when HR cuddles with an employee, asking kids what they want to be when they grow up, and more

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

1. My wife, the head of HR, cuddled with an employee

My wife is the head of HR at her small nonprofit, and has had a very close friendship with somebody who, for a long time, reported to her. My wife was a big advocate for this person getting promoted to her current position.

My wife and her friendship with her report have made me slightly uncomfortable, as I have thought it was overly-familiar for a work relationship. (For what it’s worth, we are not monogamous. She has been with many women and I am not jealous in the slightest. The professional context is what is getting to me, as detailed below.)

Anyway, my wife shared with me that she gave her report/peer a ride home, and then went inside to her report’s house, and then they “cuddled” for a while before her report admitted an attraction. To which my wife replied, “Let’s just stick with cuddles.”

I have told her that it is wildly unprofessional to be this close to anybody in a work context, particularly somebody who used to be a report, and particularly when you are the de facto head of HR. I think she’s finally coming around to believing me. I just feel terrible because there’s a junior employee who’s 10 years younger whose reputation is at stake too. My wife’s report shouldn’t have to field accusations of unfair advantage or have her pay scale questioned. (My wife is currently arguing to a budgetary committee that this employee needs a raise. Imagine if the raise goes through and then any of this comes out.)

What now? Is this salvageable? I told my wife she needed to stop seeing this employee outside of any context that wasn’t the office, that any meeting outside of the office needed to be treated as an extension of the workplace, and that any communication needed to happen through work email or slack. Period. Full stop. But I also think she should apply somewhere else and get out before any of this gets out to other members of her team, the CEO, or the board. She thinks the situation is fine and just will be awkward for a while. I worry that if she waits and this comes out, she’ll not only be potentially fired, but her reputation will be so damaged she won’t be able to find work anywhere else. And I don’t know. Maybe she’s right. It was a one-off cuddle session on a couch at her report’s house. But still. I don’t know. It just feels like she needs to get out, and get out now.

Whoa, okay. As you well know, your wife should not be cuddling with any employees as the head of HR or with anyone whose salary she has influence over. It sounds like she urgently needs to step back and reassess her beliefs about relationships at work while she’s in this role, because the problem isn’t just this one specific situation but also the fact that she didn’t think it was a problem at all until you really pushed her to see it.

Is it salvageable? I don’t know. It’s possible that she can establish better boundaries with this person and it’ll never be brought up and that’ll be the end of it. It’s also possible it’ll come out at some point and reflect really badly on her (which could mean anything from being seen as having terrible judgment to facing a harassment complaint). I don’t think your role as a spouse can be to insist that she quit, but you certainly have standing to talk through the implications of what happened and her philosophy about this stuff in general and then figure out if you’re comfortable with where she stands on it all.

2. Is my old job calling about the Glassdoor review I left?

Earlier this year, I left the company I had been working for for the last three years. Two years back, we were told to leave a Glassdoor review while working for the company. We were a small team of 10 people so any review you left could easily be detected. I don’t think anyone left an honest review. I know I didn’t.

After leaving in February, I wanted to remove my previous review and add a new one. But I chose to delay it so that I could think things over. Last month, I left a new review and deleted the old one. I wrote stuff like good pay, no hierarchy, plenty of opportunities to wear many hats, flexible timing, extremely collaborative and stimulating environment. And the cons were small team hence heavy workload, no work-life balance, flexible timing but doesn’t matter you’ll be working all the time, inefficient processes, lots of miscommunication, and lack of trust, lots of micromanagement, useless meetings, extremely harsh feedback, complete lack of praise, open office structure causes plenty of distractions, impossible to do deep working, no avenue for constructive complaints, etc. In the end, I mentioned that some of the issues were being addressed at the time of my leaving.

I thought I’d finally move on with my life but within a week I got a call from HR. I didn’t pick up because I was taking an afternoon nap. As soon as I saw the missed call, I knew it was regarding the review and immediately recognized I’d made the mistake of not leaving it anonymously. I included my designation and the number of years I had worked there. I didn’t think it through and deep down I guess I wanted them to know it was me.

I spoke to other people about this and many said that they could be calling to discuss tax and payroll stuff. Some said they want more details on future improvement. But when I left I’d already spoken to them regarding taxes and payroll, and everything was taken care of. Besides, they could’ve emailed me since I wasn’t picking their call. As for future improvements, they’d be better off asking people who are still working there.

Their attitude was always “work first,” not relationship first (not that companies have to prioritize building relationships with employees, balance is the name of the game) so when the work is done, I’m out. So I never called HR back. But today I got a message from my manager asking me how I’m doing. If I reply, I believe he’d want to talk to me. Any advice on how to handle this situation?

The lovely thing about not working there anymore is that you don’t have to talk to them if you don’t want to. They can’t make you! Still, though, ideally you’d stay on reasonably good terms with your manager because he might be asked for a reference for you in the future. That doesn’t mean you need to get on the phone with him though. Email him back (even if he called you) and say, “Got your message. I’m doing well! Anything you need me for? If so, I’m hard to reach by phone these days so email is best.” And if it turns out that he does indeed want to talk about your review, you can decline to respond at that point or say “hmmm, I know a lot of people thought those things so it could be anyone” or “I don’t think companies should try to influence online reviews” or whatever response (or non-response) you’re comfortable with.

3. The problem with “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

As a parent of a four-year-old, I’m having an increasingly hard time with people asking kids, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I don’t think it’s healthy for anyone (especially kids) to define themselves by their work. I sometimes feel like I was socialized to go to college and then graduate school, and now I have a ton of student debt that I will never pay off. I have a nice job in my field, but I’ve scaled back to part-time to spend more time with my child and no longer have the passion I once had for my career. And I’m perfectly okay with that, as I have lots of interests outside work, but I’m sure I’d have been find learning a trade and having less schooling and less debt. I want to avoid shoehorning my kiddo into something that might not be the best choice for her, and in fact I’d like to avoid her identifying so strongly with any type of career field, especially as a child but really at any point in her life. I’m just curious what you think about this, and if you have any ideas on what other questions we should be asking kids that make them think about their future/their values, but don’t involve picking a hypothetical career and defining themselves by it.

I agree that too many kids are raised with problematic ideas about the role work must play in their lives, but I don’t know that the ubiquity of “what do you want to do when you grow up?” is a major contributor to that. For most kids, the ideas they have when they’re little (astronaut, artist, vet, etc.) don’t have much correlation to what they end up being interested in when they’re eventually of an age to think seriously about a career. (That’s not always true, of course; I’m speaking generally.) And most kids have little to no idea about the full range of career options out there and end up picking from a very limited knowledge of their options. I do think, though, that by a certain age (11? 12?) we’d be better off asking kids about their interests rather than specific career paths.

This is all pretty off-the-cuff though — what do others think?

4 Editing an intern’s work when she’s a non-native speaker

I am a very new, first-time manager, and I have what is hopefully a low-stakes problem that I want to get right. I have one direct report, essentially an intern, and she is not a native English speaker. Her spoken English has always been excellent. However, she has just given me her first written report to review, and while the English is not bad, there are places where her phrasing is a little odd-sounding. It’s mainly a matter of tone, unusual (but not incorrect) word choice, or of being slightly too wordy.

I feel very comfortable correcting actual errors (there are one or two, but I’d expect that from anyone, native speaker or not), but is it reasonable of me to edit her document when it’s not incorrect​, it’s just not how a native speaker would write? We do not have a “house style” and this would be an internal document. Is it worth potentially giving her a complex about her English when she is a good worker and this is really just my opinion?

A lot of editing is “just” someone’s opinion — but that’s how documents end up with better clarity and flow. Editing and being edited is a pretty normal part of work; it doesn’t need to give anyone a complex.

In this case, you should edit if (a) edits are needed to make the document clear and easier to understand or (b) internal readers will assume the document reflects your edits and sign-off.

But there are lots of jobs where a more junior person writes and a more senior person polishes and edits. If you end up doing that here, you can explain that to her — it’s not necessarily about her written English skills, but a normal part of the job (if in fact that’s the case).

5. Indicating medical leave on a resume

If a person is injured at work and needs to take time off to heal from that injury how are they supposed to list it on their resume? Should there be a gap? No gap and still listed as working there during the time even if it’s 6+ months?

For my employer, even when women take a maternity leave, it still gets added to their years of service and I’ve seen that they don’t put a gap year on their resume (I live in Canada). Is this the correct way to handle it?

Yes! You’re still employed there even if you’re on medical or parental leave. You don’t need to, and shouldn’t, subtract out that time on your resume.

{ 604 comments… read them below }

  1. Beth*

    OP4: I’m a speaker of a language other than English, which I learned as a teenager and adult, and which I do sometimes write in for my work. When I do need to write in it, for anything more formal than a casual email, I’m way more comfortable if a native speaker is willing to look it over! I’m fluent, and I know my writing is going to be comprehensible, but I also know there will probably be little places where it sounds awkward in exactly the way you describe. Having someone to catch those before it goes out more broadly is a relief, for me.

    All this is to say, your employee might actually be glad that you’re doing this kind of review. And even if she isn’t, she’s aware she’s not a native English speaker. You acknowledging that isn’t going to give her a complex! If you don’t make it a big deal, I doubt she’ll make it a big deal. Just make the corrections like you would correct any other minor writing issue and continue on.

    1. AcademiaNut*

      I do this all the time for coworkers, as one of the few native speakers in the department. Often for people who are senior to me (including my direct supervisor) and well established in their field. They’re fluent in English, but having someone polish for odd phrases and correct articles/prepositions makes the text flow much better.

      1. Alexander Graham Yell*

        I work for the US branch of a European company that has decided they really need to grow in Europe outside of its original country. The one native English speaker they have only has work experience in that country, so her edits are not much better than the rest of the team’s – and as a native English speaker who also happens to have a degree in writing you can bet I used that as part of my pitch to transfer to HQ.

        In fact, I had an exchange with the head of a department a while back about a presentation I was reviewing that went like this:

        Dept Head: Okay, so if I pass this to you, you will make it smell more American?
        Me: Yep, give me 2 hours and I can make it sound American.
        DH: But I said smell!
        Me: Yes, and I made it sound more American!

        1. Tau*

          The glory of being a (quasi-)native English speaker in continental Europe… I’ve accepted the fact that despite the fact that my actual job has zero to do with external communications or writing my duties will almost certainly involve “final proof-reader for important external English-language content.” Given that I have now on multiple occasions prevented an official communication from containing an unintentional sexual reference, that’s probably for the best.

            1. Tau*

              I will give you one:

              An atmosphere of strong collaboration was translated as “mutual stimulation between researchers”. Extra fun: this was in a very serious, high-level document.

    2. allathian*

      Editing someone’s work is like any kind of actionable feedback, and if it’s done in a matter of fact way, the writer should understand that any edits are a comment on the work, not on the writer. Plenty of native speakers write poorly as well, it’s just that unless the quality of the writing is critical to the success of the company’s mission, there’s rarely enough resources for editing, so people get used to reading the sort of writing that really could benefit from thoughtful editing.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        I often have to do this. What I tend to do is explain that a few small changes will improve the flow of the text.

        1. Chinook*

          Smoothing out the flow is vital if you want a reader to focus on the content and not br distracted by the writing. Thungs like awkward paragraph construction (or no paragraph breaks), run on sentences, and awkward word choices can pull a reader’s focus and make it harder to retain the message.

          When I have done this type of editing with a non-native speaker, I point out these changes as suggestions (vs. errors being things like spelling and punctuation) and often they are accepted because the writer knew something was off but couldn’t put their finger on what.

          1. Cercis*

            I remember reading one article for a class that took 4 times longer than it should have because I’d read a sentence and then read the next and then have to go back and read the first sentence with a different emphasis. In that case, there were a lot of homonym errors (they’re/their/there, etc) but also just poor phrasing and words that ARE the same word but have different meanings in difference contexts (often made worse by homonym errors earlier in the sentence). TBH, it read like a talk to text transcript. I started to feel like editing it would take less time than trying to read it.

      2. Lilo*

        I regularly train and edit as part of my job, and teaching the tone we are looking for is a pretty standard challenge. I haven’t noticed any significant difference between native and non native speakers in hitting that tone balance.

        For instance, I learned a very specific type of scientific writing in college. You would never, ever write that way outside of that context, it’s extremely weird. But you just have to follow that convention to get your papers through.

        Extensive editing as part of training can be a bit demoralizing for anyone. I always give the pep talk of “This is a weirdly specific type of writing, it takes everyone time to get it.”

      3. Washi*

        And if it’s feedback you would give to a native speaker, don’t deny the non-native speaker the same chance to improve their writing skills! I worked in my second language for a while and always appreciated being corrected in this type of context.

        1. Observer*

          This is important. Because at least one of the issues that the OP points to actually has nothing to do with being a native language speaker. The MOST wordy person I know is a native English speaker. Very educated, no awkwardness or anything like that. But their writing (and speeches) invariably take significantly longer to say the same thing as most other people would. That’s extreme, so if you can make some smallish edits to get the writing more concise you will be doing everyone – including your intern a huge favor.

          1. ophelia*

            I have noticed this a lot when people transition from an academic setting to a corporate one. It’s a shift not only in tone, but from “write at least 20 pages about X” to “write no more than 10 pages” – the style of writing also has to shift, and that’s something everyone, not just non-native speakers, needs to learn.

      4. Smithy*

        In addition to this, even without having a house style there is often a more subtle tone or voice that a department or smaller team may value. With non-native speakers, those edits can often be lumped as “normal syntax issues to fix” – but going forward, you may also see very similar issues of awkward phrasing, tone or syntax from native speakers.

        The other piece I’d flag is that very very often, it’s much easier to edit/re-write a “close but no cigar” draft than to create work from scratch. So instead of someone more senior spending all those hours creating the document from scratch – it’s spending far less time building off of decent but not great bones.

        Lastly, I found that having a direct report who supported me on writing that ultimately I was submitting – a huge part of the overall training was helping her think like me. This is the writing voice that I value. These are the questions that I have of the technical experts. Being clear about that in the feedback can also help someone move to their next job if they have to write for a new person who will value different aspects.

        1. Alexander Graham Yell*

          I make your second point to our marketing team all the time. Yes, I’ve edited professionally so if you pass me something good I can polish it into something great. But I’m not a subject matter expert on everything we do, I can’t write this AND get this level of polish. By the time I’m helping with it, it’s 95% of the way there and it’ll take me less than an hour to get that 5% so it’s the best use of all of our time to keep the current process and let people do the parts they’re good at.

          1. Koalafied*

            Thirding that as a marketer. Writing something from scratch is a huge lift. Looking at what someone else wrote and identifying places it could be better is something I could almost do in my sleep.

          2. Smithy*

            Absolutely – and I do believe that a large part of either supervising someone or mentoring more broadly is to explain those pieces.

            For the majority of my professional writing – a huge amount is not letting the perfect get in the way of the good. But it’s also important to know when and what does need that level of ‘perfect’. Helping a direct report or team member refine their ability to assess those situations and come away with a professional highly functional product – even if the final version was edited by someone else – all of that is great.

      5. Ada*

        Even native speakers who write well can have some clunky phrasing in their writing from time to time, especially if the topic is complicated or difficult to describe. It shouldn’t be a big deal to suggest a smoother way to phrase something, regardless of the original writer’s skill level. It’s just part of working collaboratively.

    3. Your Local Cdn*

      Came here to say this exact thing! I’m a fluent speaker but sometimes use an odd turn of phrase or an incorrect preposition because some things I still translate – I’m glad if someone points it out

      1. Juniper*

        Prepositions are truly mean little beasties that will wreak havoc on an otherwise impeccable text.

        1. Hanani*

          The. Worst. And there very quickly comes a point where you just have to memorize how they’re used with this word or in that context because the rules don’t exist.

          1. Juniper*

            That’s what makes it so impossible when someone wants feedback on why I used a certain preposition. “Um, it just feels right?”

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              In this context I might say “this is how a native English speaker would say it, and your way isn’t wrong per se, but it’s going to jump out as different to a native speaker and we don’t want that kind of distraction.”

              1. Juniper*

                I was exaggerating my response for effect, but I agree, it’s definitely useful to give some sort of context about why!

              2. ophelia*

                This really reminds me of the order of adjectives thing in English. A native speaker will just know that it’s a big, wet, blue whale, not a wet, blue, big one. But almost no one can tell you why, even though there is a rule somewhere lurking out there.

            2. Elenna*

              Exactly! I edit stuff for my mother sometimes (she immigrated before I was born, so English is my native language but not hers) and the conversation will be like “so why did you do this?” “…idk it sounds right this way??”

            3. Koalafied*

              Ha, I see this fairly often on the Duolingo forums. People asking, “Why is it X instead of Y?” And I know what they’re really asking is, “Is there a rule that I could have used to know it should have been X instead of Y?” and sometimes there is a rule – but for whatever reason, that question seems to get asked the most in contexts where the answer is just, “Because that’s just how it is, and you just have to memorize that.”

              1. quill*

                And it hits native speakers who aren’t as used to writing in a specific mode as well. There’s a lot of code switching that we do in different writing contexts to hit the right turns of phrase.

              2. SimonTheGreyWarden*

                My son is 4 and learning to spell words and read, and there are so many times I explain something, then have to explain why it isn’t always the case, and end by saying “because English is three languages make-believing as one” or words to that effect.

      2. The Original K.*

        One of my best friends is a non-native fluent English speaker but English idioms sometimes trip her up. (She asks me to read her writing all the time, which I’m happy to do.)

    4. Tali*

      Agreed. I regularly work in my second language and appreciate when people correct my language mistakes. I also often correct others’ language mistakes, and wish I could correct some native speakers’ writing as well.

      That said, I would recommend the following guidelines as you debate whether to correct:
      -If there is a mistake that would obscure meaning, always correct it.
      -If there is unusual word choice, wordiness, or generally “that’s not how I’d say it”:
      —If it is an internal document that will be retained for the future, shared with higher-ups, send outside the company/department, etc: always correct it. You would presumably do this for any intern/direct report’s writing.
      —If it is an informal document that will see limited or short-term use–writing you wouldn’t check over anyway, like an email–then it’s OK to let it go. I think it’s good for people to get used to different kinds of English.

      1. Cambridge Comma*

        Personally I loathe being corrected, it breaks my flow and inhibits me speaking freely. If they aren’t saying ano instead of año, or using the wrong technical term that could lead to an accident, I would suggest leaving it be unless asked.

        1. Juniper*

          I’ve been moving in this direction myself. For many years I appreciated being corrected because I was still learning. But an over-emphasis on “correct” language can have detrimental effects on flow, like you say, and even substance suffers when a proficient speaker spends more time saying something the right way than the actual thought. I’ve been speaking in my second language for almost two decades now, and am comfortable accepting that the things I mess up will probably always be things I mess up.

        2. NYWeasel*

          I have a (native English speaking) report who uses a couple of strange phrasings that always stick out to me because they seem a little clunky. I don’t give feedback on them because they have zero effect on the meaning of what they are saying. When I do give feedback, I try to give a business related reason, such as “Change ‘We’d like your feedback by Weds’ to ‘We need all feedback returned no later than Weds or else we will miss our production window” because we need to be extremely clear that the date is not able to slide.”

          (And if there are any obvious errors on my ‘corrected’ text above, it’s before 6am here so I’m not at my sharpest hahaha)

        3. Rez123*

          I also dislike being corrected. Well, depends on the context. If it is an official document that is being published then yes. Or mistakes are very relevant. If it is something internal and casual and everyone knows what the person is saying or something more to do with the flow and not using the best word then I would leave it. I’m happy to improve in any language but the correcting rarely comes across well.

        4. oes*

          I’m a college professor, and I’ve completely stopped correcting students’ writing when it’s not wrong or unclear. If their writing is awkward to my ear, it’s irrelevant: it’s their voice, not mine. I once had an editor change an article of mine like crazy (something like 5 changes on every page of a 25-page article). 98% of her “corrections” were changing my voice to her voice. I refused to accept those suggested changes, but I was really annoyed. Of course, writing for a business is a different proposition, since those writers are representing their companies, not themselves, but in general I agree that people should be allowed to express themselves.

          1. Amcb13*

            I teach high school history; while I generally only offer revision suggestions that impact the meaning of writing, especially for students who are still having a difficult time with the language or with writing, for students whose skills are more advanced I will usually have a short conversation about their goals for themselves. I let them know that I’m most interested in helping them communicate their ideas but if they want feedback on their usage and style I’m happy to give it. This wouldn’t make sense in every workplace situation but since the employee in question is more or less an intern, I imagine you may be giving them more guidance/coaching than you would with other employees. This could fall under that umbrella if they are interested; it would also flag that this could be something they will need to be prepared for in some future contexts even if it isn’t now, so that they can decide how to approach writing tasks in other circumstances.

            1. a thought*

              I think a lot of this depends on how heavily you would edit a native speaker’s work.

              Personally, when I work with interns and junior staff members I edit their wording heavily for clarity, flow, brevity. (This is native speakers I am talking about). Most new workforce entrants are not good writers! For example, I find interns love to make complicated and jargon-y sentences like “The business flow will typically utilize the yellow door” when they could say, “please use the yellow door”. My documents are full of re-written sentences for interns – I always make sure to offer positive feedback too, but no one is served by holding back on feedback for interns!

              If you’d correct flow/tone/clarity for a native speaker, do it here too! If not, then I’d probably leave it alone.

              P.S. I do think correcting a written document is completely different than correcting someone *as they are speaking* in which case I think most corrections are rude and interrupt the flow of the speaker and should be left alone. But at least in my work, having your document redlined with heavy edits is not rude, it’s part of working.

          2. Koalafied*

            Yeah, it’s very context-dependent. An internal email I would definitely not correct unless it was going to cause confusion otherwise. But since my work is in marketing, a huge part of writing marketing copy is learning the best way to say things – I often make changes that are purely to the voice, but I’m not putting it in my own voice either. I’m putting it in a particular kind of voice that has been proven through rigorous testing to be the most effective language to convert prospects. In my own writing I’m very guilty of using complex sentences with multiple clauses; I love the semi-colon. But when I’m writing marketing copy I ruthlessly slash long sentences, turn multi-clause sentences into two or three shorter sentences, replace three syllable words with one-syllable synonyms, etc. because that’s what converts best.

          3. Argye*

            I’ve done a lot of correcting of student writing, mostly because scientific writing is a beast unto itself. It has to be precise, concise, and direct. I had one non-native speaker of English who was convinced that the more elaborate and flowery the language in a scientific report, the better, and nothing I could say would budge him from that. I hope his med school professors manage to break him of that habit.

          4. SimonTheGreyWarden*

            Me too; I correct student papers where it is obviously incorrect, or where it impedes understanding, or where I know that in *other classes* they will get dinged. I don’t correct grammar and spelling on journals or other informal writing, and I always tell them I do not grade based on those errors unless the paper is unreadable (absolutely no punctuation, consistently wrong homonyms, over abbreviations that I know will be harmful in future writing classes – u, btwn, cuz).

        5. ThatGirl*

          I can see it when you’re speaking, but if it’s a written document that’s going to be widely circulated or publicly facing, the goal should be clarity. I do a fair amount of proofing/editing on case studies that were originally written in Spanish and then translated into English – and some of it reads like it was run through google translate. Just awkward wording, slightly incorrect words, bad phrasing to the point where it’s a bit hard to read. I’m somewhat conversational in French, and read it fairly well, but if I were writing anything professionally I’d sure want a native speaker to correct it for me.

        6. green beans*

          That depends on your job and the purpose/audience of the written communications. There are some things I edit because the original is not at standards for its purpose (and it comes into my workflow) and while a lot of people don’t like being edited, that’s their issue to deal with, not mine.

          That being said, I don’t edit for editing’s sake; I look at purpose & avenue & audience and edit towards that if needed. Some things I do grammar & spelling and maybe one or two suggestions. Sometimes I send back a restructured version and ask if we can use that instead. Really depends.

      2. Lolo9090*

        I really like this guide! I’m a native English speaker working with mostly other native English speakers, but some of them use phrasing that’s unusual in a sense that the message comes across, but the wording doesn’t flow naturally (kind of similar to working with non-native speakers who use too many words).

        With an intern in particular, I would probably err on the side of it’s always useful/important to point out that You wouldn’t have said it like this, and then maybe go over which parts are a stylistic difference (and might not matter) and which parts would need to be reworded to either convey a more concise message or based on your organization’s tonal/phrasing preferences. Sometimes it just doesn’t matter if you’d have said something the same way, but it’s still really useful for their overall learning of the workplace to know how someone with a few more years under their belt would’ve said instead.

    5. Edwina*

      Right? And OP4, don’t forget, your employee is actually completely fluent in another language, which is more than most of us can say! So you’re not implying she’s stupid, which might be part of your concern here, but you’re just helping her polish her knowledge of her second (or third?) language to become even more fluent.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I am assuming you will share the markups with your co-worker for teaching purposes right? Style consistency edits are needed even for native speakers, and seeing the markups helps us learn.
        Remember to give positive feedback as well as corrections.
        I’ve been working with translations for many years, proofreading in my 2nd language for consistency & industry jargon. Recently I began suggesting edits as well, and it’s a really good feeling when the native speaker chooses my wording. I know he has no problem fixing my errors, so his “yes!” really is a confidence booster.

        1. Juniper*

          No, I usually don’t. That’s a level of detail that I usually don’t have time for. To clarify, I try to use track changes where possible so they can see what the changes were, but if someone sends me a text where it simply needs a little polish before going on to the round (whether it’s to the marketing team, posted to our intranet, or to a different department) I’ll clean it up and then pass it on.

          1. Chinook*

            I think it is relevant that the writer is asking for feedback because that means they want it. If you were editing without prompting (except for clarity), it is rude. But, since they have asked for feedback, it means they are looking for help on the polish. Most times, the reason for the edit is too subtle to voice – being able to see the difference (through track changes) can be helpful. As others have said, prepositions gave no logical explanation for rules and can only be learned from repetition.

            1. Juniper*

              I’m sorry, what is rude? Editing without prompting, or not providing feedback? The former isn’t at issue and the latter I would disagree with. Unfortunately, it’s simply not always practicable to provide feedback when translations have to move through the process quickly, though I do make every at tracking changes when possible.

              1. Chinook*

                Editing without prompting (Which is not an issue that you brought up but others here have talked about a lot and are even pushing back on being done at all). Providing feedback can only be done when time time and circumstances allow and should be a bonus but not a required part of the process.

                I think you are doing it correctly and the colleague you are working with, if she is like colleagues I have done this for, probably appreciate the assistance in an area they feel weak in (which is their perception, not necessarily the reality looking from the outside). I know with my one colleague, she stopped needing the editing after we did this for a while as she learned the nuances that she realized she was missing. It is a great feeling on both parts when I could return something to her unedited because there were no real changes that needed to be made (beyond the tweaks every writer wants to make because nothing is perfect in our own eyes.)

                1. Juniper*

                  Got it! That makes sense. Yeah, I wouldn’t go around providing unasked for feedback on people’s texts willy nilly. A lot of stuff crosses my desk from many different department, so you give it a quick once-over and then move on. Sounds like you were really able to help your colleague, that’s awesome!

            2. green beans*

              I work in comms and almost everything I touch as part of a workflow gets edited (without prompting.) I just say I’m correcting back to our institute style and will send it.

              It’s part of my job. I give significant feedback and edits only when asked, but whether or not you have the right to edit things very much depends on your job and work.

              1. Juniper*

                Exactly. When it becomes so integrated in the business process it’s just not a big deal anymore.

    6. Maguro*

      My non-native speaker boss often asks me to draft entire emails to people she’s managing, and send it from her email address. This is weird, right?

      1. Juniper*

        Are you her assistant where people know you manage her email? If so then it’s not wildly unusual, but if not then yeah it’s a little strange. I mean, if the text is perfect then it’s obviously not her, so unless it’s super clear *it’s being sent on her behalf* then it would seem off and as a recipient would make me uncertain.

        1. Le Sigh*

          Yeah, I think it really depends on your job, Maguro. If you’re in some kind of assistant role, this is really common. Our executive assistants do this frequently for their executive-level bosses — draft the email, get the boss’ sign off on it before sending it from boss” inbox — as the volume of things they have to write and send in a day is just too high to do practically when also in meetings.

          If you’re in a different kind of role this is indeed potentially strange. And regardless, anything super sensitive should probably be handled by the boss directly.

      2. Smithy*

        I’ve written a lot of emails for my boss to send – both internally and externally. However, they’ve always been about work I manage, and I just need the message to come from someone more senior than me. I’ve done this when my boss was and was not a native English speaker.

        However, those emails have never been about internal staff management. As someone not in an assistant/support role, that would have felt deeply uncomfortable.

