel any employee who I found was regularly spending time documenting whenever they thought things were weird. That’s not a viable way of dealing with problems or with co-workers.

            1. Biff*

              Hmmm. It might be somewhat industry dependent. I wouldn’t find it at all weird if my employee was documenting something that they were dealing with but had not yet brought it to me. It’s entirely possible that they are keeping documentation to determine if their own efforts are working (E.g. Bob only asked me for vending machine money twice this week instead of four times like last week) or to determine if they do, in fact, have a problem. (Mikala keeps talking about how she loves to go on dates, and has invited me to do lunch sometime. Is this idle chatter or something that is becoming harassment.)

              1. fposte*

                Well, I’d still have concerns about that, because the Mikala stuff is pretty questionable, but that’s also not the kind of documentation you and others are advocating. It’s being talked about as preparing info to defend yourself or report the situation.

                If you want to write it all out at home in your own time to think it through–say as a mock letter to Alison :-)–I think that’s okay, but then let it go. If it’s being regularly written down, even at home, and it’s not about something where you’re preparing a legal case, it’s not a good way of relating to people.

            2. Green*

              If you think something is happening because you are female (or male) or because of your race or disability, you should definitely document it. Whether or not you need to cart that into your manager depends on the pervasiveness or severity of the problem.

        3. INFJ*

          If I were the OP, I’d be tempted to loop in my boss simply for the reason that Sue may be telling people around the office very soon about “how rude” I’m being to her once I start establishing boundaries, especially since she has already said that to OP’s mother. The conversation with the boss would be along the lines of “here’s the problem; I am doing X and Y to resolve it; Sue may react Z as a result, FYI.”

      3. Window Seat Anon*

        I was thinking documentation for the OP’s own purposes more than something to take to the manager to show. Like, what if she had to get a restraining order on Sue someday? It would still be he said/she said, but the OP would have written down the facts when they happened… idk. I agree with Bostonian though, if Sue didn’t start to back off asap I’d be heading to my manager with it.

        1. fposte*

          There’s nothing in this situation that would remotely entitle the OP to a restraining order on Sue. Nor would documenting anything that’s mentioned so far help you get one if her behavior did change, because what she’s doing isn’t legally significant.

      4. Althea*

        I feel like a heads up to the manager is a good idea. Sue is so far off-base that I’d consider her highly likely to react *very* poorly to OP’s sudden assertion of boundaries. And that’s pretty likely to result in an impact on work, which I imagine a manager might want to know about.

      5. Dawn*

        Hah, I didn’t expect my documentation idea to bring in so many comments! I definitely meant it as a “for your own sanity” kinda thing, and also to make it possible for the OP to be able to say things like “Sue asks me about my bathroom habits twice a day, every day”. It makes it possible for the OP to back up statements with objective facts if that needs to happen.

        We’ve seen so many weird things go down around here that if I were in the OP’s place I would take a “hope for the best, plan for the worst” approach to the entire situation. Best case: LW tells Sue to stop, Sue gets the message and stops, problem solved. Worst case: Sue goes bananas and accuses LW of being mean and bullying and taking things out of context and complains to her manager and LW’s manager and it ends up being A Huge Deal where Meetings are called. In this worst case scenario having detailed notes of what was said and when it was said could be a huge help.

        But yeah, my original intention was more of a “If I were in your shoes I would write this stuff down so I wouldn’t start second-guessing its frequency or inappropriateness.”

        1. INTP*

          I could see it helping as a “for your own sanity” thing. If nothing else, because situations like this tend to escalate gradually with teeny tiny boundary violations so that the person questions behavior that they would have recognized as absolutely insane before the process began. (It doesn’t sound like the OP is being successfully gaslighted here, just saying it’s a possibility.) It could be validating to look back over and see an intentional gradual pattern there.

        2. Daisy Steiner*

          Dawn, I totally agree – I would need to do this ‘for my own sanity’ and it would be an important part of the process of addressing the behaviour and dealing with it myself. It would help me to feel confident that I’m not overreacting, and being armed with specific instances is going to help Sue understand where I’m coming from if she queries it.

          When questioned, I’m really easily made unsure about what I think I know or remember. I can be 100% definite on something, but if someone is like ‘Are you sure?’, I tend to back down and think ‘hmmm, maybe not’. Having the documentation to go back to, to clarify my thinking and check my memory of events, would make me a lot more confident to stand my ground with Sue (or a manager, if it got that far) and assert my boundaries.

        3. Gladys*

          I completely agree with your comment. In my last job I documented the strange things happening with my manager. I made the HUGE MISTAKE of sharing this documentation with her boss, and learned (as many new workers do) the company does not care about that stuff.

          Yet, I would still advise anyone who is deeply concerned about anything at work to document it. Not to share it with anyone, but to write out your thoughts and monitor how you feel. We spend one-third to half of every day at work and interact with all kinds of people. If I’m journalling about my personal life and the conversation I had with my BF, why should I not journal about my work life?

      6. neverjaunty*

        I respectfully disagree. “You don’t need that” until you do, and then it becomes trying to gather what happened after the fact. Documentation doesn’t have to be photographs and exacting details; just a date, time and very brief note. “Wednesday the 4th, Sue asked me about bathroom breaks three times.”

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          For what purpose, though? Bringing that to the manager will make the OP look strange. If it’s just for her own mental well-being as Dawn mention, I suppose that’s fine if she finds it helpful — but I wouldn’t take it beyond that (and I’d actually worry that it will make the problem bigger in her mind than it needs to be).

          1. neverjaunty*

            To refresh her memory, if she needs to talk to the manager, for one. She doesn’t need to rush to the manager and hand him a list, but it’s a lot easier to show there’s a problem if she’s able to point out how many instances there were, instead of “um, I dunno, maybe a couple of times last week?” when pressed (especially if the manager is leaning toward making excuses for Sue). And as insurance, if she suffers some kind of adverse employment action.

            Documentation is probably unnecessary, but it’s one of those things that’s way better to have and not need, than need and not have.

            1. fposte*

              But I think that’s treating it as if it’s costless, and it’s not. It magnifies the problem and, I suspect, makes it harder to the documenter to let go even when the problem has been dealt with, because they’ve inculcated this pattern of observation. And that pattern of observation really isn’t healthy; it’s just a necessary evil in a situation where otherwise things otherwise couldn’t get stopped–and those situations aren’t the norm.

              I think people feel like it’s an obligatory step in working out a work problem, and I think that’s a misconception and not a harmless one. Sure, there are situations where it makes sense, but those are usually when legal action is a possibility (and even there documentation isn’t proof). Otherwise I don’t think it’s a sensible default.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Yes! I was writing something similar at the same time below. I feel like I need to do a post at some point about this topic, because at least half the time when people recommend documenting, I disagree.

                1. fposte*

                  Yeah, you’re seriously risking a managerial first reaction of “You keep notes . . . on your colleagues’ behavior?” and not “Sue is out of line.”

                2. JennyFair*

                  Hmm. I wish I had documented far more than I did. If something upsets me, I have difficulty remembering details, plus my childhood basically equipped me to gaslight myself. I’m 40 years old and still wonder, when I am sick, if I am actually sick or just faking it. So for some of us, documentation –for ourselves, not to share with others– can be a very useful tool, and that goes double if we’re dealing with someone manipulative. I’ll also say that I spent an hour the other night with the HR department of the company that fired me in January, going over various things that had happened (because the HR department is investigating culture issues there following media attention) and was surprised at how much I did not remember, and could only state with confidence due to having notes of various sorts. I will now go happily back to not remembering these things :)

                3. Not So NewReader*

                  There’s documenting with the purpose of going to the boss and then there is documenting with the purpose of sorting out your own thoughts.

                  I have done this documenting to sort my thoughts twice. Both times I was working in fast moving places. these were intense, busy work places. It would be a common thing for me to think “Oh, Sue told me FU. Now was that yesterday or last week? She said it again today. How long has this been going on and I just blew it off because other matters were more pressing?” Because of the intensity/speed of the work flows it was almost impossible to have the same thought for 3 or 4 minutes. Things would happen that I would not remember until 3 days later. Everyone had the same problem. I started documenting both times because I wanted to see how often X problem came up, what triggered X problem and to sort out how I wanted to handle it.

                  I’m more introverted than extroverted. When I sort out problems, I do it quietly in my head. If there is a lot going on, writing forces me to focus on one thing (not easy for me) and see that thought to it’s conclusion. Maybe this should be called journaling. But I do it to target one issue or situation. I do not write down everything that is going on, so I tend to think of it as similar to documenting.
                  The first time I did it, I realized how ridiculous my complaints sounded on paper. It was hard to describe the subtleties of what was going on. It’s one of the ways I learned that I had to match the level people were using with me. I wasn’t doing this and it was a problem.
                  In OPs story, I would conclude that this woman is basically like an invasive weed. Invasive weeds are very hard to stop and need constant work in order to make them stop. I’m not flat out saying be a lawn mower, OP, but you will need to have some strength through your consistency. She is consistent in mothering you, so you will need to be consistent in saying “that is enough” until she gets it. Match her level. It’s not a technique to be used for every problem, but because of the repeat offenses and unwillingness to stop, you will have to match her to get her to stop.

              2. neverjaunty*

                No, it’s not treating it as if it’s costless. It’s weighing the cost of documenting vs. the costs of not having done so.

                I’m not following the idea that ‘the pattern of observation is not really healthy’; this isn’t about watching a co-worker to keep an eye on every time she leaves her desk five minutes early, say, it’s making a written record of every time the co-worker does a particular thing directly to the OP.

                I don’t feel it’s an obligatory step in a work problem, but when there’s a pattern of egregious and ongoing behavior by a co-worker, keeping a record makes it easier to document that there is in fact a pattern, rather than relying on memory, especially if (as OP suggests) there’s a concern that the boss is going to make excuses.

                1. Myrin*

                  I agree. I mean, I get what Alison and fposte are saying but at the same time, I don’t understand the “documenting something is magnifying the problem” stance. I have a feeling this is something that’s just different for different people but for me, this is neither time consuming – it takes about ten seconds to write down “Sue did x because of y” – nor something that somehow becomes bigger in my head than it actually is – in fact, writing something down for me is quite literally letting it out, so it would probably even help me to put it to rest for the moment.

                2. Not So NewReader*

                  @Myrin, I am thinking that some people would let it magnify a problem. They would dwell on it, belabor it, etc. But if you are documenting with a purpose in mind that might be the right thing for you. To me, documenting is a chore. I only do it when I have no other way to sort out a situation. It’s been helpful.

              3. Ultraviolet*

                I think in another post recently you articulated that documenting can be useful in situations where individual incidents are not (necessarily) obviously problematic, but the pattern of incidents is. (For the record, I don’t think this was advice about when to present your documentation to anyone, and I’m sorry if I’m misquoting you!) I like that guideline.

                That said, making and rereading a written record doesn’t magnify and entrench the problem for everyone. For some people (myself included) it clarifies the situation and makes it easier to put the problem aside when it’s time to think about something else. I’m really glad you and Alison have pointed out that reasonable managers might find it super weird that someone had written these incidents down; I never thought it would help OP to show the documentation to their manager, but I hadn’t appreciated how damaging it would be. But private notes are very helpful for some people.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Twas not me! I actually really only recommend documenting unless there’s a potential legal issue or you think there will be disputes later about what someone told you.

                2. Ultraviolet*

                  @Alison — sorry! I meant that I thought fposte had said it. I should have been clearer given the long nesting.

          2. Biff*

            Alison, the documentation really can be important if it is the case that Sue escalates after being rebuffed or if Sue refuses to stop. It’s not about running to “Mommy Manager” so much as I think it is about addressing the problem should it continue/get worse after the OP has done what is within their purview to stop it.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Except that if you whip out documentation at that point, it’s going to look odd that you were spending your time documenting this stuff for the last however many weeks/months. I just don’t think this is something that will require documentation to be handled … and I dislike the push to document everything as if it carries some sort of protective powers, when in fact it can just make the problem loom larger to you and make you look oddly bureaucratic/defensive instead of like a reasonable person who handles problems reasonably and expects others to do the same.

              If an employee showed me documentation of something like this, I’d ensure the situation got resolved … but I’d also wonder about their approach/judgment.

              1. neverjaunty*

                If an employee showed you documentation of something like this, presumably it would be in response to your doubting their simply telling you it happened, or if you asked for more details that they simply didn’t have an eidetic memory to handle. It might also be a sign that the employee doesn’t fully trust management to handle these things informally (e.g., OP’s comment that her manager and Sue are friendly), which might be less about the employee and more about the work environment.

                I agree with you that most of the time documenting things will be unnecessary – and is pretty silly in the case of minor workplace annoyances like ‘Wakeen need to turn his music down’ – but sometimes it is, and “oh, don’t bother writing it down” sounds an awful lot to lawyer-ears like one of those things people were told months before they come to us with a big problem. Like, “Of course you don’t need a contract, this is a handshake agreement” or “Oh, that language doesn’t mean anything, you can sign without reading all the fine print.”

                1. LBK*

                  I think you’re still placing an unrealistic amount of credibility on something being written vs. spoken. There’s no difference when it’s from the same source; this isn’t a claim being back up by an official record, it’s a claim being backed up by the same claim in a different form.

                  I just cannot envision a situation where I disbelieve an employee’s account of something but then am suddenly swayed by the fact that they wrote it all down. Either way, it’s your own description of the situation. If you’re lying or even just exaggerating verbally, what’s to stop you from doing the same in writing?

                  And on top of that, I’m going to think you’re really weird that you would find something so serious that you need to document it but didn’t come to me a lot sooner.

                2. neverjaunty*

                  It’s not that you suddenly believe it when it’s in the employee’s handwriting. It’s that the employee can rely facts to you accurately because they can refer to their notes, which were made at the time it happened, instead of relying on memory. “I don’t know, maybe it was last Tuesday and she said something about getting married?” is a lot less useful than “She said ‘you need to make an honest man of that boyfriend of yours’ on Monday afternoon.”

                  As to why they didn’t come to you sooner, isn’t that part of the same catch-22 employees run into with complaining about ongoing problems? Complain right away, and it’s “why are you fussing now, it’s not like it’s a persistent issue”. Complain later, and it’s “well why didn’t you come to me sooner”. Presumably you could ask the employee why they didn’t come to you earlier.

              2. LQ*

                I wonder if part of this is what people envision documentation as.

                For a memory aid an email to a friend. “Crazy coworker asked about my water intake 3 times today! Dinner Friday?” or a similar note in a journal is a kind of documentation (and one I certainly do when things come up in my universe).

                But I imagine there is another level of documentation that I feel like people talk about that has details and dates and times and witnesses that you’d actually show someone.

                1. aebhel*

                  Yeah, I don’t spend time obsessively documenting everything with the intention of showing it to my manager, but I have very bad memory and a tendency to doubt my own perception/memory of events, so writing it down when it happened can be very useful *for me*. I don’t think documentation is particularly useful as something to bring to a manager, generally, but it’s very useful for me when I’m trying to figure out whether or not I’m overreacting to something. For people who haven’t been trained to doubt their own perception of reality, that probably sounds insane, but for me it’s something that keeps my mind organized and my problems in the proper perspective.

            2. fposte*

              How do you think it would be important, though? A manager who doesn’t believe the word of her employee isn’t likely to believe that word more just because it’s written down. I think people feel like they need to make a case in a way they really don’t.

              1. Biff*

                Well, I can give you an example, though it’s not perfect. At one job I found myself in several conversations I didn’t want to be in and felt I couldn’t escape. I decided to engage in ‘hide mode’ for several days and I just listened. I realized in a very short period of time that we had an employee that liked to consistently escalate conversations and push them into work-inappropriate territory. Talk about sports became a discussion about naming teams and if some names were inappropriate or not. Talk about news topics became very political, very fast. A discussion on clothes? Workers rights and third world abuses. You get the idea. At times, the coworker also played the victim card if the conversation didn’t go a certain way.

                I decided to document the time and the nature of the conversations. While I didn’t end up giving it to management, had someone come down on me or my team regarding the conversations, or if my coworker had gone crying., I’d have had a record of what was really going on.

                1. fposte*

                  And this is a really different picture to me than to you, and I really don’t get the gain of documenting there or even why you felt this was significant enough to merit it. Sure, Bob sounds annoying, but this is just too close to an “I hate Bob and here’s why” dossier–nothing you’ve listed is enough for anybody to need to build a legal case on. Nobody needs a print record of the events that caused a co-worker to cry.

                2. Biff*

                  fposte: by crying I meant going to management and claim that they were being harassed when in fact, they were creating the hostile work environment. They had showed a willingness to do that.

                3. LBK*

                  Honestly, your actions here sound super weird. I can’t tell what you were trying to get out of documenting that you couldn’t have accomplished by just describing it. There is no special power of the written word that makes it more believable than an oral account.

