three updates from letter-writers

Here are updates from three people who had their letters answered here.

1. Answering a painful question from new coworkers (#2 at the link)

I’m the person who wrote in asking how to handle it when co-workers at my new job ask about children after losing one of my children. First I’d like to say thank you for publishing my letter and to everyone who offered supportive words and especially to those who shared their own losses.

I’m thrilled to be able to say I made it through both my initial probation period at new job and the anniversary of my daughter’s death well. I decided that since the anniversary was during the last three weeks of my probation period, my supervisor needed the context of why my work might be a little slow or that I might be a little off. So I told my supervisor and the two coworkers I work with the closest. All three were very understanding and didn’t ask any further questions.

I decided that my default answer if anyone asked how many children I have would be, as one commenter suggested, that “Annie” is three and really likes tractors and I would go with my gut on sharing any other information. 

This led to one really awkward (for me) moment when one coworker responded, “And is she your only child?” then asked if we had thought about having a second child (office busy-body positively identified). Having the chance to think out ahead of time what my response was and how I felt about that response really helped me keep it together.

I did end up having my own open mouth, insert foot moment. My coworker, Sarah, overheard me talking to another coworker about my older daughter’s upcoming birthday and inquired if she was my only child, I gave my standard answer. I don’t have much interaction with Sarah except at the one weekly meeting that we on the way to, so I took the opportunity to inquire if she had children or a serious partner. She told me that actually she was widowed. The only thing I could think to respond was “Actually I do have two kids” and we shared pictures. She told me later that she doesn’t usually tell people immediately that she’s widowed but for some reason felt like she should tell me.

I’m also excited to say that my new employer has an EAP (old job did not) and my family has been able to get family grief counseling through that to help with the anniversary.

We decided to start a scholarship in our daughter’s memory to a summer camp for children who have special needs and we’ll be going to visit them next week to drop off the check for this summer’s scholarship, which I’m super excited about.

2. Reaching out to the person I’m replacing, who might be unhappy about losing the job (#2 at the link)

The transition was awkward despite my best efforts, just as I feared because I knew what this person was like. I took your advice and was clear about what we need to discuss for handover, without any wishy-washiness about it. However, the person sent me an email basically saying they were barely available for their last three days due to needing to use up banked time. So effectively they avoided me for three days, minus the half hour where we actually saw each other and then just gave me a USB stick with some files and a lengthy email with some odd commentary. I later found that there was a lot of conflict between them and the most senior academic and this is why they were not hired for the permanent role. There was a key database file they didn’t want to hand over due to it being prepared in their “own time” and so I had to re-do that (only took me 2-3 hours in the first slow week, but still).

They also acted very strange on my first day. My supervisor was under the impression we would be in the same office for those three days during transition. I was given my own key straight away and when I went in they indicated they wanted me to sit elsewhere. “Oh, I thought they would put you somewhere else while I’m still around.” Eventually we had that spare half hour to discuss, but it was clear they wanted me gone. Then they disappeared and there was radio silence. They were good friends with one of the sensible, reliable laboratory users so whenever I had a follow up question, it would be relayed through this person.

I’ve been here two years now and had nothing but praise from all our academics that supervise lab users. I bumped into the person recently through one of our events to showcase our new facility, and they seemed much happier and far more forthcoming than when I first took over. I think distance from the situation helped.

3. My boss won’t stop pressuring me to work more hours

I’m happy to say, I’ve moved on from the job I wrote about! I took your advice and told him that I couldn’t work the hours he wanted me to. You were right, he was really pushy. I had enough and decided to quit.

I sent him my two-week notice, and I think it shook him up a bit. He said that it sounded like a resignation notice from a previous employee who wrote a bad Yelp review for his office after she left. All I said was that due to my schedule, I will no longer be able to work there and when my last day will be. I stuck it out for spring break, and left after that. Before I left, it seemed they were worried that I would write a bad Yelp review also. It seemed like it because they told me what happened with her and that “she will never have a job here again,” while insinuating that being on his good side would be good for my future career.

