I got in trouble for taking someone’s juice, my boss forgot something major about me, and more

I’m on vacation. Here are some past letters that I’m making new again, rather than leaving them to wilt in the archives.

1. I got in trouble for taking someone’s juice

The question I have is a debate I shared with my girlfriend and then my cousin, who is a HR manager. On my 15-minute break, I went into the breakroom. I was the only person in the breakroom. I found what I believed to be unopened juice on the table. I took it and stayed in the breakroom the full 15 minutes, and nobody came in the breakroom the entire time.

Later that day, I was called into the HR office. I admitted to taking the juice on the belief it was abandoned and I stated that if the owner had confronted me instead of HR, I would have done what I could to correct the situation. I was let go for the rest of the day and told the next day that there will be a note in record of the incident. The note turned out to be a final warning, which I did not sign since it made me look like a thief. It stated, “I saw the juice and took it” and there was no area for my comment.

Since I was a seasonal employee, I was let go three weeks later. While unemployed, I contacted HR headquarters and told them what happen. HR headquarters stated if the juice were abandoned, the owner would write a note on it. I replied that the housekeeper could have taken the juice and compared the juice to a newspaper, since they both cost the same. The response from HR headquarters was that I would be hired if needed.

Both my girlfriend and cousin believe what I did wrong. I stated that food, magazines, and newspapers are left on the breakroom tables for anybody to use, and the owner should have contacted me first if this juice was important to them. My cousin believes it was terminal action due to the theory of theft, and my girlfriend believes I should have left the juice on the table even though she picks up loose pennies in her breakroom.

An unopened bottle of juice sitting on a break room table isn’t like a newspaper or magazine. Someone could read a newspaper or magazine without impacting the owner’s ability to still use the item. But if you drink someone’s juice, it’s no longer available to the owner. So yeah, you took something that wasn’t yours and which you shouldn’t have taken.

That said, your company made a bizarrely big deal about it. This isn’t HR stuff, and it’s definitely not formal warning stuff (at least not unless you’re doing it repeatedly). Simply telling you, “Hey, don’t take other people’s food or drinks” would have been sufficient.

However, the fact that this was a final warning makes it sound like there have been other problems. And the fact that you were fired three weeks later sounds like something else may have happened in between (although that’s not clear). So this probably wasn’t just about the juice.


2. How to avoid socializing with a coworker’s kid at the office

Sometimes parents bring children into work and then proceed to socialize while the kid pokes/digs/plays around the office, kind of half-expecting the other women in the office to “watch” him or her. My letter is not so much to ask you whether or not it is appropriate to bring a baby or child to the office, but about the best way of saying, “I don’t care to meet your newborn” or “I will not be held responsible for your child’s actions while you are not looking.” I don’t care to participate in fawning over someone’s kid at the office, and I would like a polite way to get out of this kind of child-centered gathering. I hoped you might have a better way of saying, “I am not interested in your kid.” It seems like an ordinary, “That’s nice but I have to get back to work” isn’t sufficient.

Nope, there’s no polite way to say “I don’t care to meet your child,” just like there’s no polite way to say, “I don’t care to meet your adult guest who stopped by the office.” So I’d drop any hope of that entirely. However, you aren’t obligated to engage beyond an initial polite greeting, and you can extract yourself from further conversation in the same ways that you would in other contexts where you’re busy — by demonstrating or saying that you have something else you need to attend to.

For instance: “It’s so nice to meet you! I hope you’re having a good time here.” Then, turn back to your computer screen, papers, etc. If interrupted further, respond politely, then add, “I have to finish this up so can’t talk, but it’s great to meet you, Percival!” You must use a kind tone during this, just as you’d have to use a kind tone if it were an adult guest to the office. And if a parent expects you to watch her child for her, say politely, “I’m going to be tied up on a project, so you should take Percival with you. Thanks!”

In other words, just politely assert boundaries just as you would if kids weren’t involved.


3. My boss forgot a major detail of my personal life

I have worked with my boss, Nancy, for 4.5 years. We are a two-person department in a 24-person bureau. We work extremely closely and well together. We frequently discuss what’s going on in our lives. I moved to Phoenix 7 years ago, and prior to that raised my children in San Antonio for 18 years. Yesterday, something came up and Nancy said, “oh, I never knew you lived in San Antonio.” I am hurt and disappointed in her, now I don’t think she really pays attention at all. I have turned down several opportunities because I didn’t want to leave her stranded with the work. I feel my loyalty has been for nothing. What do you think?

I think that if you “work extremely closely and well together,” you should be glad that you have a boss where that’s the case, not get sidetracked by something that has nothing to do with work. Return to enjoying your great relationship with your boss — which is something a lot of people would love to have.


4. Can I avoid a wrap-up conversation with my soon-to-be-former boss?

I recently accepted a new job. More pay, seems like a better environment (so far it seems really great), more successful company, etc. I have been very frustrated with my current job, but I rolled with the punches since I was still gaining experience in my field. So I left because I wanted to leave but I also left because I found a much better opportunity.

When I gave notice, my boss started shaking, which freaked me out a bit, but recovered and asked me where I was going. I had just signed the offer letter an hour before I met with her and I balked, saying I didn’t want to disclose that. She was fine, but I then had to go talk to the salesperson who was expecting me to go work on-site for a client in a few weeks. He was devastated, saying “no, no, no, this is really bad for us.” He also asked where I was going and I balked. He said “Congrats, I guess.” I left the office and went back home (I work from home). More evidence that our company might not be doing well.

This was a week ago. The president of the company keeps calling me, saying she wants to have a “wrap-up” talk and wants to know where I am going as well. She knew I would probably be looking since the work is somewhat sporadic and I am paid hourly to work from home, so it isn’t a huge surprise, but she still might not be happy. She works from home too so I rarely see her.

I’m not sure I want to have this conversation at all. For one, I’ll have to tell her my new job is confidential, plus she can be really condescending and patronizing. Hard to explain but she’ll talk about me more personally than I’d like. I also don’t trust the company 100 percent because they aren’t very forthcoming with employees, and she knows a ton of people in my industry and who knows what she’ll say to others. I don’t want anything getting in the way of my new job.

I’d rather just have her email me last steps and leave it at that. Should I do this? I don’t want to burn a bridge but I really don’t want to talk to her. My last day is a week from tomorrow.

No, you can’t refuse to have a wrap-up conversation; that’s a normal part of transitioning out of a job, and being able to have that conversation is part of the purpose of giving a notice period. But you’re not required to share where you’re going if you don’t want to. Normally, it comes across as pretty strange if you flatly refuse to tell (more on that here), but if you definitely don’t want to (and it sounds like you might have good reason for that), you can simply say, “I’m not ready to announce it yet.”


5. Two of my employees are dating and a third found one of them on an online dating site

I own and manage a small entertainment company with about 20 contracted employees. Two of them are dating each other, and have been doing so for years. They live together.

A third employee recently came to me because the male half of the couple popped up on Bumble, her online dating app. In his profile, he said it was there for “research.” We have no idea if the woman he is dating knows about this online profile. It all seems so sketchy.

The third employee, who happens to be the man’s designated mentor, is unsure of what to do. Should she tell him that she found him online, essentially confronting him on a personal matter, or should she let the woman know of what she found and let them resolve it privately? Should she do nothing? We are unsure what’s worse: telling the woman and giving off the sense that company leadership doesn’t “trust” this man, or telling the man and essentially making him answer questions about his private life to his mentor or boss.

Complicating this further, we are a tight-knit company and are all friends, so there’s a large amount of guilt and stress attached to this small discovery. What would you do, manager?

Oh my goodness, do nothing. This is 100% not anyone’s business at work. Maybe they have an open relationship, maybe they don’t, who knows. It’s absolutely not the province of anyone at work to step into this. Tell everyone to move along and let people have private lives outside of work.


{ 586 comments… read them below }

  1. awesome3*

    #1 – Lizzo has a song about blaming it on the juice. If your life was a TV show I believe it would have played during the montage of this incident

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Because I’m old, I don’t know this song and would need to look it up; however, the one that has just started playing in my head after I read your comment is “Whatever you do, don’t put the blame on you, Blame it on the juice, yeah yeah”. I am not happy about this! :D

      1. Heqit*

        Now I have altered lyrics for a different, older song running through my head:
        “Blame it all on my roots
        I drank up your juice
        And ruined your break room lunchtime”

  2. Mordin*

    OP1 Your company was bizarrely punitive about this, but it does sound like you need to recalibrate your assessment of “is it OK to use this communal good?”, which vary greatly based on context.
    -Is the item consumed by use? Alison brings this up: a magazine or newspaper can be used (read) and still enjoyed by the owner, unlike food/drink.
    -How likely is it to be abandoned vs. set down? A juice on a table is more likely to be set down, a penny on the floor is more likely to be abandoned. A juice in the breakroom is more likely to be set down than a juice left on a bench at the bus stop.
    -How likely is it to be missed? Most people would be pretty upset if their lunch was taken, as now they have no lunch. I don’t think most people would greatly miss a juice though, so I think the company overreacted here.
    -How badly do you need to take it? If you find a dollar on the floor of the breakroom and use it to buy a snack when you forgot your lunch, that may be forgiven more easily than if you tuck it away in your wallet even though you don’t need it.

    It sounds like you didn’t particularly need to take this juice, even though it was more likely to have been set down than abandoned, and that left someone without their juice. So it shouldn’t have been a big deal, but you also shouldn’t have taken it.

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      My old office had a system where anything left out on a specific table was up for grabs. But crucially, we explained this to all new staff so there was no confusion. I just wouldn’t make an assumption that this is the system in an office unless you’re explicitly told that that is the case.

      1. ZK*

        Exactly. Last several jobs, anything on the table was up for grabs. Things in the fridge were not, unless it was clearly marked. But obviously, it totally depends on the culture. It sounds like OP#1’s company wasn’t that generous. But I’m with Alison, I think we’re missing some other issues, too.

        1. CoveredinBees*

          Looking at comments on the original letter shed some light on the OP’s attitude. They post under the name ‘Andrew’ and, confusingly, sometimes switch between first and third person. They seem incredibly hung up on whether or not their really a thief because there were more valuable things he could have stolen.

          1. Batgirl*

            The OP has some strange takes which might have affected how he gets along with people, like there’s no curiosity on his part on whether it was actually was someone’s unabandoned property or if they were annoyed. Its all about the (specific to him) rules.

            1. Observer*

              Yes. I noticed it too, and so did a number of commenters.

              To the point that some people pointed out that this was probably the real reason he got a second warning, rather than just taking the juice. I tend to think that they are right.

            2. Cheap Ass Rolex*

              Yeah, it seemed as though this wasn’t the first incident of this kind – like this person goes around rules-lawyering reasons people shouldn’t be mad at him for doing things that would clearly upset people. Hence the “final warning” from his work.

              It seems less like “I really thought this juice was abandoned” (if so, why wouldn’t he check first to make sure?) and more like “I found a plausible justification for considering it abandoned, so people can’t get mad at me because of my logic shield.”

          2. fposte*

            Didn’t it turn out also to be something that happened several years ago and that they were still stewing about?

            1. Hlao-roo*

              Yes, in one of the comments Andrew said the incident took place in 2012, and the original letter is from 2017.

          3. EPLawyer*

            I can see getting hung up on being called a thief. But all he had to do was apologize and say he will replace it.

            Of course, HR made it more than that with calling him in and confronting him about it. This is not that high of a level. Then the note in in his file that does essentially call him a thief.

            He was in the break room for 15 minutes, if someone had just put their juice down, they would not have been gone for 15 minutes. If I am leaving my juice for later, it goes in the fridge. The location would make me think abandoned too.

            1. Librarian of SHIELD*

              I work in a job that’s interruption heavy, so I can imagine a situation where I’m in the kitchen getting ready to start my break when someone comes in with a situation I need to resolve, and I put my drink down on the table thinking I’ll be right back.

              Also, I agree with the other commenters who have mentioned the possibility that there were other incidents that contributed to OP getting fired. Someone who is this focused on the exact rules and exact rightness of a juice in the break room is probably similarly focused in other life areas, and it’s possible OP’s employers were just tired of every interaction turning into a negotiation.

              1. Selina Luna*

                I’m wondering if the person to whom the juice belonged was just at the end of their rope that day. I would not go to HR for basically anything, but I did once go to my principal because a kid stole my chocolate bar, rather than confront the kid directly. He took it from me after a very long, very bad day, and I broke down in tears and then marched to the principal’s office and handed that kid over. However, that was mainly because I was DONE and couldn’t handle one other thing.

              2. The OTHER other*

                …and what is with the OP’s insistence that the juice owner should have “contacted me”? I come back to the break room after being interrupted/having to deal with a client/get distracted/whatever and my juice is gone, I’m supposed to go on a hunt through the building for the person who took it? I agree HR a seems to have gone overboard but it’s likely the OP has a history of being… confrontational? Bending rules to their own benefit? Being overly legalistic? Taking stuff they shouldn’t?

              3. MsClaw*

                Also, how did anyone know he had taken it? “nobody came in the breakroom the entire time” that he was drinking it. So did he already have a record of helping himself to stuff?

                Firing over someone over a $5 drink (assuming it was like cold pressed celery juice from Hoity Toity Coify Shoppe) is a little extreme. Which makes me suspect there’s a lot more to the story than what’s in the letter. Like they had a whole stack of issues with Juice Guy and were just waiting for something they could easily pin on ‘policy’.

          4. Cranky Lady*

            Couldn’t sleep last night so read the original OP feedback. Oh my. I think Alison hit the nail on the head that there must have been other stuff going on.

            1. somanyquestions*

              His posts in the comments were… odd. The grammar, the rotating pronouns, and the utter lack of self-awareness- all put together, I felt it was really likely he was the actual problem.

          5. RabbitRabbit*

            This, absolutely. The numerous comments make it abundantly clear that it wasn’t just the juice. And he wasn’t even fired, just not re-hired on seasonal work.

          6. FrivYeti*

            If you arrange the posts more or less chronologically, the tense shifts are less confusing. ‘Andrew’ started posting as a third party hypothetically defending OP4, then slipped up and referred to himself in the first person in a reply, and then gave up, admitted he was OP4 and continued trying to defend his actions.

            It looks confusing because he was doing that in multiple comment threads, so the threading makes it unclear what the order of operators was.

      2. Bagpuss*

        Yes, we have a little tiny kitchen area and anything left on a specific counter is there to be shared – anything anywhere else, unless explicitly offered, is assumed to belong to an individual and to be out of bounds.,

        Similarly, stuff in the fridge is only available to share if someone explicitly states it (although f anyone has their own milk for things like porridge they are responsible for labeling it so it doesn’t get confused with the office milk provided for tea and coffee!)

        1. Alcott*

          My thought was someone left donuts in the breakroom once for everyone and OP was trying to apply that rule to everything else. Which makes me wonder if there had been a lot of instances of food disappearing and that’s why this got escalated the way it did.

      3. Apostrophina*

        Mine does something similar, but I’m especially careful around single food items left there because it’s also still a breakroom table. If it appeared in the morning and is still there after lunch, I figure it’s fair game.

        1. MissBaudelaire*

          Yeah, at ExJob, if several items were left in the middle of the breakroom table, it was understood they were up for grabs. People would bring bananas from home they couldn’t finish, sometimes treats. If it was a platter of cookies or something, it was generally up for grabs.

          But one single juice all by its lonesome on the table? I would figure someone set it down and forgot it.

        2. Jellissimo*

          I’m sorry, I don’t understand this way of thinking. I am much more comfortable assuming all food items, unless specifically labeled, belong to someone are are never “fair game.” What could possibly be in the breakroom that is so tempting you would rather risk depriving the actual owner of their item than just leaving it alone, even if it goes to waste? It’s not yours! Don’t touch it!

          1. OhNo*

            If your office has a “free table” then it would be equally weird to assume everything on it shouldn’t be touched because it belongs to someone. It’s all about knowing the environment, and being okay with the occasional “oops” moment because you know your coworkers are reasonable humans.

            Like, I’ve seen notes on the fridge here from my coworkers that said, “Whoever had a diet coke in here – I drank it on accident because I thought it was mine. Swing by office #106 and I’ll reimburse you/buy you a new one.” Seeing things like that, I feel pretty comfortable taking something off the “free” table because I know if I messed up and took the wrong thing, my coworkers and I could handle it like adults.

            In this specific case… it sounds like there is some unreasonableness happening somewhere, though I’m honestly not sure what side it’s on just based on the letter. If there was the risk of getting written up by HR for taking something I thought was free, I wouldn’t touch anything in the break room with a ten foot pole.

            1. Jellissimo*

              That’s there the “unless specifically labeled” statement comes into play. If there’s a spot for items up for grabs, that’s specifically labeled.

          2. Broadway Duchess*

            Yeah, I agree with this. If there is a known table for fair game items, I can see that because everyone knows. But the guessing game of “well, it’s been here for 14 minutes” or “it’s after lunch, it must be abandoned” seems like more work than just… not taking food that hasn’t been explicitly offered.

      4. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        Same. You could always tell when someone was moving because a bunch of random spices would appear.

      5. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Exactly. Conversely, everything in my office kitchen is assumed to be up for grabs unless explicitly labeled, and we tell new people that. You have to know the rules for your office.

        1. PT*

          I worked in an office where there was food that was up for grabs, food that was set aside for events (like meetings), and food that belonged to individuals (like their lunches.)

          Was any of this ever properly labeled? Hardly ever! There was *constantly* friction over this. The young employees supporting evening programs ate the (unlabeled) granola bars for the early morning meeting. The person cleaning out the fridge on Friday afternoon worked M-F 9-5 and took a hard line, but of course the people who worked 12-8 had dinner in the fridge or the weekend crew who still had two days of lunch ended up with their stuff thrown out. Meanwhile a bunch of stuff that was “up for grabs” would go moldy and attract ants because “I thought it belonged to someone!”

          It was chaos, I tell you.

          1. Lily Rowan*

            This gave me a flashback to the time my Friday lunch leftovers were thrown away by the people cleaning the fridge Friday afternoon. They were labelled! With that day’s date! And my name! Grrrr.

        2. Emotional Support Care’n*

          One office I worked in had a system, but it was ignored. I was supposed to enforce the system, then got yelled at for enforcing it. I also got yelled at for not enforcing it. It was a cluster.
          One woman and I both liked the same drink. We both brought a couple in. I labeled my caps. Mine disappeared from the fridge and one of hers got opened and a sip was taken, then the bottle put back in. I was blamed. I had none of them. I’d been in meetings for two days and carried soda with me. That opened bottle stayed in the fridge for a year until I cleaned out the fridge (which was a whole other issue).
          People refused to mark their products. People would bring cartons with bad dates (seriously, why are you re-using an old milk carton for creamer when you make 6 figures a year?!). Insisting on saving moldy food because “I’m going to eat it, I promise” (please don’t). Treating communal freezers like your personal freezer and tossing 20 frozen meals into it when there’s 30 people that share the space… then never eating any of the meals because you gave up on the diet 3 days in.

          I hate shared kitchens.

          1. pancakes*

            The best system I’ve encountered is a strict policy that everything in the fridge apart from new milk and cream gets tossed by cleaning staff on Fridays around 4 pm during a weekly cleaning, no exceptions.

      6. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        My job has a basket that all the “up for grabs” things are placed in. The basket even says “up for grabs” on it. Everything not in the basket is not to be shared.
        No system is perfect, but this one seems to work well.

      7. L.H. Puttgrass*

        I’m trying to remember if I’ve ever worked at an office where a single unopened bottle of juice on a break room table could reasonably be taken to mean, “Hey, free juice!” And…nope, not coming up with one. Some employers had free drinks, so all the drinks in a certain fridge were free (ah, the dotcom days). Others were in academia, where sometimes it seems like a person could subsist entirely on post-event leftovers. But those were always (1) announced on a mailing list, and (2) clearly leftovers, not a single bottle of juice.

        I can see the usefulness in having a break room spot where anything left there is free for anyone to take. I just can’t remember working somewhere that was like that, and I’m a little boggled that someone would assume that a break room table is such a place.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Same. Coffee and tea on the counter are communal, stuff in the fridges or packed up in bags/boxes/etc. is not. If someone brings food that can be shared they put it on the table and send out a department email: “Kolaches in the kitchenette–help yourselves!” or whatever.

          I once dug a frozen meal out of the office fridge and was halfway through eating it when I realized that I had already eaten the one I’d brought and this was clearly not mine. I knew that it did not belong to anyone who was in that day but it must have belonged to one of the interns. I immediately sent out a mortified apology, offered to buy lunch for whoever owned it (but got back a bunch of replies saying it wasn’t theirs), and brought a replacement the next day.

          As it turned out, the replacement sat in the freezer for weeks and then the intern to whom I owed it, who had finished her internship before I ate the meal, emailed and said, “Oh, that was mine. I forgot about it. Enjoy the replacement!”.

          But now I label stuff better so I don’t do that again.

          1. Uranus Wars*

            Same. I actually label my stuff so I know what is mine – not so others do! I tend to forget when I bring things in or eat them or etc., etc., etc.!

        2. Mimi*

          I worked in a coworking space (where there was generally a lot of free/paid for with the space food) and it was very common for extra stuff from events, catered meetings, etc. to be left out on a table in the kitchen for anyone to take. A single juice would be a little usual, but if there had been multiple juices, or a mostly-empty tray of sandwiches and a juice, and the tray got finished and thrown out, it could happen. The private fridge was personal food, but if something was sitting in the kitchen unattended for 15 minutes and wasn’t labeled “So-and-so’s party at 2pm; do not eat” (which was generally considered bad manners — you were supposed to keep it in/next to your conference room or office if it wasn’t up for sharing) or obviously someone’s lunch from home that they’d set down accidentally or something, it was 100% okay to take it — expected, even.

      8. STG*

        Yea, unattended food items on breakroom tables are up for grabs in my workplace. Stuff gets left there regularly though so it’s very common knowledge. If I wasn’t clear on it, I wouldn’t touch it.

      9. Elizabeth West*

        Same at Exjob. On our floor, we reserved one table as the designated place to put for-sale items (candy bars, etc.), giveaway veggies from their gardens, and leftovers anyone could take. People usually labeled them just to make sure, however. Most people did not eat in the break room since it had no windows, so using the table for other purposes wasn’t a big deal.

    2. AcademiaNut*

      And the other important part – if you made a mistake and took something that wasn’t up for grabs (which does happen), you apologize and return it (if possible) or offer to replace it (if not).

      If I remember correctly, the LW for this one appeared in the comments in the original posting, and really doubled down on the didn’t do anything wrong stance. It also sounded like he wasn’t outright fired – he was a seasonal employee and they declined to hire him on permanently.

      1. Dutchie*

        I just went into the comments and he kept repeating tat he was not a thief, despite, you know, taking something that was not his. So that did not help his case and probably also had a hand in their decision to make him not eligible for rehire.

        1. Boof*

          Ot’s like that letter about an employee who, when part of their work was criticized/ needed improving, would never own it or say ok i will fix that, just “you know i have great integrity!” Etc etc. OP needed to stop making it a personal referendum and just apologize for the mistake and replace the juice!!!

      2. Despachito*


        I’d think normally this would have a very simple solution.

        I find a drink, consider it abandoned and drink it (unlikely but possible).
        The owner comes and claims it was hers/his.
        I profusely apologize and run to the next store to buy a new drink (and perhaps a chocolate bar as a compensation).

        If this did not happen, either the owner and the HR strongly overreact, or the “thief” has a much larger history than this one juice.

        1. EmmaPoet*

          Yeah, if he’d responded to being called in with, “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry, I thought it was abandoned! I’ll replace it immediately!” I think they’d probably have let it go. But given how he sounds in the comments, I’m guessing he spent ten minutes complaining about how nothing was ever his fault. Also, he was on a final warning at this point, so this was just the last straw.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        He doubled down to the extent that he became a site metaphor, “Don’t juice guy this, LW.”

      4. Smithy*

        Sigh. That one’s tough.

        Labels like thief or liar can be deeply impactful in some people’s lives and on their reputations when connected to acts where the lines aren’t always super clean cut. I remember finding something like $20-40 in cash in a ziplock baggie on the sidewalk near my mom’s house. I called out to the only person who I saw outside to ask if it belonged to them, they said no, and for that amount of money that felt like ample due diligence to say I found it. At some point of increased value, then there does become consideration of knocking on nearby doors or going to the police station – but that value point will differ for different people.

