my coworkers rant about hating kids, I can’t wear a mask, and more

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

1. My coworkers rant about hating kids

I’ve been working at a small company for about a year and a half. It’s my dream job, and I’m working for a great boss. The company is divided into two teams, and several times a year there are social events to ensure the two teams are interacting.

At every single one of these events, one of the coworkers on the other team, “Molly,” brings up that she hates kids, would never want kids, and can’t imagine why anyone would ever want kids. It really is that vitriolic. She goes on about this long enough that inevitably the rest of my other coworkers in their 20s and 30s engage and say that they too would never plan on having kids.

For context, my company is fairly new, so no one has ever taken maternity leave (something they didn’t even have a policy for until last year), and none of the older coworkers have more than one child. I absolutely want to have kids in the future, but cannot imagine ever discussing this with my coworkers, and I think it’s bizarre that this conversation is recurring. I also now feel like I would be seriously risking my career to have kids while working for a company where so many people look down on parenthood so strongly. Is this something I can bring up to my boss? It’s something I’m legitimately worried about, but I also realize it’s something said in more of a social setting, and requires me to tell my boss my future plans unnecessarily. I know it’s not technically legal to discriminate on this front, but I also know statistics about working mothers tell a different story.

Years ago I worked somewhere like this too! It really does infect the culture in a toxic way if it’s not shut down; it made people dread announcing their pregnancies and was obviously really alienating to anyone who wanted or had kids. Hell, it was off-putting to me and I don’t have and never wanted kids.

I do think you can say something to your boss. If it never happens around her, she might not realize it’s a thing, and if it does happen around her, she might not realize how disruptive it is. You could say, “There’s a strong anti-child attitude on the team that has surprised me. As someone who wants kids someday, it’s disconcerting to hear multiple anti-parenting rants from Molly and others, and I can’t imagine how it makes the parents who hear it feel. I worry, too, about legal liability to the company in allowing a hostile environment toward parents or pregnant women.” (That last part might be a stretch, depending on exactly what the comments are. But given how pervasive this sounds, I’d be concerned about it if I were your manager — and it can be a helpful way of getting a manager to act on something they might otherwise be inclined to ignore.)

You can also speak up when these rants start! You could say:
* “I respect your choice not to have kids, but it feels awfully toxic to hear this so often. We have people with kids who work here and I’m sure we have others who plan to have kids at some point, and the level of vitriol feels like too much for work.”
* “I respect your choices, but lots of people like and want kids. Can you lay off the anti-kid talk around me? It really bothers me.”
* “This constant barrage of negativity about kids is exhausting to hear. Can you rein it in?”

More suggested scripts are here.

This won’t necessarily win you any friends, especially if the rest of your team are fans of Molly’s rants. If you’re worried about that, trying to address it through your boss — and leaning on the legal liability angle — might be your better bet.

None of this requires you to disclose your own reproductive plans to your boss. Saying you want kids “someday” just puts you in the category of “most people”; it’s not that revealing.

2. My manager contacted me with a job rejection on the day of a family funeral

Should you be contacted by a manager on the day of a family funeral about a work issue? My boss emailed me on my work and personal accounts on the day I buried my uncle (I am next of kin and power of attorney) to tell me I hadn’t gotten a job I was interviewed for over a month before. This sudden urgency (and the use of all the email addresses he has for me — my personal address was not on the job application) seems very unnecessary, especially as the company runs sessions for senior managers on “managing bereavement and loss” and considers itself a very people-centered place to work. How “sacred” is bereavement leave and the day of a funeral in particular?

In general, managers shouldn’t contact people on days when they’re out for a funeral. But it’s also true that other people will never remember your schedule like you do, and managers don’t always remember what days someone is out or the reasons why. So where it’s possible to assume that’s the explanation, I’d lean in that direction.

But it’s weird that your boss was so determined to deliver the message to you that day that he sent it to both your work and personal email accounts. And frankly, it’s weird that he was using email for this at all; ideally it would be an in-person conversation (unless you’re someone he knows would prefer to process the news privately).

If you have decent rapport with your boss, you could mention that you would rather not receive disappointing news on a day you were out for a funeral. But if he’s otherwise a reasonably thoughtful and decent person, you could also just write this off to a memory lapse or one-time error. Ultimately it comes down to how this fits with what else you know of him and how you feel about his management in general.

3. Can I ask for remote work to be included in my contract?

I’m in the process of ironing out the details for a new role, and we’re at the point where I’m hoping to be presented a written offer within the week. The ability to work remotely would be a firm requirement for me to accept this job, and I’m happy to say that the hiring manager is totally on board with this!

I am a bit wary though. A few years ago, I accepted a job offer which was promised would be 100% remote. A week after starting, I was told (for reasons unrelated to performance/job requirements) that I’d no longer be able to work remotely. I wouldn’t have accepted this job if I’d known this ahead of time.

I’m really anxious to ensure this doesn’t happen again. Would it be appropriate for me to ask that remote work be included in my contract? Or does this come across as adversarial and aggressive?

If you’re in the U.S., you’re probably not going to have a contract; most workers don’t. If you’e one of the few who does, you can absolutely ask for this to be included in it; it’s not adversarial or aggressive to ensure the contract includes the terms you’ve agreed on.

But assuming there’s no contract, you can still ask for the agreement to be put in writing as part of your offer letter. Just be aware that without a contract, employers can change the terms of your employment at any time. They can’t change it retroactively, but they can announce at any point, “Starting on (date), we’ll need you in the office / your salary will be cut 10% / your title will be X instead of Y.” You are then free to try to negotiate something else or decline to continue in the job under the new terms, but you can’t force them to continue with the old terms. So getting this in writing isn’t an absolute guarantee against them changing your set-up in the future.

But getting it in writing is still smart because it helps avoids misunderstandings down the road, documents the agreement in case your manager leaves and a new one comes in, and makes it psychologically harder (though not impossible) for a manager to renege on it. It’s very helpful to be able to point to a written agreement and say, “These are the terms we negotiated, and it was a key reason I came onboard.”

(If you’re thinking, “This sucks and it sounds like I should just ask for a contract”: unless you’re very senior or very in-demand, it’s likely not an option. Most U.S. employers won’t do contracts on request if you’re not already in a role where it’s standard. Some fields are exceptions, but you’d already know if you’re in one of them.)

4. I can’t wear a mask

I feel like asking this is going to make me sound like a jerk, and I don’t mean it to be that way at all. I understand the need for masks. I have asthma and have the lung capacity of someone more that 30 years my senior (I’m in my 40s). I also have some other medical conditions where I don’t handle heat well, it’s all autoimmune-related.

My office is starting to require everyone to come back to work in phases (even though we have had record high cases of COVID-19). Part of the requirement to come back to work is mask usage. I just can’t wear a mask all day, and there is no way to sequester me. I do manage an entire division, but it’s been absolutely fine remote during quarantine and we’ve met or exceeded our metrics. I feel like if I bring this up I won’t be seen as a team player, but it’s really not that. Besides the fact that I’m exceptionally high risk, I simply cannot breathe. Please help me have this conversation. Am I unreasonable?

If you can’t safely wear a mask, you can’t wear a mask! If you have a medical reason, like not being able to breathe, your employer is legally obligated to work with you to find an accommodation that meets your needs and theirs. That said, the accommodation might not be “just come to work without a mask.” It might be that you stay behind a plexiglass barrier or move to a more isolated location or continue working from home or so forth. It’s also worth taking another look at whether there’s really no way to sequester you — maybe it previously seemed there wasn’t, but given that you’ve been doing your job from home now, there might be more room to push back and find a way to do it.

5. How do I calculate my years of experience?

I have a question regarding part-time/internships and how they count towards “years of experience.”

I was in grad school for two years, and during those two years I worked internships (anywhere from 8-25 hours a week) every semester, plus 40-hour-a-week internships each summer. These were fully paid positions where I did legitimate design work for firms. I graduated two years ago and have been doing full-time temp jobs (in the same field) since.

My question is how to tell how many years of experience I have in my field. When a posting says “3+ years experience required,” I’ll usually just apply, but when a fillable form asks how many years of work I have, I’m never sure what to put. Do I write four, given that I have been technically working for four years, or do I write two, since that’s how long I’ve worked full-time? Lately I’ve been putting in three as a happy medium (and also since hours-wise that’s probably what it rounds out to) but I don’t know if I’m either overselling or underselling myself.

You’ve got more than two years of experience and less than a full four years, so sure, calling it three years is a reasonable compromise. I’d put less weight on the internship time than on the rest of it, but it still shakes out to three years being a reasonable answer.

This isn’t really about precise formulas anyway. No one will be outraged if your figures aren’t exact. They’re telling you roughly how much experience they’re looking for, to convey the general experience level they’re targeting. If you’re slightly outside that, it’s not a big deal; the worst that will happen is they just won’t interview or hire you.

And it’s useful to interpret years-of-experience requirements somewhat loosely, because sometimes you can make up for having less experience by bringing other things to the table, like impressive achievements, an engaging personality, or an obvious intellectual rigor. Sometimes that can overcome the lack of experience and sometimes not, but it’s reasonable to give it a shot. (Within reason, of course. A job ad that asks for 10 years of experience is telling you clearly that they’re not looking for someone right out of school.)

{ 583 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Some rules for comments on letter #1:

    1. Please stay focused on the question being asked: how the letter writer should handle the hostile rants. I want to avoid this letter becoming an outlet for people’s (legit!) frustrations with social pressure around having kids or debates about the merits of having/not having kids.

    2. Per the commenting rules, if you’re speculating on facts not in the letter — like what might be driving Molly’s behavior — please explain how it’s actionable for the letter-writer / how it would change your advice. If it’s not actionable, it likely violates #1 above.

    Comments not following these rules may be removed without warning.

  2. Beth*

    LW4, you are NOT a jerk. Not being able to wear a mask because of medical conditions is the reason why we who can wear them should. If someone said to me, “I can’t wear a mask,” I wouldn’t think, “Oh ho, how lucky you are to have medical issues that make it impossible!”

    Herd immunity (which is not what mask-wearing is but ya know, love the sound of it) isn’t about everyone being able to take all precautions. There are people who cannot get vaccines through no fault of their own. I get vaccinated to protect those people as well as myself.

    1. Ellis Hubris*

      What a lovely response! I had covid19, unfortunately very early in February after meeting a friend for dinner who had been in Asia, and suffered at home for two weeks. I survived and the recovery will be long. Ironically, if you’ve had covid19, shortness of breath and low blood oxygen saturation remains. I faint if I wear a mask for longer than a few minutes. Legitimately, people are scared or upset by those without masks on so I wear one if I’m with others who can help me if I faint. If I’m alone, the risk of fainting where a stranger would need to “risk” helping me, means I keep my doctors note with me and go without a mask. I truly appreciate that some understand there can be good reasons, medically based, why masks are difficult/impossible for the more vulnerable.

      1. paxfelis*

        I’ve been wondering for a while now whether oxygen (either tank or concentrator) would be helpful for someone who has a non-phobia problem wearing a mask. I can see a few arguments for and against.

        I hope you recover fully so that this is no longer a concern for you, and that you never catch the virus again!

    2. Christine*

      Just wanted to add that the letter writer might be able to wear a visor instead as this provides a level of protection but does not impact your ability to breathe.
      It does do a number on your forehead though if you have one without padding so would recommend a padded one.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        +1 Exactly what I came to say. I don’t think they’ve included visors in the studies, but it is looking like airborne droplets are the major transmission method, so visors should have some helpful effect. They also give people a visual signal that you know the seriousness of the pandemic and are doing what you can.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          Just went shopping to see what options are out there, and… now I want the ‘blue sun hat face shield’ for myself. The black and brown ones are also pretty. And the “Face Shield Mask, Protective Hat, Full Mask, Face Shield Visor” is so stylin’ I could see it in a lot of offices. Now I just need one on a men’s hat…

        2. WantonSeedStitch*

          Yes, this! The visual signal thing is important. I think if you’re worried about people’s reactions to seeing you without a mask, a face shield would go a long way towards helping with that. It’s kind of like holding up a sign that says “not a jerk.” Also, it could provide some protection for YOU, as a barrier against droplets.

          1. sam*

            I was going to suggest face shields as well as an alternative – they provide a certain level of protection for folks with legitimate health reasons why they can’t wear masks – I actually saw my mail carrier today wearing a face shield that appeared to either attach to a pair of glasses or that came attached to a pair of glasses (rather than wrapping around her head – it looked a bit more comfortable than the ones that wrap around your head using foam, particularly as it gets warmer around here.

        3. MusicWithRocksIn*

          My husband works in sign language, and a lot of people in the deaf community are using visors because facial expression is such an important component of sign language. There is also someone at my kids daycare that uses one, and I know it helps with my son for him to be able to see people smile and talk to him. They are a good alternative.

        4. Clorinda*

          I bought visor-headbandss for myself and my husband for when schools open up in the fall. I feel suffocated in a mask and can’t imagine wearing one all day long while speaking loudly enough to project my voice into a loud room. The visor looks like it will prevent my droplets from dispersing even more effectively than a mask anyway, and it leaves the whole face visible.

      2. Bookworm*

        Also wanted to chime in and agree re: the visor. As it seems this thing is more likely to be transmitted via airborne particles (vs. surface contamination), maybe that might be a compromise of sorts?

        Good luck!! I do hope something can be worked out.

      3. LibbyG*

        If LW#4 is also susceptible to excess heat, a face shield may have its own problems. I’ve never worn one, but it looks like a greenhouse on your face.

        1. Teacher in a Bind*

          I’ve worn one now for walking the dog outside in a hot climate — while it’s certainly not cooler than wearing nothing, it’s not much worse than a hat alone. Indoors in any type of reasonable climate controlled space I’m guessing it would be fine — no sun to create the heat effect.

        2. The Rural Juror*

          Hopefully her office can help her find a combination of things to help – plexiglass or some barrier around the desk, a visor for trips away from the desk, less contact, etc. Hopefully wearing a visor for short periods won’t be too bad.

        3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Research shows that infection is more likely in closed spaces than in open air. It’s obviously easier to maintain physical distance outdoors too, so if it’s really too hot outdoors, OP would probably be fine taking it off occasionally.

    3. Mookie*

      Exactly. These exceptions are regularly taken into account by public health planners. Indeed, they are built into all good policies and recommendations and are one of several reasons why optimal, near-universal participation saves lives; often the people least able to mitigate risk are the ones most vulnerable to communicable disease and community spread. No different from people not able to vaccinate; the calculus is that their risk, though higher than average, can still be somewhat reduced when the people around them do what they can not to be exposed to, contract, and spread illness that may likely be mild for themselves but deadly for others they interact with.

      And there are still ways for people unable to mask or vaccinate, for example, to protect themselves and others, like impeccable hand hygiene, robust social distancing indoors, and, of course, avoiding work and other public places entirely when personally symptomatic or when recently exposed to someone confirmed or suspected of having had a transmissible disease.

      1. londonedit*

        Yep. Here in England it’s now compulsory to wear a face covering on public transport, but there are exceptions, and people with asthma or other breathing difficulties are exempt. There are cards you can print out or download to show bus drivers or anyone else who asks that you are exempt from having to wear a mask.

        1. Prof*

          As an immunocompromised person, that is horrifying to me. An accommodation that endangers others is not reasonable.

          And yeah, I’m gonna need to see a doctor’s note for this one…masks do NOT result in your getting less oxygen. And I say this as a person who also find masks hard to breathe in….but I know it’s my anxiety and such..and that it’s not an option to go out in public without one because I’m endangering others.

          1. Crivens!*

            The LW says wearing the mask for extended periods causes her to faint, and we can take her word on that. We also cannot expect people to seriously endanger themselves if they are in a group that medically cannot wear masks, and we need to accept that there will be people who legitimately cannot wear them.

          2. Anongineer*

            I have asthma, and I can guarantee you that it’s harder for me to breathe with a mask than without. I carry my inhaler with me at all times, but trust me if I could wear one without passing out I would.

            1. Anonny*

              I have fully-functioning lungs and I know I’m getting less air in a mask. It’s not a problem for me, but I can imagine it would be a problem for someone who already has trouble breathing.

              1. Quill*

                I have damn good lungs and some minor experience using cloth masks / bandannas as dust shields, and you definitely do need to moderate your activity and heat exposure somewhat while wearing one (compared to not wearing one and also not breathing all the dust) no matter how good your lungs are.

                More medical grade masks are filtering the air even more, and every breathing difficulty seems to multiply, rather than add, to people’s difficulty with masks.

              2. chi type*

                Yeah it’s okay if you are just sitting or walking slowly but as soon as I start doing anything at all strenuous I start gasping.

              3. professor*

                No, you aren’t getting less oxygen, it’s literally been studied:

                So, yeah, I’m gonna require a doctor’s note to allow someone to not wear a mask (or really, to accommodate them not being in when everyone else is because not wearing a mask endangers everyone else and therefore is not a reasonable accommodation).

                1. lasslisa*

                  The article specifically says at the end that those with pre-existing breathing difficulties may have trouble with wearing a mask. Debunking the idea that it’s dangerous for the broad population is much easier than addressing every case of something like asthma or post-covid blood oxygenation disorders, where people already are struggling to get enough air.

                  Even if the fainting has psychosomatic or panic elements, psychosomatic does not mean “controllable” or “intentional”.

                2. Concerned Colleague*

                  I see where you are coming from Professor. Thank you for sharing this. My biggest fear here is that people with asthma and respiratory issues may already be at higher risk of getting COVID, thus increasing the risk to everyone else. If the LW (and others in a similar situation) can’t wear a mask, I am of the opinion that they must stay at home, and work with their workplaces to accommodate this. When they do get sick, they will be hit hard, and likely, so will their coworkers that were forced to be in their midst. In my workplace, we must wear a mask, goggles and visors. To see someone with just a visor working alongside of me would not fly. If you can’t work with a mask, you shouldn’t be in your work place right now… talk with your doctors, your HR and employment lawyers, but don’t risk the health of your colleagues…

                3. Concerned Colleague*

                  I see where you are coming from Professor. Thank you for sharing this. My biggest fear here is that people with asthma and respiratory issues may already be at higher risk of getting COVID, thus increasing the risk to everyone else. If the LW4 (and others in a similar situation) can’t wear a mask, I am of the opinion that they must stay at home, and work with their workplaces to accommodate this. When they do get sick, they will be hit hard, and likely, so will their coworkers that were forced to be in their midst. In my workplace, we must wear a mask, goggles and visors. To see someone with just a visor working alongside of me would not fly. If you can’t work with a mask, you shouldn’t be in your workplace right now. Talk with your doctors, your HR and employment lawyers, but don’t risk the health of your colleagues…

                4. NotAnExpert*

                  So, fun fact: mask wearing DOES impact your oxygen levels. I was recently seen at an urgent care for something completely unrelated, and wearing my mask, my blood oxygen level (which they take routinely) was at 90 or 91%. They asked me to remove the mask and it went right back up to normal (98/99%) within a few seconds. That’s almost a 10% loss of function just from the mask.

              4. Imtheone*

                I saw a study that most people can adjust their breathing after half an hour of mask wearing to compensate for the decrease in oxygen, probably by taking more and deeper breaths. But this is not possible for all!
                So if it works for you, that’s super, but it does not work for everyone.

            2. Le Sigh*

              I have finally acclimated to running with a mask on (especially in higher heat) after a few months’ adjustment. There’s no question I’m getting less oxygen by wearing a mask — I do it because I can and feel it’s safer, but I can feel the effect. I also suffer from anxiety and I can absolutely tell the difference.

              1. Le Sigh*

                Correction: I should say there’s no question it’s more work to breath with a mask on.

              2. JustaTech*

                Seconding this: I wore a mask out running this morning, mostly because it was still a bit cold and I was breathing hard enough the cold hurt my throat.

                Wearing a mask is different, and you are very aware of it until you get some practice. But as someone who has worn a mask for hours and hours while doing fiddly work in warm spaces: you can get used to it. It takes practice. You have to consciously (initially) change the way that you breathe, and that can be hard enough for people with normal lung capacity.

                And here’s a thing for folks to think about when they feel miserable wearing a mask: your brain doesn’t actually know how much oxygen you’re getting when you breathe. You only know how much CO2 is in your lungs. That’s why people are walking around without feeling panicky when their oxygen saturation is dangerously low. So if you’re feeling panicky wearing a mask it’s the CO2 and the fact that there is a THING on your FACE, not an oxygen thing.

          3. Emilia Bedelia*

            It’s not that masks result in less oxygen- it is harder to create the pressure necessary to pull the same amount of air in, because of the resistance of the mask – imagine the difference between trying to pump up a car tire with a bike pump, vs an air compressor at the gas station. You have to work harder to get the same amount of oxygen. People with asthma have a harder time breathing all the time, so having to breathe through a mask could well be impossible.

            The reality is that public health always requires compromises in some ways, because there are so many health issues that conflict with each other (example: person allergic to dogs, and person who requires a guide dog). Everyone should be doing all that they can to help keep others healthy right now, but not everyone can do everything.

            1. Mazzy*

              I am liking these answers, it is encouraging. I keep looking at people screeching about mask use about mask use and yelling at people for saying they can’t wear a mask 24/7. I am healthy and after a while the thing gets damp and I feel like I’m not breathing enough. I have no clue how people wear them all day. And I have no clue why people don’t understand that, have they never worn one in the heat?

              1. JustaTech*

                How do people wear them all day? Practice. Practice and knowing you don’t have a choice.

                If you’re working with, say, fiberglass, you wear the respirator because the consequences of not are terrible. You wear one if you’re doing surgery, because the consequences of not are a huge health risk to you and your patient.

                I also think there might be some self-selection as well. People who really can’t manage wearing a mask because they overheat and can’t wear a cooling pack, or they can’t ever figure out the right breathing pattern, probably drift away from jobs that require mask-wearing.

                I’ve worn a mask and full clean-room suit in Georgia in fall. Even indoors it’s still more humid than I’m used to. The best advice I got from the folks that worked there all the time was: slow down. Move more slowly so you are less likely to overheat. Be patient.

                And you know what, it never stops sucking. You just have to accept the suck as best you can.

              2. That Girl From Quinn's House*

                In heat, you are supposed to carry multiple reusable cloth masks and change them each time they get damp. You can also buy ones that are dry-wicking material (I saw bamboo recommended) or compromise and use one made of a lighter material that filters less effectively but breathes better if it’s sincerely needed.

                And remember, doctors and nurses in the COVID wards spend 12 hour days in an N95 until their faces bleed, passing out from dehydration because they can’t drink water without taking their mask off, so unless you medically, physically cannot wear a mask…toughen up.

                1. Koala dreams*

                  No, it’s not reasonable to expect people to wear masks until they pass out, just because some employers are horrible. I’m really sorry to hear about the abuse of doctors and nurses, but the right thing would be to stop the abuse, not to idealize bad working conditions. The whole point of wearing masks is to make the world a little safer for people, not to cause people to get dehydrated or suffocated or start bleeding.

                2. Eukomos*

                  That’s a big “unless” there at the end. The whole point of this conversation is that some people medically can’t and we need to have accommodations and sympathy for them.

                3. MCMonkeyBean*

                  @Eukomos, the point of the conversation is that some people medically can’t–but a number of people seem to be taking away from the conversation that if we can make an exception for medical necessity we can extend that beyond. Some are jumping too quickly from “this is mildly uncomfortable” to”therefore it must be okay for me to stop.” And that’s not okay.

                4. Curmudgeon in California*

                  Properly done, even N95 masks need to be changed out during the day. I am horrified by the stories of being allowed one N95 *per* *week* in some medical establishments. That’s worse than useless.

                  If I have to go back to an open plan office, my plan is five cloth masks for each day, changing it out when it gets damp.

                  Wearing the same mask for eight hours without taking it off is gross. Even people doing painting and sandblasting in full respirators, goggles and bunny suits get breaks without the mask to eat and drink.

                  There are some forms of mask that don’t fit as close, and allow easy inhalation while blocking droplets from exhalation. But my recommendation is to use a face shield or visor. Much less restriction on breathing, but still able to intercept exhaled droplets. You just might have to wipe it down periodically.

          4. Altair*

            This may be a case of conflicting accomodations. OTOH, we are asked to take letter writers at their word, aren’t we?

            1. JM60*

              I think the rules are that we’re to take the letter writers as sincere, but not necessarily correct. OP4 believes their asthma and low lung capacity makes working all day with a mask on. I’d be willing to bet money that this belief is correct, but I wouldn’t be willing to bet my health on it unless their doctor agrees. I think this is an exceptional case in which asking for a doctor’s note in reasonable.

          5. Koala dreams*

            Yes, and that’s why there are exemptions for people who can’t wear a mask without danger. We wouldn’t want to endanger the few people who can’t get enough oxygen with a mask on. If there weren’t exemptions, that would be horrible.

          6. Bee*

            Studies are showing that it takes 80% of the population wearing masks to effectively stop the spread. While that means everyone who can wear one NEEDS to, it also allows for exceptions for the people who medically can’t.

          7. Sharon*

            LW1 should talk with their doctor about alternatives rather than asking their manager for options. Those in the medical field should be familiar with this situation and different ways to address it safely, and LW1 may need a doctor’s note anyway.

            1. AKchic*

              This right here. Best answer.
              Once the doctor has given alternatives, then it’s up to management to come up with the alternatives that will work for their business.

            2. JM60*

              Completely agree. A doctor will be better able to know what is actually safe vs what seems safe.

          8. Anonapots*

            There is no way to make a “one size fits all” accommodation. People who are observing the recommendations and requirements are doing the best they can within their ability. Accommodation isn’t a one way street. It’s not just for you or me and we have to remember there are people out there who need accommodations that are going to come into conflict with what we need.

          9. Jules the 3rd*

            They’ve done the studies: cloth over your face does cause some restriction in airflow. Good masks are a balance between protection and air flow.

            Google “best mask material smart air filter” for a couple of great blogs on this, from the Smart Air Filter company. Their results are consistent with the CDC studies being used, but are easier to read.

            On top of that, the CDC (and every city / state restriction I see) mentions impaired lung capacity as a valid exception. But if you can afford a face shield or two, that can help too.

            1. Curmudgeon in California*

              I picked up a few face shields from Makers 4 Medicine ( when they were having their “buy one, donate three” promotion. Not because I needed face shields badly, but because it helped fund making them for medical/dental workers who desperately needed them. The also have a Gofundme and an Amazon wishlist.

              Currently a standard face shield is under $10.

          10. biobotb*

            It’s horrifying to you that people who can’t wear masks for legitimate medical reasons aren’t required to? Huh.

            1. professor*

              it’s horrifying to me that they think it’s ok to go into a closed public space and near other people without one…I feel for you, but this isn’t an area where a reasonable accommodation that also allows total accessibility is possible. Someone doesn’t get to risk my life because they can’t wear a mask; the accommodation has to protect the rest of us too.