I took up my old part-time job for the rest of the summer and during school. My office manager/only coworker actually texted me asking how school was going, but I thought it might have been a ploy to get me to work there again, so I didn’t respond.

I’m going to be graduating in June! I forgot if I mentioned this in my letter or in the comments, but he asked me to go to school two days a week and work for him the rest of the week. If I took up his offer, I wouldn’t be in the position I am right now.

This time last year was very stressful for me. You and everyone in the comments provided a lot of insight and really helped me out. Now, I’m graduating in the spring, and I actually landed a job already! I start after spring break and they are very understanding about my school schedule. ;)

{ 59 comments… read them below }

  1. Emotionally Neutral Grad*

    LW #1, it’s wonderful that you and your widowed coworker had such a positive interaction and you’re using your daughter’s memory to help kids in need. Yours is the best kind of happy ending.

    1. paul*

      Ever since a health scare with our second, I get a bit weepy every time I read something like that because I know how scared and helpless I felt until we found it was all OK (about 3-4 weeks), despite it turning out OK.

      I don’t want to and can’t really imagine how it feels getting *worse* news than that and my utmost sympathies to anyone that’s had to go through losing a child.

      I’m glad the letter writer–and at least two other commentators–are, goodness I don’t know how to put it, adapting to a new normal?

  2. Wendy Darling*

    LW1, I don’t think that was a foot in mouth moment at all. I had a sibling who passed away when I was in grad school and one of the things I found most comforting was the empathy of people who had also lost someone close to them, because they actually really knew how I felt. And I’ve found it is *very* normal for people to suddenly come out of the woodwork and tell you they’ve lost a loved one once they find out that you have too (I call it Dead Person Club because I’m that kind of smartass).

    It sounds like you’re doing great, and mad props for starting a new job right around the anniversary and still doing great. It’ll be 10 years this year and I’m still a bit of a mess for a full month every year.

    1. Elemeno P.*

      I used to worry about calling it the Dead Dad Club when I told people, but it was surprising to me just how many people used the same terminology.

    2. EddieSherbert*

      Agreed – there’s nothing wrong with that conversation. You made a connection and showed empathy when your coworker was probably bracing for an awkward interaction (same as you had been in your first letter).

      I also lost a sibling, and it really can be nice to connect with other people who understand.

      I’m so sorry for your loss and I think it’s really wonderful you’re setting up a scholarship in your daughter’s memory!

    3. Lissa*

      Yup, I remember sitting around with 3 new-ish friends in our early 20s and we all realized kind of simultaneously that we had all lost a parent young. It can feel isolating, like you’re the only one at times, and I found the hardest thing for me was having other people’s outsized reactions, then I would end up taking care of their feelings around it. (Also the assumption I see *all the time* that if you don’t respond exactly the way they would that you must never have lost someone — this can be very wrong.)

      1. fposte*

        I had this long midnight conversation in the dorm bathroom in college with somebody I barely knew when we discovered we both lost parents young. And I think you’ve nailed exactly why–you don’t have to manage the other person’s reactions at all.

        1. Jenna*

          I think I may be jealous of you both. My mom died when I was 12 and I never found anyone in a similar situation(that I know of, and could talk about it with). Having someone to talk about that with who was going through something similar would have been useful.

      2. Not Australian*

        “the assumption I see *all the time* that if you don’t respond exactly the way they would that you must never have lost someone”

        Without wanting to derail the discussion, I just had to jump in and say something here. I lost my father sixteen years ago – he’d had cancer for a long time and we knew it was imminent. As it happened I got the phone call that he’d gone early one morning just before I was due to leave for work, and it was decided that I should go to work as usual and we’d talk again in the evening. So I went to work, but clearly I must have been a bit distracted because in mid-morning one of my colleagues started getting at me for being ‘miserable’. When I explained that my father had just died they frankly wouldn’t believe me – after all, why would I be at work at all if I’d just had a death in the family? Thank goodness I’d kept my boss in the loop (in case I needed emergency time off) and he put them right, otherwise I’d probably have gained a reputation as a sulky, manipulative liar. TL:DR version – we don’t all deal with these things in the same way, and the fact that someone doesn’t ‘perform’ grief in the way one is used to doesn’t mean that they aren’t feeling it just as much.