        This letter strong strikes me as being about other things, and hoping to get a decisive ruling about this being theft or not will provide the OP some kind of moral or ethical relief. So much more at work though being a good colleague and someone to work with isn’t 100% about that – and this strikes me as entirely one of those cases.

      5. Lynn Whitehat*

        Yeah, it’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up. If I have to talk to you about something dumb like juice theft and you apologize and promise not to do it again, we can move on. But if you get all rules-lawyery about at what point does a freaking beverage become “abandoned property” and therefore you can’t be in trouble, we have a much bigger problem. Now I’m much more concerned that you’re going to be a giant headache to work with, especially when you make a mistake on the job.

    3. Akcipitrokulo*

      The comments OP left on original post go a l9ng way to explaining why it turned out that way…

      99% convinced after his doubking down in comments he talked himself into trouble/out of a job with his attitude.

      1. Willis*

        And that attitude makes me think there were probably other instances like this where the OP dug their heels rather than taking feedback or admitting they should have done something differently. The company’s reaction seems over-the-top in the letter but I’d guess this wasn’t the first issue they’ve had with the OP.

        1. Julia*

          Yeah, exactly. He didn’t sign the final warning, he argued with HR headquarters after being fired, he argued even more after they responded to his email, he argued with his cousin, he argued with his girlfriend, and then he wrote in to an advice columnist for validation and argued with the commenters. On this point at least he was utterly unwilling to accept dissent to an extreme extent; it’s not an unreasonable inference that that trait showed up elsewhere.

          1. Julia*

            That said, one thing I don’t see enough represented in those comments or in these is that firing someone for taking a bottle of juice from the break room is a ridiculous, egregious overreaction. You just shouldn’t lose your livelihood for something like that. I think it’s reasonable therefore to assume he’d actually screwed up in other ways, particularly given the “final warning”. But if something else wasn’t going on, this was really unreasonable.

            1. Kal*

              He didn’t actually lose the job until 3 weeks after the incident though. It would be VERY weird for even a wildly overreactive HR to have the talk about the juice, give the final warning, and then 3 weeks later to just decide “actually, no, we’re gonna fire you for that juice thing that happened 3 weeks ago”. He even mentions himself that he wasn’t necessarily fired, he just was hoping to be rehired either as permanent or for another temporary position*. He was a seasonal worker, and when the seasonal work is done, its done and they don’t need everyone anymore. Even if this incident was the only one, when a manager is choosing which workers to keep on after the busy season, choosing between the worker who didn’t get into any trouble and the worker who got all weird and defensive after taking someone elses juice is a pretty easy call, and its not unreasonable that he wasn’t rehired.

              *If you’re looking for the comment where he says that, search for one that starts as “Me the OP4 was a seasonal employee at the time”.

              1. Akcipitrokulo*

                Yeah. Not enough to fire, but enough to decide against bringing a headache back on board next time.

                1. Cheap Ass Rolex*

                  And even if it really was the juice, if there were multiple other food thefts, in some places that would make sense to let him go. It can be a real morale killer to feel like food in the office fridge isn’t safe, and if he was warned before and kept doing it, that would anger people.

            2. Mongrel*

              Although I don’t think that it’s unfair to extrapolate from what he did tell us.
              In the original letter and the comments he showed himself as belligerent and unwilling to listen to anyone telling him he was wrong. It’s not unreasonable to think this extended to other work interactions.

              Also, we only have one side of the story. Lurking on other online fora (especially gaming) there are often “All I did was and I’m getting censured for it!!” posts that, when the actual facts turn up, are highly biased to shine a good light on the OP. This post has the same energy

                1. Cheap Ass Rolex*

                  [Hawk from Twin Peaks voice]
                  It’s not about the juice.
                  … is it about the juice?
                  …No. It’s not about the juice.

              1. Julia*

                This is a restatement of what I said in my comment, so I’m not sure why it sounds like you’re disagreeing with me (or why you felt the need to restate my comment)

            3. hbc*

              I technically fired someone for disagreeing with a colleague on a technical issue. Both of them were borderline-but-not-egregiously unprofessional, but when I sat down for my “What was that about?” with the one guy, he came up with some seriously dysfunctional explanations. No one should question him because he’s the engineering manager, he has more experience and the other guy must be lying about having more, it doesn’t matter if his design was impossible to manufacture with available equipment since it was objectively better, etc.. I got my paperwork in order and let him go (with severance) two days later, and I’m sure he tells the story of his capricious boss who fired him the first time she didn’t like one of his designs.

              In other words, I don’t think there would have to be any incidents prior to the juice to see his *response* to the juice incident as reason for firing, and this was an even softer “let’s let his time here run out.”

            4. Jaybee*

              If you read, he didn’t get fired. He was just a seasonal employee and they didn’t choose to take him on permanently. (Which makes HR’s comment at the end about hiring him if they need the help make much more sense.) It may well have had nothing to do with the juice.

              1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

                Yeah – he seemed really wrapped up (just from the letter) in the “I did nothing wrong” attitude, and I wonder if it was just a matter of seasonal employee who’s a bit abrasive, if we have other options let’s go with those after his contract runs out.

                Sometimes it’s not the mistake, but the how you respond to the mistake that ultimately dooms you.

            5. Observer*

              firing someone for taking a bottle of juice from the break room is a ridiculous, egregious overreaction.

              Allison did actually express that explicitly. But also she points out that he was almost certainly NOT fired for taking the juice but for his behavior around it – and almost certainly a pattern of behavior. Keep in mind that he wasn’t let go till three weeks later, even though he could easily have been let go immediately as a seasonal worker.

              1. All Het Up About It*

                Based on the OP’s comments to the original letter and that he was literally stewing on this for FIVE YEARS, I think it makes sense that he wasn’t rehired/hired in a different role after his seasonal time ended.

                However, I do think that this company’s HR and work environment were WEIRD. I mean if I left a bottle of juice on a table and came back to find it gone, I might be annoyed, but I wouldn’t go to HR to demand they look at cameras to figure out who took the juice. I mean, someone could have figured it had been there too long and just innocently thrown it away. But if we take the OP at his word that no one came in while he drank the juice, the original juice owner had to go complain enough for someone to check the cameras and then for things to spiral. That seems like such an over-reaction before we even get to the signed warnings, etc.

                1. Falling Diphthong*

                  I don’t think cameras came into it. I think something went missing from the break room and everyone involved immediately deduced (correctly) “Well, that’s gonna be OP1.”

            6. somanyquestions*

              He wasn’t fired for this. He was a seasonal employee.

              He was not re-hired or made permanent, though.

            7. DrRat*

              I worked for a company where higher ups stealing food from the lowest paid workers had become a thing. The CEO, who was otherwise pretty much a jackass, got fed up with hearing employees crying in the HR office again because someone executive stole their lunch and they didn’t have money to buy lunch that day. (Again, the CEO was a jackass in many ways, but would at least make sure they got something to eat.)

              So Tiger Mike the Second sent out a company wide email with the heading FREE FOOD so that everyone would read it. And in it he made it clear that from then on, anyone at any level right up to the C Suite who was caught stealing food was going to be immediately dismissed for cause.

              As far as I know, the problem stopped immediately.

              So it’s easy to say it’s “really unreasonable” unless you’re maybe the broke staff member whose juice has just been stolen for the 28th time that year and you have no money until payday for more juice.

              Also, don’t forget that some people have illnesses and disorders that can severely restrict what they can eat or drink. What if you were the one who brought that juice in because you couldn’t drink anything in the vending machines due to your medical condition, and someone stole it?

              And btw, every office I have ever worked in, when we found out who the food thief was, it always turned out to be someone who was hugely problematic in other ways as well.

          2. Falling Diphthong*

            “I’ve asked my supervisor, her supervisor, HR, my girlfriend, my sister, Alison, and now the commenters. They all say I’m wrong. So… apparently I’m the only one who’s right about this.”

    4. tg*

      I think that unless you’ve been told otherwise, ask yourself “is this mine?”. If it’s yours, drink it, if it’s not yours, leave it alone.

      1. DrRat*

        I’m picturing the original OP (whose comments in the original thread were just…odd, in so many respects) getting thrown out of the holiday party after hitting on the CEO’s wife. As Security hauls him away, he’s yelling, “But sir! I hit on your wife for 15 minutes and you never came back to that part of the room! You had CLEARLY abandoned her! I thought she was up for grabs!”

    5. CoveredinBees*

      I remember juice “cleanses” being a popular thing at that time. I also remember they generally made their participants pretty cranky. If that was the case (and I realize this is speculation), they would be absolutely pissed. Maybe it’s just who I’ve worked with, but I pictured a fancy pressed juice in this case.

      1. Stitch*

        I thought exactly this. I have a diabetic coworker and we once ran to the office cafeteria to get her an emergency juice.

      2. Empress Matilda*

        Absolutely. But even then, it’s not normally a fire-able offence for someone to take it. Unless it was the only juice for miles around, AND it was Diabetic Coworker’s emergency juice, AND OP knew that and deliberately drank it anyway, AND Diabetic Coworker went into insulin shock for lack of that one particular bottle of juice – then mayyyyybe I could see firing someone over it.

        But that’s a lot of variables, none of which were mentioned in the letter – so this leads us back to the idea there must have been more to it than just the juice. Either that, or HR and the OP are just wildly over-reacting out of the blue – which leads to a dysfunctional workplace, which leads again to “it’s not about the juice.”

    6. Gray Lady*

      Refusing to sign the final warning was also an issue, I’m sure. If his story accurately reflects the whole situation (i.e, this wasn’t the next-to-last straw after other issues), then it’s a big over-reaction. But even so, refusing to sign a final warning puts him in a bad position. It’s like not accepting a final warning, which communicates “I won’t take correction even when I know my job’s on the line.” HR is going to see that as a big deal, and while a “final warning” shouldn’t be issued in this hypothetical scenario where the *only* thing he did wrong was drink a bottle of juice without checking to see if it belonged to someone else, getting let go after refusing that warning is a predictable result.

      1. Office Lobster DJ*

        I was hoping someone would/could say more about this piece. My understanding was that signing these types of warnings was meant to be an acknowledgment of the conversation, not an admission of guilt, BUT I also figured there would be a way to add your own comment or note to your file. I can see taking a stand if you felt the warning was unfair/outrageous and there was no ability to add a comment, because it’s a lose/lose. I can also see panicking over having this incident in your file if you were hoping to be hired permanently, and figured not signing would help you in some way….?

        Open to interpretation, I guess, whether “I saw the juice and took it” was a simple statement of fact or if without context it was the same as signing “I am an admitted juice thief .”

    7. Lucy Skywalker*

      So odd how they reacted to it. Why not just make the OP pay for the juice by giving money to the person who left it there, so they can buy another juice?

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          Yeah, with the attitude OP’s displaying I’m wondering if the company didn’t start with “you need to reimburse Clementine for the juice you took,” and he just took off from there with “how was I to know it was Clementine’s juice and how dare you say I took something that wasn’t mine,” and everything spiraled from there.

          1. Katie*

            In my movie script of this story, Clementine is the coworker of Tangerina Warbleworth, and the juice was orange juice.

    8. Meep*

      I wonder if they were just fed up with OP since this was his final warning and he seems to be unable to admit that he did anything wrong.

      1. Annony*

        Yeah. I am wondering if he only got a written warning because he kept doubling down that he wasn’t wrong and they didn’t know how else to prevent him from taking snacks from coworkers. If he just said “I’m sorry. I thought it was free game. I won’t do that again” they may have left it at that.

    9. Dragon_Dreamer*

      Plus, what is the juicebox was left there because the owner was diabetic and had to take their blood sugar level first and inject insulin? Or needed the sugar boost in general?

    10. marvin the paranoid android*

      To me, this person seems so keen on litigating why there was nothing wrong with taking the juice (even though everyone disagrees with them) that I would be shocked if this were the only incident to come up at work.

    11. Starbuck*

      Nah, if you go back to the original and read the OP’s further comments, you can totally see why they would not want this person to be rehired. Terrible attitude.

    12. Anonymeece*

      My office has an unofficial rule that anything on the break room table is up for grabs, but it’s generally understood to be applied to food that is clearly communal, like a box of cookies, or a bowl full of candy. Things like juice? Not so much.

      The tenor of the message kind of strikes me as unrepentant, though, so I wonder if HR didn’t intend to just have a, “Don’t do that” conversation that turned into a, “oh, this is a problem” conversation.

      (Psst. Presumably you would have made good on the juice by paying for it or replacing it, but in those cases, it still causes a problem for the juice-owner. They either have to go out and replace the juice, or they don’t get the juice they were expecting to when they expected it. It’s not transactional – “I pay them for it and we’re good” – it’s supposed to be a genuine apology attempt.)

    13. TootsNYC*

      at one of my jobs, there was a stretch of kitchenette counter where things WERE placed for people to take. We got lots of public relations gift baskets; that stuff went there. We had lots of props left over from photo shoots; that went there. We had food from the test kitchen; that went there.

      My subordinate entered one day and found a yogurt set smack in the middle of that area of the counter. It was not pushed off to the side, or up against the wall. It was not off to the left, on the other side of the sink. So he thought it was one from the text kitchen that was being “decluttered” out of the fridge–that did often happen.
      So he snagged it.

      He didn’t open it right away; he tucked it into his insulated bag with his lunch from home.
      A little later, he went into the kitchenette for something else to see an angry note that someone had stolen a yogurt, and how could they do this?
      So he put it back with a post-it that said, “Sorry, I thought it was giveaway.” He was crabby–he’d never steal someone’s lunch, and he thought the person was rude for ignoring the messages sent by where they left it.

      I tried very hard to never leave something in the kitchen.

    1. Mary*

      I think this is being a little unfair to the OP. The first sentence in the post is that these children are left alone for long periods of time and everyone at the office is expected to be the “village” that watches them. I don’t think OP would have written in at all if it were a simple matter of someone bringing a baby or child in and doing a drive-by greeting every once in awhile.

      1. BethDH*

        And expecting the women to watch them! I like kids a lot and would be bothered by that.
        I do think OP confused things by asking for nicer wording to say she didn’t want to meet them, but my sense is she’s trying to cut it off at the point where the parent is around.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          I agree. I don’t think OP is saying “I hate children so much I don’t even want to acknowledge them”, I think OP is saying “this social convention in my office is so upsetting to me I would prefer not to engage from the beginning”.

          1. pancakes*

            There’s not a tremendous difference between these two scenarios. If the fawning around kids in their office is over the top, the obvious solution is to not do it oneself, and politely excuse oneself from situations where that’s what is happening. Only someone with a bit of a hang-up on kids would contemplate making some sort of blanket statement like the ones the letter writer had in mind.

            1. Eldritch Office Worker*

              The fawning doesn’t seem to be the problem, the OP doesn’t like the assumption that the other women in the office will watch the children – extracting yourself from that before it starts so you aren’t pulled into it seems perfectly reasonable. Socially yes you should do what Alison said, but the impulse to avoid it all together is if anything a hangup about your office dynamics, not children.

              1. pancakes*

                Both seem to be a problem. “I don’t care to participate in fawning over someone’s kid at the office, and I would like a polite way to get out of this kind of child-centered gathering. . . . It seems like an ordinary, ‘That’s nice but I have to get back to work’ isn’t sufficient.”

              2. Observer*

                extracting yourself from that before it starts so you aren’t pulled into it seems perfectly reasonable

                Yes, it is. But that’s not what she is proposing. You do not need to be this rude to extract yourself from the rest of it.

                1. Delphine*

                  She’s specifically asking for ways to be not rude. You can take issue with her framing, but her goal *is* to be polite.

        2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Oooh yes, that part of the letter (expecting the women to watch them) made flames come up the side of my face. I love kids, raised two of my own, but this is so messed up.

          1. Nanani*

            “Coworker! You seem female! Watch my kid while a socialize, you are now a babysitter isntead of an anaylist” is gross behaviour and sounds highly likely in LW2s case

            But they asked about avoiding children altogether when the actual problem might be the parents.

          2. GreyjoyGardens*

            Yup, flames on the side of my face, too! Just because I am a woman doesn’t mean I’m great with kids and willing to watch just anyone’s.

            Also there’s the liability issue if I was “supposed” to be watching little Fergusina and she got injured.

            1. PT*

              I worked with kids for many years. I generally like kids! But the reality is, if I am not being paid to interact with a child I will not do so, because I worked with kids for many years. I know what their parents are like. There are a *shocking* number of parents who are just bat feces crazy, and I am frankly tired of being screamed at because “how dare you not smile widely enough at my child! How dare you tell my child not to stick his finger in the power outlet you’re stifling his creativity and breaking his spirit now he needs THERAPY I am going to have to pay for THERAPY if you need to talk to my child you talk to ME FIRST. You (female) should have KNOWN my child was going to go into the men’s room and jump off the toilet, it’s all your fault that he’s got a sprained ankle you should have prevented this!”

              Your kid is cute and all but he’s not cute enough to put up with that.

            2. tessa*

              “flames on the side of my face”

              I pick up the best phrases and imagery on this site.

              Thank you! From someone who can’t think of a snappy comeback until the middle of the night.

          3. Allison*

            I’m not a “kid person,” I don’t like spending time with kids, I don’t want to be a mom, but I also believe children are human beings who are worthy of respect, because I used to be a child and I remember being treated like a chore or a burden, just some sticky nuisance no one really wanted to deal with. Children shouldn’t be left with people who were strong-armed into taking care of them, if it can be at all avoided.

        3. Andy*

          OP assumes herself to be responsible for them, but no one asked her or hinted that she is responsible for them. The kid pokes and plays in the office whole parents chat. OP is actually free to ignore the kid beyond initial hi.

          1. Anon for this*

            Is OP really free to leave, though? Or would she be blamed if this kid put a stapler through their own finger? I’ve been followed by a child who imprinted onto me at a work social before. I had no idea that she tried to follow me into 5’ deep water while her dad drank a beer and napped on the lake shore. I didn’t realize until I heard vague struggling noises in the water behind me. Children can die if parents who decide others can be responsible for them and no one else picks up the slack.

            1. Anonymous Bosch*

              Thank you. I think this is exactly the sort of thing the OP is trying to avoid, i.e., staple in finger ands not 5′ of water, which is extremely unlikely given the office setting.

            2. Despachito*

              How can SHE be blamed instead of the irresponsible parent? This would be an utterly unreasonable thing and should be treated as such. I understand we are socialized not to “make waves” and are inclined to think that the loudest one is right (and the louder the righter), but it is not so and we should definitely push back.

              I understand YOU picked up the slack because the child’s life was in danger. It would be absolutely appropriate to give her father a piece of your mind afterwards.

              But if we think “if something happens to a child who I never agreed to watch it would be my fault and everybody is going to hate me for that” (of course, barring the life-saving situations you were unlucky to be in) we should change OUR OWN mindsets first.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        I think the problem was conflating two things–saying “Goodness, that certainly is a baby” when your coworker shows you a newborn is not the same as being expected to corral rampaging 8 year olds. The boundary isn’t “don’t acknowledge an entire group of people.”

        Even if you find babies, or Yankee fans, or golfers, to be completely uninteresting to you, and don’t want to abandon your work to keep them from climbing the uninterruptible power supply–you still say a vague pleasantry when your coworker introduces them.

        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          And that is exactly the vague pleasantry I use — “Aw, hey, it’s a baby! Looks like one and everything!” And in 20+ years, nobody has whirled on me with pointing finger bellowing YOU ARE A BABY-HATER BOUND FOR THE PITS OF HELL. (Usually people seem to think it’s a cute response. I dunno. It’s actually that I don’t really have anything to say about babies because they don’t have anything to say about anything.)

          1. tessa*

            “And in 20+ years, nobody has whirled on me with pointing finger bellowing YOU ARE A BABY-HATER BOUND FOR THE PITS OF HELL. ”

            lol. Thanks for the chuckle, Red. I love this.

        2. Zephy*

          Next time I’m confronted with a human infant my response is definitely going to be “goodness, that certainly is a baby.”

          1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

            “It looks far less like Winston Churchill than my little sister did at the same age!”

        3. Despachito*

          We definitely say “nice to meet you” even if we don’t care a little tiny bit for the person. Why refuse to do it for a kid?

          The ideal response for me would be:
          – to exchange the usual pleasantries around the baby, there is no need to be unnecessarily blunt or run away; I’d perceive this to be strange
          – BUT to stay very firm (yet polite) when refusing to watch him. I think the politeness softens the message, and the information “I am not going to watch your baby” can absolutely still be there.

          “Hi, little Fergus, nice to meet you. He is a sweet baby, Alice, you must be a very happy mother. Sorry I got to go, I have to finish the Brown report and I am already running late. It was very nice to meet you, bye! ”

          How likely do you think it is that this sweet lady is going to be accused of hating children? ;-)

      3. Metadata minion*

        Agreed — I like kids, I’m generally thrilled to meet coworkers’ kiddos, and I’d even usually be happy to watch someone’s kid in an emergency if asked. But I’d still be annoyed if it were common for people to leave kids alone in the office and just *expect* coworkers to watch them.

        1. Rayray*

          I agree. It could be fun to finally see the kid you hear about in conversation or to see someone’s newborn but I don’t want to babysit or watch a kid rummage through things while their parent isn’t paying attention. The parent is the only one responsible to mind their children at the office.

      4. Observer*

        The first sentence in the post is that these children are left alone for long periods of time and everyone at the office is expected to be the “village” that watches them.

        So? Even if that’s an accurate assessment (which I wonder about, given the attitude expressed), it’s a HUGE jump to go from there to “I want to refuse to even acknowledge the existence of your child.”

        Allison is pretty clear here – There is absolutely zero obligation for the OP to take on any child care, and she provides some good scripts for setting that (totally reasonable!) boundary. She even provides scripts for limiting how much time you spend with that (ADORABLE!) child you have no interest in.

        Had the OP stuck to “How do I avoid spending a bunch of time with babies and toddlers I have no interest in”, I’d be very much on her side. If she had focused on “How do I avoid taking care of these kids”, I’d be side eyeing the parents who pull this.

        The initial appropriate response to people who over step is not to be gratuitously rude, but to set a boundary. This is true in spades if there is another person involved. And if the kid is no longer an infant, they definitely see and feel the rudeness.

        1. Anon for this*

          I’m not sure I understand your premise here, honestly. The LW was specifically asking for ways to not be rude about avoiding scenarios where in the past she has been put at the brunt of a parent’s childcare. Is it rude to ask if something is rude without having done it?

          1. Observer*

            No, she’s specifically asking how to do something that is rude in a way that doesn’t seem rude. If she doesn’t actually see that refusing to greet or acknowledge children is rude, then it’s probably true that she doesn’t see children as full people. So, pick your choice.

            1. Anon for this*

              I’m not sure why you say this LW wouldn’t see children as full people. I’m inclined to give the LW grace here, because it’s likely she wrote this having experienced this frustrating situation one too many times, and now she is trying to course-correct too far by getting out of any child interaction. She did need Allison’s re-correcting advice that yes, it is categorically rude to not greet someone you’re introduced to, but that doesn’t make her a categorical hater of ADORABLE babies. It’s often the empathetic people who feel the need to take up the care of unsupervised children without being asked when their parent supervision is clearly lacking, especially in situations where the environment is not designed for children’s safety.

    2. AJoftheInternet*

      There are two ends to this spectrum of humanity: Those who understand that children are humans, and those that don’t, and unfortunately their parental status doesn’t correlate at all.

    3. Gayia*

      Fortunately most human beings cannot be dumped on unwilling coworkers to look after, with the assumption that you will be thrilled to spend your time taking on others people’s responsibilities because of your gender.

      Children may be people, but that doesn’t make them my problem. Parents need to stop making rude, unfounded assumptions about other people’s level of willingness to engage with their offspring.

      1. Mongrel*

        “Children may be people, but that doesn’t make them my problem. Parents need to stop making rude, unfounded assumptions about other people’s level of willingness to engage with their offspring.”
        I think with children there’s an implied responsibility as well.
        If an adult decides to borrow my scissors to cut their hair, they’re grown-ups. If they want to butcher their hair it’s up to them.
        If a child tries to do this it’s “Oh, why didn’t you stop them” and it’s my fault.

        1. Jaybee*

          Well, yes. You shouldn’t just let a child take anything sharp from you. Because they’re a child.

          Like I agree that parents should not be dumping their kids on coworkers, but some of you act like you’ve never been or met a child in your life and you’re bewildered by the very concept of children.

          1. JSPA*

            I’m bewildered by the concept of an unmonitored small child at work.