                  Sidenote, I’m also skeptical of your insistence that this would be legally relevant based on your incorrect use of “hostile work environment” – I don’t see anything that indicates harassment based on gender, race, religion, etc. in your example.

                4. Biff*

                  LBK — they were very vocally atheist, had a lot to say about gender and race as well. It was very uncomfortable to be around, and someone did complain about the situation. Naturally, the actual troublemaker did not get in trouble as they were perceived as the victim.

                5. Biff*

                  Also, documentation isn’t always for a legal purpose. I also document what my manger likes and does not like.

              2. Daisy Steiner*

                But I don’t think you’d be using these notes as ‘evidence’ – it’s more to bolster your own confidence that you’re remembering things correctly, and therefore giving you more confidence to address it (whether that’s with the coworker or the manager, whatever is appropriate).

                Particularly when the problem is a pattern of behaviour (mothering) rather than one large incident, it can be really easy to forget the individual events. I would feel much better equipped to confront a Sue if I was ready to answer a question like ‘Can you give me an example of this behaviour?’ with a concrete example, rather than generalisations like ‘Oh, you’re mothering me’.

                1. aebhel*

                  Right, and especially with something like this that is frankly *bizarre*, it can be easy to convince yourself that you’re making it all up, because who the hell would actually behave like that?

          3. ThursdaysGeek*

            If you had a memory like mine, you’d already be documenting everything you do each day. The purpose for me would be that I don’t remember much of anything more than about a week, so I write down what is happening, what I did, how long it took. The documentation is entirely for me.

            If someone then asked me about something, either about how Sue reacted when I started enforcing boundaries, or if I did something to Chocolate Teapots report A39 last month, I can refer to my journal and pretend I have long-term brain storage.

            1. fposte*

              I was thinking my equivalent of this is that I could pull emails–I do everything in email and keep them all. But I think there’s a big difference between having information available that is from your normal course of work and setting out specifically to observe and note a colleague’s behavior.

              And even with emails/journals, I wouldn’t spontaneously bring them into a managerial conversation. I’d just talk about the problem with Sue and bring them in if I were asked for a timeframe or anything like that.

              1. neverjaunty*

                Pretty sure you don’t have to set out to observe a co-worker’s behavior when the behavior is “get in your face with inappropriate nonsense”.

                1. Biff*

                  That’s what I think. Whenever I’ve documented stuff, it’s taken at max, ten minutes out of my day, and that would be a day in which a LOT happened.

                2. LBK*

                  But by that same token, why would you need a written record to remember it happening? If this is frequent brash behavior, surely there’s no way in hell you’re going to forget it, especially if it’s ongoing. How do you forget something that’s actively happening to you?

                3. Biff*

                  Well, I don’t know about you, but mentally, I downplay it in my head. It was only thought keeping notes for a couple of weeks that I realized some things were happening EVERY DAY.

                4. neverjaunty*

                  @LBK, I honestly don’t understand this argument. People take notes in meetings, for crying out loud. Why is “pervasive out of their gourd behavior” by an employee the one time people should rely entirely on memory.

            2. Marcela*

              Yup, absolutely. I write every day about everything (my husband says my brain is full of words and if I don’t let them out writing every day, I’ll die because my brain will explode), mostly because I don’t want to forget. I’m always forgetting stuff, so my notes are invaluable.

    7. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      I know it’s completely against AAM’s advice, but maybe give your manager a heads up?

      I used to manage younger staff and I would have no problem with a staff member coming to me and saying, “Sue has been asking me some unprofessional questions and has reached out to my mother regarding my recent medical situation. Here is how I plan to have a conversation with her, but I wanted to give you a heads up in case she complains.”

      I am a big fan of employees working things out among themselves, but I have also stepped in to roleplay difficult convos for staff!

      1. Brooke*

        I like the heads-up idea; it shows that you’re going to work this out on our your own, but gives the manager some info that he/she may find very helpful if anything blows up.

      2. T3k*

        +1. My last year in college I had a… less than pleasant… randomly assigned roommate. She was the type that ran to the RA over the smallest things, rather than try to talk about it ourselves. When things came to a head I made sure to email the RC (the head of RAs and who we were now talking to, that’s how bad things had escalated) to let him know I had made some changes to the room that I was allowed to do, but he might hear WWIII breaking out over it from my roommate.

      3. Artemesia*

        Absolutely. WE know that the Other Mother here describes the OP as ‘rude’ when she tries to draw a boundary — she has already pointed that out to her mother. So the heads up — not asking for help — just letting manager know you are handling a situation in case she complains is useful. And the fact that this person is calling her mother when she can’t reach her and getting information from her mother — any manager hearing that is going to be well and truly inoculated against any complains the busybody might make.

      4. INTP*

        I like that script. It shows that you recognize it’s your own responsibility to attempt to handle it, but gives your manager an opportunity to step in if she has information that you don’t (i.e., maybe Sue has a history of doing this to every employee under 30 and her manager needs to be aware that it’s happening again) and some context in the event that Sue does complain and escalate the issue herself. I feel like you always sound more credible when you say “Sue might say X about me because Y, just a heads up” rather than “Sue only said X about me because Y” after the fact.

  4. Jubilance*

    OMG, I don’t even have any good advice here. Alison’s suggestions are great. I can’t imagine going through this, I would have snapped after she contacted my mom on Facebook! Who does that?

    1. Katie the Fed*

      Right? Some people have very fraught relationships with their parents and carefully manage all information their parents get.

      1. OfficePrincess*

        Yup. If someone reached out to my mom, I would be annoyed and she would probably call me in a panic. She hovers, so I don’t fill her in on every sick day etc. But if someone were to contact my father, all bets are off. It’s taken years to get to a point where I’m “ok” with with being disowned. Contact would completely destroy that.

        1. JessaB*

          I would absolutely deal with the mother thing from both ends. OMG what if the OPs mother was abusive? What if the OP had cut off all contact and now the mother knows where she works, etc. This if nothing else, the roping an outside party in, MUST stop and not happen again to anyone.

      2. Charlotte Collins*

        Fraught or not, I can’t imagine contacting a colleague’s parents for any reason, short of being asked to by said colleague, and that would mean my colleague was having some kind of emergency – probably offsite, as otherwise, that’s up to the company to do. So, almost never.

        1. TootsNYC*

          I can imagine contacting the parents of my deputy (whose mother I have chatted with when she came in the office), simply to say, “I would be interested in updates, since I’ll probably worry a little bit. So if you can think of it, I’d love to hear that she’s out of surgery and doing well. Or, keep me in the loop briefly if things get complicated, if that’s OK.”

          My other direct report? I’d never do that. We don’t have that kind of relationship. I might say -to him-, before he left for surgery: “We’ll probably be worrying a little, so if someone texts me the all-clear, it’ll calm me down.” Maybe. But probably not with HIM.
          With some other direct reports, I might do that middle ground. Or I’d get ahold of whatever Facebook friend we have in common and say, “Have you heard, is everything OK?”

          But that’s direct reports, for whom I feel a small sense of responsibility or a greater sense of connection. Or I think of myself as their link to the rest of the staff, so I’ll ask, “Can I let everyone know when it’s ‘all clear’?”
          I think even with a close colleague who’s not a direct report, I might not even ask that.

          1. Charlotte Collins*

            And that’s the difference. You have the relationship to make that connection, and it does make sense that a manager would need to know whether something will keep a direct report out longer, etc. But someone who doesn’t even work on the same team? Nope.

      3. videogame Princess*

        Something terrible happened to an acquaintance, where she was attending a special program, and the director of the program called her parent. My friend and this parent are not on speaking terms, and said parent destroyed my acquaintance’s relationship with the director of the program, who ended up being pretty crazy too. This sort of thing isn’t always the case, but when it is, the impact of reaching out can be disastrous, so much so that it should be absolutely discouraged for anyone who isn’t a minor or hasn’t signed papers explicitly allowing contact to take place. If I ever ran my own company, I would probably make it a policy not to reach out to parents or relatives, and doing so would probably result in discipline. I’ve seen this be an issue too many times in my short life.

        1. NJ Anon*

          Many companies maintain a list of who should be called in case of emergency for each employee. This way the employee determines who gets called.

          1. Charlotte Collins*

            Which makes sense. I have a good relationship with my family, but they live and work in completely different states. There’s no reason for anyone to call them for an emergency. (My mother is my secondary contact, but if something happens to me, she can’t do much more than worry, make some phone calls, and make a 2-3 hour drive in tears…)

            1. videogame Princess*

              Ugh, yes. The fact that this woman immediately assumed that everything was okay at home, and it was cool to reach out to whomever simply because of blood ties suggest a lack of any sort of true empathy or sense of perspective.

      4. Tinker*

        Ugh. Yes. One thing my mother does actually have is a fairly decent sense of professional propriety (and in this matter, that sense has not become outdated in a way that makes it nonfunctional). Still, the notion of somebody contacting her and handing her worrybait — particularly since that dynamic of casting boundary-setting as pathological and thereby worrisome is a major feature of our own relationship — is highly disconcerting to me.

  5. Katie the Fed*

    Oh god this is so weird.

    Maybe this is like one of those Law and Order episodes where you’ll find out Sue actually IS your mother through some kind of switched-at-walmart kind of mishaps.

    Barring that, you need to cut her off 100% like Alison said. No more fodder at all. I also like to employ a breezy “Oh, don’t worry about it!” and subject change.

    This is so weird and so inappropriate. I hope your mom will get on board because I’m not sure mine would. Mine would probably LOVE to get updates from a coworker. I do think you need to address this directly: “Sue, I don’t want you reaching out to members of my family – it’s completely inappropriate.”

    1. LBK*

      Even if Sue actually were her mother this would be wildly inappropriate behavior for the office. Having worked at the same company as my mom before, I’d be mortified if she were bringing me special treats or asking me about medical problems (!!!) at work. While we’re in the office, I have no idea who you are outside these walls.

      1. Dana*

        I worked with my mom for six years, when I was a teenager nonetheless, and our interaction never veered into this creepy territory. Not even close. I’m actually stunned everyone is still calling this “mothering” — this is harassing, not mothering.

        1. LBK*

          Good point – if someone’s actual mother were doing things like this, we’d probably be referring to it as bordering on abuse, not “mothering”.

              1. Biff*

                Isn’t the point of that movie that Nina (N. Portman) is an unreliable narrator and we don’t know if her mother is a beloved smother type or actually sane?

                Which, brings me to another thought — it’s possible Sue feels like she is behaving with great kindness. Or possibly is behaving the way she wished someone might have treated her.

                1. Elizabeth West*

                  Stage mum. Smother, the stress of which exacerbated Nina’s illness. At least that’s how I viewed it.

                  Maybe; you could be right but it doesn’t make Sue’s actions any less inappropriate.

                2. Biff*

                  @Elizabeth — hmm, I was thinking understanding where she is coming from might make it easier to put a stop to it, but when you get right down to it, that is sort of silly of me to think. It doesn’t change the course of action.

          1. Angela*

            Glad to see others thought this was over the top even for “mothering”. My own mother want that involved even when I was a teen living with her still.

            1. Charlotte Collins*

              Yeah, the only reason my mother cared about time in bathroom was because she had two teenage girls and one bathroom. (Makes for a lot of morning arguments, let me tell you…)

    2. AMG*

      It makes me wonder if she has ever done this to anyone else. Are you the *only* one in your 20s? Please give us an update!

    3. MashaKasha*

      Oh as a mom, I would be so, so on board. Believe me, I just played this scenario in my head. My older son is living on his own, on the other side of the country, where he has no friends and no social network. If I were to get a call, or a FB chat message, about him from his concerned coworker, my first reaction would probably be to get scared out of my wits, because, if a coworker is calling me, something terrible must’ve happened to my son!

      My next impulse would probably be to give it to the coworker from both barrels for scaring me half to death by calling me about something that isn’t even an issue, such as my kid being “uncharacteristically rude to her.” I’d probably try to keep it polite because it’s a coworker, I don’t know how much clout this person has in the office, and I wouldn’t want to put my kid’s career in jeopardy. But NO, under no circumstances would I want to get updates on my kids from a random person in the office!! If I want updates on my kids, I can always call the kids and get them myself!

      Here, my 2c as a mom :)

        1. Not So NewReader*

          It’s a great expression. The first place I heard it was my depression era parents, so it must be fairly old.

          1. GH in SoCAl*

            I’m thinking it goes back to the 19th century. It’s in reference to double-barrelled shotguns. Each barrel holds a shotgun shell and has a separate trigger, so you can shoot twice without having to reload. But you can pull both triggers at once, at least on the old-style ones, and hit the target with twice as much buckshot.

    4. INTP*

      My mind went Law and Order-ish too, but I was thinking that Sue lost a child tragically and now has a pattern of attempting to “adopt” adults around the age her child would have been. The pattern wouldn’t end well when Sue finally realized that each victim wasn’t going to accept her motherhood.

      That’s probably not it, but Sue is truly crazy. I mean, I’d be weirded out if my actual mom was monitoring my bathroom visits, let alone some coworker who wants to replace my mom.

  6. Snarkus Aurelius*

    The OP never gave a gender, but I’m guessing it’s female.  This is not the first time I’ve seen a “mother hen” type of attitude on here or in my life, and it’s always, always, always, always directed at young women.  I guess the sexist trope — that grown women are defenseless and clueless — will never die.

    Although not as bad as your situation, I had a boss who went into full maternal mode with only the female staff.  It was so irritating, especially because other staff were predisposed to feeding these maternal instincts because of the power differential.  I can assure you it’s NOT because we all needed a mom.  (Before a business trip to a desert, my ex-boss emailed my 32 year old coworker to remind her to bring sunscreen.  Seriously.)

    Sexist?  Totally because male staff never got that level of scrutiny.  But looking back, I realized that being mother was the only way my ex-boss felt she could communicate with female staff.  This doesn’t make it okay, of course, but it could explain why your coworker is acting this way.  She literally doesn’t know any other way because of your gender and the age gap.

    One more suggestion: every time she refers to you as a “kid,” you need to remind her that you’re an adult.

    1. BRR*

      I’m in my late 20s and a male and in my most recent past job there was a coworker who referred to herself as the “office’s mom.” Her mothering, while coming from a good place, was directed at everybody but as the youngest person on the team I would say it was directed extra towards me. I know my situation isn’t comprehensive but it’s not just women. In the job I just accepted they named one person the “office mom.” I’m starting to think it’s just the term office mom. That people think it’s cute and it really needs to be shut down.

      1. BRR*

        After thinking about this I also wonder if it has to do with what gender their children are? My old office mom had two boys so I think she saw me as she saw her sons. So I wonder if in the same way an employee might see a coworker as a younger version of themself, how much their own children play a part in how they see a coworker.

        1. Ad Astra*

          It sure could be. But it’s not uncommon for parents to infantalize or smother their actual adult daughters while trusting their adult sons to manage their own lives. So you’re still going to see this more often with young women than with young men, but I agree that being the same age and gender as someone’s kid really brings out that parenting instinct in an otherwise sane colleague.

          1. Julia*

            Ugh, this. My brother is three years younger than me, lives at home and cannot even cook or use a washer or pay bills on time. I have a full-time job in another country (okay, I also developped depression in grad school abroad and had to come home two years ago), and whereas my mother always says she thinks I’m doing great, and actually coddles my brother a lot more, she still seems to think he is smarter and more capable than I am and believes his opinions over mine – and then turns around and complains to me how selfish and immature he is.

    2. Not So Sunny*

      I’m older than the vast majority of my coworkers, and the last thing I want to be known as is the Office Mom. I’d much rather be the savvy, experienced worker who mentors freely if asked.

        1. Charlotte Collins*

          Yes, this! Women like the LW’s CW actually make it difficult for women “of a certain age” to be taken seriously. I sometimes feel like I have to try to be cooler than I’d like so that I don’t end up being perceived this way.

          1. attornaut*

            There is a woman in my office who is old enough to be the mother of other staff members–but she is amazing at her job and I don’t think anyone sees her as anything other than a very professional expert who is a great resource. I think if you don’t mother, you won’t be perceived that way.

            1. Charlotte Collins*

              I totally agree, but sometimes the “office mother” personality sets up expectations that no one should have in the workplace. Office culture makes a big difference here….

      1. BadPlanning*

        I stopped bringing in treats all together (previously a 3-4 times a year activity) after someone called me the Office Mom.

        1. Charityb*

          That was bad planning on their part. I don’t understand why anyone would do anything to discourage an employee who is willing to bring in treats (aka FREE FOOD) to the office! That just sounds nuts to me, and I bet that employee who called you that got a lot of dirty looks from anyone who figured out what happened.

