interacting with coworkers’ kids, coworker is inappropriate in front of guests, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. What are the expectations for interacting with coworkers’ kids?

I work in an office where coworkers will occasionally bring their kids in for various reasons (kid has an appointment, has school off, etc.). Sometimes coworkers on maternity leave will bring in their new babies to meet those in the office.

Everyone else in my office loves this and seems really natural talking to the kids or holding the younger ones. I, on the other hand … am not great with kids. It’s not that I don’t like them! I just already have a fairly introverted, awkward personality around fellow adults so kids really throw me for a loop — I have no idea what to talk to them about, how long I’m supposed to coo over a newborn baby, what to do if someone asks if I want to hold a baby, etc.

Usually it’s easy for me to just avoid said progeny — my work keeps me alone in my office most of the time. But is it seen as rude to not say anything to these kids if I run into them around the office, or if they show up at an office party? Am I seen as a grump if I don’t show interest in a coworker’s baby? Again, I don’t want to seem like a kid-hater, but I truly have very little experience around children and have no idea what to do when they’re around!

I don’t think it’s rude not to say anything if you’re in a group of other people where it’s not likely to be noticed — similar, in fact, to the rules about acknowledging other adults. But if it’s more one-on-one (a coworker stops by your office with a kid in tow or you pass them in the hallway), you should probably say something. But it doesn’t have to be a long, heartfelt conversation — just a smile and a “hello!” is fine, and then you’re allowed to go back to whatever you were doing. “What a cute baby!” is a good standby for babies. If someone asks if you want to hold a baby and you don’t want to, “that’s okay, but thanks — she’s adorable” is fine. (Alternately, saying you think you’re getting over a cold also works.)

By the way, if you ever do want to experiment with talking to kids or find yourself trapped in a situation where you can’t avoid it, I find that they are big fans of being talked to like adults, probably because so few people do that. So you might just pretend they’re colleagues from a branch office and see what happens. (Then again, I am the child of a mother who read the Wall Street Journal to my sister and me while we were babies, so my norms might be skewed.)

2. Employer says our stingy vacation policy is actually generous because of weekends

I work at a small independently owned automotive repair shop that has been owned and managed by the same family for over 50 years. Management consists of family and a friend of the owner — all of whom are exempt employees who are able to take as much time off as they please. The non-exempt employees are limited to two weeks of vacation and three sick days a year. The amount of time management takes off has always been an issue in the six years I have worked here. In our most recent employee reviews, the owner told all non-exempt employees that if we add up all weekends, holidays, vacation, and sick days, we are off four months a year so we need to make sure we are at work and working hard when we are here. We work Monday through Friday, 10 hours every day. Is his statement as offensive as I take it to be or am I overreacting?

It’s ridiculous and you’re not overreacting. Two weeks of vacation is the absolute bare minimum that’s reasonable in the U.S., and it’s stingy by many employers’ standards. Three days of sick leave is ridiculous — you could wipe that out in one go if you had an injury or the flu. If they’re going to be stingy, they should at least own it and not try to gaslight you into thinking that they’re really giving you four months off because of weekends. (Weekends! Ridiculous.)

You might look into what kind of hours and paid time off your business competitors offer their workers — either as data to take to your management on why their set-up isn’t competitive and/or to gather info for yourself about what your other options might be.

3. Coworker brings up private topics in front of guests

I work in a very guest-oriented position. My office is right off of the lobby, and I spend a lot of time greeting guests into our building. During high-volume times, a part-time coworker from a different department occasionally assists and I’ve been having some issues with her. I am in a senior position, though not a management level for my own department, and was wondering how to address this ongoing issue.

The coworker is occasionally quite inappropriate. She mentioned seeing a fellow coworker at a medical office and went into a great deal about how much pain he was in. Since I personally would be quite disturbed at someone sharing my own sensitive medical information, I tried to slip in a comment along the lines of, “It sounds like it was a private moment for him–maybe we shouldn’t discuss this.” It was completely written off. In our lobby area during a time with many guests coming and going, she also started talking about her mother asking about her sex life. In this instance, I did ask her to please not discuss this in a common area. She told me she was extremely offended and she would never discuss this if there was a guest there. I did let her know that while a guest might not be in front of us now, they were coming in at that time and it could be a very uncomfortable situation for them to walk into. She left early and in a very short mood.

It may be worth noting that this coworker is about 30 years older than I and has a “mothering” nature around the office, though I am not the first to notice her conduct. She says she needs to help during these high-volume times because her physical therapist says she needs the exercise. Frankly, we also do need people helping during these times. I’m not sure how to continue addressing this situation.

Someone who gets”extremely offended” because you asked her not to discuss her sex life at work, whether or not guests are around, is not someone who’s reasonable. So your measure of success here can’t be “I ask her to stop bringing up inappropriate topics and everyone is happy.” That’s not going to happen — she’s going to take it personally, but that’s on her, not you. You shouldn’t need to worry about managing her reaction to something perfectly reasonable, especially since you’re senior to her.

When she brings up inappropriate topics, stick with saying firmly, “That’s not something we should be discussing” and shutting it down. And if her reaction becomes a problem, you’d want to talk with her manager about what’s going on.

4. Resigning during a hiring freeze

I’ve been at my company for two and a half years. It’s a pretty good job, but pay increases and advancement are almost non-existent for someone with my skills. For the entire time I’ve been here, I’ve been going to school and gaining skills in a much better-paying industry. I’ve been doing freelancing on the side in this new industry to get better, and I’ve been offered a flexible start date on a new job utilizing these skills. I was prepared to give notice six weeks ago, but a coworker with a similar role gave her notice and I didn’t think it was prudent to give mine as well when we had a lot of projects that needed to be finished by September. So I waited while we’re working on hiring their replacement.

I was planning on giving my 30-days notice this week, and then another coworker just gave hers. In the exchange with her manager, she was told that there was a hiring freeze so her position was not going to be replaced. We’re a small office of 15 people (part of a larger organization). My opportunity won’t be around forever, but I’m racked with guilt now knowing there’s a hiring freeze and how it will affect my manager. Should I just try to stick it out another few months, or just give two-weeks notice so that the bad news doesn’t come all at once?

Give your notice now. This is business; people leave, and it’s often at inopportune times. That’s just how it goes. Your company will survive. In fact, you’re arguably doing them a disservice by not telling them now, because they’re continuing to make plans as if you’re going to be there longer-term. If giving notice now means you can give them an extra few weeks of transition time, that’s far, far more valuable to them than you trying to manage their emotions around bad news.

5. After 15 years as a record producer, I want to switch to a more traditional 9-5

I’ve been working in the music industry as a producer for the same record label for the past 15 years. It’s actually been a great job and I’ve gained a lot of experience over the years. I also have a bachelors and masters degree in music.

Here’s the thing: I’m totally done with it. I recently turned 40 and my heart just isn’t in it anymore. The late nights, the travel, etc…just done. I’m sort of having a mid-life crisis in reverse. While some of my friends of this age are quitting their office jobs, growing soul patches, and starting their “dream businesses,” I’m at the point where I just want to go to the same place every day 9-5!

So here’s my question to you: How does this look to a hiring manager? My resume reads that I’ve only held one position since college, as a music producer, with the same company. While this position had a lot of aspects to it, like management of budgets, employees, scheduling, and of course, a lot of writing and producing music (which involves a high level of ability in analytics, creativity, and technology), I can’t get any interviews for positions I’m applying for. All I can think is that it looks to managers like it’s not a real job, but this is what I’ve done for 50 hours a week for 15 years and got paid really well for it. I’ve thrived in an incredibly difficult business. Shouldn’t that count for something?

I don’t think it’s that it’s coming across as not a real job, but rather than you’re competing against candidates whose experience has more obvious similarities with the jobs you’re applying to. You’ve got what people call “transferable skills,” but those aren’t always obvious to hiring managers who are skimming your resume for 15 seconds, and they’re often not as compelling as people whose experience is directly in the same field or role. Hiring managers tend to like obvious matches and aren’t always going to take the time to think through how someone with a different profile than most of their applicants could match up well with the role.

But there’s a way to do this! I think you’ll have the most interest if you focus on jobs where there’s more obvious crossover — like jobs or fields that are somehow related to music or entertainment. Those employers are more likely to see your work history as a plus and to more easily grasp the way your experience translates to them.

{ 395 comments… read them below }

  1. jhhj*

    #2 If you consider all the evenings you’re not working, you have 8 months off! Even more generous!

    Check your entitlement to overtime, or overtime when the new law comes in.

      1. babblemouth*

        And if you consider the time off a human being has as a child + the eventual retirement, you basically spend your life not working! Slacker!

        1. Kelly L.*

          There was a joke years ago that added up all the weekends, nights, holidays, etc. and came up with the joke-conclusion that the employee was never actually at work at all. I never took the time to do the math and figure out where it was flawed, because joke, but that’s what this LW’s boss reminds me of.

        2. Isabel C.*

          Plus, when you’re dead, you spend an *eternity* not working (Egyptian afterlife and/or reincarnation excepted), so really you have a lot to make up for.

      2. Venus Supreme*

        Y’all are forgetting time spent on the toilet. “Boss makes a dollar, I make a dime / That’s why I poop on company time!”

    1. RVA Cat*

      I wonder if they also expect you to be grateful that they supply you with a toilet instead of an outhouse and that they pay you in real money instead of company scrip….

      1. Gazebo Slayer (formerly I'm a Little Teapot)*

        Yeah, I once worked for a small business where the owner went on and on about how ethical he was and how all the other businesses out there were heartless and greedy and blah blah blah. He paid several of us, including the very hardworking office manager whose praises he constantly sang, well below minimum wage.

      1. nonegiven*

        The management regret that is has come to their attention that Employees dying on the job are failing to fall down.

        This practice must stop as it becomes impossible to distinguish between Death and natural movement of the staff.

        Any Employee found dead in an upright position will be dropped from the payroll.

      2. Pennalynn Lott*

        This makes me very sad (?) because I once worked somewhere that (A) required a doctor’s note for any absence beyond one day, and (B) berated the h*ll out of you if you were well enough to go sit in a waiting room for the 1-3 hours it took to get in to see a doctor on short notice, but couldn’t come into work for that same amount of time.

        So, crud, it wasn’t a joke at that place. :-(

    2. Fafaflunkie*

      I believe this joke has been told many a time by many an a**hole boss:

      Want a day off work?

      So you want a day off. Let’s take a look at what you are asking for. There are 365 days per year available for work. There are 52 weeks per year in which you already have 2 days off per week, leaving 261 days available for work. Since you spend 16 hours each day away fron work, you have used up 170 days, leaving only 91 days available. You spend 30 minutes each day on coffee break which counts for 23 days each year, leaving only 68 days available. With a 1 hour lunch each day, you used up another 46 days, leaving only 22 days available for work. You normally spend 2 days per year on sick leave. This leaves you only 20 days per year available for work. We are off 5 holidays per year, so your available working time is down to 15 days. We generously give 14 days vacation per year which leaves only 1 day available for work and I’ll be darned if you are going to take that day off!

  2. Observer*

    #2, you are working well over 40 hours a week. Are they paying you overtime? Also, you should check out the sick time requirements in your jurisdiction. There aren’t many, but some places have rules that require a minimum number of paid sick days.

    1. Eric*

      The one thing to watch out for with the sick time laws, is that every one I have seen would count the vacation time towards the requirement.

      1. JustaTech*

        I’m pretty sure the one in Seattle doesn’t, because my (big) company had to give us a bunch more sick time, but didn’t change our vacation (and they would have said ‘just use your vacation’ if they could). But that’s a city ordinance, and last I checked Seattle is still a liberal-hippy twilight zone.

        1. doreen*

          From a Seattle FAQ – link posted separately
          “Does universal paid time off (PTO) satisfy the requirements of the ordinance?
          Yes, as long as the PTO system meets or exceeds the requirements of the ordinance. In
          addition, Tier Three employers must permit employees to use up to 108 hours of paid time off within a calendar year and/or carry over up to 108 hours of unused paid time off to the next calendar year “

    2. Edith*

      By the employer’s logic wouldn’t it stand to reason that the two weeks offered each year is fourteen days?

      Or maybe since two weeks consists of 336 hours that should count as 42 8-hour shifts off each year.

    3. LW#2*

      They do pay overtime and I’m sure the amount of sick time is at least the minimum that is required.

      1. Rachel*

        So you’ve been getting paid 10 hours overtime per week? That wasn’t clear from your message.

        1. LW#2*

          Yes, pay is not what I find offensive or even the amount of Vacation. What I find offensive is the owner and his family and friend take at least 4 weeks (the owner far more) of vacation and he has the nerve to tell the non-exempt employees they are off 4 months a year because weekends. When they are the people who work 50 hours a week all but a few weeks a year.

    4. Interviewer*

      It’s an automotive repair shop that is not open on weekends. Aside from a specialty shop I used once, most of the repair shops I’ve seen are open on the weekends – at least Saturdays. Maybe they are counting it because they want to give their employees a work/life balance, and they are willing to forgo the potential business they would get on those days in order to preserve it for their employees.

      Getting info on a competitor’s benefits and providing that benchmark to your current employer might signal that you’re job hunting. Be careful.

      1. doreen*

        That’s what I was thinking too – it’s a business where the whole weekend off isn’t common. And most of the independent ones I’ve seen have the employees work 5.5 days a week. They are open 8-6 M-F and 8-12 Sat and everyone works all of those hours. It’s not that everyone gets two days off , Sunday and another day. So while being off on weekends might not seem particularly generous in general, it may amount to more time off than is common in that industry. My husband once had a retail job with those hours – and he would have gladly given up the third week of vacation to have the other 50 Saturdays off.

        1. Overeducated*

          Wow, none of the auto shops where I live are ever open Saturdays. Once had the misfortune of a breakdown on the Friday night of a 3 day weekend…had to wait until Tuesday! It’s fine, I believe in the 5 day work week, just poor timing on the car’s part.

        2. LW#2*

          The reason the shop is not open on Saturdays is because the owner ran the numbers and he was not making enough money to justify being open on Saturdays so this not done for the employees benefit but rather his wallets.