            Even if work were a bouncy castle or ball pit, with no acknowledged dangers,

            a) little kids need monitoring
            b) your coworkers are not your monitors-designate. They have a job, and “your babysitter” isn’t it.

          2. Eldritch Office Worker*

            You should not let children take anything sharp from you. But also my scissors are not always in my line of sight, they’re off to the side because I don’t use them constantly. As I work with adults, this isn’t a concern. If your child takes my scissors when I’m not looking and you’re not looking, I don’t want to be held responsible if they cut their hair. Because I am not monitoring your child and my office is not set up to be childproof.

          3. EPLawyer*

            Not my child, I didn’t agree to watch them, the PARENT should be watching to make sure the kid doesn’t take my scissors. The responsibility for the safety of the child should not be thrust on someone without their consent.

            And what is going on in this office that this is even a thing anyway. Offices are not child friendly. Do your socializing outside of work. Don’t inflict the office environment on your children, it’s not fair to them. They ARE bored being there and they WILL find something to do. Which is probably not safe for them and annoys your coworkers.

            1. Just J.*

              What about peanuts? Or gum? I have snacks ON my desk and within reach.

              These are innocuous things that are dangerous (allergies) or choking hazards (gum) depending on the child who gets into them.

              I am at work to do work. Not babysit. If you absolutely must bring your child(ren) to work, please be respectful. Acknowledge that your workday is shot. The rest of us will get that. But don’t make it so our workdays go to heck too.

            2. GreyjoyGardens*

              Exactly this. I don’t want to be responsible for your kid being injured. Offices are not childproofed spaces, and they are full of things that small kids find fascinating. I have a job to do, and that job is not “stop little Liam or Sophia from getting their fingers mashed in some fascinating machine or using the office postage meter to stamp $100 worth of letters to Santa.”

              I don’t resent the presence of kids in offices. I resent having to be “the village,” especially because I am a woman. Bring your kid to the office, but hand them a tablet or a book or have them do their homework or stuff envelopes or something that keeps them out of everyone’s hair.

          4. Dust Bunny*

            I am bewildered by the concept that I should be responsible for a kid because its parents decided to check out for awhile. If you’re too busy to watch them then so am I.

            When I worked for a veterinarian, a woman came in with three or four kids and allowed them to climb our cat tree. We kept asking her to get them down–it wasn’t for kids and wasn’t safe. She expected us to . . . I guess physically haul them down and prevent them from climbing back up? No, lady–they’re your kids–you manage them! It’s not our fault that they’re six-to-ten years old and don’t listen to you.

            1. Dust Bunny*

              Also, if I watch your kid, I’m disciplining your kid, and if I don’t think you’ll back me up then you’re on your own. If you want me to watch your kids then you need to set up a situation where I can actually do that.

            2. GreyjoyGardens*

              Aaagh that brings back memories of working in an office with a fish tank in the lobby. I was one of the secretary/receptionist people, and I had to stop a couple of, er, “boisterous” small children from banging on the fish tank and scaring the fish, and then almost tipping it over. Mom got all huffy and said “kids will be kids!” Fortunately my grandboss came out of her office and intervened, so no broken glass and dead fish all over the lobby, but jeez, I have work to do and that work is not babysitting.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          I’m happy to issue a ruling that if a child asks you for scissors, your credit card, or the keys to the office zamboni, you should say no.

          Also, that at that point it’s quite reasonable to firmly draw their parents’ attention and metaphorically push them right out of your cubicle.

          1. Mongrel*

            What about a ruling that says that children are the responsibility of the parent\guardian at all times? Why does responsibility get shifted to me without permission or notification?

      2. Katt*

        I didn’t really read the letter as being too rude. Some people just REALLY don’t want to be disturbed at the office by anyone, and in this case that might include chatty coworkers as well! If this person sees kids as disruptive to their work, they might not be too pleased.

        Also – kids are a lot of responsibility and work, and I definitely wouldn’t like to try to watch someone else’s kid while doing my own work. My best friend’s son is delightful, but he is always moving and when I hang out with him I find myself saying “careful!” or something to that effect quite often. Kids can get into a lot of trouble when you turn your back for even a moment, so I can only imagine how disruptive they’d be to work!

    4. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      That’s a misreading of the letter.

      I don’t like interacting with children (especially babies). I use a ‘nice to meet you’ and go back to my work. So far it’s stopped about 90% of attempts to get me to hold the baby/play with the child a bit.


      1. Paperdill*

        Genuine question:!why is it socially acceptable to say “I don’t like interacting with children” but not “I don’t like interacting with the mentally handicapped people/elderly elderly people/Arabic people/people with psoriasis/Sikh people” or any other physical or cultural category of people who are often marginalised and/or vulnerable?

        1. Turingtested*

          As a parent, I don’t want my child interacting with anyone who categorically dislikes them and I appreciate the heads

        2. Eliza*

          I mean, I’m trans and in my experience it’s pretty much 100% socially acceptable for people to say to my face in public that they don’t like interacting with me, so I don’t really agree with your premise here.

          1. Julia*

            Yuck, I’m really sorry. I don’t know of any corner of my life (online or in person) where it would be socially acceptable for me to say that to or about a trans person without immediately losing friends and being kicked out of spaces (rightfully so). I think what’s socially acceptable obviously differs by region; I hope you are able to spend more time in safer spaces.

            1. Eliza*

              Nothing to be sorry about. No matter who you are, there are people in the world who will hate you for existing; I don’t do well with subtlety or ambiguity, so I personally find it a relief that people feel they can be honest about it so I know who to avoid. I much prefer it over the idea of people being nice to me only because they feel socially obligated to do so.

              1. Eliza*

                And I guess the last part is really the relevant point here: is having people *pretend* to enjoy interacting with a child better than having them politely excuse themselves? Because it’s not like you can wave a magic wand and make them *actually* be happy about it.

                1. UKDancer*

                  I don’t know about better but it’s socially more acceptable and easier in a workplace not to make waves. We all have limited capital for effecting change / asserting one’s will in the workplace. It’s socially easier to greet the child / say something nice about the baby than it is to avoid them sometimes.

                  If anyone tried to get me to mind a child / baby in a workplace assuming that being female equates to having something approaching maternal instinct I would clearly refuse. If it’s just a question of saying something suitably effusive over a baby then I will say it. I am not interested in football either but when one of my staff tells me about their football team I nod and say something suitable.

                  Most people don’t care about your deep and inner thoughts in my experience, as long as you’re doing what’s socially acceptable and following the rules of the workplace.

                2. BethDH*

                  I would say yes, as long as they’re not pretending to the point of spending extra time beyond meeting. And yes, I do think that level would be better for all kinds of behavior toward someone you’re prejudiced against. I want to know you’re racist before I invite you to a party, not while I’m having a thirty second exchange.

                3. Observer*

                  is having people *pretend* to enjoy interacting with a child better than having them politely excuse themselves?

                  No one is asking anyone to pretend ANYTHING. They are simply asking that people be POLITE even to people that they don’t enjoy dealing with.

                  As someone else pointed out, just because you find Yankee’s fans utterly boring, you don’t get to say to the Yankee’s fan in the office “No, I’m not going to even say hello to buddy in fandom.” Children are entitled to the same basic level of courtesy.

          1. pancakes*

            You don’t think there are some rather obvious differences between children needing lots of supervision, and all of us having been children once, and groups of people who don’t need supervision and whose identities aren’t as transitory as childhood? Nor a huge difference between the relative gentleness of politely expressing discomfort with children and the hatefulness of expressing discomfort with people based on disability, race, religion, etc.? People who say they’re uncomfortable with children typically aren’t saying they hate them.

            1. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

              What if someone brought their older relative with dementia by? They need supervision and sometimes misbehave. Would you say, “Eleanor, I don’t want to say hello to your mother. I don’t like old people”? I would you be polite but also decline watching the elderly person? Same difference.

              1. thatjillgirl*

                But why would someone do that? I’m trying hard to imagine a scenario in which a coworker would bring in an elderly parent whose dementia was bad enough that they needed just as much minding as a small child. People just don’t do that. They know it’s a bad idea both for their coworkers AND for the elderly parent with dementia. But people DO do this with kids and sometimes expect you to just watch them because “it’s not a big deal.” And you are more likely to get pushback for declining compared to what you would get for declining to monitor someone’s adult guest.

            2. Critical Roll*

              This LW is clearly stating that she wants to refuse it interact with them at all, beyond the issue of supervision (which of course, you shouldn’t have to supervise any children at work, never mind other people’s). Regarding the “transitory” thing, how does that excuse being rude in the present? Could one say “I refuse to greet your spouse, I detest men with beards” because beards aren’t fixed, or would that be incredibly socially unacceptable?

              1. pancakes*

                It doesn’t excuse being rude, no, and you’re misreading my comment if you think I am endorsing rudeness in situations where the unliked condition is transitory. I left a few other comments on this page you might refer to for additional context.

        3. JM60*

          I think it’s partly because children aren’t yet fully mature people, and therefore are more likely to misbehave.

        4. Summer Day*

          It’s not ok. But people do it. I was on a flight with my eldest and when we sat down the lady in the seat beside me turned to me and said “I don’t like children”. Not quite sure what she was hoping to achieve by telling me that as we were obviously going to have to be there for the next two hours regardless. Your right though… you couldn’t be as overt about anything else.

        5. Brightwanderer*

          Genuine answer: for many, many women (or people perceived as women) it is NOT socially acceptable to say “I don’t like interacting with children”. Whereas for many, many men (or people perceived as men) it is considered the default – that they won’t be that interested or have time. That’s the whole problem this letter writer is struggling with, and the reason for her frustration and desire to get really blunt about it.

          But to address the comparisons specifically: do you find, in your experience, that “mentally handicapped/elderly elderly people/Arabic people/people with psoriasis/Sikh people” are often brought into your life by carers, presented to you with the expectation that you will by default adore them, and then left in your care for an indeterminate amount of time on the assumption that it’s no big deal? Because that’s a pretty big factor here.

          There’s a relatively small subset of people who have made “I hate kids” their identity in a way that I personally find disturbing, and I feel like that’s what you’re reading into this question – but there are far, far more people out there (again, generally women) who are specifically pushing back against an overwhelming and condescending set of assumptions, and who have got to the point where nothing works except being loud, blunt, and absolute – “I do not like kids. I will not interact with kids. Stop shoving your kids at me.”

          1. Roscoe*

            Your second paragraph nails it.

            If someone brings in their Sikh friend, I’m not obligated to gush all over them as I am with a child. Similarly, they are probably far less likely to bug me while I’m working

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              I agree. If the category of human is not someone who’s going to be presented to me and then left for me to take care of, on the theory I’m fine with it, then it’s not analogous to children.

              (And I like children, broadly speaking. Yet I’ve been annoyed by individual children enacting “hey stranger I want your attention–entertain me.” My reaction is much like it would be for an adult doing that.)

            2. bamcheeks*

              honestly, you’re not obligated to gush all over a baby either!

              I get not wanting to look after other people’s children, I get not wanting to hold a baby, but the idea that a child simply existing is somehow pressuring you to engage in a exaggerated display of child love is way too much. Even if everyone else in your office is doing it, you can opt out and let people think whatever they want.

              Other people aren’t liking children AT you! they aren’t doing it to prove that you’re a bad human being! they are just liking children, and you are a grown-up who can handle being different from everyone else.

              1. pancakes*

                Yes, exactly. Many of these comments describing anxieties around children seem to be describing broader social anxieties that have little to nothing to do with children themselves.

              2. Student*

                I don’t begrudge other people playing with children, or enjoying them. I begrudge them judging me for not doing the same.

                I have had people (including ones that I do not know, or only barely know) demand I hold their child, feed their child, and/or entertain their child. Because I am the nearest woman to hand.

                I have had people get peeved at me for insufficiently gushing over their children, or not wanting to talk about their children with them infinitely.

                I have had people tell me that I am a defective woman, because I am insufficiently grateful to be in the presence of their child and not falling over myself to get on the floor and instantly play with said child. Even if I am perfectly polite and kind, using the approaches Alison has outlined to be very matter of fact.

                The fact is, there are a lot of people in this world who still define women by their child-rearing skills primarily, who expect any nearby woman to instantly come care-take for any child at all. It is maddening, and it often induces a contagious madness among other observers, who are all too happy to try to guild, shame, embarrass, or browbeat a woman into looking after someone else’s child.

                I’m not the one with irrational expectations when I fear such people will react badly to my polite efforts to decline their mad requests. My fears are based in experience of many years.

                1. pancakes*

                  Don’t you think there’s a connection, though, between the retrograde, sexist mindset you describe and the fear that not complying with it will be embarrassing? In communities as smothering as this, change is not going to come from outsiders. Those of you who would rather comply than experience a moment or two of awkwardness are going to have to assert yourselves at some point if you want things to change.

                2. bamcheeks*

                  OK, well, I agree that sounds completely crappy and those people are wrong! but I have no experience of a work or parenting culture like that so I can’t really comment.

              3. thatjillgirl*

                Sometimes people absolutely DO expect you to automatically like their kid/baby, though, just by virtue of it being a kid/baby, and they sometimes DO get offended if you don’t display that enthusiasm, even if you’re polite. It’s weird, but it does happen.

                1. pancakes*

                  I don’t for a moment doubt that that happens, but it doesn’t require pandering to the offended parent. If they want to feel offended that’s their business, and if the people around them can’t encounter huffiness without casting themselves as responsible for it or as emotional caretakers, that’s on them.

            3. Ebbe*

              Also- “children” is not a permanent category. We are all children at one point- its not like saying i dont like women, where you will always be discriminating against the same half of the population. Its why its perfectly reasonable to say 17 year olds cant rent a car but not black people cant rent a car.

          2. MBK*

            [Sort of] flipside: I (middle aged cis male) loooooove babies and younger kids, and I’ve had some odd or surprised (even borderline suspicious) reactions when I’ve expressed a willingness to hold the baby or hang with the kid in similar settings.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              Both are damaging. I have had some weird online conversations about how men should never be in charge of children, cause you know, when my son was literally in the care of one of his friends’ fathers. Though I think the posters were childless.

            2. Lady_Lessa*

              Which is a very sad commentary about us.

              GRIN, I’ll let you handle my child interactions. I’m similar to you, except female, and am perfectly willing to let others gush.

            3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              OMG what a mess.

              Someone on an online forum that I used to be in told us that she spent all her days sitting in the backyard, or in front of the window, watching her three young sons play in her fenced-in backyard. Because at any minute, she expected it that someone (I’m assuming a man) could jump the fence, grab her kids, and take off with them.

              And then you have OP roped into a babysitter role because she’s a woman. No matter whether she has something to work on or not. When will these awful stereotypes die already?

            4. banoffee pie*

              Yeah I see what you mean. That definitely isn’t fair.

              I remember when I was at school and one of the teachers had a baby and brought her in to show our class (we were about 17). The baby was passed round all the girls to hold, it was just assumed the boys wouldn’t/shouldn’t want to hold her, and I (female) was a bit scared cos I’d never had much to do with babies and didn’t want to hurt her. It wasn’t fair on some of the boys who maybe would’ve liked to hold her, and also on me who really didn’t want to lol. It also seemed to be to be really old-fashioned and reinforcing some kind of daft gender codes. Really pissed me off tbh

          3. pancakes*

            I live in NYC and have lots of friends who don’t have kids and have never wanted kids. I don’t either. It’s very, very normal here to be a childless adult. I can’t think of a single acquaintance who has made it their identity, though.

            1. doreen*

              I’ve known a few who basically made it their identity – more of them on-line than in real life , but when you say/think kids don’t belong in a restaurant with a kid’s menu that gives out crayons and coloring books , that’s pretty much what people are going to remember about you.

              1. pancakes*

                I don’t think we have many restaurants like that here, either. It’s a bit hard to understand why people who don’t like kids would go to one.

                1. doreen*

                  Even in NYC , plenty of the chain restaurants do the kids menu/coloring book thing – and I guess people who don’t like kids go to them anyway because they are relatively inexpensive but it makes as much sense as going to McDonald’s and complaining that kids are there.

                2. pancakes*

                  There are countless places that have inexpensive food and aren’t chains. If people want to avoid the pizza places, falafel places, hot dog carts, etc., every other block or so in favor of chains crowded with kids they’re manufacturing their own problem.

            2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              I’ve known a few people who could not talk about anything else. Mostly online, but I was unlucky to have one as my coworker. It’s a whole movement with its own terminology, etc. Very odd. None of my adult children have children, or know when they will want to, but none of them brag about it incessantly.

            3. Gerry Keay*

              they’re all on reddit (the childfree and antinatalism subs specifically, if you’re curious to read the really awful discourse). i’ve never met one in real life.

              1. pancakes*

                I really dislike that site, and nah, I don’t need to see these particular communities with my own eyes to know that they fit right in there! This will just be one more addition to my lengthy list of reasons to continue avoiding it.

          4. Joielle*

            YUP, this exactly. Kids are fine, but I don’t have whatever maternal instinct makes a person good at (or interested in) hanging out with them. I’m happy to say hi to someone’s baby, but you do have to be pretty blunt before some people will understand that not every woman loves to care for children any chance they get. Like you say, the assumption is immensely reductive and condescending, and I can’t fault anyone for overreacting a bit in response to it.

          5. thatjillgirl*

            Yep. The second paragraph is it. I don’t HATE kids. But I have never had an inherent *liking* for them. Kids are people. On that, we are all agreed. But the problem is, they’re people. I don’t love every stranger I meet from the get go. Likewise, it can take time to warm up to a stranger kid, and some kids you simply will never really like at all, the same way you do with some adults. And yet, some people just expect you to gush over a kid simply BECAUSE they are a kid. And it just doesn’t work that way.

            As for kids at work, I don’t resent people having kids or having situations come up where they aren’t left with any good option except to bring the kid to work that day. But you if you bring a guest of any age to work, you’re responsible for that guest’s behavior. You can’t just assume that everyone else will be okay with keeping an eye on your guest or providing them with free entertainment.

        6. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          Because childhood isn’t something that’s permanent.

          I don’t understand children. I don’t like babies. They have no filter and are generally loud or really give me sensory overload. They grow up out of that phase however.

          Even my mother doesn’t like babies much.

          1. SheLooksFamiliar*

            Babies bring out protective instincts in me…well, anything vulnerable and helpless does. But I never felt what a lot of women (seem to) feel because I never held one and thought, ‘I want one of these!’ And after cooing at them for a couple of minutes, I’m ready to move on.

            I loved my nieces and nephews as babies, but I didn’t find them interesting until they were 2 or 3 years old. They were becoming their own person and I could, well, interact with them, I guess. Even during the Terrible Twos, I volunteered to take them for entire weekends. They were tiring and challenging, no doubt, but I loved every minute with them.

          2. MissBaudelaire*

            I feel you. I’m not a baby person. My mother was also not a baby person. They’re just not exciting or interesting. They’re potatoes that cry and shit their pants.

            I love kids when they’re more interesting. I get weird looks for admitting I don’t love the baby phase and it was one of the roughest parts I went through with my two kids.

            1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

              Yeah, mum just doesn’t find babies anything other than a stress. She absolutely adores kids when they get to the ‘being able to teach how to paint/sew/fix things’ stage.

              I’m always relieved that she’s never pestered me about grandchildren, in fact she defends me to others when they go on about how disappointed she must be in me for not having kids despite 16 years of marriage.

            2. Allison*

              When my friends have kids, I try to mirror their excitement about having kids, and be happy for them as they enter a new chapter in life, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I think their kids are exciting, and I may not be ready to step into a caregiver or “second mom” or even “cool aunt” role for most people’s kids.

              1. Despachito*

                Same for me.

                I will of course act politely around them but I have no intention of being their secondary caregiver, and I am happy that no one asked me to.

                (I think some of the friends’ kids consider me a cool aunt anyway but that was based also on their behaviour towards me. I like some of my friends’ kids (mostly in their teens or young adults now), and don’t care very much about others, and there are some I rather dislike. Just as with adults. I will be always civil around them regardless, but that is the way I fee.

          3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            I was miserable throughout both of mine’s baby stage. In my brain, I know and respect it that a baby learns a ridiculous amount of new information and skills at an incredibly rapid pace. But boy was I bored out of my skull each time I had to take care of a baby. Maybe that is why mother nature made it so that babies won’t let us get any sleep, this way we’d be too busy thinking about sleep to be totally bored.

            My ex-husband had a ridiculous habit he developed when our sons were preteens and young teens. Whenever there was a baby or a toddler in the room, he’d loudly warn people not to hand me the baby, because “if she holds one, she will then want another one of her own”. Like, dude, I barely made it through raising two babies, you can’t pay me enough to raise a third. Not that he knew how difficult that time was for me, he was hardly ever around except to ask why hot dinner wasn’t on the table yet. It was infuriating to me to hear him basically say that I was a mindless baby-making machine. He didn’t just expect me to love babies, he expected a moment of physical contact with someone else’s baby to completely change me physiologically. But pretty much everything about him was infuriating to me at the time anyway, so I nodded and smiled.

            1. Jean (just Jean)*

              Your ex-husband was acting like a [Yiddish insult redacted].
              Sounds like he was the mindless baby-making machine.
              He can get his own effing hot dinner.
              I’m glad he earned the prefix “ex-.”

            2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

              You sound exactly like my mother – and that is a compliment! She went berserk at people who tried to tell her she’d want another baby if she handled another.

              She was the one who demanded dad get the snip after she had me and my sister. She was not going through the baby stage again EVER.

              I’m so sorry your ex was such a (insert British expletive). I’m very glad he’s an ex.

          4. bluephone*

            I mean, you presumably used to be a child yourself, once upon a time so like…all of the stuff about “no filter” this or “misbehaves” that also applied to you?
            That’s what I don’t get about the “I don’t like children!!!” brigade (the ones that are straight up rude about it). They act like they themselves were never the same occasionally tired/cranky/misbehaving kids that they’re now maligning. They need to get over themselves and find some new facet to base an entire personality around–crossfit, veganism, or not owning a TV or whatever.

              1. MissBaudelaire*

                Right? I bet I was a nightmare then, too. One has nothing to do with the other.

                Some people aren’t kid people, just like some people aren’t dog people or aren’t cat people.

                1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

                  I was a seriously mentally effed up kid (still am as an adult).

                  I have no desire to inflict my disability or mental stuff on another generation. Also the thought of being pregnant gives me terror.

                2. Jean (just Jean)*

                  >Some people aren’t kid people, just like some people aren’t dog people or aren’t cat people.

                  Exactly! No need to mutter insults about “mangy mutts” “yowling infants” “selfish childfree adults” “animal haters” or whatever. Just make polite noises and set clear limits on what you can do (smile, say “they’re so interested in everything!”) or cannot do (walk the enormous, strong, lunge-loving dog; cradle the screaming baby; watch the newly-walking two-year old while also proofreading spreadsheets, etc.)

            1. Stardust*

              I mean, you presumably used to be a child yourself, once upon a time so like…all of the stuff about “no filter” this or “misbehaves” that also applied to you?


            2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

              So? I was once inside someone else too- that doesn’t stop me having a serious phobia of pregnancy.

              You’re being a bit rude.

            3. Joielle*

              Right, yes. I was also irritating as a child. I won’t be rude to a kid because I know their irritating qualities are developmentally appropriate, but that doesn’t mean I want to personally be around them much. That’s why I don’t have children.

            4. LutherstadtWittenberg*

              I tried to electrocute myself when I was 4. I remember this but don’t recall many of the other dangerous or stupid things I did as a small child. All of it’s irrelevant. I didn’t do any of it in my parents’ workplace.

            5. Worldwalker*

              Not all children shriek indoors, run around restaurants, throw food, play tag in libraries, and in various other ways behave like shaved apes. I didn’t. My friends didn’t. Our parents wouldn’t have tolerated that kind of behavior. For those children too young to behave in a civilized fashion, their parents didn’t take them to places where calm and respectful behavior was expected until they were old enough to behave better.

              Acting like the whole world is a playground is not, in fact, an invariant part of childhood unless the parents permit and even encourage it.

        7. MissElizaTudor*

          Part of it is that many people (including ones who like children) don’t truly see them as full people who are unique individuals, part of it is that people use the fact that everyone was once a child or that being a child is temporary to treat the category as very different from other categories (it isn’t different enough to make statements like “I don’t like children” something that is okay to say, imo), and part of it is that some people have had bad experiences with others pushing them into the position of having to provide care when they are not up for that, and some of that negativity gets unfairly associated with children themselves, instead of the adults who were jerks.