        1. Lissa*

          Yes! it really does make me kind of uncomfortable too when someone says something like “well, if this person responded insensitively to your loss, they must never have lost anyone themselves.” It’s nice to think that hardship always makes someone a good, understanding person, but that really isn’t always the case It *can* be, but doesn’t always. (Recent example: the person whose coworker was insensitive about a major tragedy in the workplace — a lot of people assumed she must have a charmed life to react like that, but I think that isn’t necessarily the case.)

        2. dawbs*

          Yeah, I stayed at work and had the *BEST* sales day of my entire life when I got the phone call that my grandfather had died.
          Which…lets just say that has all sorts of baggage. But it was *so* much easier, at that moment, to let my conscious mind just stay where it was, dealing with the nitty gritty fake cheerfulness of being an CSR who fixed problems and sold stuff to people and took verbal abuse, while my subconscious decided WTF to do with that information.
          And 6 hours later, I told my manager what had happened, fell apart in the middle of a crowd of people, and went home. But it was weird and it’s not how I reccomend responding…but I could have (and have) done worse.

          There are all sorts of awful ways people can respond to grief (their and others) that I’m pretty much in the “are you causing pain to other people? no? carry on-let me know how to help” camp for people grieving and try to make saying little, but kind things as what you say camp–it’s so much like a lot of other AAM advice–stop talking. “Man, I am so sorry. That sounds hard. Can I give you a hug? and would you like to tell me about it?” (then stop and let them continue or run away as they see fit. But let them exit. stop talking)

  3. Colorado*

    #1: I feel you and understand the pain behind the “how many children do you have?” question. My deceased son’s birthday is coming up in June and although it’s been 11 years, the pain is still so raw sometimes. This will be my first June with new employer and I am already dreading how I may feel on that day and the month in general. Depending on the moment, context, and person asking is how I answer that question. Sometimes I say I have one child and sometimes I say two but one has passed away. If I say one, I have gotten that person who will continue to offer their unsolicited opinion on why I should have more or why my only will miss having siblings, blah, blah. In that case, I feel it necessary to put them in their place and say my daughter does have a sibling and I feel comforted in the hope he’s watching over her. I just wanted to say you are not alone in your pain and grief.

    1. BadPlanning*

      For some reason, at least in the US, many people have developed really rigid ideas on the “right” number of children (2 seems to be the “right” number). People say oddly rude things about only children and more than 3.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          This is where I really felt for Ann Romney. Any mother of five sons, or father of five daughters, has heard countless times how really crushed they must be by this horrible hand that fate has dealt them.

          1. Artemesia*

            It is really nice for the later born son or daughter too. I had a SIL who was the second of four girls. She said whenever her mother was pregnant with her younger sisters, people would invariably say ‘oh bet you are hoping to finally get a boy.’ Her father was career military; I am sure he wanted a son. But she remembers with great affection that every time she heard him asked ‘oh bet you are hoping for a boy this time.’ he would say ‘oh we adore our girls, I’d be thrilled with another daughter.’ Such a positive message for his girls to hear.

            1. Godzilla the Kitty*

              Same! I have a younger sister and two much younger half-sisters, and every so often someone would say something similar to our dad (“I bet you’re hoping for a boy next”, “maybe if you keep trying you’ll have a boy eventually” etc) and our dad would always say he was perfectly happy to have four daughters :D

            2. SKA*

              I have a relative with 3 girls. And apparently they get an even mix of both “Three children? On purpose?” and “Aren’t you going to try for a boy?” Rudeness all over the spectrum!