            2. Mahkara*

              People who can’t wear masks for legitimate medical reasons are also, by and large, those most likely to die if they catch COVID. They probably *shouldn’t* be in situations where they can’t socially distance.

              (I’m also concerned that once a loophole exists, people tend to take advantage of it. At least in the US, it’s not hard to find a doctor willing to sign off on not vaccinating your kids or a therapist willing to grant you an emotional support animal license. I suspect the same would be true for mask wearing.)

      2. BethDH*

        Also, demonstrating that you take the protocols seriously by following all those you can will help with the work optics — people knowing you aren’t skipping masks for convenience, especially those you supervise.

    4. T2*

      I agree he is not a jerk. He is exactly the type of people who we are all trying to protect. The logical accommodation is that he needs to be working remotely. Just being in the presence of someone who potentially has it represents too much of a risk.

    5. Anony*

      As someone who has the exact same issues please consider a face shield. My employer was very accommodating once I explained the issues, and it has worked out great. There are some studies supporting that it is just as effective as a face covering, plus it covers the eyes which are another susceptible part.

    6. Anonny*

      I read that 80% of the population wearing 60% effective masks (so, t-shirt material) is enough to get the transmission rate down to less than 1. Obviously the more people wearing masks, the better, but OP is in the 20% buffer.

    7. Admiral Thrawn Is Still Blue*

      This is me. I have asthma and wearing the mask makes it very hard for me to breathe. I understand the irony – if I get the virus I will definitely have trouble breathing – but I’ve carefully considered my personal circumstances and made the decision to not wear one most of the time. So far I’ve been distanced enough from people that it’s not an issue.

    8. kittymommy*

      Yes thank you. Every time I go out and don’t wear a mask (it is not compulsory where I live) I feel like I’m going to get accosted. I went out of town (to a different county that is mandating them for stores) and wore one and honestly I thought I was going to pass out. I couldn’t breathe and about every few minutes or so I had to open up the bottom a bit to get fresh air.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        I definitely uncover my nose as soon as I get outside, as long as I’m not near anyone else. It wasn’t so bad when the weather was cooler, but now that it’s 95 degrees outside where I live, it’s definitely uncomfortable!

        1. Quill*

          Haven’t been wearing one if outside for a walk and I can keep more than double the 6 foot distance from people, mostly because the masks are being saved for when I have to get closer to people or be indoors.

          However, I’m almost done sewing nine of the things, so hopefully I’ll have enough after this.

          Where I live you’re more likely to get trouble for wearing one than for not, so I used a red white and blue “patriotic” print for the sake of irony.

          1. nonprofit director*

            “Where I live you’re more likely to get trouble for wearing one than for not …”

            Where I live, too, sadly. People wearing masks get spit on. Our health officer received death threats for issuing a mask order. Today, our state just issued a state-wider order. Wonder how that will go.

          2. Curmudgeon in California*

            I’ve made easily 40 of them, and given most of them away (I’ve sold a few too.) If my roomie gets pushback on wearing a mask, their line is “I live with immunocompromised people”. They haven’t had any problems.

            Now, we’re in a big metropolitan area in a pretty liberal state, but even here we have a few Karens who make silly videos about the whole thing, mostly in affluent conservative areas.

      2. kt*

        I think it’s important to think about the form & function here, and so I want to make a suggestion to folks who can’t wear a tight-fitting mask. Mask with a good seal around the outside are certainly most effective if you can manage, but the point of this discussion is that not everyone can! So, in very rough and approximate order of effectiveness, some ideas…

        – a mask with a bigger airbag-space (they look more like a horse’s feed bag :) )
        – a looser mask (gaiter-type, for instance — could be tight enough to stay up when you pull it above your nose but loose around the mouth and neck to give more air/breathing space
        – a scarf — not tight at all, but draped to cover the nose & mouth with plenty of breathing space
        – a visor/face shield

        The big benefit to the visor/face shield is that folks who rely on or get an assist from lip reading (and more people do than you know!) are then able to continue conversation. I have a friend who is Deaf and mask-wearing has been extraordinarily isolating for her. It’s tough for my grandpa, too, as his hearing deteriorates.

        1. JustaTech*

          All of these things!

          My friend’s workplace requires masks for everyone at all times and several of her employees were having a hard time with the masks. One in particular was having a hard time because the feeling of the mask on her face was giving her panic attacks and flashbacks.

          So my friend made an oversized mask with lots of fusible interfacing to make the mask stand away from the wearer’s face. The mask was also a satin-y material (not the top recommendation, but still OK with the interfacing) to make it more comfortable and feel less confining.

          So if you can, alter the mask to be bigger, and if not try a face shield.

        2. Lexi*

          I have moderate bordering on severe asthma. I recommend that if you are worried about being able to wear a mask, you test it. Buy a pulse oximeter, sit on your couch or other comfortable spot and for an hour or so, take a look at your pulse and oxygen numbers to see what’s normal for you. Then put on a mask and repeat to see what changes. Cheap meters may not give you perfect numbers, but you should be able to tell if there is a huge drop. If I try to wear a cloth mask, my oxygen level drops to the mid-70’s (not good), but my doctor helped me find a light weight medical mask that keeps my oxygen in the mid to upper 80’s (still not great for normal people, but I live at altitude and just make it into the 90’s on an average day.)

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            I second this. Since one of my roomies has already suffered multiple bouts of pneumonia, I bought a cheap pulse oximeter in March. it’s nice to have an objective way to test if you’re getting enough oxygen.

            I make masks. All of the styles and materials for cloth masks have pros and cons, and some people have a decided preference. Also, masks actually have sizes! While most people can wear a 5.5 ” masks, I had to make a 7.5 inch fitted mask for my roommie with the history of pneumonia, because of the size of his nose and face.

            The lightest mask I’ve made was a from cheap cotton bandana, iron-in interfacing, and silk habotai, one layer each. Hardly there, but according to some tests has some of the best filtration.

            A person with compromised breathing should probably use a face shield/visor for best results, IMO.

            YMMV, of course.

    9. Quill*

      LW4, you’re actually the reason that the majority of your coworkers should be wearing masks : much like with vaccines, if the vast majority of people are taking a protective measure, it reduces risk for the people who can’t.

      However, if you mention to the people doing the planning that you have asthma and autoimmune problems, so you’re high risk and should not be present at the workspace unless you can be isolated, that avenue may go over better than starting with “I can’t wear a mask.”

      1. professor*

        right…except people can lie and a store isn’t going to ask you for proof cause they could make a legal mess if the person actually has a medical condition. This whole thing has in fact been an issue, with that note getting passed around and people who don’t want to mask being advised to do this.

    10. Curmudgeon in California*

      LW #4, you aren’t being unreasonable. COPD and certain forms of asthma, like yours, are bona fide acceptable reasons not to wear a mask. And I’m a strong mask advocate!

      Get documentation from your doctor, then ask for an ADA accommodation to substitute for having to wear a mask. Maybe you can sit in a separate area, and wear a face shield when around other people.

      The goal is to reduce the spread of coronavirus, not suffocate you.

    11. JM60*

      I’m actually not entirely convinced that the OP isn’t a jerk. If they consulted with their doctor, and their doctor determined they shouldn’t be wearing a mask for their own health, then they’re definitely not a jerk. However, what I find from quick googling makes me doubt whether asthma makes it dangerous for someone to wear a mask. In an article from, Neil Schachter, MD said “I definitely recommend using a face mask for everyone in these times, especially for people with asthma and COPD.”

      If OP4 asked to be exempt from mask-wearing without consulting a doctor, than I think that would be an asshole move because it’s jeopardizing the health of others, even though mask wearing might not be jeopardizing their own health. On the other hand, if their doctor says they shouldn’t be wearing a mask all day, then they’re not a jerk.

    12. JessaB*

      Exactly. But I wonder if the OP could wear one of those face shields, it doesn’t mould to your face and the way they’re structured you might have an easier time breathing. Heck I’ve seen people rig up one by using a page protector and putting a string through the looseleaf holes, or sliding the holes over the ear pieces of their glasses if they wear them.

      Now if that doesn’t work I totally get it. My lungs are garbage I sympathise.

    13. nervousyolk*

      I completely feel for LW4 and their troubles. I have really easily triggered asthma and autoimmune issues, but started being called into work a few weeks ago. People at my office are not super dedicated to keeping their masks on, so I feel like I have to keep mine on at all times. But wearing a surgical mask for the entire day, excluding my 30 min lunch, has been triggering asthma attacks even more frequently than I’m used to. It’s definitely a struggle.

      I hope LW4’s supervisors/employer/whoever they talk to responds better than my manager did when I gave them my note from my doctor identifying me as high risk for covid! It would be great to have an update on what happens..

  3. Diahann Carroll*

    Re: OP #2

    No advice for you, but as someone who also just recently lost her uncle, you have my sympathy. I would not have handled it well at all if my manager had done something like this (or even just contacted me period when I was on leave).

  4. Bubbles*

    OP #4: You are the very reason why everyone else is wearing masks. I don’t want to potentially expose others before I start showing symptoms, so I wear a mask. I wear a mask so that those who have medical reasons to not wear one are safe to do so. If the rest of your company is diligent with their masks, it should be reasonably safe for you to forgo the mask. You will want to be extra diligent about other protective measures like hand-washing and sanitizing work spaces and shared spaces, and I personally would keep a private container of sanitizing wipes to use whenever you would need to touch community items like copiers or microwave door handles. You may also want to approach your HR about reasonable accommodations: can they move you to a less traveled area and install some plexiglass to give you distance?

    1. allathian*

      I think that if there’s ever a case of allowing someone to WFH until there’s a vaccine, this is it. I would hate to have to explain to my coworkers multiple times a day why I’m exempt from wearing a mask when they aren’t. Let’s face it, pretty much nobody would wear a mask voluntarily if it wasn’t necessary due to a pandemic situation. The ones who would wear a mask without it being mandatory or strongly recommended, would in pre-COVID times be seen as odd outliers, at least in most Western countries. In Asia it would have been different. Maybe this will change now and the next flu season will be milder because people are taking precautions. We’ll see.

      1. Thornfir*

        I confess, I’m hoping that this leads to more acceptance/less weirdness about masks in the US in general. There have definitely been times in the past when I’ve been a drippy mess from a regular common cold and would have loved to wear a mask just to protect those around me (I already had the bug, after all), but they were so uncommon here that I was afraid I’d look like… I don’t know, a weird Wild West bandit.

        1. AcademiaNut*

          After years of living in East Asia, I feel so uncomfortable not wearing a mask in public when I’m sick I’ll just do it and deal with any weird looks. So behavior might change.

        2. Joielle*

          Same! I’m planning to wear them during cold and flu season going forward. I ALWAYS get sick in the spring but not this year, and I’m attributing it at least in part to always wearing a mask in public. I guess time will tell whether the mask helps or whether it was really just staying home that made the difference, but anything I can do to reduce my chance of getting a cold is worth it to me!

          1. pancakes*

            Same here. It just seems sensible and considerate to keep cold & flu droplets to oneself. I’m in a big city and not worried about getting weird looks.

      2. Khatul Madame*

        OP4 leads a division. A bunch of their subordinates have been ordered to return to the office, so the situation is already somewhat fraught. If the Division Boss is the only one, or one of the few excepted from coming into the office, the optics will be very bad and staff morale will be impacted.
        Similarly, if everyone is wearing a mask and Division Boss isn’t, it’s not a good look on a leader, whether or not there is an underlying condition.
        I do think that a face shield is a good solution for the OP4’s dilemma. In addition to that, they probably have an office and can take off the face covering while doing solo work. Wear the shield only to meetings and to walk the halls.

        1. PAG*

          I am the OP. There are no offices at my workspace, just desks all crammed together in an open workspace. Not even the CEO has an office. We have actually outgrown our space and are really packed in. Things have been rearranged as best possible with the space at hand. They will not install any plexiglass. Unfortunately, our HR department does not assume positive intent, and is constantly looking for ulterior motives when people voice their opinion or request things. I’m hoping that regardless, I can have a reasonable conversation about the issue, but seeing “non mask wearing shaming” posts from our HR Director on social media is not making me feel good about the situation. In the end, I will have to do what is right for me. Thank you for your feedback!

          1. Kes*

            Hmm, can you maybe get a note from your doctor explaining that you can’t wear a mask or should WFH due to medical reasons, to lend support to your request (not that it should be needed, but given what you’ve said about your HR it might be worth trying what you can)

          2. designbot*

            I was wondering, if you can’t wear a mask, could you wear a face shield? I think those still offer some degree of protection and since they stand a bit away from the face would they be easier for you to wear?

          3. Insert Clever Name Here*

            For what it’s worth, if you were my boss and told me you had a medical condition that meant you couldn’t wear a mask (so were in the office without one or continuing to work from home), I wouldn’t think less of you as a leader and it would have exactly zero impact on my morale. I think most people (though it sounds like not your HR folks) are adult enough to recognize there are valid reasons some people can’t wear a mask. There’s a big difference between the “omg masks are SoOoO sTupID” people who don’t wear one and the “I can’t because asthma/other medical issue” people that unless I hear the former from your mouth, I’m assuming you’re in the latter group. Hopefully the people who report to you are adult enough to make the same distinction. Best of luck!

            1. Joielle*

              I’ll admit that if I see someone without a mask I usually assume they’re in the former group (there’s a lot of that going around in my area), but if someone told me it was for a medical reason I wouldn’t have a problem with it at all. Maybe the OP could send an email to the staff, or at least to the people in their seating area, to briefly explain? I know we’re usually on the side of not telling people your medical issues, but maybe the OP would be ok just mentioning the asthma, since that’s pretty common and well understood. If people don’t know about the situation I just worry that the OP will be bombarded with people telling them to put on a mask and having to explain it a dozen times.

              1. Insert Clever Name Here*

                Yeah, ideally OP would send an email (in advance of when staff return to the office) along the lines of “Due to a medical condition, I am unable to wear a mask so will be (working from home)(taking A, B, C additional precautions) in an effort to ensure the health of our team and families.” I don’t think OP even has to mention the exact condition, unless they want to.

                For my mental well-being, I have to assume most people have a good reason for acting the way they do or I spiral quickly into the “I Hate Everyone And Why Are You All Awful and Absolute Idiots” line of thinking.

        2. Anne of Green Gables*

          I’m not sure I agree with this. Most people realize that individuals have different levels of risk, and want to protect others as an instinct, especially if those others are people they know and like. Some of the supervisors in my department will not return in person in August (planned return date for my dept) due to higher risk. No one questions it or thinks those people are hypocrites or don’t pull their weight or anything like that. It’s true that it does mean a few details about those people, but for the most part, we knew them anyway. (One severe asthmatic, one with several chronic conditions already known, a few who are past the age line of higher risk.)

          When my department was in the early stages of phasing out, before state stay-at-home orders sped up the process, I had to go around to all my staff and find out if they felt comfortable continuing to come in to work in person. One staff person, who I knew would rather switch to WFH, looked me straight in the eye and said “I’ll come in if it means the pregnant lady can go home.” People understand that other people have different circumstances. And I truly believe that most have the compassion not to be a jerk about that.

          (And just because I anticipate possible comments, the pregnant staff person was 9 months along, I had already encouraged her to go home and switch to WFH until Baby arrived, and that day was her last in person–a decision she made with her doctor.)

        3. Insert Clever Name Here*

          You’re making several assumptions here that are unfair not only to OP but to those who OP manages. If my Division Boss 1) returned to the office with us without a mask or 2) continued WFH while the rest of us are back at the office and I’m told it’s because he has a medical condition that precludes him from wearing a mask, my response isn’t that he’s a horrible leader and I work for a horrible company. It’s “hey, cool to know that the company is smart enough to recognize when an accommodation is needed!”

          1. Khatul Madame*

            Revealing medical information at work is rarely a good idea. Doubly so when it’s not among peers.

            1. Autistic Office Worker*

              I don’t agree. Some people will not understand why someone is getting “special treatment” without at least a partial reveal of medical information. Furthermore, in many countries, you cannot be fired for having asthma or a related medical condition.

            2. Insert Clever Name Here*

              I hope you get to experience what it’s like to work with and under people who treat all colleagues, regardless of their place in the org chart, as competent adults.

        4. LJay*

          I’ve been the only one from my reporting line working from home for awhile and it’s been fine and not fraught.

          I’m the only one who can work from home. My boss is a director and his boss needs him in the office. All my reports are essentially warehouse workers and you can’t pick parts from home.

          There haven’t been any morale issues that I know of. And I don’t even have a major underlying condition. (I’m obese which has been suggested to be an underlying condition but then so is a large portion of the US).

          Though the OP’s situation seems like the exact reason why people with underlying conditions should be permitted to continue working from home. Both to protect everyone else since OP cannot wear a mask, and because I am assuming that if someone already has breathing and lung capacity issues to the extent that wearing a lightweight mask is an issue, having their repository system racked by COVID-19 will have a much worse outcome for them than someone without an underlying condition.

  5. Blaise*

    I’m not saying that the comments in #1 are at all acceptable or appropriate for work events (especially at EVERY work event, lol), but please also consider how annoyed you feel by this every time you hear someone go on and on about how having kids is the only way anyone can ever know what love really is and the only way that a woman’s life can be whole and complete.

    I guarantee that those conversations are happening in workplaces as well (although clearly not this one!), but somehow those conversations are socially acceptable. Just something to keep in mind.

    1. Perpal*

      “annoyed you feel by this every time you hear someone go on and on about how having kids is the only way anyone can ever know what love really is and the only way that a woman’s life can be whole and complete.” – but it doesn’t sound like it’s happening in OP’s workplace, and frankly I’ve never had it happen in mine. I realize it is a thing that happens, but in my experience most non-toxic workplaces try to be respectful of people’s reproductive choices either way?

      1. Blaise*

        Agreed, I wasn’t specifically talking about when you hear it at work, just in general.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, while it does happen, it’s not something most people are routinely encountering at work (and when they do, it’s incredibly inappropriate and not okay).

        And while I get what you’re saying, she is regularly engaging in vitriolic rants around a captive audience of coworkers. Regardless of what she might have encountered from people in other parts of her life, it’s not excusable.

        Ultimately, though, it doesn’t really matter what’s driving it; it’s boorish and hostile and should stop.

    2. Observer*

      That’s just not true. I’m not saying they don’t happen and that everyone objects. But, no these kinds of conversations are a staple of workplace conversation. Especially unprovoked.

    3. Thornfir*

      I mean, that’s true, but there are plenty of things that a person could be regularly getting grief about in their personal life that still aren’t appropriate to vent at length about at work events. Religious or political affiliation springs immediately to mind, for example. And even apart from that… bleeding off stress by venting at length about anything wears thin in an office environment (well, anywhere, really, but especially at work where you can’t get away easily).

      I think a lot of childfree people would agree that this was A Bit Much, and quite possibly the other people agreeing are just trying to get Molly to quit it and talk about something else.

    4. Marmalade*

      I agree. It’s often covert, but there is so much social pressure to want and to have children. Molly’s comments are totally inappropriate, but I do understand where she’s coming from when the rest of society pushes you so hard towards marriage/kids/etc.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You won’t necessarily need one, but it’s useful to have one, or to at least start that process rolling with your doctor so that you’re not starting from scratch if your employer requests documentation. That’s especially true re: not wearing a mask since it potentially affects others’ safety … and since there’s currently a bunch of people refusing to wear masks on political grounds.

  6. Alldogsarepuppies*

    I’m so glad that I don’t work with people who are Child Free ™. Not wanting children is one thing. Calling babies crotch gobblins and acting like anyone under 18 doesn’t deserve life is another – and I hate it. I’m sorry you have to work with such accepted intolerance. I hope your boss can shut this down.

    1. ...*

      I wonder how these people think the world is going to continue if kids are so terrible. Honestly, I don’t enjoy being around them but like people do have to have children. Someone does! Its the same with people who are so rude about giving any time or considerations to parents, like ok we can just let the whole planet die off I guess??

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Having been around some of this, they don’t expect everyone will stop having children, but they do think the earth is overpopulated and we’d benefit from fewer new humans (that’s a legitimate debate to have, when it’s done without the vitriol). But my impression was always that a large part of it was just an outlet for misanthropy.

        1. Lisa*

          Yes. There is a huge gulf between “Having kids isn’t for me” vs. “I can’t imagine why anyone would ever want kids.” It’s that last bit from Molly that moves this into aggressive, inappropriate territory.

          100% of us used to be children and 100% of our ancestors are parents. Non-parenting is a choice. Misopedia is a form of misanthropy.

      2. Archaeopteryx*

        In my experience of people who like to talk like this, there’s a distinct overtone of denigrating women in particular who choose to become mothers, not just hating on children. They heavily imply (or just say) that women who do become moms are unfeminist sellouts, or are dumb by definition or something. Maybe because I live in the Pacific Northwest and it’s more common for people in their 30s to not plan on having kids then to plan on it, but I’ve heard this quite a bit.

        Two wrongs don’t make a right. You can’t cure fat shaming by trying to tear down the bodies of skinny people, and you can’t cure societal pressure to have kids by stopping on the choices of people who do so. It’s such a better statement to be happy and chill and confident in your choice to not have kids than to rant like this.

        1. LunaLena*

          I dunno, I think it could also be a reaction towards massive lifelong societal pressure to have kids? I’ve known since I was a teenager that I didn’t want kids, and I could probably retire happily if I had a dollar for every time someone told me “just wait, you’ll change your mind.” Or for people who told me that one should have kids because it’s “the most unselfish thing a woman can do” (so what, I should have kids to prove to some random stranger I’m not selfish?) or “why would you not want kids???” in tones of shock and horror. I lived in Indiana for a few years, and just about all the women I worked with there treated marriage and babies as an inevitable, unquestionable part of life, and actively treated not wanting to have kids as some unnatural kink that I should be ashamed of (I wasn’t, and it really only came up because I was asked when I was going to have kids). One co-worker, who was a couple of years younger than me and had a young child she doted on and often brought into the office with the expectation that everyone would dote on it as well, made it clear that she thought I was extremely immature and selfish for not wanting kids, and was one of those people who assumed I should be doing more to help co-workers out because “why wouldn’t you have time to do more, it’s not like you have kids?”

          I’m not trying to excuse Molly’s behavior, because it’s totally over the line and I’d probably roll my eyes and stay away from her at company parties. I’m just saying that, depending on where you live, sometimes people go out of their way to constantly question your reproductive choices and it gets frustrating and annoying after a while. And so some people react to such things by proudly and militantly proclaiming how they’re different from everyone else. My point is that there are many reasons someone could be like that, it’s not always necessarily “women denigrating other women.” I mean, maybe Molly IS just an a-hole who looks down on people with kids. Or maybe she feels she has to attack first because the best defense is a good offense. Who knows.

          1. Vina*

            You know what grates me about the “you’ll change your mind” people? If they are wrong, they will never know it. If they are right, shouldn’t they be sympathetic instead of judgmental and superior?

            Sometimes people are the worst.

            1. Right now*

              I know, right? The New York Times had an article about what to do if your kids need to use a public restroom during the pandemic….the article quoted a pediatrician who has “a motto for her small children in questionable public restrooms: Don’t touch anything, Mommy will do it all for you.” Yuck! THIS is why I don’t want kids.

              When i hang out with friends (we are all late 20-something females), all you have to do to take someone out of the moment is to say “imagine right now, with a 3-year old.” none of us wants kids…i’m totes on team Molly with this!

          2. Professional Straphanger*

            I’m childfree and this comment is absolutely spot-on. Part of the anger comes from being asked when (not “if,” but when) we’re going to have kids and if we say never, here come the bingoes! We were just minding our business and now we’re the bad guys?

            The other thing that tends to annoy childfree people is the sense of entitlement mentioned above. To a certain type of “parent,” kids are a get-out-of-anything-free card. The Village is expected to help (see above, “why wouldn’t you have time to do more, it’s not like you have kids?”), but if that village wants something in return (“use your inside voice, please”) suddenly it’s Mama Bear RAWR!!!! Not every parent, of course. but it gets tiresome and sometimes a preemptive strike occurs, especially when one is young and exploring the childfree identity and realizing just how child-centric our society is. So the tendency to go overboard and fling it in people’s faces for a while is there, but most of us grow out of it pretty quickly.

            I’ll be honest, I don’t understand why anyone would ever want kids. BUT. I would never say that because it’s not my business, and secondly as a human with at least a little bit of empathy for my fellow man there are things that I have wanted very much so I understand the desire, even if I don’t understand the object of the desire, and I hope people get what they desire and it makes them happy.

            1. Macarena*

              Every time I have said the words “I don’t understand why anyone, especially a woman, would want to have kids”, it has been in response to someone saying they don’t understand how I can’t want kids. Like how every time i have said “I think it is irresponsible to force a new person into existence in this messed up world”, it has been in response to something like “I think it’s so selfish to not want children because you want to live like a 22 year old forever and don’t want to grow up”.

              It is OK for parents to question my life choices as a woman who does not want children, but it is suddenly inappropriate and hostile if I question their choices back…..

          3. Disco Janet*

            “Or maybe she has to attack first because the best defense is a good offense.”

            This is crap. I have two children, but most of my friends are childfree. I don’t go around asking people about their reproductive choices. If it comes up I say, “Hey, I get it! Love mine but they’re a lot of work and definitely not everyone’s cup of tea!” Or something along those lines. And yet, I still regularly hear and see rants like Molly’s. You don’t get to say “some people are jerks about my choice, so I’m going to be a jerk about EVERYONE who hasn’t made the same choice as me.” Because that does make me bristle and want to say crap back. Attacking someone’s position, particularly when they have not attacked yours, does nothing but keep the cycle of disrespect going.

            1. LunaLena*

              Ah, the old “*I* don’t do this/haven’t experienced this, therefore NO ONE has” argument. :) You say “you don’t get to say” but what you really mean is “I don’t think people should say,” because, I’m sorry but who are you tell anyone what they can or can’t say? The thing is, everyone has the prerogative to be rude and say crap and be a big jerk if they want to, just like you have the prerogative to snap back at them if you want to. But saying someone’s position is crap without even attempting to understand where they may be coming from seems just as judgy to me as someone who loudly starts a conversation with “I hate kids and no one should ever want them” without provocation.

              Also, I’m not sure if you actually read my post. As I said, I do not agree with Molly’s approach. Frankly, I think she’s a jerk, but I was mostly objecting to Archaeopteryx’s assertion that such stances are simply women denigrating other women because… superiority, I guess?

      3. Hiring Mgr*

        I don’t think it’s some well thought out position :) Just someone who doesn’t like kids for whatever reason and seems to get attention when she brings it up so..

      4. No bees on Typhon*

        Check out the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement

        Not everyone thinks that people do have to have children; not everyone thinks that humans gradually going extinct equates to the whole planet dying off – in fact, some think quite the opposite!