          And I say all this as someone who never ever wants children and would be extremely uncomfortable being asked to care for another person, especially unexpectedly.

        8. ceiswyn*

          Because children are a sort of human that need specific kinds of interaction, care, and looking out for – and yet 90% of the time, the moment I interact with one the caregiver wanders off and leaves me responsible against my will.

          Interacting with children and people with some kinds of disability is really hard for me due to my social phobia, but it’s the likelihood that I’ll be abandoned in a position of responsibility that… actually, I’ve just started hyperventilating just thinking about being physically prodded etc and not knowing what to DO to make it stop…

          1. pancakes*

            90% is a lot! That is very unusual. I would think a quick, “Hang on, where are you going? I can’t watch him right now” would sort it out immediately.

            1. ceiswyn*

              Unfortunately my panic reaction is ‘freeze/appease’, not ‘react quickly and calmly with appropriate verbiage’.

              Incidentally, I find it easier to interact with small children since losing weight, because they are no longer obsessed with prodding my big fat belly and butt so at least I don’t have to also find a socially appropriate way to deal with being physically touched in intimate locations.

              1. pancakes*

                Gently, it sounds like the problem in this scenario isn’t the presence of children so much as your tendency to freeze and appease, and, it seems, the willingness of people in your life to take advantage of that. It’s always going to be rude to leave a child with someone without their consent, but knowing that they have a problem asserting themself and doing that is extra terrible.

                1. ceiswyn*

                  Fortunately people are becoming more understanding of the fact that ‘the absence of complaint’ is not the same as ‘consent’.

        9. JSPA*

          1. Legally, age (but not youth) is a protected class.

          2. We were all babies. We are all equally in the “in group.”

          3. Little kids are, broadly and widely, disease vectors,in a way no other sector of society is.

          4. People don’t assume you’re falling- over- yourself delighted to meet puking, incontinent, screaming, glasses-, hair- and boob-grabbing adults; it’s a lot easier to be gracious when the challenge of doing so, is admitted. (For older toddlers, make that ass and crotch grabbing / punching / head-ramming).

          5. people who have lifelong challenges? There is no “waiting a few years, and it’ll all fix itself.”

          6. Nobody expects you to cuddle, pick up or be randomly responsible for adults who are not self-possessed and self-regulating. People who have specific emesis or poop phobias, touch aversion, etc may also not want to interact with adults who trigger those issues, but nobody expects them to, and to smile and praise, at the same time.

          TL:DR it’s not necessarily babies per se. It’s how they’re presented. (They’re g-d’s gift to you? Fine! Please don’t share.)

        10. anonymous73*

          I don’t think that it’s socially acceptable to say that you don’t like interacting with children quite honestly. But on the other side of that, parents shouldn’t expect that every single human in their life will go gaga to hold their new baby or play with their child if they bring them to the office. There are plenty of adults I don’t want to interact with because they’re assholes, and it has nothing to do with their age, race, gender, etc.

        11. Librarian of SHIELD*

          Interacting with any of the kinds of adults you identify here typically involves garden variety small talk. However, there’s a social expectation that interacting with kids involves some level of supervision, and it’s fair for people not to feel comfortable with that. I’m content talking with a six year old about dinosaurs while their parent finishes whatever task they’re working on, but I get why other people may not be.

        12. fine tipped pen afficionado*

          Because interacting with a child as an adult carries an additional level of responsibility to interacting with a another adult and also a lot of people understandably have a lot of hangups about kids because of their own experiences or the roles society has tried to force on them. These feelings are almost never rooted in vague bigotry but in lived experience.

          Children are small people but it’s a fact that they are going to receive stimulus and respond differently than most people we interact with. For a thousand different reasons, this can be taxing for people and make them averse.

          Also, critically, parents are so, so often absolutely bonkers and if you make something they see as a misstep with their child you are going to have a really terrible day.

        13. Worldwalker*

          I think there are multiple differences:

          One is the effect of the characteristic in question on the interactions. Mentally handicapped people/elderly people/Arabic people/people with psoriasis/Sikh people are — with the possible exception of the mentally handicapped people — capable of having a normal adult interaction with me. I should mention *don’t* like interacting with people I cannot communicate with — say, French speakers. I always feel like I’m making a fool of myself somehow.

          One is the nature of the interaction. With mentally handicapped people/elderly people/Arabic people/people with psoriasis/Sikh people, I’m having a conversation at the bus stop, buying something from them at a store, giving them directions to somewhere, whatever. It is an ordinary adult interaction in which the characteristic in question isn’t involved An interaction with a child, on the other hand, is of a different nature entirely. It generally involves aspects of both supervision and entertainment. Neither of these are things I want to do at all, let alone unexpectedly and involuntarily.

          Another is the matter of *parents*. They are total wild cards. They range from people who dump their children on random strangers and expect them to look after said children to people who freak out and threaten to call the cops if some unsuspecting person happens to be standing what they think is too close to their children (even if it was the children, not the other person, who moved). It’s hard *not* to see every child as having an attached booby trap. I don’t want to be screamed at, let alone involved in legal entanglements. It doesn’t matter that, say, 99.9% of parents are normal human beings — you just need *one* weirdo to totally destroy your day, your week, possibly your life. I don’t want to risk meeting that one weirdo the hard way. (I haven’t yet, and I want to keep it that way)

          There’s also the fact that children *have* designated supervisors, entertainers, etc. They’re called “parents,” or sometimes other things like “sitters”. But whatever they’re called, they’re not me. So when I am being forced into that role involuntarily, it means that someone else — a theoretically functioning adult — is trying to pawn off their responsibility on me instead. None of that is true of mentally handicapped people/elderly people/Arabic people/people with psoriasis/Sikh people.

          And finally, there’s the way in which everyone affected is expected to just endure the negative effects of the children. Running around a restaurant? You were a child once! Kicking the back of your seat for an entire airline flight? How dare you tell my child what to do! Shrieking in quiet places? Throwing things? Destroying things? They all should be tolerated, according to some parents, because children are special. I don’t think we need to return to the Victorian “seen and not heard” attitude (though some very great people did grow up under those conditions, so apparently it does not destroy a person’s life to behave like a civilized human being) but people with children shouldn’t get a pass to take over every space and make it a playroom. If your child screams during movies, the solution is to get a sitter or — gasp — not go to movies until they’re older and not afraid of the dark, *not* to demand that other people lose what they paid for (a movie with no distractions) so that you don’t have to change your lifestyle to fit your choices.

          Also, when you’re interacting with mentally handicapped people/elderly people/Arabic people/people with psoriasis/Sikh people, you’re interacting with *them* and them alone. Not some other person who might not even be in the same room. You don’t have to be concerned about how some third party is going to react to anything you say or do. Plus you can end the conversation — “I don’t want to hear another word about Crossfit/Kim Kardashian/Game of Thrones” — without making them cry.

          Finally, childhood is a temporary condition. People grow out of it. It’s not “I don’t want to interact with this person at all, ever” but, rather, “I don’t want to interact with this person during the time they are incapable of having adult interactions.” Those are very different things.

          Yes, you’re quite correct if you’ve noticed that most of these problems involve the behavior of *parents*, not children. But the problem still manifests in the children, or in one’s interactions with those children.

          1. Anonymous Bosch*

            “There’s also the fact that children *have* designated supervisors, entertainers, etc. They’re called “parents,” or sometimes other things like “sitters”. But whatever they’re called, they’re not me.”

            Thank you. Not me, either.

        14. Sea Anemone*

          The best response I can give to this question is for a bit of a turned about situation, that is, addressing liking children vs liking mentally handicapped people/elderly elderly people/Arabic people/people with psoriasis/Sikh people. It comes from the Swedish version of The Bridge, where the main character says:

          I like children, but not because they are children.

          The expectation is that people will like children because they are children. For many of us, that is the case, but for many of us, that is simply not the case. And frankly, it should be ok to say so.

          If we keep going with your analogy to marginalized groups, some people do like individuals from certain marginalized demographics because those individuals are from that marginalized demographic, and frankly, it’s actually rather objectifying. It should be much less ok to say things like “I like kids!” bc kids are not some monolith.

          1. Despachito*

            I think every mention of “I like/dislike a certain category of people based on their age/gender/colour/sexual preferences” is in principle wrong, because they are definitely not a monolith.

            I can perfectly imagine one does/ does not like a specific person from that category, but it should absolutely NOT be based on the fact that person is a member of that category.

            Like, I can dislike little Fergus and think that he is a spoiled brat but it is not a reason I should hate little Jane I do not even know because she is also a kid.

          2. thatjillgirl*

            Yes, that’s what I don’t get. Liking people just because they are a certain age is no less weird than disliking them just because they are that age.

      2. Despachito*

        I actually think this is all it takes.

        As Allison says – the only rude thing would be to refuse to greet the child when introduced to you, same as it would be to refuse to greet an adult.

        Apart from that, you have ABSOLUTELY NO obligation to interact with the child – you have your work obligations and it would be rude from the parent to expect you to watch their child for them.

        Of course, there are many people who wouldn’t mind, especially if the interaction with the kid is brief and/or it is visible that the parent does care. I would not mind watching a coworker’s child for five or ten minutes if the parent needs to do something urgent and it helps her/him not to have the child on them. I would sort of need to feel it is an emergency rather than laziness/lack of planning on the part of the parent.

        I would hate to have the parent dump the child on me for an unlimited period of time/let the child run around unwatched/ assume I’d love to watch the child for them because of my gender, though.

        1. Alice*

          LW literally wrote that in her case it’s not sufficient, and that people are assuming she and the other women in the office will watch the kids.

          1. bamcheeks*

            LW said “It seems like an ordinary, “That’s nice but I have to get back to work” isn’t sufficient”, and I think you can take that two ways– firstly, they’ve tried that, but they work with pushy people who steamroller over that boundary, or secondly, they’ve got an internal sense that you just can’t say that and have to perform Excited About Children (which may or may not be accurate depending on their local culture.)

          2. Despachito*

            She literally wrote ” kind of half-expecting the other women in the office to “watch” him or her. ” which does not seem so direct.

            But this is not important, because what you expect is one thing and what you can reasonably get is another, completely different thing. There are many situations when the expectations are different from what we are willing to give and it is necessary to push back, and I think what we are discussing here is where is the reasonable boundary from where it is advisable to push back.

            I think it is reasonable to expect that the coworker will greet the child and not run away in horror or say “I actually hate kids, and yours is the ugliest one I have ever seen”, but everything more than that (barring emergencies of course) would be sheer entitlement from the parent and should be absolutely treated as such (politely but firmly).

            It can help to imagine what would a CEO do if the employee tried to dump the kid on her.

            1. Joielle*

              Yeah, I think “kind of half-expecting” is something you can safely ignore. Maybe I’m projecting, but I’ve done a lot of internal work on that myself -I used to ALWAYS volunteer when people hinted at something, whether I wanted to do the thing or not, and then I just ended up resentful. Now, I generally don’t acknowledge requests until they’re made directly, and then I say yes or no depending on my capacity and genuine interest. You don’t need to feel guilt over not volunteering to do something that nobody actually asked you to do!

      3. RagingADHD*

        I’m not sure how you’re reading a “misreading” here. The LW already said they are dissatisfied with the 90% success rate, and they want to escalate to snubbing their coworker and their coworker’s child by refusing to acknowledge the child’s existence.

        They literally said they are looking for “the best way of saying, “I don’t care to meet your newborn.”

        Saying that about another human being is obviously rude and offensive. The Cut Direct is a socially nuclear option, and there is zero chance of maintaining a collegial relationship after wielding it against a coworker or their loved ones.

    5. Cambridge Comma*

      I get the feeling that OP understands tgat but is worn out from suddenly finding herself responsible for other people’s children in an unsuitable environment.
      I would suggest pointing to some kid-unfriendly stuff (large guillotine maybe) and saying “I don’t have my eye on this all the time, you need to take Percival with you, he can’t be around here”. And then keep returning the kid to the parent.

    6. Your local password resetter*

      That’s not what the letter is about though?
      People barging into your workspace and interrupting you for no reason are a problem, no matter how old they are.

    7. Roscoe*

      They are human beings, that doesn’t mean they belong in the office for long periods of time and that other people should be expected to watch them.

      I like kids. When I’ve been at office when people brought in their kids, I found it to be pretty annoying frankly. Unless it was just to pop in for a few minutes, it was a bit much.

      1. sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

        Once in a while, I don’t mind. I like kids! But rude toddlers I can do without. Rude 9-yr-olds I can do without. Bored pre-teens I can do without. Kids running around and playing with the reception call button I can certainly do without.

        I had a coworker who has six children. And her spouse would bring them in, after or before appointments on the regular. And it wasn’t just a simple drop in and say hi to Mom but a half-hour visit on one floor, followed by another visit with the chatty receptionist for another 15-minutes. Six kids is noisy no matter how well behaved they are.

        They were dropping by so much it most certainly became “a bit much” for her director. She complained to me later, expressing her frustration because she thought it was a family-friendly workplace! The employer gives you 7 days/year for child care or child medical issues plus a LOT of PTO and flexible half-day Fridays. That’s the family-friendly part, not bringing in your entire brood once a week to distract everyone.

        (She was not kept on. It’s too bad really.)

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          What the heck, that’s not what family-friendly workplace means. I’ve always seen it as meaning you can take off for a family emergency, or have flex hours to take little Susie to a doctor’s checkup. Not that you can use the office as your personal daycare center! Got to admire the gumption, haha.

      2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I think it comes down to “is this really a kid friendly/safe zone.” Most offices aren’t really set up for kids, so I really don’t want you to spontaneously make me responsible for your kid (and I like kids, and have two of my own). If you stop by for a minute and say hello, but take them with you, we’re all good. Just don’t dump your kid on me in an office setting (unless this is an office where serving kids is the whole point).

      3. Worldwalker*


        What happens when someone brings their buddy Fred, who’s with them because they have to give him a ride to the airport after work, into the office? When they insist everyone has to come meet Fred? When they insist everyone has to like Fred as much as they do? When Fred starts going around to people’s desks and bothering them when they’re trying to work? When Fred insists on talking to everyone about the Steelers?

        Nobody would tolerate that. Fred would get thrown out on his butt. As would the person who thought it would be a good idea to just have Fred come in to work with him.

        Why should a child doing this be more acceptable than Fred? The only difference is that in the child’s case I’d save my ire for the parent who thought this was a good idea, whereas both Fred and his buddy would catch it.

        1. AnonToo*

          Exactly this, and it’s why people who say bUt cHiLdReN ArE pEoPlE annoy me do much. We know, and we don’t like that kind of behavior from other people either!

    8. Critical Roll*

      Yep. That LW has two different things going on.

      One, perfectly reasonable: she doesn’t want to be responsible for children at the office. Of course not! What the hell!

      Two, not reasonable: she wants to refuse to interact with children who visit, even to greet them. Nope, refusing to acknowledge human beings someone is trying to introduce you to is weird and rude, and even the most reasonable parent is likely to be offended.

      1. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

        There is a phenomenon that happens in every office that I have worked in, which I will call the “fawning parade”. This is especially true with new babies: Mom brings in the new baby to the office and walks the baby around the entire office so that every person gets the opportunity to, um, “meet” the baby. It does seem to be expected that every person will fawn over the new baby, comment on how cute he/she is, offer congratulations, and want to hold the new baby. Once during a fawning parade, my worst fear came true, and Mom came at me, arms outstretched and baby dangling, “Don’t you want to hold her???”. I mumbled something that I hoped was a polite decline, but oh man, that was awkward! The fawning parade can happen with any child, but at least with older children, you can actually do a normal introduction, like “Nice to meet you! Are you going to help your Dad work today?”. That’s okay, but it often feels forced and mandatory during the parade, when the parent is literally walking their child around to each person in the office. (Full disclosure: I am an admitted misanthrope who often doesn’t like interacting with people, much less children.)

        1. RagingADHD*

          TBH, if you addressed the newborn exactly as you would an older child, the parents would answer for the baby and think it was adorable. The follow up to being asked if you want to hold the baby would then be that the baby obviously has a lot on their plate today, and is far too busy to spend time with you.

          You get all the fawning “points” with minimal effort and maximum quiet irony.

            1. RagingADHD*


              If two polite sentences as a coworker walks past feel like such a burden, how do you manage with other common social niceties?

        2. Fiddle_Faddle*

          “Sorry, I have a sore throat – better not.” Smile like crazy, lie like a trooper.

          I also have no maternal inclinations whatsoever, and this was reinforced since as a first born female I was dragooned into child caring against my will and inclination. I still have no interest in children, but oddly enough can handle very young babies just fine – I just talk to them like they’re puppies, they love it.

        3. Very Very Anon*

          This gets at the heart of why someone might just want to say “pass” when a coworker is walking around with a baby. Like, wanting your coworkers who you regularly work with to meet your kid is one thing, but depending on the size of the parade, when it’s someone you don’t really know, it starts to feel like there is a subtext of “she is a mother and is deserving of your reverence” to it that rubs me the wrong way.

  3. Artemesia*

    3. NEVER ever EVER stay in a job when you have other options because you worry it will leave your boss with too much work. In a career, you do what is best for you.

      1. Your local password resetter*

        This is a pretty good one though.
        Unless you are making a concious decision to undermine your own career for the benefit of your current boss. And you would have to really love your boss to do that.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I think Artemisia’s “because” clause is the specific context here:
        If the ONLY reason there is to stay is a worry about the boss’s workload, that’s not enough.

        1. Purple Cat*

          That was my take on it too. Staying in a job only because you feel bad for the people you’ll leave behind is doing yourself a grave disservice.

      3. anonymous73*

        It’s not a blanket rule. This provides the context “because you worry it will leave your boss with too much work” and is 100% valid.

    1. fposte*

      Yes, this sounds like a covert contract–“I sacrificed for my boss on the assumption that I would be huge in her world.” Likely the boss likes the OP and appreciates her work, but doesn’t feel like the OP is her BFF. The OP should absolutely feel free for other opportunities, but they should understand that boss=BFF isn’t a likely (or even a desirable, in most cases, since that’s usually a messed-up workplace dynamic) outcome in other locations either. You can absolutely be fully appreciated at work without somebody remembering where you lived 7 years ago.

      1. Cheap Ass Rolex*

        Yeah, it feels like two mistaken assumptions – that her sacrifice means that she will be huge in her boss’s mind (maybe true, maybe not), and that being huge in someone’s mind means they will remember every biographic detail you’ve told them. It just doesn’t work that way, and it doesn’t have to mean they’re not listening – the boss probably listened to stories from the San Antonio years as “when OP lived somewhere else”, but not necessarily remembered where. You process the relevant details in that situation but sometimes not the others.

        To OP, it’s huge, because it’s where she lived for so long. To a listener of her personal anecdotes, it’s “the place she lived before here”, and unless it’s somewhere memorable like Antarctica, it’s not a big crime to not have absorbed that detail.

  4. alienor*

    Dang, #2. I get that not everyone is a kid person, but it takes five seconds to say “Oh, cute baby!” and smile and wave in the baby’s general direction–no fawning required. As for older kids, the majority of coworkers’ children I’ve encountered (and my own child when she was at an age to come into the office) aren’t interested in interacting with strange adults anyway, so they’ll probably be just as glad for a quick hi-and-bye. Straight up saying “I don’t want to meet your child” is going to put off not only the child’s parent, but also a lot of colleagues who will wonder why Jane or Wakeen is being so rude.

    1. allathian*

      Yes, this. Simply greeting a child doesn’t mean you’re going to have to engage with them any further. Some parents are oblivious, though, so if someone tries to make you look after their child, I think it’s fine to turn that down and to be rude about it if all else fails. “No, I’m not willing to take on the responsibility for looking after your child while you have your 1:1 with our manager.” Hopefully your manager would agree, but if not, I guess you’re out of luck and might as well start looking for a new job. Who’s liable if the child gets hurt on company premises while out of the parent’s direct supervision?

    2. WS*

      I’m thinking that this is someone who has been expected “naturally” as a woman to look after other people’s kids in the office so often that they’re trying desperately to avoid co-workers’ children at all costs. Their boundary of “nice baby, going back to work now” has been so massively trampled that they are now vastly overreacting and trying to mentally block all children from their work life! (I have to sympathise a little as the oldest child and oldest daughter of my parents’ friend group – of course she’ll look after the younger kids while the adults have fun!)

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        That’s actually a good point. At one job I got so bothered by people trying to force me to hold the baby that I’d go hide in the server room (where kids aren’t allowed) whenever someone brought their kid in to show everyone.

        It was always, always coupled with ‘but you’re a woman, you want a baby! You’re so nurturing!’ comments and I didn’t want to have the ‘I feel nothing when I see children’ argument in the office. That would have been a….bad situation.

        1. CreepyPaper*

          Someone at a previous job actually tried to HAND me their small baby to hold and I said ‘oh, no thank you’ and then went and freaked out in lorry depot until they’d left. When I went back into the office, I got a barrage of ‘what’s your problem? Don’t you like children??? Don’t you want them???’

          Short answer is no, I really don’t like children. Well no, I do, but not when they’re that small. Kids that can talk, I can interact with. Babies… no.

          At that job, apparently it made me less of a woman. Who knew? Ever since then if anyone brought a child that couldn’t communicate into any office I worked in, I’d slip off somewhere until they were gone. So I kind of get where Op 2 is coming from. Don’t assume all women have maternal instincts because unless it goes ‘woof’ I really don’t.

          1. Your local password resetter*

            I’m sorry your coworkers were twerps who got outraged that you stood up for yourself and gad your own opinion about something.
            I hope your current job is better!

          2. Purple Princess*

            This reminds me of the time a co-worker brought her baby in to the office a few years ago. I dutifully said hello to the co-worker, and made a few baby noises/faces at the baby. Co-worker then asked me to hold her daughter whilst she was going to chat to our engineers in the workshop (obviously a no-baby zone so she couldn’t take her with her).

            Me: Er, thanks, but I have zero experience with babies and wouldn’t know what to do with it!
            Co-worker: But you’ll have to learn to look after kids someday
            (I was mid-20s at the time, not pregnant, no kids, and no idea at the time if I even wanted them or not.)
            Me: Maybe, but do you really want my first practice to be with your baby?

            She got the message and found someone else to hold the baby.

            (Also, great username!)

          3. Lucy Skywalker*

            Wow, that is SO inappropriate coming from anyone, but especially work. Your reproductive choices are none of your coworkers’ business, and they have no place judging you.
            The next time someone asks me, “Why don’t you have kids?” I’m going to answer, “Because I’m afraid they might turn out like you.” (Just kidding. I’m not really going to say that.)

          4. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

            CreepyPaper: Ha! Same here. I also had an awkward moment where someone came at me with a baby, wanting me to hold her, and I can no longer even remembered exactly how I declined, but I did decline. So awkward! And then, just like you, when I would see a baby parade coming, I would try to exit quietly if I could.

        2. allathian*

          I must admit that I wasn’t at all interested in kids and especially babies until I met my husband and we started considering the idea of having a kid ourselves (I would never have considered becoming a single mom if I hadn’t met him, I had absolutely no wish to procreate without at least a co-parent to share the load). I certainly never wanted the responsibility of looking after another person’s kids in their absence, so as a teen I never babysat for strangers, or even family friends. The closest I got was keeping an eye on my younger cousins when all of my mom’s siblings and their families got together for Christmas on the family farm. My mom was the oldest of 9 kids, and I’m the oldest of 13 cousins, some of them young enough to be my kids, and my youngest uncle’s only 7 years older than I am.

          1. allathian*

            I’m pretty sure that if my youngest uncle had been an aunt, she would’ve been expected to babysit all the kids.

            1. Asenath*

              In my family, it was the oldest who go the baby-sitting duties. I was the oldest not just of my immediate family, but of all the cousins I saw regularly (I had some, including some older ones, who lived so far away I’ve never met most of them), so I did the baby-sitting at family events. Anyway, that’s different from the office. Someone had to stop my wilder cousins from taking the place apart while their parents were otherwise occupied. I try to treat all humans politely at least, but with babies, all I need to do is say “how cute!”, maybe ask the child’s name, and say something welcoming to the new mother (I don’t think I’ve ever had a new father do the “visit the office with the baby” thing) like “How are you doing? You’re looking great!”. Older children – there have been cases, quite rare in my experience, when a parent brought a child to work. It was usually a result of school closing unexpectedly or child care falling through. The parent might – if you were nearby – introduce you and the child or children, and would normally keep them quiet and occupied at her (again, always in my experience the mother’s) desk. I think it’s possible to have children at work without disturbing other workers.