          1. doreen*

            I think employers rarely , if ever, do anything strictly out of the goodness of their hearts. Even generous employers believe their generosity will help their wallet in the long run. But if your area is like mine where there are few shops ( if any) closed for the entire weekend he’s certainly going to look at the competition’s working conditions. Now, it’s beyond stupid for him to say you get four months off because weekends,(although I wonder if that was a reaction to your displeasure with the amount of time he and his family take off) but you really need to look at the competition before you decide he’s stingy. There are people who would rather have two weeks vacation and every weekend off than have three weeks vacation and never have a full weekend off except when they are on vacation.

            1. LW#2*

              This was not said to me because of my displeasure of exempt employees time off. It was said to every non exempt employee in each of our one on one reviews. Most independent shops in our area are closed on weekends. Being stingy is not my issue more the feigned generosity of giving 4 months off to people who work 50 hours a week and allow him to live his lavish lifestyle of country clubs and bi monthly vacations.

  3. Engineer Girl*

    during a time with many guests coming and going, she also started talking about her mother asking about her sex life. In this instance, I did ask her to please not discuss this in a common area. She told me she was extremely offended and she would never discuss this if there was a guest there

    Ah, yes. The “I’m offended” strategy to shut down discussion of issues. Followed by the snippy response. Passive aggressive anyone?

    Other issues – saying that she needs to help because her physical therapist says she needs the exercise.

    Look. It isn’t your responsibility to be her exercise source. It’s utterly appropriate to shut down inappropriate discussion. Discussions of sex life are inappropriate even when there are no guests. You need the right kind of help. You don’t need help that will distract you from doing your job. Let’s face it – some people actually cause more work than if you didn’t have them there!

    I’d shut down her talk quickly. If she gets “offended” then she doesn’t have to help. It may come down to approaching her boss about the issue.

      1. Myrin*

        I think it ties in with the sentence before that. OP says she’s “not the first to notice her [the coworker’s] conduct” so I guess someone else has probably approached inappropriate coworker about it, either directly (“You really need to stop doing this or we’ll have to let you go/will have to switch you to another shift!”) or indirectly with softening language (“Wouldn’t it me much less stressful and strenuous on you if you’d switch to working more during times when there’s less guests coming here?”). Either way, it gave inappropriate coworker on opening to claim that “she needs to help during these high-volume times because her physical therapist says she needs the exercise” – basically a “You wouldn’t dare fire me! After all, I need this exercise, doctor’s orders!” or “Oh no, please don’t worry, these high-volume times are especially helping me with my needing exercise! Now that you’ve asked and are obviously invested in this topic, let me tell you all about my bodily woes in great detail!”. Something to that extent, or at least that’s how I understood it.

        1. Kira*

          I got the same impression. Someone may have softly encouraged her to take a less demanding role somewhere else, and she explained how perfect this role is for exercise.

      2. Elle*

        I got the impression that the “exercise” reference refers to the fact that greeting guests involves physical activity, which would get the co-worker up and moving around.

      3. INTP*

        I think that means they can’t just keep her away from the guests altogether by “letting” her skip out on the busy times, as she insists on working the busy times.

      4. OP #3*

        She’s in physical therapy after an accident (I know her entire life story.) and her doctor recommended that she walk around at least a few times a day. This is her excuse.

    1. OP #3*

      Luckily, today is my last day at this position, so I’ll no longer have to deal with these particular antics. I feel a little bad since I’m leaving them in a bit of a staffing bind, but it’s the best thing for me to do. She’ll probably be pulled to help even more now.

      1. Dzhymm*

        Is there still time to try and out-weird her? Talk to her in great and glorious detail about a particularly nasty illness you had, or this morning’s bowel movement, or that one time you were having sex and broke the bed?

        1. Hermione*

          Nah, because then Little Miss Overshare will use OP’s story as one of her gross creepy stories. “DID YOU KNOW THAT OP ONCE…?” I’d just leave her be for your last day and let her fade into a fun anecdote of terrible ex-coworkers.

  4. Mike C.*

    OP 4: Why do you feel guilt over this? You’ve busted your buns learning new skills and gaining important experience. There is no reason to throw away new opportunities just because your current job has decided not to backfill positions.

    They knew there was a risk of people jumping ship for greener pastures, and they made the decision to have a hiring freeze anyway. That’s not on you, that’s on them.

    Give your notice and congratulations on the new job.

    1. AshAsh*

      Exactly! I can’t believe the OP was willing to risk this new opportunity because she didn’t want to inconvenience her current employer!! (I know she said she was given a flexible start date, but I doubt the new employer would be willing to wait for months which is how long the OP specified she would be willing to stay).

    2. Michelle*

      OP #4- I think you are risking your new opportunity because you were ready six weeks ago to give notice and now you are ready to delay your notice again? No, it’s not ideal but ask yourself this: If the other company withdraws their offer because you waited too long , can you be happy in your current role? There are regular submissions here about people who spend months, even a year or two, looking for new/better employment. Are you willing to hang around that long?

      Give notice, pronto. Congrats!

    3. LQ*

      I totally get the feeling of guilt over this. You don’t want the thing you’re working on to fall apart, you don’t want to leave your boss/coworkers/company in the lurch. You want to be seen as someone who always does what’s needed, it is part of your actual self identity. You want to help! You can do the thing! You don’t want to be the person jumping ship when there is the most need.

      But it is absolutely true that the employer has to always operate under the assumption that people could leave at any time. If they aren’t, that’s not something that you are responsible for. For me it helps to remember that everyone leaves and businesses continue. Steve Jobs died and Apple still ticks along. Heck every 4 to 8 years the US gets a new president and it’s still here. Even when someone dies in office the country ticks along. Your employer will continue fine without you. Your boss will be ok without you. It isn’t your responsibility to take care of the employer, it is your responsibility to take care of you.

      It sounds like an awesome new opportunity. GO! Give notice, and celebrate the heck out of your achievements!

      1. Chalupa Batman*

        Seconded. I watched as my department whittled down and felt terrible being the last to jump a sinking ship, but it had become critical for me to get out as I got more and more bogged down. Trying to hold down the fort crashed me mentally and physically. Magically, the hiring process that had failed to replace my coworkers (and get me some help) sped up significantly when I gave notice. They will survive-and if they don’t, your staying couldn’t have saved them anyway. Enjoy your new job, guilt free.

    4. Graciosa*

      The other aspect of this is that the hiring freeze is not an externally imposed condition – it is a choice that the business made.

      The business can choose to reverse the choice if they wish (and let me assure you that even in the largest companies there are ways to get hiring “freezes” lifted where needed) or they can decide to accept the impact.

      But the OP is not responsible for protecting the company from the consequences of its managerial choices.

    5. Kira*

      Go ahead and give your 2-week notice (or whatever is standard at your office) and move on. Your coworkers aren’t going to start discussing their resignations with you so that you can all plan them out together. They’ll keep resigning when it makes sense for them.

    6. OhBehave*

      My guess is that the ‘hiring freeze’ may thaw a bit with the exit of three of you. You must not pass on this opportunity. If you keep putting them off, you will lose in the end. Isn’t this what you’ve worked so hard for the last few years?

      Other than being a good employee and doing your best, you owe them nothing. You are planning to give plenty of notice (more than necessary IMO). The sooner your manager knows about your departure, the better he can plan projects in the future. If this causes a heavier workload, that’s up to the manager to handle or start their own job search. Give notice today!

    7. General Ginger*

      I get the feelings of guilt, but OP, I’m firmly with Mike C. here: the hiring freeze is on them, not on you. Give your notice!

    8. MillersSpring*

      OP, you still have your loyalty with your current employer. You need immediately to think of the new company as your employer and mentally shift your loyalty to them.

    9. Vicki*

      The odd thing is that I’ve worked at many companies that had hiring freezes. In no case did that ever mean they couldn’t replace someone who left; it only meant they weren’t bringing in new people.

      But it doesn’t matter. Your job is what you get paid for. You don’t get paid to feel guilty about leaving a company _you want to leave_.

  5. Ann Furthermore*

    #4: Give your notice, spend your remaining time there doing whatever you can to help with the transition, and then move on and don’t look back. It was your employer’s decision to implement a hiring freeze, not yours, and it’s on them to figure out how to deal with things when people move on. Don’t let guilt keep you where you are, and possibly lose out on a new opportunity.

    My company also has a hiring freeze, and for this and a multitude of other reasons, I’m job searching. Should I be fortunate enough to land an offer, I’ll have zero qualms about giving my notice. If something comes along in the next week or so, I will try to negotiate a start date a little further out so I can lead a testing event that’s happening next month. The one other person who could possibly step in for me is on an HB-1 visa and not able to travel to where the testing is taking place. Bailing right before that would put my manager and co-workers in a really tight spot, and I would feel bad about that, because it would probably put the entire project at risk. So yeah, I’d try to get them through that, and give my manager a little breathing room to figure things out. She (and my company, by and large, until the last year or so) have been very good to me over the years, so I’d like the chance to do that and leave things in as good a place as I can, and feel good that I did everything I could while still looking out and taking care of myself.

    1. Colette*

      It’s important to realize that businesses can make exceptions to hiring freezes if they need to – there’s no hiring freeze police that will arrest them if they replace someone critical.

      1. Beezus*

        This! Every time I’ve seen a hiring freeze, there were exceptions for critical positions or for areas where so many people had left that basic critical work could not be handled by the people remaining. Hiring freezes help companies survive tough times, but being so rigid about them that you actually stop taking care of core business is counterproductive.

        1. Kira*

          Yes, it sounds like much of OP’s team is leaving. In that case, maybe the manager can fight to get the most critical role refilled instead of just working with whichever people didn’t quit.

      2. Judy*

        In my experience, hiring freezes mean that the open position approval moves upwards. So if normally the director can approve filling an open slot, it’s the VP, or Senior VP or even CEO depending on how strong the hiring freeze is meant to be.

        Just like travel approvals, when SOP is manager approves any driving trips and director approves any flying trips. A company may announce that for the rest of the fiscal year, directors must approve any driving trips and VPs must approve any flying trips, and oh, yeah, Senior VPs must approve any intercontinental trips.

  6. HannahS*

    #1–Here is simple script I use with children I don’t know well:
    (3-6) Are you spending the day with Mom/Dad? OR (7-10) Are you guys doing anything special today? OR (10 up) What are you up to today?
    (They talk. You mmHmm and if you can make conversation, do, but if you can’t, proceed to say)
    Sounds nice. Enjoy your day together!

    Exeunt, as if chased by bear.

    1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

      “Exuent, as if chased by a bear.”

      That almost made me snort… I had this mental picture of someone running away from a particularly adorable child, arms flailing, horrible scream ripping from their lips. Lol

    2. HannahS*

      Tangential, but I was a shy adolescent and utterly terrible at small talk until I was about 20. Then I saw a chart that was poking fun at the topics of small talk and how formulaic it was and thought, “A-HA! There IS no magic!” My small talk now (working with kids, have short chats before beginning to work with them) is a mix n’match of these:
      “How was school?”
      “Did you do anything fun over the weekend/recent holiday?”
      “Any plans for the weekend/upcoming holiday?”

      1. Gaia*

        Small talk is incredibly formulaic and appropriate questions and their corresponding answers vary by cultures. That is why it can be so shocking when, at least in the US, you ask an acquaintance or stranger “How are you?” and you get anything other than some variation of “fine, and you?”

        Set questions, set answers. Once you realize that, it all becomes somewhat easier.

        1. Art_ticulate*

          I would argue that even in the US, there are cultural/regional differences. I’m in the south, and if you ask someone “How are you”, you’d better be prepared for an actual, probably detailed, answer.

          1. Mona Lisa*

            Really? I live in a southern state, and people here seem to ask “How are you” as a means of greeting. Strangers on the street, neighbors I barely know all ask me this without waiting for a response most of the time! It’s totally bizarre to me.

            1. Liz*

              Yeah, that still flummoxes me. I can never figure out whether they actually expect a response (“Fine, and you?”) or if it’s just a drive-by greeting.

            2. nonegiven*

              I would see a couple of UK guys, 18, 19 yo, get together on my IRC channel. They always, without fail, went through the “How are you?” “Fine and you?” thing before they talked about anything else.

              It seemed extraneous, I always say just “Hi” or “Hi. [bit of info i want to pass on]”

          2. Gaia*

            I lived in the South and in no way was it ever socially appropriate to give anything but a general “fine thanks, how are you?” to someone you did not know very well.

          3. JOTeepe*

            My FIL was German. When Germans ask, “How are you?” they mean they want to know how you are, it’s not just a pleasantry. He would tell you how he was. In detail.

            Over 50 years in this country – his entire adult life – and he still was blissfully ignorant of this social convention … #blesshisheart

          4. HRish Dude*

            N0t really. The only two appropriate answers in the South are variations on “Good” and “Good, how are you?” – and whichever of those you get will allow you to tell whether or not the person responding is a good person or someone who needs their heart blessed.

        2. eduardoleonidas*

          I’ve actually been having difficulty with this at physical therapy. They ask how I’m feeling, i answer fine, yourself? and then realize Wait, they want to know if my knee hurts…

          1. Gaia*

            Hahaha I’ve done that with my chiropractor until I realize she means “can you lift things today or does it hurt?”

          2. Loose Seal*

            I always go through that conundrum at the doctor’s office. My doctor will come in and say, “How are you?” I’ll say, “Fine. And you?” And then, since the social niceties were taken care of, I’d start detailing why I was in the doctor’s office since I was obviously not fine otherwise I wouldn’t be there. It was particularly amusing when I was there for an appointment while he was using a wheelchair for two broken legs. Clearly, neither of us were fine and yet it’s so ingrained to greet someone with that question/answer combo.

            1. SarahTheEntwife*

              Yeah, that question always flummoxes me at the doctor. Are you just greeting me or are you actually asking me how I’m doing? Because asking how I’m doing is in fact your job in this situation but I’m not sure if we’re at that part of the conversation yet.

          3. EmmaLou*

            My doctor’s nurse always asks this and I inevitably say, “I’m at the doctor sooo not good…” hate going to the doctor, hate it, hate it, hate it.

        3. chocolate lover*

          Last year, I clearly startled a ticket taker at an outdoor concert when she asked how I was doing, and I said I just got caught in the rain and I’m drenched and cranky. The look on her face was funny, she clearly expected the standard find “fine.”

        4. The Optimizer*

          Years ago, I was riding in an elevator after a long and difficult day during a very busy year-end at work which was preceded by a terrible Christmas/New Year break.