          2. SandrineSmiles (France)*

            Yeah, we’re a 5 daughters team and I’m the eldest. Almost 34, no kids. First sister: got two kids, two boys… we didn’t think we had it in the family, heh!

            But yeah, we’ve all been joking for years about this.

            Funniest thing to me in all this ?

            My first name *actually* means “Male protector” (and to this day I still giggle like a school kid when thinking about it) .

      1. AnonEMoose*

        And really rude things about no children (especially if told that it’s by choice), as well.

        But mostly, OP, I’m glad that things mostly went well, and I wanted to extend my condolences on your loss.

      2. NW Mossy*

        My girls are 5 years apart because I had three miscarriages in between them. There’s an admin at my job who’s an only child, and practically every other conversation with her is about how she’s so glad I finally had another kid and how hard it was for her to be an only. I know she means well, but boy howdy, it’s awkward.

      3. Liane*

        Oh, yeah, all the things (many of them annoying, offensive & hurtful) people can come up with to say about how many kids or siblings other people have…

        boy and a girl only: This is our family & I have heard it called, “A rich man’s family.” I guess because you can stop having kids then, WTH? (Although I wish it was true…)
        only child: I am one & have grown kids but still get “I bet you were lonely without brothers or sisters” & “You must’ve been a spoiled brat who got away with everything. ”
        To the first, which is just tiresome, I reply, “I figured out before I was 10 that I wanted a sibling about as often as my friends wanted to be an only.” To the second, which is insulting, I snark, “Maybe so–but my dad only believed in spoiling *well-behaved* kids.”

      4. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        Oh, god, people get so weird about only kids. I’ve had people say stuff like “you better have another one or he’s going to be socially maladjusted and spoiled” and I’m like, “… Woooooow. You just said that.”

        1. One of me*

          I had a counselor in college (through student health services) whom I saw for stress/depression (which was situational, and related to a very hard term and badly-chosen course load, mostly).

          She first got my background, then declared all my problems were because my parents were “abusive” by choosing to have only one child.

          I wasn’t socially maladjusted enough to say most of what I was thinking of to her (I argued politely, then gave up), nor was I stupid enough to see her again.

          1. SKA*

            Oh BOY would that one cause me to rip into the counselor. I’m an only child, but not by my parents’ choosing. They would have loved to have another. But I guess my mom just decided to become abusive by having a nearly-fatal health condition pop up when she was 30! (Not that it would’ve been abusive even if I were an only child by choice, of course!)

        2. disdainfullady*

          “Based on the fact that you consider your unsolicited input appropriate, can I therefore assume that you are one?”

        3. SKA*

          Gosh, whether or not you’re an only child, I’d lie at that point. “Oh, you mean… like me?”

      5. Lablizard*

        I have 3 siblings and have had people say, “Oh well of course your family is big, you are Muslims” O_o

        1. My family has been atheist since before the Ottoman Empire fell
        2. WTF does that have to do with how many kids?
        3. Stereotype much?

    2. Anonacademic*

      “my daughter does have a sibling and I feel comforted in the hope he’s watching over her.”

      I’m sorry for your loss, and admire the above phrase as being the most perfectly polite and efficient response to a busybody.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        It’s way better than my instinctive response, which is “Shut the f— up”.

        I admire people who have more grace and less vitriol than I do.

  4. paul*

    #3: It’s always a hoot when a SBO thinks they’re going to absolutely break someone that worked for them…for a month, part time…because they wouldn’t bend over backwards. Talk about self-important!

    My wife got similar implications from a local restaurant she worked at in college and it freaked her out (I was torn between laughing and wanting to rip into her then former manager). I don’t think anyone cared within 2-3 *weeks* let alone 10+ years on.