      3. Pomegranate*

        I’ve also drafted plenty of emails for my bosses to review. Typically I send them the draft and they edit them to ensure my technical details match with larger strategic approach. Then, either the boss will send the email or sometimes I will.

    7. Helvetica*

      Lw#4 – I’m a non-native fluent English speaker who works in with other similar people. We have some native speakers and it is always useful and beneficial if they help with more native phrasing or even with finding appropriate and nuanced synonyms for some words. For me, especially, I tend to mix British and American idioms and phrases, so I know my English can confuse some people, while not being wrong per se. In writing, I would immensely enjoy having a native speaker edit me the way your propose because while I don’t write strictly speaking incorrect things, there are definitely things to improve with how the text flows.

    8. Wry*

      Agree with this. I suspect most if not all people who are living/working in a non-native language know that there are nuances they aren’t familiar with, even if their language skill is strong enough to be considered fluent. My aunt, a native English speaker, lived for decades in a different country and became fluent in the language. She married someone from that country, raised a child there, and became a citizen. Although she lives in the US now, she travels there often and is still fluent in the language. But she has mentioned wanting to take a class to sharpen her written skills for things like official, bureaucratic-type communications. There’s just a level of facility with language, particularly written language, that’s difficult to achieve if you’re not a native speaker. I suspect your report knows this and will appreciate the feedback.

    9. Cranky lady*

      I work with lots of non-native English speakers and native English speakers from countries other than where I am based. The key for me when editing is to ask “does this clarify things for our our audience” (also many non-native English speakers) or “is it the writer’s style vs mine”.

    10. Kvothe*

      Yeah I used to work with a few non-native English speakers (all whom were senior to me) and they would actually frequently ask me to review their writing for any turns of phrases/wording that may stick out to a native speaker especially if it was a report that was going out to a client. I’m also an engineer so I’m basically used to a culture where someone reviews your work no matter how senior you are as part of the QA process so the industry may also come into play here too.

    11. Lokifan*

      Yeah – I’m a teacher of English as a foreign/additional language and most learners, especially advanced ones, are desperate for precisely this kind of feedback – “it’s not wrong, but we wouldn’t say it like that.” I understand it feels weird for OP4, because the intern isn’t a native speaker, but if you’re matter-of-fact I think it’ll be absolutely fine – and part of the value you’re providing to her as an intern.

      I’d also say awkward phrasing and wordiness are extremely common among native speakers, especially ones transitioning from academic to business writing, and that’s something you can remind yourself/her of if it helps.

      1. Quickbeam*

        I review pre-retail products (as a hobby) and many if not most come from non-English speaking countries. Often it is obvious to me how hard the company is trying to convey their instructions or message in English but it isn’t working. They ask for feedback and are grateful. I often hear that the company is in the process of getting an in house native speaker to proof everything prior to production but that is an expense they cannot afford early in the roll out. Still, I am always amazed at how well they do in English when I think about how badly the reverse would go with me trying Korean.

    12. Koalafied*

      I’m just barely conversational in my second language, so this may not be directly applicable, but I find it incredibly valuable to have a native speaker check over any prose I’ve written and flag things that sound awkward-even-though-technically-correct. There are so many nuances in language, and the more advanced you get, you move past stuff that is directly taught and into stuff that you can only learn by 1) picking up on how a native speaker expresses something or 2) having a native speaker provide feedback on something you worded awkwardly to their ear.

      There’s a language subreddit I sometimes visit where people discuss things like colloquialisms, metaphors, etc because that’s key to me continuing to grow my skills. I know all the stuff I can learn in a book, like how to conjugate verbs in all the different tenses, what order different parts of speech go in a complex sentence, and have a pretty large vocabulary. At this point what I need to know is things like, “Do [second language speakers] use the expression ‘I’m an open book’ (in that language), or is that just an English idiom that doesn’t really translate?” or “Does saying someone has a ‘big mouth’ (in that language) just mean their mouth is large, or could it also mean that they blab a lot?” or “If I say [blah blah blah] to a native speaker, even if they understand what I’m getting at, am I going to immediately give away that it’s not my native tongue, and is there a more common way I could express that sentiment instead?”

      As you say, she knows that she’s not a native speaker and I’m guessing that even though her English is much better than my 2nd language (because I seriously doubt whether I could do any kind of job that involved a lot of writing/communicating in that language), as long as you aren’t being obviously cruel or berating about it, she’s likely to value it as a type of feedback that she can’t really get any other way.

    13. Some Lady*

      OP – It might be interesting/useful for you to spend an hour or two reading about English language acquisition–I found this fascinating when I worked as a teacher. Students will learn conversational/every day language much faster (like years faster) than they will learn the language for specific content areas. This often means that we don’t realize that a student who seems fluent in day to day settings might still need support in writing and other tasks that have less context clues and are used a little less frequently. And idioms are always tricky. While ESL is a huge area of study, I found that it’s an area where learning a little bit can be really insightful. Check out resources related to ESL (English as a Second Language) or ELL (English Language Learners) in the area of education if you’re interested.

      1. Chinook*

        If you really want to get side track, look into the concept of “first language interference.” I have a linguistics text from the 90’s that I still refer to (even though it is highly dated and limited – it gives me a starting point to google) when working with an individual who is struggling with a grammar concept or pronunciation. It is enlightening to learn that some concepts just don’t translate. An obvious example is certain sounds, like “r” and “l” in Japanese, are interchangeable in on language but change meaning in another. Another is the order of subject and object in a sentence can change the meaning in one language (like English) but irrelevant in another because the word conjugation tells if it is the subject or object. And prepositions truly do translate differently (just having the other person describe where the cat is in relation to a table can be eye opening)

        Realizing the subtle differences between English and the other language can make smoothing out someone’s writing so much easier.

    14. OneTwoThree*

      I am a native English speaker. I had a “deal” with a co-worker who wasn’t a native English speaker. I would proofread all of his formal emails and reports to customers and correct them for tone, better word choices, etc. In exchange, he would proofread all of my formal emails and proposals to customers and correct them from a technical perspective.

      This worked because we understood and agreed that we both had expertise but in different areas. It wasn’t that one of us was better than the other or stepping on someone’s toes. Together we were better as a team.

    15. Entangled*

      Also, don’t hesitate to ask your report about it. Not for this document, but broad picture.
      I have a direct report who is not a native speaker and when we talked about reviews from me (a normal part of my duties) she explicitly said “please don’t just correct minor typos or phrasing. Let me know so I can improve.”
      Maybe your report will feel the say. Or she’ll say “please just fix it and I’ll look it over afterwards.” Or something else entirely

    16. GraceRN*

      OP4: Maybe think about it this way: many non-native English speakers have worked hard on their English skills for years and years. They got good at it because their teachers, bosses, coworkers, friends etc. gave them concrete, actionable feedback and coaching along the way. Many of them actually want to keep learning and growing. I can guarantee you that they will not develop a complex just because you gave them feedback on this super correctable thing. On the other hand, if you withheld your feedback, you’re actually depriving them of a chance to learn. As a manager, how would you expect your staff’s skills to develop and behaviors to change if you withheld your observations and feedback?

      BTW I am not a native-speaker of English. If I ever learned my boss didn’t give me feedback because they were scared of giving me a complex, I would first laugh, and then feel patronized. I would wonder if my boss see me as someone easily devastated by such a minor thing that they need to coddle me.

      My suggestion would be: sit down with your staff and go over your corrections and suggestions together. Just sending back your corrections without discussions can be misconstrued as judgmental, but spending some time together to have a brief back and forth productive discussion can go a long way to show you care about them.

      Giving and receiving feedback are key skills for a manager. I personally found this book to be super helpful: “Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well” by Douglas Stone & Sheila Heen.

    17. ESL Hedgehog*

      I’m an ESL and work in the field where reports/letters get edited as a matter of work flow. I never mind when someone changes the wording and catches errors. It’s their jobs to proofread content and ensure clarity and flow. Sometimes, I’m the one that does the review and that’s ok too.

      There is only one mistake I plan to not repeat. In my first full time job, I was open about learning English and sometimes not knowing idioms and such. I mentioned to my boss, who was reviewing 80-90% of my writing, that I struggle with articles (a/an/the) as my first language doesn’t have that concept. For the rest of my time at that firm, my reports were heavily edited for articles. At some point I noticed that some paragraphs that were pretty much copy-paste from a previous report (technical writing, totally accepted practice), were changed back and forth with every report. I realized that even my native-speaking boss with great grammar skills either didn’t know which one was correct or they were situations where the sentence worked either way. But he was so tuned in to my article problem that it was always corrected. Nowadays, I still don’t hide my ESL status and I still don’t always know if my article placement is correct; but I get a lot fewer edits on that front because I never drew anyone’s attention to the issue.

    18. Bridie*

      Yes, exactly. I used to work as writing tutor at a university, and I’d get lots of international students asking for help sounding “more American.” It’s actually a big focus of research and consideration among writing centers, as these services are often called, about how to balance formal academic language with the voice and perspective of ELL students.

      Now, in my corporate job, I work with lots of people from all over the world, some with English as a second language, some native speakers, with a variety of accents and dialects. We have specific guidelines on Global English versus American or British, which are each acceptable in different circumstances.

      Bottom line, non-native speakers know it, and understand that they may be corrected, especially in written documents. I do this for my colleagues in Germany, Singapore, and even Australia! If you proceed with kindness, as you clearly exhibit here, your employee will likely welcome your edits AND learn from them.

  2. Not A Manager*

    Remember the song “these are the people in your neighborhood?” Kids do identify adults based on their roles in the child’s life. That’s why their tiny minds are blown when they see their teacher at the grocery store. And little kids want to grow up and be adults. So of course they want to grow up and “be” a teacher or an astronaut. It will be years and years before they realize that an astronaut has a family and cooks meals and walks the dog.

    Don’t stress too much about what your child wants to “be” at age four. If you model being a person with deep interests and rich interpersonal connections, your child will understand that whatever they *do* as an adult won’t be the whole of who they are.

    1. AcademiaNut*

      For little kids, it’s about playing adult roles. They’re learning that adults have jobs, that there are different kinds of jobs, and that someday they’ll be an adult and have a job. They tend to pick things that are familiar (like teacher), or really cool sounding (like astronaut or ballerina).

      For adolescents, I do think it’s important that they be thinking about the concept of jobs and careers, and towards the future when they’ll be training for a job or actually holding one. I found kids who hit late high school with no idea as to what they wanted to do, or no practical ideas, had a rougher launching in general than the ones who had been talking with their parents about career options and educational requirements. The latter didn’t necessarily end up doing what they had in mind when they were seventeen, but they tended be better prepared for leaving high school. The other extreme, of courses, is the kids who are prepped from birth to get into an elite college and go into law/medicine/engineering, which isn’t healthy either.

      1. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

        If you want your kid to have an idea of the wide range of career options available, teach her that, don’t worry about other people’s questions. I LOVED Richard Scarry’s Busytown books growing up, though some of the professions were out of date even back in the 90s. Surely there are other awesome books in a similar vein, or specific ones about what a particular profession does. Let her ask the plumber politely if she can watch him fix the sink if she’s quiet. Stop and watch the construction people working. Cause backhoes are awesome, I still would jump at the chance to learn how to drive a backhoe. Watch Dirty Jobs reruns when the kid is old enough. Explain that mailman and garbageman and cashier and waiter are all jobs that people get paid for (and teach her to be polite to them, never too young to start that.) Let her ask questions if the person seems amenable.

        Your kid will probably still want to be an elephant when she grows up, but she’ll change her mind.

        1. Dragon_Dreamer*

          Actually, the books have been recently updated to be more accurate for modern times!

          1. Junior Assistant Peon*

            I loved Richard Scarry’s books, and those jobs were already out of date in the early 80s when I was reading them!

            I was super-disappointed when I bought one for a friend’s kid and saw that they truncated the hell out of it in the new edition. My parents hated reading them to me when I was little because they went on for a kabillion pages!

            1. Ellen*

              Cars and Trucks and Things That Go! My son would choose that book for his bedtime story because he knew it would take most of an hour to get through.

            2. ophelia*

              Oh, man, we have read Busy, Busy Town approximately 2483947643908 times this week, hah.

          1. PhyllisB*

            When my youngest daughter was two, she wanted to grow up to be a bathroom (???) Her son wanted to be a dog.

            1. Delta Delta*

              My brother wanted to be a fire truck. A friend’s child wanted to be “geese flying in the sky.”

            2. Jesse*

              When I was 2-3 years old, I told my parents I wanted to be a paleontologist. The next week, my grandmother wanted to show off her smart grandson to the neighbors, so she prompted “Jesse, what do you want to be when you grow up?” and I said “A dolphin.” and she said “No, what do you REALLY want to be when you grow up?” and I looked at her very seriously and said “Gran, I REALLY want to be a dolphin.”

              1. quill*

                Lol, speaking of paleontologists the only person I know who has known what they wanted to be when they grew up since toddlerhood and followed through is… my brother, currently studying evolutionary biology of skeletal anatomy, AKA “paleontologist with better job prospects.”

          2. WantonSeedStitch*

            I love these phases where kids hear this question and answer not with a career, but with whatever strikes their imagination! It’s a great jumping-off point for creativity. “What would a T-Rex do all day?” “I’d roar and stomp around and eat other dinosaurs!” “What do you think dinosaur would taste like?” “Hamburgers!” I cannot WAIT until my son is old enough for conversations like this.

          3. Run mad; don't faint*

            My daughter wanted to be a lion. “A very nice lion that eats ham” if I recall correctly!

          4. TheRoseShadow21*

            When I was doing my teacher training, one of my activities in a placement with five and six year olds centered around the ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?” question. Had a bunch of wannabe footballers, teachers, ballerinas. ….and then two or three little girls who wanted to be princesses, one who wanted to be a unicorn and one who started off wanting to be a scientist but changed her mind and decided they wanted to be a superhero instead.

          5. ophelia*

            I apparently wanted to drive a truck full of styrofoam peanuts so I could pull over and jump in the back. (I did not, sadly, follow this career path)

          6. Queen Me*

            I *love* the creativity of wanting to be T-Rex!
            4-year old me wasn’t interested in being a princess… I wanted to be queen when I grew up. Lol! I had no idea that wasn’t an actual job you could apply for and get, and was so disappointed when I found out.

          7. K*

            Just this morning my almost 3 year old declared she wants to be a rocket ship when she grows up

        2. Lacey*

          My favorite was “What Do People Do all Day?” We made my mom read it a million times.

          1. NeonFireworks*

            Oh, yeah! We had that one, and “Busiest People Ever!”, and there was even an animated video about career choices that was related. I remember none of it except the very end: they’d gone through a whole class of Richard Scarry characters and each one had been through a segment on what they wanted to do, except for a kid named Billy. At the end, the teacher says, “And what about you, Billy?” – and he says, “I want to be a teacher, just like you!” Aww.

            Now also vaguely remembering a Barney video about career choices, and a VERY early Kidsongs video called “What I Want To Be” with a wildly catchy ’80s soundtrack.

          2. TexasTeacher*

            That’s a good book. We have to remember, kids don’t always process things like adults think they will. I remember my daughter, one February, being so excited about registering for a little dance camp the following June. Summer rolls around and she’s crying about the camp because “I don’t want to be a ballerina anymore; I want to be a firefighter!”
            Well, I had paid for dance camp, so she went, and had a great time, so. Visiting the fire station museum was also fun that summer. :)

      2. Sue*

        I agree. I knew kids who hadn’t really thought about their future careers and they really regretted the lack of preparation and missed opportunities. It takes extra determination to go back later to get schooling/training. It’s possible, but can be harder later in life when things are more complicated and many never do it. Also, the last thing we need is to discourage kids, especially girls from becoming financially self sufficient. It’s great if you have choices because of a successful relationship but too many don’t work out or are unhealthy and a partner is stuck because of financial dependency, it’s a real trap. Talking to kids and exposing them to various career options is a good thing!

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Yeah, being able to work part time (even without a mountain of student debt) is not an option for a lot of people. I don’t work because my life is defined by my career, I work because I like living indoors and having food in the fridge. I also grew up with a narcissistic parent and a parent who wouldn’t/couldn’t leave – so I never want one of my kids to dependent on a partner for financial stability.

          My kids have wanted to be all sorts of things over the course of their lives – teacher, dinosaur, biologist, computer game creator – and I’m sure that will continue until they are actually interviewing for jobs. I think the key is to listen, not hold them to a particular path as a kid, and give them opportunities to try things out. Neither my spouse nor I do any of the things we wanted to “be” as kids, and it’s worked out just fine.

        2. Lady Meyneth*

          So much this. I got lucky. My uncle is does boat maintenance, and was working for the navy for awhile when I was 6yo. He took me (and his 2 kids) to see the big boats, and one of them had the engine exposed that day for a fix. That was it for me. All I ever wanted from that point forward was to be an engineer and build big engines. After almost 10 years doing mostly that, it’s still all I ever want to do.

          OP, instead of trying to limit how much your child thinks about and defines herself through a carreer while she’s little, maybe you could introduce her to as many carreers as possible. Not just the “fancy” college ones, but the trades too – for example, when you have contractors or plumbers at home for something. Or just having a talk with her after leaving a grocery store, about what kinds of work it’s done there can lead to a better understanding that college isn’t, and shouldn’t be, everything.

      3. Marillenbaum*

        My sister’s oldest, when he was tiny, understood vaguely that things cost money, and you have to have a job to have money. So his life plan, as a kindergartner, was to move in with his grandparents (be spoiled), get a job at McDonald’s (free fries), and use his newfound wealth to buy a Tesla. Kid logic!

        1. SD*

          When I taught middle school, I had the kids design their “dream home” on large pieces of graph paper. It was a math thing about scale, measurement, etc. It was remarkable how many 7th and 8th graders just assumed their parents would have a bedroom in their dream house when they were grown up.

            1. MissBaudelaire*

              We do multi generational living! It isn’t always perfect, but we all really enjoy it. Kids have access to their grandmother. My mother doesn’t have to worry about lawn mowing or cleaning gutters or anything. Cheaper for all of us as well.

              At one point, we had considered a property with two houses, one duplex and one three bedroom house so my godparents could live with us and have access to the kids/help with childcare, and we could have kept on eye on them for their health. There’s a lot to be said for it.

            2. Lady Meyneth*

              It’s really great! When I bought my home, I looked for one with large enough acreage that a small house could be built towards the back, far enough for privacy, close enough for companionship. My mom and aunt (her sister) now live there, and it’s great to be able to see each other everyday (and then to each lock our doors and not get bothered lol). My husband is crazy about mom, my dog loves having 2 families to spoil her, and I imagine my children will too someday. Of course that’s all assuming families who can respect boundaries and all that.

          1. The New Wanderer*

            My daughter (sixth grade) draws dream houses as a hobby, and every one features an impressive animal sanctuary, huge sports arena, park and playground, and somewhere in the back, a tiny bedroom for her parents.

            1. SD*

              My son’s was an underground compound in Maine (we lived in CA, so ?). One wing of the house consisted of specialized rooms for his Legos, like an entire water themed one. Another wing had about 8 bedrooms for all his friends with one small bathroom at the end of the hall.

          2. Anthony J Crowley*

            Haha, my kid wouldn’t, because he’s going to live here with me forever, dream house or no :)

          3. Corrvin (they/them)*

            I bought a house at 35 years old and it was important for it to have a room for my grandmother to stay in! (Sadly, she saw the house, but passed away before the closing date, so it’s now an office.)

            Also, I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up in a professional sense, but I had plenty of other goals and I’ve managed most of those all right (staying close with my parents and other family, having good friends that I talk to a lot, traveling to visit everyone, having a cat who loves me, being creatively fulfilled) while also holding down jobs that paid the bills. And now I’m in my 40’s and getting a masters so I can do the career thing for 30 years, because I didn’t know what I wanted to be until last year. Everything’s worked out all right up til now!

            1. Mimi*

              While I thought about “what I want to do when I grow up” as a teen, I never really came up with any answers. I won’t say I didn’t flounder a bit, graduating into a recession, but I’m doing okay now, and I had enough academic and social pressure and stress, and did not need the adults in my life leaning on me to have A Plan.

              You don’t want to reach adulthood assuming that french fries will just fall out of the sky whenever you get hungry, but lots of people don’t have a plan, and I think that’s okay.

        2. Golden*

          Kid logic is fun, the priest at my old church always joked about deciding to be a priest as a kid because he thought you only had to work 1 day per week.

        3. Carol the happy elf*

          Kid logic, jumbo shrimp, military intelligence….my husband wanted to be a spy, because they had cool stuff. (James Bond) His younger brother pointed out that they had to kiss ladies, so dream abandoned!
          My grandson is going to be an astronaut, and make popsicles in outer space. (Heat wave this week.)
          My daughter wanted to be an ice skater during the 1994 Olympics, and again that August (more heat wave)
          She would wear socks and slide around on the floor, and even managed to put on a donut pillow to wear like a tutu. (Don’t ask. We got her a real tutu asap.)
          Husband is a scientist, his practical no-kissing-ladies brother is a marriage counselor. My daughter does ice skate, and teaches hockey to inner city girls, but she became a meteorologist by accident of volunteering as a teenager, during a hurricane cleanup.

          We mustn’t lock children into our own dreams of being the parent of a neurosurgeon- but they’re going to use imagination to figure out where they want to go, and we can listen and point thataway.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Being a skater during the summer was indeed awesome. I didn’t even have to wear a jacket, and when I fell, I’d lie on the ice for a minute because it felt so good, lol.

      4. GammaGirl1908*

        In addition to my totally separate full-time job, I represent my alma mater at college fairs, so I go to college fairs several times a year and talk to panicking 16-year-olds about their college choices.

        My favorites are the ones who don’t know what they want to be! They are often really ashamed to admit that, because they think all of their peers have it all figured out, and they are the only one that doesn’t have everything all nailed down. I have a fun time talking to them about how that’s part of the point of going to college — to explore areas of study that are unfamiliar and figure out what your possibilities could be.

        I also make a point of telling them that about 25% of the people come up to my table and announce that they’re going to be doctors or lawyers, ~25% mention some specific area of study in my school does well (including business and engineering, where we are HUGE), ~25% say they are interested in something else specific (education, nursing, art, architecture, music, communications, etc.) … and the remaining quarter are just like them, where they’re going to college to try to figure it out, and will find an area of study they didn’t even really know existed and excel in it. I mean, how many high-schoolers really know about cultural anthropology or actuarial math or linguistics?

        Moreover, no way do 12.5% of those other students end up being physicians. No way do 12.5% end up being lawyers. Et cetera. Many of their peers are still figuring it out more than they even know, and even more will get to college, crash and burn in inorganic chemistry and realize they’re not going to be a doctor. Then they stumble into something they never expected, like public health, kinesiology, or data science.

        It’s one thing to be pointed in a direction that you find interesting, but you don’t have to have it all figured out at 16.

        1. WantonSeedStitch*

          I have often said that no one ever says they want to do what I do for a job when they grow up, because no one has ever heard of it as a career. Most of us just stumble into it from a variety of other fields after being in the work force for a few years. I certainly didn’t go to school for what I am doing now, but the skills I learned in college and grad school contributed hugely to my ability to do my job well. Heck, just learning how to do research, think critically, analyze information, and write coherently–which you have to do for most college majors–is enormously helpful in many, many fields of work.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            This is me, too. My ultimate career field didn’t even exist until my last year or two of college and, 20 years later, there is still no major that leads directly to it. I feel like many positions outside the hard sciences don’t have a specific college major path to get there – yes, I’d like the person who designs my bridge to have the requisite training so it stands up long-term, but, in my line of work, I see lots of different paths of study that are equally successful because it relies upon having good research and writing skills and being able to solve problems. My spouse had the knowledge and skills to be an engineer but ended up with an interdisciplinary/humanities degree and now does highly technical IT work.

            I went to college unsure of what I wanted to be and didn’t declare a major until I got the letter telling me I couldn’t register for classes the following semester without picking one (I picked two – still indecisive).

          2. LavaLamp*

            Everything I wanted to be my mom shot down with overly logical reasons (some of which were false)

            Fighter Pilot – You wear glasses, they wont let you. Met a real fighter pilot later in life who told her that was BS. Now I think of the G forces and shudder.

            Vet – You’re allergic to cats! Well yes Mom, but way to ruin that dream especially because there are lots of kinds of vets like for horses and cows not just dogs and cats. And I grew out of my cat allergy.

            Finally I just started telling people I wanted to be a stripper. They made lots of money, had fun and no one could come up with a reason to shoot that one down.

            What I actually do? Sit at home in my PJs doing data entry for a mental health firm.

        2. anon for this*

          At the beginning of junior year I’d decided to go to college but had no idea what I was going to do there and was feeling uncomfortable about it because my interests were so varied. There were about 12 possible majors that appealed to me, and some of them did not overlap with each other (really – everything from engineering to literature). This was bothering me a lot more than it was bothering my parents, and I knew that I had time to figure it out. On the other hand, one of the reasons why they were so laid back was that they (both very supportive, but not familiar with undergraduate degrees) thought that if I earned a BA in liberal arts, it would just say “liberal arts” on my transcript, so who needs a major anyway?

          Then when I was 17 I found an old copy of a linguistics textbook and YES THIS WAS MY THING, THERE IT WAS. 13 years later I had a PhD.

            1. anon for this*

              That’s AMAZING and more people should do this! Gretchen McCulloch suggested that people with the means buy extra copies of her book and donate them to high schools, which I’ve done multiple times.

      5. Saraquill*

        I went to high school with a number of “prepped from birth” kids. I still remember how some of them crashed and burned after graduation as they only fit in a very defined life.

    2. MK*

      Or, you know, the child will turn out to be much more career focused than the OP, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Look, OP, you can teach your own life philosophy to your child and not allow others, like grandparents or teachers, to pressure them into education, and that will influence them a lot more than random strangers asking a mostly meaningless question.

      Ideally you will also teach them that there are many ways to live their life, and they should feel free to make their own choices, even if it means identifying strongly with their profession. By the way, if you had learned a trade, you would most likely be regretting not pursuing higher education now. Grass is always greener, etc.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        I also felt like OP was maybe overcompensating for the idea that society pushes kids to be career focused. It probably does, and it’s good to make sure that kids understand that some people end up really passionate about their work and some don’t, some don’t work much or at all, etc. But to go all the way to “no one should define themselves by their career” is taking things a bit too far. I know plenty of people whose careers are a significant part of their identity and they’re happy that way. You don’t want to dissuade a kid who’s naturally driven by their passion any more than you want to make a kid feel like they’ll be a failure if they don’t find their one true perfect career that will bring them perfect fulfillment.

        1. Teapot supervisor*

          I’m going to hazard a guess, because I have a kid a similar age, that OP is roughly my age. When I was growing up, the rhetoric was very much ‘You MUST go to university and you should probably think about getting a Masters while you’re at it. You’re a failure if you don’t’ and so on. I remember my school career counsellor basically telling us that ‘the trades’ were for people who were nice but not that bright. I also remember one of my friends being almost ashamed to tell me that she’d found a great train-on-the-job position with a household name employer and wouldn’t be going to university and being genuinely surprised when my reaction was ‘Wow! That sounds great – good for you!’.

          I think the best thing my parents did was a) pointing out that our school got judged on how many people it shipped off to university each year so its advice on university attendance was given less in the students’ interest and more in the interest of where it came in on the school league tables and b) encouraging my brother and I to concentrate more on skilling up in the things which interested us and working out a career path that way rather than dictating what we should and should not do. Nothing was really off limits although they were still realistic about the ‘no job is going to be 100% enjoyable and sometimes there’s a trade off between what you earn and what will make you happy, so you have to balance what you enjoy with the lifestyle you want’ way of the world.

          I like to think these days we’re both doing pretty well career-wise in jobs we enjoy, with a healthy work-life balance.

        2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

          I am mixed on this one. I originally pursued a career I was very passionate about … too passionate actually. It was in academia, which, as we note here frequently, has some very odd qualities, and it was a very small bubble of a discipline. I came to hate it (though I still love the subject matter and I love intellectual things, but the overall situation, I hated), but I felt I had invested myself so heavily in it that I was trapped. I got therapy at the university counseling center (a surprisingly good experience, but I do not usually recommend students use university counseling, or I at least suggest that they keep in mind that those counselors are like HR in that they are working primarily for the school, not for you). I moved on, and I am glad I broke out of that mindset.

          That said, I am now a lawyer and actually have far better work/life balance (I know, very weird for a lawyer, but academia is really … something). I am not as obsessed with it, but I think that is why I can really enjoy it more. And yet, I do consider being a lawyer a big part of my identity. Granted, it helps that unlike in a small niche area of academia, I can do a lot of different things (different practice areas, law alternative jobs, etc.), if I am unhappy in my situation.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I get it that to OP, the questions come across as people telling her 4-year-old that she can only be of value to the society by becoming a cog in a corporate machine when she grows up. But to me it’s still better than the alternatives. And if it’s framed as roleplay/learning about all different professions that exist/learning that they are all open to her if there is interest (however true or not it may turn out to be when she grows up), then it becomes a good exercise for the 4-year-old.