          VP gets on, says hello and asks how my holidays were. I’m already bad at small talk but I was particularly tired and raw in that moment so I told her the truth, “Well, we got snowed in due to the blizzard, our flight/vacation was cancelled and my cat died. How were your holidays?”

          Awkward silence doesn’t even begin to describe the rest of that ride.

      2. Ellen Fremedon*

        When I was about nine, I seriously considered the idea that adults might all be precognitive, because it was the only thing that would explain small talk: “Why does this grownup need to know if I have siblings or if I like to swim? If they knew me, they might have reasons for filing that information away, but they’re a complete stranger. CLEARLY, they must know that at some future date, we will meet again in circumstances where those details will be vitally important!”

        I recognized that this was less likely than my other hypothesis: that the social rules permitting this sort of interrogation and punishing refusal to answer were maintained by a clique of grown-up Mean Girls who used it as cover for snooping by inflicting it indiscriminately, or who simply enjoyed putting people on the spot and watching them squirm. But I really *wanted* to believe in the precognition, as it let me believe that most adults were good people.

        Finding out about extraverts explained SO MUCH.

        1. SarahTheEntwife*

          That is a completely fabulous little-kid explanation for small talk. I think I may pretend everyone in awkward small-talk situations is precognitive/a time traveler from now on.

    3. RJeeves*

      Scootch down to their height, ask them their name, and where they go to school. Ask their plans, smile at the parent say “What a beaut!” and move on.

      That is my script.

    4. Isabel C.*

      Yeah, and don’t worry about ending too soon: from a childhood/adolescence interacting with parents’ business acquaintances, I can say with relative certainty that the kids probably don’t want this conversation any more than you do.

      1. Mreasy*

        Yes to the short conversations. My nephews live across the country from me, and when they were 3 or so, they’d get really excited to talk to me on the phone – but their interest would wane in about 2 minutes. So in the middle of a question or sentence, I’d hear “bye. Love you,” and the phone would be handed back to their mom. Kids like the idea of talking to grown ups more than the reality of it sometimes! (To be fair – so do I.)

        1. OfficePrincess*

          Yours would hand the phone back? I’d just hear a clunk as the phone was dropped to the floor.

    5. ChrysantheMumsTheWord*

      Perfect! And given that you are at work it is easy to escape because you have a built in excuse.

      “It was great to meet you, little guy/gal, I’ve got a deadline and need to get back to work now.”

    6. 2 Cents*

      If the child is wearing some sort of character shirt / shorts / shoes and they’re 3-6, I’ll be like “who’s on your shirt?” or “Do you like dinosaurs?” It usually results in at least a nod and other times, an explanation of why they like whatever it is.

      And I second Alison’s opinion that kids like to be talked to as adults.

        1. AP*

          My mom always uses this one! And if they are very small children, she will ask if she can wear them. The small children love it.

    7. C Average*

      I like this one (which I use almost daily on my stepkids).

      ME: Did you do anything interesting today?

      KID [usually]: No.

      ME: Did you do anything boring today?

      KID: Yes! [laughs]

      ME: What’s the most boring thing you did today?

      KID: [melodramatic and often hilarious recitation of some school or child-care experience they’ve endured in the course of their being-a-kid activities]

      For kids in the workplace, I also like, “So, you’re learning about what it is your mom/dad actually does at work. What DOES your mom/dad actually do at work?” Hilarity often ensues.

    8. Batshua*

      A good go-to if you want to ACTUALLY interact with a child but don’t know what to say is ask them about their favorite book. (Or movie or superhero or whatever.) Kids will ramble with varying degrees of coherence about this stuff and enjoy spending time with you, even if you can’t quite follow what they’re saying.

    9. General Ginger*

      That’s a pretty good script! I’d like to add, if the child is wearing sneakers or a shirt or a backpack (or what have you) with a movie/comic book/cartoon/video game character on it, you can always ask about that, too! I’ve yet to meet a child who didn’t want to tell me about Elsa/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

  7. Pix*


    From someone who deals with kids day in and day out, treat them like adults. Say hello if you encounter them one on one. If they hide behind mom or dad, smile and let them– just like if an adult was shy about being spoken to by another strange adult! (If their parent tries to push them forward, something like “oh no, I was shy like that when I was little, too, it’s no problem!” works wonders.)

    If they talk with you, ask questions about what they like. If they’re in a t-shirt or dress with a character/whatever on it, ask if that’s their favorite. If you know what it is, tell them you like it too. I find it charms little kids when I know what they like and can recognize/talk about it with them.

    Try to think of them less like walking, talking time bombs and more like tiny adults that are trapped by the choices of the bigger ones. They might not want to be there or talk to so many strange adults either!

    1. Elle*

      I love this! Personally, I’d rather talk to a child than an adult any day! They’re so fascinating.

    2. aebhel*

      Yeah, kids are all different; some of them don’t want to talk any more than you do (in which case, just acknowledging their existence is pretty much all you have to do), and the ones that do will often carry on the conversation all by themselves.

      1. Pix*

        I was one of these; it always killed me when my parents were all, PIX YOU MUST TALK WITH THIS STRANGER. Acknowledging that it’s okay to be shy and not want to talk to someone is a big thing.

  8. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    #4 – usually when there’s a hiring freeze, they’re trying to reduce head count, which will happen through attrition.
    Don’t feel guilty, quite often you’re helping them. They can reduce head count without having to go through layoffs and paying unemployment, and they avoid destroying morale.

    In a layoff – you get reduced head count, unemployment payments, reduced morale, and increased attrition due to the “aftershock effect”, which is often not thought about.

    1. hbc*

      Totally agreed. Companies that implement an Official Hiring Freeze know that this kind of situation is at least likely if not desirable (which it usually is), or they’ll make an exception when one group gets hit too hard, or they went into this blind. None of these scenarios put any responsibility on OP to risk a new job for the sake of the current company.

  9. Al Lo*

    #1 – And if you don’t want to snuggle the baby, that leaves more time for people like me, who will gladly steal a baby for hours. I was that kid who knew every family in church who had a baby, and would carry the babies around at church until the family had to leave. To this day, I’ll steal my nephews (or did, when they were baby enough to do this!) and snuggle them for as long as I can. I have to fight off mostly my mom and my father-in-law for baby-holding time.

    No kids of my own. Not sure if we will or not, but that doesn’t preclude the fact that I’ve loved babies since I was a pre-teen.

    1. Al Lo*

      Not sure if we will by choice, that is; it’s not a choice that been made for us by biology. I love snuggling newborns, and don’t even mind the fussy ones, but I also love giving them back and keeping my sleep my own. :)

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        Heh– this is me. A former co-worker at my last job stopped by with her infant, and I basically cleared my calendar so I could hold that baby all afternoon. I love the little ones. I tried to get on the volunteer roster at the three major NICUs in my area, but all of the volunteer slots are taken– by retirees who also love holding babies! I’m also good with people who are nervous about babies, mostly because I completely get it. I have helped a few co-workers feel more comfortable with babies in my day.

        Now, once the kids become toddlers, all bets are off and I’m not so good. I have to wait until they hit five or six and can have a conversation.

        1. Murphy*

          The exact opposite. Babies tend to freak me out (and I’m a mum), but toddlers are my jam. I freaking love toddlers. They crack me up and worst comes to worst I hand them a sheet of paper and pencil and they can “do the colours” as my toddler calls it.

          1. LSP*

            Toddlers are amazing because they can just talk and talk and talk, and as long as you smile and nod, they don’t care if you have anything to say back. And that’s good, because generally, no one has any idea what they are saying anyway.

            1. Rana*

              Oh, gosh, there are times I wish my (highly verbal) almost 3-year-old was like this. She doesn’t just want to talk; she wants to converse.

              (But, oof, is still learning what that looks like. Sometimes her side of the “conversation” looks like her saying “what did Mama say?” repeatedly, as I say the same thing in response over and over.)

              I will hold a baby without complaint (and be struck by how light they are compared to a toddler/preschooler), but I feel no great desire to hold one if it is not offered to me.

          2. Ife*

            Yes me too! I am afraid that if I look at them wrong or breathe too hard, I will break them or scar them for life! Or they will start squirming and then they will escape and fall… Too much responsibility. I am good with silently observing from a distance.

        2. Anlyn*

          I love babies and am usually find with toddlers (unless they’re screeching), but grade school age makes me want to run. If kids skipped ages 5-12 and just went straight to teens, I’d be fine around them.

        3. Nervous Accountant*

          Omgsh this is so me! I love babies and holding them. I’m scared of toddlers, but love them at age 6+. I’ll gladly hold a baby….unfortunately since I’ve struggled to conceive/had 2 miscarriages, people look at me with pity if they know about this and see me holding a child.

    2. Purest Green*

      I am so thankful there are people like you in the world who take the pressure off those of us who don’t like or know how to hold a baby.

      1. Jen RO*

        I am soooo happy when someone who loves babies is around me, to deflect the attention from my awkwardness/lack of interest in said baby!

        1. Megs*

          I once started crying because whenever I’d hold my friends’ baby, the baby started crying. Funny story: the kid is around three now and freaking loves me. The “talk to them like they’re grown ups” thing works pretty well, I guess. I think they’re much more interesting when they can manage a coherent sentence, anyhow.

    3. BananaPants*

      Yes. I’m a mother of two kids myself and am very happy snuggling babies – if mom or dad offers. I loved the newborn stage/infancy and since ours are past the baby stage and we’re undecided on a third, I never pass up a chance to get myself a baby fix. Since our kids are 3 and 6 I’m decent at making conversation with toddlers and preschoolers (“Cool shirt, what’s your favorite dinosaur?” “My daughter likes Pete the Cat too.”). For an elementary school-aged child, I’ll ask where they go to school or what book they’re reading.

      On the rare occasions I’ve had one of our kids in the office past infancy, I’m not at all offended if folks just say “Hi” to the kiddo and go about their day – it’s an office, not a daycare center. I’m totally fine with someone stopping to chat, though.

  10. LF*

    #5 – I’ve been in a similar position where people in more traditional business roles don’t understand how challenging and dynamic a lot of music industry work is. I’m still pretty entry level for the industry I’m heading into, but a few interviewers were really surprised to find out how demanding my previous event management experience was. I found that a more achievement based resume format helped, rewriting resume bullet points in terms that were more common in the industry (recruiting/managing event support, management tasks, etc), as well as getting into the details (for me it was listing # of artists, attendees, events per month, etc).

    Of course, don’t forget there’s also 9-5 gigs in the music/audio industry! I’ve worked with a bunch of highly skilled touring artists, promoters, and audio engineers who all became equally awesome customer support, QC, sales, management, and marketing people. It’s still a challenge, but I’ve found that HR managers in the industry are typically pretty good at identifying transferable skills and understand the demands of roles other industries won’t know the first thing about.

    Good luck!

    1. PoisonIvy*


      I’ve been in the same position as the OP (long hours/late nights job in the music industry) and switched over to a different job within the industry that has more 9-5 hours. The only late nights I’ve done since then have been for the occasional project deadlines and for concerts / industry parties that I choose to go to. My quality of life is much better and I’ve rediscovered my love for “the business”.

    2. Koko*

      And don’t forget the value of your cover letter, OP #5. As Alison mentioned above, you’ve got about 15 seconds to capture the hiring manager’s attention, so don’t expect them to connect any dots on their own. Explain it like they’re 5!

      “Working as a music producer was like running a small business, and required me to hone my marketing/customer service/budgeting/X skills as much as my musical ability. After fifteen years doing X for my music production company, I’m ready for an X job that doesn’t require as much travel or unusual hours.”

      Tailor X to the specific job you’re applying for as much as possible. Even though it’s impressive that you did 9 (for example) different jobs, that’s better to brag about in an interview. In your cover letter you need to make a very clear connection between the specific job they are trying to fill and your skills that transfer to those specific requirements. Frame your producing career as doing the same or similar job for an unusual type of company instead of a completely different type of work.

      1. Kira*

        “[Y]ou need to make a very clear connection between the specific job they are trying to fill and your skills that transfer to those specific requirements”

        I’m working on this right now! I’m trying to switch fields, and the transferable skills were obvious to me. But I couldn’t verbalize it when they asked how much time I spent on that kind of work. For the next round of jobs, I’m really trying to draw clear lines between what I’ve done and the thing they ask for.

      2. Christian Troy*

        Aw man I wish you did AAM cover letters on the side. I’m so bad at connecting the dots that I’m always jealous of people who do it so easily.

      3. nonegiven*

        Not everybody knows what a music producer does. They could be picturing procuring hookers and blow, or picking out all the red m&ms. Spell it out.

    3. C Average*

      My previous boss came from a music industry background. She was in a successful band in her home country and was very well known there, and she leveraged that experience and name recognition into some freelance work as a music journalist. She then landed a full-time role as a technical writer for a major musical instrument retailer, and from there she landed at my company, where she managed a team of writers.

      I think part of the reason she got on the radar of my old company is that she did have a rock-star back story. Music is a huge part of that company’s marketing strategy, and they have many partnerships and working relationships with musicians, famous and otherwise. Maybe look for companies who feature music in their marketing and advertising in a high-profile way, or who have visible relationships with musicians. It’s a signal that they understand and respect the value of music, and might value your experience with music as well.

  11. Elizabeth the Ginger*

    It sounds like OP #3 does need the help with the work during busy times (“Frankly, we also do need people helping during these times.”) but wants the coworker to avoid inappropriate conversations while helping. I think it’s best to call her on it every time – unapologetically and not rising to the bait of her arguments back – and, if it happens more than twice more, point out the pattern to her and say it has to stop.

    1. OP #3*

      Yes, sorry–we do need people helping during those times. Sorry for the lack of clarification!

      Today is actually my last job at this position and I start my new, wonderful job on Monday. I’ve passed along this advice to the people who will now be working with this woman so hopefully they do well!

  12. someone*

    Kids freak me out. If I encounter a child at the office, I politely say “Hello” and go back to my desk. It only happens 2 or 3 times a year, so, phew

    1. Talvi*

      Haha, me too. I definitely get a bit of a deer-in-headlights reaction when I’m in an environment where there are children who could potentially interact with me (and proceed to pray that none of them do).

      1. Megs*

        I have been known to hide when the new baby is being shown around the office. Especially when it’s brand brand new, because I think newborns look like aliens.