          1. anonanonanon*

            There’s a weird stigma about women bringing baked goods or treats to the office. Some people think it makes them look like they’re trying to mother employees or be all “I’m a good wife/mother/stereotypical woman”, especially if they do it consistently. Sort of like moms bringing treats to their kids’ sports games or school parties, etc.

            Not saying that’s how I feel – because I enjoy a good treat at work on occasion – but some people do get a bad feeling about it. IIRC, there was a post about this very thing on AAM not too long ago.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              I know; I hate that the stigma exists. God knows I don’t need to eat the cupcakes all the time, but I LOVE YOU if you bring them in, especially on a heavy day when I need a damn treat.

            2. MashaKasha*

              Oh it depends on the office culture. At one OldJob, everyone brought them in all of the time. Guys did it too. But yeah, other jobs, not so much. I haven’t realized there’s a stigma because I can never be bothered to bring in baked goods. FWIW, I’ve never felt that way. If I see baked goods and I’m not trying to lose weight ATM, I will eat them and say thank you.

              1. anonanonanon*

                Yeah, definitely depends on office culture. I’ve been at places where it was considered weird and places where people loved it, same as places where the baked goods just sat in the kitchen all day untouched and places where they were devoured.

                I’m usually not one to eat a baked good made by someone I don’t know (for a variety of reasons: I don’t know how clean their kitchen is, if they have pets, what ingredients they used that may trigger an allergy, etc), but I don’t think it’s bad to bring them in and I don’t think people necessarily mean anything cruel by “office mom” comments. It’s just a weird stigma.

            3. ThursdaysGeek*

              I’ll bring treats (and I’m female), but it’s usually fudge that my husband made. I think that helps neutralize the stereotype.

              1. Charlotte Collins*

                My father taught me how to bake. You’d be surprised how many people find that unusual even in this day and age. (He always brought in his own treats to work and was very proud of his skills.)

            4. Biff*

              This honestly shouldn’t exist. I mean, whoever came up with this is really evil for depriving the rest of the world of homebaked goodies :(

            5. Ella*

              Oh man. I’m glad I work at a library. We have a probably 70/30 ratio of female to male employees, but still, whenever anyone brings in treats, the reaction is, “yay treats!” not calling people office moms.

              And half the time, it’s one of the guys who’s brought in the treats, because he really likes doughnuts, but doesn’t like to polish off an entire dozen himself, so he brings in plenty to share.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Oh, yeah! I enjoy the differences in people, some people I worked with had really interesting hobbies/activities. I always enjoyed hearing about them. One coworker took up roller derby. Office mom yelled at her. I just asked her if she had good safety equipment- at which point she happily told me how she had picked up some good used stuff from other women on her team. The conversation moved on to what she was learning this week. Office mom never got to hear any of this stuff, because my coworker shut her down.

    3. Ad Astra*

      I’m sure some office moms try to coddle male employees, but I see it directed more at female employees. And not just when they’re fresh out of college — I’m 27 and my coworker is 30, and our managers are constantly trying to parent us. One of them routinely addresses me (and my coworker) as “young lady.” AYFKM?

      I have no trouble working with people who are 10 or 15 years older than me, but anyone who’s old enough to be my mom or dad seems to think I’m a child. It’s partly that I’m right around the same age as their actual children, but a lot of it is just a socialized tendency to infantalize young women. It’s why people describe you as a girl instead of a woman until you’re, like, 40.

      1. AMG*

        Blah! Someone did that to me once. Fortunately he got laid off not too much longer. I’m sure the fact that he applied for my job and didn’t get it was a factor in his attitude towards me.

      2. Lizzy*

        I just turned 30 and always thought being treated like a child would end at this age; it hasn’t. I have mentioned here about my horrible situation over the summer of being managed by my org’s board president while my manager was on maternity leave. The board president loves to play mother hen and infantalize all the women in my org — even my late 30’s manager! I always assumed she was intentionally being condescending, particularly towards me who she really dislikes; however, I once walked into the office while she was prepping my manager for a media appearance. It was like watching a mother try to prep her daughter for a recital and made me cringe so much, I had to leave the office to “run errands.”

        1. Development professional*

          I also thought this would end in my 30s and hasn’t. But in my case, the woman doing it to me now is very clearly insecure and trying to keep me in my place.

          I have been wondering, are others who experience this married or unmarried? I’ve been wondering lately whether when I get married (in the next year or so) it will diminish at all.

          1. Ad Astra*

            I’m married and the ring doesn’t seem to stop them. I do wonder if they’ll treat me like more of an adult once I have children of my own.

          2. Chickaletta*

            I’m 38, married, mother, and still get the “young lady” garbage from time-to-time. Not as much, but still.

            Knowing how much I hated being spoken down to when I was younger, I am conscious of how I address women younger than myself. Not just by not calling them “kids” or “young ladies”, but also what kind of credibility I give them (is it based on their abilities, not their age?), and what topics I chose to discuss with them (asking them about their hobbies vs. boyfriends/ marriage/ starting a family, etc).

      3. Helka*

        I’m just waiting to get old enough that I can stop hearing “Oh, but you’re too young to need a cane!” from all the well-meaning forty- and fifty-somethings in the office.

        1. OhNo*

          Don’t get your hopes up – after the “too young” comments quit, you’ll probably just switch over to the “well if you had taken care of yourself better when you were younger this wouldn’t have happened!” comments. I watched the switch happen to an older friend of mine who uses a wheelchair, and it was… interesting.

        2. Ella*

          I’ve been getting, “You’re too young to be so forgetful*!” since I was a teenager. Thanks, coworker, now I don’t feel senile, I just feel stupid.

          *In the sense that I will go over to the closet and then forget what item I intended to get from it, not forgetful in the sense that I’m failing to do my job.

      4. MashaKasha*

        Yeah I feel like I went straight from being the office child to being the office dinosaur, with nothing in between. Would’ve been nice to just be, you know, a team member of irrelevant age.

        Now I do wonder if guys go through this too.

      5. Not So NewReader*

        Uh, it doesn’t go away because you’re fifty something, either. I am beginning to think it just. does. not. go. away.

    4. Ann O'Nemity*

      One of our previous employees crowned herself “office mom.” Thankfully she restricted her “mothering” to bringing in baked goods, keeping the communal kitchen spotless, and giving people rides home when she deemed the weather too cold to take the bus.

      1. Chinook*

        “Thankfully she restricted her “mothering” to bringing in baked goods, keeping the communal kitchen spotless, and giving people rides home when she deemed the weather too cold to take the bus.”

        This is almost me. I end up making comments to coworkers from warmer climates who don’t wear gloves and warm clothes when it is very cold, give the younger employees the first heads up when there is free food on our floor, made comments to those whose monitors need to raised up so they don’t hunch and lectured various coworkers who forgot to mention the reason that someone was suddenly gone for a month was because their wife just gave birth and how, since we have been signing too many funeral cards recently, it would be a great change to sign a new baby card (the new baby thing happened twice because these new to the workplace employees didn’t realize that this is the type of thing coworkers like to know so they can celebrate it.)

        On the plus side, I realize I have a problem and am trying hard to stop.

        1. Pixel*

          Methinks we are from the same neck of the woods?
          I’m getting a bit paranoid after reading the comments. For the last two years I have been the oldest woman in my office – I’m 40-something and the other women are in their mid-twenties. To make things worse, this is my second career so professionally I’m a junior, and the last thing I need to do is draw attention to my middle-agedness.
          Some of my younger co-workers were new in town or car-less, so I definitely gave my share of rides in winter. I brought treats twice in two years, never wash a dish that I haven’t used, and never ask about anything personal beyond normal human interaction, such as “how was your weekend?” or “is your cold better?”. Off to second-guess myself.

    5. Brooke*

      YES. Someone who I work with (whom I actually like very much) kept referring me as a baby, semi kiddingly/affectionately. I told her I’m 36, not a baby, and asked whether she’d like the tables turned on her – AKA, me referring to her as words thrown at someone in their 60s, which she is… that was what did the trick. Behavior stopped immediately and we’re still on excellent terms.

    6. The Expendable Redshirt*

      Off topic, but I love the name Snarkus Aurelius.
      Now I’m off to read Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.

    7. Jake*

      I wouldn’t be so quick to assume that. I’m a 26 year old male and I’ve been work mothered.

      In fact I’ve only seen it happen to males. Although, to be fair, data certainly isn’t the plural of anecdote.

    8. Lindsay J*

      I’ve seen people do it to guys, too.

      I worked with my ex-boyfriend for a long time, and all the older ladies there treated him like their son. Not anything to the extreme in the OP, but lots of “Oh, I brought some extra food for you in case you got hungry tonight,” or “Are you sure you don’t need a jacket, it’s cold out there?” or “Make sure you get lots of rest tonight,” etc.

  7. Erin*

    I have to admit I laughed out loud at “My mother, thinking this was a nice gesture, agreed to do so.”

    Look, some people cannot take hints at ALL and this woman is one of them. You really need to be straightforward with her on how this is not okay.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      This is something my mom would be okay with too! In college, my dorm roommate left for the weekend, and I didn’t know where she went. In fact, I didn’t know that she left; I assumed she did because she wasn’t coming home those nights.

      My mom wanted me to call campus police and report her missing. No joke. And no I didn’t!

      1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        That probably would have been the normal course of action when your mom was in college herself. When my mom was a college freshman in 1966, she had to sign into the dorm every evening by curfew (which was an hour before the campus library closed… The men had no curfew so could stay and study later). Then lights out was at 11 or midnight. You got a couple light cuts per semester so you could occasionally study late, but the dorm mother would otherwise enforce lights out pretty strictly.

        Most of these rules were on their way out at that time, but I think there still was a dorm mother (a middle-aged woman, not just an RA who was a fellow student) living in the dorm when she graduated.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Hm, that’s interesting info. *makes note for book set in that time*

          Our campus dorms had a curfew (early 1980s), but you didn’t have to sign in; you just had to be in before they locked the doors or you were SOL. You had to show your student ID to the door monitor if you were late, and woe to you if you didn’t have it!

          1. So Very Anonymous*

            Side note: Elizabeth, you might find historian Beth Bailey’s books interesting/useful — one is a history of dating (From Back Seat to Front Porch) and one is a history of sex on a particular university campus (Sex in the Heartland), including a lot of information about parietals (rules about women in the dorms etc.)

            1. Elizabeth West*

              Ooh, thank you!
              I was alive at the time the main action in my book is set (late 1960s), but I was only a baby (who obviously wasn’t in college, LOL). The main characters would have gone to university in the late 1950s/early 1960s. One in England, one in the US.

              1. So Very Anonymous*

                Babette Faehmel’s book College Women in the Nuclear Age might also be useful! (this is a topic I’ve got a bit of a professional interest in :) )

                1. So Very Anonymous*

                  They’re all technically scholarly books, btw, but Bailey’s prose is pretty readable. Faehmel may feel more “scholarly, yow” but she’s got some really interesting stuff about how college women came to embrace conventional roles.

            2. Ad Astra*

              I read Sex in the Heartland for a class! I um, may or may not have attended the university discussed in the book. When I attended (less than 10 years ago), the two women’s dorms still didn’t allow male guests overnight — but the majority of dorms were coed so at least you could choose to live somewhere else if that rule bothered you.

              1. So Very Anonymous*

                Oh wow, I’m kind of amazed that the women’s dorms were that rigid that recently! My college’s dorms were all coed in the 1980s — coed by suite, so you lived next to boys — except for ONE floor that was all men and ONE floor that was all women.

        2. JennyFair*

          This was responsible for at least one marriage I know of. And much later than the sixties! My old pastor, when he was attending seminary, took his now-wife out one evening. He thought the date was set to a later time because she had to study, but when she was signing out of the dorm, he saw on the log book that she’d just signed in after going out with another man. He figured he’d better stake his claim and proposed :)
          I do think the intention was mostly for safety reasons-if a woman doesn’t come home when she was intending to, there may be a safety issue. Men are less likely to be kidnapped, etc.

          1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

            Women are still pretty unlikely to be kidnapped, though. A person of either gender is much more likely to get hit by a car or have some other accident. Limiting only women’s freedom of movement is infantilizing and sexist.

            1. JennyFair*

              Oh, I don’t disagree, I just think it was well-intentioned in most cases. I’d much rather see self-defense classes, though.

  8. Juli G.*

    I have worked many times with colleagues decades older than me including people whose kids I went to school with and had previously been a chaperone/team parent type to me. It was much more difficult for me to adjust to our new “equals” status than it was for them and the only “parenting” was that they maybe mentored me a little more than an average new employee.

    This is really weird. I’m guessing maybe Sue’s having a hard time believing her own kids are grown up? One of my aforementioned colleagues told me that working with me opened her eyes to the fact that her daughter was also likely a capable adult and she needed to readjust her boundaries with her. So OP, by laying down the law, you may help yourself and Sue’s potentially smothered children too. :)

      1. OhNo*

        Agreed. Someone should do the OP and everyone else a favor and get Sue a puppy. Let her work out her motherly instincts on something that won’t mind it!

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      At a FormerJob, one of my new co-workers was a guy who I’d known at our church. I was a youth leader, and I’d known him since he was a small child. Suddenly, he was a co-worker. And he made a great co-worker, an adult, someone on my team, a peer, just another person I worked with. We had a history, but the age differential was no longer noted.

  9. K*

    I’ve worked at the same municipality since I was 16 and I deal with this sometimes post college, though not to this extreme. Alison is right, cut it off and cut it off now.

  10. Henny Penny*

    I had a coworker who tried to be friends, and I had some nice conversations with her that were lightly about life outside of work, nothing too deep. When I left, she told me that she was so sad, because she thought of me as a daughter. My first thought was, “I didn’t ask for that or encourage that.” My second thought was, “If I’m her daughter, then we have a really estranged relationship.” This woman, however, is taking it quite a bit further. She has a screw loose, maybe five.

  11. Cucumberzucchini*

    I wonder if it would be worth giving your manager a head’s up just to head off any fallout from Sue. Something like “Hey Manager, just wanted to let you know I have a small issue with Sue I’ve got under control but I just wanted to loop you in. Sue has crossed some boundaries with me, prying into my personal life and at first I thought she was just being friendly, but it’s gotten out of hand. I’m handling with the utmost of professionalism it but I did want to make you aware.” That way is Sue starts running out around complaining you’re being rude to her that you’ve already cut her off at the pass.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      Yeah I agree. And as a manager I’d want to know if one of my people was this far out of whack with societal norms.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        Yes, I agree. This is so far outside the norms of acceptable demonstrations of concern for a coworker that I’d definitely want to know. Not to get involved or to handle it myself, but to know to keep an eye for similar crossings of boundaries or cluelessness about acceptable behavior.

    2. Brit*

      I would do that as well. Sue has already shown she’s willing to go beyond boundaries at perceived “rude” behavior, so I’d go ahead and mention the situation to OP’s immediate supervisor as well. And stated like you put it, it’s coming to them with a head’s up of how you’re handling a situation, rather than being whiny about how a coworker is treating you.

      1. Dana*

        I read a comment here once that I think is unfortunately true, especially with bad managers: “whoever tells the manager first is the victim.” Definitely something to think about.

        1. Window Seat Anon*

          +10000000 YES! I have been the bad guy before because I wasn’t the first one to the Manager with my side of the story.

    3. Not the Droid You are Looking For*


      I made a similar suggestion above, but I think your wording is much better.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Interesting. I’d be interested to know, but I’d expect the person to handle it themselves and wouldn’t feel the need to be looped in unless it went beyond what’s currently happening.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        I like to be aware of things like this in case they become an issue with someone else down the line. Like, if Employee A sexually harrassed Employee B but stopped when B told him to knock it off, I’d still want to know, so I could keep an eye out for any further inappropriate behavior from A.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          Yeah, exactly. Even if someone was able to handle it right away, it’s something I’d want to know so I could keep an eye out for it in the future. (To be clear, that’s explicitly because this is so bizarre and boundary-crossing. If it was an employee-to-employee discussion like “please stop snapping your gum” or “I can’t chat so much, I need to get my work done” I wouldn’t be interested in hearing about it at all, but something this weird I’d want to be aware of even if the employee was totally capable of shutting it down.)

      2. Window Seat Anon*

        As a manager I would think you’d want to know at least some details about something going on with your people. Especially if you start to notice behavioral/attitude changes.

        1. fposte*

          The question is what rises to “something,” though. I really don’t want to know if their kids are fighting at home, or if they’re upset that Marketing seemed curt in their email; just because it’s affecting them doesn’t mean it rises to managerial information level.

          I could go either way on this one. I wouldn’t bring it to a manager before I talked to Sue myself, but if one of my fresh-out-of-college staffers came to me and said “This seems to be a thing and I don’t know what to do,” I wouldn’t be annoyed at them; I would, however, say that what needs to happen is for *them* to talk to Sue; let me know if that doesn’t solve the problem or if something weird happens.