        Myself, I’m all in favour of gradual, natural population decline through lower birth rates and longer generation times. Not to the level of extinction, obvs, ‘cos that’s pretty damn extreme, but the planet needs more humans like humans need more COVID

        1. Tidewater 4-1009*

          Yes, there’s been some discussion among my friends about how nature really perked up when everyone was quarantining. It should be clear to everyone that the end of the human race and the end of the planet are two entirely different things.

    2. JKP*

      Also, whether or not someone has their own children, the vast majority of people have children somewhere in their lives, whether nieces and nephews or the kids of their BFF or younger siblings, and hating on all kids is insulting to many more people than just parents.

      1. Jenny*

        Exactly. My sister very much does not want kids herself, but you’ve also never met a more devoted aunt.

          1. The Rural Juror*

            Yep, me as well. My brother’s kids and my best friend’s kids are the most important children in my life and I LOVE THEM so much. But I don’t need to have any of my own.

        1. SarahTheEntwife*

          Yup, I’m in that boat too. I LOVE being an aunt and am so thrilled that my brother and SIL have gotten the ok to have non-contact visits since I’ve now missed three months of adorable baby nibling time. I’d just much rather be the one entertaining the kid for a few hours so the parents can have some time to themselves than the one taking care of children 24/7.

          1. JustaTech*

            For nieces and nephews it’s “nibling” (rhymes with “sibling”). I don’t know what it is up the generational tree.

          2. Enter_the_Dragonfly*

            I’ve heard ‘pibling’ which is cute (stands for ‘parent’s sibling’). Interestingly enough, I learned on this website that the gender neutral term for niece/nephew is nibling! I feel a limerick in our future…

    3. MayLou*

      Heh, I love kids and want to have them, but I have to admit to a chuckle at the term “crotch goblins”. That honestly sounds like something a parent might jokingly say when they’re frustrated with their kids.

      I guess it’s like any other workplace discussion. The best way, but often the hardest, to handle it is to politely request they tone it down. Waiting until you’re annoyed enough to overcome a natural reticence to go against the crowd risks an annoyed or aggressive tone, and in my experience the fallout from pushing back politely is never as bad as I fear. Of course, that doesn’t change the fear I feel next time I have to speak out!

      1. Booklover13*

        It’s important to remember how important tone and sincerity are to that kind of comment. If I call my future kids ‘spawn’ it’s clearly done in a way that still conveys some affection. When a Childfree(TM) does calls them ‘crotch goblins’… it comes across really really hateful. It isn’t about the phrase itself as much as they are intentionally using it as a slur. That’s why I used separate words above, ‘crotch goblins’ has a directly negative connotation I don’t want to use it to describe my own future kids.

        1. Scarlet*

          WTF “Childfree(TM)”? You rant about “crotchgoblins” while in the same breath use “Childfree(TM)”?

          There is nothing wrong with choosing not to have kids, and if people get defensive about their life choice because they feel attacked on a frequent basis for it, that’s understandable. No need to condescend by calling them “Childfree(TM)”. I mean my. goodness.

          1. curiouskitten*

            I use Childfree (TM) to differentiate between childfree people who do not want to have kids but don’t villainize the existence of children and the one that makes not having kids a purposeful point of identity and choose to use mean spirited descriptors such as grotch gobblin as a way to ridicule and villianize. There is a strong difference and often used on online sites such as reddit as a badge of pride before explaining a story of how you were cruel to a child because you don’t want them to exist anyway.

          2. Val Z*

            A lot of the people who make “Childfree” part of their identify can get pretty extreme both in their hatred of children and in their insistence on talking about it (like Molly). I don’t have kids, but I don’t like calling myself “Childfree” because I don’t want to be associated with the extremists.

            1. Scarlet*

              I agree with you, and I have too been exposed to the extremism. But “Childfree(TM)” is insulting.

              1. Kanye West*

                The fact that the US doesn’t do work contracts never seizes to amaze me. Welcome to the jungle!

              2. Ice and Indigo*

                It’s pejorative, sure. Only appropriate to use if you’re describing someone who’s being a jerk about it.

                ‘Crotch goblins’, on the other hand, is deliberately disgusting and denigrates parents’ bodies. For people who’ve experienced traumatic births, it can be actively triggering.

            2. Gazebo Slayer*

              Yeah, I don’t have children and don’t want to, but I never describe myself as “childfree” because I don’t want to associate myself with child haters.

              “I just don’t enjoy the company of children” is fine. “I hate disgusting little crotch goblins” is… not. Especially considering how children are a vulnerable group often targeted for violence – child abuse, and even murder of children by their own parents, is far more common than you’d like to think.

              Child-hating also often intersects and interacts with oppressive ideologies. People elsewhere in the thread have pointed to the notion that people of color have too many children or that they can’t afford their children; I’d like to add the recent treatment of Black children at protests (the riot cop pointing a rubber bullet gun at a very small boy, the police who maced a 7-year-old), ICE’s horrific detention policies toward immigrant children, and years of rhetoric about “anchor babies.” Child-hating also usually spills over into mother-hating, though curiously seldom into father-hating (hmmm). And anti-child policies and sentiments disproportionately affect women, since women are disproportionately responsible for the care of children.

            3. Tiny Soprano*


              “Childfree” implies a sense of superiority and smugness even without the extremist connotations. It also doesn’t seem to recognise that for some people children (or lack thereof) aren’t a choice, whether that be through reproductive coercion, lack of access to health care or the inability to have children even if they really really want to.

              It also makes people assume that because I don’t have children and don’t plan on it, I must hate children. But I love children! I love my friends’ kids, my neighbours’ kids and the kids I’ve taught (even the naughty ones.) They’re just tiny people. And I’ve never had a child take a judgy stance like adults do after asking if I have/want kids. Liking children and not wanting my own are not mutually exclusive.

              1. Heather*

                Childfree = choosing not to have kids
                Childless = no kids due to circumstances, not by choice

              2. RowanUK*

                Honestly, I think for many people saying “childfree” is a reaction to being called “childless”. The language around parenthood can be very emotive on both sides.

                For some people, the term childless is spoken in a pitying way when for them it was a choice that they made. It’s likely that some would rather use childfree as a term that reinforces their choice.

          3. kt*

            There’s gotta be some way of describing it. There’s child-free and then there’s ChildFree(TM). There’s vegan and there’s Vegan(TM). There’s keto and there’s Keto(TM). People can get obnoxious about anything, but particularly about lifestyle choices. Meh.

            1. Scarlet*

              Right just like there’s Christian and Christian(TM) or Muslim and Muslim(TM).

              Or is that offensive?

              1. Short Time Lurker Komo*

                Not to me. I recognize (or assume at least) that the TM at the end of Christian is referring to people I would tell to their faces that they’ve lost the Way.

                That doesn’t nullify you being offended at the TM though. I also have words that offend me, even if I know the person saying them does it from a place of friendship.

              2. Lissa*

                I have seen “Nice Guy” and “Nice Guy(TM)” to differentiate between an actual male person who is kind, and a “Nice Guy” which became shorthand for a particular kind of guy who whines that women won’t date him because he’s so niiiiice and his female friend he has a crush on won’t sleep with him and instead dates some Big Jerk, complains about the friendzone while seeming to only keep female friends around on the faint hope they might someday give him romantic/sexual attention…
                So I think Childfree and Childfree(TM) is meant like that.

          4. Booklover13*

            Apologies for the offensive, it is not my usual way of reference and I was just continuing to use what I saw the parent comment use to distinguish between someone who is Childfree vs someone who is Childfree and also vitriolic about it for consistency.

            My person stance is the only ones who should have children are those who want them, and that they shouldn’t have to face pressure from outsiders to change that choice. I have a strong dislike for those who behave Molly in the OP because it associates Childfree with a particularly nasty brand of hating on children. I actively speak up whenever I see that kind of pressure because I want to try and help normalize the idea that Childfree is valid in its own right and not the same as hating children.

      2. Anonny*

        I will admit to thinking the term but mostly in response to parents who are refusing to parent. Like can you tell your crotch goblins to keep the volume down?!

        Children in general? No way.

      3. Gila Monster*

        Yep, a simple “hey guys, let’s move on from this topic, it’s been thoroughly exhausted” has worked pretty well for me a couple of times.

    4. T2*

      I have a question. Allison’s suggested script is that “I respect your position…”. However, I simply don’t care about the person’s position one way or the other. A person’s decision to have kids or not have kids does not affect me in any way and I am absolutely not giving anyone a license to comment on my own choices in any personal matter.

      To me, in a social setting, it seems to me the way to handle this is to say, “you have strong feelings about this, but this is a personal matter, and I do not care to discuss this in any aspect” and then leave. No debate, no listening, no reasoning. Any further attempts to discuss that would be met with, “as I have said, I don’t care to discuss this, talk about something else.” And finally “as I have said, I am done talking about this. If there is nothing else to discuss, then we are done here.”

      I frankly, am beyond accommodating rude people. Rudeness being defined as those who think they are entitled to make a judgement about other people. I don’t particularly care what they think, and honestly, I don’t particularly care about them. Even trying to defend your personal philosophy is an engagement in the premise that this person has a reasonable point that she can comment on the personal loves in others.

      As a personal policy, If I work with you, I am there to do a job. I don’t concern myself in how you look, I don’t concern myself with who you love, how you dress or anything outside of work. I also don’t care what you think about the lifestyles of anyone else. I do not ever talk about myself or my personal life and the minute that the job is done, I am gone. I never raise my voice I never allow coworkers to see me upset.

      I am nice enough. I accept that people have opinions. But I don’t accept your “right” to publicize your opinions about personal matters with me.

      Part of it is that I have dealt and fought with bullies all my life. In the end engagement is what they want. If you stop engaging then You are not fun anymore and the bullies get bored.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Allison’s suggested script is that “I respect your position…”.

        Yeah, I’d personally leave this part of it out especially because the OP doesn’t respect Molly’s position.

        1. Val Z*

          Alison’s script did not say “I respect your position.” The script said “I respect your choices.” I hope OP can respect Molly’s choice to not have kids, regardless of how ridiculously she’s expressing it.

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            Ah, that’s a much better line. And I imagine OP does respect the choice, she’s just annoyed by Molly’s constant harping on it.

          2. Persephone Underground*

            Yes, this is key. This sort of over-the-top ranting about kids is often misplaced backlash from having other people in their lives or society who don’t respect their choice to not have kids. *Making that point can really defuse the charged nature of the topic/conversation.*

            When people have had it up to *here* with their mother or father or in-laws pushing the issue “For the thousandth time I don’t want kids.” can become “I don’t want kids, I hate all kids, and I don’t understand why anyone would want them anyway!!!”

            I speak from experience, my husband is a pushover and dotes on our new neice on my side of the family, but he sometimes gets weird like this after talking to his mother because she’s never going to stop pressuring him about having our own kids.

            1. Susie Q*

              You shouldn’t take out your frustrations with your husband’s lack of inability to enforce boundaries on innocent bystanders. The vast majority of people in this world do not care if you have kids.

              1. Scarlet*

                Susie Q you clearly have not had the same experiences some of us who choose not to have kids do. It’s an overreach to say “The vast majority of people in this world do not care if you have kids” – that’s not her experience and it’s not fair to minimize her experiences/feelings/opinions by saying that.

                1. Susie Q*

                  I would be surprised if she met the vast majority of the world.

                  She has a husband problem. Her husband needs to tell his mom to back off and stop discussing these things. Boundaries need to be set and enforced.

                2. T2*

                  Wether or not people care if you have kids, you give them power my caring if they care.

                  I love kids. But for various reasons we have elected not to have them at this time. I am sure my mother has an opinion on this, but she would not dare to tell me what it is, and I would not care what her feelings are.

                  I care about my wife’s feelings on the subject, then my own. Every else can go fly a kite on the issue.

                3. Anonapots*

                  I think you’re taking their dynamic with their husband more personally than makes sense.

                4. Curmudgeon in California*

                  Yeah, if anything everybody and their brother, sister and first cousin seem to think they are entitled to lecture you about your reproductive choices and how you’ll “change your mind”, blah, blah, blah.

                  I usually just stop talking to those people – they are proving that they are not my friends.

              2. BelleMorte*

                As someone who is childfree and female, I have to say that unfortunately, the vast majority of people in this world who already have kids DO care if you have kids.

                The second someone finds out I don’t have kids, it becomes their mission in life to remind me I should have kids. This is from random strangers I meet, retail workers, co-workers, family, friends of friends on facebook who I have never actually met, doctors even… It’s absolutely ridiculous and people’s choices to procreate (or not), shouldn’t be pressured by bystanders with no skin in the game.

                I think it is seriously considered “the thing to do” and the go-to for conversation for many and when they find people who haven’t done this it kind of glitches their regular social conversation strategy. I doubt that they even realize they are putting pressure on childfree individuals, to be honest.

                I suspect the OP’s coworker is probably frustrated with constant pressure and has swung too far in the other direction with seeing she finally has support at work.

                1. Susie Q*

                  Random strangers are asking you about whether or not you have children. Where do you live that this is an issue? I have never had a single random person inquire about whether or not I have children. I highly doubt people care that much.

                2. Filosofickle*

                  I’ll back up the assertion of random strangers inquiring. Within moments of meeting me, strangers who have no investment in my life have absolutely asked if I have kids and expressed dismay that I don’t. While it’s not frequent, it’s happened more times than I can count. At a wedding a couple years back, I met a guy who was particularly weird and insistent that I was absolutely messing up my life by not having kids. (He didn’t hassle my BF, just me.) It happens in line at groceries stores. I’m heading into menopause but still get a lot of “it’s not too late!” Yeah, no.

                  I live in CA, a half hour outside of San Francisco, where a lot of folks don’t have or want kids so my choices are not that weird here. It still comes up! ANd when I was in the midwest there was way too much attention on my non-existent baby and marriage plans. People do notice, and do care. A lot.

                  To be fair, I am chatty and tend to engage with strangers. It comes up most often with other women, almost always moms, often older.

              3. SheLooksFamiliar*

                In my 20s, I was told I’d change my mind about not wanting kids.
                In my 30s, I was told I should have had at least one by now.
                In my 40s, I was told I could still adopt.
                In my 50s, I am told I must surely regret not having kids and grandkids, life can’t be fulfilling without them.

                Maybe this isn’t a representation of ‘the vast majority of people in this world’, but family, friends, and work colleagues have all given me their unsought opinion for decades. It was, and is, a tiresome subject that I never brought or bring up.

                1. Scarlet*

                  TOTALLY. Also it does depend a little bit on where you live. There are some really accepting places where you might not hear those things, but IME many more places you absolutely will!

                  I’ll never understand why people take such issue with how other people live their lives.

                2. Susie Q*

                  I think all of us are the recipient of unwarranted and unwanted advice. At this point it is part of the human experience.

                3. Quickbeam*

                  I’m in my 60’s and it just stopped about a year ago. Now I get how sad I will be to not have grandkids. The oppressive nature of pronatalism is everywhere. One of the most amazing revelations about working from home this past few months is how serene it is not hearing about diapers, day care and “Can you cover for me while I go to Billy’s soccer game?”.

                  When I am in a social situation at work and someone says something stridently offensive, I challenge it and shut it down. However with the baby talk 24/7 crowd, I just put on ear buds.

                4. Professional Straphanger*

                  And when I’m dead, I know there will be people knocking on my coffin: “But are you SURE? We could reanimate you and you could have a zombie baby!”

            2. Kammy6707*

              Yes, I do not want children (for various reasons) and I have found over the years that the quickest way to shut down someone telling me I should have them because they are wonderful/I will regret not having them/why don’t I want to be a mother, am I selfish?/ etc. is to just say that I don’t like children. (Which is kind of true, but I try not to say it because then people think I’m some sort of monster. I think babies are cute and I love my nephew but for the most part, I find kids annoying!) But even then I will typically hear “well, you’d feel differently if they were your own kids.”

      2. Koala dreams*

        Alison usually give a range, so people can choose the kind of script they are comfortable with. Depending on your own habits and workplace culture, you can choose something suitable.

      3. Traffic_Spiral*

        Yeah, I’d be way less “Here is my essay on respecting life choices while eschewing negativity” and just be like “we know, Molly, you hate kids. Can we talk about something else?” And every time she brought it up it’d be another instance of “yeah, yeah, you don’t like children, you’ve told us. Now, as we were saying…”

        1. EPLawyer*

          I like this approach. I mean tone is everything. You don’t want to come across as a jerk, but Okay you had your say now moving on is important. WHY this person feels the need to go off on a rant at every get together is baffliing. We know, we know, we know. Stop bringing it up.

          1. The Rural Juror*

            I can empathize with that. I have a friend who brings up the topic of children anytime our group meets up. Yes, we know you want kids and are considering going the route of sperm donation. You’ve brought it up the last 10 times I’ve seen you. I’m sure it’s something on her mind a lot, and she wants validation, but it’s so exhausting that she takes the conversation hostage to talk about it every time!

        2. Massmatt*

          Yes, it’s really weird how often Molly brings this up, clearly she has an issue. I would consider approaching it from this angle–Molly is being tedious, Molly is going on her rant again for the umpteenth time, Molly can’t think of anything else to talk about, Molly is bizarrely fixated on this topic. Maybe social pressure can be brought to bear in this way that doesn’t make the OP feel as though she’s going out on a limb about her own childbearing plans.

          1. Joielle*

            Yeah – I, like Molly, don’t want kids, don’t much like being around them, and have a hard time understanding why anyone would make the choice to have them on purpose (although I intellectually understand that there must be a reason because a lot of people do it!) but I’d feel uncomfortable with Molly’s rants. Regardless of the topic, it’s weird to get fixated on a random thing and force coworkers to listen to you talk about it over and over. I think it’s a good idea to focus more on how tiresome it is, because any attempt to debate the substance of the kids vs no kids debate will just be met with more ranting.

        3. Ominous Adversary*

          “For someone who hates kids and never wants any, Molly, you sure do talk about them a lot.”

              1. Scarlet*


        4. Alex Konigsburg*

          Yes, this is the tone I would take. It is the tone I have taken. I worked at a place that was all young people, mostly single. Only the CEO had kids, and they were adults. I was going through fertility treatments and recurrent miscarriages when a colleague would go on these long rants about how awful children are and anyone who wants kids is awful and disgusting too. I think she thought she was being “edgy” but no one really responded after her first few rants. Instead of telling her to fuck off, as I wanted to, I just made a ‘yikes’ face and said something along the lines of, “So, anyone find anything good on Netflix recently?” It took a couple of times, but she stopped. Interestingly, she got married a few years later and had a kid pretty soon after and has said she likes being a parent.

          I have plenty of friends who don’t want to have kids but have said as much in passing and that was it. Nothing rude.

        5. fhqwhgads*

          Yeah, that’s probably the route I’d go since she’s established the pattern of ranting. I think the best angle is to set aside anything about the topic itself and just go from the perspective that this is unwelcome because it is so damn repetitive. I think it has a higher likelihood of getting her to stop if she thinks she’s being perceived as boring.

        6. juliebulie*

          I might be tempted to say, “Molly, you talk about this so often and with such passion, who are you trying to convince?”

          1. The Rural Juror*

            Molly may be trying to convince herself.

            Not that it’s wrong to reconsider choices from time to time. We all adapt and grow as people and sometimes change our minds, which is Ok. In my experience, people who have tended to bring up a topic over and over are really just thinking out loud, and maybe trying to find validation in the choice they’ve made. Doesn’t make it any less exhausting for the audience.

            1. juliebulie*

              Or course she’s trying to convince herself (and seeking validation). The rhetorical question is meant to draw attention to that. It’s helpful to point out to her that she’s not having a genuine conversation with people.

          2. Traffic_Spiral*

            Nah, that’s gonna set her off on a rant about who offended her by assuming she wants kids – which is sorta counterproductive because what you want is for her to stop talking about the subject.

      4. EventPlannerGal*

        I agree. Getting into any kind of philosophical debate about this is just validating it as a legitimate topic of workplace conversation. Honestly I think the best way to approach this (at least to start with) is the same way as you would approach someone being boring, rude conversation-hog on any topic – “Oh, jeez, this again?”, “Haven’t we talked about this before? Now, about the big game on Friday…”, “Yes, Molly, we know…”, whatever. Make it clear that continuing to rant is weird and embarrassing.

      5. Ellie May*

        I agree with T2 but sadly too many people in my lifetime, in a variety of situations (work and personal), have lectured my on why I will regret not having children and why their life choices (children) are the ONLY life choices with validity. It is mildly amusing to see the other extreme now become prominent in today’s world. But, any extreme position and ensuing lecture is inappropriate, especially in the workplace.

        1. T2*

          I think the overall issue is that there is too much familiarity in professional settings. These people you work with are not your friends. They are your colleagues.

          1. MBK*

            Most of my colleagues are colleagues. A few have become my friends. While I maintain appropriate work behavior, I still treat them like friends even when we’re at work.

    5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Agree that the CF slurs are annoying as all get out. With all that’s happening in the world today, I could totally get behind more people deciding to have fewer or no kids, and will respect my own children’s and their partners’ decisions to not have any, should they go in that direction. Heck, I suspect my own mother might’ve been CF if it had been socially acceptable in her time! Nothing wrong with not having kids if you don’t want to spend your life raising them. But the vocal CF crowd always loses me at “crotch goblins” and the like. Respect my choices, and that will make me respect yours more! Among all the CF people I know, the mean and vocal ones are in the minority, and I too am sorry that the OP ended up working with at least one of them, and that the others continue to enable “Molly”.

      1. Littorally*

        Yep, agreed.

        Based on my choices, the label “childfree” would suit me — but I got so turned off by the vitriol, and particularly the poorly-veiled misogyny, in that community that I would never identify with that label.

        If I never hear anyone refer to a woman with children as a “moo” again, my life will be that much better.

      2. Thornfir*

        Yeah, I think my big issue with words like ‘crotch goblins’ is… kids don’t choose to be kids, any more than elderly people choose to be elderly, or Millennials choose to have been born during a specific timeframe. It’s a trait about them that is beyond their control.

        I find hating on parents offputting too (especially since, realistically, in my experience it usually isn’t parents per se so much as mothers, since we culturally still shift most of the burden of parenting to female parents), but at least that’s a criticism of a decision. But nasty talk about children is fundamentally nasty talk about human beings who have a trait that they can’t help and have no control over. I don’t think that’s ever acceptable. And in this case, per the LW’s original letter, Molly isn’t hating on parents as such; she hates kids, her commentary about parents is that she can’t imagine why anyone would want children.

    6. Environmental Compliance*

      It makes it very frustrating for those of us who legitimately do not want children ourselves, but could not care less if you have your own kids (with a caveat of I will feel horrible for your children if you obviously don’t want them, and yes, I have met those people).

      It would be so, so nice if children weren’t such a Loud, Argumentive topic with the number of people it is. I don’t want to hear it from either side (and yes, I have). I don’t care if Jane thinks that children are the only way to have meaning in your life and will tell literally everyone about it, and I don’t care if Tammi thinks children are the grossest things on the planet and wants to rant about it. Have kids, don’t have kids, who the heck cares what you want to do with your genitalia & reproductive organs?

      I hope OP’s boss can shut it down, or that the offending coworkers are responsive enough for Alison’s script.

      1. Altair*

        Yes, this. The problem with Molly is the continued ranting about a sensitive topic in the workplace more than the specific topic she’s picked.

    7. anonifriend*

      It’s so weird right? I work in a department where 99% of us don’t have or want children, in a workplace where not having children is the norm, including myself and if it were a Child Free ™ location I’d dip out. We’re all very happy for those that have chosen to have kids and most if not all of us have children in our lives that we love dote on and talk about to each other, they just happen to be our nieces / nephews / cousins / friends etc.

      We do work in education so that might be a big factor here though. Who needs your own kids when you work with gobs of them for a living?

      Not having or wanting kids does not equal not liking kids, and I hate when people assume because I fall into one category automatically lands me in the other.

      1. Joielle*

        I don’t really like kids, but I would STILL never rant like this! I think the main problem isn’t not wanting kids or even not liking kids, it’s that Molly is a jerk. Even if you don’t like kids, you can be happy for people who choose to have them and at the very least, you can keep your rude rants to yourself.

    8. Quill*

      “What an adorable raisin!” – makes babies happy, doesn’t alienate kids who are listening, prevents their parents from asking about my reproductive plans.

      That said, I’m in camp “I will babysit gladly, I am NOT intending to parent.”

    9. Koala dreams*

      Wow. You use a post about the problem with intolerant ranting against children as an excuse to post your own intolerant rant about people without children.

    10. Curmudgeon in California*

      Wow. I am Childfree™. I don’t GAF if someone wants to have kids, it’s their business.

      But I will definitely push back, hard, when some parent starts in with the “Kids are the only way to know True Love™” or “You aren’t a real adult if you haven’t produced the next generation”, etc. And those are on the nicer end of that kind of thing.

      But I also think that judging other people’s choices in a work environment like that is just wrong. Unless you ask me to take care of your kids, or something equally entangling of me into your choices, I don’t say a thing. I even buy baby shower gifts.

      The OP’s company needs to shut that type of talk down. It’s discriminatory against people who chose to be parents, just as much as pressure to procreate is discrimination against the infertile or childfree. It’s completely inappropriate in the workplace, just like baby pushing is.

  7. Diahann Carroll*

    Re: OP #3

    Definitely check your offer letter to make sure your remote request is in it and, if not, have your manager reach out to HR to put it in. That was one of the first things I looked for when I received the offer letter for my current fully remote position, and the first line of the letter said I was being offered the position to work full time from my home office. If that line hadn’t been in there, I definitely would have taken it to grandboss because I too had heard horror stories from people who thought they had accepted a remote position, but were then hoodwinked and made to go in-house.

    1. Hamburke*

      My husband works remotely as does his entire company. It was in his offer letter, it was in the job posting, it was all that was discussed. The document he received for his start date gave directions to the parent company headquarters building and into the HR office (all of which are half way across the country). Turns out, it’s just a form letter and new team members are now warned about it!

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Oh wow, lol. Yeah, they probably need to update their new hire onboarding documentation – I know if I had received anything of the sort, I would have freaked out wondering if they were trying to rescind my WFH privilege.

  8. Taco Belle*

    I’m sorry your coworker is so awful LW 1. Is Molly senior to you or any of your other coworkers? I ask only because I am in a similar situation to you where my manager is like Molly and many of my coworkers who don’t have kids by choice say “I don’t want to have children” as a way to appease my manager. But they never get into the kid hating themselves. So if you’re in a similar situation those other individuals besides Molly may not hate kids the way Molly does. Full disclosure, I have a 2 year old and I’m 10 weeks pregnant. In my case besides my awful manager, everyone else I work with is fine even if they don’t want kids themselves. No one else has ever a jerk to me about being a parent or being pregnant. I don’t want to minimize your concerns, just wanted to throw this out there.

    1. Scarlet*

      Part of it too is that some people might be having trouble conceiving. I can’t imagine how painful a conversation about “omg I hate kids” might be to someone who is desperately trying but may never get one.