    2. The Alias Gloria Has Been Living Under, A.A., B.S.*

      At the last “Bring Your Kid to Work Day” one of my coworkers kids hugged me. I mean he hugged everyone but still. I’m not a hugger. And I’m not a kid person. This is not a Venn diagram I ever wanted to come true. I kept my cool but internally I was thinking “2319!! 2319!!!!”

      1. Rebecca in Dallas*

        “Bring Your Kid To Work Day” sounds like my personal nightmare.

        We’ve had occasional kids in the office, usually waiting for another parent or caregiver to pick them up. They are usually fine. If they get walked around, I usually just say, “Hello, nice to meet you.” and they usually keep moving after that.

        If it’s an infant, the coworker usually doesn’t get very far before they are mobbed by the baby-lovers. It usually works out fine that I can just avoid said baby (if I don’t know the coworker well), or I can just stop and give an obligatory “Oh, he/she is so cute!” and slip away unnoticed. I’ve definitely used the “I’m getting over a cold” excuse before, nobody wants the baby to get sick!

    3. Elizabeth West*

      People here bring their kids in every once in a while. I have to badge them if I’m covering the front desk. I like to hand the badge to the kid and not the parent. If I run into a parent and child in the hallway, I say, “New employee?” and that usually gets a smile out of the parent, at least. Older kids are more apt to laugh at that one.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Ha, yes! I’ve spent a lot of time working at colleges, and “The freshmen just look younger every year, don’t they?” usually gets a chuckle.

      2. C Average*

        This is great. I remember liking to visit my dad’s office because the front-desk people would say things like that to me, threatening to put me to work, that kind of thing. I think kids really enjoy getting to briefly entertain the idea of being a grownup who works in an office, and this kind of patter helps them do that.

      3. BananaPants*

        I’ve had coworkers say toward my own kids when I’ve had to briefly have them in the office, “We’re starting the interns younger and younger every year!” or “New employee?” with a smile. I use the intern line myself and it usually gets a laugh.

    4. General Ginger*

      I feel you. I am fairly certain refusing to hold Boss’s new baby was a massive tactical error on my part, but I just froze up and wanted to sink through the floor when it was my turn :(

      1. Petronella*

        Yes, if it’s the boss bringing in their kid, it feels like more of a duty to coo over the baby, be patient with the toddler, and converse with the school-aged kid. Whereas if it’s someone at my level or below, I can get away with a quick Hi or How Cute, or stay at my desk completely.

    5. Cassie*

      Kids don’t freak me out but I’m not a big fan of dealing with them at work. The rare occasion a professor or coworker brings the kid to my cubicle, I’ll just smile to the kid and say hi (the parent usually prompts the kid). If the kid is wearing a character shirt, I might say something – like one kid was wearing a Hello Kitty shirt and I said I liked it and then pointed to my Hello Kitty pencil box.

      If the parent doesn’t bring the kid to me, I steer clear – all the other workers will swarm around the kid anyway. I’ll leave it to them.

      If the kid doesn’t look like he or she wants to talk, I’d just leave it at a smile. As a quiet/introverted kid, I was not comfortable when adults tried to talk to me. In my head, I’d be thinking “never talk to strangers!”. My mom would try to prompt me to answer the person’s polite questions but I just could not. The other person would usually say “oh, that’s okay” but the damage was already done – I knew my mom would lecture me once we were out of earshot of anyone else.

  13. lamuella*

    #5 – if you’ve worked for a long time for the same label and they’ve been impressed by your work, is there any way to look at more conventionally timetabled positions in the same company? If the company like you and don’t want to lose you, they might be willing to look at turning a producer role into a sales or marketing one.

    otherwise, make sure that your resume breaks down your producer duties in a way that easily translates to other roles. Don’t leave it to HR people to draw out the transferable skills, bullet point them.

    1. Kat 2*

      Sales and marketing are not 9-to-5 jobs, nor are they the kind where a person goes to work in one place. Every sales and marketing job I’ve encountered involves LOTS of working outside typical work hours and working on weekends in addition to meeting clients (sales) or being present at events (marketing).

      1. Chloe Silverado*

        Agreed. I work in a pretty boring industry and as a marketing manager I have to stay late for events every few weeks and work weekends 1-2 times per year. I can imagine that in the music industry this would be more frequent. But I think the general advice is good – there are probably jobs in the industry that would have a more set schedule.

  14. Excel Slayer*

    I find with babies the steps are:
    1) Smile at baby (hope it doesn’t cry).
    2) Ask parent innocuous question about baby (“That’s an adorable outfit! Where did you get it?”)
    3) Nod while parent talks about baby.
    4) “That’s lovely! Now I have to go iron my spreadsheets….)

    Use only 4 and inject some urgency about ironing your spreadsheets if baby-holding offers appear, and you think the parent will be mortally offended that not all people want snuggle with their precious. However, in my experience, most people seem to understand that non-baby-holding people exist.

    1. NM Anon*

      Yes, we exist! I once went to a co-worker’s home to drop off a baby gift and co-worker’s husband tried to hand me the baby. Without saying anything myself, co-worker stepped in and said something to the effect of “oh no, nm anon doesn’t do that.” (We’d previously talked about the fact that I dislike children .)

    2. Whisk*

      I had a coworker who had a baby and brought him in. Everyone was well aware that I didn’t care for babies. Everyone else held the baby then she got to me and I said, “Oh, that’s a good-looking baby” and she responded, “Hold him.” I said, “No, thank you.” And she said, “Hold him.” I said, “No.” She moved toward me like she was just gonna deposit said baby on my lap and said, “Hold the baby!” And I leapt up and said, “No!” It was very weird and awkward, and everyone thought I was the rude one in that situation. I think they all thought if I held this baby is suddenly become infatuated with babies. I have held babies before, I still don’t care for them.

      1. chocolate lover*

        You absolutely were NOT the rude one. That’s pretty obnoxious of the parent. I’m a “rent them and return them” kind of person when it comes to kids – I like playing with them for a few minutes and giving them back. I have limits to how often/how much I am willing to engage with them, and with the occasional “you’ll change your mind about having them” condescension, some days I’m just not in the mood. I would be so ticked with that coworker.

        1. Photoshop Til I Drop*

          I’ve been told “you’ll change your mind” about not wanting kids since the 70s. I’m pretty sure the funeral director will be telling me that while embalming me.

          1. The Alias Gloria Has Been Living Under, A.A., B.S.*

            When someone says that to me I say “Yeah, I’m sure you will too.” Because I’m mean like that.

            1. Gaia*

              I’ve said that, and funnily enough the parent never seems to appreciate it as much as I am expected to appreciate their opinion that I’ll suddenly wake up and want an expensive tiny human one day.

            2. AFT123*

              Anyone watch House of Cards? This reminds me of that phenomenal scene where Robin Wright’s character shows her icy claws when the woman she is speaking to asks her if she regrets never having had children. The woman’s children are bouncing around them and Robin gives her an icy look, the woman says something like “I’m sorry, I’ve overstepped, that isn’t my business” and Robin goes “Do you ever regret having them?” in an icy tone while staring right into her eyes. It was chilling and oh so good.

              1. Rebecca in Dallas*

                YES! Claire Underwood is my spirit animal. I mean… except for the whole “evil” streak.

              2. Anxa*

                I’ve done something similar to someone I really didn’t like and just so busy and insensitive to others. Her children were so irritating to me, maybe they were typical kids, maybe they were just a bad bunch, but being around her and her family was such a strong mark in the “no kids” column.

                She was incessantly going on about motherhood and the joys of parenting and the innate preciousness of children, and one day she turned her attention to me. Now, I’m usually a bit of a doormat, but I have my moments. I’ll be honest and it sometimes crosses from assertive to cruel if I’m really pushed.

                I countered to her that if my life and kids were anything like hers, I’d regret that far more than ever not having kids.

                Now granted, I found her more insufferable than the kids themselves (barely), but ugh. That person was awful. She stopped speaking to me and it was glorious.

            3. LD*

              Oh that reminds me! One of my friends who has teenagers told one of her pregnant friends, “So you’ll enjoy your new baby and in sixteen years you’ll want to pinch her head off!” The pregnant friend already has children and understood exactly what she meant, so she laughed!

          2. Kyrielle*

            I haaaaaaaaaaaate this line. I *did* eventually change my mind and I’m glad I did, but I know lots of people who haven’t (some of whom would have to adopt to change their mind now), and they’re happy they didn’t.

            The only person who gets to decide if I change my mind is me, and I’m not required to predict it. Same for everyone else.

            1. Cafe au Lait*

              Honestly, for me, it was less about wanting kids and more about finding a partner with whom I wanted to parent together.

              I work with a lot of 18-22 year old women, and I make sure to tell them this. (Along with using language like “If you choose to have kids”). These young women are incredibly focused on their careers, and they want to be established first before even thinking about babies or partners or mortgages. I try to reaffirm as much as possible that their goals are great, and if they change their minds along the way, that’s fine too.

              1. Anxa*

                I really wish the possibility of having kids and a spouse had been on my horizon earlier. I feel like growing up there was a quiet pressure to be independent and avoid pregnancy at all costs and that boys were a distraction. And then suddenly in your late 20s everything changes and everyone expects you to put your family first if you have an SO and of COURSE you’ll have kids and of COURSE you’ll get married and of COURSE you have to compromise.

                So there are these dueling pressures to prioritize family while maintaining a career and of course lots of people manage to make great strides with both, but I wish I had just considered things like “is this field friendly to family life?”, “can this job travel if your spouse gets a job cross country”, etc.

            2. Total Rando*

              This! for any application of the “you’ll change your mind” comment.
              It’s SO condescending to tell someone that they can’t possibly know enough information to make the right decision for themselves at the current time. Yes, I may change my mind – and that’s my right – but it’s by no means an inevitability.

              Plus, no one should be trying to convince people who don’t want kids to have kids – that doesn’t sound like a great situation for the kid. If anything, we should all err on the side of “don’t have kids until you KNOW you want them”, right?

              1. Whisk*

                But my mother wants to be a graaaaandmooooother! And her desire to have little ones to brag about from 500 miles away apparently trumps my desire to remain kidless. :eyeroll:

          3. Hlyssande*

            That’s why I just switched from an otherwise-great gynecologist to a different one – she gave me a line about how I’d change my mind because she did.

            Joke’s on her, new doc is freaking amazing.

          4. C Average*

            What about the people who have kids and then change their minds? I’ve met a few of those. Seems like if you’re undecided, it’s better for everyone if you stay on the not-having-kids side of the fence.

            (I always knew I didn’t want them. I married a guy who had shared custody of his two daughters. Guess what? We have them full-time now. I not only love them but genuinely like them, and I’ve finally gotten used to living with them all the time, but I know EXACTLY how many days are left until we’re empty nesters, and I am going to do the happy dance SO HARD when they move out and I get my clean white living back.)

            1. Security SemiPro*


              I’m all aboard the baby train. But its a huge deal for me and a huge deal in general and I’m so confused by the idea that anyone would think its a good idea to push this choice on the undecided. Its a whole new human being. Whole and New are big deal words. Yes, yes, also rewarding, amazing, delightful, etc etc… but parenting is hard and important work.

              I’d like to live in a world where only people who dearly wanted to be parents were parents. I don’t understand why anyone would try to pressure people into parenting. It seems like a recipe for making crappy parents, and why would anyone want that?

              1. Mike C.*

                Holy crap, this! It’s a huge deal to have children, why would someone go around trying to force this on everyone they meet?

            2. Anna*

              I feel like if you change your mind after you’ve had kids…it’s a bit too late for that, but yes. If you’re undecided then err on the side of not having them. It will be better for everyone; you, the kid not yet born, your family.

            3. nonegiven*

              I didn’t like it enough that I didn’t want another one that I thought I would originally. I didn’t really like him again until he was over 30.

          5. Rachel*

            I know, right? I’ve known for sure I don’t want kids since I was 14 years old. I’m 42 now. My mind is not changing. : )

      2. Aim away from face*

        Absolutely. People are so bizarre.

        You’re trying to force your child upon me and are willing to drop it on the ground, because you know I won’t hold it? Yep, some “parent”.

        1. Marisol*

          I thought the same thing. If it were a priceless antique, the parent wouldn’t just hand it around cavalierly. But a baby? Meh, who cares…

      3. Anlyn*

        I’d be tempted to tell that coworker I have a tendency to drop babies* (and tbh, is a big reason I don’t want to hold 2-5 months old…they’re squirmy) and wouldn’t want to give her kid brain damage.

        *I have never dropped a baby.

      4. Batshua*

        I don’t understand why “I’m afraid I’ll drop her” isn’t whipped out more as an excuse not to hold a baby. If I don’t want to hold a baby, that’s pretty much a major part of the reason.

        1. Anna*

          Also babies are pretty durable when dropped.

          I mean, that’s why their little bones aren’t fused together yet. It’s so they don’t break so easily. Not because I’ve dropped a baby…SCIENCE!

          1. OfficePrincess*

            As the once-dropped baby, I can confirm I made it to adulthood ok. (Being caught right before I hit the floor probably helped.)

      5. General Ginger*

        Same thing happened to me last year, and I just completely froze up and wanted to sink through the floor and kept saying I don’t really want to hold the baby. It was horrendously awkward, and did not go over well with my boss/coworkers :(

    3. Purest Green*

      And if you’re completely awkward:
      – Coworker presents baby as if it’s a glittering trophy.
      – “Ooh yes, she’s very … new.” (Opens a worm hole to the left and scuttles through it.)

    4. JMegan*

      Speaking as a parent, if you’re a non-baby-holding person, I would MUCH rather you say so. I genuinely don’t understand people who insist that everyone hold their baby. The other adult will be uncomfortable, which will make the baby uncomfortable, which will make the parent uncomfortable, so what’s the point? Why not leave the baby-holding to someone who will genuinely enjoy it, and who will not freak out either the baby or the parent?

      1. Anne*

        Exactly! Plus, there’s always the chance that the baby will somehow disperse bodily fluids onto whoever is holding him, and it would be crazy awkward if that happened after a forced baby-holding situation.

        1. J.B.*

          Good point! By the time we took second kid to church I knew the spitting up tendency and was prepared, but in earlier sleep deprived days, someone might have gotten decorated.