          1. INTP*

            I feel like in this case, since Sue already tattled to OP’s mom, it’s reasonable for OP to anticipate that Sue might tattle to her boss as well. That makes it a reasonable thing to bring up with the boss, versus an interpersonal situation that might be mildly awkward but you have no reason to expect that the other person will lack boundaries and escalate the issue. I would want to be aware of what was happening before Sue’s boss came to my office with Sue’s complaints rather than afterward so I knew how to respond to them.

      3. Helka*

        In the OP’s position, I’d feel better about having my manager looped in just in case Sue really, really doesn’t take well to having boundaries established and enforced. That does have the potential to turn into a massive dramabomb, and it’ll be easier for the manager to already be aware of what’s going on if she comes in one day and finds Sue throwing a passive-aggressive sh*tfit in the middle of the office.

        Plus, it means the OP can give the manager the story when she’s in a calm and prepared state of mind, and can present it in a casual way. It doesn’t have to be any different from, say, when I mentioned to my manager that the new hire I was mentoring was very chatty, and I was trying to do my best to shut down the chatter without making her feel like she couldn’t ask me questions or that she wasn’t welcome. Not because I wanted my boss to fix it, but just because if the new hire mentioned to her that I seemed cold or rude, I wanted that context to already be there.

    5. INTP*

      I think that is a good idea too, just make sure that you make it clear that you’re happy to handle it on your own. OP will look more credible in any fallout if she has proactively raised the possibility that Sue will complain rather than if she just attempts to defend herself in retrospect. I don’t think Sue will get very far with complaining, because they don’t work together, so Sue will have to explain why she was in a position for the OP to rebuff her friendliness in the first place, but someone who will tattle to your mom will certainly tattle to your boss so I would proactively anticipate that conversation.

      Also, OP’s boss might have information that OP doesn’t – like if Sue has done this type of thing to other young employees who have also complained, in which case, they might want to just tell Sue’s boss and allow Sue’s boss to handle it.

  12. the_scientist*

    I suspect that the letter writer may have a mom problem on top of a Sue problem. LW, when Sue contacts your mom, what does your mom do? Is she engaging with Sue? Is she bringing you into it? (i.e. “LW, Sue just messaged me because you didn’t respond to her text, what is going on?”). It concerns me that LW’s mom is 1) possibly engaging with Sue (beyond “my daughter is an adult and I trust her to manage her own health”) and 2) bringing news of Sue’s boundary-crossing back to the LW, which is not productive or helpful. I’m not saying there’s anything nefarious about LW’s mother’s behaviour, what I’m saying is that for a lot of women (and women of a particular generation) being “nice” is so ingrained in their upbringing that it’s going to be very, very hard to break LW’s mom of her impulse to continue engaging with Sue. As I’m thinking about how my mom would act in this scenario, I’m hearing my mom say “but she’s just concerned about you! She’s just being nice/friendly/polite! She has kids your age, it’s hard to break that habit! It’s not that big of a deal!” and I’m envisioning my mom ignoring my explicit requests and continuing to respond to Sue after I’ve asked her not to.

    So LW, if that sounds familiar to you, be prepared for a long battle, here. At the very least, your mom should respect that you know longer wish to hear about Sue’s facebook contact with her, and that you’re not going to spend your time appeasing Sue’s feelings anymore, but be prepared for that to possibly turn into an argument. And if Sue mentions contacting your mom, I would just ignore it, or take the “that’s super weird” approach.

    1. AMG*

      OP’s mom may have a skewed picture in her mind about how close the OP and Sue are. Mom may not understand that they aren’t friends at all.

      1. esemes*

        Yes, I agree. I think the mom could have totally misunderstood their level of friendship. I can see where this mom would have been confused about the friendship, maybe even thinking that her daughter had told the Work Mom to reach out to her own mother.

        I am friends with one of my coworkers outside of work. Her mom also works in our office and the mom and I are friendly-ish. My friend/coworker had a serious medical emergency and the mom was sending me updates on the situation (still in surgery, surgery went well, etc.). I know for a fact that if I was the type of person who wanted to exploit the relationship for more personal medical details I definitely could get them. The mom would just assume that the friend/coworker had told me I could ask her about those details.

      2. Katter*

        This was my thought as well. If Sue has confidently presented her requests as completely normal and reasonable, the mother might have assumed that the confidence with which Sue approached her was due to Sue having a relationship with the OP in which that kind of request would be reasonable. The mother still really, *really* should have checked with the OP before sharing information with someone who was a stranger to the mother when she first started making these requests, but it’s so far outside of social norms for Sue to be requesting this information that the mother may have assumed that Sue simply must be good friends with the OP in order to think it was appropriate.

    2. Meg Murry*

      Yes, I wonder if part of the problem is if LW’s mom posted something on Facebook and tagged the LW, and Sue replied to that and started a conversation back and forth. My mother doesn’t use Facebook, but my dad does, and I can see him saying something like “LW is out of surgery now and home resting, thanks for all your prayers.” And then if Sue was friends with LW and saw that post, she might comment on it, or comment directly on the parent’s wall (because my parents don’t have their privacy settings locked down unless I come do it for them) and a conversation starting that way.

      In fact, this is playing out right now in my family. My sister’s husband is a Facebook over-sharer, and posted something about her medical condition on his wall, but in a vague way, and tagged her. And then her coworkers are commenting on it, trying to understand if the vague thing he is referring to is actually a big deal. So while the problem in LW’s case is 95% Sue, LW’s mom isn’t helping anything if she is posting about LW.

      So my advice is:
      -Tell your Mom to stop communicating with Sue
      -Tell Mom not to post private details of your life on Facebook
      -If you are Facebook friends with Sue, unfriend or block her. You might be able to move her into an “acquaintance” status where she doesn’t see as much info, but given Facebook’s shifting privacy policies I don’t know if that would work – I moved my husband’s aunt into a different group because I was tired of her commenting on every single thing I posted, but she has referred to Facebook pictures to me – not sure if she still sees them on Facebook if other mutual friends like or comment on them, or if my in-laws are showing her the pictures off their phones.
      -Follow Alison’s advice, and tell Sue thanks for her concern but you are ok.

    3. AvonLady Barksdale*

      My mom has similar boundary issues, though in her case, I wouldn’t say it’s not nefarious. It’s more narcissistic than anything else. You simply cannot tell her that you are not friends with someone, and you definitely can’t tell her you don’t want to be friends with someone that she deems “so nice and friendly”, because her opinions is the only one that ever matters. Luckily, this has not affected my workplace, though it did make things miserable for me when I invited her on a chorus trip to Europe.

      She is a master of this, from both sides. People always say to me, “Your mom is so nice! What’s wrong with you?” and that lasts a good long time until they truly see her in action.

      1. Marcela*

        Ugh, yes. My mom is like that. Several years ago, she reconnected through her church with a friend I had in primary school. She then decided I had to revive the friendship and did whatever she could to force me to contact this woman. Trying to be polite, since this girl didn’t know my mother and her tactics to get what she wants, I accepted to chat with her. But believe me, it was impossible to convince my mother that I had my reasons for not wanting to be friends again with this woman. At the very end, I had to tell my former friend that I wasn’t interested in a new friendship. I truly regret that because I hurt and offended her, but it was the only way I could stop the situation!

        Another time, I decided to let a friendship die when my friend started a long series of comments disparaging my life, implying that I was lazy, selfish and whatnot because I don’t have a job or children. My mom was incensed and started a campaign to convince me that even if every time I talked to that friend I ended hurt and sad, I needed to keep the friendship forever… The only solution was refusing to talk to my mother about this friend at all.

    4. afiendishthingy*

      My relationship with my mom isn’t always the easiest, but some of these comments are making me very grateful for her. And for the fact that she’s not too concerned with being perceived as “nice.” :)

  13. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

    I thought I’d be able to empathize as I’m in a similar scenario with the age breakdown and feeling parented (always by older, female coworkers) but Sue is truly pulling some next level shizz.

    “the gourd is in another solar system” so succinctly describes what Sue is pulling. I also plan to steal that expression.

  14. 42*

    Creepy as all hell. It’s like a weird surrogacy thing, I wonder if she’s compensating for something traumatic.

    Regardless, ick. I hope you can stand firm and tell her (AND your mom) to knock it off. Best of luck, OP. Hoping to get a future update from you.

  15. AndersonDarling*

    I had a mother hen at my first grown-up job and I’m actually grateful. (It was nothing like the OP’s situation!) She would bring me leftovers, give me tips on my wardrobe, make sure I had a warm coat. It sounds demeaning, but I actually needed the help. She was really supportive and we are still friends, 15 years later.
    It sounds like the OP needs to cut the cord this mother hen is trying to tie. But I wouldn’t deflect all contact. Once the OP lays the law, there could be certain level of friendship appropriate to the situation.

    1. Shannon*

      The difference is that level of relationship was consensual.

      The OP should not, under any circumstances, feel obliged to make this woman into a friend in any way. The only contact she must keep is strictly a professional relationship.

      1. afiendishthingy*

        Yeah, I don’t see much of a chance for any level of friendship here. I think “cordial” is the MAXIMUM level of friendliness warranted on OP’s part here, and if Sue doesn’t respect OP’s stated boundaries going forward, she shouldn’t even expect that.

    2. MashaKasha*

      I’ve had a few coworkers who acted kind of mentor-like at the one or two jobs where I was by far the youngest, and were indeed very helpful.

      However, none of them have ever tried to contact my parents or other family members. None of them have ever tried to locate my family members’ contact info without my permission. And I’m pretty sure none of them ever asked me how it’s working down there, otherwise I’d now be doing time for strangling an older coworker! I would absolutely cut and deflect all contact, except on a professional level as needed for work, because Sue has zero concept of boundaries, and as such, there’s no telling what she’ll do next.

      I understand it’s easier said than done when you’re new at a job and half “Sue”‘s age. Hope things work out for OP.

      The only coworker I ever had who tried to get involved in my life as much as Sue is doing here, was a male boss of mine who, as it eventually turned out, wanted to have an affair with me. We were both married and had kids. He’s the first person I ever blocked on Facebook, because he found me on it after it came out (at least five years after we’d last made contact) and would not quit sending me friend requests. I’d delete one and he’d immediately send me another. I blocked him after request number five. When we worked together, he mentored me on all things, including telling me that I needed to get my sons (age 2 and 5 at the time) circumcised asap. Sue reminds me of this guy. Maybe not the same intent, but same level of creepy for sure!

    3. Helka*

      The OP is not obligated to engage with Sue in any way beyond the very basics of professionalism with a colleague. At this point, even if she were looking for a mentor type, Sue has pretty clearly labeled herself as “not it” by being incapable of understanding things like boundaries or normal behavior.

    4. afiendishthingy*

      Yeah, I’m 31 and look very young, and I’ve been the recipient of some motherly advice from time to time over the years from different coworkers. It generally hasn’t bothered me; I was irritated a few years ago when an older coworker told me I was “wasting away” (I had in fact been sick and was trying to gain back the weight), and another time when another female coworker told me loudly and repeatedly that I “looked like a LITTLE GIRL!” But in general it’s been minor well-meaning stuff from women I like and who I think also respect me as a professional. But OP’s situation is just a totally different animal – as someone pointed out upthread, this really goes way beyond “mothering” into borderline harassment territory. My actual mother might nag me to get renter’s insurance and wear a better coat, but she sure as hell better not monitor my bathroom usage and interrogate me about it. Sue is not acting like a mother, she’s acting like a creep.

  16. Graciosa*

    The only silver lining I can find in this is that if the OP takes Alison’s advice, she will get to practice very important skills for setting boundaries at work. This is not necessarily easy to do – although it does get easier with practice – but it is a skill that will serve the OP well in years to come.

    One thing I’ve enjoyed about getting older is caring less about what other people think. The OP is NOT being rude by refusing to allow Sue to pry (although a lifetime of messages about courtesy and respect for elders can make it harder to accept). At some point in the future, the OP may have to deal with a harasser, someone taking credit for or demeaning her work, an intrusive boss, or any of the many similar situations AAM readers experience in the work place.

    OP, practice politely maintaining your boundaries now and don’t forget how to do it.

    1. LBK*

      The OP is NOT being rude by refusing to allow Sue to pry (although a lifetime of messages about courtesy and respect for elders can make it harder to accept).

      That is an excellent point. It’s so hard to shut off your socialized deference to people older than you when you’re in the office.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Yes. But when you’re in the office, they’re not elders–unless they’re your boss, they’re EQUALS. You are on the same footing. That’s really hard to internalize when you’re new to the workforce, but it’s true.

    2. Ama*

      Very true. My very first full time professional job I worked for some major boundary crossers (not helped by the fact that I got that job through a family friend who had known me since birth), and as a shy young woman who tended to defer to other people’s preferences it was really good practice in learning to stand up for myself.

      In fact, I have recently realized I’m much better about sticking up for my needs in a professional context than in my personal life — I think largely because I started creating firm boundaries at work very early on.

    3. afiendishthingy*

      I’ve been working on being clearer about boundaries in my professional and personal life lately and it’s amazing. It’s still difficult and feels awkward in the moment but it’s SO worth it.

  17. Allison*

    This makes me wanna nope all over the place! I wonder if she has a child at home, maybe a daughter, and she can’t quite switch off her “mommy brain” when she comes into work, so she ends up treating all young people around her like they’re her children. Or she’s an empty nester or someone who never had kids and is looking for someone to mother.

    Also, stories like this about people commenting on bathroom usage is why I feel self-conscious about how often I go to the bathroom at work.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      I would be very tempted to loudly respond on the bathroom question “DID YOU JUST ASK ABOUT MY BLADDER AND URETHRA?”

    2. videogame Princess*

      I would be a bit skeptical of that–I shoved off most parental attention as fast as I could. Like most, mine got the hint. And I’m actually a very high-maintenance individual (think high-functioning autism/ADHD)–but still, they tried to respect me and give me as much room and independence as they could. But that’s because, as with most parents, they wanted their kid to be independent, not coddled. This woman’s behavior cannot be attributed to being an empty nester–it would be more likely that said behavior contributed to a prematurely empty nest.

      1. Charlotte Collins*

        Or someone who has never had kids but might want them… The OP should not be the trial run for that…

    3. Meg Murry*

      Yes, I’m wondering if Sue has college aged kids, so she is still learning the boundaries between parenting them and letting them grow up.

      I would have such a hard time not snapping “Sue, I already have a mother to nag me, thank you very much, as I know you are well aware of, since you contacted her on Facebook!

      So I guess just another +1 for talking to Sue about is calmly and rationally, before you snap and lose it at her one day.

    4. neverjaunty*

      Yeah, no. Being a mother of adult children, even when they’re leaving the nest, doesn’t create weird urges to monitor people’s bathroom breaks and bring in food because how of much ‘kids’ eat. Sue’s behavior would be interplanetary weird if she were doing this to her OWN children.

      1. afiendishthingy*

        Right? I’m pretty sure my mother hasn’t made a comment on my bathroom usage since I was about 8 (in the context of “It’s a long drive, everybody go to the bathroom before we leave”). Even given the OP had kidney problems, I still wouldn’t want her monitoring me. For a coworker to do it is beyond inappropriate.

  18. ancolie*

    Ohhh man, that is bizarre. Abstractly, it’d almost feel a bit … threatening? to me. That might sound over the top, but it’s just such a big boundary violation, y’know? It’s like, what other boundaries could/will she bash through? Is she going to show up at your home one night to check up on you? Or follow you around?

    It’s also the kind of situation that can get really dicey w.r.t. casual co-workers. They may only see one or two of the things Sue is doing and think that it’s sweet (even if a little odd). If they hear the OP shutting Sue down, they may think the OP is being “mean” or “overreacting”. They’re wrong, but it’s still feels awful being wrongly judged.

    The OP didn’t specify their gender, but speaking a bit personally here: As a woman, I’ve generally experienced outsiders’ reactions to things like this as strongly gendered. A woman dealing with a Sue or a Stu is likely to be admonished that Sue/Stu is just being NICE, why are you being so mean? Meanwhile, a man dealing with a Sue will be laughed at if he says anything, because that’s just Sue, c’mon, man! What, are you afraid some woman is gonna beat you up? HAW HAW HAW! People won’t necessarily leap to support a man dealing with Stu or think Stu is being creepy/potentially threatening, but they’re more likely to say something like, “what an asshole”, or, “f*ck that guy, what a douche!”

    1. Jillociraptor*

      Ooh, yes. Most likely, Sue is harmless, if annoying and weird, but any time someone tries to set up an authority/dependent relationship like this, it kind of makes my skin crawl for exactly the reasons you mentioned. It’s so frightening to be constantly told that your boundaries don’t matter. (And then of course, when the formerly SO NICE person takes it to a truly creepy level, everyone’s reaction changes to “Why did they let Sue treat them like that??”. Blurg.)