        1. Nope Nope Nope*

          Or the opposite – people who constantly talked about wanting to have a child. It was a topic that was constantly on my friend’s mind at a time when I just found out I could never be pregnant. I never told her to please talk about something else, but I needed to excuse myself when she brought it up (again and again) at social gatherings. It’s not even that I really wanted kids, I was pretty indifferent at the time, just that I had new information to process and I didn’t want to think about it while I was at a social gathering. I wanted to think about pretty much anything else. Now that I’ve had time to process the information and file it away I don’t care as much when she brings it up (again and again). But at one point it was too fresh for that.

          1. Altair*

            They’re two sides of the same coin, I think. I have also been where you were. *offers hugs*

      1. Anonymosity*

        Or who wants / wanted them but couldn’t find a partner and now it’s too late. :(

    2. leapingLemur*

      I’ve been wondering if the other co-workers agree with Molly just to get her to stop talking about it. Like Taco Belle says, the other co-workers really might not care about this.

  9. Ms.Vader*

    Op #4

    I am wondering if, in the case a plexiglass shield isn’t available or other measures aren’t possible, can you wear a mask for a certain time? Like do you find you can wear a mask for say, an hour or two hours and after that it becomes unbearable? Wondering if maybe a flexible work schedule might be a consideration. You’ll come in mornings and work the afternoon at home kind of thing. Alternatively- have you considered a face shield? Apparently they are very effective and it shouldn’t impact your breathing as much as a mask does. I have asthma too – it is hard with masks for long periods.

      1. EPLawyer*

        I’m wondering if this might be the solution for court. Sure it’s open, but we are finding that wearing a mask during court proceedings makes being heard difficult. It’s hard to judge demeanor if half the face is covered, etc. So the solution has been to remove masks. So even an open face shield would be better than that.

        1. Heather*

          The NY court system is talking about having a witness wear a face shield while everyone else in the courtroom continues to wear a mask. If everyone had a face shield, one sneeze or cough could lead to virus spread.

    1. Jay*

      I was just going to recommend Face Shields myself! They are more effective than the cloth masks for Covid purposes and so much more comfortable to wear and easier to breath with. I used one for the first half of the quarentien, but had to stop because, while I know they both work and count as a face mask for purposes of going about in public, a lot of people don’t, and I got real tired, real fast, of having to defend my PPE decisions. So, be aware that if you do go the Full Face Shield rout, you might find it handy to have a Dr.s note on hand explaining that your Shiel counts. I was actually refused entry into a couple of stores in my area early on out of fear that I did not have adequate PPE.
      Hope this helps.

      1. EM*

        Face shields are typically worn in a medical setting with a mask and are intended to protect against splashes, sprays, and spatter of body fluids – not viruses. They’re great as an alternative to goggles, and *may* help with viruses but there is not really enough research to support this. CDC are not recommending them. There is no evidence to say that they are better mask, and some studies to say they are worse.

        1. Ms.Vader*

          It’s a viable alternative for some users that cannot wear face masks and as well since most people don’t have access to the N95 masks, it’s better than cloth that provide no filtering. If there is a choice than obviously the person would wear a mask but if They cannot wear a mask, this is better than wearing nothing. Also I have read that article and the actual study it is reviewing and I don’t see where it says it’s worse.

    2. MK*

      Face shields are a option when surgical or cloth masks can’t be worn, but no responsible authority I know claims they are “better” than the other masks. They offer less protection because they are “open”, but they are better than nothing.

      1. MayLou*

        I don’t know but my guess would be that a shield might be more effective at stopping you from getting the virus than from spreading it, and a mask the opposite?

        1. Annony*

          Nope. The shield is not filtering the air you breath in or out. It can protect you from droplets (and from spreading droplets) but it will provide no protection from aerosolized virus. It is definitely not as good as an N95 mask but I don’t know that we have data on how it compares to cloth masks. To be honest, in this case the main benefit of a face shield is to signal “I’m not ignoring the fact that we are in a pandemic but I really can’t wear a mask.”

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            But we aren’t talking about N95 masks for just everybody. Face shields are in the same protection band as cloth masks.

        2. JQWADDLE*

          I read shields are pretty effective at protecting the shield wearer, but it is unknown whether others are protected. There aren’t a lot published studies on shields, but the one I looked at tested shield protection 18 inches away from a sneeze. In that scenario, the shield was 96% effective at blocking droplets.

          There are attributes to the shield that matter. There needs to be something at the top that connects the shield to the forehead to act as a physical barrier so sneeze droplets that go up don’t follow gravity into the shield wearers breathing space. It is recommended the shield wraps around the person’s face to their ears. It also needs to cover the mouth, although, I couldn’t find recommendations for how far it should extend below the mouth.

      2. Mongrel*

        I think a problem is that for the general public the mask requirements are for entirely different purposes.
        In a medical setting, with N95 masks and correct PPE training they are to stop transmission & infection of, well, as much as possible.

        Most members of the public don’t use N95 masks and the masks they do wear are often used incorrectly, including touching the mask. Wearing a cloth mask can reduce how far the aerosolized particles spread, reducing the risk area from a cone attack to a small sphere and a deep enough face shield is probably as good at that purpose.

    3. Quinalla*

      Also, maybe work can isolate/distance you enough if you can wear a mask for brief periods that you only wear it when walking in to your desk/office and when going to the bathroom/kitchen/printer and leaving. I’m still WFH full time, but the folks that are slowly going back to our office are masks off at their desk, on whenever they get up. If even that is too much (and it very well may be!) then yeah I think a shield is likely your next best option.

    4. PAG*

      I actually can’t even go into the grocery store wearing a mask to run an errand and not have to use an inhaler. A face shield is a good idea and I will have to see if they would find that acceptable. Thank you for the feedback!

  10. Diahann Carroll*

    Re: OP # 1

    Molly sounds like she doth protest too much. I’m on the fence about having kids myself (leaning heavily towards “hell no”), but you would never hear me ranting about how much I don’t want or like kids and how I can’t fathom why others would want them. It’s just weird. Generally speaking, if something isn’t to your taste, most normal people say so once and don’t really bring it up again, especially if no one asks.

    I could be reaching, but I suspect Molly may have some issues – whether it be with fertility or just not being lucky in love – that is causing her to be so vocally anti-kid. It’s annoying, I’m sure, listening to her rant, but I actually feel sorry for her.

    1. Blaise*

      In my experience, women become like this when they have experienced a lot of borderline verbal abuse regarding their decision not to have kids. I haven’t experienced a ton of this myself (although I’ve certainly had a few comments thrown my way too), but women with children can be really vicious to women who deliberately don’t want children, like it’s an attack on them personally. I’ve seen tons of comments like this on social media:
      “If you don’t have children, you can never really know what love is.”
      “Your life can never be whole or completely fulfilled without having children.”
      “If you don’t have children, your only option in old age is to die alone in a nursing home.”
      “If you don’t have children soon, you’ll spend the rest of your life regretting it.”

      Women who choose to have children are rarely harassed like this (unless they’re young, in which case they’re going through basically the exact opposite of this). Our society still values women first and foremost as host bodies for fetuses, and many women have bought into that themselves. Just like Molly needs to leave people with kids alone, the Karens of the world need to lay off the childless as well.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Eh. I’ve gotten that “borderline abuse” for almost a decade, and I still don’t act like Molly. If she was saying this stuff as a response to a coworker’s prying or patronizing comments about being unfulfilled until you pop out a kid, then I could see this reasoning. But from the letter, she keeps bringing this stuff up unprovoked and harping on it until she gets others to agree with her. That’s a level of overcompensation that usually stems from some kind of internal conflict or trauma. If you are secure in your decision to not have children, other people’s annoying ways and comments would just roll off your back.

        1. Blaise*

          I don’t either, but I sure can see why other people who are less secure and confident would feel the need to “be proactive” and feel like they’re beating their haters to it.

          I for one am secure and confident, and it sounds like you are too. Many people just aren’t, though.

          Also, this is directed to the other reply and not to you, but the pop culture use of “Karen” isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. It’ll die out eventually, but it’s going to run its course like everything else does first. No use fighting it!

        2. EPLawyer*

          But again she is bringing it up unprovoked. That is a conscious decision. She CAN decide not to go off at every. single. get together. She is choosing not too. Whether its kids, the office dress code or whatever, that gets old really fast. It needs to stop. These are work togethers, no matter how casual they might be. She needs to be a professional and not publicly rant about anything at them.

      2. Taniwha Girl*

        I don’t think Molly’s insecurity about her own life choices gives her standing to speak so viciously about other humans and their choices. That’s between Molly and her therapist and has nothing to do with anyone else’s decisions.

        What the Mollys of the world don’t understand is that attacking children, and people’s choices to have children or not, is fundamentally unfeminist. Attacking parents and making environments unfriendly to children and parents has disparate impact against women. And while the aggressively childfree think they are on the opposite side of the spectrum from people like you quoted, actually they are all part of a system that criticizes women for never being enough, for not doing things the “right” way, and keeps them disenfranchised.
        “You’ll never know love unless you have children.”
        “You’re setting yourself back by taking parental leave.”
        “Why are you letting strangers care for your child? Don’t you love them?”
        “Why doesn’t your husband care for the kids? Aren’t you a feminist?”
        “You need to be at your desk 9-5, pandemic or no pandemic. You can homeschool your kids after work.”
        “I can hear and/or see your children while they are in public. Why can’t you parent your kids?”

        There is no way to win.
        We cannot fully achieve feminism unless we support parents.

        1. Academic Addie*

          Very well said. I graduated from a top graduate program in my field. I heard, on multiple occasions, that women shouldn’t be hired because they’ll get pregnant, go on leave, and be less productive. Whether or not Molly wants to have children, there are going to be people that see her as suspect because she is a woman, and that perception is linked to her ability to bear children. When we other parents, the after effects disproportionately fall on women.

        2. Read the room*


          I’ve stopped reading this site regularly because of the blatant anti-parent attitude in most comment threads involving working parents, so it is very nice to see this articulated so clearly. Thank you.

      3. Ellie*

        Funny… I used to get comments like this all the time, just for delaying having kids (I still wanted them! Like many women, I was able to accomplish the miracle of having two healthy kids post-35). It was mostly men that said it actually. I’m not sure the ‘Karen’ meme is applicable here.

        Neither extreme is any good, why can’t we all just respect each other’s choices?

        1. Jenny*

          My experience was different. No one ever made comments about me delaying kids (I was married for a decade before I had my son so a lot of people assumed we weren’t having kids) and I was never ever pressured to have kids. I also never said I wanted kids either because I was somewhat undecided. Someone did praise me for choosing not to have kids.

          I do live in a big urban area, it’s possible attitudes are different there. But I also work in a super parent friendly office. One year (before I had a kid) literally a quarter of my 30ish person team had kids (both dads and moms). But there was no pressure to have a kid yourself.

          1. Anaya*

            I hope you realise how lucky you are!

            I’ve had twenty odd years of professional experience of being denigrated in the workplace for failing to spawn, so I’m over it. It’s dropping off now I’m mid-40s, but it still happens despite my permanently childfree and single state.

            People are obsessed with women’s reproductive capabilities.

            1. Vina*

              I’m old enough that a natural pregnancy, while possible, is highly unlikely to occur.

              I still get “you still have time” all the time. Particularly from female relatives.

              I’ve lived all over the US. Urban and rural. Coastal and inland. Both coasts upo and down. I’ve gotten it everywhere.

              If you are one of the lucky women who haven’t experienced that, please don’t assume your experience is universal. This is a well-documented phenomena in American culture.

              Let’s not derail on assumptions drawn from a highly atypical experience.

              Also, whether or not this occurs doesn’t excuse the co-worker ranting at people who aren’t doing it to her. It would be one thing if this was provoked by the behavior of another co-worker. It’s clearly not.

              One doesn’t get to take their frustrations regarding a pervasive cultural problem out on their coworkers like they are emotional punishing bags. They aren’t objects. They are people. So deserve respect and dignity. Not rants.

              1. Val Z*

                “assumptions drawn from a highly atypical experience”

                I assume you’re saying that not being harassed for not having children is highly atypical. I don’t think that it is. Myself and most of my friends are in our 40s and don’t have kids and none of us have experienced the kind of harassment that I read about on the internet. The worst we’ve received is some out of touch comments from some older relatives. I’m not saying that it doesn’t happen, just that not experiencing that is not “highly atypical”

                1. Vina*

                  Fair enough. I’m just so exhausted because every time women, BIPOC, or LGTBQ+ people talk about a cultural aggression or micro aggression that occurs someone always invariably says “I’ve never had that happen” as if it proves it doesn’t occur. There’s way too many people who try and deny cultural problems b/c they have been privileged enough not too have direct experience.

                  It even occurs on this board and most of the posters here are smart enough and kind enough to know better.

                  I’ll revise “highly atypical” to not typical or not universal.

                2. Important Moi*

                  “I’ve never had that happen to me” as proof something didn’t occur or you’re a misinterpreting a situation is a common tactic used to shut down discussion. I’m sure it has a specific name. I just don’t know it.

                  I just want to co-sign. Not that Vina needs it.

                3. Val Z*

                  ffs, I didn’t say that it never happens just because it doesn’t happen to me. Vina’s assertion that its “highly atypical” for it not to happen is just as ridiculous as saying that it never happens.

                4. Vina*

                  In Val’s defense, she’s not the one who said it hadn’t happened to her (with the tacit implication it wasn’t a problem). She’s not the one who made a comment I had issue with.

                  I don’t think she and I are in disagreement about the fundamental issues.

                  I do take issue with the allegation of it being ridiculous. It was poor word choice and incorrect. Given, however, how often this tactic is used to shut down women and minorities, I don’t think my error was ridiculous nor on par with people who say it never happens. While both errors, I don’t think they are equivalent in motivation or impact.

                5. Hates sports*

                  “I assume you’re saying that not being harassed for not having children is highly atypical. I don’t think that it is”.

                  Whew, the quadruple negatives are giving me a headache. I assume you’re saying it’s never not been uncommon to not have this experience, no? I don’t not disagree.

              2. Observer*

                Also, whether or not this occurs doesn’t excuse the co-worker ranting at people who aren’t doing it to her. It would be one thing if this was provoked by the behavior of another co-worker. It’s clearly not.

                One doesn’t get to take their frustrations regarding a pervasive cultural problem out on their coworkers like they are emotional punishing bags. They aren’t objects. They are people. So deserve respect and dignity. Not rants.

                This is the key. The rest is simply excuse making for inexcusable behavior.

            2. Jenny*

              To be clear, I am in no way saying it doesn’t happen, just that in my field it was the reverse.

              I find the pressure in both directions to be horrible, and, as it is often directed at women, misogynistic.

      4. Emma*

        Yes, this is me- colleagues in multiple jobs have been so aggressive about me not wanting kids that I started to really get verbal about how much I didn’t want them, don’t like them and would never want them. That is how I truly feel but I never felt the need to say it out loud because it’s my business but it was the only way to shut them up. Now, I’ve never said “why would anyone have kids” (though I may secretly think that about certain individuals) because that’s too confrontational. Anyway, it got to the point where if I’m asked if I have kids I say “God no” or if I want kids I say “absolutely not” – the message seems to be being received and at this point I have no concern for offending people since people have no issue doing it to me.
        Talking about kids **constantly** at work can be just as problematic and toxic as the ranting about not wanting them I think.

        1. Vina*

          Yes, the constant kid talk in our culture is problematic and toxic.

          There is zero evidence that’s happening in this workplace.

        2. Susie Q*

          Where do you guys work? I have never once been asked at any place that I’ve worked about my plans to procreate. Honestly you must work in some pretty toxic environments.

          1. Mystery Bookworm*

            Agreed. And while I am prepared to believe that open pressure to have children is a real problem at some workplaces, I’m a little frustrated at the implication that it therefore must be a problem at *all* workplaces.

            There are plenty of places to work where discussion of family planning isn’t tolerated.

          2. Environmental Compliance*

            The only *workplace* that I’ve really gotten it was a very toxic workplace. I’ve vented about that basket of crazy here before. It was absolutely exhausting. Normal workplaces? Nah, people ask if I have any, I say no, but also I have furbabies, so you do have furbabies? and we all move on in life, as functional adults should.

            However, the number of *family* or random family friends that really feel focused on my uterus is absurd. Shout-out to my MIL for just not being able to drop the damn subject and making every single thing we ever talk about in some way connected back to having children, and forgetting every time that I still physically cannot have them.

          3. MCMonkeyBean*

            It’s nice that you haven’t encountered it, but that doesn’t change the fact that there is a pervasive societal problem with people being very inappropriate regarding whether and when women will have children. It’s far more common than just the most toxic work environments.

      5. Professional Straphanger*

        My very favorite comment that I got many years ago after saying I wasn’t having kids, snarled at me with a surprising amount of vitriol: “What makes you think you’re going to get away with that?”


    2. Mina, the Company Prom Queen*

      Yeah, it’s weird that Molly seems so hung up on that. While not wanting kids is totally okay, wanting/having them is also a very normal thing that people do. People who are smug about it either way are obnoxious.

      I wonder if it might shut Molly down if you asked her questions the next time she brings it up. Not in a confrontational way, but in a genuinely interested in hearing her point of view sort of way. You might ask “what reasons do you have for not wanting kids?” Or “what is it that you don’t you like about kids?” And then ask additional questions like that based on her answers. It might make her not want to rant about it anymore if she knows she’ll be questioned.

      1. Ginger ale for all*

        I would be tempted to ask why she brings it up at every single work event where the department’s mix. Just who is it at these things that is trying to impregnate her?

        1. Boomerang Girl*

          LOL. Nice! If you are this witty on all topics, I may have to hire you to come to my company parties!

      2. PollyQ*

        I suspect she’s already gone on at great length as to why she doesn’t want kids, and I think the last thing OP wants to do is encourage her to go on further.

        1. Thornfir*


          I admit, I’d be sorely tempted to affect a surprised face and say, “Oh gosh, I didn’t realize it was cool here to hate on people for physical traits beyond their control! Let me tell you how I feel about redheads.”

          (I would not do this, obviously, I’d just think it. Also, I am a redhead.)

        2. Taniwha Girl*

          Agreed. I would only do it in that joking sense where people are indicating they’ve heard your opinion enough. “Tell us how you really feel, Molly!” “Newsflash, Molly doesn’t want kids! You heard it here first!”
          But I don’t think she’d get the subtlety.

        3. Jenny*

          I agree. Molly’s repeated rants would be inappropriate if, for instance, she was repeatedly renting about her hatred of coffee.

        4. Diahann Carroll*

          This. It really doesn’t matter what Molly’s reason is – she just needs to stop. It’s more than likely making not just OP uncomfortable, but other people as well who may be afraid to speak up, and that’s not okay.

      3. Tyche*

        Urgh, no, no, no. Molly is obnoxious and she has to stop, but to ask a woman why she doesn’t want children while she has repeatedly said she doesn’t want them is a jerk move. As a childfree woman, I’m often the subject on these kind of inquiries, usually they are made to “understand” my choice (insert vicious eyeroll here) with the not so subtle meaning to make me “reflect” on my choice and make me see the light. So, no, please no.

        1. Scarlet2*

          This. Molly is obnoxious, but it doesn’t mean asking her prying questions is fine. The solution here is to change the subject, not pile on more obnoxiousness and boundary crossing. I think I would try to redirect the conversation to work issues or at least something more innocuous. If she keeps ranting about it regardless, I might tell her something like “isn’t it possible to talk about something else? It’s becoming tedious”, if LW feels they have the standing to do so.
          But I’m also wondering if LW really HAS to spend that much time around Molly. They seem to meet at social events, why can’t they just go off and talk to someone else when the ranting starts?

          1. Seriously?*

            Last line yes, it’s a work event, so why can’t Letter Writer just go to another group of coworkers and chat to them?

            I doubt Molly is forcing her to join the conversation and by the sounds of it her coworkers are quite friendly with her and agree and also want to vent. As long as they’re off in a corner somewhere and not taking up all the oxygen and drawing attention I don’t see the problem.

            If the shoe was on the other foot and you replaced it with “do want kids” etc I doubt anyone would bat an eye.

            1. Susie Q*

              This is a really unfair statement to OP. Seems like she is trapped in these conversations in a variety of different situations. She can’t constantly avoid talking to her coworkers and it sounds like this is all Molly talks about.

              Anyone who talks about the same thing constantly is boring. Someone who talks so hatefully constantly is disgusting.

              1. Must be nice*

                Exactly, who says she is “trapped”? LW doesn’t.
                Jeez, just excuse yourself form the convo and go talk to someone else. It’s not like this is a group huddle that she must participate in. It’s a social work event and these things do not happen every week, probably not even on a monthly basis so maybe this is the one outlet Molly has to talk to her work friends and vent about something that the rest of LifeScript society is unaffected by.

            2. Altair*

              If the shoe was on the other foot and you replaced it with “do want kids” etc I doubt anyone would bat an eye.

              I have had my issues with the commentariat here but I really doubt the majority of people here woudl agree with someone who constantly went on and on about how all women should have children or we’re failures and a person can’t know love until they have children, etc. The issue is not “should people have children or not” but “should people rant endlessly about other people’s choices or not”.

            3. Emilia Bedelia*

              But this isn’t just a matter of “Molly is annoying to talk to at the annual Christmas lunch”. Imagine a parent who needed to take an afternoon off to take their kid to the doctor. Would they feel like they could ask someone to help cover? Or, if someone wanted to get pregnant – would they feel like their coworkers would cover their maternity leave? Even if OP were to take the maternity leave, would their boss still respect them and give them the same opportunities now that they’re a parent?

              It’s really not just about these rants on their own, it’s about the environment that it creates and the culture that it seems to propagate. “We are a family friendly company!” just doesn’t mesh with “… but all your coworkers will talk about how much they hate families!”

              1. Scarlet*

                This is a really good point about coverage and things like that. I hadn’t considered it but you’re right it would make someone with kids or someone who is planning on having children really uncomfortable asking any kind of accommodation from their coworkers.

          2. Seeking Second Childhood*

            But it’s just an interdepartment event. Many departments are small enough that putting 2 together is still small enough to fit in one room. No avoiding someone with good vocal projection. And people on a rant usually get loud & strident anyway,
            So it’s a safe bet that Molly could be hard to avoid by moving away.
            I also don’t like it that OP must leave, especially when they think that the others are also offended or at least bored with Molly’s commentary.
            I unfortunately have nothing to add to Alison’s suggestions that wouldn’t be too snarky for work.

            1. leapingLemur*

              I wonder if some of the social event is sitting eating together. In that case, getting up and leaving could seem rude.

        2. Old and Don't Care*

          Eh, if someone is ranting and raving about something I don’t think a “why do you feel this way?” is out of bounds.

          But I wouldn’t go that way. Listening to people rant and rave about anything is draining; I’d use a variation of Alison’s third response, not even focusing on the topic, just the repetitiveness and negativity.

          1. I can only speak Japanese*

            Except that we as a society know why women are annoyed with the expectation that they’ll have kids, and can reasonably deduce that Molly has probably been hit with those questions before. It’s like asking a tall person, “why do you hate being asked about basketball?”

            I would just tell her I get it, this pressure sucks, but could we maybe talk about something, anything, else for a change?

            1. Blaise*

              Yes, this!! People keep saying it doesn’t matter why she’s acting like this; it just needs to stop. I disagree.

              I’m a teacher. When there are repetitive behavior issues, only a new teacher would just make the kid stop what they’re doing (by enacting some sort of consequence, etc.). Anyone who knows anything about classroom management knows that the important thing is to get to the root of the issue. When you can figure out WHY they’re acting this way, you can address the actual issue. When you don’t do this, you’re only making them stop to make yourself feel better.

              I strongly believe this is true with adults as well. Sure, you can just tell Molly to stop, but all that does is make yourself more comfortable not having to hear her, while she is presumably still very hurt. Acknowledging the pressure that society puts on her would likely do wonders at getting her to stop!

              1. Mystery Bookworm*

                We are not teaching our coworkers, and we do not need to understand their motivations for anything before setting reasonable boundaries.

                It’s can sometimes be a kindness, but it is not a necessity. (And, frankly, digging down on that can also be profoundly unkind, depending on circumstances.)

                Repeated rants are inappopriate in the workplace, OP is not Molly’s teacher, and whatsmore, it would be condensding if OP approached her colleagues with that mindset.

              2. Observer*

                The OP is not Molly’s teacher or even manager. It’s not on Molly to take on the emotional labor of making someone who is being obnoxious comfortable so that they can learn to deal. It’s not their job to teach Molly how to deal with her issues or how to handle non-work related problems in the workplace. This a totally out of line and bigoted response, *IF* that’s really what is happening. (And let’s be clear that is IS totally speculation.)

                In addition, as a practical matter, teachers often have the ability to deal with the underlying issue or at least start that process moving. The OP does NOT have any ability. The only thing the OP could even attempt to address would be inappropriate comments in the workplace and that’s not going on in this case.

                1. Blaise*

                  I’m not sure my comment came across clearly, based on this response.

                  Obviously OP is not Molly’s teacher. I was just explaining why I believe what I do (again, I think the “why” is almost always relevant and important).

                  I never said that OP needs to teach Molly anything. I was just saying that knowing why she is acting this way, and acknowledging that, is likely going to get her to stop much more easily than not acknowledging it. You don’t have to be someone’s teacher to acknowledge that someone might be hurting. A little empathy would likely go a long way here to get her to stop. Can you get her to stop without that? Sure. I just think it will go down easier with a simple acknowledgment. “I can only speak Japanese”‘s script was spot on.

              3. Paulina*

                IME engaging with a ranter on the subject of their rant does not tend to get it to stop. I am cast as either audience/participant or target. A little acknowledgement can serve as a way into the conversation to change the subject, but I wouldn’t try anything of substance.

                Since Molly has ranted this way before, she’s been heard. She may indeed be subject to pressure in the opposite direction elsewhere, and enjoying the opportunity to rant among what she sees are like minds, but getting into that with her seems both patronizing and counterproductive.

              4. biobotb*

                But it’s not the LW’s job to make sure that Molly doesn’t feel hurt by society’s expectations. Why would you think it’s her responsibility to soothe Molly’s emotions, unless you think the LW should treat her colleague like a student? That would be a really strange dynamic between peers.

            2. Old and Don't Care*

              I disagree with your first paragraph. People are not here to be Yorick’s skulls in someone’s personal drama. If “you” are speaking to someone it is reasonable to expect that someone may respond with a question, or even disagree. Similar to the new and improved weekend thread; not a place for rants, but for discussion.

              I agree with your last sentence and would handle Molly similarly myself.

        3. Booklover13*

          I’m usually actively curious about why people feel the way they do about stuff like this. Do you think there is a way to ask in a organic discussion that would convey I don’t actually want to change your mind?