        The memory I had pop into my head, that I meant when I said it’s better than the alternatives, was the oratorical festival at the Greek Orthodox church I used to belong to. Once a year, kids ages K-12 could pick a topic from a list (free topic for K-4) and give a talk on it. For middle and high schoolers, their talks were judged by a jury, the winners went on to regional, national etc. All in all a good exercise (albeit with a touch of religious indoctrination thrown in). One year when my sons were participating and I was in the audience, the church brought in a visiting jury member. An older male priest from somewhere out of state. After everyone had given their speeches, the visiting judge stood up and gave a short talk of his own. Something like “great job everyone, you are all so talented” and then he goes “you boys will all go on to be great priests. And you girls, will all go on to be amazing presbyteras!” A presbytera is a wife of a priest. That’s the only career path that man could see for a young girl who’d just prepared and given a speech, done research, gathered material for it, etc. Somebody’s wife. I’d rather have a young girl try all professions for size in her mind than be sidetracked into a future of being a wife of somebody as her only identity. She will probably be thinking of exciting things anyway. No four-year-old has ever answered that question with “I want to be a senior product owner” or “a middle manager at a Fortune 500” (at least I hope no one has!)

        1. MK*

          Well, at least he was semi-egalitarian in also restricting the career choices of the boys to the priesthood!

      3. Hi there*

        Yeah, I agree. I have a 4yo and a 2yo, and I’d much prefer that people ask my 4y0 what she wants to be when she grows up instead of telling her how pretty she is, which is what most people do around here.

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      From ages 6+ I wanted to be an engineer like my dad (I’m female btw), because he was the closest to me and was the only person I knew with a paid job (mum stayed at home with us). Later he got us our first computer (Sinclair Spectrum for those old enough to remember!) and I just decided I wanted to do something with computers.

      Then there was an outbreak of a deadly virus elsewhere in the world when I was a teen and I became fascinated by viruses – which led to age 15+ me deciding to be a virologist.

      It’s funny how I ended up back at the job I wanted when I was at primary school in the end!

      Bottom line is though, don’t worry about what a kid says they want their job to be (even if it’s ‘mad scientist’ like me at several points, although some claim I managed it on account of having been a scientist who identifies as crazy some of the time). It’ll change, it has often no bearing on who they are as an adult or what they’ll do.

      I will say though that exposure to people doing different jobs is a good thing. Some of my fondest memories are going to work with dad and seeing all the neat stuff he did and never once being told I couldn’t do it on account of not being male.

      1. NotRealAnonForThis*

        Similar background here, except Mom had a job doing office tasks of some indefinite sort while we were in school and at home. Often went to work with Dad on the weekends and spent a lot of time in the testing lab (because I could watch and be quiet from afar, and the technicians thought nothing of answering questions for a kid in elementary school, because the questions weren’t that out of line compared to some asked by the staff in the building. And for clarification – it was strength testing, not pharmaceutical or anything like that).

        And my Dad was VERY clear from an early age that there was nothing I couldn’t do simply because I was a girl, and that anyone who told me otherwise was to be viewed with a grain of salt at minimum.

      2. Suz*

        My dad too. When I was a pre-schooler he worked nights and took care of me during the day while my mom worked. I spend my days hanging out in our garage watching him fix his race car. So I decided I was either going to be a welder, a mechanic, or a race car driver.

      3. quill*

        I was either going to be a detective, a veteranarian, or a botanist.

        … I studied Environmental science instead, and now I’m in lab managemet, so… some of them came close?

      4. Teapot supervisor*

        Agreed about being exposed to jobs.

        I changed careers about a decade ago. I only did the job I did as a new graduate because it’s what I ‘knew’ as a job (it was the same career as my dad!) but I found I didn’t really enjoy it. Current career isn’t even that obscure but I’d never met anybody who did it before so it didn’t ever occur to me to pursue it as a job.

    4. Kaiko*

      Yeah, my kiddo was pondering whether or not his teacher has “a little bedroom?” at the school. I was like, no, she has kids and lives in a house, and he was like, “no, pretty sure she has a bedroom at the school.”

      1. Carol the happy elf*

        My godson was in kindergarten, and mentioned that his teacher lived at the school. His Mom corrected him. He asked why his teacher came to school, and she said “teaching children is her job.” He laughed, and said “That’s great for a job! That’s almost as easy as being a MOMMY!”
        Mommy is a botanist, so she gets to play in the dirt. Lucky, lucky Mommy.

    5. Anon100*

      Yeah, I wouldn’t worry about it at age four. I wanted to be a paleontologist (this was before Jurassic Park came out) because dinosaurs and rocks were cool to me, but I honestly think my parents wanted me to say doctor or engineer. Which I am neither today, 30+ years later.

      I do think the question is a little more loaded once a kid reaches their teenage years and some schools start tracking students into certain fields (*ahem-my magnet high school*).

    6. Bubbles*

      I completely agree with this take. My oldest daughter, age 6 just completed kindergarten, loves art but the only way she can think of that as a career is being an art teacher. We’ve tried to explain to her the many ways she can be an artist (graphic design, interior design, book illustrator, architect, etc) but the only career she “understands” is teaching because that’s what she has been exposed to the most at this point.

      In the same vein, my youngest daughter, 4, says she wants to be a mommy. She hasn’t really been exposed to careers outside of the home, and much of her frame of reference has been shaped by COVID-19 isolation that saw me at home for the better part of a year, being a mommy.

      Don’t worry if someone asks your small child this question. Their answer doesn’t define them for life, and it can provide an jumping off point for talking about careers with other adults and expose them to new things. Think of it as a learning opportunity for, your kid and maybe for you too.

      1. Butterfly Counter*

        The little boy who lived next door to us also had “Mommy” as his career asperation. He just loved his mom.

    7. LQ*

      This question struck me a lot because I was NOT socialized to go to college at all. First person in my family, I had people actively discouraging me because people who go to college think they are above their station kind of attitude (but slightly more hippie bent than that). When I was a kid I knew one person who went to college (I knew more like I assume my teachers did, but I didn’t know that for the most part, especially when I was little) who was sort of scorned in the social circle of my parents. I didn’t know anyone who had an office job, I didn’t have context other than TV for what that would be

      Just because the experience for the OP was everyone goes to college and then going let me down. Doesn’t mean that’s true for everyone. Mine was sort of the opposite. No one went to college (and my graduating class was far less than 50% going to college and most of those were going to a local community college for something like an LPN cert or the like), but I did and it was extremely good for me. I do not regret a single second or dollar of it and I would 100% do it again and I do think it has made my life better.

      This all to say, don’t assume your experience of this is universal.

      1. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

        12 or 13 years ago, I happened to meet a 17-year-old in a situation where we had to spend some time together, so I started asking him about school and his plans. It turned out his family discouraged ambition and higher education (they literally said “what, are you trying to be better than us?”). I spent several minutes basically distilling all the education and ambition messages of my entire youth and providing the opposing point of view.

        I also encouraged him to consider leaving our rural state and going to college in a large city, where in addition to career and school opportunities, he would meet a larger selection of attractive people of whatever gender he preferred.

        Sometimes, the gods send you to be their messenger. What I had to say was what he needed to hear. He now has two degrees, the second one from a respected school in New York, where they’ve hired him to teach a couple of classes. He met the man of his dreams and they just got engaged. I never had kids, but I feel like I was able to make a difference anyway.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Yeah, this is a neighbor of ours: She’s starting her senior year of college now but her family vehemently discouraged her (wanted her to get a job, marry her boyfriend, and start having kids) and have complained incessantly about the time she’s spent on it. But she’s going to make it and now all her cousins are reevaluating their lives and applying to community college, etc. Her aunt was especially weird about it–told her it was a waste of time and money (she’s on an almost-full scholarship) but then also complained that the aunt’s own kids didn’t get the same opportunities. Well, those kids either barely graduated or straight-up just aged out of the school system! Of course nobody was handing out scholarships to them.

      2. Mockingdragon*

        I had exactly the opposite…I was very nervous about college and when I approached my parents about the possibility of a gap year, it was shot down HARD. 4-year college degree was my only option. Not even “or we won’t pay for it” or “or you have to move out”, just “you will go to college”. I wasn’t brave enough at 17 to figure out on my own how to research other paths. I had only heard of beauty school, and that derisively. I still wonder if my life may have been different if I’d known about pastry school or who knows what other trades out there that I still don’t know were options.

        FTR my little brother considered freaking Julliard and he could have gotten in, but Mom and Dad talked him out of it. And I’m still mad on his behalf, even if he’s happy in law school now.

        I guess my advice to the OP is just to show options! Especially as your kid grows up, you can be the one to model curiosity about the wide variety of experiences in the world.

      3. Temperance*

        Oh 100% – my mom tried to trick me into dropping out. (Yes, it’s as crazy as it sounds.) She withheld health insurance and messed up my FAFSA on purpose. She obviously has a lot of Issues other than this, but in my entire massive family, only one of my older cousins had a degree, and that was in nursing so it was considered fine and not too ambitious. If she had wanted to become a doctor, that would have been WW3, because we aren’t those people.

        I graduated. I went to law school. My life is arguably better and much different than they wanted. My high school probably had similar college attendance rates to yours, and many of the local community college folks dropped out after a semester or two.

      4. Red Red Panda*

        Yeah, thanks for writing this. I work with 4-6 year olds and talk to them about what they want to be when they grow up. Many of them don’t have a lot of people in their life who went to college, so I and their other teachers do it in order to normalize the idea that they should go to college and be whatever they want to be. Of course their knowledge of work life is limited, and I don’t think a third of them will actually be doctors when they grow up, but I want all of them to think that they CAN be doctors when they grow up, and go from there.

      5. Maseca*

        This. When my niece was maybe 4 or 5 she told me “girls don’t go to work.” I said sure they do, I go to work and so does your grandma (a teacher). She replied, “Grammy doesn’t go to work, she goes to school.” OK. I was happy to at least be able to cheerfully let her know that girls in fact do work (and, hopefully, enjoy doing so!).

    8. Tierrainney*

      When my youngest was in Pre-school, and asked what to you want to be when you grow up, she would answer “a grandma” Every adult that heard it went “Ahhhhh”!

    9. Blackcat*

      I live next to a train station. My small child would like to be a conductor when he grows up. It is adorable and the actual conductors give him empty ticket books and the like. He’s into trains (which many little kids are) and he has friendly adults in his life who ride trains all day. Of course he thinks this is an excellent career path!
      I think it is highly unlikely he *actually* becomes a conductor. But he wears his little conductor hat and delights in saying hello to actual conductors, so why not embrace that that’s what he wants for now?

    10. Artemesia*

      Exactly. I find it really wrong headed to try to quash any discussion of ‘what you want to be when you grow up.’ Little kids are trying on adulthood and imagining the worlds of the future. It is how they learn – to identify with different rolls. Of course you don’t want to discourage their explorations or try to force them into a roll like the parents who have decided that their kid will be a doctor or whatever. but it is healthy to imagine things they might choose to be. My 11 year old granddaughter wants to be a computer programmer or graphic novelist and her 3 year old brother is going to drive a train. We aren’t planning to hold either of them to it.

      1. Lunch Ghost*

        At one point a set of siblings in my family, in age order from mid-teens to preschool, wanted to be a doctor, a researcher to cure a specific (family-relevant) disease, a marine biologist, a doctor, and a princess. A few years later, one was the same, one had changed their mind, one had no idea what they wanted to be, the marine biologist wanted to be a *space* marine biologist, and the princess wanted to do something she’d seen on Dirty Jobs.

    11. Midwestern Weegie*

      I have a four year old, who tells me she wants to be a doctor. When I ask her why, she tells me she wants to help people, make them feel better, see what bodies do on the inside, and help people have babies (we’re expecting a new baby in a few weeks, and she’s been fascinated by birth videos).

      What I’m taking away from this is that, at her core, she is people-centered, likes to solve problems, and is curious about how things work. She might be a doctor, or a nurse, or a midwife one day, but she might also wind up in a completely different field where she gets to help people, solve problems and learn how systems work. Although for what it’s worth, she gives a remarkably good exam, and is better about asking for consent than most actual healthcare providers I’ve come across.

      When I think about what I wanted to be when I grew up, and what I actually do for a living, the reasons I wanted to be a teacher and the reasons I wound up in my (not at all teaching related) field are similar.

      1. turquoisecow*

        When my husband was a little boy his mother tells me he was obsessed with vacuum cleaners and wanted to be a vacuum repairman. He does not do that nowadays but he is interested in how things work and understanding the inner workings of mechanical and technical things, and figuring them out. You can trace a direct line from him asking all his parents’ friends if he could study their vacuum cleaners and what brand they owned to his current interests and even his current profession as a network engineer. Thankfully, his parents let him be what he wanted to be and explore those interests even though it meant dropping out of college after a year and going to work, because he loves his job (and makes good money at it).

    12. Zennish*

      In my personal and amateur opinion, it’s just one more game of make-believe to most kids anyway, and unlikely to produce any long lasting effect on how they view work or the grown-up world. When I was asked that question, my answer was usually either “Starship Captain” or “Jedi”.

    13. Girasol*

      When I was four and had a new watercolor set I was on the kitchen floor painting airplanes when a visitor came to watch. “What are you going to be when you grow up?” she asked. “I’m going to be an artist!” To which she replied, “Oh, no, dear! You’re going to be a *mommy*!” Hats off to the parents who encourage a child to imagine being a fireman one day, a doctor the next, and then a professional dinosaur! The “what will you be” question should encourage kids to think about how many different things they might aspire to but shouldn’t aim to narrow down the field for a young child.

    14. PT*

      The thing about the careers a lot of little kids pick, is they pick them without respect to what it takes to get there. Many small kids want to be astronauts, for example, but only a handful of people in the entire world get to be astronauts, and the physical health requirements to be an astronaut are grueling. A lot of kids, by the age of four or five, are already excluded, due to allergies or asthma or nearsightedness or some other condition, and the vast majority of them will be on the DL by the time Air Force/Space Force recruiters come knocking- 70% of American teens don’t qualify to enlist in the military, which is the pipeline to the space program.

      Then multiply that over with careers like doctor, lawyer, veterinarian, paleontologist…a lot of kids will have to adjust their dreams at some point or another.

      Basically you can’t take a preschooler seriously.

    15. 2 Cents*

      Pretty sure my 3YO son wants to be a monster truck-driving firefighter who moonlights as a pediatrician and chef. I can remember being little and wanting to be a gymnast, ballerina, circus performer and astronaut. It wasn’t until high school I started feeling anxious about what I should “be” because I didn’t know. There are many years in between.

    16. SeluciaMD*

      This is true and I don’t think that question is problematic in and of itself – it’s that it is generally the ONLY question we ask kids about how they envision their futures. And that’s where the problem really lies. We need to ask kids other questions so that they – even from a very young age – start to think about their futures in multiple dimensions. Where do you want to go when you grow up? Live? What kind of hobbies do you want to cultivate? How do you want to be involved in your community or perhaps your church/place of worship? What kind of person do you want to be? Obviously these are not formulated for a four year old but there are ways to get at these ideas and help kids think about them. You can be the person in your kids life (and model it for other important adults) to start asking some of these other questions as they get older and get a broader sense of the world so they develop a more complex and complete vision of their own future.

      I used to work in youth suicide prevention and one of the very common themes we saw in youth attempts (particularly in middle and high school) was related to them struggling with a challenge – often school – and assuming that if that piece failed, their entire future was derailed and they were DOOMED. We put such a high premium on this one-size-fits-all path of “do well in school! Participate in 10 activities! Build up your resume! Go to Perfect College! Get Perfect Job! Get married, have 2.5 kids and a golden retriever in the perfect house! You win at the game of life!” as the way we measure success as a human. And when a piece of that gets derailed, or kids feel like they are off track – because those things feel VERY linear to them – they often have no way to envision a different future or other parts of their future where they are happy and thriving even if one part isn’t working out exactly how they planned. Will every kid that struggles have this challenge? No, but a lot of them will. And it will contribute to a lot of anxiety and depression which also often correlates to – or manifests in – dangerous behaviors like drinking, drugs, and self-harm.

      Sorry to go down that rabbit hole! Just feel like it’s worth pointing out that one of the best things we can do for kids is help them envision their futures in multiple dimensions beyond what they want to study in school and be when they grow up. If you work with kids, I highly recommend Kids at Hope training. It’s such a good framework for how to help kids operate from a place of strength, recognize their own value, and envision a happy future in multiple dimensions. (KAH calls this “time traveling”) There are different ways to implement depending on the child’s age and your role in their life. It’s such a good asset-based approach to helping kids develop resilience.

      OP #3, you sound like an awesome and thoughtful parent – hope maybe this gives you a few ideas for how to bring some balance to the “what do you want to be when you grow up” script.

    17. Paperdill*

      Because that what they ARE TAUGHT to do – that song proves that very point!
      Imagine a world in which we had song like that that lauded adults’ generosity, work ethic, kindness, patience, intelligence, ability to study hard, to take joy in menial day to day tasks, be hospitable, to love the hard to love, to make things around them beautiful…and a whole lotta other qualities I can’t even think of right now, INSTEAD just their job title?

    18. purpleparrots*

      My son just had “preschool graduation” and the took a photo of him in a little cap and gown next to a board that said “When I grow up I want to be….”

      His response was “a dad.”

      I’m not crying OKAY.

    19. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      My nephew wants to be a police officer, with a motorcycle and a striped tiger … nothing about a gun (thank goodness, but he REALLY wants the motorcycle and the tiger)! lol … Everyone just laughs and moves along with the conversation. I do not think people asking this are really trying to get kids to identify with a career choice. My niece says she wants to be a vet. Maybe she will be, but right now, I think we all know that means she wants to get a dog! She is hoping that if mom and dad see that she wants to be a vet, they will assume she is mature enough to take care of a dog. It’s funny the way kids think.

      That said, OP, I think the bigger issues develop later, and I would say that as your kid starts going to middle and high school, it’s good to make her aware that there are all kinds of careers and a four year college is not her only option. Ideally, as we try to look at ways to handle the massive increase in college costs and student debt, the rhetoric and options for trade schools and apprenticeships will increase. Also, ideally we can do more to encourage taking time and trying out the working world a bit before college. I think that when I went to college, it was viewed too much as a social experience rather than a career developing and educational experience. So, ideally, the rhetoric will change and you can proactively change it when the right time approaches.

      But as for young kids, asking them what they want to do when they grow up is usually more of a way of assessing their interests at that age, not of seriously trying to get them to consider their futures!

  3. Sami*

    OP 3: I like to ask kids “What problems would you like to work on/with or solve when/as you grow up?”
    A big caveat: I would NOT ask until age 12 or so and older. And definitely encourage kids to consider lots of options.

    1. Batty Twerp*

      At 4 I believe I wanted to be a strawberry. Not a strawberry farmer, an actual piece of fruit.
      At 12 I knew my parents worked in offices – the same as the parents of everyone I knew.
      At 14 I had to pick the GCSEs that would narrow down my career choices.
      At 15 I had two weeks work experience at one of the few places in town offering that experience that wasn’t a hotel.
      At 16 (it’s fun being an August baby, the youngest in class), I had to pick the A Levels that would determine what I could study at university, or choose an apprenticeship from a list of (at the time) about five.
      I’m 40 – I’ve spent 20+ years not really enjoying my career, doing things I’m naturally good at, rather than want I get fulfillment out of. At 40, I kinda want to be a strawberry.

      1. Oui Oui*

        Do you get red when you’re out in the sun?
        Would any of your friends or family describe you as “sweet”?
        Do you have good taste?
        If your answer to any of these questions was “yes” you may already be a strawberry.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Another august kid! Youngest in the class is a struggle. I have no doubt if I’d known I’d have to switch careers from virology to IT later I’d have made different GCSE choices, A level choices, degree choice, masters choice etc.

        At 16 I was struggling with not knowing a single LGBTQ person and not knowing bisexuality was a thing as well – so I truly didn’t understand a key part of myself. At 40+ (not saying the number, eek) I finally think I’ve got a good handle on myself – but too late to do anything about all those years of flailing around.

        Kinda want to be a strawberry too. One with lasers.

        1. PhyllisB*

          I think I agree with my grandson; I’d kinda like to be a dog. One of the cute little pampered things. At age 70, my window of opportunity has closed.

          1. The Original K.*

            I used to babysit for a 4-year-old boy who wanted to be a dragon when he grew up. We had a great time talking about what kind of dragon he would be – would he breathe fire, etc.

            1. Keymaster of Gozer*

              You know those bizarre questions some workplaces ask – like if you were an animal which one would you be?

              I always answer dragon :)

          2. NorthOfTheWall*

            I’ve often said that if reincarnation is The Way Things Go after death, coming back as a well loved house pet would be pretty freaking close to nirvana.

            I still want to be a cat someday.

        2. Nikki*

          My boyfriend wanted to be a plane and I wanted to be a pilot. I find the coincidence kinda charming :D

          1. Free Meerkats*

            There’s a joke here about where the pilot works, but I’m not going to be the one who makes it!

      3. Pants*

        I adore 4 year old you!! I have a book we did in kindergarten, age 5, in which I said I want to be a “Play Indian” when I grow up. (Different times. 1980.) I have no idea what that means, but it did involve a poorly drawn feather in my depiction of it; as well as arms that were 3 times the length of my body. Worth noting I’m very short and keep tongs everywhere for that extra grabbing length.

        Around 8 or 9, we were given an assignment to map out our lives. I was supposed to be high school valedictorian (we had 6–I was not one). I was supposed to go to UCLA (nope) and graduate Summa Cum Laude (HAHAHAHA). I was going to win a Pulitzer at 25 (?!) and then become a best selling author. Don’t know why it was in that order.

        The sick thing? I still compare myself to this list and feel like a failure.

        However, I did also say I didn’t want to get married (check) and didn’t want kids (check). Everyone said I’d change my mind about the kid thing (nope). My doc refused to sterilize me at 36 “in case I changed my mind.” Then he found cervical cancer and I told me I needed a hysterectomy and I said “So I win; I essentially get sterilized.” Indicative of how I treated the whole cancer experience; laughed through it. My gynecological oncologist’s name was Doctor Beavers (spelled a lot differently but pronounced the same). I mean, c’mon!!! I’m nearly 10 years out but sometimes, people who don’t know still tell me I’ll change my mind about kids, that it’s not too late. “Um, no I can’t. Cancer. Maybe think a little next time you want to tell a woman this.” It’s so satisfying to say that to a kid-having-pushy-person. —whoa, off topic.

        TL;dr – What kids “want to be” early on can be an amusing question, but knock it off once they realise the implications of actually having to choose a profession. And also, I’m a bit of a sick fu… person.

    2. DistantAudacity*

      I remember thinking that this was an incredibly stupid question (I was way younger than twelve); how could I possibly know.

      So I started answering (local equivalent of) “Chairman of the Federal Reserve”. Bonus points for one of the words being fairly long in my language (sentralbanksjef). Didn’t get many follow-ups from that! :)

      I may or may not have been somewhat obnoxius… But it apparantly made an impression occasionally, because many many years later a distant connection who had been exposed to me asked me “aren’t you in finance?”. I’m in IT, never intended finance :)

      1. UKDancer*

        I like that answer. I decided when I was a child that I wanted to be the first female Lord Chief Justice. The reason was that I was at junior school and we had to pick a newspaper article and present it to class. I picked one on the Butler-Sloss inquiry into child abuse in Cleveland because the investigating judge was a woman (Elizabeth Butler-Sloss). I was not allowed to present it because apparently child abuse is not something other children might know about. I was both precocious and had parents who answered all my questions (in a child appropriate way) so I didn’t see why if something was happening, we shouldn’t discuss it. As you can tell, the experience was fairly formative. If you’re thinking I was probably quite an irritating child, you may be right.

        Anyway it stuck in my mind so much that throughout my childhood I decided that I wanted to be like her. I didn’t know what precisely was entailed and by the time I did I was on track to study law at university. I discovered that I had none of the skills that make a good barrister so I never qualified. I will never be the first female LCJ but my studies have been really useful in my career.

      2. Jesse*

        That’s so sweetly pretentious. If I had a kid, I hope they’d give a similar answer.

    3. ThatGirl*

      It’s funny, I was just talking with my husband about “what do you want to be when you grow up” the other day – mostly I think kids don’t see that there’s a huge range of careers out there that aren’t always visible. So you get answers like doctor, or astronaut, or teacher. I may have said I wanted to be an author when I grew up? Because that was what you did if you liked to write? And then later got more focused on journalism. But I didn’t really know marketing copywriter was a thing or what it involved – turns out, that’s my actual career path!

      And my husband similarly thought he would grow up to be a famous author, not realizing that you don’t really get hired to do that. :) He may still be a published author someday, but in college he also found his calling as a mental health professional.

      1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

        I spent many years writing fiction, and I’m pretty capable at it. But then I went to get my master’s in counseling and I haven’t written anything to speak of. I don’t actually miss it at all. Counseling is stories — hearing stories, reflecting stories, showing how to edit stories.

        I make far more impact as a counselor than I would have with any book I thought I was going to write — I think it’s because the stories I work with now are collaborative, and therefore way more interesting.

    4. Jules the 3rd*

      I went through six potential careers before I was 10. I have done… 1 of them, I think, ‘work in a book store and get all the books’. I was not and probably will not be President of the US.

      It’s fine to ask! Kids like to try on different ideas. It’s about how you respond once they say a thing – “cool! what do you like about X?” is always a good answer. Never downplay their choice, or offer a ‘better’ one that’s unrelated, but after they tell you what they like, you can tell them about things that are like what they want but less well known. After I decided a POTUS didn’t get to directly solve problems the way I wanted to, I gave a Town / County Manager career a serious look, to the point of college classes.

      With my 13yo, we’re constantly throwing out possibilities (zookeeper, scientist, game developer, artist, writer, musician) and giving him opportunities to try each thing. I just wish someone paid for ‘cat and dog snuggler’, because he’s all about that.

  4. Chilipepper Attitude*

    My spouse speaks English as a 3rd language. During a post doc fellowship, the supervisor asked for a weekly 1 page summary of the work accomplished, roadblocks, etc. He offered not corrections or feedback. He just got my spouse writing regularly.

    It was the best experience for my spouse. Their writing improved tremendously just by doing it. Maybe, esp if this person is an intern, some regular writing could be part of the experience?

  5. Aggretsuko*

    “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is a joke question anyway. Everyone says “fireman” or “ballerina” and then everyone just becomes clerical workers, IT help, or CEO’s or whatever, i.e. jobs no kid would ever find interesting or want to do.

    1. River Song*

      Right now my five year old says he wants to be a policeman dentist and work at sonic drive-in on the weekends. *shrug*

      1. PhyllisB*

        The grandson who wanted to be a dog? A couple of years later he decided he wanted to be a cardiologist (how in the world did he even know what a cardiologist is?) And an “army man.” He’s in his teens now and haven’t heard him express a career goal in a while. I’ll have to ask him.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          I am trying to be real open with my kid’s ideals, but I do regularly mention that anesthesiologists will never be automated and are a great return on educational investment, leaving people lots of time for hobbies.

      2. dealing with dragons*

        my plan at five was to be a veterinarian during the day then at night go be a ballerina. it’s good to have goals

    2. 10Isee*

      I went through a winding education/career path that started with pre-med, then moved to research, shifted to support work, and finally pivoted to teaching.

      Last week I was going through some old papers in my parents’ basement and found a poster I made in first grade about what I wanted to be when I grew up. Turns out I was planning to be… a teacher.

    3. Working Hypothesis*

      My cousin wanted to be a veterinarian since she was five. She owns her own emergency vet clinic now.

      A kid I used to babysit has wanted to be a firefighter since he was four, and has been making his living as a firefighter for three years now, ever since he got out of high school.

      My son wanted to be a paleontologist when he was three. Changed it slightly to archaeology as soon as he learned that digging up and studying interesting stuff was something you could do with human history, not just extinct animals. He’s currently getting ready for college, and planning to study history and anthropology with a goal of getting his PhD in archaeology and becoming a professor in the field. I think he’ll make it, though academia is always a dicey field.

      It does happen. Not all that often, both because there aren’t as many spaces for the jobs kids know about and like as there are kids, and also because a lot of people actually get interested in other things over time. I mean, most people don’t grow up wanting to be computer programmers or materials engineers or managers, because most little kids haven’t the faintest idea what it’s like to actually do any of those jobs, or what would be so interesting about them. But a lot of adults really enjoy those jobs when they have a chance to experience them.