      2. James*

        Seconded. I get that babies aren’t everyone’s thing. They’re messy, they cry for no reason, and diapers are more of a stalling method than real protection. Having a baby spit up into your shirt pocket when you don’t have a spare and have a meeting in ten minutes is NOT fun.

        (“They’re noisy, they smell….”
        “What? They do not smell!”
        “Babies smell!”
        Great movie :D )

        From the parent’s perspective, here’s what I see happening. I offer to let you hold the baby, because offering is better for everyone than having some stranger pick up my child with neither of us knowing said stranger plans to do so. And most people want to hold babies; it’s an evolution thing to want to care for babies. If someone says “No”, usually that means (in my experience) that they either don’t trust themselves to hold a baby, or don’t want to impose on the parent–it’s common for someone who really wants to hold the baby to say “No, no, I couldn’t” a few times. It’s sort of like the way in some cultures it’s polite to refuse a gift two or three times; in our culture, it’s expected to refuse to hold a baby at least once if you’re not immediate family. So the parent tries to re-assure the person. If you say “No” and the parent responds with “Oh, it’s fine, the kid won’t break” or anything in that vein, they think you’re merely worried, not that you really don’t like kids. It’s not that we’re being pushy–we genuinely misunderstand what you’re saying, because the overwhelming majority of the time people say what you’re saying, they don’t mean what you mean.

        Now if they finally convince you to hold the baby, then run for the door, setting the baby down on the floor while you dive-tackle the parent is a fully appropriate response. And I’ve NEVER considered running after I hand off a baby. Nope. Never. Certainly not once a week for the past three years…..

        1. JMegan*

          And I’ve NEVER considered running after I hand off a baby. Nope. Never. Certainly not once a week for the past three years…..

          Ha. Nope, me either! *cough*

          Seriously, though – I think you’re on to something with the cultural expectations bit. The parent is expected to offer, the other person is expected to either be super-excited or to give a reason why they’re not; and if they’re not, then the parent is expected to encourage them. I still don’t love it, and I’d much rather people say what they mean (including “I’d rather not hold your baby” if that’s the case), but I can see how these conversations happen.

          1. Security SemiPro*

            I’m so glad my local culture is more that willing baby holders (or even baby touchers) *ask* the parent “May I hold the baby?” and holding or not holding goes from there. People who don’t want to hold don’t ask, parents who don’t want to play pass-the-baby just decline. No pressure.

      3. C Average*

        I think you’re on to something here.

        I’m pathologically honest and have never had any problem saying straight out, “No thanks, I’d rather not hold the baby. I’m not much of a baby person.”

        To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never lost any friends over this, nor have I ever been forced to hold a baby or guilted over refusing to hold one.

      4. Rana*

        Yes. Even though I’m a parent, I’m not really a baby-holding person. I will hold one, when handed to me by someone with that expectant expression that says I’m so lucky to be given this opportunity!, but I’d much rather make faces at it and talk to it while its parents hold it.

        And when my daughter was herself a newborn, I really did not want anyone else holding her, so this “everyone must hold the baby!” mentality is just strange to me.

        1. aebhel*

          Right? “Sure, I’ll just pass this tiny fragile human with an undeveloped immune system whom I barely trust myself to care for around to any random person!”

          I mean, it’s obviously a thing that happens, but it’s just. Weird.

          When I brought my daughter to work for the first time, she stayed in her carrier the whole time. People who wanted to coo over her were welcome to do so, but I didn’t chase anyone down if they got a panicked expression and backed away (which a couple of the college-age interns did).

          1. aebhel*

            *also, to note: I work in a public library, so being there with my kid was perfectly appropriate.

    5. Rachel*

      I’m a non-baby holder too. The offices in which I’ve worked, though, have had enough baby holders that I don’t think anyone even noticed. : )

  15. Kat 2*

    Regarding #5, sorry to say this but jobs related to music or entertainment are not likely to be the 9-to-5 job in an office that the OP is looking for.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I disagree with that– I’ve held those jobs. Right out of college, I worked in the corporate office of a large touring company. I worked for a giant media company for 8 years. In both of these cases, working the crazy hours associated with “the business” was a very rare thing, because I held very corporate, office-based positions. The first job was a lot more creative– my duties included editing scripts, and because of my own musical background I helped with some notation– but I rarely stayed after hours. I’ve also worked in box offices, both in admin and sales capacities.

      There are so many things the OP can do: admin for a local venue, a music publisher, a radio station… These jobs can be tough to get and they don’t necessarily pay well, but they definitely exist. Sales is another option and a bit more lucrative, as is management. And the hours are just fine, especially compared to the OP’s recent schedule.

      1. Development Professional*

        I’m with AvonLady – it completely depends on what your job is, and what kind of company/organization it is too.

        Also, the OP didn’t get into it that deeply, but there’s a wide range of what your hours might look like between “out all hours most nights dealing with artists” and “always leave the office on 5pm on the dot.” If the OP has any tolerance at all for the occasional evening or weekend event, that will open up a lot of opportunities and still be less exhausting/demanding than the grind of being a music producer.

      2. AS*

        I agree. I interned at a record label and I worked mostly on web writing and social media, which were 9-5 tasks. I was overseen by the Director of Marketing who did occasionally work events and unusual hours but whose role really was a very conventional marketing director role. The label I worked at also had the kinds of staff you see at a typical office – customer service, IT and web programmers, finance/accounting, events coordinators, writers/editors, probably some business analysis type roles, and so on. Also archivists because the label had been around a long time and had ongoing archives preservation projects.

  16. Kristine*

    OP #5– I just transitioned from the software space to the education space. I heard back from a lot of places that they were looking for someone who had worked at a non-profit, so I sat down and really thought out how my skills transferred from one industry to another. I started highlighting these skills in my cover letters and had good answers prepared for interview questions about my lack of non-profit experience. I was offered two positions with different non-profits, so maybe this exercise will work for you. Good luck!

  17. K.*

    #1: I talk to kids like adults, always have. Age-appropriate language, but no baby talk ever – I hate it. (My parents did too.) It works. “Hi, nice to meet you! What are you up to today?”

    I like kids a lot but not infants, so when people bring in their very small babies (like, if they’re visiting from maternity leave) and they ask if I want to hold them, I politely decline. It’s always fine. I comment on something about the baby: “Look at those teeny hands!” or whatever, and then I move on.

    1. JMegan*

      Yes, to commenting on the teeny hands! And also feet, if you can see them. Many parents are absolutely enthralled with teeny baby hands and feet, so you’re pretty sure to get a good response to that.

      (Even typing this comment has made me go *squee! baby feet!*…so it’s easy to guess my feelings on that one!)

      1. Kitten, please*

        Oh man, the tiny fingers and toes are like the most creepy parts of babies to me. They just look so undeveloped and worm-like.

    2. Anna the Accounting Grad*

      I’ve always found the “adult-style conversation with age-appropriate vocab” method works well (most people here know what the conventional boundaries are). Kids are generally smarter than they look.

  18. Photoshop Til I Drop*

    #1 and the comments: It’s funny and sad how people are desperately quick to reassure everyone that it’s not that they don’t like kids, like they’re going to be run out of town for daring to have the “wrong” opinion.

    1. Aim away from face*

      Yep. So disheartening to see people tripping all over themselves to not give, as you say, the “wrong” answer, lest they be taken for some kind of child-hater.

      You don’t have to justify yourself or water it down. If you don’t like kids, that’s a perfectly legitimate opinion. If someone doesn’t like that, too damn bad, that’s their problem. You don’t have to apologize for it. Be civil, and it is what it is.

      1. GovWorker*

        Again, I don’t get the hostility some of you express, nor the prejudice toward an entire group of human beings that you once belonged to. Such blanket disdain, I do not understand it at all.

        If anything, I am the one that will be run out of town! There are quite a few child-averse people here.

        I have the same attitude toward the elderly. Some I like, some I don’t, but I won’t lump them all together.

        1. chocolate lover*

          Neither Photoshop till I drop nor Aim away from Face (love that nickname) expressed “hostility” as far as I can tell. They just said that some people don’t like children.

        2. Prince*

          Eh. I was a homophobe once when I was in high school. I now do not like homophobes. Just because I used to be one doesn’t mean I have to like them all now.

          1. MashaKasha*

            That’s, uh, a pretty bizarre analogy. A homophobe is someone who dislikes an entire group of people for no apparent reason. A child is a human who was born between now and, say, 2000. How does that even compare?

            1. Prince*

              People say “You used to be a kid” and offer it as a reason that everyone should like kids. Just because I used to be something at one point in time doesn’t mean I have to like everyone who is that thing now.

              1. MashaKasha*

                My point is, the kids are not being that thing by choice, and disliking a group of people for something they have no control over (unlike the homophobes, who are perfectly capable of educating themselves and changing their worldview) is… ehh… not cool? And not the same as disliking the homophobes for holding views that they would not be holding if they’d given it a bit more thought and consideration (like you have).

        3. Kyrielle*

          I have two children, and honestly, I totally understand this. Back when I didn’t want children, before I changed my mind, I learned not to say that (let alone that I didn’t like them) in spaces that included…well, anyone I didn’t know well. Because a subset of people who like children find it horrifying or offensive that someone else doesn’t and will rush to say theyll change their mind, or get defensive, or scold them. And they have the same general ‘tone’ of response but not as many ways to express it if they *guess* you don’t like children from your body language or interaction.

          Somehow, they seem to take it as saying they, or their children, are bad or shouldn’t be wherever they are or should be isolated.

          And to be fair, as a now-mother, that’s in part because some people will actually say that (including in venues that are specifically child-friendly – I haven’t had anyone react badly to my kids being in the children’s museum that I know of, but a movie showing of a G-rated kids’ film, yes).

          It’s not hostility toward kids, either, to not like them. I don’t like horror films; I don’t like sardines; I don’t like being around noticeably drunk people. This doesn’t mean I feel hostile toward any of these things. I’m just uncomfortable with it and not fond of it. And that’s how I felt about children when I was younger: in photos they were kinda cute, but being around them wasn’t comfortable and wasn’t what I wanted. Nonetheless, if I was somewhere they reasonably had a right to be, including work with their parents, I was polite; I just tried to avoid too much interaction and kept going.

          That’s not hostility. But there can be a certain amount of defensiveness when everyone gets upset with you for not wanting/liking kids.

          It’s way too polarized an issue, IMO – both sides are prone to take as ‘hostility’ things that aren’t, and both views have some extremists who have been upsetting to the other view.

        4. Ellen Fremedon*

          To be fair, I had blanket disdain for children when I was a child. I was much harder on my own age-related failings than on anyone else’s.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I think that’s perfectly normal with kids. There is no group so contemptuous of another group than one made up of people who just left it.

            “Oh my god, you’re such a baby!” Forgetting they were the same age just a year ago!

          2. virago*

            The late writer Florence King, an unrepentant curmudgeon, was an only child who didn’t spend much time around others her age until her first day of kindergarten.

            Seeing her classmates cry, scream and otherwise freak out as they saw their mothers head toward the door, King thought: “I wasn’t used to children, and they were getting on my nerves. Worse, it appeared that I was a child, too. I hadn’t known that before; I thought I was just short.”

            (Keep in mind that this was a kid who started drinking coffee at the age of 3, and when her grade school teacher had the class be historical characters, King chose Lizzie Borden. All this is from her hilarious memoir, “Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady.”)

            1. Ellen Fremedon*

              Curmudgeons unite! I always preferred spending time with adults as a child–not so much because they were necessarily better company, but because when adults were ignorant or irrational, you could just despise them for it, instead of having to cut them slack for being ‘developmentally appropriate.’

        5. MashaKasha*

          Right? I’m confused too. “I can’t relate to kids” or “I’m uncomfortable around kids” I would understand, but “I don’t like” an entire generation of people is somehow a perfectly legitimate opinion? Is “I don’t like old people” okay too? what about “I don’t like women”?

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Honestly, I think “I don’t like kids” typically means “kids are usually loud/frenetic/behave in ways that I’m not super comfortable being around/don’t adhere to adult conversational conventions, and thus I don’t enjoy their presence.” It’s not about bearing them ill will.

              1. Kitten, please*

                I dunno, to me, it’s like saying, “I don’t like mayonnaise.” I don’t bear mayonnaise any ill will, I just would rather not have anything to do with it.

                1. aebhel*

                  Right, but mayonnaise isn’t a group of people, so I’m not sure that phrasing really should carry over.

            1. Mike C.*

              And if I may expand on this, some parents have extravagant expectations on how you are to treat and interact with said children that go far beyond what normal social conventions may require.

            1. MashaKasha*

              That would be a question for Aim Away From Face above, who wrote: “If you don’t like kids, that’s a perfectly legitimate opinion.” which I quoted, admittedly, without adding quotation marks or the source. My bad.

          2. Amy Farrah Fowler*

            Or I don’t like black people… It may be true that some people “don’t like” them, but is it really appropriate to say?

      2. aebhel*

        I think there’s a difference between “I dislike children” and “I dislike being around children”. Which may seem like rules-lawyering, but… look, plenty of people don’t particularly like to be around children. They’re volatile, unpredictable, often messy, and can be very difficult to relate to, especially if you’re a person who doesn’t spend much time around kids; there’s also a ‘duty of care’ or at least a ‘duty to not let them run into traffic’ thing, which is a lot of pressure that plenty of people don’t want to take on and will resent being forced to take on if, say, a parent drops the kid with them and wanders off. That’s fine. I also don’t really like to be around kids I don’t know, and I have a kid of my own. And I think that’s what most people who say that they don’t like kids mean, but there are also people who don’t like kids in the sense that they’re openly hostile to children and/or their parents whenever they encounter them in public, regardless of how the kid is behaving, which is a very different thing.

    2. Mike C.*

      I was thinking the same thing. The only thing more obnoxious than being forced into an answer life that is hearing in response, “Oh I felt that way until I had my first. Now I have N+1!” Ugh.

      I’m not busy dismantling public schools and salting the grounds of soccer and baseball fields, I just don’t like kids. I’m not going to be a jerk about it but stop being so annoyed that I don’t have the same desire to be around children as those who gave birth and raised them.

      1. Government Worker*

        Not all parents are kid people! I love my kids and enjoy spending time with them, but I still feel pretty awkward around kids I don’t know. I particularly have trouble with kids who are a few years older than my toddlers – I’ve learned how to interact with babies and toddlers as my kids have gone through those stages, but I still have trouble with elementary and middle schoolers.