              Although now that I think of it, my father often took me and my next-younger sister to his workplace, but it was always when he was putting in extra work on weekends so the only other people in the building were the weekend shift workers in the main office, whom we were allowed to greet, before moving along to our father’s office. We loved going to work.

      2. hbc*

        Yeah, but just like parents should be responsible for their own children, people should be responsible for their own overreactions. It’s like the person at the grocery store who’s too shy to say “Excuse me” when some inattentive person has parked a cart in the aisle, so they sit and fume and then explode at some other poor soul who pauses for 5 seconds to grab the oatmeal off the top shelf.

        1. Loulou*

          Great comparison! Of course forcing someone who’s not interested to watch your baby is rude. But it’s equally rude to assume everyone who tries to introduce coworkers to their children is going to do that.

          I’ve had trouble speaking up for myself sometimes, but it’s not other peoples’ fault when I can’t.

          1. Office Lobster DJ*

            To be fair to the OP, I’m not sure it’s an unwarranted assumption. The letter is a bit vague, but OP makes it sound like multiple parents are doing this, so it may just be the way things are done in that office.
            As for speaking up, one way this scenario plays out would be the parent explicitly asking OP to watch the kid, in which case, sure, OP has the chance to speak up. The second way, which is equally likely in my experience, is the kid is allowed to roam, with the parent tacitly assuming the nearest adult (…okay, usually nearest woman) will keep an eye out. I guess OP could call that out in the moment, but if it’s part of the office culture, it may be an uphill battle.

            1. Ginger Dynamo*

              As a young woman who has had kids practically imprint on me at family-inclusive work socials, I can say it is definitely not an unfounded assumption. Far too many parents just assume the kids will be fine running around, following people and getting into things, as long as someone else responsible (and “maternal”) is around to keep the kid from dying. And the dying bit isn’t even an exaggeration, considering work environments are rarely designed with the safety of children in mind

      3. Office Lobster DJ*

        Agree with this reading of the letter. The OP may have just been burned one too many times and has no support to hold that boundary in this office, resulting in something like an overcorrection: If I “don’t see” your child, you can’t come sniping at me when he falls and bumps his head later.

        1. Ginger Dynamo*

          This right here. I’m so disheartened seeing everyone piling on the LW when it’s pretty clear she’s feeling almost desperate to get out of this frustrating social obligation (and it really is a social obligation—women are disproportionately expected to take up this impromptu caring role, and they’re often judged for not doing so with enthusiasm). She doesn’t have to hate kids to feel nervous seeing them running around recklessly doing things that could get them in trouble or worse, seriously hurt them. Workplaces usually aren’t designed with child safety in mind, which is why some US government workplaces require you to get special dispensation for any child visitors under the age of 16 for liability reasons. An empathetic person seeing an unattended child in that environment would likely feel morally obligated to look after that child in the interest of that child’s safety, even if they aren’t asked to. You don’t need to hate children in order to want children to be safely supervised by an appropriate guardian.

          1. pancakes*

            I see what you mean about safety, but feeling judged by people with poor judgement (sexist and retrograde, in this example) shouldn’t bring about a feeling of desperation. If it does there’s something not emotionally healthy going on. The solution to having a compulsion to please everyone is to work on being less compulsive about it, not to keep trying to please everyone.

          2. Despachito*

            I respectfully disagree with you.

            “An empathetic person seeing an unattended child in that environment would likely feel morally obligated to look after that child in the interest of that child’s safety, even if they aren’t asked to. You don’t need to hate children in order to want children to be safely supervised by an appropriate guardian.”

            This would hold true in an emergency and if the child is in real danger (e.g. a toddler standing unattended on a busy crossroads).

            An office with a parent around is neither, and there is absolutely no need to feel a “moral obligation”. You are not saving the child’s life, and it seems to me very much exaggerated to assume this (again, I think what LW was describing was a normal office, not a nuclear plant). The mindset “if you do not do this, you are not empathetic enough” is what perpetuates the thinking LW was complaining of, and if I had the power to do so, I would personally absolve anyone who does not care about the kid left alone in the office.

      4. Nanani*

        There might be confounding factors – maybe they’re a parent and get enough kid time at home, maybe they’re NOT a parent but under a lot of social pressure to become one, maybe a lot of things.

        But the thing they asked about – how to decline meeting a kid – is not the problem we’re discussing here.

    3. Roeslein*

      I just find it really strange how people talk about “liking children” or “not liking children” . It’s like saying ” I don’t like senior citizens” as if they were all similar. I mean, they are people, even young children (as in toddlers) have their own personalities, of course you’re not going to get along with all of them but al least some are going to share more of your interests (whether that’s music, history, Marvel, whatever) and generally be kind, interesting people who are nice to be around? I see all the time at my son’s preschool – there are kids I don’t particularly care to spend time with (just like there are plenty of adults I don’t particularly care to spend time with, I’m still polite with them though) and a few whose company I enjoy. It’s like among women, men, immigrants, senior people, Catholics, and any other part of the population really – painting every one with the same brush is just odd to me. As for older kids and tweens in the office, usually they’ll just sit there and read a book / play with their phone, I’m positively surprised when one of them is actually interested in learning about the work we are doing.

      1. Your local password resetter*

        Age is pretty relevant though, especially for children.
        They are a sparkeling rainbow of various humanity, but small children are also generally small, ignorant, reckless, frequently noisy, with uninteresting hobbies, and are terrible about following rules and acting professionally. Because they’re small children.
        Plenty of people don’t like dealing with all those things. Even if the kid is otherwise nice and fun to be around.

        1. Eliza*

          Yeah, there are some things that kids have in common regardless of their individual personalities that can make them difficult to be around. I’m pretty bad at self-censoring, and when I have to carry on a conversation in the presence of kids I’m constantly anxious that my miscalibrated mental filter will get me in trouble.

        2. londonedit*

          Yeah, I love my nephew but he is difficult and exhausting to be around sometimes. I would not want to do that full-time. And I would also not want to look after someone else’s child when I’m meant to be working.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            I’ve got a LOT of nieces and nephews (husband family is large) and I’m really great with my 14 year old niece and 16 year old nephew who are both into geeky things and seen as ‘odd’ by the rest of the family. Boy do I know that feeling..

            1. UKDancer*

              Some people are definitely better with older children and I know I do better once they’re old enough to have a sensible conversation and I’m not worried I’ll drop them or make them cry.

              My grandpa was totally rubbish with babies and young children and I had a difficult relationship with him at that age. Once I was a teenager we connected through our shared love of classical music and we would spend ages comparing different recordings. He had no ability to relate to small children and was emotionally quite distant and cold but connected way better on an intellectual level with teenagers. I have lovely memories of arguing about whether Richter was better than Ashkenazy.

              1. londonedit*

                It’s getting easier with my nephew but I do struggle because you really can’t have a rational conversation with a two-year-old! Even now my nephew is three, it’s slightly easier to persuade him to do/not to do something because he’s beginning to see the logic in things, and he’s beginning to see that different choices have different consequences, but it’s still so exhausting. I think I’m one of those people who finds it difficult to communicate with very young children.

                1. UKDancer*

                  Definitely. I also have the same problem with children too young to have a sensible conversation with. In contrast one of my bosses brought her teenage daughter in for “bring your daughter to work day” a few years ago and she was delightful. I spent some time explaining my job and she asked some really interesting questions about why we did certain things in particular ways and also about my career choices and how I’d got to my particular job. I had no problem spending some time with her because one could have a conversation and it felt worthwhile.

        3. UKDancer*

          Yes definitely! Also with very young children / babies I’m more worried I’m going to drop or damage them in some way. Usually they start crying and I worry what I’ve done wrong. If I have to deal with children I prefer the ones old enough to make conversation.

      2. Paperdill*

        I absolutely agree with you (and asked a question about it up thread somewhere).
        I think people need to realize that living in a community means existing with all facets of that community. The children of today are going to be the lawyers that sort your will out, the supermarket worker that helps you reach that high shelf, the nurse that showers you, the electrician that comes to you home to fix things and the IT person that designs the alert program that calls for help if you have a fall and can’t get up. If a person wants the benefits of other people, they will have to shoulder the responsibility dealing with other people – sometimes small, immature people who are newer to the world.

        1. londonedit*

          Sorry but I wouldn’t want to look after someone else’s child when I’m meant to be at work. And no, I’m not having a baby ‘so that there will be someone to look after me in my old age’ or ‘because they might turn out to cure cancer!!’ Some women (and men) are not interested in having children and that’s a valid choice and doesn’t make them any less caring, compassionate, capable of great love, or human.

          1. Paperdill*

            I’m not implying either of things! I’m just saying sometimes a person has to deal with the presence of children (although, I agree they should not be in the workplace)

            1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

              I don’t. No seriously, I don’t. I avoid gatherings with large amounts of children, I don’t go shopping (sensory overload!), kids don’t visit my house…

              1. Loulou*

                But OP didn’t describe any of these scenarios. They’re talking about the scenario where a coworker stops by to introduce their child, which, yeah, if you work someplace where that happens then you just have to deal with it.

                1. thatjillgirl*

                  It doesn’t sound like the kid is *just* being introduced though. It sounds like coworker(s) are sometimes bringing in kids and they are there for an extended time, in such a way that they require supervision.

            2. Mockingjay*

              Well that was the point of the letter: children in the workplace being dumped on unwilling, usually female coworkers.

              I have kids (grown). That doesn’t mean I want to stop what I’m doing to watch darling Percival and remove his tiny fingers from the paper cutter in the copy room. I’m done with that stage of life. (And no, I don’t long for grandchildren.)

              1. Observer*

                Well that was the point of the letter: children in the workplace being dumped on unwilling, usually female coworkers.

                Except that it wasn’t. The OP was explicitly asking how to tell parents that she doesn’t want to even met / greet the kids. That’s just not an appropriate reaction.

                1. Galadriel's Garden*

                  Yeah, I feel like there are two separate items being conflated here. Imo:

                  1. Yes, it is rude to straight up refuse to greet your coworkers’ children.
                  2. Yes, it is also rude to dump your children onto your unsuspecting coworker(s) without their permission.

                  Both of these things are Not Cool in a Workplace. Greeting someone’s kid should not be an open invitation to watch them, and if that’s the case in this particular workplace, then *that* is the thing that should be explicitly stated.

          2. Boof*

            There’s a lot of room between looking after and not starting off with “oh i don’t like this whole physical category of humanity” – being minimally polite should be a starting point

        2. Alice*

          There is a big difference between “living in a community” and “being expected to supervise someone else’s kid while you’re supposed to be working, just because of your gender”.

          1. Paperdill*

            I’m sorry for the misunderstanding – I was not implying that. I’m trying to say that sometimes, in life, there will be children present and however they may annoy someone, that someone needs to deal.
            I do not think someone should have to care for children that are not their own (though if you found a lost child, I’d wanna hope you’d do something to help them) and I definitely do not think people should have children to look after them in their old age – I don’t even expect that of my own children. But I am saying that in order for there to be a community of people to support someone in their old age, those people need to be born and raised to do that.

            1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

              Yes, and I’m fine with people deciding to be parents.

              I’m just not okay with people assuming that I must have to be around kids and watch over them when I do literally everything at work and at home to not be around children. Kids are like cats, they know when you don’t like them.

              1. Loulou*

                So you’re sounding like OP now, because “be around” and “watch them” are very different things. If a coworker brings their kid by to say hello you do have to “be around” then long enough to greet them politely. Under no circumstances do you have to watch them!

                1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

                  I already said I give a polite hello. But that’s all. If the kid is going to be next to my desk for any length of time then I absolutely will get up and leave.

            2. Melody*

              …so the parents can raise their children, not their coworkers. The OP is very clearly talking about the issue of her being expected to care for her coworkers children, not the existence of children. You are being pretty willfully obtuse.

              1. Observer*

                The problem is that she’s not only asking how to avoid taking care of the kids. I doubt that anyone would react negatively to that. (And if they did, a LOT of people would be jumping down their throats.)

                What the OP actually asks is ” about the best way of saying, “I don’t care to meet your newborn” and a better way of saying, “I am not interested in your kid.”

                1. Librarian of SHIELD*

                  Because in her workplace, meeting the kid is step one toward having to be responsible for the kid’s safety and behavior. Yes, she said she didn’t want to meet people’s kids. But we can’t divorce that statement from the rest of the letter in which she explains her office’s history of expecting women to watch the kids their coworkers bring in. She’s not saying she never wants to meet a child. She’s saying she’s tired of the social expectations her office has around coworkers’ children and she wishes there were a way to opt out before that process even begins.

                2. Melody*

                  Because she is trying to set up firmer boundaries that have been trampled by her coworkers foisting their childcare responsibilities on to her. She explicitly gives that reason. Take care of your own kids lol

            3. Despachito*

              But I assume the commenters are referring to the specific situation mentioned (a kid brought to the workplace), not kids present in a bus/on the street/in a store.

              Of course you have to endure their presence in public spaces but even there it should be the parents’ primary responsibility not to let their children bother you over the reasonable limits.

              I mean, when I am on a bus or a plane with an infant and the infant cries, and the mother tries to soothe it but it keeps crying, I know from experience that she is doing everything technically possible but it it still not enough, and I have compassion for her. Even if the crying itself bothers me, I recognize it is a part of life to be coped with.

              If someone wants to make their kid my responsibility, it is not an emergency and I am not a nanny by profession, now this is a completely different issue. I find no obligation to do this, and I find it insulting that someone would assume this because of my gender. As it goes, “your lack of planning does not constitute an emergency on my part”.

            4. Worldwalker*

              No. That person does not “need to deal”. The supervisors of those children — generally their parents — should prevent them from annoying other people.

              1. Despachito*

                I think what we must deal with is their mere presence, and I absolutely agree that it is on their parents to prevent them from annoying people. It seems to me a little strange if someone says they hate being around kids as a category.

                I absolutely understand hating being around noisy/bratty kids, not wanting to take care of other people’s kids, but a blank statement “I do not like kids” rubs me a bit the wrong way.

            5. Ginger Dynamo*

              Yes, but unless you work with Doogie Houser or the Duck Club group, the workplace is not really a setting where you have a moral obligation to uphold the propagation of the species. Treat child visitors the polite way you would treat any guest to the workplace, but no one except the parent should be expected to be responsible for their care and supervision.

        3. Tuckerman*

          There are 2 issues here. 1: Expectations for interacting with children in the workplace. I think most people here are on the same page that if parents bring kids on site, it should be brief and the kids should be under their supervision at all times. 2: The conversation around “liking” or “not liking” humans at different developmental stages, particularly in the comments section. I don’t think it works to compare not liking children to not liking people of different races/genders, etc. But I do think it’s interesting that it’s becoming socially acceptable to say one doesn’t like children, but it’s still unacceptable to say one doesn’t like the elderly, or developmentally disabled adults. I see this changing a bit (for example, “ok boomer”) but there is still something taboo about outright saying one doesn’t like the elderly.

      3. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        As one of those who doesn’t like babies and small children (over age 12 they’re okay) it’s simply because to me that they *are* very very different to adults. I cannot communicate with them, I don’t understand them, I don’t find them interesting at all.

        So a polite pleasantries and that’s it from me. I won’t play with them, I won’t hold them and fr the love of anything don’t ask me to watch them.

        1. ceiswyn*

          Yes, this. They behave unpredictably, they don’t understand boundaries, and I struggled enough to learn how to interact with adults, I haven’t the faintest clue how to interact with young children.

          I think that generally when people say ‘I don’t like children’, it’s not a blanket statement that they hate having children anywhere near them, but instead a preemptive defence against a frequent tendency of parents to assume that if someone is interacting at all with their child, it’s fine to leave their child with that person while they go and do something else for a bit.

          I understand the need to get time out from the kids, but I am so over discovering I’ve been left responsible for the person who has been pursuing me and triggering my social phobia.

        2. Tuckerman*

          I’m just so curious why people use the language of not “liking” babies and small children, and I see it a lot in the comments section here. There are certainly challenges in understanding, communicating with, and relating to the elderly and adults with disabilities as well, but we don’t generally find it acceptable to say, “I don’t like the elderly” or “I don’t like developmentally disabled adults.” They’re all human.

          1. Blue Eagle*

            You are getting too caught up on the word “like”. Try to think of them saying that they do not “enjoy” being around _______ (fill in the blank). We all have people that we would rather not be around, I’m guessing that applies to you too. Not enjoying something or someone is NOT a character flaw, just a preference.

            1. Tuckerman*

              Right, I don’t enjoy being around people displaying certain types of behavior, but I do think that’s very different than saying I don’t enjoy being around a category of people, based on age.

              1. ceiswyn*

                But in this case the types of behaviour are pretty much inextricably linked with the category, due to the way in which human mental and social development occurs.

                1. Despachito*

                  “the types of behaviour are pretty much inextricably linked with the category”

                  But is it really? It seems very much like ageism.

                  Not all old people are annoying old f.rts, and not all kids are noisy brats. I was very irked when some pubs claimed they do not want kids to come and eat there. I understand they would not want (and possibly expel) kids which do not behave, run around, are noisy etc., but as far as I remember, our kids always sat with us at the table, we did not let them run around, and they did not represent more nuisance than any other guest. I would not see any reason to ban us from the pub because” it is inherent to the kid category to be noisy and annoying”.

                2. Worldwalker*


                  Far fewer people, I think, dislike polite, well-behaved children. Very few, most likely. But the combination of age *and* insufficient guidance from the parents leads to a significant number of children being annoying. Eventually they grow out of it, when they’re old enough to take over their own guidance and realize “hey, this is annoying people and they don’t want anything to do with me.”

                3. Ginger Dynamo*

                  Ceiswyn brings up a very good point here—it’s often not the child’s actual personality that makes people say “I don’t like kids.” And yes, there absolutely are types of behavior inextricably linked with the category because they are benchmark normal parts of human cognitive and biological development that almost every child goes through. For example: babies putting literally everything in their mouths. This is an evolutionarily ingrained behavior that has almost nothing to do with their personality at base, and everything to do with their immunological development. Is it a healthy benchmark behavior we expect to see in children? Yes, and expecting children not to do that, or pretending that they don’t usually do that, would be naive. Is it sticky and a major vector for children spreading the latest day care flu? Also yes.

            1. AnonToo*

              “to me that they *are* very very different to adults. I cannot communicate with them, I don’t understand them, I don’t find them interesting at all.”

              “I don’t like loud rude people either. I’m not obliged to like all of humanity.”


        3. New But Not New*

          There are children I have enjoyed interacting with. Interestingly, they are usually girls and were mature from their age, no dumbing down to talk to them. I do find that boy children are often too wild for me. I do know how to relate to children appropriate to their developmental stage, it’s a skill I have I that I just relate like I would to any other human.

          I suppose you could say that I respect the humanity of children, probably because mine was not respected. I remember having teachers that clearly did not like children.

          That said, I am seeking an adults only retirement community. I do not choose to live where there is a significant child presence or even young people that like loud music. I need peace and quiet!

          However, I do not disparage the existence of an entire category of humans, realizing that children are necessary for society to continue. I may not choose to hang out or work with kids, but their mere existence does not annoy me or cause me to be hostile towards them. That’s what I find disconcerting about some of these comments, the hostility. It’s right up there with casual ageism (“ok boomer” really needs to go), disliking all children to the point of meanness. Not cool.

          1. New But Not New*

            Oh, and with respect to the OP, yes the fawning can get over the top in the office sometimes, although when a coworker of mine brought in her twin babies it was kinda justified. I did tire of it and simply went back to my cubicle. Like everything else, set a boundary and stick to it, while being polite. You don’t have to participate in fawning or unpaid child care.

            Unpopular opinion: I don’t like being around non-verbal autistic children. I had a neighbor with a non-verbal autistic son who would bring him into my home without watching him closely and he was out of control, opening cabinets and removing things, etc. His mom just pretended like she didn’t notice, and I was afraid he would break something so couldn’t enjoy her visit anyway. All non-verbal autistic children may not behave this way, but they make me nervous and I can’t relate.

            Parents should ALWAYS take primary responsibility for their children no matter where they are. I resent parents ignoring misbehavior in public places or workspaces, anywhere for that matter. Checked out parents annoy me so much.

            1. Anonymous*

              I just remembered that years ago, a little girl in the grocery store said to her mother “that lady is fat”. she was talking about me. The mother did look like she wanted the floor to open up and swallow them both, but did not correct the child in any way. She should have told the girl it was not nice to comment on people’s bodies, and made her apologize. I did not like that child, or her mother, who probably raised a real piece of work of a daughter.

        4. Observer*

          So a polite pleasantries and that’s it from me. I won’t play with them, I won’t hold them and fr the love of anything don’t ask me to watch them.

          I think that this is EXACTLY right. You need to be polite to / about people’s kids. AND You have no obligation to play with them or take care of them in most contexts.

          1. Despachito*

            Yes, that!

            I was (and am) wondering how much of the “child hate speech” actually comes from FORCING the child on someone, be it directly by wanting to interact with them while the person does not have the slightest wish to do so, or indirectly by pestering them with questions “when are YOU going to procreate”?

            I always considered my primary responsibility as a parent NOT to do this – not to force my kids on anyone who did not actively express the wish to do so. Yes, it is often taxing to care after our own kids, and relaxing if someone else takes over for a while. But it is my responsibility that this “someone else” is NOT an unsuspecting, unwilling stranger but either a paid aide or a relative/friend who has openly expressed their will to do so.

      4. Claire*

        It’s disturbing that people would bluntly say “I don’t like children” when I look at the statistics on how vulnerable children are to adults. Just like it’s reasonable to greet a coworker’s adult guest but not have a bunch of time to chit chat or host them in your personal workspace, it’s reasonable to greet a child but not be able to spend a bunch of time on them (or supervise/host them).

        1. Despachito*

          But nobody expects you to entertain an adult guest, there’s no reason to be afraid that they will be dumped on you if you express a bit of politeness.

        2. Despachito*

          Also – “I don’t like” does not necessarily mean you will hurt them (as you mention vulnerability), just that you don’t want to interact with them, and are miffed if forced to.

          I don’t like dogs, but I would never hurt one. And I will never feel the need to express it if the dog owner does not insist in me interacting with the dog (and that would be on them).

          1. Claire*

            If you can’t tell the difference between children and dogs, I don’t think there’s much I can say to help you. It’s disturbing to hear people say they don’t like a whole group of vulnerable humans.

            1. AnonToo*

              In my experience, it’s not the people who say “I don’t like children” who end up harming them.

        3. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

          “I don’t like children” means “I don’t enjoy interacting with children and would prefer not to do that.” Why would that bother you, and why would you assume that someone who doesn’t like children poses a threat to children? Curious.

        4. Userper Cranberries*

          I don’t like kids and yet I am the only adult in my entire neighborhood willing to report my neighbor for abusing his kids. Don’t confuse “I don’t like” with “I hate” or “I am willing to hurt”.

      5. Jaybeetee*

        LBR: Most people “don’t like” the elderly or disabled either, even if they never would say it out loud.

        So I know this isn’t true everywhere, but this is a US, English-speaking webpage. Western society is very clear in how most people perceive the elderly and disabled, and how they should be treated.

        People dislike children for the same reasons they dislike the elderly and disabled: they can be loud, and messy, and “rude”, and disruptive, and high-maintenance. They can wander off and get into things and break things. When you’re around any of the above, you become, in some way, responsible for their well-being. And if you’re inexperienced with that sort of thing and don’t know what you’re doing, it’s scary and uncomfortable.

        As to why openly disliking one is socially acceptable but not the others? Familiarity breeds contempt. We warehouse our elderly and disabled – for better or worse. They’re not part of society. Most people interacting with them are either friends or relatives, or paid to be there. It’s rare for most people to interact with high-needs disabled or elderly people they don’t already know, so when the occasional “incursion” happens, people try to be gracious about it. (There is actually quite a lot of open disdain for certain types of elderly and disabled who are out in the world – think of homelessness discourse.)

        Kids, on the other hand, are part of society. This wasn’t always the case, but it is these days. Parents are supposed to (and sometimes have no choice but to) take their kids out to stores and restaurants, on transit and to parks, and occasionally to work. Then people are dealing with the noise and disruption and rudeness on a regular basis. Their ubiquity in society fosters the type of comments that wouldn’t be acceptable when referencing a rare interaction with a high-needs adult. Add in some screwed-up gendered dynamic about how women should actually *love* all aspects of children and caretaking, and that’s where you land.