      1. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

        Off topic, but archaeology can be *very* dicey. And academia can be extremely difficult to get into. I think I only know one or two people of the dozens I know who got PhDs in the field who actually managed to get academic jobs.

        Assuming you’re in the US, tell him to be sure to learn about Cultural Resource Management, which is the boring sounding term for doing archaeology as a professional rather than an academic. Many people like me end up doing that kind of work after finishing the PhD and he will be in a much better position to get a good job in that field if he can get some commercial experience along the way.

        1. Blackcat*

          Yeah, I know a half dozen people with PhDs in archeology. All of them left grad school/post docs SUPER miserable and disillusioned with the field. Way worse than PhDs in other areas, it seems. Three have found rewarding careers in k-12 teaching, and the others eventually landed chemistry-based jobs. But man, I’ve never seen something break a soul like an archeology PhD. (I say that as physics PhD. Physicists are less likely to totally break and more likely to say “F*** this s***” and go into banking or data science.)

          1. Call Me Dr. Dork*

            Can confirm that as a physics-adjacent PhD who went into software development. I can only hope that today’s PhD candidates realize just how difficult the academic job market is, since it only began to be whispered about back in my grad student days.

      2. NYWeasel*

        Both my husband and I have had careers in what we said we wanted to as kids, and my second career, while project management as a title, is within the field that was my backup interest as a kid.

      3. Philly Redhead*

        My son has wanted to be a paleontologist since he was three, too! He’s 9.5 now. I think it stems from his obsession with the show “Dinosaur Train.” But we did do a paleontology dig at Rowan University, and got him books on paleontology and dinosaurs. His enthusiasm has not wavered a bit.

      4. Sporty Yoda*

        I feel like everyone starting a PhD wants to continue doing academia and then get burnt out and start considering other career options; I certainly wanted to be a professor when I started my degree (neuroscience), four years later and an end that keeps running away every time I see it and I’m looking for other career choices.

    4. Delphine*

      I wanted to be a cashier (I wanted to use the register and ring up items), a librarian (I wanted to use the barcode scanner pen), a teacher (I wanted to pass out papers) , and then an author (a teacher told me I could write). Now I’m a book editor.

      1. TechWriter*

        Looking at your trajectory makes me remember that I wanted to be a kid’s author when I was in elementary school (I liked to read). Writing software manuals isn’t *exactly* children’s lit, but hey, it’s still writing!

        My sister, of course, decided early on that she wanted to be a doctor, and that’s just what she became. It takes a certain type for that job, I think.

        My toddler currently says she ‘wants to get right to work’ and climbs up to bang on the keyboard. She has no idea what we do all day, but knows it involves the computer, and computers are fun.

    5. Anthony J Crowley*

      When my kid was about 7 and was learning how to make online surveys in school, he found out my job was surveys and decided he wanted to work with me. A few years later he still wants to, bless.

    6. Felis alwayshungryis*

      At 4 I wanted to be a nun. We are not Catholic, not even religious, and I would only ever have seen them in passing. Why? Might have been the long dress and the habit that made them look like they had long hair.

      I am not a nun. Or a hairdresser, or a nurse, or a fire engine driver, or any of the other things my tiny self wanted to be. But it’s fun to see where their minds go! I do like the approach of asking them what problems they want to solve, so maybe I’ll try that when ny 3yo is closer to that stage. (Personally, I see her as a lawyer. She’s very argumentative.)

    7. Marion Ravenwood*

      Yep. Everything that’s not an obvious job (usually something that requires a uniform/particular outfit, or is creative – like artist, singer etc) gets lumped into ‘going to the office’, which kids just see as boring. Because why would you do that when you could be an astronaut or a ballerina or a vet or a combination of all three instead?!

      1. Chantel*

        My mom is a retired secretary and my brother and I, even as young children, never saw her work as ‘boring.’ She brought home the best stories to us and our dad, and she still writes in shorthand, as she did then as part of her ‘office’ work, which we thought was really cool. She even taught us both how to type at a fast speed, which freed up time for an additional elective in high school. I am a librarian, and my brother a police detective, and occasionally we talk about the office side of our jobs; we credit our mom with making that part of our tasks interesting for us.

        We saw office work as anything BUT boring, and plenty of kids likely do, also.

    8. LifeBeforeCorona*

      My kid wanted to be a fry cook because they get to eat french fries all day and use a deep fryer. Now she works in finance looking for money launderers.

      1. Jam Today*

        Not for nothing, but her chosen vocation is rad as hell and I applaud her life choices.

          1. Jam Today*

            You may (or may not, de gustibus non disputandum est) be delighted to know that I just read that in my head in the voice of Fred Schneider from the B-52s.

    9. pleaset cheap rolls*

      When? That’s probably true in pre-school, but by 1st or 2nd grade it changes a lot.

      My kid is in elementary school and wants to be a Youtuber (“content creator”) and lawyer (he likes to argue and his friend’s mom is a lawyer). Also wants to make websites and do computer stuff.

      I’ve heard scientist a lot. Way more than ballerina or fireman – both as a child myself decades ago and now as a parent. Also artist and teacher ad taking care of animals (vet). Doctor. This is in New York City referring to kids over about six. Toddler and pre-schoolers might say different things.

      @Working Hypothesis wrote “most people don’t grow up wanting to be computer programmers” Maybe kids don’t want to do it full time, but many many kids I know (elementary age and one in middle school) want to learn programming – and many are. Four-year-olds? Maybe not. Six or seven or more – lots!

      They see and use computers all the time and want to do it. My boy started saying he wanted to build website when he was seven I think.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        My son’s been building games in Minecraft since he was 11; this summer he wants to build a releasable game in a professional code base. I think there may be a revolution happening in content creation, thanks to global reach.

    10. Amy*

      My 5-year-old recently decided he wants to be a “coconut farmer.”

      I think adults ask the question because the answer is often funny and also they just don’t know what else to ask.

    11. UKDancer*

      Some people do become ballerinas and ballerinos but it’s hard to make a career out of it and very few of those who want it have the talent to get the fewer places around. My ballet instructor is a professional dancer. It’s all he ever wanted to do with his life so he did it and has danced with some pretty prestigious companies and now runs his own ballet school. You have to be very talented and motivated to do it and it’s not a long career (which is why he’s teaching more and dancing less now he’s over 35). It’s also very badly paid and has a high risk of injury.

      But that shouldn’t stop people from trying.

      1. KayEss*

        I know a woman who was on track to be a professional ballerina but was permanently knocked out early on by an injury, so she became a cardiac surgical assistant. Possibly the most wild career pivot I’ve ever heard.

        1. UKDancer*

          That does actually make sense. Ballet dancers tend to need a lot of discipline (like medical personnel) and work well in a highly pressurised environment. They also mostly have a pretty good knowledge of anatomy and physiology from having to look after and hone their bodies. Medicine is not a huge stretch in terms of skills.

      2. JustaTech*

        One of my cousins wanted to be a professional ballerina, ended up dancing in the shows on a cruise line, went to New York to give Broadway a try, worked in an investment firm to make rent, and now is the head of HR for a huge casino.

        Career paths can be wild.

        I also know a gal who decided at 17 that she wanted to be a patent attorney, got an engineering degree then went to law school and now is … a patent attorney. (Along with a couple of other people from our college, but they didn’t set out to be in IP law.)

    12. Cj*

      I do think there is a difference between “what do you want to *be* when you grow up?”, which is what the OP said in her letter, and “what do you want to *do* when you grow up”, which is what Alison said in her reply.

      If you say “be”, you more likely to get cute answers like a dog or a unicorn. “Do” does seem more like you are talking about a job or career.

      1. Simply the best*

        That’s funny, because I see it as the opposite. What do you want to be means you have to pick a thing to be, most of the time a career though sometimes something cute like dog or strawberry. What do you want to do and you get answers like “I want to live in a big house.” “I want to sleep all the time.” “I want to play video games all day.” “I want to go to space.”

    13. Jake*

      Yep, I wanted to be a lawyer, economist, sports writer, computer programmer, etc. while I was in elementary school. I’m a construction engineer now. Engineering and construction didn’t even cross my mind until late high school for engineering and early college for construction.

    14. SarahKay*

      At about age 5 I wanted to be either a teacher or an astronaut. By age 15 I knew that teaching was my idea of hell, and I was nowhere near dedicated or interested enough to even try to become an astronaut (although I never grew out of my love of sci-fi).
      Now in my forties I am very happily employed as a finance analyst playing with spreadsheets for much of my day.

    15. JG Obscura*

      I was in middle school when I “resigned” myself to a desk job. My best friend was going to become a musician/song-writer/composer, and since it can be hard to break into the music industry, she’d “live in my cubicle”.

      And honestly, it was depressing. I had already told myself that I wasn’t going to achieve any of my “dreams” and that I should just accept that I will be an office worker who doesn’t hate but doesn’t love her job. Yeah, it’s “realistic”, but imagine being 12 and thinking that the only path open to you is one of dispassionate employment.

      1. merpaderp*

        Honestly, this is the first comment I’ve seen that resembles my experience. Both my parents were those lucky “I knew what I wanted to do, and I went to school for the thing, and now I have a career doing the thing,” and I wasn’t. Looking back, and with a recent diagnosis of (inattentive-type) ADHD to re-frame my experiences, I think I really just didn’t have a good understanding of what “having a career” meant or – honestly, at a very basic level, what “work” meant at a day-to-day level. So I basically just assumed my entire life I would have a job that I don’t have but I don’t love, and that I would be okay at it, but not great. “Dispassionate employee” was exactly my vision of my future career trajectory.

    16. Temperance*

      My sister’s kids want to be lawyers like Aunt Temperance because she has a “fancy office” and goes to New York City for work sometimes.

      I’m charmed by it, but my job is mostly boring and my office overlooks a parking garage.

    17. Casey*

      Funny enough, I wanted to be an astronaut when I was really small, like 5 or 6 years old. After that, I cycled through diplomat, lawyer, park ranger, paleontologist, and ended up actually pursuing aerospace engineering in college after all… now I work at a rocket company. Obviously my actual job title is something I didn’t know about until college, but it does happen, sort of!

    18. SpartanFan*

      To be fair I said stockbroker when I was in 3rd grade and ended up studying finance in college and spending 98% of my career in accounting/finance related jobs.

  6. Cese*

    1. That is so inappropriate and awkward. I’m cringing for everyone involved. I do think your wife moving on from the company makes sense. I also don’t want to seem like I’m judging your relationship, but I do think it may be worth revisiting the boundaries you have with one another. Whether or not she seems someone else romantically, she also needs to recognize how these connections could impact you or her in other ways.

    2. I’m also cringing here. I understand why you wanted to sign your name, but eek. Are you hoping for a continued reference from this manager or employer? If so, I’d definitely connect. If not, ghost.

    3. I don’t think we should worry as much about asking what someone wants to be when they grow up. My daughter gets asked similarly and I also make sure that I ask little kids what do they love to do, what do they love to read, etc. I think it’s more concerning when a parent pressures their child to focus so hard on a future career – a 4-year-old dreaming of being a concert pianist should get lessons because they want them, not because their parents do. Dreaming is completely age appropriate! Depending on what they answer as their hopeful career, you can also talk about what makes it fun, I E. I want to be a scientist! That’s awesome. Do you like exploring and learning new things? Do you like animals? Just build on these conversations.

    1. allathian*

      For LW1, I honestly think that the whole open relationship issue is pretty much irrelevant. Cuddling with a former report would be unprofessional even if both of them were single, given the way the wife is advocating for a raise for her former report.

      I think it’s worse that the LW’s wife works in HR, they’re supposed to model the sort of behavior that’s acceptable in that company.

      1. Working Hypothesis*

        The only reason the open relationship matters was because the husband happened to be the one writing in for advice. Without that context, it would probably be assumed that he was concerned out of personal jealousy or a sense of betrayal (instead of just worried about the fact that cuddling a former report over whose work life you still have power is really unprofessional behavior with great likelihood of creating a mess).

        1. Well...*

          This. Also married people generally combine income and finances, so if LW’s wife gets fired that could impact the whole family, and maybe some of LW’s panic is coming from that place rather than jealousy, which many people would assume.

        2. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

          Agreed; I think the OP is trying to contextualise that their worry is related to work, so they get a bunch of relationship advice they’re not asking for.

    2. Lorine*

      Re: OP #1. This is bad. I’ll take your word that this was just extremely poor judgment on your wife’s part, but she needs to understand that it looks a bit…predatory. An unusually close relationship with a subordinate she helped get promoted and whom she then drove home and cuddled with? It looks like some kind of quid pro quo situation and she needs to course correct like yesterday.

      1. Empress Matilda*

        And the employee is not only junior in title, but in age – OP says this person is 10 years younger than their wife.

        OP, this is not a situation where your wife should just sweep it under the rug and hope nobody notices. She should be doing some damage control, stat. Good luck to both of you.

      2. AnonRonRon*

        It’s incredibly concerning that the wife didn’t see any problems with her behavior! (And still doesn’t really seem to believe it could ever catch up to her.) I seriously wonder how she is as an HR rep otherwise.

    3. Artemesia*

      I have found the ‘what are you reading’ question better at starting a conversation with a child than the ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’ question — and it works from very early on. You can tweak it to ‘your favorite book’ for those under age 5.

  7. AnnaLiza*

    Re #3, I like asking “what do you want to learn more about as you grow up?” That give the space to explore interests without equating interests/passions to career paths. (If not only because the kids these days will likely have access to careers/jobs in 20 years that we can’t even parse in 2021)

    1. Marion Ravenwood*

      This is a fair point. Think of things like YouTubers/social media influencers – 20 years ago we didn’t know what that was and now it’s one of the top aspirations for a lot of young kids (most likely because they see the fun side of it and not the work that’s involved, but that’s true of a lot of jobs kids want to do).

    2. A Girl Named Fred*

      Ohhh, I love this question. Definitely stealing it the next time I find myself talking to a child!

    3. Regina Phalange*

      An acquaintence recently told me that her parents asked “what do you want your life to look like?” rather than “what do you want to do?” I thought that was so smart because it was about so much more than work. And she knew she wanted flexibility, to travel, to be done with work when she went home at the end of the day, and all that led to her career as a hairdresser.

      1. Vistaloopy*

        I’m OP #3 – thank you so much for this response! This is exactly the kind of question that I think would be helpful to ask kids and I am going to ask my daughter this when she gets a bit older!

    4. Gretchen Wiener*

      I’m an insurance underwriter insuring marijuana. No 6 year old is going to say that.

      Or truthfully, no one is going to say insurance, despite insurance covering a huge swath of things and often very lucrative.

  8. A mathematician*

    For “indicating medical leave on your resume” – if you’re in academia, or another field where you have publicly available ‘output’ per year (like research papers), and the medical/ parental leave is longer than a month or so, note it on your resume under that job title – you don’t want future employers thinking you didn’t get anything done during that time.

    1. OP #5*

      Is this still the case for Canada? Most of my professors take the full year – 18 months and from what I’ve seen on linked in they are still listed as actively working at my University.

      1. MK*

        I am guessing they are listed as university employees, which is accurate while on leave; you don’t have to update LinkedIn to say you are not working temporarily. I think what a mathematician means is that on a resume, it might be better to put “X college 2015-2022 (on sabbatical/maternity leave/etc during 2018)”, so that interviewers won’t wonder why you haven’t published anything during 2018.

      2. AcademiaNut*

        If you’re tenure track, the universities now consider parental leave when evaluating tenure. But if you’re taking parental leave and are applying for jobs afterwards, having your publication rate drop off a cliff for a year and a half would be a major problem without explanation. I personally know of people who lost major job opportunities because their publication level stalled (without parental/medical leave issues).

        If you’re applying well after the leave, things will generally have evened out more, and the longer term productivity will have balanced out. My husband had an extended sudden medical leave, it took a couple of years to really get back on track, publication wise, but his CV eventually got back to normal.

    2. Blackcat*

      Oh, I was told in no way shape or form to ever list maternity leave on my CV as a woman in STEM academia. Since papers take long enough to publish, there’s not a super obvious gap anyways (what’s there is the year when my kid was ~1-2yo of lower output, since I had less in the pipeline).

  9. awesome3*

    3. While I like Alison’s idea about not asking 11 and 12 year olds to pick a career path, state governments are increasingly asking students to narrow down their career field younger and younger, having to pick a “path” on their 8th grade choice sheet to determine what field they are going in. It’s not great. I also think it could add to gender stereotyping, because if you don’t pick a certain field at age 14, you may think you’re “just not good at that stuff.” Tricky topic!

    1. Chocolate Teapot*

      I still remember as a 14-15 year old at school reading a careers advice booklet which had a scary section on “If you don’t take these subjects, you can’t work as a …”

      1. Exhausted Trope*

        I remember that! Really wish those had been left out of the booklets. I self-selected out of so many careers because of these darn guides. Careers I could totally have excelled in….

    2. John Smith*

      +1. Sometimes I get peeved when I look at the wide variety of jobs and careers available and think back to how schools were so narrow in vision and disjointed. I never knew jobs like oceanographer, forensic psychologist, legislative draftsperson, brand protection and other less mainstream but valuable jobs existed until after I had left college, and by that time for many people it’s too late.

      I was nearly 30 when I returned to university to develop a career path after years of deadend jobs. I can’t help think that if the education system tried to make subjects relevant to pupils and the working world rather than just stuffing young heads with facts and no context, we’d have a much better society.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        It’s a tricky thing to do well. My siblings and I went through some attempts at career preparation which were, for the most part, dreadful. Think cheesy pop-psychology tests to evaluate your career strengths. It often ends up being the high school equivalent of terrible university career centres.

        What you want to get across is some idea of the types of jobs that are out there and the different work that people can do, plus what sort of training and preparation is needed to pursue it.

        I was lucky in that I had parents who had gone through their own process of figuring out their career paths – my Mom in the day when “married, teacher, nurse, secretary” were the options for women, and my Dad going from a farm upbringing to academia. So as we grew up, thinking both about what kind of work we wanted to do, and how to get there, were part of the discussion from a young age. I had friends in high school who got none of that, and getting started on anything was much harder.

        It also gave me ammunition when my high school counselor tried to convince me I didn’t really need grade 12 math, when there was a schedule conflict in my final year. I was a prospective physics major, and knew very well I needed it for 4 out of the 5 courses I would take in the first year of university. One of my friends made it to the last semester lacking the courses she needed for her plans, and had to do grade twelve twice to catch up.

      2. MsSolo (UK)*

        One thing I really love about quiz shows is the range of jobs people have – it’s a great way to introduce older kids to fields and roles they might not have considered, especially if you’ve got a chatty host who gets them talking about what their job entails (plus, trivia!).

      3. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

        This!! There is a wolf conservatory in Colorado that is always posting pictures of employees and the wolves on social media and I’m looking at them thinking WHERE WAS THIS BOOTH AT CAREER DAY?! I was in the highschool in the later 80’s and it was still very much girls got pushed toward office jobs or teaching if they planned to go to college and pushed towards daycare or retail if they didn’t.

        1. Shan*

          Yes, I think one really useful aspect of social media (and the internet in itself) has been the way it can spotlight so many different careers that you might never have even known existed. Plus it lets you find out more about how to get started in those fields.

          I was in high school in the 90s, and it still seemed like “teacher or nurse” were the jobs I felt were most open to me. Obviously I was aware women did other things, but somehow I felt like my realistic options were those two, and I’m not 100% sure why? I was top of my class, a voracious reader, a news junky from the time I was little kid… but when it came to deciding on a career path, I felt very limited. Part of it might have been that I had no idea HOW to get into other industries, whereas teaching and nursing were pretty obvious. And it didn’t help that the aptitude tests we did in school gave results like “you answered that you’re a clean person, so have you considered being a janitor or a wastewater treatment operator?” Like, yes, absolutely talk about blue-collar jobs, but they shouldn’t be the only suggestions.

          I went into teaching, hated it, and then fell into my current career, which I’m good at but don’t love, because it was the big one in the city I’d moved to. I really wish I’d had a broader range of options presented to me when I was a kid in a small town, trying to guess what I wanted to do for 40+ years!

    3. Personal Best In Consecutive Days Lived*

      Asking a 14-year-old to start narrowing down their career choices is absolutely insane. I had no idea what I wanted to do at all when I was a teen. I made sure to take a course load full of what interested me and what would keep my options open later, then worried no more. My parents encouraged this as they each had about three careers over the years.
      I decided on my career when I was 19, which is still quite young but I’m very happy with what I went for.

    4. Keymaster of Gozer*

      We had to take ‘options’ for our GCSEs (not sure of the US equivalent) at age 13-14 at school that locked out certain other choices (my choices were heavily science weighed). Those GCSEs could determine what A-levels you wanted to study at age 16-18 (I chose 4 – maths, further maths, chemistry and biology), which in turn determined what degree you could go for at age 18-21 (I chose virology). It’s a heck of a burden to level on a kid.

      Additionally I was talked out of anything computer science related at school by teachers who firmly believed girls didn’t have a grasp of computers because we weren’t logical. I now work in IT but without a single comp sci qualification to my name.

      1. Cambridge Comma*

        I completely remember the feeling that your path was set for life if you didn’t do triple instead of double science GCSE. People might make better choices if they also knew about later routes and their costs. There are very few doors that close forever.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Very true. I was in my 20s and still clearly remember my utter shock at getting a job in IT – something I’d been told would never happen because I a) didn’t have relevant qualifications and b) was a woman who’d played with computers most of her life but had been told we couldn’t work in IT because men were better.

          Still not sure where I got the nerve to apply for a career change that had always fascinated me but that I’d never studied, but glad I did.

        2. UKDancer*

          I didn’t get a choice. If you were in the top 2 streams at school you did triple science and the bottom 2 streams did double science. I hated science and maths but didn’t have a choice. The main thing I remember was deciding whether to study geography or RE.

          I was very humanities focused so by A-level I was doing English Lit, History, German and French because those were my strongest and favourite subjects. I knew I wanted to study law so the grades mattered more than the subjects they were in.

          The main joy of my life was that I was able to drop PE by sixth form. I was convinced I was rubbish at sports and couldn’t do physical activity. It was only when I discovered dancing that I discovered that I’m not terrible at physical activity, I’m just no good at team games, have no competitive instinct and zero ability to hit a ball. I do wonder how many other girls come away from school with a loathing for sports for the same reason.

          1. JohannaCabal*

            Count me in for P.E.

            I learned too late in life that I like being active. I love going for walks, hiking, playing frisbee–heck, I even like using an elliptical because I can catch up on TV shows, listen to music, catch up on podcasts, etc.

            I mean, I sure did get a lot of exercise standing in the field while my teammates ignored me during gym class…

            1. Firecat*

              Not to mention I was so mad to learn in my late 20s, after years and years of mandatory PE, how to properly stretch, a set of non equipment ful body strength exercises, and how to determine my calorie and water needs.

              Why did I not learn any of that in the 13+ years of mandatory PE!!

          2. Lora*

            Definitely with you on the PE vs. physical activity. Turns out I love yoga, dance, hiking, swimming non-competitively, high intensity interval classes, and riding my bike as a means of commuting. I absolutely despise any “ball flying at you” type of games as invariably the class bully is going to deliberately throw the ball at your head or other sensitive parts, and while you’re on the ground with a nosebleed the gym teacher yells “good block!” and goes on with class.

            It’s not a cost thing, I thought at first “well three dozen yoga mats and you’d have to replace them every year,” but they spared no expense for hockey equipment.

          3. Persephone Mongoose*

            Like you, I loathed PE in school, but as an adult I’ve discovered that I don’t actually hate all sports. I’ve taken up archery as a hobby and I’m actually not terrible at it, much to my surprise.

          4. JustaTech*

            I spend most of my pre-college schooling at an all-girls school so we had both standard PE (team sports) and dance. Starting in kindergarten. In high school there was one year of standard PE, one year of “fun” PE (golf, archery, football, bowling, all the non-team sports for “non-athletic” girls), but you also had to do some kind of sport (up to 3 a year junior year) … and dance.

            No one got out of dance.
            Every class had to perform at the all-school event in the spring where there was an opening Broadway-type number, then “ethnic” dances (by grade) (we did an Indian style dance with sticks, Morris dancing with wooden swords, a West-African style dance, Irish step dancing) some random English country dance (Epping Forrest) and then a closing Broadway dance.

            And for all that I still can’t touch my toes, have no rhythm, only learned the one sport I liked (fencing) at a different school, and shocked myself by picking up running as an adult (turns out that getting shouted at doesn’t make anything fun for me).

      2. EPLawyer*

        Yeah we don’t have that in the US. It’s pretty much, college track, trade track and general track. YOu can take any classes you want in High School, provided you met the requirements. There were some assumptions like college track will take as many Advanced Placement courses as possible and not take shop class.

        We also don’t have A Levels. There is the SAT/ACT to give a score that supposedly colleges can use to compare students across differences like school size, class offerings, etc. But even those are being phased out. The biggest winnower is figuring out what college entrance requirements you had to meet. When I was in high school and living in California, the UC schools (best state school system for Cal, the SU schools were a step lower) added Algebra II to their requirements so that left me out of applying there. I barely made it through Algebra I and Geometry.

        1. Simply the best*

          Yeah this conversation is very interesting to me, hearing people talk about narrowing their career choices down at 13 14 years old. That was just not the case for me at all!

          Granted, I did graduate high school in 2003, so things may have changed, but we didn’t do anything to narrow down career choices until college in my neck of the US. And even in college you had time (2 years!) to pick a major. So I was close to 20 before I settle down into what I majored in. I do still have a job that has nothing to do with my major, but I majored in something that didn’t have a specific career trajectory and I am in a field where specific degrees aren’t needed.

      3. 'Tis Me*

        At our school, we had to do combined science, Maths, English Lit and Lang, and a modern foreign language, plus a half-GCSE in IT (we were the first year doing that), and then could pick 3 from History, Geography, RS, Classical Civilisations, Fine Art, Graphic Design, a few Tech options, and another modern language/Latin. I think you had to choose Fine Art or Graphic Design, and there may have been a sports option too, but it wasn’t a huge narrowing-down until A-level (well, I was also the first year to do AS and A2s, when we did 4 – I went with Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Sociology as my AS – they didn’t run it to A2), then did Psychology and Intelligent Systems (basically AI) as my BSc.

        And then in my final year learnt that working in publishing is a real actual thing that people are allowed to do… It is also a career where they want a degree but aren’t too fussed about what it’s in, and I was very lucky to find a small company willing to take a chance on me, invest in training me up, etc. When the owners decided to downscale to focus on their families, I had 18 months’ experience which then helped me get my second job in publishing, where I’ve been ever since (the role has evolved a lot and includes a lot more project management, higher level “what can we do to help streamline/improve things?” and “this is a pain point/stumbling point, can we do this?” stuff now, plus 10 hours of my time is ringfenced for systems work including support, development, testing, user stories, project work etc).

        When I was a kid if you’d asked me what my dream job was, I’d have said getting paid to read…

        1. londonedit*

          Oh, hello, are you me but a few years younger? :D

          My school was not very academically aspirational – it was in a very rural area where there was none of the competition for primary/secondary school places that you see in cities. You went to the village primary school (there were 9 kids in my year) and then you went to the only secondary school in a 15-mile radius. There wasn’t a lot of choice.

          They offered 9 GCSE subjects as standard – you had to do English Language, English Literature, Maths, Double Science (which struck me as unfair because you had to study all three subjects but only got two GCSEs out of it…hey ho) and one of either French or German (when you joined the school in Year 7 you were assigned to one or the other language depending on which half of the year you were in – if you showed aptitude for the first year you’d get to pick up the other language in Year 8 and then choose for GCSE). Then there were ‘options’ – you’d have to choose one subject from Humanities (History, Geography or Business Studies), one from Arts (Art & Design, Music, Drama, Media Studies), one from Technology (Graphics, Resistant Materials, Textiles, Food Tech). If you were in the top set for most of your subjects, you could also choose an additional 10th subject from one of those categories as long as timetabling allowed (those of us doing 10 had to have an extra lesson after school once a week to fit everything in).

          We were still in the days of three A levels, and the choice wasn’t hugely broad – I remember wanting to do French as a fourth A level, but I couldn’t because there was a timetable clash with another of my subjects. I think the school offered all the basic subjects like English/Maths/Chemistry/Biology/Physics/French/German/History/Geography, plus things like Psychology, Sociology, Business Studies, Music, Graphic Design, Art & Design…probably a few others.

          I did do English A level and an English degree and I now work in publishing, but I only really discovered that publishing was a thing you could do while I was at university. People from my home town kept asking if I was going to be a teacher.