          1. Scarlet2*

            Not unless you have a really close relationship with someone, no. It’s an intensely personal subject and asking about it potentially crosses a lot of lines. Even if someone is merely “curious”, there are very few people to whom I’d feel like explaining my reproductive choices.

    3. Mookie*

      Diagnosing projection/insecurity/thwarted maternal instincts seems unnecessary here and rather gendered, especially when the LW already seems to have provided what she thinks is the reason for Molly—and her colleagues on both teams, let’s not forget—enjoying these extended riffs: their age.

      1. Mookie*

        Also, unlucky in love? Gurl what?

        Shocking as it sounds, couples and triples and the rest can exist without ever sexually reproducing. Single people have children all the damn time, too. This is pretty antiquated.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          Yes, I’m aware, but there are also people out there that want to have children within the confines of a partnership, but haven’t met anyone yet and, therefore, can’t do that. I’ve met these women and listened to their stories, and as antiquated as you may feel this desire is, it’s there and it does make some of them really upset.

          To bring this back to the letter writer and not further derail, my comment was to say that OP really doesn’t know what the true reason is behind Molly’s rants, so a compassionate reading of it may be that she has some issues of her own she’s sorting through internally that make her overcompensate with her anti-kid spiels. I still think the OP has standing to ask the manager to shut this kind of stuff down when it happens, though.

          1. Scarlet2*

            I don’t think Mookie is saying those situations don’t exist, but there *is* a tendency to pathologize women who don’t want to have children. I understand you’re talking from a place of compassion, but the idea that this person must have some kind of trauma based on the denial of her motherly instinct really rubs me the wrong way, to be honest.
            (And it doesn’t really matter why Molly does what she does, she just needs to tone it down)

            1. Persephone Underground*

              Yeah, I would say the most likely “trauma” is just being constantly asked why she doesn’t have kids or pressured by family to produce grandchildren, so she is taking an opportunity to vent to a sympathetic audience without thinking about the real content and impact of her words on people in other situations.

              It may help to approach it from that mindset of basically assuming thoughtlessness, not malice, in order to better pick words to defuse the charged conversation topic and move on.

              1. Diahann Carroll*

                It may help to approach it from that mindset of basically assuming thoughtlessness, not malice, in order to better pick words to defuse the charged conversation topic and move on.

                Good lord, this is all I was trying to get across.

            2. Diahann Carroll*

              My comment was made because I have friends that are Molly. And I’m not at all saying this is exactly Molly’s problem, but the majority of the admittedly small number of people I know who rant like this about not wanting kids are those who wanted them, but couldn’t have them. Is that true for everyone? No – and I didn’t say it was. My intention of bringing that up as a possible explanation for OP is that if she looks at Molly through that lens as opposed to Molly is just an ogre with an awful personality, it may make working with her less infuriating. If Molly wasn’t a coworker, I would be less willing to give her grace on this.

            3. PollyQ*

              Her lack of motherly instinct is not any indicator of trauma, but her need to continually rant about not wanting children may be. Regardless, I don’t think it’s OP’s place to dig into it.

    4. Not Me*

      This is a gross assumption and this kind of thing needs to stop. You are reaching, and most women who don’t want children are really tired of being told bs like this.

      I thought Alison asked people not to speculate on Molly’s reasoning and those comments would be removed?

  11. Heidi*

    I wonder what would happen if LW1 said, “I feel like we haven’t ever talked about anything else, and I don’t want this to be the only thing I know about you. What do you like to do with all your child-free time?”

    1. Taniwha Girl*

      I like this, it highlights how focused she is getting on this. Molly is so happy to be childfree that she spends all her time thinking about children! What a great script.

      1. Mami21*

        Here’s my suggestion: Even a flippant ‘are we talking about kids again? we’ve had this conversation before. How about that juicy work issue / sports team / local event…’ etc etc.

        Like pull focus but make out it’s because you’re just bored of re-hashing that same old topic. If everyone’s just joining in with Molly’s topic to be relevant in the conversation, they’ll likely pick up your cue.

        1. Thornfir*

          I kind of love this, because in my experience people who rant at length like this are not deterred much by being told they’re being offensive or annoying–reactions feed on reactions, after all–but an implied “ugh, you’re boring me, so let’s talk about [anything else]” sets them back a bit because plenty of people are okay being annoying, but almost nobody is okay being dull.

          1. SarahKay*

            This is an excellent point. I have to admit that depending on how I feel about the other person/people, and the topic of discussion, knowing I’m being annoying won’t necessarily stop me. Thinking I’m boring people would do it every time.

        2. hbc*

          This is exactly what I would do, and what I *have* done when people have that one ranty topic they keep coming back to. “How about we assume that you still don’t want kids and I still think the new Star Trek movies are an abomination, and we’ll only bring it up if there’s new information?” If she still repeats her rants, you can escalate quite a bit as long as you don’t use a hostile tone. “Thanks for the child-free check-in, Molly, I was on tenterhooks here wondering if you’d done a complete 180 since the last meeting.” “It would be a real time-saver if you just made up pamphlets or something.”

    2. MsSolo*

      Yes, this is my instinct. “I feel like we’ve had this conversation before” or “I think we mined this topic pretty thoroughly at our last interdepartment meeting” and beandip to another topic, whether that’s a recent movie or sports event or whether the catering is as good as last time. Politely clue her in to the fact she’s repeating herself and move the conversation along.

      1. Lora*

        Yuuuup PreviousBoss used to do this to me even when we were talking about work things: “Yes. You said. Three times now. We all heard, you don’t think this system is going to work and it’s a waste of money. Got it. Now, about the Other Project, I need you to…”

    3. Sara without an H*

      Molly is a bore. It may be impossible to get bores to let go of their pet obsessions, but it may be possible to reroute them to another topic. In OP#1’s position, I think I’d do my imitation of a gray rock and change the subject:

      Molly: “I hate kids!”
      OP#1: “So what do you think of work issue/new software/local scandal/etc.?”
      Return to step one and repeat as necessary.

      1. BelleMorte*

        I totally agree with this strategy for anything. Change the subject to ANYTHING else, repeat as needed.

      2. Annony*

        It may help to give an acknowledgement first since some people will feel offended at being ignored and try to go back to the thing you obviously didn’t hear.

        Molly: “I hate kids!”
        OP#1: “I know. So what do you think (insert new topic)?”

    4. Sam.*

      Yeah, I would favor this approach. Talking about the same thing endlessly gets really old, regardless of the topic, so I would think about this similarly, at least to start.

      Depending on the person and your relationship with them, your suggested reply could be a really good one. I’ve also had coworkers who would’ve responded well to a wry, “You know, I’m pretty sure we’ve had this exact conversation before, so why don’t we move on to something new? Do you have plans for the weekend?” or even a somewhat joking, “I think we’re all clear on your feelings on this topic,” before changing the subject or asking about something else.

      I’d still loop in the boss, and I’d also be prepared to say something more definitive about being tired of the kid bashing, if needed, but initially I wouldn’t make it about kids, since I’m sure this person would just read it as defensiveness. And I wouldn’t be surprised if other people (including the ones that eventually chime in) are tired of her constantly harping on this, too, and would help in the effort to change the subject.

    5. Paulina*

      I really like this script, Heidi. It changes the subject but in a very friendly way. Pushing back (even by suggesting it’s boring) could give Molly a bad impression of the OP that isn’t needed.

  12. Aza*

    For the mask commenter, one thing to consider is a face shield. I’m considering doing this because I’m ok with a mask while sitting, but I find with walking I have difficulty breathing sometimes, and want to pull the mask down, which kind of defeats the point. I’ve heard that face shields are typically more comfortable (definitely easier to breathe), though I find the look a little intense. Anyone else considering this?

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      We’ve got face shields for a few people. Not due to breathing issues but other reasons masks impede their safety. Its going to depend on how you like head gear. It’s still sweaty and heavy over time.

  13. Thankful for AAM*

    #4, our employer gave us face shields.
    That might be a compromise? I am trying to keep up with the research on masks and it seems that the face sheilds, plus masks, work well. It seems like protecting the eyes plays a role and the face sheilds help with that.

    1. Jay*

      The point of the masks is not to protect you (unless you have the really high end ones that are in crazy short supply). They are intended to protect other people from you. To stop the “spray” you produce whenever you talk and breath out. That’s why you can reuse some types of them (the cloth ones,bandanas, etc.). The full face shields work at least as well as cloth masks for this purpose.

      1. MK*

        They are open at the bottom and sides, so, no, they don’t work “at least as well as cloth masks”. The spray isn’t a beam of light that you can stop by putting something in front of it; a face shield won’t stop particles from your mouth getting into surfaces or to people who have to sit close to you, especially sideways (I sit in a panel with four other people, face shields are useless in that situation). But they are better than nothing and since other masks aren’t an option for the OP, she should ask her doctor.

        1. triplehiccup*

          There’s one study, linked above, indicating that they may give similar protection as long as they cover the ears, extend below the chin, and have no gap at the forehead.

          1. MK*

            I haven’t seen any masks that provide that much coverage, even the one shown in the photo of that link doesn’t cover the ears and barely the chin.

            1. Thankful for AAM*

              My face shield does cover my ears, extends below my chin, and covers my ears.

              I will try to link to some of the studies I am reading that cloth masks do indeed provide some protection to the wearer, not just to others, and that face shields also protect the wearer despite being open at the bottom and sides because droplets don’t all flow up.

        2. Annony*

          Considering how often people don’t wear masks correctly (such as leaving out the nose), a face shield may work better. It would be very hard to leave the nose and mouth exposed while wearing the shield. I do agree that if used as intended, masks are almost certainly better.

  14. AS87*

    Molly appears to be taking this to an extreme but I have encountered a situation where I can be less than pleasant towards some employees with kids and that is when they use their kids to get their way with certain work assignments, functions, etc… and the reason is usually something very generic/something that several other employees with kids have no problem with (I believe this was mentioned in a past AAM post). While it hasn’t happened all the time it has happened enough that I can become a little bitter when I hear them talking about their kids or how they feel so wronged over normal work functions. I think its also disrespectful to employees with kids who have legitimate reasons they may need to alter their work assignments. Maybe, just maybe Molly’s attitude was shaped by something similar?

      1. AS87*

        Likely not since Molly seems to be taking it too far but it might help provide an insight into why she and others feel that way and who knows could perhaps expose another issue within the company that needs to be addressed.

        1. Thornfir*

          But this is a company in which nobody has taken maternity leave, she feels comfortable repeatedly expressing it in an intense way at work events, people agree with her at those events and apparently don’t actually disagree with her verbally, and they didn’t even have a maternity leave policy for a while (despite being big enough to have two teams that don’t interact together much). “Maybe there’s a larger issue with a hitherto-unknown pro-child agenda” feels like advice column fanfic. And also, kind of hard on the LW, because it’s basically saying “never mind your reasonable discomfort over a pretty vitriolic reaction, think about what she might be going through.”

          I know Captain Awkward instituted a rule against going “but what if they’re behaving badly because $REASON” because it implies that the person with the complaint is insensitive and should second-guess themselves, and I’m kind of feeling that here. Not wanting to hear venting about an entirely ordinary life choice at every single event is very, very reasonable, and I don’t think there’s any particular need for LW to check herself on this issue.

          1. AS87*

            Molly is out of line. My thought is that if this is a reasonable company, they will tell Molly to cut it out but then see if maybe something triggered her behavior and then could take out possibly multiple problems at once. I agree with LW that that kind of behavior is unpleasant to be around.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      But it doesn’t really matter if something like that shaped her behavior. What she’s doing is disruptive and spewing hostility into a shared workspace. (Also, I doubt that you are going on regular hostile rants to your coworkers about people with kids! But if you are, you should stop.)

      I know this topic touches a nerve for a lot of people, but people’s real frustrations with fellow humans (and with social pressure around having kids) doesn’t excuse away what Molly is doing.

      1. AS87*

        Oh no, I don’t openly slam coworkers with kids at all and I agree that Molly is out of line. To be more clear the group of employees I’m referring to are more of a vocal minority. The past post of yours I thought of was parents in my office are sticking non parents with all the holiday coverage.

      2. Jenny*

        I’ll also point out: bad parental coverage is a management problem, not a coworker problem. I’ve been the supervisor who coordinates leave and it’s literally part of my jib to make sure the burden doesn’t fall disproportionately.

        1. Marie*

          Thank you. I’m a parent. In my job that means I can’t work weekends and need to leave on time. I refuse to parent with my phone in hand, so I’m not going to respond to slack messages at 6pm when I’m with my child. 40 hrs/week is not enough to get promoted in my company but if its not enough to stayed employed I will go somewhere else.

          The trend towards 24/7 availability expectations is especially harmful to parents of young children. Corporate greed is driving these changes, not parenthood.

      3. Traffic_Spiral*

        Agreed. If someone is constantly ranting at me about something I can’t fix, I don’t care whether the grievance is reasonable. *I* can’t help you with it, so you get a small amount of sympathetic listening if I really like you, and then I’m telling you I’m done. If you’re just a coworker ranting about a pet hate, you get about 10 seconds before I’m sick of it – we ain’t friends and you don’t get that much emotional labor from me.

    2. Taniwha Girl*

      Even in your own example, there are parents who don’t use their kids as an excuse. So why would the lesson you learn from that situation be “people with kids always X”?

      I hope you don’t act unpleasantly to people because they have kids and need accommodations or plans changed. Lots of people have all kinds of needs and family commitments, that’s no reason to be mean to them.

      1. AS87*

        To be more clear the group of employees I’m referring to are more of a vocal minority. There will always of course be legitimate reasons why people with kids will need accommodations and a responsible company should be there for them, its just that there are unfortunately a few who will try to see how much they can get away with.

        1. Taniwha Girl*

          So why blame this on the fact that they have kids, if you yourself know this isn’t the reason why they’re being irresponsible?
          This is what it looks like:
          Irresponsible Parent A: I need to leave early tomorrow right before the important deadline, because I need to tie my kid’s shoes.
          Responsible Parent B: I need to leave early on Friday to take my kid to the doctor.
          AS87: Ugh parents are annoying.

          And then you turn to Parent C and start assuming that they suck because they have kids, instead of concluding that Irresponsible Parent A is irresponsible.

          1. Monkey See*

            Because those parent use having kids as a weapon to beat the rest of us with. It’s their get out of jail free card.

            1. doreen*

              Yes- but I’ve worked with a lot of those people after their kids have grown up. And their behavior doesn’t change, just their excuses – they no longer have to leave right before the deadline to tie their kid’s shoelaces, they have to leave right before the deadline to tie their parent’s shoelaces or because of some sort of delivery/repair.

            2. BethDH*

              Yeah, but the problem is still that they’re jerks, not that they have kids. And if they’re successful in getting away with stuff because they have kids, that’s a management issue.

          2. Black Horse Dancing*

            Because using kids as an excuse is common and people get away with far more with it. “I need to leave earlier because JOhnny has a recital” is ok. “I need to leave early because I have a pet emergency” is not. So I state I have a family emergency and leave. Also, often people have had to rearrange their vacations/days off because parent has a child having an issue but the same won’t be done for them.

            1. James*

              It was tongue-in-cheek. What I meant was, in the past it was socially acceptable to hate various groups of people. Since it no longer is, people who feel the need to hate some Other (humans are hard-wired for tribal Ingroup/Outgroup thinking) are selecting what appear to be socially appropriate targets for their outbursts.

              To be clear, I find bigotry reprehensible regardless of the target. I certainly think that making sexism, racism, homophobia, and the like socially unacceptable is good, and I in no way endorse previous generations’ bad behavior. In fact, I was intending to point out that such behavior is antiquated and, as I said, asinine.

          3. Altair*

            *rolls eyes* OK, I’ll bite.

            It might interest you that people combine these — you would not believe how many people I have seen complain about how many children Black and Latina women have specifically, or about “all those people over there overpopulating the world” in reference to countries with majority POC populations. I myself have been told by more than one person that I shouldn’t have children/it’s a good thing I didn’t have children because I’m Black.

            One factor that these combinations illuminate is that the racism is the majority of what’s going on and the anti-procreation ranting is the top layer/excuse for the mass of racism below. Or in other words, no, I don’t think anti-procreation bias, nasty though it can get, is comparable to racism in scale.

            1. Altair*

              PS James, I think you should remember when you make such comparisons that you are talking to an audience which includes people who have experienced racism. You may not remember that we are literate and online, so I thought it was worth pointing out explicitly. You may or may not put much stock in our lived experience of racism as compared to your theorizing, but I would think that a scientist would be interested in as much data as possible.

    3. Cassie Nova*

      Everyone’s situation is different. What works for one parent and their situation regarding work may not work for another. Our job is to understand.

    4. Susie Q*

      “I have encountered a situation where I can be less than pleasant towards some employees with kids and that is when they use their kids to get their way with certain work assignments, functions, etc… and the reason is usually something very generic/something that several other employees with kids have no problem with (I believe this was mentioned in a past AAM post).”

      Apples and oranges. You don’t know what’s going on in one household versus another.

    5. Observer*

      And exactly how is this relevant here?

      According to the OP, no one has yet taken maternity leave, there are not many (if any) parents on the team, and these conversations are NOT coming up in the context of issues in the workplace.

      Also, there is a difference between being “less than pleasant” and being actively obnoxious. “People who do / don’t have kids are stupid, selfish and I can’t image why anyone in their right mind would do that” is obnoxious. Full stop. Repeatedly going on at length about is even worse.

      The fact that some parents use their kids are an excuse for anything is not relevant because it not only does it not excuse it, it doesn’t even explain it.

  15. anony*

    Re OP #4 — I’m curious to hear from folks who are working in person what is actually happening with coworkers who can’t wear masks. Are any being allowed to come to work without a mask?

    I have no idea what the numbers are, but asthma’s not uncommon and it’s far from the only medical exemption in the mix (PTSD/panic attacks, autism, and COPD are three others off the top of my head where masks may be contraindicated).

      1. Arielle*

        I’m genuinely curious about that since it seems like the accommodation would require OTHER people not to wear masks. How does this work in practice? I’ve seen a picture of masks with clear plastic panels in front to accommodate lip reading but I don’t know if those are readily available.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          If you’re with someone who needs to lipread, you don’t need to wear one. So if my spouse catches a bus with me, for example, I have to wear a mask but he doesn’t.

        2. Autistic Office Worker*

          In general, those masks are hard to come by. When I’m having trouble with someone else wearing a mask, either because I can’t read their lips or their emotions, I ask them politely to remove their mask, after I have moved 2 metres away.

      2. Curmudgeon in California*

        There is a really cool pattern for making masks with clear insert for lipreading.

    1. Whiskey on the rocks*

      In grocery we are required to wear masks. You wont wear one, you wont work. With a doctors note the company will get you a face shield instead, but you cant not wear anything. I get around it for my team just by making it easier for them to take quick breaks where they can be alone for a minute to sanitize their hands and remove the mask. This has worked pretty well, at least in one case as much on a psychological level. Knowing he *could* take it off stopped him from touching it so much and getting panicky.

  16. humpback whale*

    Perhaps Molly is simply overcorrecting from a previous workplace where everybody talked obsessively about their children all the time, so she is setting the default to her thing. It seems like in every office there is one default topic of conversation, and if you feel like you’re the only one who’s not interested in the default, it grates on you. Like how in some offices it’s dieting/food, or others politics, or others dogs. I don’t care about children and have worked in places where it felt like literally everyone was constantly talking about kids, and it made me want to scream every day.

    I don’t see why the topic of children should be handled any differently than any of those other topics. OP should change the subject to a different topic whenever possible, and perhaps after a particularly egregious rant she could address it directly with Molly and ask her to tone down the negativity. It’s a bit of a stretch for OP to be concerned about her company’s family leave policies before she’s even had one actual conversation with the instigator about it, since previous AAM advice has not recommended that people be equally concerned about fatphobic policies in a diet-talk office, etc.

    1. Natalie*

      Generic “diet talk” doesn’t sound like it’s at all comparable to what the coworker is doing here. And if someone routinely brought up “that she hates [fat], would never want [to be fat], and can’t imagine why anyone would ever [be fat]. It really is that vitriolic. She goes on about this long enough that inevitably the rest of my other coworkers in their 20s and 30s engage and say that they too would never [get fat]” it would be perfectly reasonable to become concerned about fatphobia.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Bingo. And some of the people who outwardly appear to agree with Molly likely really don’t, but are uncomfortable and are just going along to get along, so getting this shut down will help them to not have to be dragged into this very negative place themselves.

    2. Read the room*

      “I don’t see why the topic of children should be handled any differently” – um, probably because women are often mommy-tracked once they have kids, and our society isn’t set up to support working parents in a way that is wholly incomparable to, I don’t know, diet foods?


  17. CoffeeLover*

    #4 I saw a lady wearing one of those plastic visor-like masks/shields the other day, which doesn’t actually obstruct your mouth/nose. Would that be an option for you? I’m not sure how effective those are or where you can purchase them, but it could be worth looking into!

    I’ll try to find a picture and link it here.

    1. Beth Jacobs*

      Yes, those are very popular here for manual labourers. They were also worn by the sign language translators on the news when all the other newscasters had to wear masks. Studies show they’re not as good as masks, but better than nothing (see BOUROUIBA: The Fluid Dynamics of Disease Transmission Labaratory).

  18. uh*

    #2 Crappy that they contacted you on bereavement leave. I was contact on vacation with the same news once. I asked why and was told they needed to tell me before it was published so could get postings up for backfill of the other position and that waiting an extra week was a burden on them.

    1. BethDH*

      Yeah, I am imagining a situation where other people have been told (perhaps the person who did get the role, for example) and boss is worried that someone else will tell OP before they get a chance. That would explain the choice to use both emails — boss may have thought that OP was going to hear while out of office no matter what and wanted to beat the gossip.

  19. Thornfir*

    LW 2, my heart goes out to you. That sounds like an awful situation to have been put in. I agree with Alison–how your boss has acted in the past should probably be your compass in how to respond to this; if he’s generally been a good guy, consider it a matter of unfortunate forgetting/mistake, and if not… then you already have your answer. But I wanted to say that I sympathize with your loss and the extra stress your boss’s text caused you.

  20. PPE Enthusiast*


    I’ve been reading this site for years and never thought my first post would be on face masks but I am not weirdly a casual expert now.

    So during the pandemic I took on a support role at the local hospital helping decontaminate PPE (much safer than it sounds, I promise!). Not all face masks are the basic surgical mask (the ones that are blue on one side and white on the other) or a cloth one, which would impede breathing and risk an asthma attack. There’s a number of them with filters that might work here or a visor that a few people have already mentioned.

    1. There’s these disposable face masks with a filter to allow airflow:
    A lot of staff wear these as they are more breathable than the surgical mask option because of the little filter; more comfortable for long periods.

    2. This is the standard one that our front line workers were using, affectionately dubbed the darth vader:
    There are seperate filters that lock into the little holes on either side. They can be uncomfortable to wear over long periods of time particularly if they are fitted wrong (most people are a small)

    3. There are a number of visors ranging from flimsy plastic to more solid (examples of both below). It’s a tradeoff really. The flimsier ones are more comfortable but often don’t have quite the same coverage. The more substantial ones are heavier and uncomfortable for long term use.

    flimsy :

    It should be obvious that these are a lot pricier than the basic reusable masks, but perhaps your employer could spring for one, particularly if its a non disposable one?

    Op, if you are reading this, I can’t follow the discussion here though I will pop back in later if I can but I’ll email Alison now in case you or anyone else want info on masks and their proper cleaning/maintenance; she can pass on my details. I should say I am a casual expert not a medical professional and that for most people a basic cloth mask is the way to go.

    Stay safe!

    1. AnonoDoc*

      The masks with the vents are for use in industrial settings to protect the wearer. They do nothing to protect those around them, which is why they are not recommended for general use.

    2. Doc in a Box*

      The masks with filters are explicitly banned in my workplace (doctor’s office) — the filters work by expelling the moist air you’re breathing out, exactly what mask-wearing if intended to prevent. Anyone who shows up to our clinic — employee, patient, visitor/family — is given a surgical mask to wear instead of or over their filter mask.

    3. MaskedWoman*

      Most with valves and vents aren’t adequate for source control and inappropriate for this purpose. We don’t permit them without secondary face coverings.

      While it’s possible some of these respirators might be adequate (with the right care and filters), an actual industrial hygienist and/or infection preventionist type would have to verify. CDC has clear guidance on PPE as well as for face coverings for source control (which are not considered Personal Protective Equipment). It’s clear mask wearing can impact people psychologically and physiologically, and some people have legitimate reasons they can’t adhere. A face shield is an interesting option combined with good consistent physical distancing, hand hygiene and strategies to keep sick and recently sick out of the work place.

      But I would avoid inappropriate masks – the likelihood that others interpret them as adequate is high and you may risk contributing to increased transmission overall. Wearing inappropriate masks is a real concern and is likely worse (overall) than wearing no mask. Lastly, in many cases, adequate masks need to be worn over these. I’m a healthcare provider working with these issues directly including evaluating PPE and implementing source control strategies, but still wouldn’t consider myself an expert without extensive training and certification. Mfg instructions for use (IFU) on wearing and cleaning for 3m masks is clearly written and on their website. That’s the authoritative source.

      1. PPE Enthusiast*

        These are really good points! It did not occur to me when I posted that the priority in a front line healthcare setting would be to protect the wearer rather than reduce transmission which is definitely an important difference.

        It’s a pity that there aren’t more straightforward solutions for the OP :(

  21. No Name*

    I am sorry for your loss OP2. I don’t want to be mean but I think grief is making you take this more personally than was intended. I have co worker on bereavement leave that I need to keep in the loop on various clients. I have sent a number of emails regarding client updates/info that he needs to know to his work email with the expectation he will read them when he returns back to work. I would be shocked (and am actually a little worried now) if he was checking his work emails. It is much the same as emailing late at night but I don’t expect them to action or respond until they are at work the next day. Sending it to your personal email is a little more odd but it is possible your boss was worried about you finding out the news second hand, especially if it was given to a coworker or they have started in the position in your absence. I assuming your boss is generally okay though.

    1. Mookie*

      I would suggest that the difference between updates for colleagues on holiday and delivering important professional, life-altering news (for me, a promotion is a life event because, y’know, it takes money to live outside of work) are the stakes. The death of one’s family member or friend also falls under this category. It needn’t take a galaxy brain or empathy maven to decide this kind of revelation can wait a bit and, as Alison says, such revelations generally call for an in-person or virtual meeting.

      And as you say there seems little reason for the overkill of two separate messages, which upon first glance could seem like something urgent the LW shouldn’t wait to read. It’s just poor etiquette. And it’s okay to resent that kind of disruption delivered at such an early stage of grieving.

      I agree that the boss might not want her to hear this from somebody else, but what co-worker personally close enough to the LW to rush to break this news is not also aware she’s on bereavement? Because, again, doing this is mildly unkind and wildly tone-deaf.