        I want to be very clear that I’m not *endorsing* any of the above. It’s just… how it is.

        1. pancakes*

          Yes. I don’t know how anyone has missed this when we’ve been in a pandemic for nearly two years now, and a common refrain has been “so what if people who are vulnerable die, why should I care even a bit if I’m not one of them?”

      6. Mannequin*

        Password resetter has it right. Children are definitely part of the rich tapestry of humanity, they simply tend to engage in behaviors I find annoying, exhausting, and infuriating (actual misophonia for the sound of babies/children screaming), and on top of it, far too many parents don’t bother to supervise their children or teach them minimal acceptable public behavior.

        No, thank you. I really don’t want a part of most people’s kids.

    4. Dr Sarah*

      Since OP #2 specifically stated that a simple “That’s nice; got to get back to work now” didn’t seem to be sufficing, it sounds as though she’s already tried the ‘take five seconds for brief interaction and then get back to work’ thing without success, and is now in the situation of ‘I set this boundary but no-one is respecting it’. Add in the also-mentioned problem with children being left to roam the office with an unstated assumption that anyone female-presenting in the near vicinity will look after them, and it does seem to me that there is significantly more of a problem here than OP #2 not being able to figure out for herself how to do a few seconds of child-interacting.

      1. allathian*

        I think you’re right. And it’s a really tough situation to deal with, and doing so requires a reasonably good relationship with the thoughtless parent, and failing that, your manager. A reasonable parent would not expect anyone else to look after their child at the office. If someone does expect that, then it’s very important to have a good enough relationship with management that you can ask the manager to intervene and trust that they do. I mean, no matter how much you dislike children, it’s not reasonable to just let someone else’s kid roam around the office without supervision, the kid could get hurt or damage equipment, or both. Sadly, I expect that’s what thoughtless parents are counting on when they leave their kids without supervision.

        Having someone else’s baby thrust in your arms is also disconcerting, especially in a professional environment. Before I had my own baby, I was always scared of dropping any babies that were handed to me (socially and involving the babies of my friends, rather than at work), and if they were really small, unsure of how to hold them properly. Granted, I’m in an office where the dress code is casual, so I don’t have to worry about dry cleaning bills, but I bet that in a more formal environment, most people wouldn’t appreciate possibly milky baby drool on their nice jacket or blouse.

        1. Despachito*


          I think the key is to be polite but firm. And definitely it would be better to put it not like “I hate babies” but “I have a lot of work to do but it was nice to meet you” (implying – and, most importantly, persuading YOURSELF – that OF COURSE this is the only natural way to resolve this).

          I think a lot of our own gendered assumptions (as “I am expected to do this because I am a woman, and if I don’t, people will think ill of me) come into play here, and that it would be useful to get rid of them in our own mind.

          (Nobody ever tried to dump their kid on me – perhaps I was just lucky, and perhaps it somehow transpired that I do not have any caring aspirations and don’t care if someone thinks less of me for that).

          1. Ginger Dynamo*

            I agree that assumptions about one’s own gender roles can also come into play, but we can’t discount how often those aren’t actually just assumptions, so getting rid of those assumptions just ignores an aspect of reality for many people. I’ve had children start to literally follow me around because I was the young lady with the long red princess hair who smiled at them and asked about their favorite dinosaur, and the parents were fine with it because if I was so lovely with their child in a 3-minute conversation, I must be willing to babysit them for 3 hours, right? When those children seemingly inevitably got into dangerous situations or started making trouble, suddenly I was the only adult nearby to supervise and make sure they didn’t get hurt. And when I tried to “return” the children to their parents, who would thank me for being so kind to play with them, the kids would just come running back to me because “mommy/daddy said it’s okay if I keep playing with you.” Repeat this several times until the parent collects the kids and leaves.

      1. JimmyJab*

        I just did a “find” on this page and couldn’t find anyone saying they hate babies and children. Every instance of the word “hate” in this thread is someone saying something along the lines of , “OP didn’t say she hates children” or “everyone here hates children and babies (you)” so maybe you should look at why you read something that doesn’t exist?

      2. ...*

        … Did you really just call people who don’t want to socialize with children while they are working as “outcasts”?

      3. Spencer Hastings*

        This sounds like either projection or an egregious case of punching down — I can’t tell which.

    5. Falling Diphthong*

      I’ve encountered plenty of kids who occupied themselves and were not at all distracting. Also the other sort. I like kids… but have been irritated by specific young strangers trying to demand I watch them do something.

      OP’s office seems to have one or more of the second type of kid, who need more supervision than the parent is providing. The existence of better-behaved or better-supervised children somewhere else doesn’t affect whether or not she has a problem.

      She does, as Alison says, need to say hi to any persons being shown around the office, even if they would annoy her if abandoned in her cubicle.

    6. Pool Lounger*

      It’s not just about not liking kids, I find, it’s also about not liking how parents expect you to act around their kids. I can be around kids fine, though I prefer babies to older kids. And kids generally like me. But dealing with parents and how they expect me to talk and act around their kids, and especially with parents who expect me to be free babysitting or to take exhaustive interest in everything their kids say and do, is not enjoyable.

  5. Xantar*

    Be sure to click the link in #1 and read the original. OP is in the comments writing as “Andrew.” I will just say the events become a lot more understandable.

    1. Papillon Celeste*

      Holy camoly, what the…
      My first instinct was: it can’t be just about that juice. And it wasn’t. It was the fact that OP doubled down and made it clear they didn’t learn anything and would do ot again.
      The message: we consider taking what’s not yours theft so don’t do it definitely didn’t get heard.
      I worked as a supervisor on a site where no food was available besides a snack machine and what you brought from home and we constantly had the discussion with food-thieves that no, ‘I didn’t bring lunch so if I’d not taken that I’d go hungry’ doesn’t mean you’re in the right to make your colleagues go hungry instead despite having brought food. And no, thinking it was abandoned isn’t enough, if people want to share they will put a note on it.
      Eventually we adopted a no-leniency policy on theft. People where warned once and told the consequences if it happened again, then, if it indeed happened again, let go, no more apologies.
      Before that there barely wasn’t a day without food theft. Once people realised they could and would loose their job over this it almost instantly stopped.
      But don’t think there wasn’t petty arguing over that when people learned about the no-leniency policy. Heavens, it’s incredibly baffling how entitled some people feel about other people’s food!
      That guy could have been one of ours. I guess food thieves are the same everywhere.

      1. PollyQ*

        I would bet cold hard cash that it wasn’t the first time he did something wrong and just kept fighting back and doubling down when called on it.

      2. Shiba Dad*

        People are weird about entitlement.

        Many years ago I sold cars. On Saturdays, we ordered out and if you were busy with a customer when food arrived, you might go without.

        When we ordered subs, one guy was kind of smart about his thievery. He would eat someone else’s sub, picking one that was a different type than the one he ordered, and he would take the one he ordered home. Of course, one day someone ate the sub he was going to take home, and he complained about it. When it was pointed that he already ate a sub and that he only paid for one, his response was “So what?”.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        I think a litany of problems got reduced down to be symbolized by that bottle of juice, in HR’s view.

    2. LemonLyman*

      Hot tip. Thank you!!!

      Andrew’s comments are killing me! Typically people apologize after making a mistake, but not him! I feel bad for his SO. I couldn’t imagine being in a relationship with a person who acts like that!

    3. A.N. O'Nyme*

      Am I the only one who is really confused that this Andrew seems to switch between first and third person to refer to OP4? Sometimes they claim to be OP4, other times they (try to?) seem as if they aren’t.

      1. Mangled metaphor*

        Referring to oneself in the third person is a distancing technique.
        Andrew seemed to do it whenever he was defending the letter directly, or otherwise denying that OP4 (the original letter number) was a thief. Referring to the written warning meaning he couldn’t be rehired, or describing the stellar work he’d done prior to that the comments are full of “me” and “I” – taking ownership.

        Andrew was also *very* hung up on the thief accusation. Theft is taking something that isn’t yours with the intent to permanently deprive the original owner. And, from the defensive nature of his comments, something akin to murder as far as Andrew is concerned. Doth protest too much?

        It was definitely the doubling down (and hinting that it was someone else) that led to the written warning. If he’d just apologised and offered to replace the juice, he likely would have been rehired (unless – edge case – he really was working for a Draconian company where a first offence gets you a final warning)

        1. Van Wilder*

          Yeah, he’s very concerned about the “thief” label. He couldn’t be a thief because he didn’t lie about it. He couldn’t be a thief because he’s a good person.

          Like racists who can’t be racist because they have a black friend.

      2. BRR*

        My takeaway is it’s because they want to debate the issue in a more philosophical/abstract/big picture way.

        1. fposte*

          Yes, it’s that very teenaged frame of mind, where wearing somebody out with argument is the same thing as moral rectitude.

    4. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      That’s one of my favourite bookmarked posts, just for the OP showing up and bizarrely being still on the ‘but someone else stole it, not me, even though I said I took it it was probably the housekeeper’ train.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        I think the logic was “If I were really a thief, I would have lied and blamed it on the housekeeper rather than admitting it was me.”

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          You’re right. I think my computer would blow more smoke if I tried that ‘logic’ on it.

          (Blimmin PSU has fried. I’m not in a good mood today)

        2. DyneinWalking*

          I just checked with the post o see how it was framed exactly:

          “HR headquarters stated if the juice were abandoned, the owner would write a note on it. I replied that the housekeeper could have taken the juice and compared the juice to a newspaper, since they both cost the same.”

          Honestly, I’m struggling a bit with understanding the reasoning behind it. Doesn’t sound like he meant it in the way of “I could have blamed the housekeeper”, though. I’m guessing the idea is that it was unattended juice that could have been taken by anyone and in the end of the day would have been removed by the housekeeper? So the juice being taken by someone else would have been inevitable. (except that it wasn’t, being gone for 15 minutes doesn’t mean that you didn’t intend to go back to something within the next few hours…)

          1. Willis*

            I think in other comments he says more directly that if he were trying to be a thief, then when asked about the juice he would’ve just lied (like any decent thief would) and said the housekeeper took it. But, he owned up to it, therefore he couldn’t have intended to steal it and must have really thought it was abandoned (his logic, not mine). The whole thing is so much effort to avoid saying “yes, I took it, I shouldn’t have, it was a lapse in judgment and I’ll replace or pay for the juice.” It’s exhausting just to read.

          2. ecnaseener*

            In other comments he does say things like “If I (OP4) was a thief, I could of stated that the house keeper took it or it was not there when I went on break.”

            Bizarrely unable to separate the concepts of “juice box thief” and “lying, mustache-twirling villain.”

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        I really loved the moral heights of deserving to be rewarded for not framing the housekeeping for the theft he committed.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Also, I feel like as soon as the juice went missing everyone correctly thought “Andrew,” and didn’t seriously move on to “housekeeping” or “random tramp slipped in and then left again.”

    5. Michaela*

      And there were a couple of people hell bent on defending him, and saying that taking food is apparently something allowable in all circumstances, and that half eaten food is always up for grabs if left alone for any amount of time. Since the tone of the writers were different and Alison usually gets rid of sock puppets, it was an interesting read on food entitlement of some people.

      I think one of the commenters mentioned some food thieves may have food disorders, and that may explain some of the vociferous defence of the behaviour, if a person genuinely couldn’t leave food alone in any circumstances.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I found that fascinating–that “It’s just juice” is a reason you can take any unattended snacks you manage to corner. If “It’s just juice” and of little value then you can just go buy your own–if it’s so unimportant, you wouldn’t take other people’s.

        As with microwaving fish in the office and trimming your split ends at your desk.

      2. Jennifer Strange*

        I think one of the commenters mentioned some food thieves may have food disorders, and that may explain some of the vociferous defence of the behaviour, if a person genuinely couldn’t leave food alone in any circumstances.

        I’m always amazed by the level of push back I’ve seen on letters about food thieves in the work place (mostly in the archives, thankfully). Inevitably someone always has to bring up food insecurity, and someone usually references that one letter where the LW was embarrassed to be taking leftover food from the break room due to not being able to afford food. To be clear, food insecurity is certainly a thing (and I am always more than happy to help if I’ve got a colleague in need) but you can’t just use it as a catchall excuse for stealing food (especially when it’s purely a hypothetical).

        1. Jaybeetee*

          This reminds me of a Dear Prudence letter awhile back when a young teacher realized a school custodian had been stealing her granola bars. She was entry-level and didn’t earn a great salary herself, she tried to keep the bars on-hand for the children, but they were disappearing at a rapid enough rate that replacing them was becoming a significant expense for her.

          Anyway, Prudie ROASTED the LW for caring about this, citing that custodians don’t get paid much and he probably was stealing due to food insecurity, how dare LW not recognize her privilege. It was bonkers, and I still remember the commenters that day dragged the hell out of Prudie for it. Like… she was supposed to just keep letting the guy deplete her supplies that she had to replace out of pocket.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          I will die on this commenting hill: People who are actually food insecure take pains not to show it at work, lest the unpleasantness endanger their job and thus what food they do have.

          1. EchoGirl*

            Eh, I don’t think it’s fair to assume everyone in a given situation is going to always behave exactly the same way. You’re probably right in many cases, but I’m inherently wary of any assumption that “anyone who’s REALLY X would automatically do Y”. Two people can react in very different ways to identical situations, and it doesn’t make either reaction any less valid. (While not actually food insecure, I do have some issues with having a scarcity mentality around food (due to some problematic aspects of the way I was raised) and I can tell you that I have, in fact, had that slip through at work — not in the sense of taking other people’s food, but in other ways. It seems like it would be counterintuitive for the exact reason you mention, but sometimes people react in ways that are more based in instinct/fear than reason.)

            I do, however, agree with Jennifer that it doesn’t excuse stealing, especially since you can’t know if the person you stole from might also be dealing with food insecurity or similar issues. I’m also concerned about it being raised as a hypothetical, because that’s only going to heighten other people’s unease around food insecure people.

        3. Observer*

          Yes, it’s pretty amazing. Especially since there is often a good chance that the person whose food you took is either food insecure or has other specific needs. Certainly, absent other specific context, that’s just as likely as the food thief being food insecure.

          What blows me away the most is when someone who writes in explicitly says that THEY are food insecure, can’t afford to keep feeding others, or has to bring special food so they don’t eat if someone takes their food and commenters STILL trot out “maybe food thief / moocher is food insecure”.

    6. TiredTeacher*

      I am so happy you directed me to the comments of the original post. Brilliant. At least the owner of the juice did not get in trouble by trying to make the thief sick!

  6. Heidi*

    LW2 never actually said that she told Nancy that she lived in San Antonio. By the time she started working with Nancy, she had already lived in Phoenix for 2.5 years, so it might not have come up in conversation that often. It’s also not that uncommon to refer to a state that you lived in rather than a city. My coworkers are from Ohio and Michigan, but I honestly have no idea which cities they’re from. Perhaps Nancy knows that the LW lived in Texas, but not exactly where. Or maybe she really doesn’t hang onto details like this. In any case, it feels like an overreaction if this was the only thing wrong. It makes me wonder if there were other sources of offense not included in the letter.

    1. Tech Worker*

      Right. Also, I’ve always been really good at remembering facts about people like where they’re from, where they went to school and what they studied, when their birthday is, etc., even people I don’t know that well. But my husband is not good at remembering these details about people, including people he’s close with (on the other hand, in other areas he has a much better memory than me). And I once worked with someone who had trouble remembering basic details of someone he had worked closely with for almost two decades! So everyone is different and it’s possible that remembering these sorts of things is just not OP’s coworker’s strong suit.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        I can’t even remember my husband’s birthday. My memory for certain details is broken. Possibly coworker is like me: can recite the entire script of Star Trek episodes but can’t recall personal details.

        It’s not from want of caring, it’s just the storage media doesn’t hold some stuff.

      2. allathian*

        I’m terrible about remembering things like that, even if I otherwise have an endless memory for trivia. If someone got offended because I forgot a to me, absolutely irrelevant detail like their birthday, or the college they graduated from, I’d just shrug it off and disengage from the friendship/acquaintanceship if the contact is a social one, or stick to strictly business at work. People like this are drama, and I hate drama, even if ironically I’m not particularly conflict avoidant. Provided we’re close enough to discuss things like that, I do tend to remember things like whether or not the person is married and the number of kids they have, if any, and the number of pets they have and what kind, if any, because I find relationships much more interesting than dry facts like their birthday or alma mater.

        Granted, I’m in a culture where it’s normal for people to host their own birthdays, so there’s no expectation of even close friends keeping track of their friends’ birthdays except in a very general way (I only know my best friend’s birthday is on Christmas Day because it’s on a holiday, I know one friend’s birthday is in late March and another’s is in mid-September, but I’m unsure about the exact dates). If they want to celebrate, we’ll get an invitation. If not, it’s completely acceptable and expected to ignore the day. People who are on social media get reminders of their friends’ birthdays, so that helps, I guess. But I’m not on any social media except WhatsApp, and apart from online forums and blogs, I only engage with people I know in person.

      3. Green great dragon*

        Yeh, I have a terrible memory for isolated details like names. If I’ve never been to San Antonio, I won’t have a hook to remember the name, and it just won’t stick. If you tell me you hated San Antonio because your favourite thing is making snowmen, I will remember your stories of “Snowmen I Have Made”, and know you hated the time you lived somewhere hot, but I will forget the name. I will remember all the details of your child’s drama with the new school while completely forgetting their name.

        I also take time to recall things, and I can quite see ‘I didn’t know that’ coming out of my mouth 5 seconds before I remember half a dozen San Antonio stories you have told me.

        1. allathian*

          Oh yeah, me too. I know the ages and names of my close friends’ kids, but coworkers’ kids? Probably not unless we talk about the kids regularly.

    2. londonedit*

      Yeah, I’m the sort of person who will generally retain random facts about people (and random info in general, which comes in handy for pub quizzes sometimes) so sometimes I do get a bit stung when a friend forgets something I know I’ve told them about myself. But over the last 10 years or so, I’ve realised it’s simply that people’s brains work in different ways, and not everyone remembers things like that. So now I realise that it doesn’t mean they don’t care about me, it’s just that while I might remember that they mentioned holidaying in France as a child, they’re unlikely to remember that I mentioned living in France for a year when I was 22. So I can understand why the OP might have felt a bit hurt, if they’re the sort of person with a brain that does retain this stuff, but they really do need to get over it and accept that it wasn’t a deliberate slight.

        1. londonedit*

          Ha – I made that example up so as not to be identifying, but maybe I was channelling you at the time!

    3. anonymous73*

      Even if she had told her he lived there, the fact that she assumes she can’t be trusted with work stuff because she can’t remember a personal detail about her is beyond ridiculous. I can’t remember why I walked into a room sometimes.

      1. fposte*

        But I think also the OP may have been correct in realizing that they weren’t as important to Nancy as they thought, given that they had been making secret sacrifices for the boss. It’s good to understand that no matter how much you and a boss enjoy each other’s company you shouldn’t put your career (or private life) on hold for her. Hopefully the OP eventually settled on an understanding that they had put too much on this relationship, but that ultimately it was a really good boss/employee relationship, rather than flouncing in indignation and searching for boss love again elsewhere.

        1. anonymous73*

          I think “realizing that they weren’t as important to Nancy as they thought” is a stretch. I’ve forgotten things about friends I consider family and they don’t take it personally. We laugh it off. It’s called being reasonable and OP is not.

          1. fposte*

            I agree with you on the insignificance of forgetting the OP’s former home town. But I don’t think it’s a stretch to say they’re not as important to Nancy as they thought, because the OP was OTT. There is no regard by a boss that makes forgoing better jobs an appropriate response, so I think they probably shouldn’t be as important to any boss as they thought.

            1. fposte*

              Ah, looks like the OP responded pretty calmly on this one that she probably overthought this. I do hope she opened up her thinking about other jobs as well.

      2. JanePf*

        My dad was a lawyer who had the same secretary for decades (she celebrated 50 years of working there recently). One day he said to her, Glenda, you look a little peaked, are you ok? She said, “it might be because I lost 60 pounds” and walked out of the room. She liked him for other reasons.

    4. Elsajeni*

      I lived in Portland, OR for several years before moving back to my hometown. It comes up occasionally; probably most people I work with have heard me refer to “when I lived in Portland” or “when I lived in Oregon” at some point. 90% of the time, if someone remembers and wants to bring it up, they say “didn’t you used to live in… it was Seattle, right?” It’s just not the kind of detail that most people hold onto, I guess!

  7. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

    I didn’t really understand about #4, why this person doesn’t want to say what their new job is? Does the new company say they can’t (which would be super unusual), does OP wrongly think they’re not allowed to say it, or is there a reason related to the current job why OP#4 thinks it would be a bad idea?

    1. Eliza*

      Depending on the circumstances, I could understand being concerned that their old company might try to sabotage their new job out of spite.

    2. Jackalope*

      My impression given the description of how everyone in her company reacted (which was… excessive), and the fact that her grandboss knows a lot of people in their industry and can be both unkind & w/o discretion, is that the LW was afraid that the grandboss would try to sabotage her at her new job (“accidentally” mention ways she had allegedly messed up to the new employer, for example, or things like that).

    3. Observer*

      or is there a reason related to the current job why OP#4 thinks it would be a bad idea?

      It very much sounds to me like this is the reason.

  8. Double A*

    “Meeting a newborn” and “being expected to watch a coworkers kid” are just such vastly different complaints that it’s hard to get a read on if there’s a real problem here or not. The former is no more involved than meeting a houseplant and you cannot decline to so and remain a member of polite society in good standing. The latter is totally inappropriate and you absolutely should decline to do it. And if it’s happening regularly or for extended periods of time, it’s an issue that management probably needs to be involved in.

    I do have to say I am cracking up imagining someone attempting to decline to meet a newborn. You would just have to go out of your way to do it! Just like, staring a couple of inches about its parent’s head to avoid laying eyes on it. “Cathy, I will speak to you but I shall not acknowledge the presence of your spawn.”

    1. Mangled metaphor*

      It’s a funny mental picture, but usually “meeting a newborn” involves the baby being passed around from cuddle to cuddle. If you wish to acknowledge the parent without “meeting the newborn”, do it while someone else is holding the baby and cooing. Make small talk and then politely go back to work.

      Any parent who comes by your desk and says “hold my baby while I go to a meeting” can get the IMpolite version – you are not a paid babysitter.

      1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

        There were several young babies brought in to my workplace over the years, and not once did I have to hold one of them. If word got around that Clarabelle was in with her new baby Adolf, I’d wander over to where everyone was hanging out, stand near the back of admirers with my hands in my pockets and a vague smile on my face, say “Aw, cute” and wander back to my office. No one got miffed.

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, that’s the way it should work when everyone’s reasonable. A reasonable parent won’t be offended just because a coworker doesn’t want to hold their baby. I’ve successfully avoided holding coworkers’ babies even after having a baby myself. I stuck close to my older coworkers who are grandmothers themselves and let them hold the baby. I was happy to just smile and coo a bit and give my finger for the baby to grab.

          Admittedly my then-manager was very anti-children, and I didn’t get on particularly well with my then-coworker, either, so the idea of going to the office when I was on maternity leave and didn’t have to go to work never occurred to me.

        2. UKDancer*

          I developed this approach as well. Wander over, look at baby and say something nice about its eyes / nose / smile. Say how lovely it is to see the visiting parent. Then scarper back to the desk before anyone asks you to hold it or expects you to develop maternal instincts.

          I would not agree to mind anyone’s child but then most people in my workplace would have the manners and sense not to ask me.

        3. Cheerfully Polite Grey Rock*

          This is pretty much how I handled it too. Wander over, smile and wave at baby, congratulate new parent, then head back to my desk.
          If someone brought their pet, on the other hand.. Phones be damned, let me meet the furry critter!

        4. Generic Name*

          Yup, this is how to do it. Plus, “meeting a newborn” is often inexorably tied to “greeting the parent with whom you are acquainted and have not seen for weeks/months”. Go in, say hi while remaining on the periphery, and then excuse yourself saying you are on deadline.

      2. bamcheeks*

        This is absolutely not my experience. I don’t know whether this is a local culture thing or what, but I used to hang around for AGES waiting to be offered a go on a baby, and it never happened. Now I just straight up ask!

        1. Alice*

          Probably a local thing, I used to make myself scarce at Old Job whenever a baby was in the building (don’t really want to be the one writing in to ask what to do if I drop a coworker’s baby)

      3. Jaybee*

        I’ve never seen a baby get passed around when brought in to ‘meet’ everyone at work. Occasionally people other than the parent will hold the baby if they specifically ask to, but it’s definitely never been an expectation, even in woman-heavy offices I’ve worked in.