      4. JillianNicola*

        Girls … aren’t … logical? Ugh. I was in the gifted program as a kid (in the US – it’s like advanced schooling based on an IQ test, not sure if the UK has an equivalent), and part of the testing was logic. I scored high on everything, but for logic especially I was completely off their charts. I remember specifically them showing my mom their chart like, here’s the highest point we have and your daughter is … out here in the stratosphere somewhere. Not something I lord over people but when slags like this get brought up it’s the one thing I like to throw back in their faces lol.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          I can’t speak to schooling in the UK at current (I don’t have kids) but no, we didn’t have a ‘gifted’ or ‘honours’ program available. You were put into ability ‘sets’ for each subject but that was about it.

          (I was top set for most things, apart from German – I’m useless at foreign language – and P.E didn’t have sets. I did learn how to skive out of every P.E session though – hated it)

      5. Tau*

        Ah, a fellow IT person who somehow got talked out of the T part of STEM in school! It’s so bizarre looking back since I was also specialising in maths/science (went on to do a maths PhD before switching to be a dev) and my mother is an IT professional. And yet somehow the “girls can’t do computer things” messaging stuck to the point where I didn’t even consider studying computer science.

      6. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

        My school had a Robotics club but, surprise surprise, it was only for boys. The alternative for girls? Sewing.
        (Yet another reason I loathe my former school with a burning passion)

    5. Damn it, Hardison!*

      This reminds me of a “career” test we took in 7th grade. Supposedly I would have made a good mortician!

      1. university admin from home*

        In high school, some long test (fill in the bubbles with a #2 pencil, even; it was a long time ago) showed that I should be …. a nun. I am not even Christian, much less Catholic!

        1. AnOtterMouse*

          I think I took this same test (the ASVAB). All my friends got something like, “farmer,” “business person,” or “early education teacher,” and none seemed to be a great fit. I got… “government special agent.” People called me Secret Agent OtterMouse for the rest of the year.

          Spoiler: I did not become a government special agent. But I do work for the government… so maybe there was some truth to it?

      2. Dust Bunny*

        Auto mechanic or rancher here.

        Actually, I’d have loved the work for either of those but there are other drawbacks.

      3. HR-Occam's Razor*

        I think it was an 8th grade test that determined Horticulture could be a potential career path. I can’t even keep a cactus alive.

    6. Mockingjay*

      Yep. Really screwed my youngest daughter 10-12 years ago. The idea was to steer them into a career track in high school with heavy, heavy emphasis on EVERYONE going to college, whether suited to or wanted to. She wanted to be an equestrian. The closest match was the agriculture track. Planting crops is not the same thing as training horses and running a barn. She’s an adult now and is in automotive customer service and loves it.

      There was a lot of backlash from parents like myself and now the school does offer more vocational choices, although it still emphasizes ACADEMICS AND SPORTS (that is, high school football. Don’t get me started about the amount of money that goes into just 45 kids in a school of 1,000.).

      As for myself, I went to college with intent of obtaining a BS in Chemistry. Middle of my junior year I switched to English so I could pursue technical writing. (TW degrees and certs didn’t exist then).

      TL;DR: Let your kids explore the world. Their choices will change over time, just as ours have.

    7. NotAnotherManager!*

      That’s awful and I’m glad my state doesn’t seem to be riding that trend. I have middle schoolers, and they are still taking the usual math, English, history, science, PE + electives plan. (And, by electives, I mean band/chorus/orchestra, art, world language, and the like.)

      Our department of education seems to be trending in the opposite direction, actually, there are the beginnings of a movement to detrack and put everyone on the same course plan until 11th/12th grade, which, of course, has the honors students’ AND the remedial students’ parents up in arms. I just hope that bureaucracy is so slow that I can get mine out before this gets through/implemented.

    8. Kes*

      I don’t think we should tie kids down to what they pick, but I do think it’s good to get them started on thinking about careers and what they might want to do. Making children of 12 decide their life path is not good, but by the end of high school realistically they will need to make some choices that can affect their careers, and I think the message of “just go to university (any degree will do)” or “do what you love (without further analysis of whether this is actually a career you will like and that will be feasible)” are not helpful either; better to get students to at least give some thought to what might be a feasible career for them.

      1. JG Obscura*

        Agreed that that’s the right approach, but it’s still crazy when you think about it! You’re 18, you’ve barely experienced the world, and now you’re supposed to decide what to do for the next 50 years?

    9. ginger ale for all*

      My 87 year old mother didn’t get to choose what she wanted to do. She went to a Catholic school and the nuns decided who was going to go into what class and what their futures would be. She said that the smart girls were put in a nurse track, middle girls – teachers/telephone operators, and the rest a mommy/wife track. My mom became a nurse. She really wanted to be a singer though.

  10. Cat Tree*

    #2 Just…ignore them. What are they gonna do, fire you? The worst they could do is hold a good review hostage in the future. Don’t feel obligated to respond based on some sense of politeness.

  11. OP #5*

    Is this still the case for Canada? Most of my professors take the full year – 18 months and from what I’ve seen on linked in they are still listed as actively working at my University.

    1. Empress Ki*

      They are still employed while on leave.
      It’s the same in the UK. We don’t put medical/maternity leave on our resumes!

    2. merope*

      You are still employed (and paid) while you are on leave. Also, as an academic, while you might not be in the office, you are probably still working as articles don’t write themselves!

  12. Dancin Fool*

    I think asking little kids about what they want to be when they grow up isn’t the issue. The problems can come from how adults respond to a child’s answer. I used to work with children in the 3-5 year old range and their answers were always interesting and entertaining ranging from real careers like police man, fireman,etc. to the impossible like a unicorn. The key is to respond positively no matter what the answer and to encourage them to explore and learn more, as opposed to telling them no they can’t do that or they should think of something better.

    1. WS*

      Yes! My little brother wanted to be a blue frog when he grew up. Everyone thought that was cool and my parents asked him if he’d like swimming lessons. Later he wanted to be a digger driver. (He’s now a 38-year-old coder specialising in UX.)

    2. Callie*

      My friend’s little brother was obsessed with railways and would say he wanted to be a train when he grew up. Not a train driver, an actual train! Bless.

      1. Pennyworth*

        My nephew is famous in our family for worrying whether he would rather be a fairy or a queen. He works in IT.

    3. Forrest*

      haha, my immediate thought on reading the above was, “who are all these children who want to be ~actual job~ and where are all the unicorns?”

      Ask my three-year-old what she wants to be when she grows up and nine out of ten times she says, “A big girl!” (10% of the time she says, “A big boy!”)

      1. Red 5*

        From about age eight or so onwards I always answered with “taller.”

        Honestly, it’s still what I want. I can’t reach anything ; )

        1. Forrest*

          I asked my three-year-old off the back of this post and she said, “A big girl bed like [big sister]’s. and to reach the top cupboards.” So not so different!

    4. Anon-mama*

      The parents’ response is everything. They asked my son’s preschool class recently. A friend of his said he wanted to be a garbage truck driver, and his very polished, suited up parents gave what I could best describe as a strained chuckle. Definitely got the impression they were hoping he’d say something like “doctor.”

      As for my son, he wants to be a daddy when he grows up.

      1. Dancin Fool*

        I mean what preschooler wouldn’t want to be a garbage truck driver! You get to drive all over in a super cool truck, spend lots of time outside, and crush garbage. Young kids are still not aware that some jobs and careers are thought of as “less than” and we should try to keep it that way.

        1. SnappinTerrapin*

          My youngest brother asked our Dad to buy a garbage truck, necause he thought they were “neat-o.”

          He drives a fire truck now.

          I had all sorts of ideas, at different stages of my life. I’ve had a lot of jobs, but not many were on my childhood list.

          I think it’s good to encourage children to use their imagination, no matter how odd their dreams might seem, in the moment, to adults.

    5. Jay*

      This. I don’t ask kids what they want to be. I ask about their favorite toy/activity or something they’re doing at the moment and then I say “that sounds so cool! tell me more!” and mostly they do and it’s so fun.

      At age four, my daughter said she wanted to be a dancer, a doctor, and a dentist. We always responded positively – and in fact I know someone who is both a doctor and a dentist. Don’t know if she’s a dancer, though! At 21, she’s studying marketing and psychology.

      1. UKDancer*

        The great thing with dance is even if you don’t do it professionally you can do it for fun. I’d be no good as a professional dancer but I do enjoy myself doing it for a hobby.

      2. heckofabecca*

        I know someone who is all three!!! (And his wife is a dancer and dentist too!!!) :D They’re both delightful people!

    6. Lyudie*

      I’d like to underline the “respond positively”, my mother dismissed my interests in being a writer and artist as “you can’t make money at that and have to be really good at it” which certainly didn’t help my self esteem issues.

      1. Red 5*

        Yeah, my parents were very much “we don’t care what you want to do, we just want you to think about how you get educated for that.” If I wanted to be a hairstylist, I needed to think about cosmetology school, if I wanted to be a doctor, med school, etc. Obviously that was when I was a little older but they started with that early, because they were both in college when I was young so it was a natural conversation.

        Then when I was in college I met someone who found out what I was studying (I got an arts degree I’m not using) and sighed wistfully and said that it was what she’d always wanted to do, it was what her dream had been for a long time but her parents refused to even let her say it and they told her they would NEVER allow a child of theirs to get an arts degree when they should be studying something useful where they could actually get a job.

        It made me so angry to think about this girl who had her dreams crushed as a pre-teen by her own parents. Just encourage kids to learn more about what they want! If they want to be a train or a turtle or a cat, then get them books about trains and turtles and cats. It’s not that hard.

        And yes, I think that continues their whole life. I know like three people who are actually making a living at what they studied in college. People need to chill.

    7. Anon for this one*

      I remember vividly being asked “what do you want to be when you grow up” by a teacher in school – it wasn’t just asked to me, but as part of a lesson (can’t remember what the lesson was) and she went round the room and asked everyone. Most of the kids answered with something like fireman, vet, scientist, own a hotel, etc.

      I didn’t really know what to answer as I grew up with an unemployed single parent and quite isolated from other ‘adult’ input so didn’t have that much experience of types of work people did – so ended up answering “I want to be a lady and have a baby”! (which is especially odd as I’m happily childless and made that decision a long time ago – I think I thought that by having a baby to look after I wouldn’t need any kind of job, as that’s what I was exposed to!).

      It is so important how parents/adults respond to the child’s answer on “what do you want to be”. A mixture of acceptance at face value, encouragement and perhaps setting on the right path (e.g. if they say they want to be a doctor but they hate science!) I remember just getting answers like “oh, now don’t be ridiculous” when I mentioned something like I’d like to be a vet or whatever it was, like “people like us don’t have jobs like that”! which took a time to unlearn.

      Not knowing what I wanted to be when I grew up did give me a lot of anxiety when it came to the teenage years and we were encouraged to look more realistically at careers and what choices (subjects to study etc) would work towards that.

      The other one that gets me is in foreign language learning in school, where they teach (or at least used to – this would have been 25-30 or so years ago so everything may be different!) vocabulary and sentence structure etc by having you say (in the language) something like “I have a sister called Jane and a dog called Bob. My mum is a computer programmer and my dad is a nurse” … trying to explain complicated family situations is no fun – [in German] “what does your dad do?” “… well, I don’t have a dad… well I do but he doesn’t live with us, I don’t know what he does and I’m not supposed to talk about him”, etc. Hopefully teachers of foreign languages are more sensitive to things like this nowadays.

    8. Anon for this*

      Agree! My son wanted to be a Power Ranger when he was four and was heartbroken when his pre-school teacher told him that he couldn’t be – that wasn’t a real job. Cried for hours. But then he bounced back and decided to be a rock star instead. (So of course, he’s an accountant.)

    9. AGD*

      This. Reminded me of the risk of reinforcing stereotypes. Cluelessness and/or surprise can yield e.g. a response of “wow, that sounds difficult” to an 8-year-old girl who has fallen in love with coding, or asking a tall Black boy, “but don’t you want to play basketball?”

    10. Lana Kane*

      My son wanted to be an astronaut paleontologist and I wasn’t going to be the one to tell him that dinosaurs didn’t go to space! We had a lot of fun talking about what that job would look like.

      1. SnappinTerrapin*

        Well, there is an archeology professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham who uses satellite imagery to locate sites to explore.

        That’s not too far off from his dream. And I love how you encouraged his imagination.

    11. Shan*

      My friend’s daughter (5 today!) just announced that she’s going to be a mermaid, and then she’s going to be reincarnated as a unicorn.

  13. CouldntPickAUsername*

    I don’t really have anything to add to the letter advice but man I’ll never forget when a customer asked me that question. asking me ‘what do I want to be when I grow up’ when I’m like 30. talk about condescending. I just ignored the question, you’d be astounded at what you normalize from customers in working retail.

    1. middle name danger*

      A lot of people seem to think anything customer-facing is temporary/part-time and not a viable career. I worked my ass off for my career in live events and still get guests telling me what a fun side job they think it’d be.

      But yeah, “when you grow up,” at anything older than a teenager, I’d be fuming.

    2. Fashionable Pumpkin*

      Ugh, yes.
      After earning my BA in Fashion Design, I returned to my rather “podunk”hometown (which is near a big state school and a community College, the CC where I’d previously earned a couple associates degrees) to let my son finish out elementary school there, because he had been doing better at that school than the one in my college city. The economy in hometown was poor, so I returned to my old retail job as a keyholder and picked up two other retail management jobs. All part-time, but combined I was opening and closing every day in the mall, 60 hours a week.

      A customer had noticed that I had rung her purchases at 3 different stores in the mall that week. She asked me if I had ever considered “taking advantage of our wonderful higher education system” so I “wouldn’t have to work retail anymore. ”

      I told her I had, but couldn’t get work in my field without moving, and wanted to wait until my son was older to do so. She then asked if my degrees had really been “worth it,” and demanded to know my pay. In front of a worker who was making less than me. I told her I made enough and that I *never*would consider education to be a waste, regardless of where one works after graduation.

      (Sorry for the novel, this kicked up leftover customer service rage.)

      1. Anoni*

        Teeth-grinding. She tries to “help” be suggesting education, then tries to shame you for making a choice that’s good for your family, even if it means you can’t use your degree. That lady sucks.

      2. DownWithJPP*

        Ugggggh. I once worked at a restaurant across the street in addition to my full time office job. Two women once told me that I seemed “too good” to be working there. I replied that this was my second job but that I really enjoyed this work. (side note, the hardly tipped. STOP IT WITH THE VERBAL TIPS!) It was so frustrating – you never know someone’s situation. I sometimes miss waiting tables and the hustle of always moving and interacting with people and there’s nothing wrong with doing that full time.

    3. Brisbane*

      I had a graduate degree and had been working in my field (in specialized education) for 10 years and was was trying to train a new colleague when she asked me this question. I said “um… this.” and she said “oh wow, like, so this is a real job for you!”

      For her, this was a side job between auditions. There were a few problems with that workplace, and hiring actors to act as if they could do the job may have actually been the least of it, so it should have been water off a duck’s back. But I was profoundly offended.

  14. Sandy*

    I have a six year old. We talk a lot about how she’s probably going to have a lot of jobs in her life! So she can working at a clothing store, she can cook for people, AND she can be a doctor, all at different points in her life.

    1. ten four*

      I like this idea! We do something similar. As our kiddo gets older we also talk a fair bit about different types of jobs, how much they pay, and how much schooling you need to get them. We also talk about how your job doesn’t have to be the thing you love – that you can get paid well AND do your hobbies. I think the key is nuance – I definitely agree that a pretty big chunk of my generation got the “go to college and your problems are solved!” frame.

    2. JohannaCabal*

      That’s better than my parents who dissed almost all of my career choices when I was six.

      “I want to be a construction worker!” (That’s for boys!)
      “I want to be a scientist!” (That’s only for people good at math.)
      “I want to be a musician/actress/book writer!” (You’ll never make it!)

      (I really have no idea what they wanted me to be, honestly.)

      That said, my cousin who’s a guidance counselor at a high school has to deal with students who are convinced they don’t need to learn math/English/history/science because they’re going to go Pro (despite not playing on any of the school’s teams) or be an influencer or YouTuber. For the latter, it generally opens their eyes when they find out how much work it goes into being an Influencer or YouTuber (and in the case of many successful Influencers, family wealth to fall back on).

  15. ResuMAYDAY*

    When I ask little kids what they want to be, it’s more or less to just start a conversation. My husband and I are happily child-free, and so are rarely around kids. When we are, I find it really awkward and well…boring. But there are those times when you’re expected to be charmed by other people’s kiddos and interact with them. For me, that means getting them to talk about themselves. When they say what they want to be, I can ask funny questions, or get them to describe the job. That usually keeps them talking until a reprieve presents itself. And it’s a great question because the answer could change minute-to-minute. I really think most people who ask this question don’t have any kind of agenda.
    Plus, it could turn into a Jason Benetti situation. When Jason was 8 or 9, he wrote a school essay about wanting to be the announcer for the Chicago White Sox when he grew up. He forgot all about the essay until his mom dug it up…after he was hired as the White Sox announcer in 2016!

    1. Regatta*

      I also don’t have kids and sometimes find kid conversations boring too. What I like to do is play with them instead of talking – bring a game with you, make one up, play with whatever toys they have, just be silly. Then I have a pretty fun time because we adults don’t get to play much, do we? Plus, the kids just adore you when you jump right into play and skip the silly boring adult conversations.

    2. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      Asking children what they think the best dessert is also tends to elicit a surprising amount of conversation fodder.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Yeah, I think a lot of the time, the adult just doesn’t know how to relate to the kid and asks something about when they grow up because childhood is just too baffling, or boring. I happen to love kids and never ask them that question, there are so many more interesting questions to ask, whether it’s about dessert, their favourite animal, or teacher or TV programme

    3. middle name danger*

      I relate to Jason Benetti…I wanted to work in music or as an artist or photographer as a little kid, then had a veterinarian/exotic animal trainer phase, then felt pressured to go into an engineering program because it’d “be a waste” of my brains to do anything else. (I know better now! But I was 16 when picking a major.)

      Seven years into an office career, my grandfather who always championed my art died, we dug up the photography he’d done for some album covers years and years ago, and I made a career change. I do art and photography as a small part of my work in music.

      Sometimes it’s nice to remember what made you excited at age 5.

    4. CM*

      I strongly suggest using the same approach with both kids and adults — ask “what do you like to do” instead of asking about work! Adults may default to work conversation, but a lot of kids will happily tell you about their soccer team or their favorite video game or their secret life as a code-cracking detective. It’s a lot more interesting and less pressure than having every conversation have to be about work.

      I guess I’m in the minority, but I agree with the OP here about disliking the “what do you want to be when you grow up” question. There’s more to life! And often that question is accompanied by judgment, like “don’t you want to be a ___ like your mom,” or “you’re going to have to study hard!” Kids are evaluated and assessed enough at school. We don’t need to do it to them in their personal life too. (And again, I feel the same way about adults!)

  16. name as required*

    I think children being career oriented or not will also depend on their upbringing and their surroundings. There will be instances where even if the parents aren’t or haven’t worked at traditional offices, some children will want to work at one. Some children will happily take up a family tradition of being doctors/engineers/etc. and some wouldn’t.

    The best a parent can do is be supportive either way and also be realistic about the expectations with their life path.

  17. Two Chairs, One to Go*

    OP2 – “I didn’t pick up because I was taking an afternoon nap.” Hashtag life goals!!

  18. nnn*

    #3: In addition to other considerations, I wish that career discourse when I was a kid (not a 4-year-old, but more preteen and teen) had given more weight to students’ dislikes. Not just what do you want to do, but what don’t you want to do? (And create an environment where it’s socially acceptable to answer honestly!)

    For example, I’m bad at getting out the door in the morning. The narrative I received was “You’re going to have to buckle down and get out the door in the morning because that’s what they’ll expect of you in the work world!” What would have been better is if I could take this information to my guidance counsellor and been directed to careers that can be done working from home, or on my own flexible schedule, or where work is done in afternoons or evenings. (I lucked into one myself, but that was a total fluke.)

    Kid hates math? Instead of lecturing them on all the jobs that require math, pinpoint those that don’t! Kid doesn’t like giving presentations in class? Direct them towards jobs that will never require public speaking! Make it socially acceptable to say “I don’t want to work with people” or “I don’t want to have to be creative and innovative”, and figure out what career paths meet those specifications.

    I don’t know if this is still the case for kids today, but when I was young, there was a strong “You can do it, you just have to work hard!” narrative, and there was also a strong “Work sucks, that’s why it’s called work. You just have to put up with it.” I would have been better served if my career guidance had included an element of eliminating irritants.

    1. Regatta*

      I love this, it’s so true that what you DON’T like is just as important (if not more) than what you do. It’s a helpful winnowing technique too. People probably thought I should have been a university professor, but the thing is – I hate writing papers, hate giving lectures, and esp hate teaching people. So yah, nope! Would be fun to work on hard puzzles and learn new things all the time, but I would hate 90% of what the job actually is.

      1. Liz*

        I can relate to this. My problem was twofold – 1) was that I really have no idea what 99% of jobs actually do, and 2) the structure of school and constant conveyor belt of deadlines completely masked the fact that I’m terrible at self directed work and organising my own workload.

        I wanted to be a teacher for years simply because it was a simple career path and I didn’t know what other options existed. I started training twice and dropped out both times. I eventually realised that what I actually wanted to do was stand at the front of a room and talk at people. Teaching itself involves an awful lot more planning and less performing, so I stopped pursuing teacher training at that point and did a brief stint in standup comedy.

    2. Forrest*

      I’m a careers adviser, and asking people what they DON’T want to do is my top tip for breaking through people’s indecision about careers. It’s so great– people who are utterly unable to talk about what they are interested in are nearly always able to say what they don’t want to do, and that’s a great place to start. One thing I hear really frequently is, “Don’t want to work in an office, that’s so boring”, and then you can explore whether the “boring” part of being in an office is a) being in the same place all the time b) being indoors c) not working face-to-face with people etc.

      I have a fantasy of creating a career-decision-making tool that works like this–
      “What do you definitely not want to do?” Teacher.
      Why don’t you want to be a teacher?
      – Don’t want to work with children, or in any kind of education role
      – Don’t want to work with children, but might be interested in other education jobs
      – Don’t want to work in a school, but might be interested in working with children in other settings.
      – Love teaching, love children, can’t bear the workload that comes with teaching these days.

      1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

        I wish more people would do that self reflection on what they don’t want to do. Again, that’s the first question I ask folks who come in to my library and say “I need to find a job!”

        I think that tool would be an amazing resource for people.

      2. College Career Counselor*

        Ack! My reply got eaten, I think. I wanted to say that I do the same thing, Forrest! And then I follow a similar pattern of questioning and exploration by asking people what they care about/are interested in (without regard to a specific job) to see if that’s something where they can put additional focus.

        What you DON’T want to do is at least as important as what you DO want, and the process of elimination allows for improved clarity!

    3. Former Retail Manager*

      I couldn’t agree more. I’ve given similar advice to adult friends who graduated as adults as well as to my 21 year old daughter. I almost think that what you hate is more important than what you enjoy. If you have a visceral reaction to a bunch of excited, loud children teaching is not for you. Or if you can’t bear sitting inside in an office all day poring over numbers & details, then accounting isn’t for you.

      My daughter graduated 3 years ago and while I can’t speak to the “you can do it” narrative, I don’t think there was really any narrative at all. She just…..kinda graduated. Other than the frequent discussions she and I had, it wasn’t supplemented by much at school. I do think this varies from school to school and area to area though.

    4. Aron*

      Ehh… High school me hated math (and science) and had panic attacks anytime I had to present in front of the class. My current career requires math and public speaking, and I absolutely love it. It took me way too long to find this career, because I always told me (and had people tell me) that I sucked at math and science and should avoid math and science. Work experience and college experiences pulled me out of that shell and showed me what I could truly do AND how to do things on my terms, which is a big deal compared to high school. Learning and growth doesn’t happen in places we’re comfortable. I’d be super miserable if I’d been intentionally directed away from careers that required math, science, and public speaking. 20+ years after high school, I’m not the same person with the same dislikes as 14-18 year-old me, and I’d really hate to still be living in that child’s dark box of can’ts and won’ts.

      1. heckofabecca*

        I also really disliked public speaking in high school, but now I really enjoy it! And someone who dislikes math in high school… probably has had pretty crappy math teachers or has dyscalculia, frankly—I know anecdotally from my math teacher ex (and maybe there are studies to show it?) that many elementary school teachers impart math phobia onto their students. Also, I’d bet that math teachers are often more subject-oriented than student-oriented, which makes it harder for students to connect to the subject.

        All this to say—I think being honest with kids in high school about the fact that they are going to change (“Were you exactly the way you are ten years ago? You’re not going to be exactly like this in ten years from now, either.”) would probably help too.

      2. tra la la*

        So much this! I was very shy and could barely speak in class in high school and college (due to some difficult circumstances), but one particular professor told me I had good things to say and I learned to get over my fear of speaking and now I love public speaking. High-school me was in a school that didn’t align at all with my actual interests and abilities, and while there are some consistencies (I’ve always loved to write) — I’d hate to be limited to who I was when I was 16.

    5. OyHiOh*

      My oldest child, a boy, thought he needed to be like his father. Thought he needed to be tough, talked about going into the Army, etc. Meanwhile, I’m looking at a gentle, sensitive, thoughtful child who is pretty much the opposite of everything his father was. I started trying to suss out what the word “army” meant to him. Over the course of two years, we worked out that he wanted camaraderie, physical activity, and that he was interested in heavy equipment, logistics, strategy, and planning. So we started talking about the kinds of work that take place in and around rail yards (our community has a big rail yard, start with what he knows!), and around warehouses and distribution centers. He’s early teens now. Who knows what he’ll settle on. But he’s developing a wider range of options and possibilities.

  19. Antisocialite*

    1. is so incredibly inappropriate that they should not be in HR, period. They have no concept of what the role requires and how to be professional in that capacity. And the fact that they are not listening to their partner’s very valid concerns and advice just underscores this. Given all that, I don’t know that they will act appropriately, or that they even care to. And if it were me, I would seriously question our relationship because this person has integrity issues.

    1. TIRED*

      Absolutely agree re this person should not be in HR. This is beyond wild. Reinforces my opinion that HR is generally the worst.

    2. Tali*

      Agree. This could torpedo her whole career. She needs to get a new job and pray it never comes out because no sane company would hire her. HR is supposed to be investigating and stopping situations like this, not causing them!

      1. V. Anon*

        At my company HR routinely gets fired for things that people in other departments would get a warning for. It’s rare to be fired from my company, with HR being the glaring exception. Employee cuddling, especially an employee she’s trying to get a raise for? She’s going to get walked out the door by security, and she should.

    3. Lilo*

      It’s just incredibly poor judgment. If she cared about this report’s career, as well as her own, she wouldn’t jeopardize it like this.

    4. JM in England*

      Plus they do not seem to grasp the concept that people in HR tend to be held to a higher professional standard, just like those occupying the C-suite roles.

    5. The Other Dawn*

      It always boggles my mind when people in these types of positions actually need to be told something like this is unacceptable and will put their career and reputation in jeopardy.

    6. AKchic*

      Frankly, I would side-eye the entire company if I heard about this as an employee.
      I mean… the head of HR is “cuddling” with another coworker that she used to manage, and is currently fighting to get her a raise, head of HR says nothing s*xual is going on, even if the employee admitted an “attraction”?

      Uh… whut? As if ANY of that is appropriate? We do not “cuddle” with someone we’re trying to help financially. We do not “cuddle” with our employees (unless they are literal four-legged fuzzy companions hired for that purpose). We should not have to remind people of this outside of the annual harassment training.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        No kidding. Cuddling is an extremely familiar and intimate form of contact. I can’t imagine how anyone could think this behavior isn’t a big deal!

        1. Seriously!*

          I thought it was gonna be a metaphorical cuddling, like a “getting cozy with” like they were being overly friendly, not literal cuddling!!

        2. Shan*

          I had a dream a few years about cuddling with a coworker, and I honestly felt so awkward and uncomfortable around him for months afterward, because it’s just so intimate. I can’t imagine being around a coworker after having done it in real life! Nevermind after having been rejected when I asked for more.

        3. Green Goose*

          I think one piece as well is that, it seems like it is not possible that these two were strictly professional and then randomly cuddled and one of them proclaimed their feelings. I’m just speculating, but it seems like there was likely a lead up to this, of other boundaries being crossed that resulted in this. And, I wonder if other people at the office have already started to notice this? People at offices notice things! And two people getting close and/or touchy-feely will definitely get noticed. I know it seems extreme but I do agree with others that it’s probably better for the wife to cut her loses and try a new job and hope that this does not catch up with her. I certainly would not want someone on our HR team if I knew this had happened.

      2. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

        Concur. The place sounds like a high school club in a bad TV show, not a business.