      I think Alison’s advice to focus the response to Sue on “Wow, that is a genuinely weird and inappropriate way to treat another person” is absolutely spot on. This isn’t about any judgments of Sue as a person, and it kind of disrupts the power imbalance (i.e. helps take away some of the criticism that OP is “overreacting”).

      Yikes, really. What a mess. Keep us posted OP.

    2. Violetta*

      Yes! Also, imagine if Sue were the man in this scenario, how creeped out would everyone be by him monitoring his young coworkers’ time in the bathroom and reaching out to her parents? Sketchy as all hell.

    3. TootsNYC*

      It’s also the kind of situation that can get really dicey w.r.t. casual co-workers. They may only see one or two of the things Sue is doing and think that it’s sweet (even if a little odd). If they hear the OP shutting Sue down, they may think the OP is being “mean” or “overreacting”. They’re wrong, but it’s still feels awful being wrongly judged.

      That’s why I’d suggest starting to keep track. “Make it visible,” someone once told me.

    4. MashaKasha*

      A Stu would’ve already had a reputation in the office for being creepy and out of bounds and someone would probably have warned OP. With a Sue, you’re right everyone probably thinks she’s harmless and well-meaning.

      I assumed OP is female, because I can’t for the life of me imagine a Sue telling a guy in his 20s “I noticed you’ve gone to the restroom a lot today. Everything still working down there?” That would be very unSue-like!

    5. themmases*

      I was just thinking along these lines as I got to your comment.

      I remember it coming up here before, but I think sexism can pose an extra challenge to women in owning our behavior. We are socialized not to see women as threats or as violating others. It can be hard for anyone regardless of gender to accept that something we did was seen as creepy or unwanted by others when *we* know we had good intentions. Gender stereotypes add another way for us to avoid the discomfort of having behaved badly and tell ourselves that the other person should have known we didn’t mean it. I’m including my own past behavior in this.

      My guess is that this woman sees herself as being kind and nurturing and doesn’t see any way that the well-meant, stereotypically feminine behavior of an older lady could make someone uncomfortable or overlap with the way a stalker would behave. That really doesn’t make it OK though. If this woman really can’t face that her behavior crosses a line, maybe she would be receptive to the other gendered aspects of this. It’s incredibly undermining to be mothered and fussed over by a colleague, and if the OP is a woman then that should be the last thing Sue would want to do to her. And IMO as a younger woman with a career, the mothering from some people makes us all look bad.

    6. Charityb*

      I agree completely. I think the difficulty here is that the kinds of things that Sue is described aren’t things that are generally seen as menacing or threatening. If Sue was making death threats it would actually be easier to deal with in some respects. Most people would understand if someone felt threatened by something like that, but it’s harder to get outsiders to see behavior like this as menacing especially when, as you point out, they’re likely only seeing part of what’s happening. If I as an outsider heard that a coworker was concerned about another coworker’s health, I might at worst think that the first coworker was a little nosy but I wouldn’t necessarily put together a pattern of stalking and harassment without knowing all of the details. My mind just wouldn’t go there as quickly as if I heard that one coworker threatened or followed a coworker home or something.

    7. Carpe Librarium*

      Okay, now I have a Buffy/AAM mashup in my head of OP’s mother saying to OP “*I’m* the one being single-white-femaled here!”

  19. Rat Racer*

    It’s not that I disagree with everyone’s comments here – Sue clearly has boundary issues. But can we acknowledge for a second that her heart is in the right place and she thinks she is being kind?

    Totally mis-guided, misplaced, inappropriate – but it sounds like she genuinely cares about the OP.

    1. LBK*

      If anything, though, that makes it worse – it would be easier to change someone who knew they were purposely being obnoxious. If someone doesn’t even believe they’re doing something wrong, you have to convince them of that first before you can convince them to stop.

      1. Rat Racer*

        Yes absolutely – and misguided kindness can be just as awful as deliberate ill-will in its effect – I’m just saying that it sounds like Sue thinks that she is being kind. It doesn’t change the situation for the OP. I just think it’s worth acknowledging.

        1. Wordly Nerdly*

          ” in its effect”
          ” it’s worth acknowledging”

          Thank you for using apostrophes correctly!

          …back to your regularly scheduled programming…

      2. Tinker*

        So much +1.

        There’s a critical difference between loving a person in an emotional sense and doing right by that person — even a difference between trying to do right and actually doing right. From what I’ve seen (and also experienced) the worst sort of problem to have isn’t a person who has, as you say, decided to be obnoxious, but rather someone who has gotten into the state of that they love — or, are obsessed with — someone SO MUCH that it overrides normal relationship rules (not just the ones that are consensually disregarded with increasing intimacy, but the fundamental ones of How You People) and even direct negative feedback from the person in question.

        It’s easy to understand that stabbing people is a problem — but also, they bleed just the same when loved with knives.

        1. Rat Racer*

          Your point is well-taken. Growing up in a tightly knit and nosy Jewish community, I think I’m more inoculated against these kind of boundary transgressions than the average Bear.

          There’s been so much reporting of corporate greed, colleague back-stabbing, cruel and manipulative bosses — this felt on its surface like a different animal. But maybe I’m wrong and this is just as bad.

    2. Former Diet Coke Addict*

      But we can’t know that for sure–the OP hasn’t said anything about Sue making it sound caring or like she genuinely wants the best for OP. It could just as easily be that Sue is just nosy and controlling–there’s no way to tell that this is coming from a kind or thoughtful place.

    3. Hornswoggler*

      We-e-e-e-ellllll…. possibly. It could also be that she has such an urge and a need to nurture someone, that she has picked on the OP and decided that this is the person she’s going to nurture, come hell or high water. Mothering the OP meets her needs more than it does the OP’s – in fact the OP has not expressed any needs at all. I don’t think that ‘Sue’ is evil, but she is misguided and being very inappropriate.

      1. Kate M*

        Exactly. This feels much more like it’s about meeting Sue’s needs than the OP’s. It’s controlling, and that might not come from a good place. In fact, even in tight-knit communities, a lot of times that’s the reason for crossing boundaries. Not to help someone, but to insure that they act in the way that the person crossing the boundary thinks they should.

        1. TootsNYC*

          And to keep them inside that tight-knit community, to “knit them in,” so to speak, whether they want to be or not.

    4. Serafina*

      No. Her heart is not in the right place and she is not being kind. That notion needs to be obliterated from the human psyche, because it excuses far too many people who simply think that they have a right to meddle into other people’s lives and relationships without invitation. She’s being a busybody and a meddler and believes the OP has no right to privacy and is not an autonomous adult and co-worker. If someone waltzes through your front door to your private party uninvited, the fact that they brought a gift or really, genuinely wanted to celebrate you doesn’t mean they’re being “kind” or that “their heart is in the right place.” They are rude and out of line and 100% in the wrong, full stop. Their “genuine caring” matters not a jot.

      Should the OP try to be kind (at least initially) in shutting this down? Sure. Try it gently, but if gently doesn’t work (and I’d bet dollars to donuts that it won’t) she can abandon “gently” with a clear conscience and bring out the steel fist as well as involving supervisors and HR.

      1. Cathy*

        A quote I have always liked seems appropriate: “if you aren’t doing it FOR me, you’re doing it TO me.” This seems to be a situation where it’s the latter.

      2. Charityb*

        Agreed. Someone who is genuinely being kind respects boundaries. If they accidentally step over them, they step back really quick. Those who don’t are generally doing it more for their own sense of self rather than because they really care about the other person. I don’t think that Sue is evil or anything, but someone doesn’t have to be evil to be clearly and completely in the wrong and not worthy of kid gloves.

        1. afiendishthingy*

          Yes, and OP’s already clearly stated a boundary at least once – at which point Sue upped the ante and asked OP’s mom why OP was so rude. Under the guise of concern. TABLE FOR NOPE PARTY OF NOPE.

      3. AcademiaNut*

        There’s definitely a point when someone crosses over from well meaning but awkward/clueless to creepy. Once someone crosses over that line, it really doesn’t doesn’t matter what *they* are thinking inside their head, because their behaviour is so far outside of what is considered normal, appropriate, or acceptable.

        I’ve seen this with a male friend who was desperate to get a girlfriend, and rather socially awkward. He meant well, he liked the girls he was pursuing, and he certainly wasn’t dangerous and didn’t mean any harm. But he was creeping them out, and scaring them off, and he Just Wouldn’t Get It – he honestly believed they should be responding to his intentions, not his actions. It took a lot of hit him repeatedly over the head with a clue-by-four, and having loud, group freak outs to his tales of dating woes, before he would acknowledge that his behaviour wasn’t appropriate and needed to change.

    5. Violetta*

      I don’t know – I have sympathy for ‘office parents’ but this just goes so far over the line (friending her mom, monitoring her bathroom use, …) that I can’t imagine how Sue justifies herself. (Also, the intent behind it doesn’t really matter when it’s making the OP so uncomfortable).

      1. Charlotte Collins*

        Also, don’t self-proclaimed “office parents” parent the entire office, instead of having a laser-like focus on one particular person? That’s what makes this so, so boundary crossing to me. (Also, I have to say I’d be more than a little creeped out if a CW treated me like this…)

    6. Katie the Fed*

      No – this is about her needs, not the OPs. At the point that she “reported” OP to OP’s mother after OP asked her nicely to stop, it stopped being harmless. Just like it’s not sweet or flattering if a guy keeps asking you out after you’ve said no.

      1. Arbynka*

        Yep. Once upon a time I cared and I thought I was being ever so helpful. Then the person asked me to please stop because it was stressing them out more that it was helping them. So I apologized and I stopped. Because that’s what you do if you have good intentions and if you care about the person. Because if you do, it is about them. Not about you. Yes, I felt insulted little at first, rejected too. But then I felt little mortified when I realized how my unsolicited “help” must made them feel.

        1. Allison*

          When I was younger I got it in my head that I had to respect my parents by being super formal and calling them “sir” and “ma’am.” For reference, I live in the Northeast where this isn’t standard at all, unless you’re growing up in a military household or something. But no, I was convinced that this was necessary in order to be “respectful,” so I kept insisting on calling them “sir” and “ma’am” even when they told me to stop.

          Or when I was in high school and had a boyfriend who insisted on being a gentleman, opening doors for me and paying for everything, even told me it wouldn’t be “right” if I got my license first because he should be the one driving, and would never let me return the favor even though I really wanted to, because I didn’t want that kind of relationship – I wanted us to do nice things for each other and not let our genitals dictate who did what for whom.

          In both cases, someone was so caught up in doing what they felt they should be doing in order to show someone respect that they didn’t listen when the person they were trying to respect told them to knock it off, which is more disrespectful.

    7. Claire (Scotland)*

      That’s a big assumption. I don’t see evidence to support that interpretation in the letter. It could be true, but it’s not the only possible way to interpret her actions.

    8. TootsNYC*

      I don’t think she does genuinely care about the OP.

      If she did, she’d be more alert to the clues the OP is giving off.

      She cares about “caring about the OP.” It’s all about her.
      (Look, breathing is inherently a selfish act.)

      That doesn’t mean she’s intentionally being controlling, nor does she have any malicious intent.
      But she is hearing the voice in her OWN head more loudly than anything else.

      (It reminds me of my mother-in-law wanting to urge my 4yo daughter to eat, completely ignoring the fact that the kid was chewing, and literally–literally–pushing a spoon full of peas against her lips. She was so caught up in “her role” that she didn’t -really- see the living, breathing, chewing child in front of her.)

      And it’s going to be a GOOD thing for her, to hear “Sue, that’s a weirdly personal question to ask a colleague,” And I think the OP should emphasize the word “colleague.”

      1. Kyrielle*

        Yes. This. I really hope I’m wrong and that Sue is coming from a place of strong caring, and is purely clueless. Because if so, the first strong push-back from OP as Alison suggested should shut it down nicely (the caring Sue will be mortified to realize that she misread cues and overstepped bounds so badly!).

        But I don’t think that’s how it’s going to go, and if it doesn’t, then it is and always was far more about Sue than about OP.

        1. Artemesia*

          She already pushed back and got reported to her Mommy for rudeness. This ain’t going to go down well.

          1. afiendishthingy*

            That part was SO WEIRD and out of line. I would really like to know how OP’s mother responded to that. I can kiiind of get the mom thinking Sue was thoughtful when she first asked for updates on the OP’s health (although I’d be really mad if my mom agreed to that without my permission, and my mom would think the request was very strange) but I really hope Mom didn’t let Sue think she was right to report OP’s “rudeness” to her. So creepy and controlling.

            I REALLY want an update on this one.

    9. Not me*

      I think Sue’s a little bit past that. She’s bothering LW about her relationship with her boyfriend and bathroom habits? That’s not really what you do when you’re a well-meaning but overbearing person who’s trying to help.

    10. Nerdling*

      No, her heart is NOT in the right place. She’s pushing herself all over a younger colleague who has not given her any sign of being at all interested in having an additional parental figure in their life, to the point of asking incredibly intrusive questions and contacting relatives to find out what she wants but has no need to know. She’s violating the OP’s privacy up one side and down the other. If her heart were in the right place she would follow the OP’s cues regarding the closeness if their relationship.

    11. MashaKasha*

      Well she’s being kind without being asked for these particular acts of kindness. And she’s overinvested in a relative stranger. It’s not Sue’s job to make OP’s life happy. It’s not in Sue’s power to make OP’s life happy. So far, she’s actually succeeding in making it miserable instead!

      At the risk of sounding like an armchair psychologist, if this is Sue genuinely being kind and trying to help, then Sue has issues that need to be addressed.

    12. Helka*

      But can we acknowledge for a second that her heart is in the right place and she thinks she is being kind?

      No. Because Sue’s intentions really don’t matter here. Whether or not she wants to be nice, she’s being creepy as heck.

      It’s like people who try to “help” me by grabbing things out of my arms because “oh no honey you’re hurt, let me get that!” I’m already unsteady on my feet, and all the good intentions in the world aren’t going to cushion my fall if they knock me over!

      1. Katie the Fed*

        Oh god, this. When I was in a wheelchair people would grab it and push it, without even asking me. WTF! This is the ONLY bit of independence I have right now. Also, I might get my hand caught.

    13. neverjaunty*

      So what? Violent stalkers are often genuinely in love with their victims. I don’t understand why you feel it necessary to ‘acknowledge’ what you (perhaps mistakenly) assume to be Sue’s deep inner feelings.

  20. WLE*

    I have a feeling that Sue isn’t going to take this well. Is it possible to say something along the lines of you’d rather not discuss your personal life at work? You appreciate her concern. However, you’re a private person, and you’d rather not discuss personal matters. Let her know that you’ve asked your mother not to discuss these with her either. Then maybe offer up something else to talk about, or if you’re prefer not to talk to Sue at all, tell her you have to get back to work.

    1. JessaB*

      No because Sue will interpret “at work” to mean okay any time she is not working (lunch, breaks, after work, before work,) as being okay i can do anything I want then and still contact her mother (that’s not AT work.) No. Anything that’s not clearly, “stop this now and forever. ALL of this right now. No talking ANY time to any person about my habits,” is going to allow her to think she can still do it as long as the literal “at work” provision is obeyed. No conditions can be offered. It needs to be “Never, ever, anywhere, any time.”

      1. WLE*

        Maybe this can be phrased more as “I would like to keep my personal life and work life separate.”

        I don’t think Sue is the type of person that will just quit cold turkey unless she understands WHY OP is asking her to stop.

        1. afiendishthingy*

          I wouldn’t even say that, probably, because OP may voluntarily mention her personal life to other coworkers at times. It’s not that OP doesn’t want any coworker to know anything about her personal life – she doesn’t want to answer invasive rude questions from Sue. Sue is far enough over the line at this point that OP’s best bet is to respond directly and explicitly to Sue’s behavior. So “I don’t want to discuss that” in response to one of Sue’s questions – no real room for interpretation there – and “Please don’t contact my mother or inquire about personal life” when addressing the pattern.

  21. Umvue*

    Wow. This is almost as weird as the duck club. And scarier, actually, because I’m more confident it’s legit.

  22. Lunar*

    Wow! This is amazing.

    It makes me wonder about what (if any) amount of office mothering is okay? I work in a very small organization and everyone (2 bosses and some contractors we work with regularly) is old enough to be my parent (I’m a semi-recent grad). I think that they all respect me and treat me like an adult (although I do get a lot of talk about “people in my generation” being too invested in social media etc. from one boss). But one of our contractors does take on a bit of a motherly role with me, asking personal questions and has offered to do things like take me to IKEA in her SUV when I moved into a new apartment (I don’t have a car and did not take her up on this offer). I think a lot of this is just that she is a very kind person, but there is definitely a parenting element to it because I am the same age as one of her children. I don’t find it intrusive or too much though, so would that make it okay, or is there a need to put a stop to any kind of parent-ish relationships at work?