        1. Michelle*

          Ditto. Coworkers bring their children by all the time, I do the smile/nod, “how cute”(or something similar) and move on. The sprinkler room always needs to be checked for leaks.

      2. CV*

        Ha. Some parents don’t even like children. I like mine… but not necessarily other peoples’. Which is why I am not a kindergarten teacher.

          1. Mirve*

            I always subscribed heavily to the “it is different when they are yours” to explain how people dealt with children. If I had ever had my own, it was what I was depending on, though I never did have any.

    3. Chickaletta*

      Even us parents often don’t like other people’s children. I love my son, but other kids? Not always.

      I second (third, whatever), just talking to children like you would an adult. I don’t even know what kid talk is, I’ve always spoken to my son the same way I talk to anyone else. At five, he’s a joy to talk to now. He can have a conversation about his day that’s more than just yes or no answers, he volunteers information, and sometimes the words coming out of him are funny b/c they’re coming from someone so young (ex: “Actually, I used to like dinosaurs.”.

      1. MashaKasha*

        Second the “talking to children like you would an adult” part! I never used baby talk with anyone until I got my dog.

        As for liking or not liking other people’s children, I’m the weird adult who used to sneak off at large parties/camping trips to hang with the kids so I could recharge from being around adults, so I’ll sit that one out. Before I had my own, I felt weird around kids, because I didn’t know how to relate to them or understand them, which was why I didn’t enjoy their company.

    4. OP #1*

      OP number 1 here! I truly don’t dislike kids – I’m just awkward. I understand that many do not want the effort and stress of being responsible for a child, but I also know too many people who characterize children as little sub-human monsters, which I find really gross and dehumanizing and why I wanted to distance myself from that mentality. Kids may need more careful attention, but they are still real people with real feelings!

      1. MashaKasha*

        Thanks for clarifying! And yes, as someone who’s recently been chewed out by a random semi-stranger at a social gathering for “populating the planet” (with a 21yo and a 23yo… gimme a break), I totally see what you are referring to, and don’t blame you for wanting to distance yourself from that!

      2. Rana*

        Thank you for that! As a newish parent who is not really a “kid person” (meaning that I, too, feel awkward around children I don’t know very well) I am regularly appalled by the way our culture treats children not as immature, still-learning human persons, but little weird pets or something. (I saw one mother, for example, share a picture of her toddler eating with a fork “like a real person”.)

        I am sympathetic to people who are uncomfortable around children because they’re not sure how to talk to them in ways that are appropriate to their age, or because they dislike the sounds children make (they are loud and do cry, as a cohort, more than adults), or don’t want to deal with mess. I am not sympathetic to people who proclaim that all children are horrid little disgusting beasts… unless they also hold that opinion about humanity in general.

        I mean, hell, I’d rather deal with a toddler temper tantrum than a drunk angry yelling dude on the street, you know? Or baby spit-up rather than poop smeared by an angry adult in an elevator, etc. etc.

  19. Cristina in England*

    #1. For a baby: “What a gorgeous baby” possible add-ons: “…she has your eyes” and smile a big smile at the baby.

    For a child, I would not ask them too many questions as they may well be feeling shy themselves and clam up. I would say something like “Wow those are cool sneakers, I wish I had ones that light up!” And something simple like “Hello, it’s nice to see you again” with a warm smile will go a long way with child and parent alike.

    1. Grey*

      she has your eyes

      Just be 100% sure the child isn’t adopted. If it’s a man, be sure it’s the biological father.

      Plus, as a little kid, I was annoyed when people told my stepfather that I looked like him. It was probably awkward for him too.

      1. Temperance*

        I always say generic things like “what a sweet baby” or “what a pleasant/happy baby” … so long as it’s true, of course.

        1. nerfmobile*

          Yes. There are a number of circumstances where what I consider the “canonical description” is a perfect adequate response. All brides are beautiful, all babies are adorable, all puppies and kittens are cute, all newly-purchased houses will be happy homes, all parents of graduates are proud, etc.

      2. the gold digger*

        Primo and I were at a concert at the park when this little girl – about four – ran up to him, tugged on his pants, and asked, “Are you my daddy?”

        I was all set to scold her that of course he wasn’t and why on earth would she think that! And then I thought, “Well – technically, he could be, if he had been fooling around on me.” I started to inspect her – did she look like him?

        I had not completed my inspection before a friend of his whom we had not seen for a few years walked up, laughing. It was her little girl and she had sent her over to ask that question.

        (No. Primo is not her daddy. :) )

        1. Rebecca in Dallas*

          Haha, my nephew went through a phase of identifying strangers as “mommy” or “daddy” if they looked even vaguely like that particular parent. It made for some awkward public encounters!

          1. BananaPants*

            Around a year ago when our younger daughter was 2, she called all adult women “mommies” and all adult men “daddies”. Like, when you might say, “The man in the green shirt” she would say, ‘The daddy in the green shirt”. It was kind of funny but got awkward in public.

      3. Government Worker*

        Be sure it’s the biological mother, too. My kids have two moms, and my wife as the non-bio mom gets this occasionally.

        1. Marisol*

          GW – I am curious, does this bother your wife? Or are you just positing that as a possibility? I think it’s the former but am not sure. I just posted about parents *not* being offended and hearing your take makes me want to reconsider my position.

      4. Marisol*

        My sister was adopted and my parents loved to point out what a resemblance she had to others in the family. When she got older and her features were more defined, people would frequently tell me she looked like me, even though she didn’t resemble me in the slightest. It was never a problem. I’m not sure how other adoptive parents feel, but I wouldn’t assume that telling adoptive parents that they can see a family resemblance would give offense. More likely I think is that they would either like hearing it, as it reinforces a sense of mutual belonging, or, that they had prepared themselves at least somewhat for misunderstandings of that nature. To my mind, this is a non-issue.

      1. Liz*

        Life hack: never, ever tell a mother that her baby looks like a cantaloupe. Even if it does. Even if you mean it as a compliment.

        Also, “That is the most judgemental baby I’ve ever seen!” also doesn’t go down well for some reason.

  20. Former Computer Professional*

    Erm. Sorry to nitpick but

    “I am the child of a mother who read the Wall Street Journal to my sister and I while we were babies”

    You meant “sister and -me-.” She read the WSJ to my sister. She read the WSJ to me.

    To be fair, I mix up your/you’re and its/it’s with absurd frequency for someone who copy-edits!

    1. AshAsh*

      I’m pretty sure we’re not supposed to nitpick grammar here. I believe it’s in the commenting guidelines.

      1. Grimmerlemming*

        Aam posts are the exception though. She genuinely cares about post grammar. Comment grammar are a different matter.

  21. Aca-Believe It*

    #3 I had a colleague like this. You can’t control or change her – all you can do is set boundaries. The trick is to use the broken record technique where you repeat the same response over and over. “I’m not willing to discuss this at work.” “This isn’t appropriate to discuss.” “I’m not willing to have this conversation.” Don’t ask her not to talk about it. Just be clear that you won’t.

    #5 It’s all about how you sell it. You may have internalised society’s view that it’s not a real job. Big up all the skills and qualities you’ve been using. I was self-employed for ages and thought I’d have trouble going back to full-time work but actually discovered I had a lot of transferable skills that employers wanted. Good luck!

    1. Liane*

      The rest of your advice is good, except not telling Ms. Lackafilter to stop. That is essential since there are/ clients/guests.

    2. OP #3*

      Luckily, this is my last day at this position but I’ve passed along this advice to the people who will be working with her. I learned way more about this woman than I’d ever want to know about a coworker!

  22. AyBeeCee*

    #1 – having been the awkward adult around other peoples’ kids and now having offspring of my own, I agree with Allison’s answer. You’re not obligated to say anything. If you’re specifically introduced (like when my coworker introduced her son to each member of the team) a smile and “Hi!” is sufficient. If the kid is hanging out for a while waiting to be taken to an appointment or something, then I’ll offer up all my highlighters and colored pens (I have a bunch) so they can color on printer paper while they wait. Occasionally I realize a day or two later that one was returned without a cap, but since they’re company-provided office supplies it doesn’t bother me – I just go get a replacement.

    1. Person of Interest*

      My coworker’s toddler godson used to run into my office to play with my squishy stress ball every time he came to visit. It was his favorite office toy!

    2. Elizabeth West*

      I had a small visitor once at Exjob–she sat on my lap and colored on a piece of paper with my highlighters. It was a very enjoyable few minutes–I didn’t have to do a damn thing but hold her and watch.

      And another coworker’s oldest child was VERY shy when she was younger. I just said “Hi, [Lila],” cheerfully to acknowledge her and then left her alone. She later grew very outgoing and when I hung out with them outside work, she would chatter to me like a monkey. :)

    3. Chinook*

      “If the kid is hanging out for a while waiting to be taken to an appointment or something, then I’ll offer up all my highlighters and colored pens (I have a bunch) so they can color on printer paper while they wait. Occasionally I realize a day or two later that one was returned without a cap, but since they’re company-provided office supplies it doesn’t bother me – I just go get a replacement.”

      When I worked reception at the accounting firm, we also dealt with bankruptcies and there would be parents who would bring in their children and not know what to do with them or were afraid the kid would break something (we were a top 5 firm and had a very nice lobby). I discovered at the dollar store “colouring books” that used water filled “pens” to change the picture different colours. Once the pad dried, the colour disappeared and it could be reused. It was the best because a) it kept most kids quietly busy, b) it was usually new to the kids and c) no one ever had to worry about a random toddler quietly colouring the walls while parent was talking (because kids can be sneaky quiet when they want to be).

    4. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

      I work for our state department of education, so most of the people around me are former teachers and therefore good with kids, and often bring their own in. While I’m not a former teacher, I like kids a lot and I do have lingering interests in things that kids like, so I’m happy to let them play with my Fluttershy plushie from Build-a-Bear, or cast a few spells with my Harry Potter wand, or hug my knitted Dalek. If that doesn’t work, I have a bowl of candy available. :P

  23. AyBeeCee*

    Also #2 – I had a job for years where we only had 1 week of vacation time for the first couple years we worked there. There was also sick time but I forget how much. It wasn’t automotive or I’d think we were talking about the same company. The company had other issues as well and, not shockingly, had a hard time keeping good employees around. The only reason I stayed as long as I did (about two years too long) was to repair some previous job hopping on my resume and because it was during the recession.

      1. Adonday Veeah*

        I had a boss once who believed that What You Think About, You Attract. Not a bad philosophy, and I subscribe to it myself, but in this case it manifested as, “By not offering sick leave, I’m helping my employees to not get sick.”

    1. Former Diet Coke Addict*

      My last job offered one week of vacation that only kicked in after you’d been there a full year. Additionally there was no paid sick time, no paid bereavement time, and the very “generous” benefit of “as much unpaid time off as you want.” Nothing could convince my old boss that this was not wildly generous, and he couldn’t for the life of him figure out why people were so upset and frustrated with his policies.

    2. Kimberlee, Esq*

      Yeah the only jobs I’ve had that offered vacation were ones where I was exempt. I’ve never had a non-exempt gig offer vacation, so TBH their policy seems fine to me. I mean, more vacation is always better, but I have doubts that competitors of OP’s company are offering more.

      1. Don't say my name!*

        Most of my food service jobs had no PTO–only one offered a week after one year. The office jobs were the same–one week after a year, though one had a half-day per month sick leave. Exjob gave two weeks PTO after a year, and I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.

        At CurrentJob, I get 5 hours per pay period (every two weeks). I can save it up, but I have to use it before the fiscal year end, because we can only roll over 40 hours. But they let us go 40 paid hours in the hole–then we stop accruing until we make that up. It’s one reason I’m sick about possibly losing this job. There’s no way I’ll find another employer around here who does that.

        1. Photoshop Til I Drop*

          Same with me in food service — after a year, one week of PTO. But that was base without tips, so that week’s paycheck came to $85.20 before tax.

    3. Budgie*

      Sometimes companies just have no awareness even when the problems are right in front of them. How it works at my current job:
      -We get ~2 weeks of PTO that you have to accrue from the beginning before we can use it. This is used for any time off, vacation, sick time, everything but holidays.
      -But our attendance policy is we only have three sick days rolling. Meaning if we call in July 2015, we don’t get our point back until July 2016. We can be fired after the third point.
      -The plant shuts down for an undetermined number of days twice a year and we are required to use our PTO for that time.
      This on top of indefinite mandatory overtime lead to a high turnover rate. When the company put out a survey to find the reason for the high turnover and got this response, all they said was “This is standard for companies in our area.”

  24. Roscoe*

    #1 I’m going to disagree slightly. I don’t think you have to make a big fuss, but if someone brings their new baby in to show off at the office (something I never really got anyway), I do think you should leav your office and at least go out and say hi. You don’t have to hold it or anything, but I will say it looks weird when everyone else is out there at least pretending to care, and there is that one person who refuses to leave the office.

    #2 2 weeks is farily standard, at least starting out, so I wouldn’t necessarily call it stingy. I do think they are being a bit ridiculous by trying to add your weekends in there. But I don’t know that comparing what management gets to you is the right way to go either. Would you be willing to ask for more vacation time in lieu of a raise? I do find it a bit weird that after 6 years you haven’t gotten more, but again, I don’t think its super horrible.

    1. Mike C.*

      They’re already working 50 hour weeks as standard so I’m not sure why the OP should have to consider forgoing a raise just to recharge.

      1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        Especially with the owners’ attitude of “we’re being so generous by not making you work seven days a week!”

        1. Mike C.*

          “Oh you’re counting weekends? That’s funny, there must be something wrong with my paystub…”

    2. LW#2*

      Management is a loose term here for family and friend of the family so they can be legally be exempt employees. My job title actually contains “Manager” but I am still an non-exempt employee (I even requested to be but was told it was illegal). A couple of years ago I kept a calandra with all the time the exempt employees were off and wax was off over 4 weeks.

      1. Roscoe*

        Ah, that makes sense then. I was mainly just saying comparing your vacation/out of office time to management never works out. But if they are only loosely managers, thats different

      2. Natalie*

        FWIW, it’s not at all out of the question that it is illegal to classify you as non-exempt. There are rules related to both job duties and pay, so just putting “manager” in your title (or being a relative) doesn’t cut it.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It’s always legal to classify people as non-exempt (if you then follow the rules about paying for overtime). It’s exempt where you can’t just do whatever you want.