        1. KittyCardigans*

          I certainly believe it’s done in some places, but I think it’s on the decline. New parents I know will often let people hold the baby if they ask, but they aren’t necessarily eager to let the baby be a hot potato. People are a lot more aware of and worried about germs with young babies.

          1. fposte*

            Yes, it used to be–or pass as–an honor: “I like you so much I will let you hold my tiny infant.” Now people are less likely to fling babies about.

          2. Filosofickle*

            That’s my experience. I can’t say if it’s time or location — though I’d guess time — but 20 years ago in the midwest I got loads of “don’t you want to hold the baby?! who doesn’t want to hold a baby!” and now on the west coast I am rarely offered the baby and if I am I’m asked to wash up first.

        2. thatjillgirl*

          In my experience, it doesn’t tend to be an explicit passing around. More often, it’s that the parent brings the baby in and people who think babies are cute or who are otherwise interested in meeting this specific baby will come over and voluntarily want to hold the baby. The problem becomes when it turns into a weird peer pressure thing where everybody is trying to hold the baby and now if you don’t also want to hold the baby, you look like the weird one because you’re the only one not participating. In some groups, not wanting to hold a baby can get weird really fast.

      4. Observer*

        but usually “meeting a newborn” involves the baby being passed around from cuddle to cuddle.

        Not at all. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but it actually is not typical at all anywhere I’ve ever worked.

        Any parent who comes by your desk and says “hold my baby while I go to a meeting” can get the IMpolite version – you are not a paid babysitter.

        Well, that’s a whole separate issue. And, definitely push back on that.

    2. bamcheeks*

      Completely agree with this, and I think it’s where some of the arguments are coming from. I think most people can agree that it’s just part of being a civil co-worker to briefly acknowledge members of your co-workers family if they make a quick visit to work, whether it’s a baby, a partner, or a dog, and that being asked to look after children when you’re not working in childcare is obnoxious.

      In between those two extremes, there’s huge cultural variation in how welcome/tolerated/unwelcome children are in society, and whether the majority of people are happy to interact and chat to children or would ideally never interact with children. Both extremes presumably alienate some people! But it’s really impossible to know from this letter whether OP is anxious about being left in charge of children or expected to hold a baby, or feeling awkward about not wanting to acknowledge a baby when everyone else is happy to see them.

      I personally think it’s fine and not likely to harm either your professional or your social reputation to just carry on with your work and not acknowledge a baby visitor– but if you feel awkward about being the only one not doing so, that’s on you to deal with! It’s OK to opt out of common social rituals if you prefer not to, but it’s not other people’s problem to solve your feelings about that.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      Fwiw I saw it as an office where being expected to watch the kids and give the parents a break had become such a problem that OP was now extending the wished-for ban on interaction to all possible circumstances.

      (It’s unlikely anyone would show her a newborn and then drop it on the desk and leave–mobile small irrational people are a different problem.)

      I like children, but as a parent have certainly glared daggers into the backs of many people haplessly threatening “Hey, if you don’t cut that out, we’ll leave! I’ll get up and intervene. I mean it!”

    4. Lucy Skywalker*

      When someone brings a baby to work (or any other place where I’m expected to interact with the baby and parent), I usually say in a high-pitched voice like I was talking to a dog, “Oh, look at YOU! Aren’t you a little cutie! SO TINY!” If I don’t want to engage further, I say, “bye bye” and wave, and then go on with my day.
      If the parent insists that I hold the baby and I don’t want to, I simply say, “No thanks, I’m just getting over a cold.”
      I agree that asking a co-worker to watch your kid is *always* inappropriate unless you work in a day care center or preschool.

    5. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

      I can’t imagine any parent handing over their newborn these days! Even before COVID, babies under 6 months don’t have mature immune systems. My attitude as a parent would be “you may view my baby from at least 10 feet away, only outdoors or in a well-ventilated room.” I wouldn’t want my baby getting the flu or oral herpes from some random coworker.

    6. Nanani*


      It sounds like #2 has a problem with being expected to act as impromptu babysitter, but they asked about how to get out of meeting kids entirely. These are not the same problem!
      In fact, only one of them is a problem, and it’s not the one they asked for a script for.

  9. PollyQ*

    #3 — My cousin has a friend, who I’ve socialized with a few times over the years but don’t know well at all, who has a mind like a steel trap for people’s life histories. He could tell you where I went to college, my niece’s middle name, etc., etc., not because he’s fascinated with me in particular, but just because his brain retains that kind of info. But not everyone’s brain works that way. It most likely says nothing at all about how much the boss respects LW or how much she appreciates her work, and I think it would have been a big mistake for LW to have any resentment towards her boss over this.

    But I do agree 100% with Artemesia up-page that LW should put herself first in her career and not worry about what her departure might mean to the boss, and I wonder if she wasn’t feeling a little underappreciated even before this issue cropped up.

    1. allathian*

      One of my husband’s friends has a mind like that, too. The first few times I met him, I was a bit wary of him, because I felt so uncomfortable about him remembering such trivial details about me. It almost felt like low-key stalking, even if it didn’t cost him any effort to remember stuff like that. But as I got to know him better, I realized that this was just a personal quirk, and he’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Besides, he’s definitely not at all interested in me, just polite enough to engage in small talk with the wife of a friend, so there’s no more discomfort.

      1. bamcheeks*

        I’ve got a friend who just thinks in astrology, and would always say things to me like, “How’s your brother these days? Not the Rat, the Monkey”. Every. Single. Time we’d have to stop and track back so he could explain to me which was which.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          In a reverse twist I unintentionally used Chinese astrology to deflect a fan of western horoscopes.
          I’m a white woman who grew up with Asian friends. When “Madame Horoscope” cornered me to tell me her star sign & ask me mine, I told her, then moved on to my lunar animal and element, and asked her hers. She started trying to extract herself from the conversation immediately, and it never came back up!

          1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

            I don’t really believe in any form of astrology but under rare circumstances that the topic comes up, I love to tell people that I’m a Taurus born in the year of the Ox so I’m double stubborn!

            I think most people remember details that they identify with — for example someone from Texas would remember another person is also from Texas but wouldn’t necessarily remember someone else is from Vermont; or a football fan knows the other football fans in the office, but not the baseball fans…

      2. Myrin*

        I am like your husband’s friend (although I’ve found that I forget more things now which I wouldn’t have forgotten only two years ago) and have on occasion pretended to not know something about a coworker/acquaintance which I actually remembered very well exactly so that I wouldn’t come across like he did to you. It’s a bit of a “know/guess your audience” kind of thing – most people are simply surprised, some are flattered, and some are obviously taken aback, so I try to take my estimate of which category people will belong to into account.

        1. Tech Worker*

          Haha, me too! I’ll say something like “Oh yeah, you’re from the East Coast right?” even if I remember the specific town in Massachusetts that this person who I haven’t seen in years is from :P

      3. banoffee pie*

        Yeah I remember stuff like that about people too but I don’t always bother to tell them I remember from the last time; as you say, some people can think you’re too interested in them, when really I just have a good memory. I can equally well remember facts about characters in TV shows etc, and they aren’t even real, so it definitely doesn’t mean I’m ‘too’ into anyone, it’s just how my mind works. Somebody I don’t know that well remembered something about me today that I didn’t expect them to, and it shocked me a bit because I’m usually the one doing that!

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      I was embarrassed to realize that my brain will fix on the names of kids and dogs, and for the adults attached to them I have to work much harder to get beyond “Spot’s mom.”

  10. Candi*

    #3 -it’s likely no more complicated than she forgot. Sometimes things just don’t register as useful memories. I’m particularly that way with spoken information; I’ll remember one or two things, and the rest will just slip, especially the first time around. (I’ve learned to own it, admit it, and ask for the information again if need be. I also take a lot of notes.)

    #1 -That they went straight to essentially Defcon 2 and bounced you shortly thereafter speaks to an insanely dysfunctional workplace, or… well, your hands aren’t as clean as you’d like Alison to think.

    1. Coder von Frankenstein*

      Based on that poster’s replies in the original thread, I’m going with door number two. He was intensely and weirdly defensive, insisting that “I am not a thief” and refusing to take any responsibility for the mistake, diverting to irrelevant hypotheticals whenever anyone pointed out “…But you took someone else’s stuff.”

      I’d bet a large amount of money that this was just the tip of the iceberg. If this was the final warning, what were the previous warnings about?

  11. Turingtested*

    It seems so obvious to me not to take a single serving food item unless it’s part of a group of similar items explicitly up for grabs. But OP is acting like he’s being disciplined for taking a squirt of mustard from a giant container.

    So interesting what unspoken rules are taken for granted. I wonder what OP truly thought vs what he’s willing to admit to thinking.

    1. londonedit*

      I agree, I just can’t imagine doing it. If there was a table at the side of the room that had stacks of boxes of juice, maybe other snacks etc, and a sign saying ‘Staff – please help yourselves’ then yep, I might take one. But a single box of juice left on a table? No, I’d assume someone had forgotten it or left it there while they were doing something else, and in that case it’s absolutely not mine to take. But anyone who’s ever lived in a student house will know that some people have frankly bizarre ideas when it comes to taking other people’s food.

      1. UKDancer*

        Me neither. I mean in our office we have a particular filing cabinet on top of which people put biscuits / chocolates they’ve brought back from their holidays / extra veg from someone’s allotment. If it’s left there then it’s fair game. Anything else left anywhere else is obviously someone’s lunch.

    2. anonymous73*

      I bought myself a mini fridge the last time I worked in a large office because my food kept being taken from the communal fridge. Food that had my name written on it. Some people JUST.DON’T.CARE and based on other comments about the original post and the OP’s comments within the thread he is one of those entitled assholes who think everything is up for grabs if it’s in a common area. The firing seems a bit excessive to me even if he wouldn’t admit to wrong doing, but I’m guessing this was the final straw.

    3. Generic Name*

      I wonder if it has to do with an overly liberal interpretation of finders keepers on the OP’s part. I once knew a woman who grabbed a pair of sunglasses someone had left on a picnic table at a crowded event and said, “Ooh, free sunglasses” and put them on her head. My thought was, “wow, someone is probably missing those sunglasses and is looking for them”. While I wouldn’t call that woman a thief exactly, but I don’t view her as a paragon of morality either. I didn’t consider those sunglasses abandoned any more than I consider a juice bottle sitting on a table for some minutes as abandoned.

  12. Freelance Anything*

    OP#1 is so blind to what they did wrong, I would not be surprised if this was a repeat issue with him.

    This was a ‘final warning’ and the Juice owner went straight to HR instead of OP?

    I know it’s a big assumption…but assuming this is a relatively sane workplace then both those things are indicative of a pattern of behaviour.

  13. Need a WFH policy*

    My company will walk you out if you give notice and won’t say where you are going as they believe the only reason one wouldn’t share the information is that you are going to a competitor. Most of us have access to confidential information. If you share where you are going and they are not viewed as a competitor, you will be allowed to work out your notice.

    Regarding children in the office, I was at my desk talking to a male coworker when a third coworker’s child popped over to my desk. She was maybe 4. Male coworker and I briefly stop our conversation and acknowledge the child. The child crawls under my desk and proceeds to let loose with the loudest, foulest gas. She then laughs maniacally and then runs off. Male coworker looks at me and goes “Did she just….” Me: “Yes, yes she did. I need to go find her mother because that might have had unintended consequences!”

    1. anonymous73*

      And therein lies the problem with children in the office. You can’t let your 4 year old wander aimlessly round your office, interrupting your co-workers and expecting others to keep them from getting hurt.

    2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      I had a coworker bring her 18 month old to say “Hi” and step across the cube aisle to talk to a colleague. I turned back to the computer after doing the routine, “Hi little dude*!” and went back to work. Unbeknownst to me, the kid was still in my cube crawling around the floor and I accidentally rolled my chair over the kid’s hand. I felt terrible and the mom was initially mad at me in the 1/2 second when she heard her kid scream. Luckily she calmed down and realized that it was more on her for not keeping “eyes on” than me for not checking for surprise toddlers in my cube.

  14. Roscoe*

    #1 while I think stealing a bottle of juice is fairly minor in the grand scheme of thing, I also feel like you are way too nonchalant about it. Its really not about the cost of something, more that you took what wasn’t yours. I don’t think it deserved a letter in your file or anything, but you also need to learn to respect other people’s stuff.

    #3 This is such a small thing, I’m not sure if it rises to the level of being personally hurt by it. I have good friends I’ve told things about my past which they have totally forgotten about. If everything else is good, then enjoy that.

    #5. The fact that any of you feel you need to do anything is absurd, especially from a management POV. If the person who found it was friends with this person, and I mean really friends, not “work friends”, then maybe they can do it on their own. But nothing about this is a management thing. They have their own personal lives and can live them as they choose.

    1. Observer*

      I don’t think it deserved a letter in your file or anything, but you also need to learn to respect other people’s stuff.

      I would normally agree with you about the note in the file. But it really sounds like part of a bigger problem – the blame passing (well, if the owner had just showed up! If the owner had just spoken to me!); the extreme self-justification and trying to get credit (I mean REALLY, you expect credit for not blaming housekeeping); and simple refusal to acknowledge that they messed up are all issues in their own right.

  15. ManekiNeko42*

    #5 “we are a tight-knit company and are all friends” .
    It reminds me of those organisation definying themselves as “a family”. You are not friends, you are collegues. You may exchange pleasantries, do things together but the main reason of you meeting is the workplace and you must act accordingly.

    1. anonymous73*

      It is possible to have real genuine friends at work, but the “are all friends” is total BS. Regardless of being real friends or not, this has nothing to do with work and is none of anyone’s business. In fact the ONLY way I would get involved with this situation is if it was a super close friend, and even then I would be hesitant. When you try and get involved in other people’s relationships it can come back to bite you in the butt. I’ve seen it first hand.

  16. Perfectly Particular*

    Are kids/babies in the office still a COVID-era issue? Seems like parents would want to keep their kids out of as many germy places as possible, and I suspect my office isn’t the only one banning visitors

      1. ManekiNeko42*

        Especially considering the difficulties in finding childcare or being able to afford it with the new prices. I can understand people’s difficulties, but when it comes to feel entitled to people’s attention to keep an eye on children.. nope! not my monkeys, not my circus.

  17. Vox Experientia*

    i have a stock answer i use whenever anyone (at work or otherwise) tries to foist their offspring or pet off on me. “sorry, would love to but i’m allergic”. when used for kids it usually elicits a laugh or groan but invariably they catch the hint and take their germ factories elsewhere.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Haha, got to admit I’ve used the ‘sorry, I’m allergic’ thing when someone has tried to foist a baby onto me. Usually gets a laugh :)

    2. Cameron Counts*

      Even if your comment gets laughs in the moment, it’s likely an awkward laugh. Especially if you’ve said it more than once. You can be sure your co-workers talk about your behavior around babies and kids when you’re not around, and not in a positive way.

      1. BigHairNoHeart*

        they might, but they’d be silly for doing so. it’s completely reasonable to not want to hold someone else’s child (germs, fear of dropping the baby/not supporting the head right, fear of diaper spillage…) and making a lighthearted joke to excuse yourself from doing that is also completely reasonable

      2. bamcheeks*

        This clearly differs by region and local culture but I have never worked anywhere where “X doesn’t interact with someone’s baby” would raise the slightest flicker of interest from anyone, so I don’t think you can be “sure” that they will.

      3. anonymous73*

        So? Parents need to stop assuming everyone in their life wants to hold their precious offspring. Having your baby acknowledged is one thing. Assuming you can hand that baby off to someone who isn’t asking? Not okay. In this situation the parent made it awkward, not Vox. And if I were in that situation and they want to talk about me behind my back, go for it. Your opinion of me won’t keep me up at night.

      4. Aquawoman*

        It seems like you’re saying that people are not allowed to have boundaries re other people’s kids. I wouldn’t diss someone for not being a kid person.

      5. Eirene*

        You’re being very defensive about this. Did someone once decline to hold your baby at the office, or something, and now you think anyone who isn’t into it must hate all babies?

      6. Nanani*


        As long as you’re not working in a daycare of children’s hopsital or something, it is definitely not part of your job to hold a random kid. And if its’ held against you? That’s a giant neon sign to look elsewhere (especially in a “of course the young women will watch the baby for me” setting)

      7. Vox Experientia*

        you are correct, co-workers do talk about my behavior both when i’m around and when i’m not around. historically i’ve found these people fall into two camps – people who think i’m hilarious, and people who are bothered or offended by me. i’ve also noticed found that invariably the people in the offended camp are not the kind of people whose company i find enjoyable. so this is a pretty nice way to sort those people out. so win win.

        1. Vox Experientia*

          another joke i tend to beat to death that has the same result – whenever there’s a baby crying in my vicinity i loudly say “there’s never a dingo around when you need one”. helps me ID the humorless right away.

          1. Anonforhere*

            Um. I find the joke you started the thread with funny. I don’t find this one funny at all, and I don’t want to be around babies either. One is a joke about a physical impossibility and one is a joke about murdering a baby. That’s a very significant difference.

            1. Mannequin*

              Are you under the mistaken impression that the mother of A Dingo Stole My Baby murdered her child? While that was the initial suspicion, the baby really was stolen and eaten by a wild animal.

              1. Anonforhere*

                No, because I’ve never heard of that before.
                If that’s what it was supposed to be about though, I’ve gotta say I don’t think joking about the actual death of a child is funny either.

                1. pancakes*

                  It’s certainly not for everyone, but that’s true of all types of humor. There’s a long, rich tradition of dark humor around this topic, e.g. Edward Gorey’s Gashlycrumb Tinies. The story behind “a dingo ate my baby” is quite sad, but the phrase has its own Wikipedia entry because there have been so many joking references to it over the years.

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      If it’s a newborn, maybe follow the joke with “But seriously, I haven’t had a whooping cough booster so let’s be safe.”

    4. Cat Tree*

      This seems overly dramatic. Why not just say “no thanks”? I had a baby recently and some people didn’t want to hold her, so they just said no and we both moved on with our lives. You’re making into a much bigger deal than it has to be.

      1. Anonforhere*

        I’m sure there are people who can say it more eloquently, but in short, shutting it down with an obvious, lighthearted joke makes it less likely that the parent will keep pushing the boundary and get angry when you continue to refuse. A refusal that’s both very firm and defusing at the same time could save both parties grief. And no, you really, really cannot assume that someone else will be reasonable about a reasonable boundary. I’ve had people get angry at me for not doing personal-hobby-ish stuff that had no way of affecting their lives at all.

        1. AnonToo*

          I purposefully cultivate a humorous ‘wicked witch who eats children’ aspect to my persona precisely so people will keep their children away lol

      2. Nanani*

        Because a lto of people don’t have the luxury of others listening when they say “no”.
        When others hear “no” from you as just noise, you learn to phrase it in a more attention-catching way like a joke.

        1. pancakes*

          Making jokes about every difficult topic rather than being direct seems like a good way to keep that cycle of not being listened to or taken seriously ongoing.

    5. Kitties*

      This is such dehumanizing language. “Offspring”? “Germ factories”? Babies are still people, even if you don’t particularly enjoy them.

      1. Vox Experientia*

        Kitties you’re not the first person to object to my use of the word offspring, which i don’t understand. it literally means a person’s child or children. “the offspring of middle-class parents”. what’s offensive about that? is progeny better? if i’d have said “one of your litter” i could understand it. but offspring isn’t a mean thing. and if you’re don’t think young children are germy, you’ve obviously not spent much time with them.

        1. Kitties*

          It’s a term usually used to refer to animals/non-human beings, while “children” = people. Pair it with “germ factories, and…. yikes. I’m well aware children spread germs, but it’s still a rude, dehumanizing way of referring to them.

          1. Vox Experientia*

            ok i’ll give you the germ factories is a bit snide. but offspring is commonly used when describing people too, and is completely innocuous.

          2. Cake or Death?*

            Uh. No it’s not. Offspring is extremely common term to refer to children and it’s certainly not dehumanizing. Offspring being the children of people is literally like the first definition listed.
            Lol this take is bizarre.

          3. Mannequin*

            What? Offspring is literally the word to refer to human children.

            And children are teeming with germs, because their immune systems aren’t fully developed.

  18. Perfectly Particular*

    OP #3 – I understand being really upset and rattled by this. Your old hometown has to come up in conversation periodically since you lived there for nearly 2 decades, but somehow Nancy completely forgot? It’s not like it’s worth quitting over, but you would be right to pull back your loyalty

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      For forgetting one detail? That’s not really a friendship ending event.

      (I can’t remember any birthdays of any of my family. Husband has to remind me every year and we still love each other)

      1. Phoenix Wright*

        Indeed. My closest friends, some of which I’ve known since high school, have birthdays every year. Not once have I been able to remember when they are from memory; I always have to look it up or be reminded by them when the date is near. Sometimes the brain refuses to store certain details, no matter how important they are or how close you are to that person.

    2. Delta Delta*

      I worked with a woman who lived briefly in both Berkeley and Boulder, and you had better believe she never let us forget it. If OP is anything like her, there’s no chance the boss didn’t know. If OP is, you know, normal, maybe it slipped the boss’ s mind.

    3. Jaybee*

      What on earth?

      I grew upn Texas (now live in the northeast of the US) and I’ve certainly mentioned it a few times at work, but I don’t expect people to remember. They barely remember information that might be actually relevant, like that I don’t drink alcohol or soda.

    4. Pool Lounger*

      Why would anyone care about this? I don’t expect even close friends to remember my home town, birthday, or any other random facts about me. Many people easily forget these sorts of details.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Same. I have met a LOT of people in my life. I remember things that come up often, significant details – but not their full backstories. I’m not even sure I could tell you everywhere my husband has lived in his life.

      2. Threeve*

        Also, it’s just…not interesting. I’ll remember friends’ hobbies and taste, because that’s actually learning something about them.

        Unless you’re one of those people who make “I lived abroad” a part of your personality (and please don’t), your previous hometown says nothing about you as a person. Getting to know people is not the same as remembering facts about them.

    5. fposte*

      Seven years ago, though? That’s a big demand of just about anybody who’s not family. I know some people have really good memories for stuff like that (I used to be one of them, in fact), but if that’s your love language you’re not going to get much love in the workplace. I think it’s fine for the OP to pull back her loyalty, but that’s because she’s defined it as sacrifice, which is inappropriate. She can be loyal to her boss and still take a better job elsewhere.

    6. Aquawoman*

      I’m ND and that is 100% something I would forget. I care a lot about my reports and urge them to take vacations, help them with their career goals, mentor them through obstacles, and stuff like that. I do ask about them personally, also, that’s just not something I would remember. I find it’s helpful to remember that not everyone is alike, and people have different ways of caring about others.

    7. bluephone*

      that’s a great way to get glossed over for promotions, sure.

      I barely remember some of the details of my own life; no way would I be mad at a coworker or boss (even after 8 years) being like, “oh you have TWO sisters. whoops my bad”

    8. KayDeeAye*

      I am really sorry to disagree with you, Perfectly Particular, but that is simply not reasonable. Forgetting that someone’s spouse died only a couple of years ago, forgetting that someone is horribly allergic to peanuts, forgetting that someone has been stalked and so you need to be careful about disclosing information about them to random strangers…those are examples of things that anybody who cares about you should remember. The reason they should remember is that these are things that *actually affect* your life at home and at work. But you don’t need to treat someone a special way just because they once lived in San Antonio. Being a former resident of San Antonio affects one’s future life not at all. So why should everybody remember it? If the OP’s boss is forgetful in more important ways, that’s one thing, but if this is the most important thing the boss forgets, it’s time to let it gooooooo.

    9. pancakes*

      The letter writer’s idea of loyalty is (hopefully, was) quite misplaced. It needs to be cleared away with some sort of giant broom rather than pulled back a bit. Turning down “several opportunities” on account of not wanting one’s coworkers to have more on their plates is extremely self-abnegating, and I’d be surprised if this was the one and only occasion the letter writer denied themself something on someone else’s behalf.

    10. Chris*

      One of my best bosses ever showed zero interest in my life outside work. I used to joke that I wasn’t sure she knew my name. I thought it was strange at the time and it kind of bothered me. However, looking back, she supported my career growth like almost no other supervisor. She was a great mentor and supporter. And, when I needed back up, she was there for me. With coworkers, especially bosses, I think it’s best to reserve your loyalty for those who are good bosses, not good friends. And, honestly, one of the best things about the boss I’m talking about is that she supported me getting a promotion to another team even though it was going to leave her in a tough spot.