      1. No Name*

        In terms of a coworker breaking the news, I was thinking more along the lines of coming in on her first morning back and having a colleague mention that their coworker Sandra had been promoted, not realising OP would be upset. Trying to hide my own disappointment and pretend I am happy for them while still raw over over my relative’s death would be rough.

        1. Thankful for AAM*

          I agree with you, I’d rather the news was sitting in my inbox so I saw it before returning to work rather than being blindsided.

          It all depends on the tone tho. A message that acknowledges the awkwaedness is best i think: “I am sorry to send this while you are out on leave but I did not want you to hear this 3rd hand when you return . . . “

        2. I hate surprises*

          I agree with this and with Thankful for AAM’s suggestion re: wording (just above this comment).

    2. Smithy*

      I completely agree that for a manager that otherwise is positive, I would be more inclined to see this through the prism of “trying to think of the best way to respond and missing the mark”.

      It may be that they had the news earlier, closer to the uncle’s passing – and had held off, but then a more formal announcement might have been on dock and therefore the manager felt rushed in sharing? Or perhaps the organization is just notorious for having a very swift grapevine where news travels fast?

      I also think that the larger concept of “an email was sent to me from work, therefore I have to read it” is a particularly internalized American professional trait where all of the “I just sent the email, please feel no obligation to read it until you’re back in the office” messaging can struggle to truly register.

  22. Malthusian Optimist*

    No Kids:
    in meetings? seriously? “hey can we just get to the work at hand and drop this Hansel and Gretel scenario because I have work to do” or maybe “oh are we on THIS again? haven’t we been over this completely irrelevant topic uhh every time before?” annoy them, you have my permission.
    I hate meetings and it seems like someone always hijacks them. it’s always a challenge to politely steer it back into focus.

    1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      “can’t imagine why anyone would ever”

      To me, this is a sign of being not smart. It’s one thing to not like something other people like, but not even being able to understand it is a symptom of a truly limited mind. And if she’s just saying it as hyperbole, she should be aware that she’s describing the limitation of her own mind.

    2. James*

      “I take it we’re done with the meeting. I’ve got work to do, so if there’s anything else you need from me I’ll be at my desk.” Then walk out.

      It’s a risk, but it would get the point across.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        I’ve actually used this before – and it 1000% got the point across and worked. Different scenario (coworker was willfully trying to halt a safety project because….work…or something, and hijacked the meeting), and it worked because it was very, very out of character for me. I do not raise my voice. I do not get that sharp. I am generally a very outwardly cheerful person. I was abrupt, I had to raise my voice a bit to interrupt the argument, and I just walked out.

        It can be powerful, if you use it appropriately and rarely.

        (Coworker did apologize, as they had gone completely off the rails, and had told another coworker that Quiet Angry EC is scarier than expected. We had a good relationship after that. I even kind of miss them at my current job.)

    3. Quill*

      “Molly, I’m sure everyone has all the details they need about your gingerbread house rennovation and your meat pie baking plans.”

    4. generic_username*

      From my reading of the letter, I don’t think these conversations are happening at meetings. LW calls them “social events to ensure the two teams are interacting.” I’m picturing something akin to a field day, lol, but more likely it’s lunch or an early happy hour. Regardless, LW could definitely make a comment about how they’ve had this conversation before or she could try to switch topics, even relying on a work topic to get people talking.

  23. triplehiccup*

    OP 2: sorry for your loss. Hopefully you won’t be out on bereavement again anytime soon, but if you have another day off that you’d like to be undisturbed, can you send a calendar invite to your manager and coworkers? In Outlook I make it an all day event, typically titled “[my name] OOO” but occasionally more descriptive, like “[my name] OOO for family funeral.” That should help if, like Alison said, your boss simply forgot. Just be sure to set the availability to available, or the people accepting it will have their day blocked off as busy or out of office or whatever you set it to.

  24. LGC*

    For letter 4 – can you wear a clear face shield if you need to go back?

    Moreover, this is a perfect storm of risk. Would you feel better pointing out that you’re in a high risk pool for COVID-19 and you have worries about your safety? Since you’re management, you probably can’t just “nope, pandemic” your company, but you also shouldn’t just charge back to work just because your company says so.

    1. Reba*

      My organization has set up an email address for people who are high risk to contact. (I.e., you don’t have to do this through your manager.) Now, I don’t yet know what they actually do once you have reached out, but I appreciate that they have anticipated that there are people for whom the standard precaution plan is not going to work.

      If LW4 would feel ok becoming an advocate on this — and it is perfectly ok not to and just keep one’s head down — they might find that there are others at the office who need accomodations, and so influencing the work place to be more inclusive could have a big impact.

  25. Forrest*

    >>This won’t necessarily win you any friends, especially if the rest of your team are fans of Molly’s rants

    OP1, how about testing the water with one or two people before you challenge it publically?

    There are workplace topics that I definitely felt uncomfortable with when I was younger which I joined in with because it felt like it was necessary to get along with everyone–things like diet talk, or the good old “tales of times we got really drunk” which my first boss really loved as a superficial way of bonding with everyone. These days I would absolutely nope out of that kind of conversation because it’s not how I want to present myself at work and I know that some of those “inclusive superficial bonding” are incredibly exclusive for some people, and things like “kids TV programmes we remember” are much better. (Also all of my drunk stories are more than 15 years old at this point.)

    It’s quite possible that some of your colleagues dislike Molly’s rants as much as you do, or find them mildly amusing but also a bit much, and are just laughing along because it feels like the thing to do. You can quite casually raise it with a couple of other people who don’t seem *that* into it– “Molly talks A LOT about kids, doesn’t she?” and chances are that someone will roll their eyes and go, “Yeah, it’s a bit much sometimes.” Sometimes that’s a way in to a conversation about how much it’s frustrating you and it turns out you’re not the only one, and it definitely helps when you want to challenge something publicly to know there are one or two people who agree with you.

    1. Koala dreams*

      Oh, I don’t think kids tv programmes is a good topic at work. There are too many gaps between different generations, different ethnicities, different nationalities, and different social classes. I would save that kind of topic for friends. Though I agree that the alcohol talk is worse.

      1. Thornfir*

        I dunno; I’m one of those people for whom “favorite children’s program” or “favorite ice cream flavor” was never exactly in line with my coworkers’ due to differing national/cultural backgrounds, but it was never a problem because “what do you mean you didn’t have smurf ice cream??” isn’t really a loaded thing. There’s no topic that’s 100% generalized to all people. It’s not that everything needs to be fully relatable, it’s that there’s a difference in emotional weight, for most people, between “how you plan to shape your family” and “do any of you remember DinoSaucers?”

        1. UKDancer*

          Actually I quite like the conversations about TV programmes and ice cream because they identify differences and encourage us to google different things and learn about them. So a couple of us introduced my boss (of a different generation) to the British kids TV show Knightmare which he really enjoyed.

          A discussion of childhood sweets led me to discover from a colleague some of the Indian sweets that I’d never tried before and some of which I really liked.

          Definitely more of a bonding experience than discussing family plans which I’d rather not talk about.

          1. Koala dreams*

            I felt out of place already as a child in those kind of discussions, since we didn’t have as many channels as other children. (Mostly the people with many channels talked about TV shows.) If many people in the group have similar background (for example the same age), it can feel very isolating. I’m more interested in food, such as ice cream. A part of that is that you can try new food as an adult, but it’s hard to join the childhood nostalgia when you never had that experience during your own childhood. Current TV shows, books and hobbies in general are fine.

          2. MsSolo*

            Knightmare is a great tester of whether you’re a Xennial or not – there’s a generation for whom “Where am I?” “You’re in a room” is iconic, but a year on either side and it’s completely meaningless!

            From some of the other comments, I wonder if kids TV is a safer topic in the UK because our networks are set up differently – the vast majority of kids TV has always been on free-to-air (AKA paid for by TV license) channels, so there’s a lot more commonality than somewhere like the US where paid subscriptions and regional channels have always made up a bigger chunk of viewing. Even now, the big watercooler TV shows are still BBC, ITV or C4 – I think GoT is the last show that made up a big proportion of workplace chat where you would assume less than half the office actually had access to it.

        2. Taniwha Girl*

          Totally agree. Plus you can ask questions like, “What did you like about that show? Is it still on TV now?” It’s an opportunity to learn more about your colleagues, not a test of what you have in common. And it’s way less loaded then “why don’t you have kids”.

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      I agree that this is also a good approach to take before going to management. OP may get some backup if other people truly are disturbed by Molly’s behavior.

    3. LGC*

      Yeah, I especially think that Molly isn’t as beloved as she thinks she is. From what LW1 wrote, it sounds like Molly is usually the one starting with the childfree talk (as in, she sounds like the worst stereotype of the childfree community).

      This actually sounds like the best option to me!

    4. I edit everything*

      I was thinking the same, based on the OP’s phrasing–it takes a certain duration of ranting for others to chime in. It sounds like Molly expounds until she gets some positive feedback, and the others might give a half-hearted, “Yeah, kids sure are inconvenient,” because that’s what’s necessary to get her to shut the [expletive] up.

      I’d guess there are more people who’d agree with LW’s frustration than Molly’s ranting than it appears. One loud, persistent person can affect the whole feel of a place and the impression that others get of a culture.

  26. Koala dreams*

    #1 I get where your co-workers come from. There is so much pressure on women to not only become mothers, but also to like and take care of other people’s children. And then they get discriminated against for taking care of children. There’s no way to win. That being said, it’s not a topic for work, especially the “hating children” part. From reading the comments here on AAM, it seems pretty common for companies in the US to not have any special parent leave beyond the legal protections such as FMLA, so I wouldn’t necessary take that as a sign that you will be pushed out after having children. (Especially as there are already people with children working at your company.) Next time, speak up and try to change the topic. If it doesn’t work, talk to your manager.

    #4 This idea that people who need accomodations for medical reasons aren’t “team players” needs to go away. You might want to mention the words “accomodations” and “medical reasons” to make sure the conversations goes in the right direction. If your work can be done from home that would be a very easy solution, or maybe one of the other solutions people have proposed in the comments would work for you. Anyway, you don’t need to have the perfect solution ready before you ask for the accomodation, your employer should help you figuring it out.

  27. long time lurker*

    Re #OP5

    I think common sense is the key here. I had someone who worked for me in the environmental field as a consultant, she was 27 and about 4 years out of grad school. She kept going on about how she had “over 10 years experience” because she included her weekend job in retail while she was at high school, and various part-time college jobs. It drove me crackers. She’d use it in discussions about pay, and I’d say “really that’s not what 10 years experience means in this context”, but she was adamant.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      It definitely requires some context.

      I started in my field in 2004, so I have 16 years’ experience. Except that I have spent over three years of that on maternity leave (UK, three children) so maybe that’s 13 years. Oh and I’ve been working part time so maybe that’s 7 years. Except that I’ve always kept up to date with changes to laws and procedures, so maybe it is 16 after all.

      A developer who used $CodingLanguageA on one project five years ago and updates one line of it every January does not have ten times as much experience in $CodingLanguageA as the very junior developer who has been using $CodingLanguageA and nothing else for six months straight, but she may have ten times as much experience in “working as a developer”.

      It’s a horrible question to get in a job application, although general indications such as “5+ PQE” or “at least 12 months’ experience” give you a clue. Especially if they ask for 5 years in something that was only released two years ago.

      1. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

        It’s an even worse question because our HR system will screen out resumes that don’t have the right level of experience. If they want 10 years of experience and you have 9, it’s annoying to either answer untruthfully because you know no one cares about 10 versus 9 or answer truthfully and have to immediately contact the hiring manager to pull your resume out of the digital trash can.

        1. Saberise*

          That isn’t necessarily true where I work (major university) if we put a requirement of “must have at least X years experience” and you fall short of that we literally can not hire you without reposting the position at the lower number. Which adds a few weeks on to the process.

    2. CheeryO*

      The environmental consulting field is so bad about inflating experience, so she might have picked that idea up from an internship or something. At my first full-time job, they claimed that I had five years of experience on my marketing material when in reality all I had was two summer internships and a Master’s degree.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        Oh yeah. I have had recruiters try to push me into applying for roles that were 1) way beyond what I actually had and 2) way beyond what I was comfortable with because “well if you look at it this way you have like XX years, so you totally qualify!” Uh, no thanks. My scattershot of internships and tutoring jobs in college really doesn’t count as a year each in any form, and I am by no means ready for a management position overseeing that many people.

        I think one decided I had like 15 years experience, which was hilarious if anyone did the math, because at the time I would have been about 25. Yes, totally started in environmental compliance when I was 10, sure thing.

        1. Quill*

          So technically if we count coursework I have 10 years experience in existing in a labratory environment, but most people who will count coursework will only count more specific / upper level lab courses, plus I’ve spent 1/5 of the time since graduation (approximately) unemployed. So… approximately 5 years experience overall, at this point.

          The only thing I technically maybe have 10 years experience in, at 28, is conversational spanish, because if I count upper level classes (past 202) where we were working on fluency rather than the rudiments, I spent 6 years studying it and 4 years since college using it off and on for work and socialization.

          1. Environmental Compliance*

            Right?? I’m pretty sure if I wanted to I could somehow justify more years experience than I’ve been alive with some of the ways they counted.

            Approximating 4 credits per class & 120 credits per bach degree & let’s say 80% for your actual major, 24 classes. Each class is like 3 months, so that’s like 6 years right there. oh and the master’s, so 48 credits / 4 per class * 3 mo each = 3 years. And then 3 summer internships, so another 3. And then I worked during my BA and MS, so another 7 years. and then out of the master’s I have another 4 years, so the grand total is….. 23 years experience. OH BUT WAIT you worked in high school right so let’s add 4 years!!1!

            In all seriousness, I really have had a recruiter tell me that my MS is worth like 4-5 years of experience. *Thor/Daenerys hmmmm face* is it though? is it really?

            I’m 29. I can math out in reality about 6-7 years experience in my field. The inflation is real.

      2. hermit crab*

        Oh yeah, it’s all about bumping up those P-levels! My consulting trajectory (all at the same company) was this: worked full-time for four years, worked a slightly reduced but still technically full-time schedule while going to grad school for two years, worked full-time for four years. On our contracts, a master’s degree counted as +2 years, so my time working/in school got double-counted and I was classified as having 12 years of experience. On the one hand, I kinda get it, but on the other hand, that’s 12 years in a single decade.

    3. Anonandon*

      Hmm- PhD programs do typically contain 3+yrs of research assistantship which is full time work, just as an apprentice instead of out in the world. I sure count my trainee years as part of my work experience, and can name specific accomplishments/responsibilities. So, while I don’t count my internships in undergraduate, this does have a little more wiggle room than simply in school isn’t working.

  28. MistOrMister*

    OP4, I don’t have any disgnosed medical conditions that make mask wearing problematic for me, but I have a very hard time aearing a cloth mask for more than short periods of time. I can wear one for the time it takes to do my shopping, but even then I can have issues. I’m finding I can wear surgical masks more easily for longer periods and can actually do some activity with them (I can walk for exercise with a surgical mask,but a cloth mask will have me gasping for air). Even in surgical masks, though, the humid air buildup inside a mask causes my nasal passages to swell up and good luck to me being able to breathe properly! I think a number of people have legitimate issues where wearing masks for prolonged amounts of time is difficult, and no one should think you’re a jerk for being one of them! There is suvh a huge difference between “I would wear a mask but I physically cannot” and “I just don’t want to wear one”. Hopefully your office will work with you. No one wants people passing out at their desks over mask wearing.

  29. Getting There*

    For OP1:
    I am so ticked off by your co-workers and I don’t even have or want kids, but I love them dearly.

    Start talking like they do, but about pets. How you would never have one, how you can’t understand why someone would want a crap-producing furball roaming their house. How you can’t ever go on a vacation without having to pay someone to look after it. All the negative things about pet ownership. After a short while make it seem like you are mocking them. See how long it takes them to STFU about kids. Return asshole behaviour to sender.

    I don’t have or want pets either, but I certainly enjoy the pets in my circle. I also would never question someone’s decision to own a pet.

    1. Scarlet2*

      “Return asshole behaviour to sender.”

      I’m often a fan of this approach in my private life, but I don’t think it’s really advisable in a professional context, especially since no-one else seems to be complaining about Molly’s rants. Also, LW would lose the moral high ground pretty quickly. It’s a bit hard to complain about someone’s unprofessional rants if you’re also indulging in unprofessional rants.

      1. Third or Nothing!*

        Agreed. It’s one of those things that is deeply satisfying to daydream about, but shouldn’t actually be done in a real life professional context.

        1. Quill*

          Returning awkward to sender is much easier to pull off without burning bridges, because it can be done in a non-confrontational way and it is much lower stakes to come off as awkward than aggressive.

          1. Third or Nothing!*

            Yeah I agree returning awkward to sender is preferable in many situations to returning assholery to sender. Especially when you still have to maintain civility, like with coworkers. I think Alison’s scripts are great for this, particularly the ones that call out the overall negativity and how it can affect others.

      2. lost academic*

        Agreed. By doing this you’re saying that the method itself is somehow acceptable for whatever reason in a professional environment, which it is not. By using the same methods with another topic you are trying to make a point and weakening it at the same time by not being direct. We all do it, but like most of Alison’s advice that actually works: being direct saves you time and effort and increases clarity.

    2. Scarlet*

      Damn this is a really good suggestion. I bet for most people “I hate dogs!” OR EVEN “I hate my dog’s crotch goblins” would be SUPER offensive. Might really actually help hammer in how offensive Molly is being to other people.

    3. Altair*

      As satisfying as this is to imagine, I have not found in my experience that people are good at seeing parallels like this. I think such a discussion could blow up into an argument over pets and even brand LW#1 as a pet-hater, which would be really unfortunate if she’s not. And I don’t think the people ranting about children would see the equivalent in this and be inspired to tone down their ranting.

      But this is satisfying to imagine.

      1. leapingLemur*

        “I think such a discussion could blow up into an argument over pets and even brand LW#1 as a pet-hater, ” Yep.

        Maybe saying “Molly, we know how you feel about kids. Can we talk about anything else?”

    4. ieAnon*

      As a person who thinks the anti-child rants are way beyond the pale, I think this is a terrible idea. If I were one of these coworkers, that would just label OP as another weird person for me to avoid.

      The issue isn’t really kids vs. no kids; it’s a problem of vehemence and scale. Meeting that with similar levels of vitriol just makes everyone in this situation unpleasant.

    5. Taniwha Girl*

      Returning behavior to sender doesn’t mean being a jerk back. It’s letting the natural awkwardness sit there: “Why would you ask that?” “I don’t know you well enough to answer that.” Like taking a ball thrown at you and just letting it fall on the ground. Not catching the ball and chucking it at their head to see how they like it.

  30. MistOrMister*

    OP1, I don’t have or want kids. In one on one conversations with coworkers I’m closer to, if they bring up issues with their kids I will sometimes jokingly say, see this is why I don’t have any! And tell them why my cats are better. But it’s all in good fun. What is going on at your workplace is completely over the top and hugely off-putting. Besides people who plan to have children, that kind of conversation can be very hurtful to those who want but cant have them. I don’t understand why numerous people would go along with that kind of rudeness. Hopefully if you talk to your boss they’ll put the kibbosh on those conversations. I wonder if some of the people going along with the vitriol don’t actually feel that way, but join in only b/c it seems everyone else agrees and they don’t want to be odd man out. Regardless, it’s such a weird thing to go off on at every event.

    1. Cassie Nova*

      Mmm… if a parent says something like, “My son broke the TV again” and you’re responding with, “See… this is why I don’t have kids!” it may not be coming off as being in good fun as you think it is. Especially if you bring up cats afterward. This goes back to someone else’s comment about protesting too much.

      1. Taniwha Girl*

        Agree that I would not enjoy this repeated pattern.
        If every time someone said “My cat scratched me!” I said “See, this is why I don’t have cats!” and started talking about how my baby was better… that would get pretty annoying.
        I just wish we could all stop comparing pets and babies because they’re not the same thing, they serve different but similar functions, and one can in fact have both or neither.
        And it shows how important it is to really know the relationship you have with someone before joking around with them.

    2. Altair*

      Yes, this, all of this. (And I’m one of those people who wanted but couldn’t have a child, and I would not be happy listening to this at work.) Good luck, LW #1

  31. Caroline Bowman*

    Re the poster who cannot wear a mask, the solution is to get one of those face-shield things that surgeons wear (along with their surgical masks in a medical setting, obviously). For a sanitary, working environment where you limit unnecessary contact and maintain social distance as appropriate, that should be sufficient. Just give a heads up to whoever is coordinating the office reopening, explain your specific medical issue and suggest this as a very reasonable alternative.

  32. Jellyfish*

    LW #1 – Molly’s behavior is disruptive and rude. It doesn’t matter what’s driving it specifically, and the LW is under no obligation to try and understand Molly on this issue.

    No one gets to repeatedly rant about others’ individual life choices while at work. That’s even more true when people on the other side of the ranter’s opinion can face discrimination and career setbacks. Meanwhile, Molly would lose nothing by shutting up about kids while in the office.

    LW absolutely has the standing to politely ask Molly to knock if off and/or ask her manager to address the situation.

    1. Batgirl*

      I agree that there’s a real rudeness that goes beyond being boring and not knowing when a subject change is due. It’s probably why no one else is tackling it, because no one wants to be the messenger for “Wow, that’s rude.”
      Changing the subject is a good way to tackle someone who’s just sharing and passionate about their lifestyle, so I’d try that first.
      However if OP is right with the “vitriolic” assessment, then Molly’s saying that she hates an entire group of people, and she belongs to a more civilised group of people who make smarter choices than those bad-people fans.
      This is more than just getting your ear bent; people who categorise people into smart and not smart groups are super fun to work with.
      I’d have to call that out with “Hate is a strong word. You hate an entire group of people?” Not that it’s useful to do so with people who like to feel superior; they’re never, ever going to let go of reasoning that feeds their identity and ego. It’s probably smarter to just take the warning silently that Molly is a bit of a wild card.

  33. Koala dreams*

    I don’t agree with the advice to fight back by using the same methods. The kind of person who likes to rant will either be happy about even more ranting in the workplace, or don’t get the point because they have double standards.

  34. Choggy*

    OP #1 – I think it’s so odd that your coworker would bring up not having kids and hating kids at every social event. Do you ever wonder where that kind of reaction comes from? I too am child-free, and for some reason, my coworkers who have kids like to joke about how I hate kids. I’ve never said I hated kids, just that I chose not to have them. I actually have 6 nieces and 5 nephews who I really love and wish could spend more time with but they live in other states. I also work with a woman, a manager in my department, who will, whether the gathering is business or social will always eventually turn any conversation to her kids, even though they are now adults living 3000 miles away from her, wonder why… :) I’ve heard her tell the same stories a million times, and know when a new person joins our department she will find a way to tell them again, and so I just remove myself either mentally or physically from the conversation. And this is what I’m really coming here to say, you have to learn to ignore what other people are saying if you don’t like/agree with them, you can’t control that. They have a right, even the annoying ones, to say what they want. Don’t engage, or if you are involved in the conversation, redirect, redirect, redirect. I am concerned that you are worried about your future with this company when you decide to have a child. Well, they put a maternity policy in place for a reason, people do want to have their own families, and need certain protections. Avail yourself of everything you are entitled to when the time comes.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      I am concerned that you are worried about your future with this company when you decide to have a child. Well, they put a maternity policy in place for a reason, people do want to have their own families, and need certain protections. Avail yourself of everything you are entitled to when the time comes.

      Well said.

      1. EventPlannerGal*

        It does seem really odd that this is something that she manages to bring up and talk about passionately at multiple work meetings. I mean, how does that even come up? My team sounds very similar to OPs (mostly 20s-30s with no kids) and this is just not something that has ever naturally come up in conversation. It’s very rude to just shove your pet topic into every conversation no matter what it is, and it’s only made worse by how personal this one is.

    2. Scarlet*

      What if Molly becomes a manager or HER manager someday, perhaps even just a project manager, or anyone with a little bit of authority? She could be rightly concerned about discrimination at that point.

    3. Observer*

      Molly is worse – not because of the content but because of the intensity of the her behavior. And from what the OP describes it’s harder to get away from it.

      Your manager sounds like a bore, to be honest (and I HAVE kids – but I also know that most people are just not that interested in them!)

      The people who joke about your hating kids are rude, and I’m surprised you haven’t shut it down.

    4. Batgirl*

      Fetishising the decision to have kids, competitively comparing your decision to have them against other people’s decision to not have them….. It’s very similar to what Molly is doing because both people are saying they belong to a lifestyle like it’s a country club and that there’s only One True Path to enlightenment.
      I suppose in Molly’s case there’re no kids to feel sorry for at least.

  35. pcake*

    LW4, my son and his ex are both asthmatic and struggle with it regularly; they’re both on daily steroids and medication, and they always carry rescue inhalers. They both found that there are masks that allow a lot more air flow but still will stop their droplets at least to some degree. It might be worth exploring these options in case your city or state starts requiring masks in public.

  36. Boopnash*

    LW 1: I don’t really care why Molly feels the need to speak the way she does, but I think a good employer does need to point out the potential impact of her words.

    First, regardless of subject matter, she shouldn’t be shaming other people’s life choices and what they do in their spare time.

    Second, she needs to be clearly told that it skirts (albeit broadly) on legal ramifications if it turns out that a coworker is pregnant. At that point it’s a protected medical issue and she should be made aware of the rights and responsibilities of employers/employees should that come to pass and the kind of work environment she is involved in cultivating.

    Third, she needs to be made aware that having (or not having) children is somewhat beyond a personal choice (per point 1) but a deeply personal issue for some people. It can hit a raw nerve if there are people who want children but cannot, or do not what children and do become pregnant. It’s not an appropriate topic in a professional setting, or at least not the way she’s bringing it up.

    I say this as someone who protested too much once upon a time, and was then the only millennial at my workplace who did get pregnant and have a child. I fooled no one with my “I don’t like kids” patter :)

    1. Saberise*

      I can’t imagine the pain someone that can’t conceive, has had miscarriages, etc would experience hearing someone be so venomous about it. Was actually surprised that it wasn’t addressed in the answer.

    2. Scarlet*

      “Second, she needs to be clearly told that it skirts (albeit broadly) on legal ramifications if it turns out that a coworker is pregnant. At that point it’s a protected medical issue and she should be made aware of the rights and responsibilities of employers/employees should that come to pass and the kind of work environment she is involved in cultivating.”

      Ehhhhh – does it? Being pregnant is not a protected class. Perhaps it is medical issue but no one is attacking anyone because of her pregnancy, only actual children (and not even specifically OP’s kids or any of OP’s coworkers).

      Furthermore for it to be discrimination there would have to be actual actions that were discriminatory. “I hate kids; I can’t imagine why anyone has them” does not qualify as discriminatory.

      I agree with you though that it cultivates a toxic environment though. For that reason alone it needs to be shut down.