        2. LW#2*

          My position and responsibilities would allow me to be considered an exempt employee. I was told that because that was the easiest way to reject my request.

    3. Cassie*

      Re: #1 – Depending on how many people you have in your office, the parent and others may not even notice who is or isn’t there. It really shouldn’t matter who gathers around the kid and who doesn’t.

      Our office is made up of a few suite areas – if I hear a door open and people start to squeal and coo, I pick up some papers and make a beeline to exit from a different door. It’s not that I care if the parent or a coworker notices that I’m at my desk. It’s because I don’t want to hear the commotion. Other people want to interact with the child – that’s great. I don’t, and I resent the fact that others feels that I should. So my solution is by making myself unavailable (by leaving). It’s a win-win for everyone.

  25. Applesauced*

    My go-to’s with kids: What’s your favorite class at school? or What’s your favorite book?

  26. AnonymousCookie*

    God, I hate when people bring babies and kids into the office. I don’t want to coo all over someone’s spawn.

      1. Gaia*

        Babies and small children are germ magnets and a disruption to my work. I don’t want them around me.

      2. Mike C.*

        The fact that you see someone else’s dislike of children as “hostile” is part of the problem.

        1. Bend & Snap*

          Agreed. I have a kid and I still don’t want to see them at work unless it’s an event like the Trick or Treat thing my company does every year.

          Not liking kids is not hostility. I don’t particularly like kids other than my own.

        2. Alienor*

          Well, using a term like “spawn” is pretty hostile, and disliking an entire group of people based on factors beyond their control is the actual definition of prejudice. Imagine someone saying “I wish people wouldn’t bring their wives into the office. I don’t want to meet some dumb broad.”

          1. Mike C.*

            For prejudice to be meaningful, there needs to be harm that comes with those feelings. The problem with your comparison is that when people don’t enjoy being around kids, those feelings don’t broadly manifest into terrible consequences for children. For your example of women, I can point to numerous and systemic examples of current and historic discrimination, violence and general harm. Whereas with children, they are treated differently “based on factors beyond their control” because unlike with being a woman (or of a different race, religion, ethnicity, etc) a child is materially different from being an adult. We discriminate all the time against children – we have laws requiring parents to take care of them, that they attend school, their ability to work is severely limited or even banned, are generally unable to enter into legal agreements and vote and so on. These are reasonable laws that are widely accepted to be fair and ethical across all sorts of diverse groups of people.

            Additionally, having children around puts everyone under special and tight social rules – that I must enthusiastically enjoy spending time with them (lest I be seen as the dreaded “child-hater” or worse, the “person who just won’t grow up and have kids of his own”), that I must constantly monitor what I say for both diction and content, that at times I must monitor what they are doing and so on. That I do not enjoy these restrictions on my own actions does not harm children in any way. The comparison simply doesn’t make any sense.

            1. Myrin*

              That is really well said, Mike! I say that as someone who has no strong feelings about children either way, both regarding others as well as myself (i. e. I’d kind of like to have children but won’t be too sad if it doesn’t happen), and I’ve been thinking about another analogy to come up with and thought that maybe it’s like with animals? The feelings and thoughts people feel and think, I mean, not likening children to animals here! Because for me, I’m someone who doesn’t like dogs. That means I do not ever want to own a dog or live with a dog and I’m not really comfortable with them around. On the other hand, I don’t hate them or wish them any harm, I despise people who are cruel to dogs and I have no problem petting one once in a while or cooing over a cute video of one. And feeling all of this is, to me, best expressed by simply saying “I don’t really like dogs”.

      1. Gaia*

        Again, the very fact that people see my desire not to interact with your child is part of the problem. I don’t yell at them, I don’t treat them with disdain, I simply don’t engage. That isn’t hostile – that is me choosing not to interact with kids.

        1. Mike C.*

          Yeah, the issue is when folks get upset that I’m not ~*~absolutely thrilled~*~ to see their kids or hold their baby, then turn the conversation into why I’m not having kids of my own. I mean come on, you just had a kid, don’t you have enough on your plate already?

    1. Recruit-o-rama*

      They are not “spawn” they are human beings, your characterization is rude and insulting. I do not think children belong in an office setting, but that does not justify your hostility at all.

      1. Gaia*

        Spawn: the product or offspring of a person or place

        Human children are spawn, by definition. They are also offspring, brood, cubs, descendant, heir, progeny, posterity, succession, young, seed and kid. All words that essentially mean the same thing: the product of 9 months of gestation in a human.

        1. Recruit-o-rama*

          I don’t buy that you are using “spawn” in a literal, neutral way, it’s disingenuous. Just admit that you are prejudiced against an entire group of human beings based on their age, at least it’s honest. I strenuously object to you calling my children “spawn” in the same way I strenuously object to anyone calling any group a derogatory term.

          I am ambivalent to the idea that people don’t like to be around children. I think it’s legitimate to not want kids and to be uncomfortable around kids. I draw the line at hostility, against any group.

          1. Gaia*

            I use it regularly in a neutral way – sometimes even affectionately like when I refer to my beloved nephew as my sister’s spawn.

            And I didn’t call YOUR child anything. I simply stated that, by definition, children are spawn. But you, like so many others, seem to take real offense to the fact that I don’t want to be around children. My life decisions don’t judge yours so quite judging mine. And I don’t buy your last sentence. You have a ton of hostility and the only thing I’ve expressed is a distaste for being around children.

          2. LD*

            People are taking it way too personally that some people don’t like children. It’s not about insulting people who have children; it’s not about insulting other people’s choices. Don’t make it about that. It’s not hostile to not like something and to be clear about it. Just like it’s not hostile to provide critical feedback. It might feel bad because some people just LOVE some parts of life, (children, Real Housewives, caviar, etc.). And it’s not hostile and it’s not prejudice and it doesn’t say anything insulting when some people express that they don’t like some parts of life. Unfortunately, too many people seem to be taking it as a criticism or a personal attack on their choices or their love of children. That’s not it, at all! I might feel hurt if someone doesn’t like something I feel strongly about and may identify with, but that doesn’t make them hostile, unless they choose to attack me for it. So let’s not attack one another for our likes and dislikes.

        2. Chinook*

          denotation: the dictionary meaning of a word
          connotation: the idea or feeling that a word invokes in addition to its literal or primary meaning

          Spawn is used usually to refer to the offspring of either fish or computer game characters. It implies there is no emotional connection to these offspring as well as no responsibility towards them as they are interchangeable with any other offspring.

          Basically, unless you are working at an aquarium with mer-creatures, I don’t see anyone here interacting regularly with someone’s spawn.

          1. Gaia*

            Only if you take it incredibly personally. I can say that in my fairly large circle nearly everyone refers to children as spawn. Most of them refer to their own children and other children as such.

    2. East of Nowhere south of Lost*

      The sarcastic comment i always keep to myself is something like ‘Wow, you reproduced!’

        1. Elizabeth West*

          LOL! I think even the funny-looking ones are cute, but sometimes you struggle to not use the line from that old Bill Cosby routine, “You had…..a lizard!”

        2. Rebecca in Dallas*

          They all kind of look the same to me, so my go-to is, “Who does he look like?” It’s usually interesting to hear who the parents think their baby favors, or if they think it’s a good mix or sometimes it looks like some other relative entirely.

        3. Total Rando*

          My southern upbringing taught me to say “oh, she’s so precious” because every living thing is precious, but not every living thing is cute, and lying is rude.

      1. Megs*

        I am absolutely the worst when it comes to congratulating new parents, especially men. I mean, I know it’s what I’m supposed to say so I say it, but in my head, I’m thinking “how about we save the congratulations until you’ve gotten them to 18 intact.”

    3. BananaPants*

      Feel free not to – I’d rather my kids not be exposed to someone expressing open hostility towards them for their mere existence.

    4. The Raven*

      I learn so much from the commenters on this site, and about different ways of looking at things that I hadn’t considered. I never knew that there were so many people that disliked children! It baffles me a little bit, like we wouldn’t say, “I really dislike elderly people!” But I guess maybe those are out there too.

      1. Megs*

        I think what it boils down to is that dealing with children requires a somewhat different set of social skills than dealing with adults, and that is difficult/uncomfortable for some people, especially those of us who don’t interact with children on a regular basis or are naturally not especially talented in the social skills department generally. I think people are really reading too much into the “I don’t like kids” position, especially with the discrimination comparisons, which I had certainly never seen before and am not convinced is a good analogy. There’s a lot of social pressure tied up in the decision to parent or not to parent and that can lead to defensiveness all around.

  27. Susan the BA*

    #5, we hired sometime with a similar background for a university admin position where they were the sole admin in a small center. The transferable skills there included “being the person who everyone comes to for everything even if it’s not actually your job”, “making sure today’s emergency project gets done while not dropping the ball on things that won’t happen for six months” and “handling people who are very busy and important and know it”. I’ve found higher ed admin a great refuge for people who don’t have traditional business degrees/backgrounds, and a big enough place will have their own temp pool so you can start building experience in their specific financial system, etc.

    1. Aca-Believe It*

      Funnily enough higher education admin got me back into the workplace. I now work for a charity.

  28. GovWorker*

    To each their own, but I don’t get blanket dislike for all children. Children are different, just like adults, and should not be subject to prejudice. It seems almost PC to actively dislike children now. Nothing to be afraid of, just treat any kids on the office like any other person. We were all kids once.

    That said, I’m not one to have a houseful of kids running around. I had one, I enjoyed raising her, but I’m glad its long over. Middle school kids were overall the worst, so obnoxious, but even so I had good conversations with them.

    I do love holding babies, but I can accept that some don’t. I give kids in the office a treat (with parental permission), perhaps a little task, (put this in the recycle bin, etc.) ask about their favorite subject in school, stuff like that. Then I get back to work. Doesn’t take much time or effort at all.

    1. Purest Green*

      I don’t think people are broadly hostile or prejudice toward the children, but they dislike having them in the office specifically. They dislike the cultural expectation that they have to pay special attention to children. As much as people are saying they talk to kids the same way as adults, kids do have to be treated a bit differently (such as having to ask the parent’s permission to offer them a treat, or not discussing certain topics, etc.) and that can be taxing. Many women endure the sexist belief that they naturally want to hold a baby while their male coworkers aren’t usually pressured to do so – and maybe men do want to hold the baby.

      Parents are already treating their kids differently than adults simply by bringing them to the office. Most people wouldn’t bring their adult siblings or cousins to meet coworkers, and I would react to that situation with the same awkwardness. This is someone people have no reason to interact with whatsoever, but are expected to acknowledge none the less. It’s just… weird.

      1. 2e*

        Yes, this – for me, it’s the office setting rather than the kid’s presence that can be uncomfortable. At work I try not to confirm gendered stereotypes that I view as unfair, when I notice them. In the same way I push back if asked to take notes or make coffee for the third time in a row while my same-level male coworkers have yet to do those tasks once, I don’t automatically take a baby in response to the parent saying “oh, do you want to hold him/her?” Even though in a non-work setting I totally would!

        I asked my boyfriend (in my same field) if he has ever done this calculus. Unsurprisingly, he has not – he loves babies, and wouldn’t think twice about holding one at the office or otherwise.

      2. Petronella*

        “This is someone people have no reason to interact with whatsoever, but are expected to acknowledge none the less.” Exactly this. I like and enjoy children, but not when I’m engrossed in my work. Also I don’t understand why parents even want to bring their babies and toddlers to work just to show them to co-workers (I of course understand sometimes having to keep the child with you at the end of the day, scheduling etc). The last thing I would use my precious maternity leave on would be dragging my ass back to the office.

      3. BananaPants*

        I haven’t had my kids in the office to meet coworkers beyond one brief visit during maternity leave, during which I never asked or expected coworkers to hold or coo over the baby. It’s a workplace, and just because certain colleagues want to meet the baby doesn’t mean everyone wants to meet the baby. I usually lined it up with a brief meeting with my boss and HR to finalize my return date, and since my husband was back at work and the baby wasn’t in daycare yet, I pretty much had to bring the kid along.

        Beyond that, on the rare occasion that one of them has been in the office for a brief time, I’m pretty paranoid about keeping her quiet until we can leave or my husband gets there to pick her up. Basically I sit there thinking, “Please, normal-acting child who had to be picked up from daycare because they think you have a sinus infection, take the emergency crayons from my purse and color silently on this piece of copy paper while I fire off an email to my boss and pack my laptop so I can work from home this afternoon after we take you to the pediatrician to confirm this is just allergies.” My fellow parents in the office all seem to adopt the same approach; no one’s letting their children run amok.

        I would acknowledge an adult visitor to the office with at least a friendly, “Hello” rather than glaring/looking down my nose at them disapprovingly and rushing away. I don’t see it as such an imposition to extend the same courtesy to a child visiting the office, assuming the parents aren’t disrupting work.

        1. Purest Green*

          I don’t think anyone suggested glaring or looking their noses down at children or any other visitor. We’re acknowledging that it’s weird and uncomfortable, and often does disrupt work because while you’re clearly conscience about bringing your child to work, that doesn’t change the fact that other parents are not. Some parents do expect each and every person in the office to interact in some way with their child; they bring the child to the office on multiple occasions, pressure people to hold them, goad people about “having their own,” and a host of other uncomfortable and mildly inappropriate things.

          Frankly, a child’s presence in the office isn’t fulling any business-related need (unless it’s a daycare or some such place), so the expectation that people should feel the same way about children in their work-space as someone who does belong in the business setting is a bit ridiculous.

    2. Alton*

      I don’t dislike kids per se, but I find that my awkwardness and their awkwardness can be, well, an awkward mix. A lot of kids aren’t comfortable initiating conversation and may not speak clearly. I’m shy and have a hard time understanding/hearing people. Interacting with them can be challenging.

      1. Purest Green*

        A lot of kids aren’t comfortable initiating conversation and may not speak clearly.

        Yes! Toddler-speak is completely incomprehensible. How “euh wagga wudda ankt” translates to “I want my blanket” will forever be a mystery. And they just look up at you all mad-faced like you’re a giant stupid oaf for not understanding them. I totally am a giant stupid oaf, but you’re the one drooling on your entire arm so let’s drop it, ok?