    1. Jillociraptor*

      I think the key distinction is in whether the office “parent” is trying to help you gain more skills and independence (like an actual parent ideally would) or if they are trying to create a relationship of dominance. It does sound like the contractor in your office is just trying to help you out — not to get an unreasonable level of influence in your life or create a debt for you to repay, so if you’re cool with it, it’s probably fine.

      I appreciate it when older colleagues are willing to offer advice on things I’m really new to, professionally and personally, as long as they’re able to treat me like a person who could reasonably learn to do the thing they’re explaining, not as a permanent dependent or a Disaster Millennial (less boundary-blurring, still super irritating).

      1. Shannon*

        Actually, with a contractor, the ethics lines are especially clear. The OP must maintain a work only relationship with these people in order to avoid charges of favoritism. It wouldn’t be unheard of for a contractor to attempt to help them out in a coworker’s private life in order to curry in office favor on behalf of themselves or their company.

    2. Jeanne*

      I don’t think you have to automatically put a stop to it. You are the one to best analyze it. Do they still respect you while being caring? Do they drop it if you answer no thank you? Do they want to encourage you at work as well as your personal life? I think if you believe your situation has not crossed the line then it hasn’t.

    3. Anonymous for this*

      I’d say that semi-parenting/mentoring relationships are not completely unusual nor do they have to go wrong (and as insane as OP’s colleague has gone, which is just sooo wrong I don’t have words). The important thing is to maintain the professional/private boundary, as you’ve already done, e.g. appreciate the thought about IKEA, but don’t take her up on it. In one job my boss very much took a mentor/parent role, after a rather difficult previous year and helped build up my confidence, but as I needed that less and less, he stepped back and we had a more equal relationship later on. I lacked parent figures as a child and have an unfortunate tendency to look for them as a adult. My boss’s children lived in a different country, so he was happy to have a semi-parental relationship. I respect him for being flexible enough to change the relationship when I needed less parenting/mentoring.
      So my advice: frame it a more professional mentoring way (focus on work matters), accept the chat and talk about the things you feel comfortable discussing (furniture vs. health concerns e.g.) and any useful advice (my boss, for example was a good DIY person and had very helpful things to say about painting).

    4. AMT*

      I wouldn’t necessarily take the offer to help you buy furniture as a mothering type gesture, other than the age difference – I’ve made similar offers to coworkers before that are my age simply offering help if they needed it. But as to your question I think that as long as you are both comfortable with the relationship and your work relationship remains professional I don’t personally see anything wrong with it

  23. Long Time Reader First Time Poster*

    Is the OP Facebook friends with Sue? It seem like s/he must be, otherwise Sue wouldn’t have been able to befriend the OP’s mother. That needs to end.

    1. Kelly L.*

      I don’t think that’s true, actually. I believe anyone can request anyone as a friend unless they’ve turned off that setting. (And I don’t think we actually know whether Sue friended OP’s mom. She may have just messaged her or left her a comment.)

    2. Jubilance*

      You can send messages to people without being their FB friend. You can see someone’s entire profile, including their friends & family members, if they haven’t changed their privacy settings. There’s nothing in the post that makes me think that the OP is FB friends with her coworker.

    3. Charlotte Collins*

      Also, I’m not on FB, but if OP has a really unusual last name, it wouldn’t be too hard to find her mother on FB. (If I or my mother were on FB, you’d be able to track us both down very easily unless we enabled strict privacy settings. I would, but my mother probably wouldn’t. Luckily, she would think Sue is a loon and it wouldn’t play out this way.)

    4. Not me*

      Depending on OP’s privacy settings, their friends list could have been public. Or Sue is a creeper and found OP’s mother’s profile some other way. Anyway 10000% agree that the Facebook connections need to end.

  24. TotesMaGoats*

    She didn’t just cross the line, she laughed as she long jumped over it. What the actual??!!!

    We all know that my office boundaries are basically nil. I really don’t care what people know. However, this whole exchange makes me really uncomfortable on your behalf. It doesn’t matter if I’d be okay with it. You aren’t and you don’t have to put up with it. AAM’s has great advice and I would follow it. I would also tell my manager.

    I’ve been called a “little mother” at work from time to time. Most of the time I’m really surprised by the comment. I don’t see what I do as mothering. It’s usually just for doing something nice like bringing back coffee for someone or picking up breakfast. Nothing at all like the post above. For example, I was going to a conference with 3 colleagues on Friday. The directions for parking/access were not complete and if you didn’t know the area you’d wander around lost in the rain. Since I got there first, I emailed everyone quickly and said “go here, turn left and ta da you’re here.” They all said thanks and you wouldn’t have found it otherwise. The last one to arrive said “Oh thanks for the directions. You can tell you are a mother.” Um, no. I would have done that regardless of having born a child. It’s what you do for colleagues.

    1. Dana*

      There’s a weirdness where some people equate being competent and/or prepared as being a mother. When I was in high school and we would take day trips to an amusement park a couple times a summer (with no “adults”), I would bring a bag with stuff like a water bottle, sunscreen, a couple band-aids, etc. Unsurprisingly, someone in the group would need something every time and it was always “Thanks, mom!”

      It was weird, but I laughed it off and considered it their way of saying “Thank you for being prepared as I am not because I rely on my mother to do everything for me.”

      1. TotesMaGoats*

        Yeah, that’s a good way of putting it. And that would’ve been me too. Packing snacks for a long car ride (without kids) and planning for potty breaks.

        1. Charlotte Collins*

          Funny, those were basic skills my parents expected me to have once I was able to go on trips like that without an adult.

      2. Mander*

        Geez, haven’t these people heard of Girl Scouts? Always be prepared! (Actually, that might be Boy Scouts. But still.)

    2. afiendishthingy*

      That’s just sexist. If a male coworker had sent out directions I doubt they’d have commented on whether he had children.

  25. Sparty07*

    I just started a new job 3 months ago and I’ve been working with the executive staff a decent chunk. After about 6 weeks I found out they were calling me “The Kid”. I don’t mind this much as I take it (from their other comments) as being like a whiz kid more than a derogatory youthful nickname. I’ve been told I’ve created better reporting than they have had in the 3 years they’ve been in business. I am also the youngest manager by a decade and the executive team are older than me by at least 15-20 years.

    1. MissLibby*

      We had this happen in our office. I only observed it from afar, but it totally made me cringe. The person being called “the kid” was in their late 20’s, and while they had recently completed grad school, they had had a separate professional career in another field before completing grad school and taking the entry-level position in my office. It may have been a bit paternal on the part of one of the Sr. Managers as he is definitely a mentor to the position, but for the other one, I think it was totally condescending. Gross. So glad that manager has since moved on, this was just one of many cringe inducing behaviors.

  26. Three Thousand*

    I agree with others who say the OP might have a more serious problem with her mother than with the coworker, especially if the mother knows how the OP feels about this woman and is continuing to enable her insanity. I can easily see a somewhat overprotective mother of a 20-something being gratified and happy that her child’s kind coworker would take such a generous interest in her and horrified at the thought that her daughter would rebuff the coworker or be “rude” to her in any way.

    OP, if you haven’t been open with your mom about this woman, please do so, and please don’t be thrown if your mom argues with you that you’re the one with the problem. Believe me, I’ve been in your place, and it’s incredibly demoralizing, but people without boundaries just don’t think the way the rest of us do, and that doesn’t make them right and you wrong.

    1. Adam*

      Right. To borrow and adapt from the Princess Bride “Rude. You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

    2. LisaLee*

      I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. My own mother is sort of naive and doesn’t understand the conventions of using things like Facebook. I can totally see someone contacting her and her assuming that that person is a good friend and that I wouldn’t mind that sort of contact. It doesn’t sound like the OP has explicitly told her mother that she doesn’t want Sue’s interference.

    1. TootsNYC*

      See, she’s not even accurate to true mothering. Because “kids eat a lot” ends when puberty does. Like, sometime in college, maybe? And our OP is in her 2nd job after college, mid twenties. Long past the pre-adolescent / adolescent need for lots of calories.

      Like I said, it’s not a genuine caring; it’s about the images in Sue’s head.

  27. Adam*

    EVERYTHING about this makes me twitch. This may have started out of place of genuine concern but Sue is given herself the keys to every aspect of your life of her own volition. She contacts your mom via Facebook when you don’t respond to her texts? WHAT?!?

    You are not being rude by asserting your boundaries. You are not being rude by telling her you have your life in hand and she doesn’t need to be concerned with things. SHE is being rude by ignoring your requests and not accepting that her granted level of clearance in your personal life is on a need-to-know basis of which she needs to know precisely zip. Don’t back down. You are not her hobby.

  28. Lanya (aka Camp Director Kim)*

    Another great reason not to friend coworkers on Facebook – not saying that was the case here – but that would have potentially made it much easier for the woman to find the OP’s mom on social media.

    I would be more afraid in this case if the OP was NOT friends with the coworker and the coworker stalked her family on Facebook to connect with her mom…now that would be really creepy.

  29. Mockingjay*

    I feel bad for you OP.

    I had an Office Mom at one point in my career. She was nowhere near as bad as the one in the letter. Still, she couldn’t clue in that we were all functioning adults.

    For example, a group of us went to lunch at the local deli. When it was my turn to order, she stepped up and ordered for me.

    She was a helicopter mom before the term was coined. In the summer, when school was out, she would call her kids every morning and at lunch about what to eat. (I could never figure why she thought they weren’t capable of plucking a box of cereal off the pantry shelf.)

    1. Charlotte Collins*

      This would drive me crazy. I’ve been expected to order for myself off a menu since I could read… It actually makes me cringe when I see older movies and TV shows where a male character orders for the female character(s), even though I know it was a convention at one time. (Although according to Miss Manners, it seems that the proper convention was for the man/host to confirm with his guest – THEN order the food, but that step wasn’t always followed.)

      Also, my mother said that in the 60s, fancy restaurants would have a separate menu for women, where the prices weren’t listed. Because, you know, women didn’t need to bother their pretty little heads about that kind of thing….

      1. fposte*

        To be more accurate, *guests’* menus didn’t have prices, because it was gauche for the value of hospitality to be visibly calculated. I actually quite like that one.

        1. Charlotte Collins*

          Yes, but the assumption at the time was that all women were guests, so they pretty much always got that menu.

          To be honest, I think it would be useful to bring back the guest menu for formal dining, but I could still see places assuming that the man was the host. (There is a trick to ordering here, though – generally whatever’s in the middle of the listing is the mid-priced option.)

          1. fposte*

            Right, but it wasn’t that tough a default to work around, and it also operated for business meals. I’m just saying that it didn’t relate to any beliefs about women and money or women and numbers, and that it comes out of a much older tradition about hospitality and gift-giving (c.f. not giving cash).

          2. Lindsay J*

            I kind of like the idea of guest menus, because then I wouldn’t have to worry so much about price when ordering. I mean you can obviously tell some items are more expensive than others, but “the host got this chicken dish. Is it okay if I get this other chicken dish that is $1.50 more?” is a thought that runs through my mind when I’m ordering and know someone else is paying.

      2. Mander*

        Yeah, the only time I have my husband order for me is if 1. I’m in the bathroom when the waiter comes around, or 2. we’re in France and I want something complicated, because he speaks French and I don’t.

        1. Cath in Canada*

          My husband ordered for me once, not long after we met – I’d told him what I was planning to order, and the waiter happened to ask him what he wanted first, so he ordered for both of us. “I AM PERFECTLY CAPABLE OF ORDERING MY OWN SALMON” is now a jokey stock phrase in our house for when one of us is perceived to be crossing a line! And he’s never done that again…

  30. Chalupa Batman*

    Sue’s comment to your mom that you were “uncharacteristically rude” put a red flag up for me-first of all, it’s none of your mom’s business that you were “rude” at work, and second, are you trying to be nice about this? It’s nice that she took an interest in you, and it’s natural to respond to attempts at kindness in a gracious way, but she’s crossed from misguided kindness to disrespect. Like AndersonDarling, I also had a “work mom” that I appreciated early in my career. She was an informal mentor and we would share moderately personal things (weekend plans, small personal problems, milestones, etc.), and we’re still friendly. I think what’s different here is that she always treated me as a professional and an adult, and our dynamic developed organically. As we got to know each other, our interactions got more personal because they were based in mutual warmth and respect, not an implied sense that I was clueless. You’re not overreacting, and you’re not rude. “I’d rather not discuss that, but thanks” is an appropriate response. In a perfect world, she’ll realize that trust and comfort can’t be forced and be more mindful of signals that others aren’t reciprocating her interest…but if she doesn’t, that’s not really your problem. You aren’t obligated to fill whatever need she has that this feeds, or even to figure out what her need is. It’s not your business. General professional courtesy is sufficient.

    And tracking down your mom on Facebook to ask about your surgery? What the what?!?

    1. Marian the Librarian*

      > “Sue’s comment to your mom that you were “uncharacteristically rude” put a red flag up for me-first of all, it’s none of your mom’s business that you were “rude” at work”

      Yes. She is “tattling” on OP under the (very) thin veneer of concern. To OP’s mother!! How on earth could anyone ever think this was okay to do to another adult human being, let alone someone who is a coworker? Gross and manipulative.

  31. Snowglobe*

    I can’t help but wonder if OP is 100% sure that Sue is only doing this to her – I’ve known a few office busybodies who want to know everything about everybody all the time. So it might not be due to OP’s age, just the coworker’s lack of boundaries in general. Advice would be the same, probably, except for the part about saying that the coworker is treating OP differently.

  32. Former Retail Manager*

    I may have missed it above, but where does “Sue” fit into the organization’s dynamic? Is she an old timer who basically has carte blanche to do whatever she wants and can walk on water in the eyes of management? If so, I’d tread carefully. An organization of 10-15 people tends to lend itself to either a family owned business or one where at least a few people have been there since the dawn of time. No doubt, “Sue’s” behavior is beyond insane and ridiculous, but I’ve known many “Sue’s” and every one I’ve ever known would be offended if you respond using Alison’s suggestions (which are TOTALLY appropriate), but I’d definitely consider how you will be received if and when management is eventually looped in. You’re the newbie, and if she is an old timer, they may be far more inclined to downplay her actions as “just being nice, harmless, etc.” and think that you are being overly sensitive. I have seen it happen far too many times, albeit unfairly. Good luck OP!

    1. Miss Eddie*

      hi everyone, I’m the OP. Thanks for all the comments!

      It is a family run business in kind of a small town; most of my co-workers have known each other since high school (and again, everyone is 40+)!
      Because of that, and knowing my manager is good friends with Sue, I do not think I would choose to involve him in the situation.

      I do love all the suggestions – and support! – though and will keep you posted.

      1. Charlotte Collins*

        Good luck! I’d still document, because you might want to bring this behavior up at one point, even if it isn’t until your exit interview when you move on to greener pastures. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Sue’s driven away other young people from the position.

      2. LizNYC*

        Be prepared for Sue complaining to your manager that you’re being rude and unfriendly to her. You’re not, but he may not ask immediately for your side of the story.

  33. Merry and Bright*

    I used to have a mothering coworker in an old job. Why I was her target I still don’t know – I wasn’t even the youngest in the team or the office. But she always wanted to make sure I wrapped up warm in the winter, ate enough vegetables, got enough sleep, etc. All stuff my actual Mum has left me to do since I was old enough to pay income tax. It wasn’t as bad as the OP’s situation but it was still pretty weird. On the other hand, if the same coworker had contacted her she would have thought “that’s nice” and chatted away. Partly why when I catch up with my parents they tend to get the edited highlights.

  34. LoremIpsum*

    This is ridiculous. We have all heard about the proliferation of helicopter parents – and now they are in the workplace? Does the self-appointed Office Mom have enough work of her own to do? I can’t see how anything gets done here. I would just get my own work done and have minimal contact with this person.

  35. Ruth (UK)*

    I… what? I’m 25 and I don’t know how I’d respond if my co-workers (who are mostly at least 20 years older than me) treated me like that… I do know a few people in my social life etc who are of my parents’ generation who can be a little bit overly ‘motherly’ at times but nothing even nearing this extreme…

    1. Pineapple Incident*

      I’m 24, and I feel precisely this way– it’s why people get away with things like this level of harassment and other kinds (i.e. of the sexual variety). We are not taught to respond appropriately to weird situations like this in the workplace- you’re just taught not to do weird stuff yourself, be polite and defer to those senior to you. So when you show up to a job and someone is all up in your business, and you don’t have a reply that shuts it down at the very first attempt, you’re stuck letting this seep into your life and may not even know it’s creepy (maybe off-putting, confusing, and strange, but not actually scary) until your mom gets a friend request from crazy Sue or this person shows up at your house.