      1. Amy*

        I don’t know if this would run afoul of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act but there is a protected element to pregnancy.

        1. Scarlet*

          Thank you for mentioning the Pregnancy Discrimination Act; I had not actually heard of it!

        2. Not Me*

          Being a parent is not a protected class. And pregnancy (which is protected) does not always make someone a parent. Molly’s behavior is rude and boorish, but it does not create any discrimination. LW states Molly’s comments are about her dislike of “kids”, not of “pregnancy” or “pregnant people”.

          1. Observer*

            Not actually true – you can’t go “I think that anyone who has kids is xxx bad thing” without it being “Pregnant people are xxx bad thing”

            1. Not Me*

              You can actually, especially because not all people who are pregnant become parents, and not all parents have been pregnant. Pregnancy and being a parent are two separate things, they are not the same thing.

              Pregnancy discrimination legislation protects the medical condition of pregnancy and conditions that accompany it, they very clearly do not protect being a parent.

              1. Amy*

                However many of the insults associated with having children are connected to pregnancy and childbirth.

                Spawn, crotch goblin, broodmare, breeder.

                They speak to a contempt for pregnancy and birth. I think one could make a claim for pregnancy harassment if they were a frequent topic of workplace discussions. Even if one is merely describing themselves “yuck, I’m not a breeder” – it means you are suggesting other women are breeders, more akin to dumb animals mating and birthing their young.

                None of those terms are appropriate for the workplace.

                1. Not Me*

                  I didn’t say they were appropriate for the workplace. Something can be inappropriate and not be illegal. Jumping from “yuck, I’m not a breeder” to pregnancy harassment is a really long jump, especially when no one in the situation is pregnant and the conversation is about kids and not pregnancy.

                  People really need to stop conflating “women” with “parents”. “I’m not a breeder” does not equal “other women are breeders and dumb animals”. Parents can be men or women, and being pregnant or giving birth to a child does not make you a parent.

              2. Observer*

                Please. Having a child as a result of pregnancy is enough of a norm that that’s EXACTLY what most people are talking about when they rant about breeders, children being horrible etc.

                The fact that some people become parents without being pregnant does not change that. For people like that it just adds a whole new class of terrible people who “encourage” the existence of children in the world. But the people who actually BIRTH these terrible people? Definitely on the top of the hate list.

          2. Marie*

            Being a parent, per se, isn’t protected. But let’s not be foolish: a lot of anti-parent sentiment is anti-mother in practice, and the instant mistreatment has a sex-related element, is is no longer legal. The creation of a toxic workplace environment for mothers would probably open the company up to legal liability — or just drive away any female employees who wanted to have kids in the next couple of years.

          3. Taniwha Girl*

            I mean… technically pregnancy does make both parties involved a parent. They may not be the active carers for the child, but they are biologically the mother and father of the child, if someone needs to know for medical risk factors and so on.

            Hating children is hating the people who care for them. This is inseparable in practice and theory.
            It is hatred of pregnant people by extension–these are people having children!
            And it is anti-feminist in terms of disparate impact.

    3. Ali G*

      Yeah the biggest problem here is that Molly needs to understand how insensitive her rants are. And really it’s not appropriate work talk anyway.
      I say this as someone who recently, and inadvertently said something very insensitive about having kids within earshot of a coworker. I was horrified when my boss said something about it later and reminded all of us that we need to be kind to everyone during this rough time (I basically said to another child-free woman that I was so glad I didn’t have kids because I couldn’t imagine being stuck at home 24/7 with them, and she agreed and said something along the lines of “well they made their choice.”). The person didn’t want to be identified, but we asked that he convey our apologies, because we were out of line/not thinking straight.
      All this to say, your personal choices aren’t more important than anyone else’s and constantly ranting about people that choose to be different than you is not professional behavior, and Molly needs to be reigned in.

    4. Batgirl*

      You dont need to cite legal protections in order to ask someone to not be an arsehole though do you?

      1. Observer*

        Excellent point!

        Of course, if there are legal issues it’s worth bringing up. But it makes me crazy when people conflate “it’s legal” with “it’s ok”. NO, not necessarily!

  37. Miss May*

    #4: I work in an industry where before you can even wear a mask (this was pre-COVID times) you had to be medically evaluated and yearly you’d have to preform a fit test. If you didn’t pass the medical test, you couldn’t wear a mask, because they didn’t want people passing out! This is for something as simple as a dust mask– so it doesn’t make you a jerk. If you talk to your GP, they should be able to give you a note that can help bolster your claim at work (if your bosses are jerks, that is).

  38. White Peonies*

    #2 I’m not sure why your manager sent the email to all of your accounts that is odd, but I don’t know how your boss is regularly. I know in the past I when we have picked a person for a role and someone was on leave (not returning in a good time frame) we have had to email them to formally let them know they did not get the position so that we could move forward with the hiring process. I would have only sent it to your work email and would not expect you to read those while off on bereavement leave. I want to believe it wasn’t meant against you, but necessary within that time to let you know before the process moved forward.

  39. pretzelgirl*

    #4- I am not sure if your particular set up at work. Luckily at my work, the majority of us have offices. We are only required to wear masks in meetings and in common areas. If we are alone in our offices we don’t have to. Those that share an office wear a mask, or stagger their days in the office so they don’t overlap.

    You may wish to ask about the policy at work (if you have your own office). I am not sure if your asthma would allow you to wear a mask for a coffee refill or a bathroom trip. So that maybe an option. If you simply cant wear a mask at all, I would def speak to your manager about being excused from the policy.

    1. Scarlet*

      I wish my workplace would make everyone wear masks honestly!

      I feel like I am the only one who cares about this stuff- it’s so frustrating.

  40. James*

    LW #1: In regards to the comment about not winning friends, I would say don’t worry about it. I’ve met a few Mollies, and if you disagree with her she’s going to hate you. May as well accept that going in. Molly is a bully; maybe she’s not punching people, but she’s gaining cheap points by putting down helpless people.

    My wife was good friends with a man who was like this. Before she had kids it never came up–we were always planning to have kids, but we didn’t talk about it much (just not the way we are) so we didn’t realize just how deep this hate was. When we had kids this man would go off on rants about hating kids, at loud volume, and eventually cut my wife out of his life entirely.

    As for a script, I’d be pretty blunt. “We’ve discussed this a hundred times, please change topics.” (As a parent I’d be MUCH more blunt; I like to point out to such jerks that they are in fact making accusations against real people.) Then, if she doesn’t, leave. If your managers complain, explain that you don’t want to be exposed to such a hostile environment. It’ll cost some political capital, but I imagine you’ll make it up in goodwill from those that Molly has terrified into silence.

  41. Employment Lawyer*

    2. My manager contacted me with a job rejection on the day of a family funeral
    This was probably an attempt to make sure you were the first to know, and that you knew from the right person/people. I doubt it was an attempt to interfere with the funeral.

    4. I can’t wear a mask
    Well, you’re probably covered under the FMLA or similar laws. If you are, they need to work with you. Perhaps you get a private office, for example, during CV. Or perhaps you get to stay remote. It’s likely you can stay if you take the right steps to trigger FMLA. (First, make sure you’re covered under state version or FMLA itself.)

    Ad FYI, you probably CAN wear a mask; you just can’t wear a cheap mask. You can probably wear a positive flow mask (goes by a lot of names; you can find examples if you Google “constant flow respirator”). These have a battery powered filter system to provide a constant flow of filtered air; they don’t cause breathing interference because the motor does all the work.

    Pre-CV they cost $1000-1200 for higher end ones like 3M. Nobody seems to sell the 3M versions and they’re probably impossible to get now, but FYI that would probably work for you and perhaps you would live w/ a copy.

  42. Siha*

    LW#2 I am here to commiserate with you on how awful it is to be harassed by your work over something not important on a day of mourning. I had the same thing happen when my mom passed away. My boss would not stop calling me despite me having a lengthy conversation with her before I left about how I needed to settle her estate and bury her. When I did return one of her 25 calls & emails she demanded to know why I wasn’t at work.

    So I do understand why you are upset. I did speak to my boss about it when I came back and she tried to claim she was trying to make sure I had enough PTO to be gone. My relationship with her never recovered. I hope your boss is a little better and hopefully was just being a dunderhead. But only you know how they are and how to proceed through this. Grief is rough enough without added stress about things that are insignificant.

    1. WellRed*

      I’d hardly call two emails harassment. If one doesn’t want to read work news, they can also opt not to check work emails (though I don’t know why the boss decided this was a day to use the employees personal email as well).

      1. Kate*

        Yeah, e-mail isn’t exactly the same thing as calling your phone. Sending it to personal e-mail was weird, but the rest, not so much. Checking e-mail during funeral is reader’s not sender’s problem.

  43. No Tribble At All*

    For OP4, if there was ever an option for someone to stay WFH, you’re it! I really think you should disclose to your boss that you’re high risk. Covid affects your lungs! You already have breathing issues! They should not make you go back to the office.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Ohhh, I like this! My workplace was pretty anti-WFH before Covid, but had always made exceptions for people in special circumstances (e.g. someone had to relocate for their spouse’s work, but was a high performer and didn’t want to leave the company – they were provided company equipment and allowed to WFH full-time.) OP’s situation definitely looks to me as being full-time-WFH-worthy.

  44. Mel_05*

    OP 1: I’ve worked with and been friends with a lot of people who don’t want kids. They range from, “Kids are nice, but not for me” to people who are openly angry at anyone who admits they want kids.

    I think people assume I don’t want kids because I don’t have them and it’s fine to talk to me about this every time they see me.

    But, the closer they are to the angry end of the spectrum, the easier it is to shut the whole thing down by simply saying, “I’d like to have kids at some point.” You will have to endure an angry or horrified reaction at first, but they’ll mostly stop talking to you about it.

    It does nothing against the first set. They have no ill will, so it doesn’t occur to them that it might be tedious or even depressing to discuss it so frequently.

    But with Molly, just mildly stating that you personally want kids, may easily be enough to shut it down.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Nah, Molly sounds like the type who would try to argue OP down about her reasoning behind wanting children in the first place. Then OP gets sucked into a much longer debate she hadn’t intended to get involved in to begin with.

    2. Batgirl*

      I think you’re right about Molly but the million quid question is what will the en masse reaction be? My bet is it will be “Hey everyone, OP discovered a way to shut Molly up!” But it’s hard to judge from here and since there are places which dislike employing parents; there’s a slight gamble.

  45. Marlene*

    LW #4
    See what technology your office can utilize for you! Could you be present in the building but talk with anyone you need to over the phone or through your online platform? Can you phone into meetings? Your company will have a responsibility to protect everyone who works there, so hopefully they will figure out how to accommodate anyone who cannot wear a mask.
    People are mentioning face shields, but I wonder how good they are at protecting other people. They’re open at the bottom and masks are supposed to fit snugly to your face. I don’t know where all those respiratory droplets are going once they hit the shield.

  46. Delta Delta*

    #1 – Taking out the part that this is about kids, it is so draining to be around negative talk All. The. Time. If the manager is getting looped in, that may be a helpful part to include.

    I used to work with a chronic complainer. One week I designated my desk a “no negativity zone” and said I was doing it to help my own outlook (which was true) When she would try to complain I’d point to my sign and say she could complain next week. It sort of helped.

    1. Scarlet*

      OMG this is so true. Every time I start spending time with negative people I find myself becoming negative as well. It’s like I absorb it. Same is true for positive people, although there doesn’t seem to be too many of those people these days lol

    2. Observer*

      , it is so draining to be around negative talk All. The. Time. If the manager is getting looped in, that may be a helpful part to include.

      Very much this.

  47. BadWolf*

    On Op2 —

    Was your boss concerned that you might received the job news “through the grapevine” and wanted to make sure you got it from them first? Not that they were trying to hassle you at a funeral.

    Otherwise, whenever I think management “should know” — I remember my otherwise kind and attentive manager once asking me where my coworker was that day — all confused that they weren’t in the office. My coworker who had been working a consistent part time schedule for a year (in which they worked 3 full days a week and 2 days off).

  48. Liz T*

    I wonder if OP#1 can use a much simpler script when Molly goes on these rants. Something like,

    “[Shrug] I like kids.”

    Just take the wind out of her sails and remind everyone that Molly’s stance isn’t universal and that having/liking kids or not is just an individual choice/preference and not something to build one’s whole personality around. Make the topic seem as boring as it is.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      I like this idea, though OP may still have to have the manager address these comments if Molly doesn’t take the hint and change the subject to instead argue the OP’s stance.

  49. OrigCassandra*

    Hi, OP1. Longtime childfree woman here.

    You didn’t mention (and there’s no reason you should have) but is Molly rather young? Young enough that she might be still weighing her decision, and her options to cement it? I know that I was a good bit more volatile on the subject while I was working through my reluctance regarding children and planning for elective sterilization than after the operation was done and irrevocable and over.

    If this rings true, then the “I respect your choices” piece of Alison’s answer takes on a bit more weight. It’s not unlikely Molly is facing static about her choices from her family, her doctors, perhaps even her partner. Hearing that someone somewhere accepts them could be quite calming.

    I also wonder whether Molly is scant of other people to talk it through with, in which case suggesting a suitable online community could provide an outlet. (Not that this is your duty or anything — just it might solve the problem.) Unfortunately, it can be hard to tell this situation from its opposite, in which whatever community Molly has found is egging her on to misbehave. In that case, a mild observation along the lines of “Gosh, you’re very heated about this. It’s not like you” might serve to make her think, and then back off.

    I also agree with Mel_05 above that you are perfectly well allowed to state your plans for children, and doing so could disrupt silence-equals-social-proof enough to stop Molly’s tirades.

  50. Prof*

    There needs to be an accommodation that does not result in an unmasked person being in a room with other people. As an immunocompromised person, I’m not going to be in a room with an unmasked person for any length of time…that’s an accommodation for my condition and yeah I have a doctors note. This person needs one too.

    1. Colette*

      An accommodation for your condition requires that someone else wear a mask? I mean, that would be one possible accommodation, but if it risks their health, it’s not a reasonable one.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes, that’s not how ADA accommodations work. When there are dueling needs, both need to be accommodated if possible (and it should be possible here); accommodations would not generally require someone else to wear an item if they have reason not to.

  51. MuseumChick*

    LW 1, as an adamant child-free woman your co-worker sounds like the absolute worst! Along with Alison’s scripts you could try the following,

    “Yes, you’ve said that before.” (repeat as needed)
    “We have this conversation every time the teams get together let’s talk about something new, [insert topic of conversation]”

    Now, if you really wanted to call her out during her rants you could say, “You know, we don’t know who here has either struggled with fertility or lost a child, let me more kind and thoughtful in our discussions. Stuff like this can be deeply painful for some a lot of people.” Then pivot to a new topic.

    I agree with Alison that you can and should bring this up with your boss.

  52. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    Re #1, I might worry too much about something that’ll never happen, but I am old enough (and started my career in Eastern Europe with hardly any labor laws and protections in place at that time) to have seen people discriminated in the workplace on the basis of having kids, or even looking like they might someday have kids. (A friend’s wife was denied a job because she’d just gotten married and “of course you’re going to have children soon”; I was told to stay on indefinite unpaid maternity leave after I had my first, and so on.) So in that light, the pervasive talk about how awful parents and kids are, that has apparently been going on in OP’s workplace for years, with Molly initiating and others agreeing, would make me worried for the same reasons that OP mentioned. Can this Molly-coddling (apologies for a dad joke) somehow evolve over time into a workplace culture where parents are being seen as worse performers, etc (in which case, that’s a very good reason to nip that talk in the bud)? or am I overthinking this? I have not had to deal with a vocal Molly at any place I’ve worked in the US, so I don’t know if that can do any damage to the parents’ workplace standing. I’ve been offered all kinds of flexibility as a parent, and was never given a hard time in the workplace for being a parent since I left my home country.

    1. Ali G*

      You aren’t over thinking it. What if Molly has direct reports that want to have kids (male or female)? Is she going to judge them, and treat them differently because they don’t share her kid-hate?
      What about a woman that goes on maternity leave? Will she have the same job as when she returns (and I know from what my sis went through, if your boss is not supportive of you on mat leave, you will be pushed out on return)?
      This isn’t really about the ranting, while it is annoying and alienating. It’s about Molly’s ability to be a professional and adhere to professional norms. A boss needs to step in a tell her the expectations for her continued employment.

  53. Ancient Alien*

    #1 Hates Kids
    Molly may genuinely hate kids and that’s her choice I suppose, but I wonder if her constant ranting about it is some misguided attempt to signal to coworkers and superiors how dedicated to work and/or the organization she is and that she would never let kids interfere with her falling down on a sword for the organization.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Oof, that’ll make it even worse to me, because she’d be throwing her colleagues who do have kids under the bus with those rants, if that really is what she’s trying to say with them.

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      It could be. It’s problematic if that is the case for the reason noted by IWTITB above.

  54. Guacamole Bob*

    For OP#5, Alison’s advice may be correct in most workplaces, but in my government office the listed years of experience are a requirement and we’re not allowed to interview or hire anyone who doesn’t meet the minimum. (We wanted to interview a candidate with a great resume for a near-entry-level job who had about 1.5 years of experience if we included internships but it was shot down because the minimum in the job posting and description was 2.) But we can usually convince HR that internships and part-time work and such count, so in your case I’d recommend listing four years on your application.

    From my perspective as a hiring manager it should work more like Alison stated, but sometimes you’ve got to get through the HR screen. So if there’s a minimum listed on a long, formal list of requirements at a place that seems stuffy about rules, like if it says that X years of experience can substitute for a degree or lists grades and steps in the posting, maybe go with the upper end of a reasonable interpretation of your resume.

    1. fhqwhgads*

      I think in your example it’s really just a difference between “desired experience” vs “minimum experience”. If it’s a minimum it should be presented as such. Whereas in a lot (I’d argue possibly most) cases if it just says “experience” it means “to do this we expect you to be right around here” as the posted answer indicates.

  55. Spreadsheets and Books*

    LW5 – I like to put the onus on the hiring manager to determine whether or not I have enough experience. In my case, I worked for a year at a job with a very similar title to one in my current field but was actually in a different field with somewhat irrelevant responsibilities. However, I’ve found that most employers kind of gloss over that and consider it experience, which has helped me get a few great jobs now.

    I’m not going to ignore a posting for a job that looks good because I may be a touch shy of the experience requirements. Better to put your hat in the ring and see what happens than to disqualify yourself off the bat.

  56. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

    OP1: I’ve recognised Molly-esque tendencies in my own behaviour in the past, and this is what would work on me: talk to Molly directly using a version of Alison’s scripts.

    Upthread someone mentioned not leading in with “I respect that..”, which I agree with. If you don’t actually respect it, it could end up sounding pompous or inauthentic (a bit like “I’m not sexist, but..”). So you could start with something like: “It’s cool that you have such clarity about what you want in life…” or “It’s awesome that you’re so passionate about a woman’s right to choose her own path in life…”. Then pick up Alison’s script from there. Let her know her behaviour is actually hurtful to you personally. You can speak to that as a loving Aunt, proud feminist, loyal friend, equal-opportunist – however you want to frame it – without letting on your own plans.

    For me, my Molly-tendencies were born from years having to fight the “oh, you’ll change your mind!” drivel, and all the other traditional-gender-role, family-centric expectations that there’s something “wrong with you” if you don’t care for them. I RELISHED opportunities to vent out loud about my choices to similarly-minded women, simply because it was so rare to find them, and for once I’d have some empathy rather than an argument about what _I_ did or did not want from life. The doubling-down and obnoxiousness then became a way of preemptively pushing back against those comments. BUT! All it ever took was a simple acknowledgement about my choice to nip it in the bud.

    I’m not trying to excuse Molly’s (or my) behaviour, it’s obnoxious and needs to be stopped for the reasons already mentioned elsewhere. I’m just saying talk to her first because she may just not realise the effect it’s having and might be very responsive to you once you explain your perspective. Going straight to the boss seems extreme and potentially divisive to me when you probably have common ground to move from positively together here: choice.

    1. Taniwha Girl*

      Yes, I think it’s probably because she has experienced great pushback and pressure for choosing not to have children.

      Unfortunately Molly is not “passionate about a woman’s right to choose her own path in life” as she is actually denigrating and arguing against women’s rights to choose to have children.
      She’s also creating a very toxic environment by constantly venting about this with others.
      At a certain level of vitriol and hatred, she has made it extreme and divisive herself. It’s not OP’s job to talk her down and help her work through her insecurities. OP is her coworker, not her therapist.

      If Molly was going around saying hateful things about people who chose not to have children, would you say it’s OP’s obligation to talk it out with Molly first?

      1. There's probably a cat meme to describe it*

        I think it sounds like Molly is still fairly immature in several ways, and while she’s clearly passionate about getting to make her own choice, she’s not yet appreciating the wider complexities of the issue that she’s contributing to. That comes from life experience, and talking to people outside your echo chamber.

        I’m not suggesting OP is obligated to do anything. Just that going in with a touch of empathy often quickly resolves situations like this – and it’s surprising how much people can be empathetic in return. It’s not getting therapist-y to say “Hey, it’s really cool that you have such clarity about not wanting kids, and I totally support your choice. But it’s getting toxic to hear things like [xyz] so often, and it upsets me because [reason]. Can you give it a rest?”

        If the tables were turned and I had a coworker who said hateful things about childfree people at social events not knowing that their comments affected me, then yes, I would still say something, even if I really disliked them. For me personally, it’d find it annoying and insensitive AF, but it wouldn’t rise to the level of inappropriate that would warrant the drama of going straight to the boss without saying something directly first. But that’s me, and I know that this is a much more heated issue for others.

  57. Sharon*

    At my first job out of college (ie, when I was young and dumb), I was “Molly”. My boss very nicely took me aside and asked me to keep my views about kids to myself, and I took that advice to heart. I still loathe kids, am very glad I didn’t have them, and think that people that want them are insane, but I just keep those thoughts inside my head!

    1. Susie Q*

      You loathe kids? They are human beings who have done absolutely nothing to you except exist.

      1. Postman*

        Sharon can feel how they want to feel about kids and doesn’t need to justify those feelings. The important thing (as they mentioned!) is that the thoughts are kept inside while at the work place. :)

      2. Batgirl*

        I have the same reaction to that phrasing because they’re…..people. However if people aren’t saying it out loud I will happily rephrase it to ‘I would loathe supervising children’ and assume the best.

        1. Pretzelgirl*

          There are many things I loathe that most people like. I generally keep those feelings to myself or just say a simple XYZ is not for me and move on. That’s the difference here between Molly and this commenter. Hell I have 3 kids and don’t like the majority of other children except for my own, my niece, nephew and few close friend’s kids.

          1. Batgirl*

            How is that different to liking anyone who happens to be from a certain group though? You’re supposed to be selective and take everyone on a case by case. I know there are people who drool over strange children on sight, but they don’t (always) really like or respect them as people either.

    2. Curmudgeon in California*

      Exactly. WRT kids, it’s “not my circus, not my monkeys” for me. I’ve met nice kids, I’ve met brats, I’ve met great parents, I’ve met really bad ones.

      As long as no one is trying to tell me I need/must/should/am obligated to have and rear kids, I see no need to discuss it.

      Molly needs to stop with the pre-emptive pushback at work. People’s private choices, unless they are directly affecting the job, are not appropriate to discuss at length at work. I might inwardly look askance at someone who decided to have half a dozen or more kids, but I wouldn’t bring it up at work.

  58. Cordoba*

    I’ve had far more luck with Mollies taking the approach of “this topic is boring and wack” rather than “this topic is offensive and inappropriate”.

    She may *want* to be a bit offensive, but she probably doesn’t want to be boring.

    The next times she brings up the kid thing again I’d tell her something like “You need to get some new material, we’ve heard this rant like 50 times.”

    1. Littorally*

      Yeah, I think this is likely to be the most effective and least exhausting approach for the OP. But I’d also talk to the boss, because this atmosphere of negativity is a legit work problem regardless of the topic.

    2. Altair*

      Yeah, this is the approach I think is most likely to work. She may think that by being “offensive” she’s Challenging The Dominant Paradigm but no one wants to be boring.

  59. AnotherAlison*

    I genuinely find the discussion around #1 interesting to hear all different perspectives. As someone with unplanned kids at a young age, it was never a decision I had to make, but I am not a fan of children in general. I am happy to have my own family, but I don’t really want to interact with other people’s kids and don’t care one way or the other what people do. I find there are extremes in both camps — the Mollies and the “children are the only path to fulfillment” ones. I think both come off as over-justifying their own choices, and it makes you wonder if they are ambivalent about those choices. If I were the OP, I would probably ignore this and consider myself an observer in a psychological study. It’s annoying, but so are so many other things. If your leadership isn’t shutting it down, that says something more about the culture than Molly’s actions, imo, and I’m not sure it would be a place that I would plan to stay long-term anyway.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      I think both come off as over-justifying their own choices, and it makes you wonder if they are ambivalent about those choices.

      Yup. A few people I knew who were extremely anti-kids or anti-marriage ended up being some of the first people in my social group to get married and/or have children, lol.

    2. Altair*

      Yeah, the people who carry on endlessly on both sides are definitely Protesting Too Much. And hurting many other people, as well.

  60. Georgina Fredrika*

    To have/have not the child conversations are sooo not topics you should linger on! Everyone gets upset!

    I personally would really not be into that convo because it sucks to WANT to have kids but not be in a position to have them, constantly wondering whether my clock will tick until it can’t tick anymore, while people (from my perspective lol) kind of flaunt the fact that they could and won’t and are very loud and mean about it.

    But, looking at it from a more mature perspective, that’s definitely a me thing, not a them thing. All the same, it’s so often a sensitive subject people should know to move on!

  61. Amy*

    Kid Rant letter – This wasn’t really your question but I wouldn’t plan on staying at company when you have kids. (I assume this is 5 – 10 years down the line?)

    Get your experience, do well. And move on. I might say something about Molly but I wouldn’t take it on yourself to reform the culture. If senior leaders have a kid and still don’t think through basic HR issues like maternity leave, it’s bigger than Molly.

    I’d look for either small companies with a reputation for good work/ life balance or a large company with a decent reputation. I have 3 kids under 5 and work for a large company. I’m sure there are some terrible large companies but at mine, it’s all very matter of fact. At any given time, there many be 50 people out for FMLA, maternity, recovering from a heart attack / Covid etc. It’s all very clear and prescribed, nothing strange about it.

    There are also clear policies on bullying, sexual harassment, toxic workplace culture, racial discrimination. Not necessarily because the company is so wonderful and benevolent but because it pays to have an effective HR, warding off lawsuits, high turnover and bad press. I’d get what you need from the Molly company now and focus on next steps and eventually leaving for a better place.