        1. Elizabeth West*

          With toddlers, I just say hi and if they’re incomprehensibly babbling, I then wave and say, “Okay, bye bye!” I guess parents understand it because they’re used to it–also, they’ve known the kid since they were non-verbal, so there’s that.

    3. Mike C.*

      It’s not prejudice to dislike being around children. That’s a rather extreme characterization.

    4. C Average*

      Eh, I dunno. I think there’s a time and a place. The question was about kids in the office, not kids in general, and I think we’re all operating in that framework here.

      There are people who really, really don’t enjoy being around children, and they can mostly structure their lives to avoid encountering kids. They stay away from certain restaurants and theaters, certain stores, certain public parks and other venues, and their lives are pretty much kid-free (until they get on a plane, and let’s not even get started on that). So they don’t take kindly to having their office turf invaded by other people’s uninvited kids.

      I like kids all right, I guess, though I’ve never wanted any and don’t go out of my way to hang out with them. But when I do encounter them in the course of my day-to-day life, it’s not a big deal. But it really did used to annoy me when people would bring their kids to the office and seem to expect me to be excited about it. Why? I didn’t invite them, I’m just trying to do my job, why do I need to look at your baby or make small talk with your toddler? It just seemed like a very out-of-context encounter to be having at work, and THAT annoyed me.

      (Had our workplace been pet-friendly, I’d likely have felt the same way. Puppies? Totally cute. Of course I don’t hate puppies. But I don’t want YOUR puppy in MY office.)

      1. Wheezy Weasel*

        That’s a great point re: context. I feel the same way when I get people trying to pitch me products/sign petitions while I am grocery shopping or pumping gas. My internal monologue is something like “I am buying food, good person. Interacting with you in the tuna fish aisle is so far out of the ordinary that it is irritating! This is an uncomfortable departure from my normal tuna fish buying experience!”

  29. Mental Health Day*

    #1 KIDS
    OP, this is totally normal. I used to be a bit freaked out by young children. Until I had my own, and was instantly cured of that. However, one thing I used to try to remember when people (especially superiors) would bring children into the office is the old adage that “people rarely remember what you said, but always remember how you made them feel”. I found this to be especially true with young children. Just a genuine smile and a friendly “hello” goes a long way with them. You don’t have to make silly faces or gush about how cute they are. Just think about your intent towards the child, make it a genuine hello and a smile, and leave it at that.

    OP, it has been my experience that when an employer feels the need to constantly point out how generous they are/how lucky I am to work there, the exact opposite is true. Based on your letter, sounds like they are living on easy street (relatively speaking) and it is coming out of your hide. You’ve been there 6 years. Maybe it’s time to start looking elsewhere? They don’t really seem to appreciate you or value you as a human being.

    OP, there’s really no way to leave a job without pissing somebody off. It’s always going to inconvenience somebody. Also, there’s no such thing as a hiring freeze (at least in the absolute sense). They will always make exceptions for departments that are really hurting or in danger of losing even more people. Plus, at least in my experience, the term “hiring freeze” really just refers to opening new positions, not refilling positions that have been vacated. Please don’t worry about this. It’s not your fault that the company has felt the need to implement a hiring freeze. You need to do what’s best for yourself. Sounds like you’ve worked your tail off to accomplish this goal. Don’t let that get derailed out of fear of inconveniencing someone else. They’ll get over it.

  30. NonAnon*

    #2 I feel your pain, but my employer offers ONE week of PTO in your first year. This also counts for sick time. And they’ll be surprised when I leave, I’m sure.

    1. LW#2*

      They offer 1 week after a year and 2 weeks after 3 years and that’s it. No sick days or vacation your first year that are paid.

  31. Lily Rowan*

    #1 — I’ve been the kid in a parent’s office, and trust me — they don’t want to have a whole conversation with every single adult there, either. Just say hi and move on, like any other person you see in the hall. For a baby, go over and look at the baby, say one nice comment, hover another 2-5 minutes, and go back to your desk. It’s fine!

    1. MashaKasha*

      Came here to say this! If an adult in an office full of adults can feel awkward around the lone kid in the office, can you imagine how the kid feels? Keep the interaction short and the kid will thank you! For a baby, a single “Awww” works for me every time.

    2. Marisol*

      Good point, and I think it might be especially true when subjected to the same questions over and over. “How old are you?…What grade are you in?…What’s your favorite subject?” The kid is probably thinking, “why do you care, lady??”

      1. Rana*

        Yup. My brother and I occasionally went to work with my mother on days when there was a short-notice school closing or half day, and a simple “hello” or “how’s school?” from her coworkers was all we expected and preferred. It’s awkward being grilled about your life in the guise of “conversation” and it always felt really once-sided (because you could never ask the same sort of questions back without it being the source of adult amusement).

  32. OP #3*

    Hi everyone! I’m the OP from #3, in case you can’t tell and luckily this issue pretty much resolved on its own–I’m leaving! Today is my last day at my current position and on Monday I begin my new job that’s much more closely aligned with my career goals. Big thanks to Alison for having this site–her interview guide seriously made a big difference in me landing this role.

    I feel a little bad because I am leaving during the busiest time of the year and they’ll be short-staffed, but I have tried to train everyone around me to be set up for success. This woman will probably be pulled to help even more due to the staffing needs, but I did give her manager a head’s up.

    Now I just have to move my whole life 500 miles north this weekend! It’s busy but I can’t wait!

    1. chocolate lover*

      Congrats! May none of your coworkers start talking about their sex lives in public spaces (or, well, anywhere!) :)

    2. Purest Green*

      Hooray! Good luck with the move! I know that can be stressful, but hopefully in a good way. :)

    3. Barefoot Librarian*

      Congrats! I guess that means you can ignore my suggestions for handling your (former) coworker below lol.

  33. Anonymouish*

    #5, I’m sure you’ve tried large media conglomerates near you, who will be delighted to have someone with your intuitive skills in programming or maybe brand integration–I would also heavily court the ‘boring’ side of advertising, strategic planning and etc. There are a lot of MBA types but they’ll be delighted to have a real ‘creative thinker’ in their world–maybe emphasize that you meet deadlines cheerfully and as a matter of course, that you are adept at finding solutions to unexpected problems, etc?

  34. Fifty and Forward*


    Congrats on your new job OP #3. What a shame your coworker put you in such an awkward situation. That kind of talk is never, under any circumstances, appropriate in the workplace.

    I agree with Alison most of the time, but in this case wonder if reporting this behavior to HR would be a wise additional step. This person needs to understand that sex talk at work is inappropriate and quite possibly harassment.

  35. Unegen*

    I had to laugh at the stingy sick leave, because I’m a non-exempt office worker and my previous company gave us (with an air of largesse) 20 whole hours of sick leave per year.

    That’s right; it was so stingy that to make it look like more, they referred to it in hours.
    That’s 2.5 days if you’re doing the math.

  36. NW Mossy*

    I just came back from maternity leave, and several people have asked why I haven’t brought Little Mossy into the office so that they can see her. While I have a range of dodges I’ve used (that are true – she hates riding in the car and spits up a lot), it’s out of respect for people like OP #1 that I don’t. I know a lot of people are uncomfortable with babies/kids and it’s stressful and distracting to have them in your workspace. I’m happy to share pictures with anyone who’s interested, but I don’t want anyone (and especially the people I manage) to feel like they have to interact with my child.

  37. Kaitlyn*

    #1 — I can relate to this. My desk used to be in a really open area, surrounded by coworkers, and when someone would bring a baby or toddler in, people would flock around, while I would stay securely in my seat. One of my coworkers caught on that I was super awkward and started giving me a heads-up if she knew that there was a kid on the way, which I thought was funny, but I appreciated.

    On one occasion, the daughter of a co-worker gave me a Cat in the Hat sticker. It remained on my monitor ever since.

    1. BananaPants*

      Why would you be alone with your coworker’s kid in the office? The parent shouldn’t be leaving them unattended.

  38. Parfait*

    One time I was working at my desk, and I heard people in the hallway cooing and crowing, “Oh look at these adorable babies! OMG look how cute they are! The tiny feets!” On and on like that. I was growing ever more annoyed. Finally I had to go out in the hall for some reason and — THEY WERE KITTENS! Tiny tiny kittens!

    I felt so cheated! Had I only known, I would’ve gone out there way sooner.

    1. Whats In A Name*

      This is fabulous. Kids in the workplace I am not alway a fan of. Kittens, however, kittens are ALWAYS appropriate!

    2. Rebecca in Dallas*

      WHAT?! This never happens to me, it’s always a human baby. :(

      I’m surprised you didn’t hear their little mews, kittens are sometimes quite noisy! But so cute.

    3. Petronella*

      Oh, I’d have a real problem with kittens in the workplace. I’d be sneezing and tearing up for the next 2 days.

      1. Megs*

        This is how we ended up with cats #5, 6, and 7 when I was growing up. And shortly after that, #8 and 9 when 7 had kittens. Ahem.

  39. all aboard the anon train*

    #1 – Be firm about not wanting to hold a baby. I’ve found a lot of people don’t take no for an answer and I can’t even count the number of times I’ve had someone try to force me to hold a baby. Babies make me uncomfortable and I don’t really think they’re cute or whatever, and I really don’t care if a parent thinks I’m hostile or whatever because I don’t want to hold their newborn. I’m not doing something that makes me uncomfortable (there’s an old picture of me as a 4 year old holding my younger brother after he was born and I look so disgusted and uncomfortable that it’s hilarious. That’s the last time my parents ever made me hold a baby.)

    And side rant, but I’m really over the people who insist that I’ll change my mind one day about being pregnant or who say really dumb things like, “if someone handed you a baby and you caught it instead of letting it drop to the floor” or “if you stopped a child from running into the street or rescued it from a fire/other bad situation” you obviously love kids. Because no, that is not the same thing. That’s basic human decency.

    1. BananaPants*

      I annoyed a lot of people when our girls were newborns, because I didn’t like giving them up to just anyone to hold. I was told by relatives that I was “greedy” for wanting to hold my own infant rather than playing pass-the-baby! If I knew a friend wanted to hold baby, I’d offer, and if someone I knew and was comfortable with asked nicely, I’d usually let them.

      I never asked if someone wanted to hold the baby or badgered a person into holding the baby, and I don’t really get people who do – if someone wasn’t comfortable holding my newborn I certainly wasn’t going to try to make them do it!

      1. Rana*

        This. That’s how I felt too. I was very mama-monkey about my baby – no, random lady in the grocery store, you do not get to touch my infant.

        (Though I remain amused by the elderly woman who I met walking her dog who so clearly wanted to touch my baby – she actually kept making this abortive little reaching gesture – but my daughter was bundled into a wrap on my chest and so was inaccessible. She was so torn between her desire to Touch A Baby and her recognition that grabbing at a wrapped up baby would be utterly inappropriate that it was actually more funny than threatening.)

    2. Aurion*

      As someone who doesn’t want kids and do not want to hold anyone‘s kids, I would icily retort back “well, if you prefer I let them get run over by a car, I can do that.”

      But I’m cranky that way. I hate people trying to “prove” how much I secretly love/want kids.

  40. Chickaletta*

    #1 – You know, you can talk to the parent instead of the kid, don’t feel like you have to have a conversation with the child when the parent is standing right there. As a parent, I sometimes got tired of people who acknowledge my child while ignoring me when I’m standing right there. It happens ALL THE TIME. You CAN talk to the parent instead and have a conversation with them that has nothing to do with their child. In fact, a lot of parents will appreciate that because we miss having adult conversations! As long as you’re not being completely rude, I don’t care if you don’t go out of your way to engage my child in a conversation. Seriously.

  41. Mimmy*

    #1: Hi, are you me? I can so relate to this! I’m sometimes even a bit shy around my nieces and nephews. I do like Alison’s suggestions. When an adult introduces me to their child, I just say “nice to meet you!” and shake their hand. For a baby/infant, I may say “Oh she’s adorable” or “he’s so cute!”

    #3: Where exactly is your coworker when she is discussing these topics? If it’s at the front desk, then yes, she is out of line. If it’s away from the desk but still in the lobby, that’s a little trickier for me, to be honest. Sure, you don’t want to be speaking loudly for others to hear, but I’m mixed otherwise.

    1. Mimmy*

      Edit on #3: Come to think of it – the sex talk is inappropriate ANYWHERE in the workplace, so I’m amending my comment. Congrats on the new job OP3!!

  42. Barefoot Librarian*

    LW #3 – I like Alison’s very direct “That’s not something we should be discussing” but I might follow it with a ready inquiry about something work related or at least neutral, such as “…did you hear that we are getting a new water cooler” or “Did you see Stranger Things last night? What did you think of X?”. I had a coworker like this with political topics years ago (she could be quite offensive and argumentative) and this tactic worked very well. It took a while before she realized that I was basically going to always cut her off with “I’d prefer not to talk about that at work. Did you see/hear/know about this other interesting but neutral thing?”. It worked though. She eventually just stopped trying to engage me in political topics at work.

  43. stevenz*

    #1. I generally like having kids around the office. Dogs too. It changes the mood, in a good way. But I have very similar feelings about the kids themselves as the LW. If there is a newborn being proudly displayed by the radiant and exhausted new mom, I usually walk over to the group, smile insipidly for about three seconds, and walk away. If it’s just a two-on-one (mom, babe, v. me) I’ll say something in that bright phony voice we use with children. But I also agree that speaking like adults is a good idea, because it’s something we adults know how to do.

    And, Alison, I don’t think you turned out so bad, but your mother was absolutely barking. (Kidding.)

    #4. Nothing is ever done. Waiting until something is finished before you leave means you will never leave.

    #5. Can I have your old job?

  44. Parenthetically*

    Fair warning: if you talk to kids like they’re adults, you may find yourself often surrounded by kids. That high-pitched, saccharine tone adults often adopt is a sure-fire way to drive a lot of kids away. Which may be desirable, depending on your preferences. ;)

  45. Lisa L*

    LW #1 – I get nervous around new babies. I have OCD and a genuine fear of accidentally hurting the baby. I’ve found that using germs as an excuse helps. “Oh, I was just touching the printer….let me go wash my hands!” Disappear to “wash your hands” and someone else will already be cooing over the baby. Works every time!

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