      That’s why I love this blog- it’s teaching me ways to stick up for myself AND showing me situations in which I never would have thought I needed to stick up for myself before. I’m still not great at it, but practice is better than nothing.

  36. Jerzy*

    This isn’t the same as a situation with a co-worker, but I think it applies.

    I had been going to see a chiropractor for several years who I really like. He’s about my father’s age and is great to just chat with while I get my adjustments. One of the women who acts as receptionist part time in his office is about the age of my grandmother, and is someone who thinks nothing of asking highly personal questions to anyone and everyone who ends up in her waiting room.

    I let this go on for too long, answering a lot of the questions she asked, like it was not totally inappropriate. One day, she started openly criticizing me for going back to work while my son was still so young (he’s two now and I didn’t put him in daycare until he started crawling at around 7 months), and then started in on asking why I gave him the name I did (it is an unusual name). This upset me so much that after my adjustment I told her that I would prefer to keep any conversation with her strictly professional, because I didn’t appreciate her comments. She started responding with, “It’s like I tell my daughter…” at which point I cut her off to say, “This is not a mother and daughter relationship, and you have no call to speak to me that way.” She immediately apologized, but I still left feeling awkward about the whole situation and haven’t gone back to that office since it happened several months ago.

    1. neverjaunty*

      Let the chiropractor know why he’s losing business. I doubt you are the only person who has quietly changed their appointments (or found another chiropractor) because of Ms. Busybody. Honestly, what did she think you were going to do, rush out and change your son’s name?

      1. Mander*

        I find the name comment very annoying. My friend’s daughter is named Nell, and apparently an acquaintance asked why on earth she was called that, since it’s “an old woman’s name” (said with a nasty sneer). First, I hope she does grow up to be an old woman someday! And second, she’s adopted, and her birth parents chose her name. The acquaintance knew that, too.

        1. Improv for Cats*

          Negative name comments, to me, fall into the category of Never. (At least not for people you actually know–giggling about the odd celebrity name here and there is a bit different.) But seriously, do they think the parents are going to change the name at this point? There’s literally no reason to make a comment like that to someone except to make them feel bad.

      2. afiendishthingy*

        Agreed, that’s really unprofessional and rude, and if you respect and like the chiropractor you should let him know! If he’s any good at running his business he will do something about it, and you can keep getting adjustments without the side of assvice.

  37. Newbie*

    The fact that she played the “rude” card when you didn’t want to share private info is a red flag that she is manipulative. I’m older now, but in my 20’s I was very wary of being rude or making a scene to the point of letting boundary-less folks walk all over me.

    It is not rude to hold firm boundaries! She will definitely escalate for a while once you hold firm, but know that she is the one being rude.

  38. Althea*

    At first I thought, “It feels like Sue has a crush on OP.”

    As it progressed, I was majorly creeped out and started to feel like OP is being stalked.

    That might be too extreme, but it’s hard to understand how anyone could be that far off-base and crazy.

    OP, I’d loop in your boss. “Boss, I wanted to let you know that I’ve been made very uncomfortable by Sue. She has contacted my mother to monitor my health outside of work, and seems to be monitoring my bathroom breaks and water consumption to the extent that it is crossing some serious lines. I’ve decided to say X to her about this, but I wanted you to know that in case Sue gets upset with my change in tone, or any other problems crop up as a result.”

  39. V2*

    I’d be tempted to give her ridiculously (and obviously) bad information. When she asks why you took an afternoon off, tell her you were getting a liver transplant. Next time tell her you have an occult meeting, etc. Then you were launching your presidential campaign. The trick here would be to deadpan it.

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      I did that with a co-worker last week. I took off Thursday and when I wouldn’t say why, she decided it was a colonoscopy. When I got back on Friday, I said the lobotomy* went well. My lies are always wild and unbelievable, and normal people can notice that they are asking questions that don’t need to be answered, and they back off.

      *She then said that she was surprised they found anything to disconnect, and I replied that I had half a mind to be offended at that.

  40. Kimberly Herbert*

    I have several overlapping chronic potential life threatening conditions. Since one of them is a potentially life threatening allergic reaction by touch to a common snack food, anyone around me for more than a day finds out. Because my backing away from them, and being unable to shake hands, take things from their hands while they much down on something containing peanuts tends to beg for an explanation.

    When people over step with new age nonsense, if you worshiped my god nonsense, or acting like my parent – I have found the phrase “I’m under the care of the best doctors for my conditions in Houston -I’ll continue to live by their advice” tends to shut most everyone down.

    1. Buu*

      That is a good response, I have several friends with chronic health issues and the crap they get is astounding.

    2. Lindsay J*

      Ugh, I hate this bullshit. If I had a dollar for the number of times I heard that sunlight, exercise, fresh air, essential oils, “this herbal supplement my yoga teacher recommends”, a positive attitude, or eating more fruits and veggies would fix my medical conditions, I would be able to afford my actual medication for the rest of my life.

  41. TychaBrahe*

    I think I’d be much more blunt.

    “Sue, you are treating me like a child. I am an adult and your coworker. My personal life is none of your business. This includes what I do in my free time and my health. From now on, I will not tolerate any prying on these subjects. Stop texting me about anything other than work, and since you have been informed that I will not be responding to non-work questions, stop texting my mother when I don’t reply.”

    I’d address the food thing separately, since it looks petty. But the next time she brings you something, if possible stop her from putting it on your desk. “I’m an adult. I can decide for myself whether or not I’m hungry. I’m not hungry. I don’t want that.” If she puts it on your desk, pick it right up and throw it in the trash.

    1. MissLibby*

      One of the support staff I supervise often puts food on my desk that she has made/purchased and brought in. I have never thought of it as mothering (even though she is almost old enough to be my mother), but I do find it annoying. It makes me feel obligated to eat it, whether I want it or not. (She only does this when I am away from my desk, so there is no opportunity to decline.) The norm in our office is to put stuff in the common kitchen and let people know to help themselves, she is the only one that does the special delivery. I suppose I should put a stop to it, just seems like such a small thing to have to correct….

      1. TychaBrahe*

        But I bet she’s not saying that you will of course eat it because she’s knows how much people of your age eat. She’s probably just trying to be thoughtful. Since you’re away from your desk, she’s afraid you’ll miss out.

        I’d probably say something like, “I do appreciate that you’re thinking of me, but sometimes I don’t feel like a treat, and then when I don’t eat it, I feel guilty that it’s going to waste. Please just leave it in the kitchen. If I want some that day, I’ll be sure to take some. Your treats are always delicious.”

      2. neverjaunty*

        It’s not a small thing. She’s choosing to do this when you are away from your desk so that you can’t say no. That’s not a “small thing”; that’s a power play.

        Just pick up the food and put it in the common kitchen, like she should have done in the first place. And don’t ask or explain. She didn’t ask or explain when she dumped food on your desk, right?

        1. TychaBrahe*

          Since the person is a subordinate, I don’t think it’s a power play. If there were ulterior motives, it’s much more likely to be currying favor. But until you ask and the person refuses to stop doing it, I’d assume she’s trying to be nice.

          1. fposte*

            I also don’t think it’s a power play just to leave it and let the OP do what she wants with it–that’s about the lowest-key way to give people food. Entering the OP’s locked office to put it on the OP’s desk or putting it in the OP’s bag would be a lot closer to power moves.

          2. neverjaunty*

            Why would the person being subordinate keep it from being a power play? Genuine question, there. I don’t understand the argument that somebody being support staff, or lower down on the job hierarchy, absolutely rules out interpersonal dynamics – especially since MissLibby says this person is older.

            1) The office norm is that shared food goes in the break room.
            2) The person does this frequently.
            3) The person only leaves food when MissLibby is not present, and so can’t refuse it or ask her to put it in the break room.

            If this person is genuinely well-meaning and just wanting to be sure MissLibby gets a brownie before Wakeen from Accounting snarfs them all, then she won’t be offended if MissLibby moves it to the break room, right?

              1. neverjaunty*

                You know, that’s an excellent point. Either way, quietly putting it in the break room should solve the problem. I don’t think MissLibby needs to worry about offending her.

          3. Charlotte Collins*

            That’s how I read it. Does any of this food consist of freshly polished apples?

            I had a boss with diabetes, and when I brought in a treat I knew she liked and fit her diet, I’d take some into her office, so she didn’t miss out. (We lean very heavily to cakes and cookies for potlucks in my office. Anything veggie-related generally got eaten immediately, as there was so little of it.) But she was generally in her office when I did so, and she was someone who I knew would tell me if she wanted me to stop. And she always looked for seconds, so I had good information there. I’ve never done something like that with other bosses.

  42. Menacia*

    I think the OP should not be describing what Sue is doing as “parenting” I would consider this to be an employee crossing the lines of professional behavior. You are an employee of the company as is Sue, you have both been hired by the company to perform your appointed jobs. It is not part of Sue’s job to question you about how you spend your off-time nor your bathroom habits, and it’s not your job to answer her. It’s important you keep perspective on this. Sue has completely overstepped her boundaries and unfortunately you keep giving her ammunition by responding to her queries. Your personal life, health, etc. is NONE of her business, and like others have said you need to cut this off cold. You also need to unfriend her from Facebook and have your mother do the same after explaining to your mother that Sue is only a co-worker, not a friend, and certainly not someone who she should be divulging personal information to. Who knows what Sue’s real intentions are? The sooner you nip this in the bud, the better.

  43. Buu*

    Also let your actual Mother know she is creeping you out and strongly tell her not to give updates.

  44. CAinUK*

    I would flip Alison’s advice: have the larger conversation FIRST, not after the initial deflections do not work.

    You don’t even need to wait for the next tansgression. Simply:

    “Sue, I wanted to drop by and tell you that I don’t want you texting my mom. I also would appreciate it if you stopped treating me differnetly than other co-workers by asking about my health issues and what I’m doing on my days off. I know you mean well, but it feel like you are mothering me.”

    Giving Sue context for why you’re changing the dynamic will hopefully keep her from texting your mom/being manipluative/saying you are “rude” since you are explaining why the boundaries are needed ahead of just deflecting.

    I realise Sue doesn’t “deserve” context since the boundaries should be self-apparent, but they aren’t and so do her this kindness to save yourself many, many small battles – just have the big battle ASAP.

  45. Student*

    If this was a male employee, who was contacting the OP’s mother and prying extensively into her personal life, goading her into talking about it (by asking about “boyfriend visits,” something tailor-made to elicit a response from a person in this age group), I think people would be reacting much more strongly than they are here.

    One of the ugly, still-invisible sides of sexism is the assumption that women are harmless, even when they are stark-raving crazy. This woman is leaping across professional boundaries and invading the OP’s space and personal life extensively. This isn’t just a nosy co-worker. This is a harmful co-worker. I think it is extremely sexist and naive to act like this woman won’t harm the OP’s career if she can. She told the OP’s mother that the OP was “rude” to her when the OP tried to establish some boundaries. Of course she’s going to make a stink to the boss – she probably already has.

    OP, get your manager involved, now. I’d go with a script like this: “Hi Boss. I’m not sure I need you to do anything right now, but I want you to be aware that I’m having some significant problems with Sue. In short, she is extensively violating professional boundaries. She’s demanding that I report time off to her, and expects me to explain in detail why I’m out of the office. She’s found and reached out to my mother to try to monitor me outside of work and to complain about me. I’m trying to resolve the issue on my own by limiting my contact with her and having my mother sever contact with her, but this is so far outside normal that I thought you ought to be aware. If it escalates, I may need your help to resolve it so that it doesn’t interfere with my work.

    1. Charlotte Collins*

      I agree. This definitely a case where the inappropriateness becomes clearer when you imagine “Sue” as “Stu.”

    2. EmilyG*

      I’m on the fence about involving the manager upfront, but I think you put your finger on something really important about not underestimating Sue just because she’s a woman. You’re totally right this is a form of sexism.

    3. MashaKasha*

      Oh, believe me, I’m fuming. But odds are that OP’s manager won’t, and you’re probably right about why. If Sue was Stu, someone in the office would’ve put a stop to this already, but since it’s the well-meaning, motherly Sue, the madness continues.

      As an aside, OP has posted an update a bit upthread about Sue and OP’s manager being old friends. I’m at a loss as to how to get the manager involved, given this. And you’re probably right about the manager having already heard Sue’s side of the story. This makes me sad. I hope we get a positive update about this situation soon.

  46. maggiethecat*

    Oh no. I went through a wayy less crazy version of an office mom last year. Thankfully this person has transferred out of our location. She always shared lengthy personal stories about her/her children which I tried to cut short and avoid but when I became pregnant she took it to the next level. I finally had to draw the line when she started asking VERY personal questions and in our open floorplan (otherwise totally silent) office. She said “I’m just trying to be nice” and it was very awkward to have to be firm and repeat myself that I still didn’t want to discuss my pregnancy (especially in the graphic detail she was requesting!) Horrible!

  47. Workfromhome*

    I tend to be more firm about these type of things. Important thing is to give it a shot at being nice and keeping it private but being close enough so that you can have other people hear you setting the very firm guidelines.

    Something like next time she comes to your cubicle to mother you look her in the eye and say firmly “Sue I am very uncomfortable with you asking me questions about X Y Z, I feel it crosses boundaries. Even if you feel your intentions are good this is unwanted by me and must stop immediately. Please acknowledge that you understand what I just said and that you will stop immediately. ”

    If she tries to do anything other than say “yes I understand and I will stop” like defending her actions say it again and say it loudly enough to be overheard.

    If this were a different age group or male female many would see this as harassment. You want witnesses to your demanding this stop. If it continues you go to HR or Boss as needed

  48. Minister of Snark*

    Yikes. I don’t trust people who declare themselves the “office mom” because it’s like giving themselves permission to behave like condescending, smothering lunatics. I had something similar (but not quite as boundary crossing) happen to me during my first internship. I was 19 and working in an office, being assigned adult responsibilities and tasks. And the woman who worked at reception considered herself the “office mom.”

    Over the course of my first few weeks, Lisa, the “office mom”

    -brought me leftovers from her previous night’s dinner because she didn’t want me to waste my money on buying lunch.
    – poked me in the back when she walked behind my desk (she was usually delivering mail or messages in our open-plan office) to remind me to sit up straight. That was bad enough, but I was usually on the phone with work contacts at the time and this was incredibly disruptive and distracting.
    -asked intrusive questions about my love life and whether I planned on “tying myself down” to my boyfriend of several years. Then, when I didn’t answer, gave me a long-winded speech about how important it was for me to experience more of the world before I settled down.
    -nagged me constantly on my clothes, not because they were work inappropriate, but because she felt I would look better in different colors/styles.
    -wanted to put my hair in a French braid because it was windblown from where I had JUST walked in from the parking lot and hadn’t had a chance to comb it into submission. Acted very put out when I said no.

    I talked to my own mother – who did not appreciate someone trying to take over her role when she did a fine job on her own, thank you very much – and she assured me this was NOT normal or acceptable behavior for the workplace. I basically took the approach of someone who is being attacked by a bear. You’re supposed to make your body look as big as possible to make the bear think they have less chance of successfully attacking you. So I made myself more “adult.”

    Instead of being a sweet, nice girl, I behaved rationally to the point of being rather cold. I was civil, but I did not give Lisa any “return” on her investment in mothering me.

    – When she poked me, I finished my call, went to her desk, and told her, “do NOT poke me, especially when I am on the phone. That is extremely rude.”
    – When she tried to braid my hair, I said, “Why would I need you to do that?” and walked away.
    – When she brought her leftovers, I said, “no, thank you.” and gave it back to her. If she continued to push, repeating that I shouldn’t waste my money on lunch out, I would tell her what I spent and what I ate were none of her business.
    -When she tried to talk to me about not settling down my boyfriend, I told her this wasn’t something I wanted to discuss with her and this wasn’t appropriate for the workplace.
    -When she tried to convince me that I should wear a turtleneck or more fall colors, etc., I told her that I was comfortable with my wardrobe choices.
    -I never told her “I’m sorry” when rejecting her advances. I did not smile. I did not say thank you. I did not want to give her any impression that her behavior was remotely acceptable.

    She did eventually go to my boss and complain that I was being rude and cold to her. I explained what she had been doing and my boss tried to write it off as, “Oh, that’s just Lisa. She’s the office mom.” I replied that I had a mom, didn’t need another, and found Lisa’s behavior to be disruptive to my work, particularly the back-poking. When I mentioned that Lisa’s antics were interfering with work, his attitude changed and he asked her to stop, particularly the back-poking. So I definitely agree you should bring it to the boss’s attention AFTER you say something to Sue, so s/he’s in the loop and so Sue doesn’t go to her/him to complain that you’re being rude and immature without her/him having context. That way it won’t come across as you tattling and may actually score you some points for handling it on your own.