  19. agnes*

    So I am curious about why someone would not want to share what they are doing next when they leave a job–other than “it’s not anybody’s business” which is certainly valid, just unusual if you’ve shared other kind of life events with your colleagues during your time there. If you’ve always been protective of your private life, then it seems consistent, if you have previously shared life things, I’m wondering what makes this different.

    Anyway, I am just wondering if folks would be willing to share their thoughts on that.

    1. BRR*

      The most common reason I see is the individual is worried their current boss will contact their new job and say something to jeopardize their new position.

    2. Colette*

      Because it might fall through, and you’d prefer to be vague.
      Because the people you work with might know people there and talk to them about you, or to you about them, in a way that means you aren’t starting with a clean slate.
      Because the company you’re working for next is not information they really need.

      Personally, I’d go vague but true (i.e. “It’s a small company that makes teapots”, “It’s a small company you’ve probably never heard of, and it’s a much shorter commute!”)

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      My mind jumped to the many letters we have read here from people whose former employers keep calling them with questions long after their last day.

    4. Anonymous Hippo*

      One possibility…you are taking a job that’s objectively a step back because you need to get away from your current job and you don’t want that to be obvious.

    5. Observer*

      In this case, it seems pretty obvious that they are worried about how the boss will react. To start with the news was greeting with some pretty strong over-reactions AND the bosses keep pushing for this information, which is a bit odd. But also, the OP says “I also don’t trust the company 100 percent because they aren’t very forthcoming with employees, and she knows a ton of people in my industry and who knows what she’ll say to others. I don’t want anything getting in the way of my new job.

    6. JustaTech*

      When a lot of people were leaving my company for the New Shiny Company, after a while people stopped saying where they were going because upper management got mad about all the people quitting so decided to make a lot of fuss about anyone who left for NSC. (Upper management also attempted to ban going away parties “because we don’t want people to think you’re glad they’re leaving” so the parties moved to after hours and off-site and some people weren’t invited anymore.)

      And then there are people who have been reasonably open about their lives who just casually won’t say where they’re going until the last day, or after they’ve left. I just figured it was folks wanting to finish up here rather than being bombarded with questions about their new place.

  20. Delta Delta*

    #3 – This reminds me of the Arrested Development where Michael meets Maggie Lizer and she tells him in about 4 different ways that she’s blind, including “I’m blind” and it didn’t register. For some people information just doesn’t register.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      It’s a shame to say this, but I get that. I had friends in high school who were legally blind. The words should be synonyms, but I’d process a new coworker being introduced to me as “sightless” differently (and probably as-intended) than I would “blind.”

      Which, to be clear, is my flaw.

  21. Camellia*

    Regarding the juice, I taught my daughter something that would make the world a lot better place if everyone would follow it:
    If it’s not yours, don’t touch it.
    Mic drop

    1. Colette*

      In this specific case, that would be good advice. There are many other cases where it isn’t, though.

      1. doreen*

        It might not be necessary in every case – but I can’t think of any where it would actually be bad advice. I mean, even if there’s a convention at a particular workplace that there is a particular area for abandoned food , there isn’t any downside to not taking anything from that area.

        1. Colette*

          You see someone drop something in the street and leave it to get run over because it’s not yours – even if you flag them down, it’s too late.
          There’s a public tool that allows you to do something important, but it’s not yours so you don’t use it.
          You forget your lunch but won’t take any food off the “up for grabs” table because it’s not yours.
          You forget a mask, so instead of taking one the store offers, you go home again.
          You’re walking through the grocery store and turn down the free samples because they’re not yours.

          1. Metadata minion*

            I guess in my mind, I think of free samples/public resources/etc. as being mine, in most cases mine and many other people’s, but still mine in the sense that they are something I am authorized to use or consume.

  22. Meg*

    At every place I’ve worked there has always been an area where you’d put “abandoned” food. So if someone brought cookies, it’d go on that table. Its weird that Andrew is doubling down on not being wrong.

    1. Rayray*

      I was thinking this too. Usually there’s a place to leave things that are up for grabs and everyone just knows. Personally though, if it was something that I was unsure of or if it hadn’t been opened, I might try asking around first. I’d simply not open anything until I knew for sure it was for anyone.

  23. Despachito*

    OP-2 – I think you are referring to two different issues.

    1. Refusing to acknowledge the presence of kids at all.
    2. Refusing to be disturbed by other people’s kids in the office.

    I think perhaps you have a issue with No. 1 because you perceive a risk of No. 2?

    (In other words “If I show the minimum politeness about someone’s offspring the person will misinterpret it as “I am thrilled about your kid and of course I am willing to watch him/her for you”. Sort of “give an inch and they will take a mile”)?

      1. GreyjoyGardens*

        Seconded. There are sometimes people and/or situations where if you don’t hold the firmest of boundaries, they will be stomped. So it can look like being really prickly/unfriendly/rigid under normal circumstances, but there occasionally comes a time where you have to do your best unfriendly-porcupine imitation in order to be left alone.

        No, this is not normal or common, but in years of reading AAM one learns there’s a lot of “yikes” out there.

        1. Despachito*

          Yes, but…

          The ideal thing would be to set the boundary exactly when necessary, i.e. in this case at the moment when the parent tries to dump the kid on me, but doing it earlier (when I am not even sure they are going to do that) seems a bit rash.

          1. Ginger Dynamo*

            I could see the use of the preemptive approach if the parents aren’t just trying to get you to agree to look after the kids—they’re leaving the kids unsupervised around you without asking, and suddenly it is on you to look out for the child’s safety because seemingly no one else will. Maybe the parent walks away while you’re having twist you think will be a quick 2-minute conversation with the kid, and suddenly you have to make sure they don’t poke their fingers in the hole punch. Setting the boundary is ideal, but how do you set the boundary when parents in your situation are so unreasonable that you’re never asked in the first place?

            1. Despachito*

              What would happen if you had to run an errand and be there on time/had a meeting with your CEO within five minutes?

              I mean, would THIS be important enough to stop caring about the kids, if your own wellbeing isn’t? Again, what do you think a male coworker (aka probably one who HASN’T been groomed to care about others) would do and how would it end?

              Another option: let the kids poke their fingers in th hole punch because this is not your problem, it’s their parents’ and you have your work to do.
              Another option, if the “hole punch” is too dangerous – keep an eye on them, and then have a stern word with their parent.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I felt like “Is this a good spot to generate some drama?” “No.” “But I think it’s a drama thing.”

  24. Jean*

    I remember the juice letter. What a ride that was. OP took the write-up as a direct attack on their entire identity, if I remember correctly. Just don’t take stuff at work that doesn’t belong to you, jeez. Not everything needs to be an existential debate.

  25. EvilQueenRegina*

    I’ve seen a situation like 5 backfire on someone – my then-coworker, Willow, was on Plenty of Fish and this guy, Wesley, had tried talking to her a few times but she wasn’t interested. She forgot about him for a while until one day she happened to see him in the supermarket, and while on the app she noticed he was online.

    Willow’s former coworker Cordelia then joined Facebook and they added each other. Willow knew Cordelia had a new man called Wesley, but when she saw a photo on Facebook she realised it was the same Wesley from the dating site, and told Cordelia he was still active on there. Both Cordelia and Wesley got quite angry at her for interfering, and Wesley claimed that he’d been trying to get that profile down but was having difficulty. Let’s just say the friendship between Willow and Cordelia imploded. (I don’t know what the deal was with Wesley and the site at the time, although I did hear a few years later that Cordelia had ended the relationship).

  26. Al who is another Al*

    #4. About not wanting to do the exit interview\wrap-up, while I understand that it is part of the leaving process normally, it sounds like this is not really going to be the normal “Here’s my handover notes, here is what I’ve planned, here is what needs to be done, yes I’m going to a better place, bye”.
    This sounds like it’s going to be a heavily emotional event where very little will be achieved for the OP as they are leaving so why go through the “trauma”?
    Personally I would accidentally arrange to forget to go through it, I have dodged exit interviews before based mainly on how terrible they have been. Two of us left within a couple of days of each other and when my co-worker basically went through a thoroughly unpleasant hour where the Manager did everything they could to insult, undermine and belittle the person. So I got called out on an “urgent” job when it was time for mine.
    Not quite as bad as the time I left and they actually tried to hold the exit interview during the going-away drinks at the local pub (i.e. after I had officially left!)

  27. radfordblue*

    #1, I will never cease to be amazed at how entitled some people feel to their coworkers’ food. Why is it so hard to understand that taking food that someone has bought and/or prepared is theft and is not ok?

  28. Trek*

    OP1 I remember a contest a radio station had asking people to submit the reason they were fired. The most ridiculous reason would win the top prize. The winner won for being fired two months after taking left over pizza at work. Two employees had gone to someone hire up and asked for the last four slices of pizza. The hire up said yes. When they went to take it two of the slices were gone. They found out who took the pizza, another employee working late who thought it was up for grabs, and I believe they reported him. Two months later the company used this as grounds to terminate as it was theft of company property. I think they were looking to do lay offs so were looking at anyone they could to terminate first and then lay off employees.

  29. Jam on Toast*

    I think people are taking the “likes children/don’t like children” as a referendum on their outlook/life choices/worthiness. It’s not. I mean, I gestated two myself, so I’m solidly pro-kid as a personal choice, but in an office it’s disruptive, and in a factory or manufacturing setting, a real safety risk.
    The fact that some people enjoy children, whether very small, medium or even medium large, and some people don’t, is irrelevant and something of a red herring. The relevant fact is that the OP’s colleague is engaging in a behaviour that the OP finds disruptive and not conducive to the effective operation of the workplace. The behaviour could be listening to music without headphones, always asking the OP to photocopy things at the last minute or only asking a certain group of people to take minutes at the staff meeting OR it could be minding children.
    The OP needs to have a polite conversation with the co-worker that lays out the problem and the impact and asks for solutions. “Jane, when you bring Fergus Jr. into the office, you seem to expect me/the women/the office in general to take time away from their tasks to supervise him. This is disruptive and not something I can continue to undertake. I understand that the pandemic has disrupted childcare and schooling. Can we discuss strategies that will ensure you are supervising your child directly while minimizing disruptions to others when Fergus Jr. has to come with you to the office?”
    If the parent offers “My darling would never/You don’t like children/It’s not that often,” just redirect and return to the point that “His presence makes it difficult to work effectively. How do you plan to minimize that?”

  30. BA*

    The comments from Andrew (OP) on the original letter are AMAZING. And definitely show so much more than just simple confusion about the juice.
    The thing I find incredibly interesting about the juice fiasco is that OP “waited 15 minutes” in the break room… which I can appreciate being part of their lunch hour or break, but so specific that it makes me feel like he was just waiting and watching the clock.
    Also the fact that he points out in the original comments that it was at a distribution center and there are hundreds of employees makes it nearly impossible that someone could have found him to inquire about the juice.
    Digging one’s heels in when you’re in the wrong and called out is a great way to ensure nothing will end well. And the fact that he was called in to HR and this was brought up should assure all of us that in no way, shape, or form is this a workplace where everything is fair game on the table. It wasn’t, and if it was a simple mistake or misunderstanding, an apology and admittance of wrongdoing goes a long way.

  31. bluephone*

    if the owner cared that much about the juice, they would have put their name on it, DUH. So either “juice” is code for like, “all the company’s cash assets” or the OP left out that they like, flipped the table over, splashed the juice all over the breakroom and didn’t clean it up, etc. Because seriously, what the hell did I just read.

    1. RagingADHD*

      Or, as is more likely, OP turned into a petulant 12 year old by saying “I stated that if the owner had confronted me instead of HR, I would have done what I could to correct the situation.”

      They would have corrected it before, but they aren’t going to now, because the coworker didn’t ask about it the right way. Which is just an excuse -one of the oldest and most tiresome in the book- to avoid admitting they were wrong in the first place.

    2. Myrin*

      The IMO two most likely explanations for the lone juice by far are
      1) someone took their break and for whatever reason didn’t drink their juice, then left to get back to work and forgot their juice. They’d realise the juice was missing the next time they wanted to drink something and go looking for it.
      2) someone wanted to take their break and had already put their juice down but unexpectedly had to leave over a matter that took longer than the OP’s famed 15 minutes. When the matter was over, they came back, expecting to find their juice where they left it.

      It’s quite likely there wasn’t any time/opportunity and/or apparent need for labelling a bottle of juice they were planning on either consuming immediately or having on their person.

      1. Colette*

        I’d add #3 – someone set down their juice to do something fast (e.g. go to the bathroom) and when they came back the OP had already taken it. (The OP says “I found what I believed to be unopened juice on the table. I took it and stayed in the breakroom the full 15 minutes”, and many people aren’t going to directly confront someone who took their juice.)

    3. tessa*

      Yep, because other people’s purses, bags, wallets, and computers are up for grabs by the logic that “Well, if you cared about those things, you’d put your name on them. You didn’t, so out of my way as I help myself.”

      OP. Just…no.

    4. Observer*

      if the owner cared that much about the juice, they would have put their name on it, DUH.

      There is absolutely NO “duh” about it. As others have noted up and down the thread, that is NOT the way this stuff works in most places. Furthermore, in THIS place, that clearly was not the case. HR explicitly told him that if this were up for grabs it would have had a note. Which is to say that that’s probably the norm in that company.

      What you just read was that someone took something that wasn’t theirs and when HR called him on it, he complained about how the actual owner handled the situation, tried to claim credit for not lying and blaming the housekeeper, never offered to pay for the item taken (because the owner handled it incorrectly, apparently) and doubled down on even admitting that they MADE A MISTAKE. Even as a one off, that’s not good. Given that the OP mentions in the comments that they had been stewing over this for 5 years, it’s even more reasonable to believe that it’s a pattern of difficult behavior.

  32. New But Not New*

    If you think not liking children is a problem, try not liking animals! I am uncomfortable around dogs and no I don’t want to pet them or interact with them in any way. Not a popular stance.

    1. rnr*

      I don’t understand why people would care about your opinions on dogs! I love dogs, but when I take my dog out, my default assumption is that anyone I run across doesn’t like dogs until I’m told otherwise. Enough people dislike or are afraid of dogs that it seems like the best policy. I just imagine how I’d react if someone took their pet spider out for a walk. *shudder*

      1. SimplytheBest*

        You are definitely the outlier. When people find out I don’t like dogs, the responses usually range from telling me I am heartless and inhumane (sometime as a “joke” but other times the person is absolutely serious) to shoving pictures of their dog in my face all the while telling me there’s absolutely no way I wouldn’t love their dog, no one could possibly dislike their dog, isn’t their dog so cute, can’t I just admit that their dog would make me like dogs, etc etc etc.

        1. Userper Cranberries*

          I confess as I dog person I don’t get people who put their dogs on pedestals. I love my dog dearly, but I also freely admit he can be a fuzzy little jerk at times. (And he hates being touched by strangers, so he’s quite thankful for people like you who ignore him.)

  33. RagingADHD*

    LW1, if you were as intensely defensive around the office as you were in response to this incident, I’m not surprised nobody wanted to speak to you about it directly.

    I doubt you were written up and let go because of the juice per se. I expect it had more to do with the way you argued about it and refused to sign the writeup, because that shows a lack of proportion and self-awareness that many managers just wouldn’t want to deal with.

    All you had to say was, “Oh gosh, my bad! I’m sorry, I thought it was up for grabs. I’ll go get a replacement at lunch.”

    I don’t think HR escalated it inappropriately. I think you escalated it by insisting that a) you didn’t do anything wrong, but b) you would have replaced it IF your coworker approached you the way you thought was “correct,”

    You messed up. There was a contributing factor, but it’s still your mustake and not someone elses. The whole thing could have been handled in a minute if you just recognized that you messed up and apologized instead of making it a fight over nothing.

  34. tessa*


    People should be able to leave a bottle of unopened juice on a table at work without someone else helping themselves. I do it all the time: buy the drink from a vending machine, leave it on the table, and go to the restroom without it, because I don’t want to carry a consumable into a restroom unless I absolutely must. Besides, what if there was a name on the juice bottle and OP just didn’t happen to see it?

    Seriously, we’re not talking about a $20 bill on the street with no one around, or an unopened pack of gum on a bus seat in a near-empty bus.

    I dunno…somehow, I wasn’t surprised to read that the OP was fired shortly afterward…

  35. BayCay*

    Maybe it’s just me, but I usually err on the side of caution when taking break room goods, i.e. only if there is a big ole booty sign saying, “Take me!”

    A juice might not seem like a big deal but you never know somebody’s background (how much food they have access to, how many meals they can afford per day, etc.) If I didn’t make a lot of money, and came back to find out somebody had taken part of my meal that day, I’d be pretty upset too.

  36. Cantaloupe*

    In re #1, I have to respectfully disagree with Alison. Based on the tone of the letter and LW’s response to being caught, I doubt “Simply telling you, “Hey, don’t take other people’s food or drinks” would have been sufficient.” The whole letter is about how they think they didn’t do anything wrong; it’s not a stretch to imagine they would feel justified doing it again.

  37. blood orange*

    LW #1: It seems like a strong reaction to a juice incident unless there was more to your performance/work habits prior to the juice. I once had an employee take another employee’s hot pocket from the fridge (different, I realize. it was clearly not abandoned). The owner of said hot pocket did complain, and said she normally wouldn’t have except that she had dietary needs that made it more important to her than it would have otherwise. The hot-pocket-stealer did have numerous other performance issues, and while we didn’t do an official reprimand, he did get a stern talking-to from his manager.

    LW #2: Some other commenters have also acknowledged that there are different scenarios when kids are in the office. It sounds like you might have coworkers who feel it’s a treat to see each other’s kids, which is nice! That doesn’t mean you’re rude for acknowledging the visitor and then excusing yourself to get back to work. However! It can be really awkward if they assume or expect you to watch their kids. I recall a few years ago a male coworker of mine brought his two young daughters to work (between the ages of 7-10). He told his two female office mates that he had to leave them in the office while he attended a meeting, but not to worry they could take care of themselves. They felt (understandably) awkward just ignoring two children in their work space so they felt obligated to entertain them. We understood he might have been in a pinch for childcare, but he was already notorious for giving his work-related duties to other people (all female). I don’t think he was ever called out on this particular incident, but I think about what they could have done differently every so often!

    1. Despachito*

      “They felt (understandably) awkward just ignoring two children in their work space so they felt obligated to entertain them.”


      I mean, isn’t that a bit on them, or rather on the fact they had been likely “gender-groomed” to think it is their obligation, while it in fact by no means isn’t.
      I understand they are nice people and wanted to be polite, but I would never perceive that as their obligation. I think it would be perfectly fine if they said “hi” and continued their work and ignored the kids, just as the father told them. (How likely is it that a male coworker would feel the same obligation?)

      (I get it that if there was a history of him dumping certain tasks on female coworkers, that was bad and this whole experience was tainted by that, but still )

      1. Cake or Death?*

        It’s the womens’ fault for feeling obligated by literally centuries of societal pressure for women to be caregivers?

        “How likely is it that a male so worker would feel the same obligation?” He wouldn’t. Because society has no vast expectation of men as natural caregivers. That’s the point.

        1. Despachito*

          I would be very careful with the word “fault”.

          No, it is not their fault, but if they (and everyone else) play along at the moment when the times are changing and the social pressure is much smaller it will stay that way.

          This is why I think it is important NOT to assume the role of natural caregivers, because we are NOT. And to support each other in that. It is painful to see a woman (and a man too, of course, but from a woman it is sort of soiling her own nest) badmouthing another woman for not being a “natural caregiver”.

          But we have to sweep this idea out of our own minds first and do some work on us as well. Like what Joielle said – it took her some time and work on herself not to volunteer if someone half-expects something.

          1. Ginger Dynamo*

            So these two women should have just fully ignored two children left unattended in their workspace? Two possibly very curious children who could very easily get bored and go places they shouldn’t/stick their fingers in things they shouldn’t? Maybe the father trusted his daughters to not get up to dangerous antics, but these two coworkers likely don’t have the same amount of experience with these kids to have that trust that they’d be okay unsupervised. Yes, societal pressure can come into play here too, and it likely explains why this father routinely and almost exclusively imposed these expectations on his female coworkers, but some of this just seems like a very common sense response from empathetic people who recognize that a parent is being negligent in their responsibilities toward their child.

            1. Despachito*

              “So these two women should have just fully ignored two children left unattended in their workspace? ”
              Yes, exactly. so Why not? They are fully their fathers’ responsibility, and the father said they will be OK by themselves. To assume that the children would wander around and do something dangerous is already part of the “caring mind”, and in this case I would say overly and unnecessarily caring mind.

              So is an assumption they will do something dangerous (what danger could there possibly be in the office)?

              I probably do not have that caring vein in me, because I’d have no problem in leaving the kids alone and trust that they are well-behaved just as their father said, and if not-not my circus, not my monkeys. (Or I’d possibly interact with them out of pure interest because I find kids interesting and I still remember how nice it was when I was a kid to have an adult talk to me not out of responsibility but out of genuine interest, because it was pretty rare).

              1. Al who is another Al*

                Absolutely agree. If someone leaves two children unttended in a workplace and they come to harm, that’s an important lesson for the parent to learn i.e. responsibility for their own actions. It’s not up to anyone else to look after them. You also have the issue if the children do come to harm while other people were “looking after” them – who will get the blame? The parent? Highly unlikely, instead it will be the people forced into looking after the children and very probably the parent will turn into some some of screaming banshee about how their poor little ones have been hurt.

    2. blood orange*

      I’m late returning back to the game! I had no idea I’d started a discussion, but it’s actually hitting the points that I intended.

      Yes, the point is that my male co-workers very likely wouldn’t have felt the obligation, save one great coworker who is also a father and much more in tune with this stuff. Commenter Cake or Death’s take on that is in line with my own.

      As I overheard my colleagues entertaining and engaging with two children, I was aware that they were taking time out of their day that they weren’t obligated to take. However, I understood too that they chose the well-being of these two little girls over teaching their father a lesson they knew wouldn’t land with him. I’m not saying they made the right choice, the kids were well-behaved and seemed pretty ok on their own, but they made the choice that felt right for them. That choice was in response to something that felt wrong – their dad dumping them in an open office they’d never been too with strangers who didn’t expect them.

      1. blood orange*

        In a weird coincidence I ran into another “kids at work” situation today! That makes it seem like we have tons of kids in the office all the time, which I swear is not the case.

        Anyway! My boss had lunch with his kids and spouse in his office. Not common, but happens every so often. Maybe an hour after they arrived I overheard one of the two children (around 7 years old) run out of our office suite and into an open area of our floor. Our office manager ran after her, and I came out to see what was up. She had only gone to the bathroom, but I didn’t even realize there was no parent with the kids. Turns out both boss and spouse had gone three floors down to a large meeting.

        I doubt that we’ll run into this much, but my goodness did that feel pretty inappropriate!

  38. Joeydoesntsharefood*

    LW1 – let me tell you a story. I had ordered myself a pizza and placed it on the counter in the break room, turned around to the cabinets to grab a plate and napkin, turned back and a coworker had HALF of my pizza on a napkin and a piece hanging out of her mouth. Unless otherwise noted. Never take someone’s food!

      1. Despachito*

        Me too.

        If you don’t mind, Joey… can you tell us what did you do (after you picked your lower jaw from the floor, of course)?

  39. NorthBayTeky*

    When I’ve had lunch items of mine taken out of the break room/refrigerator, if I had KNOWN who took it, I could have addressed the theft directly. But LW1 saying this: “the owner should have contacted me first if this juice was important to them” tells me he’s just trying to CYA.

    No one is in the break room. No one saw him drink the juice. Of course he knew that the owner could not “contact him directly.”

    The final warning tells me he’s ignoring all the other “warnings” and is trying to downplay his theft.

    1. RagingADHD*

      Somebody saw them, or HR wouldn’t have known. I doubt they pulled security footage over a bottle of juice (unless there were a larger pattern of missing food).

      Hm. I wonder if there was a Serial Food Thief investigation going on. And if so, was it a fair cop on LW, or did they get caught in the dragnet?

  40. Me*

    I’m going to assume with the juice thief that his employer was utterly fed up with him and his behavior. Taking the juice might have bee minor for anyone else, but sounds like they were perfectly happy for a reason to write him up and let him go.

    And yes OP, if it’s not yours, there’s no sign or common understanding that things left on the table are up for grabs and you take it, you stole it.

Comments are closed.