    7. The Prettiest Curse*

      It just boggles my mind that the HR person thought that this cuddling session was okay and had to be convinced otherwise by their wife. Is the entire concept of conflicts of interest just unknown to this person?

    8. Daisy-dog*

      Unfortunately, HR seems to be the most common career to “fall into”. That means no formal education (maybe a business degree unrelated to HR) or formal on-the-job training. Now, this situation is obviously wrong. But sometimes inappropriate backgrounds can cause people’s perspectives to be warped.

  20. cncx*

    Re OP4, i write in two languages for work that aren’t my native language and two things come to mind
    1. learning flow and phrasing over the course of an entire document is also a skill set that needs to be learned and isn’t always taught in school- also, documents for work may not follow the same format as a school essay. So i think the editing is fine- i welcome the edits to my stuff in language three because i’m still learning, and having my stuff edited is part of the learning process. plus if someone cleans my language up i look better in that language tbh
    2. your intern is an intern- usually interns are there to learn stuff anyway so i also see the edits as stuff that is part of the deal with interns, and hopefully the edits can be taken in a constructive way, i know i would be grateful.

  21. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    I have Strong Feelings about #3.

    As I’ve got older, it’s become increasingly clear to me that different kinds of jobs suit different people, not in an obvious finance v football kind of way, but more to do with character traits and preferences.

    For example, some people like to deal with details, and some people prefer big picture. Some people like variety and some people like routine. Some people like to be outdoors and some people prefer to be indoors. Some people like working with the public and some people prefer working behind the scenes. Some people like to manage and some people don’t.

    I wish we taught our young people to look out for the kind of environment and tasks they prefer, and identify careers where they will thrive day to day. Someone who is interested in animals might make a good vet, but maybe they’d be a better zookeeper or wildlife photographer. Someone who likes children might make a good teacher, but maybe they’d be a better social worker or pediatrician.

    I’ve found myself in a job I enjoy and am good at, sort of by chance and trial and error. Things people assume I would be good at have turned out to be misery, even where they look similar to what I do now. And a lot of the relevant factors were as true at 14 as they will be at 40, so there must be a way we can use that knowledge to help children and young people plan a fulfilling career.

    1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      I agree very much. We focus a lot of the conversation around jobs on subject matter — but studying a subject in school often correlates very little to working in a ‘related’ field.

    2. Juniper*

      Really good point, thanks for bringing this up. It’s also a reason why technical companies where career trajectories are tied to moving up the management ladder often have leadership issues. Many of the qualities that make someone an excellent nurse, or civil engineer, don’t translate well once the core components of the job are managerial or administrative.

    3. Shenandoah*

      So much same – conversations about career choices stressed me out SO much as a kid and young adult because I felt limited to professions with names/titles that I knew about (i.e. doctor, teacher, cook, librarian, etc.). So much of the working world was a black hole of mystery to me and I think this stress plus the pressure to “find your passion” or whatever delayed my entering a professional job.

      I really wish the conversation was not “what do you want to be?”, but the questions you and Allison raise.

    4. Jay*

      We’ve talked to our kid about skills vs careers since we expect that she’ll have a variety of different jobs. Both of us have changed directions several times during our work life.

      I agree in general – and I also think it’s worth at least exploring why kids “hate” something in school. That may have more to do with the way it was taught than with the kid’s innate interests and preferences. My kid would have told you she hates math. She had to take statistics for her business minor in college and lo and behold she really likes it and is good at it.

      1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

        I thought I hated math for years because it was the only subject in which I had to take timed tests.

        Turns out I just hate timed tests.

        1. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

          This sums up so much about childhood and the way we make life decisions without knowing it.

  22. Annie*

    It’s a sad fact of our capitalist society that children are forced into thinking about what they want to be or what job they want to do even while they’re still quite young, due to the messaging in TV shows and programs.
    And The education system is just designed to churn out worker bees.
    if we had universal basic income, everyone could decide what they want to be in their own time, and people would only take jobs if they were very passionate about them, and others be able to follow their passions rather than forcing everyone into job roles as modern society tends to do.

    1. Asenath*

      In my experience, most (I would have once said all, but I now know people who disagree) children want to become adults, at least in part because they want to take on roles that they are too young and unqualified to take on now. Talking about ‘what I want to be when I grow up’ is not only of interest to them, it encourages them to think about the future and how it can work out in many different ways, from the frankly impossible that very young children come up with (“I want to be a unicorn!”) to the greater variety of options that many somewhat older children imagine. It’s also an opportunity for the adult to provide related possibilities that the child hasn’t thought of, and to point out the advantages and disadvantages of working. Not everyone works at something that is a passion. All honest work has worth and can be done well, even if it is something the child dislikes and on which society puts a low value. Encourage flexibility – let the child learn that everyone works at a variety of jobs throughout their lives, some of them more interesting than others and even the interesting ones have boring aspects. And even if the workers from whom the taxes to fund a universal basic income comes are willing and able to provide one, a child who becomes a worker will have the financial power to provide self-support as well as to contribute to all the other things our society requires. Of course, for young children, the child’s main idea about money is that it can buy lots of ice cream, but it’s still important at some point in their childhood to point that out too.

    2. Empress Ki*

      I would love that ! But where would we find the money for a universal basic income ?

      1. MsSolo (UK)*

        It’s potentially cheaper than most means-tested benefits systems! Because it’s predictable, streamlined and straightforward, so a lot of the admin costs are removed from the equation, making it cheaper to distribute. In addition people are more likely to work on UBI than they are on means-tested benefits, because there’s no penalty for picking up short term or casual work – it functions so much better with the gig economy than traditional welfare models, which means it can potentially increase tax income.

    3. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

      Wait, are you saying that people shouldn’t work unless it’s fun? Unless it’s a passion? That’s super messed up.

      Work is not a capitalist invention. Communist people worked, feudalist people worked, Ancient Romans and Mayans and Egyptian worked, hunter gatherer people worked. They may or may not have had wage jobs like capitalist people today, but they all worked (except the extremely wealthy).

      Until the world has so much surplus that it can afford to have 95% of the population not doing anything, and until society is so automated that it can be run by 5% of the people, people will have to work. Because there are things that need to be done if people want to eat food, have working plumbing, and watch videos on the internet. If you are going to have drains, somebody has to put the drains in and fix them when they mess up. That’s a feature of drains, not of capitalism. And I don’t’ know about you, but I DEFINITELY want drains to be a part of any political systems I live under.

      1. Mental Lentil*

        No, it’s not messed up. There is plenty of capital to make this happen, but it’s incredibly unevenly distributed, and becoming even more so.

        FYI: We have a population of 7.6 billion people on this planet. We produce enough food globally to feed 10 billion people. So why are there starving people in the world? Because of greed. We can’t figure out a way to profit from feeding them, so we let them starve.

        Work is not a capitalist invention, but capitalism really does screw workers over in a lot of ways. But that’s a different conversation for a different day for a different blog.

      2. Malarkey01*

        Op stance seems like an extreme take on Universal Basic Income. I’ve never heard it as only work at what you want, explore your passions which may or may not involve work, but as “no one should fall so far into poverty that they don’t have basic access to food and shelter”- and that food and shelter is basic survival level.
        It’s kind of the worst argument for UBI because it plays into the idea that if given a choice no one will work when as you said all societies need people to work (and not just for labor but for the collective society needs that are fostered by work even if that work is hunting/gathering and raising the society children).

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Same – UBI is to keep people from starving and being homeless and shift some of the supply/demand back to workers so they don’t have to string together multiple poverty wage jobs to survive. It’s not to make work entirely optional – I mean, who’s passionate about trash pickup or inventory spreadsheets?

          But I also don’t buy into the idea that you have to be passionate about your work – I’m not passionate about mine, and I still manage to do a good job and get paid. I definitely don’t hate it, even like it most days, but I can’t think of anything I’d describe myself as “passionate” about. That’s what the money is for.

          1. Thursdaysgeek*

            And doing a good job, whether it is fixing drains, cleaning rooms, or being a famous rock star – doing a good job can provide satisfaction in itself. That satisfaction is easier to achieve if you’re also surviving while doing that job, but there doesn’t need to be passion about the job itself.

            1. NotAnotherManager!*

              True! I’m a bit of a nerd and derive satisfaction from figuring things out and fixing processes. It’s a weird little thing specific to me, but I enjoy saving someone hours of time by making it easier for them to do something, especially when it involves automating the mind-numbing, repetitive parts of tasks.

    4. Allonge*

      I have nothing against UBI but let’s not expect people to only do passion jobs in any case. Passion is for 1% of 1% and even then you have days of administration and audits and whatnot. Passion is not a reasonable method to choose your work.

      But I am glad you added UBI because when I started reading about capitalism I thought this is still a bit better than the job-choice methods of before-capitalism, which in a lot of cases was ‘be what your father was’ ‘what else is there but subsistence farming anyway’ and the luxury option, ‘unless your brother dies, you get to be either military OR a priest, you lucky beast, you’.

    5. pancakes*

      Please consider leaving passion out of this. How many people have a passion for cleaning hotel rooms, staffing an ER reception desk, inspecting airplanes, or testing sewage? Antitrust and securities litigation give my brain interesting things to chew on but I wouldn’t say I have a passion for them – even if I did, a good deal of the groundwork is tedious, and a good many of the nuances and abstractions I find interesting aren’t of interest at all to the plaintiffs who would benefit from winning. Another issue is that people who have a passion for, say, making arrests or guarding prisoners, etc., may or may not feel that way for reasons that are healthy for themselves or their community. There are numerous jobs that give people power over others, and a passion for wielding power isn’t necessarily something that needs encouraging.

      There’s a good article by Miya Tokumitsu titled “In the Name of Love” about some of the problems with the idea of passion jobs. She subsequently wrote a book on the subject, but the article is a good place to start. One of the problems, as she put it, is that “Under the [do what you love] credo, labor that is done out of motives or needs other than love (which is, in fact, most labor) is not only demeaned but erased. As in [Steve] Jobs’ Stanford speech, unlovable but socially necessary work is banished from the spectrum of consciousness altogether.”

    6. GMan*

      We still need people to install toilets, run internet service, collect garbage and keep the lights on.
      That work is necessary for modern life and is not going away.

      And it’s honestly insulting to think that people only work because they’re ‘forced into jobs’ or that the education system is ‘designed to churn out worker bees’ – you’re devaluing the (very much valid, very much needed) contributions to society made by entire segments of the population.

  23. Allonge*

    OP3, so all considerations on capitalism and carreer focus aside – you will NOT be able to stop people from asking what you want to be when you are grown up from your kid. Coming up next: how is school going, do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend (yes, this too can be horrible), what high school are you going to, do you have a summer job, which college are you going to, when are you getting married / a job and when will you have kid(s) / how do you deal with having so many.

    It’s a question people ask because they can ask it without thinking. It’s just part of life, like talking about the weather. You can show a good example for healthy work-life balance, have the in-depth conversations about Life and Work and Adulting, and set reasonable expectations for your kiddo and that is what matters.

    1. KellyKoo*

      I agree with Allonge. It’s part of growing up! And I loved hearing my own kids respond to that question. My son would answer that he was going to be a firefighter, and at the age of 20, that’s exactly where he’s headed. My daughter would answer that she wanted to be a veterinarian, because she loves animals, but when she realized that she’d have to put some of them to sleep, she changed her mind. As a soon-to-be high school junior, she’s now focused on pediatric oncology. There’s no harm in the question–the only harm is in thinking it’s somehow irrelevant to your child.
      Plus, it allows you to say to your child, “Remember when…?”

  24. Oui Oui*

    LW2: I literally laughed out loud at the idea that some people think HR might have been calling because “they want more details on future improvement”. I suspect the probability is vanishingly small that the company you have described is looking for advice about how to be a better employer.

    Plus, in my experience, many business people will not leave a voice mail message when they believe the person they are calling will not return their call if they know what it’s about. If HR were calling for some reason that they know you’d likely want to speak with them about (e.g. financial or otherwise for your benefit), they would have left a message. Don’t phone back.

    1. CheezeWhizzard*

      I agree. They can leave a voicemail or send an email if they really need to get in touch with LW2.

    2. Kes*

      Yeah honestly I would not reach out to them here at all. OP might need to consider whether or how they want to deal with them if they call back, but I wouldn’t reach out when you know it’s a conversation you likely want to avoid

  25. Susan Calvin*

    I have some complicated feelings about the editing question, both as a non-native English speaker in an international org, and someone with a (tragically underutilized) degree in linguistics.

    First off: absolutely do edit for mistakes, specific style and formatting conventions, and if this is a document that’s going to reach a wide or particularly discerning audience, make sure it holds up to whatever standard it needs to. Alison and the other commenters are of course right that this is your job and your intern needs to learn what the expectations are of what kind of document.

    On the other: I encourage everyone to listen to NPR’s Rough Translation’s episode from April 21st, “How To Speak Bad English” which talks about the (very real) phenomenon of non-native English speakers with different first languages and skill levels all communicating with each other perfectly effectively, until the native speaker walks in.

    I’m not going to recap the entire study they talk about there, but a few key points to consider whenever you’re working with non-native speakers:
    – is the way they expressed this confusing or changing the meaning of what they want to say?
    – is it in any way inappropriate for the context or audience?
    – if none of these apply, why do I need to correct them?

    Or, in other words, language is a tool for communication, and if you’re able to successfully use it for that, the ability to fake being from the US or Commonwealth is not adding a lot of benefit for most people.

    1. Juniper*

      Exactly. My supervisor is a non-native English speaker so his phrases don’t always sound exactly “right” (even if they’re technically correct) and when I proof for him I generally leave them be. His writing is much more exciting and fun than the dry, academic tone I tend to fall back on in my writing, and most importantly, it’s in his voice and can be clearly understood.

  26. Fried Eggs*

    I think a way bigger part of me equating career with identity was TV shows set in workplaces. Shows like The West Wing, Firefly, and others made me feel like my work relationships were going to be the most important relationships in my adult life, which… is not healthy.

    1. JohannaCabal*

      As much as I loved Star Trek TNG, I knew I would have hated having to live in the same ship as my co-workers.

      Also, I thought adults, even close colleagues, called each other by their surnames like Mulder and Scully in the X-Files…

    2. Daisy-dog*

      Yes, I re-watched The West Wing at the start of the pandemic and was disappointed. The most unhealthy work relationships are highlighted. I understand that it’s a TV show, but we really are shaped by what we watch!

  27. Juniper*

    I’m so happy to get a translation question. I have more experience in this department than I would care to admit, and have often struggled with this exact topic. The position I’ve landed on is that context is everything. Is it for internal or external dissemination? Is it a “soft” text where more flowery prose is ok, or a highly technical document where accuracy and clarity is paramount? Is it the intention that the author’s voice carries through, or is it supposed to be anonymous? Knowing the author’s original language helps immensely, since syntax and word choice often provide good clues as to what they were trying to say. I do sometimes keep odd turns of phrase when translating informal communications if that is the way the author speaks, especially if they are senior to me, but it sounds like in your case you can polish away.

  28. Keymaster of Gozer*

    OP1: I definitely think your wife needs a factual chat about just how much she’s hurting her job and career by doing this. She could end up losing everything- and frankly if she can’t grasp how bad breaking those boundaries at work are then maybe HR isn’t the job for her. Not saying tell her to leave or order her to do anything, just discuss calmly exactly how this could (and is likely to) happen and ask her just what she’d do when/if it did.

    My husband doesn’t read this site so I can’t get him to post exactly what he said to me when I nearly wrecked my career back at age 24 but it was kind of along the lines of ‘I love you, but not your current actions. Even if you think you’re in the right the company and your coworkers don’t and I don’t want to see you go through being fired and all the fallout from that. You’re picking a fight you cannot win’

    (I’d become outright viscous at work, so kinda the opposite of your situation, but I’d crushed boundaries and upset people and determined the world owed me some leeway for all the pain I’d endured in life and the company was wrong for trying to discipline me.
    It took both my boss telling me to shape the heck up or lose my job, and my husband telling me I was out of line, and some real self reflection to realise I was in the wrong)

    1. Bagpuss*

      well done to him for approaching it in such a thoughtful way, and for you for listening to him and reflecting on it, and making the change

      (Also, I know it’s just autocorrect in action but I now have a wonderful mental image of you being viscous as work, spreading thick gloopiness around the office, like the wizard Howl when he sulked…!. That or your boss telling you you have to choose – liquid or solid, but nothing in-between is acceptable in an office environment!)

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        It’s certainly hot enough here at the moment to make me feel like a sentient blob of silly putty!

        Husband is frankly better with people than I am – we’re both autistic but at different points on the spectrum and he’s got a knack of getting through to people while not seeming authoritarian that I lack. He’s got no interest in doing management though, happy with his coding :)

  29. Harper the Other One*

    OP3: I would say don’t worry about what other people ask because how you talk about work/interests at home will have way more impact!

    My kids know that I worked retail (and what I did and didn’t like about it), that I have two degrees in music, that I’m currently working in communications, and that I’m currently retraining in accounting. When opportunities come up naturally we talk about how different jobs have different demands, and how some people live to work and others work to live, and both choices are valid. And we talk about how they will learn about way more career paths than they know about now as they grow, and that they will change their minds frequently! Those conversations are much more memorable to them than the occasional “what do you want to be” question.

  30. Prague*

    If someone deliberately chose not to provide feedback on my skills in one of my other languages at work, especially in a formal document, I’d be flat out hurt and confused.

    1. Juniper*

      Can you elaborate on why you would feel hurt? I agree that the LW is well within her rights to make the edits she’s specifically asking about, but there are definitely instances where I, as my company’s de facto translator, won’t provide feedback on every improvement that could be made. I really want to make sure I get this right though, so would appreciate hearing more about where you draw the line.

  31. Flower necklace*

    For #3, I always thought I would be a writer, or at least end up in a writing-related field. I was very shy and quiet as a kid. I loved English and history, but hated science and math. I also hated giving presentations. Even participating in class took a lot of effort.

    No one would have called me ending up as a teacher, even those who knew me in college or my early twenties. Definitely not a math and science teacher. I ended up here almost by accident – figured I’d try teaching overseas after college, found out I actually loved it and worked hard to become good at it.

    Society may try to define your child early on, but hopefully she’ll understand that she can make her own choices, too.

  32. NerdyKris*

    LW1 , it might help if you change up your wife’s gender in this conversation. People tend to get it a lot faster when you say “If this was a man doing this, what would you think?”. Because this was was such a blatant abuse of power, even if she didn’t intend it to be.

    1. BPT*

      Would it help? Because I’m not seeing anyone in this comment section saying anything but that it was completely inappropriate, an abuse of power, creepy, and that she is not someone who should be in HR. So who exactly are you insinuating is “not getting it?”

      1. My Brain Is Exploding*

        I read Nerdy Kris’ comment as the conversation between the letter writer and their wife, asking the wife if it were a man cuddling the employee, could she see how that would be wrong?

      2. OhNo*

        The LW’s wife, for one. Sometimes framing it like this can help someone get out of their own head and view the situation from an outsider’s perspective. This behavior isn’t a problem for her, because she knows she’s a good person. But if she saw someone else, maybe a man, behaving this way towards someone below them at work, would she feel the same? Probably not.

      3. SophieJ*

        I think they’re referring to LW having the discussion with their spouse, not LW to us.

  33. Lecturer*

    1. I doubt it is just one cuddle. It’s everything leading up to it and all their other interactions. Weird stuff is prime gossip. Your wife seems hell bent on ruining her career.

    1. Panda*

      I totally agree. Honestly if they have been this close for awhile I bet the office is already side eyeing both of them and thinking about the Head of HR being biased. I mean Allison answered a letter awhile back about how HR isn’t even really suppose to be close friends with anyone outside of HR. I’m sure the other employees have already picked up on their weird relationship.

      1. Lecturer*

        This is so startling that there is a very high chance the person will mention it to someone. After that gossip will spread like wildfire. It’s just strange, what is she getting out of it? Somehow it would be less strange if they were having sex!

        1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

          I don’t know about less strange – but it would be more believable to anyone who hears about the situation.

          “I cuddled with X, but it was just cuddling, and it didn’t affect my professional judgement in any way, even though I hid it from everyone. I just did that to protect my former report’s reputation, while advocating for them to get a promotion and/or raise!” <— Provokes a 'how dumb do you think I am?' response from my cynical side.

          "I was having sex with a former report, and totally advocated for them to receive perks while the relationship was ongoing." <— Actually believable, and in keeping with the majority of my experience of other people.

          1. Lecturer*

            That is the thing, the risk for a cuddle is just strange. Like you said, no one would believe they didn’t have sex. Maybe I have a dirty mind but the risk is for a reason if you have sex.

    2. WellRed*

      Agreed. I also wonder at HR rather than a mgr advocating for the raise (maybe this is normal at the company). Also now that the employee has admitted attraction and the wife has turned them down she’s at greater risk of a sexual harassment complaint.

      1. Lecturer*

        Once it comes out there will be no way to excuse fighting for a raise. The damage is done.

  34. Richard Hershberger*

    LW3: A bigger point is that you can’t shelter your kids from the broader culture short of moving to a cabin in Idaho. I wanted to keep my girls from the Barbie-industrial complex. That worked for a while. They knew that Barbie exists, but that our family didn’t partake. Then the older kid had a birthday party where a Barbie appeared as one of the presents. She looked at me, and I had to make a snap decision: relent, or spoil the party and possibly traumatize the friend who gave it. I relented. That opened the floodgates and she went through a Barbie phase for a couple years. Now at thirteen she is about the least Barbie person imaginable. It’s not that this stuff doesn’t matter, but that what they learn at home matters much more.

    1. MsSolo (UK)*

      Toys are what you do with them – if there’s one thing you can say about Barbie, she promotes a much wider range of careers to young women than a lot of mainstream media does: she’s a doctor, an astronaut, a president, an olympic athlete, a firefighter, a chef, a journalist, a teacher, a soccer coach, a dentist…

      Of course, my experience with kids and barbies is that once they’ve got one it doesn’t matter what accessories they came with, Barbie is living some lurid soap opera life with a ongoing plot that the kid will explain to you in lengthly detail that almost certainly involves at least one murder Barbie either committed or solved.

      1. calonkat*

        My daughter played all the time with a beautiful kitchen furniture/appliance set my grandfather had built for me. She wasn’t playing house, the oven turned into the den for the lions, the hutch was pride rock, the fridge was the mountain where the villain animals lived, etc. When someone gave her Barbies, she was a bit older, so the various barbies were witches and super heroes (often riding the lions) and throughout all this there were the incredibly complex stories.

        We had a garage sale a few years ago and my daughter and niece went through their animals to clean out (as they’d graduated from college by that point). I sold most of them as a group to a couple of little girls who immediately started playing with them and making up stories about them. It was very Toy Story III (before that movie was around).

      2. Red 5*

        That is exactly how Barbies were used in our house *lol*

        We would spend weeks and months designing elaborate plots and going through all the character interactions. It was basically D&D but with Barbie, honestly. And I’m positive there were multiple murder mysteries.

        And it definitely was part of what prepared both of us for the careers we have now because we learned about cooperative storytelling/creating, communications, imagination, etc. Neither of us are traditionally feminine at all as adults, but I’d say the lessons we learned from our Barbie collection were almost entirely positive.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      I had a couple of Barbies but it was the toy cars and Breyer horses that stuck. I didn’t like Barbies that much even when I was a kid–I loved the tiny accessories but the bloody dolls were so hard to dress and weren’t poseable enough.

      I think it’s a lot more important for kids to see their parents doing stuff without worrying about if it’s “feminine” or “masculine”. My mom is a science nerd who loves camping so I never got the message that girls don’t do STEM or girls don’t do dirt, and they never told me that I might not be able to do something in life because I was a girl. I figured out soon enough that it might make it harder, but I never internalized that being female made me inherently unsuited to certain things.

      1. Thursdaysgeek*

        The Barbie legs didn’t bend right so they could ride the Breyer horses, but Skipper’s did. If only my parents were able to afford Tonka! That was what I really wanted.

    3. Tara*

      Oh my god, Barbie was a great role model for me growing up. She has her own car, house and works so many cool jobs – jobs I hadn’t seen women do before! I want my hypothetical children to be very much immersed in the Barbie-industrial complex (I had a floor to ceiling Barbie themed room as a child, I still think it’s the best room I’ve ever had).

    4. OyHiOh*

      Same-same. I did not buy Barbies for my girls. Then, a friend gave my youngest a Barbie and accessories. That was ALL she wanted for a year, and then she was mostly done with them again.

  35. The Other Dawn*

    RE: #2

    I agree about trying to stay on good terms with the former manager; however, I’d change the reply to, “Got your message. I’m doing well!” I feel like anything more leaves it open to further discussion, which OP clearly doesn’t want. If the manager has questions, the ball is back in his court to come out and ask directly.

    1. Pregnant during COVID*

      I agree. Asking the manager what they are reaching out for is unnecessary if all they asked is how OP2 is doing.

  36. Tara*

    OP1’s wife does not seem like she should be working in HR. Being in a poly or open relationship doesn’t mean there aren’t people you shouldn’t get into situationships with, and firmly in that group are people who work for you!

    1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      “Being in a poly or open relationship doesn’t mean there aren’t people you shouldn’t get into situationships with…” <— QFT

  37. Lucious*

    On LW1: you’ve already made it abundantly clear to your wife this situation is a professional disaster. If she’s decided to reject this sound counsel, that’s her decision to make. It’s not a smart one, but she’s got the right to be stupid.

    She does not have a right to avoid the consequences. When the music stops, her career & reputation will be damaged. The question at hand isn’t how to stop the grossly inappropriate workplace conduct, but whether or not LW1 should even be in a relationship with someone who thinks that behavior is OK. Either way, best of luck on that subject. I suspect it won’t be an easy choice.

    1. EPLawyer*

      OP 1 definitely think about this. Your Wife is willing to risk the family finances for “a cuddle.” If she loses her job how will that impact the family going forward? Can you survive until she finds another job, even if its a bit tight? Sure things happen, sometimes you gotta take a stand. But risking it all for a few minutes on the couch is not really good judgment.

  38. Bookworm*

    LW1: Salvageable in what way? Your wife’s job? Your relationship?

    I’d say it’s thin ice for the job, if not broken. Maybe the relationship, too.

  39. NerdyPrettyThings*

    #4: I doubt if people are only asking your child about what she wants to be when she grows up, so I don’t think that question will teach her to define herself only by her work. They probably also ask about whether she likes Barbies, does she play tee ball, etc. Making conversation with kids is hard for a lot of people. However, if you want her to view that question differently, why not help her reframe it? When I was a kid and people asked me that, I used to respond that I wanted to swim my myself and ride motorcycles, two things I was told only adults can do. (At least I didn’t say curse and drink, haha.) And now that I think about it, that’s pretty much what I do now outside that pesky 9-5 thing, so I guess my life turned out pretty awesome.

  40. Saraquill*

    I still remember an old PSA that played during Saturday morning cartoons. An anthropomorphic blob antagonized a teenager. The only way to vanquish it was to remember her hobbies and think of ways to turn them into career paths. I don’t know how useful that PSA was to the target audience.

  41. LKW*

    OP3: I don’t think there is any harm in asking the question. There is likely harm in dismissing a kid’s dreams though. Think of all the women who were told as little girls, “But girls can’t be doctors!” or boys that were told “Boys can’t dance ballet.” Use it as an opportunity to find out what makes your kid tick and why they think that job would be awesome.

    Plus – there are some careers that take hold early – like astronaut – and kids can follow through on their dreams. Just don’t dismiss it and you’ll be fine.

  42. AKchic*

    LW 1: you can’t stop your wife from doing what she’s going to do. You’ve warned her and she didn’t listen. She is abusing her power at work and when (not if) she gets caught, whether due to the rumor mill or her own actions, there will be fall-out. Please start taking steps to protect yourself. There are websites that outline how a spouse should handle protecting themselves financially pre-divorce, as well as legally. I’d recommend checking them out as a precaution.

    As someone else recommended, changing your spouse’s gender when replaying her actions back to her, in a last-ditch effort to convince her to change her behavior may help; but I don’t think it will. I think she thinks she is “above all that pithy stuff”. Maybe ask her to sit through a random s*xual harassment training course, or to speak to an employment lawyer about the situation. An employment lawyer may be able to talk sense into her like nobody else ever could.

  43. What do I know?*

    It seems like OP#3 is inserting their own bias into this question. “A compassionate human being who makes others feel good about themselves” is a perfectly fine answer to the question “ what do you want to be when you grow up?“. (Albeit not one that a small child would give!) But my point is that the question does not need to inherently be about career choice.

    1. Observer*

      Yeah. My first thought was that the OP was doing a lot of projecting and also putting a LOT of meaning onto the question that really is not there.