    I will warn you that Lisa acted extremely butt-hurt with me for the rest of my internship and some people were upset with me for being mean to the office mom, but it was worth it not to be poked and lectured.

    You also need to talk to your mom about blocking Sue on social media and text. Appeal to her vanity and her need to see you be successful, “Mom, I need you to block Sue on social media and your phone. I’ll show you if you don’t know how. Sue may seem nice, but her contacting you and digging for information, not to mention reporting that I was ‘rude’ to her, is very invasive. It’s undermining me at work, having her treat me like a little kid and making other people see me a little kid. And if you respond, you’re feeding into something that will ultimately make me less successful and could keep me from being promoted. I have a mom, you did a good job raising me. I don’t need another mom.”

    1. neverjaunty*

      I love your bear analogy.

      And to hell with those people who were upset at you. Seriously, who thinks it’s OK to poke and lecture co-workers on their personal lives?

      1. MashaKasha*

        I agree with the many commenters above who mentioned that gender-related double standards are playing into this a lot. If it was a male coworker poking a 19yo intern in the back, people would’ve been lining up outside boss’s office to complain about him. (Spoken from experience!)

        And good on the boss for doing the right thing and telling Lisa to stop!

    2. Slimy Contractor*

      This is so, so great. I particularly appreciate “I never told her “I’m sorry” when rejecting her advances. I did not smile. I did not say thank you. I did not want to give her any impression that her behavior was remotely acceptable.” It has taken me years to gain enough confidence to stand up for myself like this–I’m so glad you learned it younger than I did. I want to be like you when I grow up!

    3. afiendishthingy*

      Love this. And Lisa might not have been quite at Sue’s level of whackadoodle but that is still some bizarre controlling crap. Good for you for shutting it down.

  49. TheAngryGuppy*

    Oof, I am usually more of a lurker than a commenter here, but I have to chime in with a similar story.

    I had an “Other Mother” colleague in a previous job. We shared an office and some resources but otherwise had our own workstreams. She was all up in my business about my personal life, to include:

    -what I cooked for dinner last night (so she could comment on the relative nutritional value and whether or not then-boydfriend-now-husband was the chef: “he’ll never marry you if you make him cook!”)
    -whether then-boyfriend-now-husband and I were going to have children (“you have a moral obligation to reproduce so that the world doesn’t become like that “Idiocracy” movie)

    Tensions were compounded by:
    -the fact that she wanted to mother just about everyone in the office and the rest of them more or less tolerated it
    -she had daughters my age and I think was parenting them vicariously through me
    -she had some serious career envy – I was a postdoc in an academic lab making peanuts (not exactly enviable)…whereas she had given up a faculty position to raise her kids (academic science was even more hostile to women back then) and was projecting a lot of her regrets about that decision onto me.

    I tried to be above it all with the strategies that Allison suggests. But that didn’t dissuade her a bit – it eventually got so bad that she was sabotaging my experiments in hopes that I would go to her for help, and I had to ask my boss to move me to different office. Soon after, she wanted to give me a “peace offering” – Holy Basil plant because she knew I liked to garden. I was wary of accepting a plant with that was called holy in case I accidentally killed it and incurred further wrath. She assured me that it would be fine…as long as I made sure that then-boyfriend-now-husband was the one to water it if I was menstruating or ovulating because my lady-skin-secretions would surely cause it to wither and die. So basically, it wasn’t a peace-offering, it was a you’d-better-get-yourself-knocked-up-so-you-don’t-kill-this-holy-plant offering. No thank you!

    1. TheAngryGuppy*

      To be clear, I am not disagreeing with Allison’s advice – it is good advice. just be prepared that it might not improve things in cases where the person is particularly hell-bent on this behavior. In which case, it is time to escalate it with management (unfortunately in my situation there wasn’t much of a functional management in place in that department, so I was not sorry to leave a few months after all of that).

    2. MashaKasha*

      Now I know why my basil plant died!! lol

      Seriously, that’s crazy talk. Did you say she was a scientist, had at some point been faculty, worked in an academic lab… and believed that a plant could die if… WHAT WHAT. I have no words.

      1. TheAngryGuppy*

        She was and she did…the mind still boggles! What’s funnier (<– is that a word?) is that *I* was a reproductive biologist (she was a biochemist) and she somehow thought that I wasn't going to call bullsh*t.

        1. TheAngryGuppy*

          I don’t think she actually believed that the plant would die. It was all just a passive-aggressive dig at my (happily) barren and child-free lifestyle.

          1. neverjaunty*

            That doesn’t even make sense! Because women who have lots of children never ovulate or menstruate ever? OUT OF HER GOURD.

  50. I'm older than I look!*

    WOW. I am 28 but I look 16 – seriously, I’m regularly carded at R rated movies. When I started my current job 4 years ago, one of the women in the office got all fussy over me and mentioned her daughter is my age… and lives in the city I just moved to. She asked me to lunch multiple times, invited me to parties her daughter was throwing, etc. At first, I was nice and went to lunch but luckily the parties always fell on times that I was otherwise busy, so I didn’t end up coming the first few times. (I’m new to the city and my mantra is don’t say no to anything! You might not like the person who invited you but you may like their friends…)
    However, this woman really came close to overstepping her bounds. She friended me on FB, and when I didn’t accept she friended my younger sibling (who had once stopped by to meet me for lunch so they’d met briefly in the lobby). Luckily my sibling had the peace of mind to ask me first!
    She never was able to cross the bounds with me, but right after I started an intern started in our office. The intern was actually my age at the time (a co-op program where they relocate for one year from their graduate program). The woman went on and on, introduced her to her daughter, etc. The intern and I went to lunch every once in a while, and she finally built up the courage to complain to me that she felt that this woman was mothering her too much. In fact, she had friended her on FB, and friended her mother on FB too! This is even, the intern was LIVING with another one of our colleagues in our office (the program is the interns have the option to rent out rooms in colleagues homes) and THAT woman didn’t overstep the bounds of mothering her too much at work, despite them having a very close ‘after work’ relationship.
    So, I feel for you and mostly I’m just glad that my schedule when I initially started set me up to accidentally snub this woman.

  51. I'm Not Phyllis*

    Yep, shut her down. This goes way beyond inappropriate – contacting your mom?

    I sometimes get “mommed” at work. People normally guess I’m about 10 years younger than I really am (oh how I wish I saw that as a blessing … unfortunately it means that I sometimes don’t get taken seriously) and make comments about how I’m “too young” to understand something or that I will understand it “when I’m older.” I get so irritated by those comments, and they don’t even come close to what you’re experiencing. Good luck and I hope you’ll drop a line to update!

  52. videogame Princess*

    How about this:
    I heard that you told my mother that I was being unusually rude. I’m confused that you would say that, because there is nothing unusual about my behavior. In fact, it is perfectly normal to want to keep work and home life separate. I understand you want to nurture me, but the best way to do so is to treat me as an adult. That means no texting my mom, and no personal questions. (aka the best way to be “nurturing” is to leave this person alone!)

  53. Kathleen*

    Given that this is a family run business, in a small town with 10-15 employees who have all known each other since high school. I think many of these tactics may come across as hostile and heavy handed. Assuming a normal, healthy relationship with mom, I would start with her. Ask if anything like this ever happened to her – bet she’s got some stories- work your way round to her agreeing that Sue is over doing it. If Sue contacts her again , Mom can say “Jane is a private person who is trying hard to be a professional , I don’t think she appreciates you contacting me like this, do you call other employees moms?” – and unfriend her as necessary.
    I would definitely observe how she treats other co workers and how they treat her – is she intrusive with others or just you? I would try consulting other co workers – ” Does Sue need to know everything you do on Your days off?” ” Is she keeping track of how often you use the bathroom too?” For all you know they all hang out together all weekend at the bowling alley and its weird to them that they don’t know you that well. But chat with co workers a little, hopefully they will give her a heads up – “You’re scaring the new hire, cut it out!”
    I would also try humor- when she asks about your bathroom breaks point out that you already have both a doctor and a mom and you are just fine, thanks. When she wants to know what d you did, ask if there was a full disclosure agreement they forgot to have you sign. When she bring s you food, ask if she brought everyone food, if she says something weird about young people needing more point out that you are done growing, thanks. Try joking, gently pointing out that she is overdoing it. in public whenever possible. I think she is much more likely to listen to her co workers and your mom. I get that this is not the ideal outcome. Ideally you should just make some statement to her and she’d stop. But it’s a small office and she’s been there for a long time, not you. Make it light and see what happens. If she’s a normal person, who is just over doing it, she’ll stop. If it turns out she’s not a normal person, then you probably need to start looking for another job, ’cause the rest of them may not have a problem with her. Good luck, and please up date us!

    1. afiendishthingy*

      I don’t like the idea of having Mom and the coworkers speak up about it; it adds to the conception that OP isn’t really an adult and can’t fight her own battles. Also the wording you suggest (especially “you’re scaring the new hire”) makes it sound like OP is a delicate flower who’s weirdly sensitive to people prying into her bathroom usage. (I wouldn’t want to endorse the idea that only inordinately “private people” don’t want their coworkers messaging their mothers to inquire about their moods.) I see what you’re saying, that the realities of a small established office mean it’s not the most realistic plan for OP to assert herself. But I don’t think “making light” of Sue’s behavior will put an end to the behavior; she’s likely to think “Jane makes a fuss, but she really loves our talks! Kids!”

      I know OP can’t control what her other coworkers think of the situation, but it’s not hostile or heavy-handed to be firm about your boundaries. Sue’s behavior is way, way over the line, and I don’t think it’s a good idea for OP to indulge that in any way.

      1. Kathleen*

        I know, it does grate to have Mom tell her to back off. Absolutely. But if OP wants this job, I think Sue is much more likely to listen and not get offended if Mom and other co workers tell her she’s being weird than if it just comes form OP. Mom can speak to her “Mom to Mom” ( and then unfriend her!) If OP tells her to back off and it has never occurred to Sue that she’s doing anything inappropriate , she’s libel to get all hurt and offended. If Mom and co worker have mentioned to her than she’s over doing it, then it won’t be as much of a shock when OP says it too. And I think taking a good look at how Sue treats other co workers and maybe checking in with them about, ” How do you handle it when Sue is being really persistent about something that’s none of her business?” helps lay some ground work. It’s a tiny office, and they’ve all known each other since high school, that’s a pretty tight band. Not an ideal solution, I agree. But if both mom and Sue are within normal parameters and OP wants to not piss anyone off, I think Indirect may get better results.

    2. neverjaunty*

      She’s not a normal person who is overdoing it. This is way, way beyond normal boundary issues or ‘momming’ or empty-nest feelings. You are right that OP may have to move on, though.

  54. Kadee*

    I am probably alone in this, but while it’s possible that this woman is creepy & unstable, it’s also possible she’s a misguided person who thinks she’s doing something that is helpful and kind. I think Alison’s advice is great, but I also think it’s possible to be even more direct such as sitting down with the co-worker and explaining how it’s not at all helpful to OP’s career to be “mothered” in this way because it puts her in a “child” role, that it’s important that her fellow colleagues see her as a peer in spite of the age difference, and one way that Sue could help with that is by maintaining professional boundaries. If Sue pushes back on that, I’d just tell her straight-forward that it makes me uncomfortable to have her involved in or discussing my personal life and ask her to stop. Every time thereafter I’d default to some variation of “I thought we talked about this. I don’t want to have these conversations.”

    If it continues on, I’d talk to my manager stating that I had tried to resolve it directly with Sue but was unsuccessful.

    This woman is out of her gourd and I don’t think OP should have to deal with this behavior, but sometimes people have experiences that lead them to think certain things are okay and/or helpful. I don’t think approaching her from a place that assumes her motivation is from a crazy place advantageous to resolving this favorably, particularly in a small office environment because if the woman truly meant no harm and isn’t seen by others as crazy, this line of thinking can actually backfire on OP.

    Just my $.02. YMMV.

    1. Ruffingit*

      The issue I see with this approach is that it’s not about torpedoing OP’s career. It’s about basic decency and respect for her autonomy overall. This would be inappropriate in any venue, work or not. I don’t think it would help to phrase this as a career issue because Sally seems the type to take it as “Oh, but no one else sees it, I’m just concerned….” She needs to know that OVERALL this is a problem, regardless of effect on career.

    2. schnapps*

      I tend to agree with this. If she’s that much older, then she could think she’s mothering you. She may not realize she’s being creepy.

      She may be an empty nester who’s transferring her mothering on to you.

      Or she could just be creepy. Either way, nip it in the bud with, “Can we keep work discussion to work issues? I’m really not comfortable discussing my health with you – it’s a matter between me and my doctor. I’ve also been toilet trained since I was two, and am perfectly capable of monitoring my own bathroom habits, thank you. Now, is there anything work related I can help you with?” And keep repeating the last sentence until she goes away.

  55. schnapps*

    So I’m 15-20 years younger than my oldest coworkers. I walked in one day yawning (because my kid got up at 3 am, thankyouverymuch), and the 55 yo said, “you’re too young to be that tired! Just wait until you’re my age and can’t sleep past 4!”

    And then she died from the daggers I shot from my eyes. After she came back to life I told her, “you know, we all have reasons for being tired. I have mine; you have yours. Unless you’re interested in hearing my reasons, I really don’t need to hear that kind of conversation. It’s not helpful at all. Now, did you need any help with the meeting you’re getting going today?”

    1. afiendishthingy*

      Yeesh. I always feel guilty if I complain about being tired (insomniac) to coworkers who have small children, but we’ve discussed it and come to the “Everyone has their own reasons for being tired” conclusion. But yeah anyone who tells a sleep-deprived parent they don’t have a right to be tired is lucky to leave that conversation alive.

  56. Paula*

    I’m with the commenters here who think this behavior is firmly on the creepy side. Think how it would come off if the co-worker was male, not female. The behavior would be classified as stalker-like. This woman may actually be coming on to the intern, in an incredibly awkward way. The writer needs to absolutely stop engaging with this woman. Try saying “I’m not going to discuss X with you” once, and then after that, just do not engage at all. Do not respond; just walk away. Be prepared for an “extinction burst” of the behavior, when it escalates as she keeps trying to continue the interaction. I would even be on the lookout for behaviors like her finding out where you live, driving by your house, etc. at which point HR may need to get involved.

  57. Guera*

    No matter how you handle this you are going to be the bad guy for a while and you need to be prepared to not give a rat’s behind. I wonder what Sue says about you behind your back. Given the environment I suspect that your boss and other coworkers probably think her behavior is cute, well meaning and harmless. They probably know what she is doing and they just think “Oh, that’s just Sue…she’s such a mom.” It’s not of course. As for documenting: I would not do that in the way we mean “document” here. If you journal, I would write about it in your journal. It’s not something you would ever share but it can help you get your thoughts down in writing. Or a blog. I used to blog about stuff people would say while I was going through something very personal and it helped. I personally love sarcasm (with rare exceptions). It’s blunt, to the point, can be modified to make a point without being mean. So many fun responses come to mind here. “Why, I have never seen someone so interested in my bathroom habits.” (Spoken loudly). Or you could respond to every question with “Why do you ask?” and when she tells you her reasons respond only with “that’s interesting”. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
    And importantly- talk to your mother! She has got to shut Sue down on her end as well.
    And even more importantly- We have just got to get an update to this one. Please don’t leave us hanging!

  58. SerfinUSA*

    I didn’t have time to read all the comments, but I am glad there is a strong contingent for documenting/journaling seemingly small incidents. As an interested party in some serious workplace lawsuits, I can add my .02 that it is much better to have the info and not need it than otherwise.
    I have seen people go through much more trouble than would have been the case if they had even rudimentary notes on when certain ‘jokes’ were made or when someone hovered or patted. You may not think things will go this far, but if Other Mother decides she is being harassed about her oh-so-well-meant mothering, and lawyers up, you’ll regret not having any tool possible to help. It happens. It really does. People’s lives are disrupted, jobs are lost, careers derailed, and employers lose money.

  59. Block them*

    Now that it’s gone this far, I’m not sure it would help, but I have had one or two coworkers ask me questions that seemed too personal for their prior relationship with me. I preemptively blocked them on Facebook so they never really have the option to connect with me there. Of course they might notice, but I just say it must be my privacy settings and leave it at that. Now that I’m in my thirties, I haven’t had to worry as much about it.

  60. Narise*

    Speak to Sue and be specific and then follow up with an email. The conversation and email should be basically state I don’t know why you think this is OK but you’ve done the following things and if you were a man I would think you were stocking me at this point. You have pride into my personal life, kept track of how often I go to the bathroom, you contacted my mother after going on Facebook to locate her without my permission, and you continue to contact her about me. If any of this happens again I will discuss with HR. After that if its not work related don’t speak to her. And tell your mom to wake up she’s being used.

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