    1. Gamer Girl*

      I can’t agree more. If I were talking to my younger, pre-kid self, I would tell her that “Office Space” is just a movie and that work/life balance is nothing to scoff at. Not to mention that it’s pretty hard to “be passionate” and “be all you can be” if you pour your whole life into your work with no time for anything else. There is serious value in stable employment with a large employer with a clear benefit and HR policy for many situations, including becoming a parent.

    2. AnotherAlison*

      I’m a little surprised by the OP’s affirmation that she would like to stay at this company until she retires. I assume the OP is <35, and I'd guess under 30, so that's quite a long ways out in the future (unless they all hit the start-up lottery, I suppose). Personal plans, goals, and needs change, and I would expect the company will change a lot.

      I actually moved to my current company 15 years ago because I worked for a large, global company in their HQ office, and I wanted a smaller company with a different culture. I'm not sure what the overall headcount was at the second company in 2005, but my office had about 150 people. They were founded in the 70s, and acquired in the late 90s. My office location has nearly 10x the staff as we did in 2005 now. There have been tons of other changes. It has oddly enough become a lot more corporate and we have a lot of things in place that I was trying to avoid, but with more professional maturity on my part, I appreciate many of these things. I hope it all works out for the OP, as it has for me personally, but I think there's a lot of luck in finding a company that grows the direction you also want to go!

  62. Veryanon*

    The mask question – at least in the U.S., this would be considered a request for accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and it’s the employer’s obligation to engage in an interactive discussion with the employee to figure out a solution. I hope the LW is able to get the help they need to figure this out.

  63. Starbuck*

    LW3: “Just be aware that without a contract, employers can change the terms of your employment at any time. They can’t change it retroactively, but they can announce at any point, “Starting on (date), we’ll need you in the office / your salary will be cut 10% / your title will be X instead of Y.” You are then free to try to negotiate something else or decline to continue in the job under the new terms, but you can’t force them to continue with the old terms.”

    How does declining to continue the job under the new terms work, exactly? If I decline, does that mean I’m quitting? Or does it mean I’m going to be laid off?

  64. Letter Writer #1*

    LW #1 here! Just thought I’d explain a bit more since I tried to keep my original letter short and sweet.

    First, I absolutely respect anyone’s decision to not have kids (or have kids, or be undecided, or switch their opinion every week, whatever!). I am also sure Molly has been on the receiving end of an exhausting slew of comments about how she should have children, whether explicitly or just as a general cultural phenomenon. That isn’t okay, and I totally sympathize with those who have those experiences (for what it’s worth, I’m fairly positive Molly has not fielded such comments at our workplace, but nonetheless I understand the perspective). My question wasn’t whether Molly was justified in her opinion, something I don’t think I get to decide. I also certainly wasn’t meaning to shame her decision in any way. My personal stance is that any discussion about reproduction should be kept to bedrooms and doctor’s offices.

    My question was more aimed at whether I could bring this up to my boss, who I have a closer relationship with than I do with Molly. My boss, for the record, has had conversations with me about how she wants to be very purposeful about the culture of our company, which overall is very startup-y/entrepreneurial. This question occurred to me because I realized I was changing my original “life” plans because of potential work consequences. Career wise, I would love to work for this company until I retire; the work is challenging, fulfilling, and something I’m passionate about. However, I’ve been feeling that having kids at this company would be a huge roadblock to that career, if only because I know there would be conversations happening behind my back. I’m finding myself worried that in order to have kids I have to be comfortable with my career becoming stagnant. My boss is also the person who hired Molly, so in some ways I’m also worried that she at least is comfortable with those opinions being expressed.

    Finally, I realize from Alison’s response and from commenters that I do need to take some more ownership when faced with these conversations in the moment, if only to do my part in counteracting what I see as a negative culture. As the newest person at the company, my reaction to the first few of these conversations was either awkward silence or wildly looking around for someone outside the group to talk to. Now that I’m a bit more established, I’ll be sure to speak up and derail these conversations as best I can.

    Thank you Alison, for your response, and for all the commenters! Sorry this response has gotten a bit long.

    P.S. I know this may come across as worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet, but as a professional woman who like to plan things, I tend to worry about these things :)

    1. Observer*

      Thanks for the additional context.

      Please do NOT make life plans around the assumption that you will stay at the same company for all your life.

      For one thing, if your company is not amenable to a legitimate major life desire of yours, then maybe it’s not such a great place in general, and almost certainly not a great place for you. Something like having (or not) children is pretty major and means really cutting off a significant part of yourself. If that’s the price for staying there, that may be too much.

      Also, as a practical matter, so much can happen – the company may change in other ways that make it desirable or even absolutely necessary for you to move on. Also, you might just discover that there are other companies that have missions that you support, where you can further your career that do NOT require this kind of sacrifice.

      It sounds to me like you should definitely speak up in the moment, but a conversation with your boss might not be a bad idea as well. Both because of the specific content of the rants – people should not be subject to rants about their choice to (not) have children. But also, and I think more importantly, because this kind of behavior can make the entire environment quite toxic, no matter what the subject is. Even if it were as innocuous as not understanding people who like soccer or unicorn art. When it’s aimed at major life choices, it’s just impossible.

      1. Letter Writer #1*

        Thanks for your response and advice! I should have been clearer: I know it’s unrealistic to plan on staying somewhere forever. My point was that, as far as the actual work goes, I have zero complaints and would be happy doing this forever if my only criteria for staying was the work itself. I was trying to be a bit hyperbolic but I don’t think it came across–I realize it’s a bit crazy to say I’ll work somewhere for decades after only working there 1.5 years :) That said, I would definitely prefer not to have to job search/leave, so any solution that allows me to stay on and be satisfied for as long as possible is the route I’m looking to take.

        1. Observer*

          I hear you. But a decision on having children is waaaay to big and encompassing to be linked to any one workplace. Marriage (if / who) is another area like that.

          Any workplace that makes you even consider that choice is not actually a good workplace. Enough so that even if you happen to fit into the “preferred” side (eg you actually worked in a place that puts pressure to have children) I would be very, very cautious. Because places like that tend to be toxic in other ways as well.

    2. juliebulie*

      How friendly are you with Molly? Would you be comfortable telling her what you’ve told us?

      Besides, she may not realize how she sounds when she talks that way. It’s unprofessional. It’s not a good way to talk if she has greater career ambitions within the company.

    3. Batgirl*

      If your boss is specifically discussing company culture with you, then I would try. Molly’s comments could easily be sending talented people to more family friendly cultures if she’s not shut down. I hope I’m not misgendering you, but women in particular are loathe to say “I cant wait till I have babeez!” to their boss. We still get pitched the line that it’s either a family OR a career. Unless you’re a man! Presumption that his wife will keep them off the work radar is still operational. One way to dip a toe into the water is to ask your boss what type of employee she’s trying to attract or retain. If it’s a plan to create a firm where everyone is young, young, young and has no other life outside of work, then it may be a problem.

    4. EventPlannerGal*

      If it’s got to the point where you feel like your major life decisions are being influenced by this environment then yes, raise it with your boss. That’s not a good sign.

      I think you will get a much clearer idea of how many people in your company actually feel like this if you start pushing back in the moment. If you have one person constantly pushing a point of view and a lot of people passively nodding along because they don’t care that much, that creates an impression that everybody agrees when maybe they just can’t be bothered arguing with Molly the office bore. If you start pushing back, especially in a way that stresses how weird and boring her fixation on this one topic is, I think that will reveal a lot about how many people actually care.

    5. OrigCassandra*

      I think the Molly situation and the career-forecasting-vis-a-vis-kids situation are best approached separately, especially with your boss and/or HR. I do see how they’re related, but bringing Molly into the forecast conversation seems liable to derail it less than usefully.

      Being childfree myself, I don’t have any advice on when or how to hold the forecast conversation, but I definitely think you’ll find good advice in AAM’s archives. As for Molly, I concur with commenter Observer that addressing it in the moment is best to start with. If it doesn’t stop or intensifies, then it might be time for a talk with the boss.

    6. Madame X*

      #I find it so odd that someone who doesn’t want to have kids is overly occupied with talking about kids. Isn’t the benefit of being child-free is that you don’t have to spend that much time talking about them?
      Surely she has developed skills or interests that she could talk about instead.
      More generally, having one or more people at the office who constantly rant about something they hate is not great for the office culture either. Since your boss has specifically told you that she’s taking it upon herself to try and improve the office culture, I think this is a topic worth bringing up with her for how best to nip this in the bud.

  65. Aquawoman*

    LW4 just made me sad. It says something really uncomplimentary about our culture if someone has to ask if being able to breathe is an unreasonable request.

  66. Gamer Girl*

    I’m genuinely mystified about OP1’s coworker! From my own experience, I would say: some women talk about not having kids to ward off possible discrimination due to sexism and perceptions in the workplace about working mothers, whereas other people have strong and quite problematic opinions about who should have kids, and how, and why… It’s a really odd thing to be doing during meetings, and I hope that you can use one of Alison’s scripts to get her to at least tone down these rants, OP. A family, and in particular a woman, choosing to have the family size that is right for her is a basic human right.

    The situation reminds me of two former coworkers. If it’s helpful, this is how they brought up the “no kids/limit kids” topic:

    1. One was seemingly obsessed with saying she would never have kids, but this was only said in response to any parental anecdote whatsoever, not out of the blue, like OP1. I found out once I got pregnant myself that she had experienced some sexism at a first, very toxic workplace where she was refused a promotion and found out from a sympathetic male colleague that it was because the boss thought she was about to have a baby, since she just got married. She was still worried about what having a baby would do to her career, several years later.

    2. Another, senior colleague, close to retirement, often would bring up people with families larger than one or two children, in the context of talking about “being green” or “making good choices” during lunch break discussions. It was her opinion, (I learned over time from the way she brought this up) that since contraception was now available, anyone who had more than one or possibly two children was taking advantage of the state, that people who couldn’t afford it shouldn’t have children, and that people had “more options” than simply having large families. She often brought up “environmental” concerns, but it seemed like she was more passionate about arguing against people receiving monetary aid from the state (we are in the EU, which makes it more shocking that these were her views–solidarity is a really important value here!) I felt increasingly uncomfortable the more often she brought this up but only softly brought up my own opinions–she wasn’t someone I felt comfortable pushing back too hard.

    Three years after I left that job, I ran into her at the grocery store, and she brought this up again! Bear in mind: I was visibly pregnant–7 months!–with my second child, with my first child in tow. If I ran into her today, I like to think that I would push back if she brought it up, but honestly? Sometimes in the workplace it’s easier to try to ignore an uncomfortable truth about your colleague. Not the right response, but it is the path of least resistance.

  67. Sleepy*

    I am glad to understand a little better why someone would medically not be able to wear a mask. I had been wondering about that.

    I assume that conditions that make it hard to wear masks will also make the person higher-risk for respiratory disease. Let’s hope the rest of us can do a good job with our mask-wearing and protect those folks.

    1. Gamer Girl*

      Me too–my toddler can’t wear a mask, per CDC guidelines, but I didn’t actually know that others can’t wear them because of health conditions. The more you know!

  68. Mark*

    #2 – Are you sure that this supervisor knows/remembers that you are off for a funeral? Here, when someone is out of the office, the status calendar that tells everyone who isn’t in that day will simply say they are out. It doesn’t refer to a funeral, so many won’t know that is what the time off is for. There’s also a saying that goes something like, “Your problems are at the top of your mind, not at the top of other people’s minds.” Even if the supervisor is the one who approved your time off for the funeral, that doesn’t mean they remember that was the reason you wanted off. Not only have I mistakenly called or texted people off for a funeral (having forgotten that is why they were not here), but I have also been on the receiving end by people who knew but forgot.

  69. CatPerson*

    I have the opposite problem at my workplace. Many of my co-workers have kids and they stand around talking about them to each other all day. I find this extremely disruptive because it’s hard to tune out the full-voice conversations (they have no consideration for how loud they are and the length of them) and frankly, I find other people’s kids boring. On the other hand, I don’t think this should be my problem to endure or work around.

    At times I have stood up and politely ask the chatters to take their conversation into a conference room, or otherwise pipe down. For the repeat offenders, I’ve had conversations with their leaders, and I’ve found they have followed up on them and things improve for a while. But I leave out the part about finding the topic boring, I focus on the non-stop chatter disruptive/distracting aspect of it.

  70. Pigeon*

    OP1, when my family was first exploring the idea of not having children, I ran into the “childfree” movement. And at first it felt great to be accepted somewhere. However, it became increasingly clear that this community was incredibly hateful and toxic, and the more of an echo chamber various members lived in, the worse it got.

    Your coworker sounds like exactly the kind of person I used to meet there. And it sounds very much like she’s trying to recreate that mostly-online environment offline, or is so deeply enmeshed that she’s stopped recognizing that boundary. And it sounds like your other coworkers who are not planning to have children are possibly undergoing the same feeling I did, which is embracing the opportunity to be open about their plans, without immediately recognizing the toxicity of your coworker’s views.

    My point being, this has to be nipped in the bud, or the company will not only be exposed to significant liability (childfree communities ALWAYS end up persecuting pregnant people as well; it is one terminus of their “boiled frog” escalation tactics), but the culture will become so generally toxic it will hinder the company in other ways, and possibly derail other benefit-related or team-building conversations beyond these social events.

  71. Kes*

    It’s interesting because I feel like in other settings question 2 would have received a lot more attention, but here it’s been eclipsed by 1 and 4
    OP 2 – I do think your boss was inconsiderate and should have waited until you were back, both in general and especially since you were out on bereavement leave. However, unless your experience with your boss leads you elsewhere, you may as well assume good intentions and bad execution, since it won’t help to do otherwise. At least your boss didn’t get your coworker to leave a note on your relative’s grave.
    #5 – I’ve struggled with the same in terms of what to include for ‘x+ years experience in y’ – I went through a co-op program where you do two years’ worth of full-time placements over the course of your degree (6 terms of 4 months each), and I go back and forth a bit on whether to include a) all of it, b) only the terms that are the same as what I do now vs related but different positions (ex: qa vs dev), or c) if people would only really take full-time work post graduation seriously. I normally lean towards including more and go with a) or b) depending on what it’s for. In your position it’s a bit different since they weren’t full time but at the same time, when applying for jobs as Alison says job listings often aren’t hard requirements, so I would lean towards counting it as more and if you’re in the right area it’s worth applying

  72. Elle by the sea*

    On the colleague’s rants on hating kids…Well, it’s becoming de rigueur these days, I’m afraid. All the places I’ve worked at (except for my current company) had a large number of such people. I work in a traditionally male-dominated field, so unfortunately many women feel honour-bound to project this attitude so that no one ever claims they have internalised sexism. I find this sort of behaviour extremely problematic (regardless of whether I want to have children or not myself), especially the fact that you are pressured to think and talk like that if you wish to consider yourself a liberal or feminist. It’s not helping the cause, really. I have always been vocal about my take on this and yes, they seemed to have been shocked find out that there were diverse opinions on this topic.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      Despising everything traditionally “feminine” and looking down on other women for being “too feminine” is, itself, a form of internalized sexism.

      And I imagine part of why your female coworkers are so vocal about this is that they’re afraid their majority-male colleagues will discriminate against them for even the possibility of motherhood.

  73. Babbling*

    Rant about not wanting kids: I guess if she’s talking like this all the time, yeah try to get her to pull back a little. But it sounds like this is in a social environment (break room/cafeteria), so you could just walk away from the conversation.

    In my experience, people talk about their kids, or wanting kids, or kids in general all. the. time. If they could, they’d talk about them 24 hours a day. No joke. So if 1% of the time someone goes on about not wanting kids? I’d welcome another option/opinion. What if there are actually plenty of people who don’t want kids and they’re afraid to speak of not wanting to have kids? Or parents who tell you the reality (good and bad) of having kids before you do, so you can make a good decision about it? And what about bringing a kid into this mess of a world? Would the kid want that? I’d think this provides that opening for them. Just acknowledge that your way of life isnt exactly like mine or anyone else’s and it’d probably improve.

    This isn’t just about kid discussions IMO though. I’d say the same thing about just about any subject of discussion with work friends. I’ve walked away many times from the cube area when coworker brought their baby to work to show off, or when it’s sports, or politics, or whatever. Unless it’s your boss talking like this during a staff meeting or something, you can walk/run away, right? That’s what taking a walk to the bathroom, other coffee room, outside, etc is for.

  74. Hawthorne*

    OP#4: You sound like me–severely asthmatic with heat symptoms related to MS (autoimmune represent). I don’t manage anyone, but I’m in a similar boat. We’re hitting all our metrics and working from home hasn’t been a deal breaker.

    My job hasn’t started people back yet, but I was the first person to go home, and my boss and I have agreed I will be the last person to come back. I brought it up with her preemptively, and she had no issues with it. She brought it up with her superiors and the general consensus is that I won’t come back until I feel safe.

    Someone mentioned wearing a face shield–part of the problem I personally have with my asthma is my breathing being restricted by something in front of my mouth. That plus the heat of wearing a face mask would probably knock me out for the day. Heat related symptoms for a lot of autoimmune diseases will knock you out of commission.

    1. Hawthorne*

      Also, as some others have previously said, people like us are the reason people are wearing masks.

  75. Mediamaven*

    Regarding masks – I can’t imagine wearing one all day either. Some of us just can’t. But I’ve thought about buying one of those plastic face shields. I wonder if that would be allowed.

  76. generic_username*

    LW1, from my read of your letter, it sounds like Molly may be the only one with that much vitriol against kids or people having them. Others are likely just agreeing because she’s been ranting about it for x number of minutes and they want to be a part of the conversation (and they may truly not want children, but that doesn’t mean they hate them and look down on those that choose to have them). You likely could derail her rant/change course of the conversation by saying something in favor of kids or in favor of having them. You don’t even have to share your personal plans to have children one day – something like “my friend just had a baby and the pictures she sends me are so cute” or “I love seeing pictures of babies and dogs napping together” or something equally mild. Or change the topic entirely – “Not sure why this popped into my head just now, but I’m thinking about taking a road trip over our next long weekend. Anyone have any good recommendations for where to go?”

  77. OP5*

    Thanks Alison for answering y question, and everyone else for your input!

    I asked because I applied for a job yesterday that asked for years of experience with one specific number, and wouldn’t let me write down “3-4” or something along those lines. I typed in “3”, submitted, and then immediately was wondering if that was the right number, because I don’t have a concrete amount of time I’ve been working. Alison, thankfully, just backed up what I was already (over)thinking.

    It’s just weird because when you say “internship” you think of an unpaid student getting coffee or answering emails, but I work in architecture/interior design, where I was paid (underpaid, but paid nonetheless), doing full construction drawings, meeting with reps from the industry, and giving input on design decisions. It was absolutely real experience to count towards job applications. (Also, until recently, the term for ANYONE doing architecture who hadn’t earned their license yet was “intern”, no matter if you were a student or a full-time employee with a few years under your belt.)

    1. generic_username*

      If this is something that is common in your field, then I definitely wouldn’t worry about it. 3 is a great answer for all of the reasons that Alison said, but also you can talk about it during your interview (I wouldn’t bring it up proactively, but if they ask directly or say something like, “three years of full time experience” then I would correct them/explain that it was two years full time, two years part time).

      Also, it’s worth noting that plenty of people apply to (and get hired for) jobs they don’t meet all or the criteria for. Obviously don’t apply to a job that needs a professional license you don’t have, but if they say they want someone with 5-10 years experience and you have 4.5 year, throw your hat in the ring anyway. As long as you don’t lie or purposefully mislead them, the firm can decide for themselves whether an award you won or some specialized experience you have makes up for that missing year to six months.

    2. Anon for this one*

      A well designed internship shouldn’t be “doing the coffee run”, “photocopying” etc but actually doing some job-relevant tasks in the context of “learning how this industry works”. The purpose is for the intern to gain some knowledge of the job/industry.

  78. Database Developer Dude*

    Regarding LW#1, I’d say handle that like ANY rants about others’ personal choices:

    Coworker, I get that this is your stance on a personal life choice, but other people have different choices, and their choice is just as valid for them as yours is for you. Please stop ranting about this, because it’s creating a hostile work environment. It’s not professional, and it’s a distraction.

  79. Luna*

    #1: “Yes, Molly, I recall you mentioning your strong dislike of children at [a previous work event]. Now, regarding [bean-dipping topic]…” and just keep doing that sort of thing.

  80. char*

    #4 – I also have a coworker who very vocally hates children, and I find it very offputting even though I never want children myself. It’s unnerving the sheer level of hatred he shows towards both the concept of children in general and towards the various specific children he has to deal with. It’s like, dude, kids are just small humans without much life experience, please cut them some slack. It’s okay not to want to take care of them yourself, but they still deserve to be treated with the same respect you’d give to an adult. I don’t like hearing anyone be viciously insulted behind their back, whether or not that person is a child.

    When he’s off on one of his rants, I tend to express mild disagreement, but I don’t really push it because I know that disagreeing will just make dig in his heels even more. Expressing any disagreement at all is more so that other people know that we’re not all tacitly agreeing with him; I know that he himself is never going to be persuaded that children aren’t universally terrible.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      Oh man. I couldn’t disagree with them about this specific issue, but disagreeing with someone who digs their heels in on “contentious topic X” is the sort of thing I thrive on…

    2. leapingLemur*

      “kids are just small humans without much life experience, please cut them some slack. It’s okay not to want to take care of them yourself, but they still deserve to be treated with the same respect you’d give to an adult.” This!!!

  81. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

    OP1 (has a rabidly vitriolic “child-free by choice” co-worker) …

    As a happily childless/child-free person myself (with a complex history) I have to admit to having been somewhat like Molly in the past, although nowhere near to that degree.

    I did bring my “hatred” into the workplace, sometimes (mostly around special arrangements being made for parents, rather than just apropos of nothing, though).

    I judged people and thought less of them for being “breeders” and so on. (I put that in quotes because I no longer believe that, so hopefully it can be accepted here as a previous misguided belief).

    I do still have views about overpopulation etc which I engage with people about in a rational way, but no longer an emotional one. And of course I realize that that is a global problem not just solvable by one person’s individual decision.

    … In the past I have expressed “crotch goblin” etc sentiments to people, sometimes quite angrily. Not in the sense of being angry with the person I was talking to but still, clearly communicating hostility towards others who were “breeders” etc.

    And in the past couple of years (after about 10 years of expressing hate like this) I’ve come to understand myself better, to identify why I conflated my resentments about people being parents and ipso facto being given the world on a plate… while I was assumed to be available to pick up the pieces when they “just had to attend little Johnny’s piano recital” or whatever it was.

    I don’t want to go into how it is that I softened my approach by 1000% (no, I haven’t changed my mind for myself or become pregnant!) about this as 1) it’s not relevant and 2) it would need more electrons than we have left in the universe to put into words, but the TL;DR is that I think there’s a possibility ‘Molly’ is expressing this level of hatred -in the workplace- because of perhaps similar resentments (with different root cause I expect).

    How should that change the advice? Seek to understand Molly’s motivation I suppose.

    I’m more concerned that all the others seem to go along with Molly’s opinion when it doesn’t sound like Molly is in a particular position of authority or anything like that… maybe they just agree with it for an easy life.

    In most of the places I’ve worked Molly would have been legitimiately reprimanded or “written up” or given a written warning for repeatedly expressing sentiments like that. (I was given one myself, in relation to a topic unrelated to children, but a similar “moral judgement” issue. It stuck on my record for 2 years!)

    1. Jaybeetee*

      Molly may well have sympathetic reasons behind her behaviour – maybe she’s more conflicted about being CF than she wants to admit, maybe she’s firmly CF and has gotten static from friends or family over it and is now defensive. Maybe her best friend had a kid and dropped off the face of the earth, who knows (to be clear, I’m not trying to pathologize Molly not wanting children. I’m discussing her ranting and apparent anger on the topic).

      My concern though, is LW is not a therapist, not Molly’s therapist, sounds relatively young herself, and I don’t know if it would be good for her to wade into Molly’s issues here or attempt to “help” her. Molly is a colleague with an obnoxious habit, and the bottom line for LW is Molly stopping the habit – not curing the anger or resentment or conflict Molly might be feeling that might be fueling her rants.

      I agree with the advice above to more or less meet Molly’s rants with something like, “Yes, we’ve heard this. How about that local sports team?” If Molly has any social sense at all, that should pull her up a bit that this is just not as interesting a topic to other people as it is to her. If LW does this, she might be surprised who follows her own example later. I’d bet $10 that at least a few people are nodding along with Molly to keep the peace or because they’re not sure what else to do, rather than that they fully agree with her.

    2. Ice and Indigo*

      I agree with Jaybeetee. Children are an entire class of human being. If a letter writer had, say, a gay colleague who was sick of being told he just hadn’t met the right girl yet, and reacted by endlessly ranting in a work environment about how much he hated women, everyone would recognise this as creating a hostile work environment. Children are people too.

      Molly is being unprofessional and nasty, and that’s as much as the letter writer needs to care about.

      (Also, if anyone genuinely thinks parents are ‘given the world on a plate’ – well, I’ll take a workplace-appropriate tone and say that you are severely under-informed.)

  82. WantonSeedStitch*

    I would have to say that as a pregnant woman, I would feel extremely unhappy in the workplace environment that OP #1 describes. If I reported to one of the people who made these kinds of comments, I would worry that I would be treated poorly because of my pregnancy and after my baby was born–denied opportunities, put on the “mommy track,” etc. I would probably WISH that I could look for a new job, but would worry that doing so would mean I’d have to forfeit the seniority that permits me to take advantage of maternity leave and other benefits, so I would feel trapped in a hostile environment and anxious about my future. So yeah, that isn’t just unpleasant–it’s actively problematic.

    1. Ice and Indigo*

      Not to mention that the phrase ‘crotch goblins’ is basically talking about the genitals of every pregnant and parent co-worker! Frankly I’d feel that phrase was edging towards sexual harassment.

  83. nnn*

    #4: since you manage an entire division, maybe you could use that authority to work on creating an environment that’s friendlier for people who struggle with masks (some of whom may not have a medical diagnosis – before the pandemic, I hadn’t the slightest idea that I might have problems with my breathing or oxygen levels, but the fact of the matter is I get light-headed after about 40 minutes in a mask)

    For example, a cooler work environment, the ability to sit down while working, frequent breaks, a space where people can take a break with their mask off, maximizing remote work, physical distance between workstations, etc.

    You’re less likely to be seen as not a team player if you’re trying to solve the problem for everyone.

  84. Vee*

    Face shields are a great alternative to masks (together is best) and they are starting to become more commercially available. I was able to order some – I am from Canada though

  85. lazy intellectual*

    #1 – Ugh – I don’t understand people who think that just because something isn’t for them, they have to completely shit on it. Also as someone who is not interested in having kids, bragging about how much you “hate kids” is horrible. That is not something to be proud of, and you shouldn’t go about ranting about it at work.

    I think Alison’s advice is good. I would be tempted to do the covert thing and just address it with the boss. I wouldn’t want to turn the kid-haters on me.

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