      OP, if you don’t want the question to lead to your kid seeing themselves as nothing more that a job, don’t react that way to the question. DO ask them WHY they want to be whatever and what do they think that thing entails? Do NOT tell them “that’s not a real job” or otherwise discourage them unless what they want to be is unethical.

  44. Student*

    OP #3: You can’t control whether your kid identifies strongly with a specific career. There’s a good chance your kid will do this.

    Instead of trying to fight it, and by extension fighting your kid for a normal developmental thing, be a mix of supportive and realistic, starting with lots of support at the younger ages and phasing in realism as the kid gets closer to working age.

    Wants to be an astronaut at 4? Go to space museums and get star stickers! Wants to be an astronaut at 16? Buy astronaut biographies and telescopes, but also talk about what hard work and good luck it actually takes to become an astronaut.

    You also can’t really control whether other adults talk about this with your kid. Even trying to do so, with this particular issue, will probably not get you what you want. You are setting yourself up for frustration and conflict.

    Instead of trying to control what other people choose to discuss with your kid (or what your kid talks about), focus on what values you want to communicate to your kid around work, careers, ambitions, managing household finances, budgets, etc. Then, use your influence and authority to teach your kid your values and the financial skills that you expect they will need.

  45. Kiitemso*

    #3 – I don’t think that question will lead to many kids having work define their lives. What impacts that more is the general working culture of the surrounding culture and the values taught at home and some guidance they are given about what kind of work-life balance they should aspire to have when being a grown up. If the culture at large is “work yourself to the bone” but parents always take whatever vacation time they can, come home as early as possible, and teach their kids that work is important but you work to live, not live to work etc I don’t think the four year old firefighter or doctor or astronaut or popstar will solely define themselves through their job title.

    I personally grew up in a very work-to-live sort of family, hobbies were always encouraged and had importance, as did family vacations and general relaxation, life’s small pleasures and such. I named a number of professions growing up, ended up doing none of them, and generally take every day off, vacation time that I can.

    1. onco fonco*

      Yeah, this is the sort of thing that ultimately rolls off kids’ backs IF they have a healthy example to go by every day at home. If that’s the case then the ‘what do you want to be’ question is just fun to think about, they’ve no grasp of the ramifications when they’re tiny. My small one wants to be a game designer, my big one just reckons he wants to do something with animals. I used to claim I was going to be a detective, because I liked playing detectives with my best friend.

      There is harmful stuff that leaches in with kids – talking about their appearance in certain ways, for example, or forcing them to hug/kiss people when they don’t want to – but I genuinely don’t think this is one of them.

  46. Spicy Tuna*

    #4 – feel free to edit! I am a native English speaker and I also am proficient in Spanish. I had a job once where Spanish was required and my colleagues would always edit for clarity – even to the point where if a colleague was cc’d on an email, he or she would approach me separately with suggestions. I appreciated it as the end result was just an improvement in my second language! And even in English, I’ve had jobs where the group “wordsmithed” over words and phrases, sometimes endlessly!

  47. LKW*

    OP4 I work with a ton of people who speak English as a second, third, fourth, fifth language. And I work with a ton of people whose primary language is English. I correct their grammar, phrasing, punctuation, wordiness, terseness… the whole thing. I do it for people senior to me and junior to me. And they correct me, especially when I’m unclear.

    The English language is just so complicated and for every rule there is a handful (or more) exceptions. You can praise the intern’s command of the language and still correct the subtleties without it coming across as overstepping.

  48. BRR*

    #1 it sounds like your wife isn’t fully grasping how wildly inappropriate this is. Is there another HR professional that she knows and could talk to about this just to get a second opinion? Just to try and get her to understand how bad this really is.

    1. Dancing Otter*

      Problem is, would said third party keep it confidential?
      If this were a former colleague or mentor from whom she might want a reference in the future, wouldn’t this misbehavior influence their opinion of her?

  49. RosyGlasses*

    LW 1 – be aware that if your wife holds any sort of HR certification, they can be held to the ethics clause and lose their certification. Incidents like this continue to give the office of HR a negative light – we are supposed to be the protectors of both the business and the employee, as well as the strategic business arm – and none of those standards are being met or upheld by your partner’s behavior (which are bad for any sort of manager/direct report but the fact that they are the head of HR is mind boggling). I wish you the best in navigating this with your partner.

    1. EventPlannerGal*

      The OP does say their wife is “de facto” head of HR and that it’s a small nonprofit – my guess is that it’s one of those wearing-many-hats situations where she might not have any actual HR qualifications/training at all. It doesn’t really matter, though, because honestly this situation is so blatantly inappropriate that you shouldn’t need to be qualified in anything to recognise it.

  50. SaffyTaffy*

    OP1 Healthy poly people do not say “let’s stick with cuddles” when there’s an unrequited attraction. On top of everything else that’s been discussed, that’s a manipulative thing to do in any context.

    1. ecnaseener*

      I don’t have any direct experience with polyamory but for monogamous people I’d think the kinder thing to do would be to stop cuddling. Is that what you meant?

      1. Dust Bunny*

        I don’t think poly vs. mono is actually relevant here–it’s still unfair to someone who wants more out of the relationship. That can be a thing in polyamory, too.

      2. Venus*

        I can’t speak for Saffy Taffy, but I have seen situations in which someone will use polyamory as their excuse for bad behavior, and I think the point is that this isn’t healthy for someone poly or monogamous. Based on the wording, I wonder if OP’s wife is using poly as an excuse for wildly inappropriate choices and then saying that the OP can’t be objective because they are jealous.

        Poly people are normal people like everyone else, but unfortunately there are some assholes who use it as their excuse to get away with some really awful behaviors.

        1. Observer*

          Poly people are normal people like everyone else, but unfortunately there are some assholes who use it as their excuse to get away with some really awful behaviors.

          The first half of your sentence explains the second half. Replace “it” with almost anything else, you the sentence would be equally true. Some people will use ANY thing that is outside of the typical / norm as an excuse for bad behavior.

      3. SaffyTaffy*

        @ecnaseener I specified poly because I wanted to make sure #1 understands that this isn’t a case of “aw she just doesn’t understand our lifestyle.”
        And yes the kind thing (the ethical thing) is to stop cuddling.

    2. WellRed*

      Oh I didn’t even think of that! At that since she’s been so blind to all this, she should have realized uh oh. Instead, she wants to keep cuddling.

    3. nonbinary writer*

      You are absolutely right, and honestly it’s part of what makes this situation beyond inappropriate — its straight up predatory. I feel so bad for the employee, who I’m sure after the cuddle session has been thrown off-kilter and in such an unbelievable vulnerable position. In addition to worrying about their wife’s career, LW1 should also be worrying about whether this person is being harmed by the wife.

      1. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

        Plus this employee is underpaid and dependent upon LW1’s wife to make that better. From the outside, the situation is extremely creepy and wrong. LW1’s wife needs to leave that company and not take on another HR based role without some serious personal contemplation.

    4. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      It also sounds like a cover story if LW’s wife has any sense of how wrong the whole everything is.

    5. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      Ehh, I think you’re painting with an overly broad brush when you imply that it is unhealthy. Asexual individuals exist within the polyamorous community, and might, for a variety of reasons, be comfortable with a relationship which included cuddling and some level of emotional intimacy, but not necessarily sexual interaction. Similarly, I’ve known same gender metamours who are perfectly comfortable cuddling with each other, but due to one or more parties sexual orientation, would not have gone beyond cuddling in their behavior. Presuming an individual has been clear about their boundaries with the other individuals involved, and that the other individuals know and accept those boundaries as established, there’s no reason it is unhealthy to say “I am willing to offer you this, but no more.”

      How clear the wife was with the report about that, as opposed to a “let’s stick with cuddles” with a subtext of “for now” (which would be manipulative and unhealthy, if the wife does not have reason to believe things could/would ever change) is something I don’t think we have enough information to judge.

      1. nonbinary writer*

        This seems like a whole lot of fanfiction to excuse what is clearly an abuse of power, at best. While its true that all those examples you shared happen in the wider polyam communities, thats not whats happening here. Boundaries absolutely cannot be negotiated healthily with this power dynamic.

        1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

          I have no problem characterizing this particular relationship as unprofessional, and as likely to be unhealthy, given the power dynamics.

          I object to a broad claim that such a relationship could never happen in with ‘healthy poly people’.

          It appears I was not as clear about that being the thrust of my comment as I intended. My apologies.

        2. SaffyTaffy*

          @nonbinary writer I am saving “this seems like a whole lot of fanfiction.” Love that.

      2. Observer*

        None of which is relevant to the situation at hand.

        The OP’s wife is the defacto head of HR and affects this person’s pay and job title. This person said that they have a crush and it’s pretty clear that they want more. Even if the wife were asexual (which is unlikely to be the case here), her response would be wildly out of line. Because the bottom line is that the OPW is basically saying “we’re going to continue this wholly inappropriate relationship, but TOTALLY on MY terms.”

        1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

          It is entirely relevant to SaffyTaffy’s broad statement about all polyamorous people, and asserting something would always be viewed as unhealthy. SaffyTaffy’s comment about what a healthy poly relationship looks like struck me as judgmental, and also ignored broad swathes of the community that I happen to be familiar with. Given how large and variable the polyamorous community is, it felt appropriate to point out that labeling it as unhealthy would not always be valid.

          This instance of it certainly is unprofessional. It may also be unhealthy (especially because of the power dynamics, it probably is). Nothing in my comment was meant to deny that. It was intended to push back on a ‘there is only one way to do this, and I am the arbiter of what that way is’ statement, which neglected to consider the various permutations of human experience.

          1. Student Affairs Sally*

            As a poly person who also knows several Ace poly folks . . . the power dynamic is what makes it unhealthy. Healthy relationships, whether they’re poly or mono, do not involve someone being in a position of power over the other partner’s livelihood and career. The cuddling isn’t the issue here and I’d argue it’s a red herring. It doesn’t matter if it was cuddling, a foot rub, kisses, sex, or a romantic candlelit dinner with absolutely no physical contact whatsoever – what matters is that it’s WAY overly intimate and inappropriate behavior for an HR person to engage in with a junior employee, and a healthy person (poly or not) would not think that this kind of relationship was okay.

        2. Empress Matilda*

          Plus that sentence is implicitly unfinished – there’s no way the employee is going to hear anything other than “let’s just stick with cuddles for now.

          So not only is OPW laying out her terms for this wholly inappropriate relationship, she’s also leaving open the possibility that there will be more than just cuddles in the future. The whole thing is just…ugh. Sorry, OP – this is a tough situation for you.

  51. ecnaseener*

    #3: Personally I feel a lot better about the question when it’s phrased as “what do you want to DO when you grow up” or “what job do you want to have when you grow up.” There’s definitely a yucky feeling around asking what you want to BE when the correct answer is to name a job.

    1. Mental Lentil*

      Came here to say this. It’s icky that we get so much of our identity out of our jobs.

      1. ecnaseener*

        In my experience, when a kid answers with something like “a dog” or “an alien,” the adults laugh and try asking again about career paths. ie signaling to the kid that the question is about career paths.

  52. Anna*

    LW1: I’m thinking of the many times early in my work life, in my early 20s, that I would have turned to a kind ear in HR (not yet knowing this isn’t always the best resource) when I was struggling to find my place in the office and in the world. Your wife’s behavior isn’t just inappropriate. It’s predatory when the object of it is a vulnerable young person. Imagine how this would be received if she were a man. She deserves to face consequences for this.

      1. Tired of Covid-and People*

        Yes. Reverse double standard, no good. Wife should lose her job, she has no concept of boundaries. Horrible.

      2. Simply the best*

        What? I have not read one single comment that was pro OP 1’s wife, and most of them are calling her predatory and saying she needs to lose her job. What more do you think a man would receive?

        1. Lecturer*

          Yes, I read the thread early, then a bunch of comments were added saying she was a predator. But that doesn’t change the continuum (e.g., if a man harasses you there is a risk of rape, if a woman does the chances of that happening are extremely low). Our reaction is directly related to risk.

  53. Lacey*

    Little kids LOVE to think about what they might do when they grow up. You’re coming at it from an adult perspective of people being defined by their work or having to worry about money all the time – but kids are just using their imaginations!

    For them, imagining being an archeologist or an architect is the same as pretending to explore the artic or that they’re a puppy dog.

  54. Invisible Fish*

    Regarding asking kids what they want to be when they grow up:

    Argh!!! Asking a small child is fine- it’s cute, it’s fun. BUT that “work defines you” mentality starts swirling around children, such that when I finally see them in high school, many students have really become convinced they will do *THIS ONE SPECIFIC JOB* and develop a sort of tunnel vision.

    No one seems to be letting them know to think in terms of interests or aptitude; it appears absolutely no one is helping them understand it’s possible to have more than one career in life. I hate to see them so limited in their thinking.

  55. HG*

    LW 3: My 7yo has never had an answer to this question, so I’ve told him to just say “Kind” when people ask what he wants to be when he grows up. The people asking are usually only asking because they don’t know what else to say to children, and this answer will provide a new direction for the conversation…and also remind my kid that it’s cool to be kind.

  56. Dust Bunny*

    OP3 I feel like you’re giving this way, way, too much weight. It’s just a way to ask what a kid’s interested in right now, not a long-term obligation. Let it go.

  57. Jenna Webster*

    I would really hate to give up asking little kids what they want to be when they grow up. My two favorite answers thus far are a mermaid and a dump truck. I do understand what the OP is saying, though, and I do agree with Alison that once they are older, it would be better to ask about their interests and what they like to do, etc.

    1. Paralegal Part Deux*

      I knew a kid that wanted to be a football. Not a football player but the actual football.

      1. pancakes*

        This reminds of a kid I’ve seen on social media around Halloween – he wanted to be pants, so his parents made him a pants costume. (Trouser-pants, not underpants-pants!)

    2. BlueberryFields*

      A dump truck! I love it. I work with teen student workers and I agree with asking about their interests once they are older. There is so much pressure to be a doctor or engineer or something, and I see how stressful that expectation is on the kids. It’s much nicer to talk about the things they enjoy doing.

  58. Dust Bunny*

    OP1 yeah, your wife is way out of line. She shouldn’t even be sticking to cuddles, and I agree that her advocacy for this person is now suspect.

    I don’t love setting gray-area limits with people when there is an imbalance of attraction, but that’s a personal preference, and it doesn’t really matter here because she shouldn’t be involved with this person at all to begin with.

  59. Dust Bunny*

    We’ve been helping a neighbor kid through college whose first language is not English, and, yes, have been making suggestions about syntax. Kid is going to need to know in the future that Kid’s go-to sentence structure is going to sound weird to English speakers in an English-based country (and in this instance specifically Kid has very weak language skills in general and needs the correction. Kid is a born US citizen but the family doesn’t speak English at home so basically Kid is weak in two languages, although we can’t help with the other one).

  60. Pants*

    #1 – I’m a strict believer in: Don’t get your sausage where you get your bacon. (I’ve since equated to sausage as everything not bacony/money-earning.) Let your wife know this. It ends badly. Ask me how I know.

    #2 – Eff the old company. Ignore. But I love that you were taking an afternoon nap. A+.

  61. Delta Delta*

    #1 – I think the only workplace where cuddling is an appropriate activity is probably an animal shelter or veterinarian’s office.

    #3 – Maybe it’s because I’ve only had 1 cup of coffee, but this question is really landing wrong for me. Kids like to talk about themselves and their ideas, and asking a kid what they want to be isn’t defining them by their work, it’s asking them to imagine and think and can lead to a bigger conversation about why they want to be whatever they just said and what’s interesting about it.

  62. Former Retail Manager*

    OP#3….I agree with Alison and I think you may be allowing your own experiences to affect the lens through which you view this question. I am a parent of a now 21 year old, who has no idea what she wants to do/be/or engage in to generate income and she was asked this question all the time by friends and family. She is finishing an Associate’s at community college and then may take a break and work full time, join the military, or go on to get a Bachelor’s…..no one knows. We have emphasized making good financial decisions along the way though and student loans are a last resort. (Note: I write this as a 40 something with my own student loans, so no judgment here. Please don’t take it that way.)

    I’ve always viewed the question as a way to gauge what the child is interested in. I want to be a vet = I like animals/walking my dog/playing with my dog/caring for my dog when she’s sick, etc. I don’t think most children end up being any of the things they say they want to be when they’re kids.

    If the question really bothers you that much, maybe ask family or friends to reframe it as “what do you like to do? read about? find interesting?, etc.” As long as you encourage thoughtful curiosity and critical thinking as your child grows up, and educate them about the avenues that exist to achieve their goals (realistically) then I think you have nothing to worry about.

    1. GreenDoor*

      I agree with Former Retail Manager. I have a 7 and 8 year old and when they say “I wanna be X whenI grow up” it’s because they just watched a YouTube video where someone was doing X and it looked cool….or they were following grampa around all day and he was doing X and it looked fun….or they were at a friend’s house and they like friend’s mom and she said she’s an X so they want to be that too. They’re definately not defining their future work-self in this type of conversation. In just the last two weeks, my 7 year old has wanted to be a hunter, a bricklayer, a race car driver, and an aligator wrestler, and a chef on TV.

      I ask a lot of “why” and “tell me more” questions and it gives me a lot of insight into their interests and how they think. Trust me, neither of my kids are planning their career path at age 8.

  63. KayLA*

    I understand LW3’s concern about how we frame “work” for kids but it seems sort of inevitable that kids will think about this kind of stuff on their own, even if adults don’t ask. My thinking is that when kids talk about what they want to be, they are flexing their imaginative muscles as well as trying to figure out what the world considers “normal”/what role they are expected to play in it. These conversations can be a fruitful way to provide them an alternative to the idea that certain jobs are not only meant for certain people, which is something they will be told in one way or another for the rest of their lives. My nieces, for example, have expressed interest in being doctors, firewomen, ballerinas, mechanics, astronauts, garbage haulers, cashiers, etc. When they get push back from boys in their class that only boys can be mechanics, we get to have a conversation that girls can do whatever they want. I would hope that we’d have the same conversation if I had nephews.

    And then sometimes, my nieces say they want to be super villains and bank robbers. So… its not always that deep. :)

  64. Loot*

    LW#3 – my 55 year old father still asks himself what he wants to be when he grows up. Because he doesn’t view any job as the end-all-be-all definition of himself. That’s the perspective I try to emulate too.

  65. Hiring Mgr*

    Anyone can have a lapse in judgement. A one-time cuddle session isn’t ideal but if it stops there and the wife recalibrates her behavior, perhaps they can all move on

    1. Lecturer*

      But it is not a one time thing. The reason the report got the job was because of the OP’s wife. She is also fighting for this employee to be given a raise. They are intimate enough to engage in cuddling at the house and for the report to admit to being attracted to the wife. It couldn’t be further away from a one off.

      1. A Person*

        > My wife is the head of HR at her small nonprofit, and has had a very close friendship with
        > somebody who, for a long time, reported to her. My wife was a big advocate for this person
        > getting promoted to her current position.

        Very much not a one-time thing. I mean, maybe this is the first/only time they’ve done the cuddle thing, but it wasn’t out of the blue.

        I wonder if LWW encouraged friend to accept the promotion just so they wouldn’t be in a formal reporting relationship? (Which doesn’t make this okay! But I could see a person telling themselves that.)

    2. WellRed*

      It’s at the point where employee has professed attraction and instead of shutting it down she said let’s stick to cuddles. Gross. Also, ripe for a sexual harassment claim.

    3. Observer*

      Anyone can have a lapse in judgement.

      That’s true. But what the OP is describing is not a one time lapse in judgement.

      if it stops there and the wife recalibrates her behavior, perhaps they can all move on

      Well, that’s the issue here. The wife doesn’t see the need to re-calibrate. Her behavior is FAR worse than just “not ideal” but it MIGHT be possible to recover if it stayed with a single session. But the fact is that she just doesn’t think it’s a big deal. And whether or not she continues to “cuddle” with this report, you simply cannot “move on” from having such terrible boundaries.

  66. Lemon Ginger Tea*

    Re: #3– Just my opinion, but there are so many better ways to start conversations with kids. While the “what do you want to be” question isn’t always loaded, sometimes it is. My 6 year old biracial son is quite tall for his age and it’s clear he’s already been fed lots of “will you be a basketball player” comments. I don’t appreciate it, because it narrows his outlook and obviously has racial undertones. Sure, he’ll probably go through a hundred other phases and settle on something he never imagined as a little kid, but I’d just as soon not have those questions posed to him.

    Why not instead ask “what are you into these days?”

    1. Gretchen Wiener*

      My ex boyfriend’s brother was 6-8 and people would ask him that question all the time and he had this shirt:

      No, I don’t play basketball, do you play miniature golf? ;)

  67. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    Re #3: My family used “what do you want to be when you grow up?” as a way to convey their class and financial expectations of their offspring. “Lawyer” got a lot more positive feedback than “hairdresser” or “gymnast,” for example. So I learned to say the things that got me approval, but all along, I really wanted to be a writer. And guess what? I am one!

    I think it’s great to encourage kids to have aspirations for their lives, and to provide age-appropriate information about choices they may not have considered. This is particularly true for kids who grow up in tough circumstances with a lot of discouragement. But I also think it’s important to be where the KID is, not necessarily imposing your own values.

  68. HLKHLK1945*

    Re LW3: I an guilty of asking kids that question, but only because it’s a conversation starter with my relatives’ or friends’ kids, not because I want them to give me an irrevocable answer that I’ll hold them to. I just find it cute to see what they’ve interpreted the world as being like. However, I can see that this may raise some anxiety so I think if nothing else, you have a good point for me to ponder.

    And Alison: I had a good friend early in my career who told me he had always wanted to be an accountant. I called BS but his mom backed him up. I have to say he’s probably the only person I knew or know who was that pragmatic in his childhood dreams!

  69. Falling Diphthong*

    On mulling over OP3, I think it’s just another variation on “How can I get young people to not make the decisions I did and instead do what I now wish I’d done?” And the thing is, your kids are not your do-over.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      And the path that wasn’t right for OP#3 may be the right path for her daughter, and she should be cautious not to discourage her daughter, if college/grad school and a career *are* what she wants to do.

      Honestly, I don’t take my mom’s career or life advice. If I did, I’d be stuck to the ceiling of a dead-end job for going on a decade and not have done my master’s degree (for which I paid in-state tuition earned at the non-dead-end job and did very, very part-time to avoid debt). Her life has generally worked out okay for her and she’s pretty happy, but it’s not for me and am thankful I didn’t feel obligated to listen to her or follow her advice early on.

  70. Broomhilde*

    OP3 reminded me of one of those exchanges I’ve had:

    What do you want to be when you grow up?

    5-year-old ponders, and then solemnly replies: “Frenchwoman.”

    1. StressedButOkay*

      Ahaha, that’s amazing! A kid I know once said he was going to be a fire truck. Not a fire fighter but a fire truck. They’re exploring the world around them – in hilarious and serious ways.

      1. Delta Delta*

        My brother said that, too! Maybe you know my brother… (now he’s a teacher and as far as I know, is not a fire truck)

  71. Knope Knope Knope*

    LW #3, don’t put too much weight on this question! As others have said, the answer can be about a lot more than work. At your daughter’s age, I wanted to grow up to be super girl.

    I think all you can really do is model your values and accept that your kid is who she is. My mom has a Ph.D. and her whole side of the family really valued prestigious education. I had cousins who went to Ivy League schools and worked at fancy law firms, but I never clicked or was close with them. My grandfather always encouraged me to go to law school. My mom, however, was always miserable in her job. My dad on the other hand had a bachelor’s degree and dropped out of business school, taught himself to specialize in computes (back when they were new) and had a career he loved. My sister and I were raised with the exact same influences, but are just different people. She got the fancy law degree, makes a decent living, doesn’t really like her job all that much from what I can tell. I got a bachelor’s degree from a state school, have no debt, found a cereer I am passionate about, that challenges me every day, that pays very, very well and let’s me travel the world. Even now as a mom I value my family over my career, but it brings me tons of joy!! There is only so much you can control.

  72. Beth*

    I think it’s great to ask kids “What do you want to be when you grow up?” — as long as you treat it as an exercise in the imagination. If they want to be a ninja pirate princess king, this should be greeted with approval and enthusiasm. I remember wanting to be a world-famous poet, a superhero, and one of Jacques Cousteau’s divers (not at the same time). I remember my mother amiably going along with it.

    What drove me absolutely nuts in my own childhood and adolescence, and generated an appalling amount of avoidable anxiety, were all the crappy career assessment tests and quizzes that the damned school gave us, almost every year, starting in grade school! I already didn’t fit in, and my complete failure to identify the “right” pigeonhole stressed me out insanely. The pressure to Find My True Path when I didn’t even know what paths were possible was ridiculous.

    Inevitably, like so many others, I ended up working, first in a field that was never mentioned in any assessment test, and then in a field that did not exist when I was growing up. So much for career guidance tests.

    1. Aquitane*

      Maybe I’m crossing a line here, but I wonder if OP3 has thought that their discomfort with the question has more to do with them and their unresolved feelings about education/careers than about their child. In my experience, people who had too much pressure to pick a career/life plan may be wary to put any pressure on their kids. But encouraging kids from a young age to think about the future and make decisions is exactly how you avoid putting too much stock in dumb personality tests in high school!

      1. Elizabeth Bennett*

        Agreed. I find work/accomplishments to be an integral part of my identity as a person. I love it. If I didn’t work outside of the home, I’d fill my days with organizing, baking, planning, PTA, volunteering with my favorite non-profit, exercising, becoming a laundry goddess…

  73. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    LW #1: In your shoes I would be rethinking whether I want to be with someone who shows such poor judgment and/or disregard for healthy boundaries. Even if your wife sets and maintains appropriate boundaries with this employee in the future, she has laid the organization open to a lawsuit and/or harmful gossip.

  74. Jennifer*

    #3 I think it’s just a cute question to ask kids to find out what interests they have. I think you may be reading far too much into this. I think the issue is when kids are pushed to pursue a certain career from a very young age, or told that getting a certain degree is the only path to success. That’s not what’s happening when you ask a kid what they want to be when they grow up.

  75. Elizabeth Bennett*

    As for the adulthood aspirations of children who haven’t had a serious thought in their life, how about asking them “What kind of business do you want to run when you’re older?” or “How do you think you’ll volunteer your time when you’re older?” If you don’t want them growing up with the belief they have to work in a career, change the expectation that they’ll have to work for someone else. We still need people to do the unpaid work of running a society.

    1. Elizabeth Bennett*

      Now that I re-read my comment, those are heavy questions for a four year old, so perhaps when they’re older. But when they’re young, you can point out there’s more to life than just working for a company. And I think the unpaid work in society is invaluable.

  76. Jennifer*

    #1 I think there’s nothing else you can really do when it comes to your wife’s job. It’s ultimately her decision and you can’t demand she quit or do anything else. You’ve made your feelings known and the ball is now in her court.

    1. Jennifer*

      FWIW, if it were my spouse I’d be seriously re-evaluating our relationship. But that’s more of a relationship issue, not a job issue.

  77. Cle*

    Re LW3: I work in career services at a community college . I don’t have kids nor have I worked in K-12, so I haven’t seen the full evolution of the “what do you want to be when you grow up?” That being said, I have met with many adults (young adults and older adults alike) who are frustrated and hurt because they have gotten stuck on whatever job they thought they wanted to do, but have been unable to get that job for whatever reason. I’ve also met with even more people who have chosen a career that isn’t a great fit mostly just because it was a career that they knew existed. In many ways, we ask people to select a career from a menu, but we don’t tell them that they’ve only seen the appetizer section, and we also don’t tell them that’s really hard to get calamari. I have no idea at what age it makes sense to transition away from “What do you want to be?” or even “What will you major in?” and ask questions like “What problems do you want to solve?” and “How do you want to spend your time?,” but it’s clear to me that many people have been so stuck on the former that they don’t ever consider the latter.

  78. Rusty Shackelford*

    I’m curious about the term cuddling. The LW put it in quotes, which makes me wonder if it’s a euphemism for something else. If it were what I consider cuddling, which is just hugging and other nonsexual contact (like the way I cuddle with my kid), it would still be inappropriate but less alarming. I mean, a lot of people think hugging your coworkers is perfectly fine, and I can kind of see a person who thought of this as no more than hugging a coworker. (It IS more. Obviously it’s more. Even if hugging your coworkers is Perfectly Fine, driving your report home and sitting on her couch and hugging her, and suggesting future hugs even after she admits an attraction to you, is so NOT FINE.) But could this be why the LW’s wife doesn’t consider it a problem? Because it’s not sexual to her? Or is “cuddling” a term clearly understood to include kissing/petting/etc by everyone else, and I’m the only one who doesn’t get it?