  5. LadyPhoenix*

    It is not a wonder why OP 3’s boss got a bad yelp review. And I highly doubt she would EVER want to work with his asshole ever again. Once you have enough references, I would burn the bridge with this jackass. He is far more trouble than he is worth

  6. Not That Jane*

    #1: I belong to a peer support group for parents who have lost children, and one of the moms there has an answer I find useful for the how-many-children-do-you-have question. She says, “That’s usually an easy question, but for my family it’s complicated.” Then from there, she can decide whether to leave it at that (which is usually enough to get decent people to back off), or go on to share her daughter’s story.

    1. Dizzy Steinway*

      That’s a really good way to handle this. I may use it when people ask if I have siblings.

    2. Connie-Lynne*

      I placed my daughter for adoption ~24 years ago (we kept in touch; I had visitation rights), and I give a similar answer.

    3. chocolate tort*

      Oh my goodness, I love this. I think I will use it in response to the sibling question. I’m happy to talk about my sister and stepbrother who passed away, or just talk about my stepsisters and their kids, or not talk about it at all because it often brings conversation to a screeching halt… this is a great way to gauge how to proceed.

  7. Me2*

    Alison, I love the updates, they’re one of my favorite parts of this website. Thanks so much for tracking them for us all.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      They are one of my favorite parts too! I love them. I’m hugely grateful to my friend who suggested them years ago; she gets the credit for thinking of it!

  8. Camellia*

    #1: I had a friend who would say, “I have three – two here and one in heaven.” I always found that so touching. I lost her six years ago to breast cancer and I still miss her.

  9. PhillyRedhead*

    The replaced co-worker in letter #2 reminds me of another letter published on AAM, but I can’t find it. Someone who created a file at home on their own time and wanted to know how to refuse to hand it over when the boss asked for it.

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      That OP and the subject of OP2 is why some places put such restrictive IP ownership clauses in hiring contracts. I couldn’t refuse to turn over files like that- I signed the agreement making any work I create (even volunteer) the property of the company unless I get them to waive it ahead of time- which they are really quick to do for volunteer projects and really anything that’s not for a competitor, and they openly encourage participation in Open Source projects. But I *have* to get that prior waiver.

  10. Andy*

    I just wanted to thank Askamanager for the updates! Also, just thank you in general. I really credit your site with my amazing job and my amazing promotion that I just got.
    You da best.

  11. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

    For #1: I haven’t experienced much loss, but I think William Wordsworth’s poem “We are Seven” is excellent. It always makes me tear up, and I’m not usually a crier.

  12. Dizzy Steinway*

    #1 I’m sorry you had to deal with someone asking pushy questions. People should not ask things like that. I am so glad you found the responses here to be helpful.

  13. ArtsNerd*

    So happy to see all of these positive updates.

    #1, other commenters have articulated my thoughts more clearly than I have. *hugs*

    #2, your predecessor was not behaving professionally, but that behavior was entirely out of your control. Your eagerness to ensure a smooth transition, including a problem-solving mindset is definitely contributing to your positive reputation at your employer and beyond. Also good facilities managers are worth their weight in gold. Congrats on the full-time position! Glad your predecessor seems to be in a better place with the situation.

    #3 Congrats on your upcoming graduation AND already having a job offer in-hand! Your original letter demonstrated a good instinct for setting boundaries before you even wrote in, and that’s a truly valuable skill in the workplace. Most people will be reasonable, but I guarantee that over the course of your career you will come across many who are not.

  14. Traffic_Spiral*

    LW #3: Definitely leave a bad review. Once you have another job and don’t need a reference, leave an honest review about the hours and the threats to leave good reviews.

  15. Anonymoose*

    I just wanted to mention that me and old colleagues reach out to each other all the time. An old boss still texts me on my birthday and during march madness to see how I am. I wouldn’t be too worried about your coworker trying to suck you in. Now, if it was your pushy boss, then yes I would give him the qureeek qureek of crickets and call it a day. But I’d say hi to the coworker. Eventually you’ll need to network in your career and this is exactly what this is – keeping communication open for when you need it. :)

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