    1. Koalafied*

      I took the quotes to be emphasizing that cuddling was the word LW’s partner used to describe what happened, possibly to indicate they didn’t have more specific/detailed information because they’re hearing it relayed second-hand. And also possibly because it’s such a strange scenario that saying it matter-of-factly like, “They cuddled for a while and then the report admitted an attraction,” seems almost too blasé and normalizing the weirdness, as if saying someone cuddled their junior employee is a thing people say. Thus the quotes are, “Trust me, I think this is bizarre, but that’s what she told me happened.”

      1. LW1*

        “Thus the quotes are, “Trust me, I think this is bizarre, but that’s what she told me happened.””

        Yes. It is that. Post-writing-Alison, I did ask more questions and have ascertained that it was several minutes laying on a couch and holding each other.

        1. Green Goose*

          Yikes, that is so intimate. Did she elaborate on how that even happened, what lead up to laying and holding? Or if other stuff has happened before? I just have a feeling that if they were close enough to do that, that there may be acting in a way that people may already be taking note of at work.

  79. StressedButOkay*

    Oh, OP1, that’s a lot to try to guide your wife through. One of the things I think you might want to suggest is that she look into therapy – this is not normal work behavior and it sounds like she has a lot to unpack that she might be more comfortable doing with a professional.

    She is on a path that could end her career, not just here but in the future as well, plus she’s putting herself in the prime position for a sexual harassment case. I think she needs to really examine what she’s doing and why – and why she didn’t see it was a problem until you started to push her to see it.

    1. Threeve*

      Seconding therapy. I knew someone for whom attraction was the be-all end-all of how she decided how to interact with someone, with actual context coming a distant second. So if someone was into her, that was really the only factor in determining what their relationship would be–and it got messed up.

      Monogamous relationships, shared workplaces, recent loss, addiction recovery…all of the things that tell you to put the brakes on dating/sleeping with someone were pretty much ignored because in her head the chemistry/romance was more important than anything.

      It doesn’t sound like OP1’s wife is nearly that bad, but there does seem to be a logic that “we like each other a lot and so it makes perfect sense to ignore appropriate boundaries.”

  80. fhqwhgads*

    For #3 I think there’s actually a distinction Alison may not have noticed. In the letter, the question is “what do you want to be when you grow up?” but the question in the posted answer is “what do you want to do when you grow up?” And I think that probably gets at the heart of what the OP is getting at: the framing of the question implying this is who you are not this is what you do.
    I don’t know if that nuance is perceptible at the stage of development for a child under 5. If it is, it’s worth considering whether the standard wording of the question as it is today may be harmful, but if it’s not, then it may not matter. Kids do tend to identify people by profession at that age, so I’m guessing they’re probably more at the “be able to identify humans” place than introspection about work-life balance or career vs identity.

    1. Vistaloopy*

      I am OP #3 – thank you so much for this – you exactly understood what I was getting at. I think asking a kid what they want to DO (which can include work but also hobbies, family, etc) is much better than asking what they want to BE – it leaves more room for flexibility I think. Thank you!!

      1. Observer*

        I think that the reverse is true. What you want to “do” tends to be more work and career focused, although it doesn’t have to be that. What you want to “be” is far broader. Notice how many people are talking about answers that have nothing to do with careers.

        But regardless, the key here is not whether they get asked either question but how you respond.

  81. LTL*

    OP1, I don’t mean to pile on, but the relationship your wife has with this ex-report is predatory. I think it’s important to understand that word applies to this situation. Your wife has a lot of control over this person’s livelihood and there’s a 10 year age gap which has all the alarm bells ringing.

    A lot of comments have been talking about how your wife is risking her career and that’s true. However, she must come to understand why her behavior is unethical and why this is a problem, not for her, but for the person she has a close relationship with. If she cannot empathize with them in a way that allows her to make this realization, she is not suited to be in a position of power over anybody, at this company or others. She should not be in HR or any managerial role.

    1. Llama face!*

      Absolutely this. The career repurcussions for the OP’s spouse are not the biggest harm being done; the worst harm is to that junior employee. I think the OP gets that but their spouse doesn’t seem to- and that is extremely serious.

    2. Ellie*

      I wondered – since she is in HR, is it possible for her to access any training at her company? Ethics training, sexual harassment training, etc. under the guise of seeing if it could be of value to roll down through the rest of the company? It might open her eyes to a few things.

      For what its worth, I don’t think the OP would be overstepping to suggest that she look for another job, that’s exactly what I’d be doing. I think its incredibly risky for her to stay where she is. If she does want to stay, then I think she should declare the relationship, such that it is, and request that salary decisions start going through someone else. But I don’t know the size of the company and whether any of that is realistic.

      1. LTL*

        Engaging in predatory behavior is a problem that goes deeper than what a session of sexual harassment training can solve. I’m not sure therapy would help here, but I am sure some sort of professional help must exist for this kind of thing, if therapy isn’t it.

  82. Savaphoong*

    When I was young and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said I wanted to be a magician. Most people said I would grow out of that (which I did), but my mom never discouraged me. Instead, she enrolled me in a summer course for kids to learn magic. I was nine year old, and 43 years later I still remember how much fun that was. I even put on a magic show for the people in my neighborhood that summer. I really wish I had a video recording of that, but iPhones were decades away, and home movie cameras were not that prevalent. I’m glad people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, because if they hadn’t I probably would have missed that opportunity. Instead of being a magician, I wound up being a psychotherapist. I feel really comfortable saying that asking little kids what they want to be when they grow up doesn’t harm them or lock them into a specific path.

  83. Quitting to get away from awful HR*

    OP 1, your wife needs to stop and consider how her actions might look to other people. She is cuddling with an employee who has openly admitted being attracted to her, while simultaneously going to bat for this employee advocating increased benefits to this employee. Does this employee deserve this extra advocation? Maybe. But. The fact that she’s promoting this employee while simultaneously being involved in such a problematic relationship with them could very well come back to hurt the employee. And eventually they’re going to realize this.

  84. El l*

    Re LW 4:
    I don’t think her being a non-native speaker changes anything about what you should do, or what feedback you give her. Focus on editing it so that her communication is as effective as possible for what you’re doing and who the audience is. Same for everyone.

    What matters much more is that she’s very junior. Everyone who earns a paycheck has to do some adjustment (beyond what they were taught in school) to write effectively. Her style will develop, but where your head needs to be right now is for her to begin that adjustment. She needs to learn before she can develop style. Help her do that – even if it’s just your opinion.

  85. heckofabecca*

    3. When I used to be asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my only answer—consistently, without fail—was “happy.” (Yes, I have ptsd, why do you ask???) I’m in grad school right now, and I STILL do not know what I want to do for a career.

    As a child, I always thought other kids who actually wanted to be astronauts, police officers, or firefighters were absolutely bonkers. Those jobs are dangerous!! You can die doing those jobs!!! XD

  86. Van Wilder*

    #3 – I have a 4-year-old and I try to point out the jobs that exist. “Somebody wrote the words that the actors are saying. Did you know it’s somebody’s job to write movies?” “Somebody designed that flashlight.” “Designing clothes is a job that some people have.” Last I checked, she wants to be a Wonder Woman when she grows up.

    1. Lizzo*

      Add to that list: someone designed the packages for all the things you buy and use! (“Packaging” is a major at Michigan State, and that blew my mind the first time I learned about it.)

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I’ve definitely run into packages that were obviously designed by someone who didn’t go there. :P

  87. Orange You Glad*

    #4 – I’m a native English speaker and early in my career I had my writing edited frequently for wording/phrasing. It’s part of the learning process. Still today my boss and I will share email drafts before sending to make sure we’re communicating accurately and effectively.

    1. restingbutchface*

      It’s been a while since something I read online triggered such a strong emotional reaction in me. You’re not the only one. Hope you’re okay.

  88. Lizzo*

    LW3: Best advice I ever heard: Don’t ask kids what they want to be or do, ask them **what problem they want to solve.**

    1. pancakes*

      I don’t know how I feel about that. It seems like a lot to put on a kid’s shoulders. It also seems unrealistic, because many, many, many problems for people all over the world are yet to be solved, not for lack of individuals trying to solve them.

      I agree with others that “what do you want to do when you grow up” is probably pretty harmless, and often fun for both the kid and the question-asker. It is sometimes problematic when people regard their work as their identity, etc., but this one question isn’t the source of or key to that mindset.

      1. Vistaloopy*

        I’m OP #3 – I agree that asking a kid what they want to DO is much less problematic than asking what they want to BE – which is what I meant by defining a oneself in terms of work.

        1. Ellie*

          Is a kid going to understand the distinction though? A lot depends on the ages – I have a 3 year old who wants to be a puppy when she grows up, and a 5 year old who wants to be a scientist. I wanted to be a scientist as a child as well, before I learned what a computer programmer was, and then I switched across to that, at age 12, and have been one ever since. I’m pretty sure I always thought of it as my future job though, not as my identity or anything.

      2. Lizzo*

        “many, many, many problems for people all over the world are yet to be solved”

        Yes, that’s the point. Put young people in the mindset of identifying problems and creating solutions, and they’ll bring new perspectives to those previously unsolvable problems. That problem solving approach is also a very useful skill in other areas of life, too.

        1. pancakes*

          I don’t disagree that problem-solving can be a hugely important skill, but my point has more to do with the second part of that sentence, about the limits of individual action.

  89. green beans*

    OP #4 – haven’t read all the comments so apologies if this is a repeat. But for those kinds of edits, you just correct phrasing and add a note, “this is the American English phrasing” or “This reads more smoothly/naturally to an American ear.” (or British English or Indian English or Kiwi English; whatever dialect you speak.)

    If you know why, put that in – there’s actually a “natural” order to how we put lists of adverbs, for instance, which you might be correcting towards. In that case, you can say, “English has a weird quirk around listing adverbs – you can look it up if you want, but this list follows that mostly unspoken rule.”

    then you can say when you give it back – “hey I changed some things that are technically correct to phrases that sound more smooth/natural in English/American English. They weren’t incorrect as you wrote them, just sounded odd.”

  90. JT*

    LW3 – I have twin 9 year old girls and I make a point to talk about their future in terms of choice – IF they go to college, IF they have kids, etc. It’s amazing how often these topics come up at a young age, but I encourage you not to avoid them – we’ve had some great conversations. One of them wants to “buy a house bigger than mine” while working taking tickets at a movie theater so she can see any movie she wants for free. This led to a conversation about how it’s a great idea to choose a job that makes you happy (and free movies are great!) but we also talked about how much that job makes and how much our mortgage, food, etc. costs. We’ve talked about how sometimes college can help you get a job making good money, but how their uncle works in roofing and makes very good money and he didn’t go to college. When I was growing it the conversation was “when you go to college”. I definitely don’t approach it that way.

    As far as careers, for me it’s interesting to see what my career choices were as a kid (first a journalist, then a lawyer, then a teacher) and how that’s played out. I work a corporate job, but what I really enjoy doing is finding flaws/inefficiencies in systems, figuring out a better way to do it, convincing everyone that I’m right, and showing everyone how to do it going forward. That combines aspects of all three careers from my childhood dreams, which I find very interesting.

  91. restingbutchface*

    OP1 – this is awful. Your wife is behaving like a predator – note that I didn’t say *is* a predator, but any outsider is going to see an older woman with power grooming a younger woman, regardless of who confessed an attraction. This is a huge deal and I think your initial reaction showed that – at the end of the letter you start questioning yourself but no, stick with your gut response.

    I first wrote that it doesn’t matter than they’re both women but actually, it does. I imagine your wife isn’t open about your non-monogamy at work so that adds secrecy to a very dicey situation. It could even lead to a situation where a complaint is made and nobody believes this person because your wife is in HR, married and seen as heterosexual. All the cards are in her hands and this could ruin someone’s life.

    I would be horrified if this was my wife. I’d want to know that this behaviour has stopped, it will never happen again and she understands why she has breached her position of trust and authority. I’d also want to know if it’s happened before. I don’t see her tenure as tangible, honestly – if this comes out, she’s done. I would have such serious concerns over her judgement and understanding of power dynamics and I don’t know how I would ever resolve them, or if I could.

    I’m sorry this is happening. You sound like a decent person who wants a happy wife. I wish you all the best.

    1. LTL*

      “Predator” is a word defined by behavior, not intent. If your behavior is predatory, you’re a predator.

      1. restingbutchface*

        Okay? Not sure what your point is, but I said “*like* a predator” to avoid a derailing argument over the wife’s intentions and to increase the chance the OP would hear my message and not be emotionally deafened by hearing such a terrible thing about the person they love.

        But sure, you’re not wrong.

  92. Lizzo*

    LW4: My graduate program was about 20% American students/native English speakers, and the rest were a delightful mix of folks, with many coming from Asia. With those ratios, we almost always had group projects where there was only one native English speaker. I spent a lot of time editing my team members’ writing, but we also spent a lot of time discussing the changes–especially the ones that were more connected to culture and professional (or, in this case research) expectations and norms.

    One of the best techniques I used to try and make the editing more collaborative was to highlight problematic things, and then I’d bring those parts to them and say, “What are you trying to say here? Explain it to me out loud.” Based on their feedback, I think they found that process empowering, because they felt like it was still their voice that was on the page, but it was the best version of their voice (vs. me just unilaterally making changes).

    All of this to say, I think if you can couch the feedback in the context of, “This is really great–let’s discuss some spots that could use some polishing”, and you empower your employee to think through these things while they can get your immediate feedback on cultural norms, etc., that feedback will be well-received.

  93. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    #3 i think at the age of 4 or 5 i wanted to be wonder woman when i grew up. The thing is, adults get the context of the question as meaning career or work, but little kids usually don’t. Maybe it’s adults who should stop thinking about “what do you want to BE” = job. I’m a lot of things as an adult…an artist, a gardener, a friend, a caretaker, a photographer…i don’t get paid for any of them.

  94. inaudible*

    the part of Alison’s answer to Q3, “And most kids have little to no idea about the full range of career options out there and end up picking from a very limited knowledge of their options,” reminds me of my time working as a land surveyor’s assistant while a civil engineering student. Civ eng students learn the basics of that field, but it was a job I’d never heard of before I did it, and the public was prone to think some of our measurement instruments were video cameras. I asked all my colleagues, how did you get into this? How did you even know this profession/job even existed? but I never got a straight answer.

    There are a bunch of professions I wish I knew about before I built a life I didn’t want to uproot in order to move someplace else to train for them, and I realize that part of why I didn’t know about them was stereotyping about broad subject interests.

    1. Elizabeth Bennett*

      SAME. I’m 20 years into my career now and just realizing that I could be really enjoy this other career I had no idea existed. It’s still possible, but more of a challenge with the responsibilities of adulthood I didn’t have when I attended college the first time.

    2. Colette*

      My job literally did not exist when I was in school. Kids have no idea how many jobs there are – and in fact, I suspect most adults don’t know my job exists.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        I’m in the same boat. My own mother doesn’t understand what I do. She finally stopped trying to figure it out years ago and decided if my job was legal, made me self-supporting, and included health insurance, it didn’t matter if she understood it or not.

        1. quill*

          My mom still says “my daughter kills germs for a living” despite that being multiple jobs ago.

  95. Miss Muffet*

    For the parent with the kid … I think this is similar to the concerns a lot of parents have around Barbies, or the Princess phases “ruining” kids. I think that generally, kids are picking up WAY more about body types, or relationships, or in your case, careers, from the day-to-day stuff parents are showing and talking to them about, than these outside things. And they outgrow so much so fast anyway, it doesn’t all stick for life just because they were into it when they were preschoolers!
    If it’s important to you that they don’t define themselves by their career, show them the variety of ways people make livings, and speak respectfully about ALL of the jobs that people do, and talk about their futures in open-ended ways. “Maybe you’ll go to college, or maybe you’ll decide to do something else.”

  96. Observer*

    #1 – You didn’t write in for relationship advice, and I’m not going to give you any. But please consider that what everyone is saying about your relationship is actually very work relevant. Because the kind of behavior that gets people repeatedly saying “This behavior makes me question if this person is a decent person / someone I would want to be in a relationship” is the kind of behavior that can get you into major, major trouble in any halfway decent workplace and can easily torch entire careers.

    If your wife’s employer is any good AT ALL, if this comes out, she’s going to be fired. And if she is very, very lucky, they will just decline to give her a reference.

    1. Empress Matilda*

      And as Alison often says, it’s unlikely that this is the only incident of boundary-crossing behaviour from OPW. It’s just the one that’s most recent, and/or most visible. Most people don’t get caught the first time they do something like this, because they know it’s wrong, so they go to great lengths to hide it. It’s only later that they generally get comfortable enough to slip up.

      That, or they don’t hide it because they don’t realize it’s wrong in the first place – which is where OP’s wife seems to be coming from. Either way, it’s not good.

      1. restingbutchface*

        This is the first one she has *mentioned* and it concerns me how comfortable she was talking about it, like when the OP says “she said it would be fine”. That alone would be a huge red flag. If she had come home in tears and confessed to doing something really stupid and terrible, that would give an impression of a) a mistake and b) an acknowledgment of that mistake.

  97. Karate Saw*

    I like to ask little kids a variation on “What will it be like when you’re grown up?” They talk about jobs, but also about what their house will look like, who they’re gonna marry, what kind of dog they’re going to have, what their siblings will be doing, and has given me a chance to talk with my niece about things that bother her, like whether there will still be fish because of climate change :(

  98. HiHello*

    #4 Another non-native speaker here. I have lived in the US for almost a decade and I still sometimes ask my coworkers to read something for me. I now realize when something sounds funny, but I have plenty of friends who have been in the US for way shorter and they don’t always realize their sentences sound odd. It’ better to correct it.

  99. Anonymosity*

    The OP is right, as are many of the commenters. I know most kids wildly diverge as they grow and process what they want to do and who they want to be. Less pressure is better. However, I would like to point out that if their desire is persistent and focused, it could be genuine. It might be worthwhile for parents to keep this in mind, especially if your child needs your support to get started.

    I knew with absolute certainty when I was five years old that I wanted to be an actor. When I turned seven, we moved from a city with a robust arts community to a small town in the middle of bloody nowhere with . . . nothing. My parents kept a subscription to the city’s newspaper for a while. Every week I devoured the arts and theater section. I read plays, biographies, anything I could get my hands on about movies and celebrities, and I jumped at every chance to perform that my school offered. I was blessed with a talent for singing and sang solos in church. I watched every award show and variety show on television (this was the ’70s) and dreamed of the day I would wear a sparkling red dress while accepting my Oscar. It wasn’t about fame and fortune; I didn’t care about that. I genuinely wanted to do the work. Everything I did, even playing, revolved around performing in some fashion.

    My parents were not supportive of this in general; their standard response when I would talk about it was, “Out of all the hundreds of people who try, only a few will make it.” End of discussion. I suffered from undiagnosed anxiety; exacerbated by their helicoptering parental style and their dismissal of my efficacy, this made the idea of just picking up and going to New York or L.A., especially without any experience, impossibly daunting.

    I’m a fan of a couple of actors who knew exactly what they wanted to do when they were kids. Their parents moved heaven and earth to help them. As an adult participating in a competitive sport with a wide age range, I knew quite a few children whose parents were the same way, including one who became a two-time national champion and went to the Olympics.

    When I think about all the things I wasn’t able to overcome and the support I didn’t receive, it makes me profoundly sad. No job I’ve had now has been even close to satisfying the way performing was for me. Sure, I might never have made it as an actor but perhaps I could have discovered a peripheral career I loved while still being in the field. I could even still win that Oscar in a different way; age isn’t necessarily a barrier. So the dream isn’t dead, but it’s on oxygen and fading fast.

    You know your kid best. You’re the best person to realize whether their ongoing desire to fly means they want to be a fairy or a pilot. Consider what you can do or how you can guide them.

    Just . . . don’t do what my parents did. Be careful what you say to kids about this stuff and how you say it. The way it shaped my thinking is an extra hurdle to overcome not just when I think about going after my dream in a lateral way but when I think about doing anything new.

  100. DCer*

    OP3 – I think you’re missing a prime opportunity by not asking your kid more often what they want to be when they grow up. And whatever the answer is, helping them to think about the vast opportunities that aren’t work related. Do you want to be funny? Do you want to be nice? Do you want to be loud? Do you want to be fast? Do you want to sleep late on the weekends? Do you want to have lots of friends? Do you want to be a parent? Do you want to go on vacation to beaches? Do you want to eat ice cream for breakfast? Do you want pets?

    I suspect you’ll find by having these kinds of conversations with your kids, that when others then ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” the answers will quickly stop looking like careers and start looking like character.

  101. Vistaloopy*

    Hi all, OP3 here. Thank you Alison and all the commenters. Some people correctly pointed out that the part of the question that bothers me is the “be” part – not necessarily the asking about career interest, but the identity part of it. I appreciate all the suggestions for other questions to ask – what do you like to do, what do you want your life to look like, what’s important to you, etc.

    As for the folks who said I might be projecting my own issues onto my kid…you’re probably right! I’m happy with the way my life is, but I’m curious how things might have gone if my goals had been less education-focused at the start. I think it would be great for kids to build the life they want from the ground up, rather than starting from they assumption that they have to go to college or have a certain career, and then building a life around that. If they want to, great! I just want my kiddo to understand that it’s also ok to go to community college, join the military, start a business, work at a coffee shop, or whatever, and we will love her no matter what.
    Thanks again, everyone!

  102. twocents*

    I don’t have much to add to LW1, but sympathy. It’s very hard to see a side of a loved one that you didn’t know was there, and to go from a general sense of unease to confirmation that they’ve been acting in a way that is not in line with your values. This is a really hard situation, and I’m sending you strength to help navigate it.

    1. restingbutchface*

      Just commenting to validate a really thoughtful and compassionate response. Perfect.

  103. Pyjamas*

    OP1: open relationships can (and arguably) should have boundaries. One of these is refraining from emotional or sexual relationships that make the other partner uncomfortable *for any reason*. The other commentators have done a fine job validating why you are concerned, but the only necessary reason for your wife to back off from this relationship is that you’re not 100% on board with it. The fact that you have to argue beyond that is a red flag for your marriage. It would be entirely reasonable for you to keep an eye on finances (including joint credit cards and bank accounts), to postpone any plans to have children, and to put aside a nest egg in case your wife takes off with her new love. I think individual therapy for yourself is also advisable.

    1. Student Affairs Sally*

      As a married poly person, I would push back on the idea that OP’s approval or lack thereof is all that is necessary for OP’s wife to end the relationship. I don’t get to dictate my husband’s relationship choices – that’s the whole reason we’re poly. If something comes up that concerns me, I express my concerns and we talk about it, and then he makes the decision that feels right to him based on balancing his own needs and wants, my needs and wants, and the other partner’s needs and wants. I generally try to be supportive of his choices even if I don’t agree with them; he generally puts a lot of weight on my feelings, but I don’t get to be the “decider” of his relationships.

      Now, granted, this is a very different situation because OP’s wife is risking the family livelihood, and that piece makes it carry more weight than “I think this partner is being too clingy” or the more “typical” issues that poly people run into. But if I were in OP’s shoes, I would be focusing on the ethical issues and the potential career/income ramifications, not saying “you have to end this relationship because I said so”

      1. restingbutchface*

        Agreed. “This relationship is creepy and wrong” is more honest and truthful than, “I don’t like it, stop”.

        Pyjamas, I think you’re correct when you say all relationships, poly or not should have boundaries and when I’ve been in an open relationship each of us could veto another relationship without needing to write an essay justifying why… but that was our boundary. Doesn’t mean it’s standard or essential for all relationships.

    2. Name*

      You can’t force her behaviour, but you can set a boundary of, “if this continues I don’t feel comfortable continuing my relationship with you.”

  104. tungsten*

    #4 as a non-native speaker, the way to avoid giving a non-native speaker a complex about their abilities is not to associate every mistake they make with the fact that they didn’t learn English from their parents. I think people default to this explanation whenever they know they’re not dealing with a native speaker when the reality is that native speakers of English make plenty of errors in their writing, in anything from awkward phrasing to grammatical errors, and you’d never think to have a conversation with them about how their language skills are inherently insufficient because they are non-native – you’d just correct it and move on. At the same time, plenty of non-native speakers write/speak beautifully in English, both from a technical and an artistic perspective (and I don’t mean this in an all Englishes are valid way (which is also true), but as in, their English is objectively technically impeccable and pleasing to the ear). So there doesn’t need to be a connection here.

  105. Red 5*

    The only other thing I’d add to all the great conversations happening about asking kids what they want to be when they grow up – one of my favorite things about why we shouldn’t be discouraging when kids come up with wacky answers is a video that’s actually from Barbie’s vlog –


    If the URL gets stripped, look up “You Can Be Anything or Everything” on Barbie’s channel. It’s about how she wanted to be a dancer doctor astronaut princess when she was five, and someone told her people can only be one thing.

    So she talks about how Mae Jemison is a dancer, doctor, AND astronaut. And in Barbie’s words, anybody who has done all of those things is also a leader, and a princess is a leader, so that’s that.

    It doesn’t matter what kids say they want to be, just listen and be encouraging. And be ready for them to change their minds in about an hour.

  106. Nacho*

    LW#3: Don’t worry about it too much yet. As my mom is fond of telling people, I wanted to be Whinnie the Poo when I grew up when I was 4. They’ll change their mind a lot as they age.

    1. Empress Matilda*

      I mean, I’m theoretically a fully-functioning adult, and I still kind of want to be Winnie the Pooh when I grow up!

  107. Ladycrim*

    OP4: As an Admin Assistant, one of my jobs is editing correspondence before it goes out. That includes editing the grammar for clarity. Sometimes the writers are non-native English speakers; sometimes they were writing too quickly and didn’t proofread; sometimes they just weren’t paying attention and wrote something nonsensical. If clarifying meaning is part of your job, you should go ahead and do it. As long as you’re not calling attention to the fact that you’re doing it because Intern is still learning the nuances of the English language, it shouldn’t cause offense.

  108. Rose Ceremony*

    re: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I’m a big fan of asking kids what they think they want to study when they’re older – sometimes the response is super broad, other times it’s charmingly specific – “Space robots and blasters!” Cool, I also would like to study that. Or I ask specifically “What do you want to be when you grow up *today*?” As someone in my mid-40s and on my third career, I think changing your mind or refining, redefining, or redirecting your path is totally normal, and want kids to think that too.

  109. RagingADHD*

    For crying out loud.

    LW3, When you ask a 4 year old what they want to be when they grow up, as likely as not they will say “a firetruck” or “Spiderman.” They are not considering careers in public safety, they are playing pretend. It’s a way to engage with little kids and get them to talk about things they like. Yes, as they get older it’s more useful to talk about their interests. But this is blowing it way out of proportion.

    LW4, just fix the document and show it to her. Junior employees are supposed to learn company standards and the norms of their industry from the senior people they work for. If you pussyfoot around her hypothetical feelings you’re hamstringing her from advancement in the industry. And if she actually does get “a complex” from normal editing, send her to the company EAP, because that’s not a normal reaction.

    LW1, Unfortunately, you seem to have accidentally married a creep. It happens to a lot of people, but you have to deal with the reality and stop trying to shade the situation in a way that makes excuses for what your wife is doing.

    Your wife is a sexual harasser. She is using her position to advance the career of the subordinate she’s dating. Social visits that end in cuddling are dates. That is creepy and gross. And from what I understand of consensual non-monogamy, there is supposed to be communication and respect between the primary partners, and the ability to set boundaries. Your wife has a big problem with consent and boundaries in every direction. Stop trying to persuade her that this is bad for her career, or bad for the subordinate, and start dealing with the fact that it’s bad for your relationship and just objectively *bad.* Your spouse is displaying some major, major character flaws that are red flags for any marriage, and any career.

  110. Pilit0*

    OP3 – I just had to respond to your letter. I have seen a quote online that says “Don’t ask kids what they want to be when they grow. Ask them what problems they want to solve. This changes the conversation from who do I want to work for, to what do I need to learn in order to do that ~ Jaime Casap”
    I also remember reading research that said something about giving girls science problems that appeal to their emotions (think “this mum can’t get the water over there to her babies. How can we solve her problem?) improved their performance. It was a while ago, so please don’t take this as verbatim.

  111. llamaswithouthats*

    LW3 – I’m pretty sure most people ask little kids this question because the answer will likely be amusing. It’s generally not a big deal, but I am a fan of generally reducing the frequency of asking people what job they want in favor of just what their interests are. Because jobs shouldn’t be so central to someone’s identity. When I entered middle school, I noticed the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” morphed into “what’s your favorite subject at school?”

  112. Stitching Away*

    LW3: Belated response, but I was watching Mythbusters Junior, and one of the preteens on it said something that has stuck with me ever since. She said, don’t ask me what I want to be when I grow up, ask me about what I’m doing now.

Comments are closed.