my young employee keeps talking about her age and her parents

A reader writes:

I supervise a very talented, younger employee. She has tremendous work skills and strong potential for growth. But she seems to lack a level of maturity that I feel is impacting her career. She often talks about her parents and even credits them for helping with her work.

I want her to be respected for her contributions to our company, but her talents are overshadowed by her constant need to include her parents in conversation or discussions about “adulting” — like paying her bills (using a budget that her parents helped her set).

I try to give her positive reinforcement to build her confidence in her own abilities, but how do I help her take ownership of her own work? And how do I tell her to stop talking about her parents so often? Or the year she was born? Or to stop using the term “adulting” because you’re an adult!

She’s lacking a level of emotional intelligence and doesn’t seem to realize the impression she’s making. I know she’s young, and this is where she is in life. How do I address this in a way that’s sensitive and respectful, but also clear?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 257 comments… read them below }

  1. Anononon*

    I think Alison’s answer is spot on, and the OP is right to have the conversation with her employee. I do want to add, though, as something for people to generally consider/think about, as a single person in their 30s who is close with her parents, it does suck sometimes knowing that I have to be careful about how I speak with them, so I don’t appear younger. Like, for example, we’ll still do family vacations, and I’m sure my coworkers side-eye that a bit. But, um, sorry I’m legitimately friends with my parents? It’s a tough balancing act.

    1. 2020storm*

      I have this issue as well and have a child of my own. I’m good friends with my parents and it’s second nature to say “my mom/dad did this or that for me” the same way you would of a friend–but the optics are bad!

      1. CoveredinBees*

        But do your parents do work-related things for you? I got the impression that at least some of the things the employee credited them with were work-related. Having your parents help you paint your living room certainly comes off differently than they edited the TPS report you submitted to your manager.

        1. 2020storm*

          Maybe a little bit–we are in the same industry, my mother and I. But also I was responding to Anononon that my issue is to be careful about how speak with them so I don’t appear younger. I don’t really identify with the LW.

        2. Jay*

          I followed my father and grandfather into medicine and I talk about Dad a lot. Always have. I’m about to retire so this has been going on a while. I used to “curbside” him about patients when I had questions relating to his specialty. He even came to work with me once when they were visiting over Thanksgiving and I couldn’t get Friday off. That was one of the best days of my life – and I think also of his.

          Maybe it made me seem younger to some of my colleagues. Maybe people rolled their eyes at me. No one ever said anything and my career has gone just fine. I’m grateful to have had that professional connection with my dad. 15 years after his death I still sometimes think “oh, I’ll just call and see what he thinks….” and I miss him.

          1. Patty Mayonnaise*

            I’m late to this, but what a lovely memory that Friday sounds like! Brings tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing!

        3. NotRealAnonForThis*

          There are occasions where I consult with the parent with the professional license in my world. But we do not share a last name, and in those circumstances, its more a case of “I consulted with Joe Schmoe, licensed professional” not “I asked Dad.”

          I agree its a case of optics – I’m definitely older than 30, am friends with my parents (and in-laws!), and have children of my own. Its a balancing act.

          1. Yorick*

            This is the way to do it, even if you have the same last name and people know it’s your dad. You say you got advice from Dr. Smith and leave it at that.

    2. Alice's Rabbit*

      I don’t see a problem with taking the occasional trip with your folks. So long as it’s not the majority of your vacations, it’s not a big deal.
      If it is more than one or two a year, though (or worse, almost all your vacation time), I can see that coming across as strange, though. It would definitely give the impression of being tied to apron strings, especially when factoring in that you’re still single. I know that might not be what you want to hear, but while you love your parents – and that’s awesome – it is important to be close to people in your own age range too.

      1. Bean Counter Extraordinaire*

        Not directed at you specifically, Alice’s Rabbit, but as a single person in my early 30s, I’m sick of the perception that being married automatically makes you more mature. Traveling with family (parents and/or sibling) is traveling with family (spouse and/or children). And a single vacation with my parents would easily be half my vacation time (but that’s a gripe for another letter)

        1. Wants Green Things*

          Ditto. I’ve known some remarkably immature married couples – exchanging rings did not magically bestow a level of maturity and competence exclusive only to those who decide to take marriage vows.

        2. Shad*

          Hell, I have brought my fiance on family vacations that go all the way back to my grandparents! (We stayed in a separate house from the big “family beach rental”, but most of the vacation activity was still communal).

        3. generic_username*

          I’m married and agree with this take. There isn’t some maturity test to get married, and there’s nothing immature about liking your family and wanting to travel with them more than wanting to travel with friends. I just recently returned from a trip with friends and while it was fun, it was also chaotic and not relaxing at all. I’d rather use more of my vacation time to travel with family (which is now my husband so I guess the socially acceptable kind of travel, lol)

        4. Drew*

          I’m unmarried, in my 30’s, and also hate this. Marriage (and/or parenthood) seems to be when people stop asking if you’re going “home” for the holidays and assuming that your parents are your primary “family”. It’s infantilizing. Everyone’s family makeup is different. It’s default assumption that bothers me.

          1. DINK*

            In my experience, having children is the only thing that stops this line of questioning. Married without children still gets the constant questions/expectations that you are the ones who need to travel to others in order to have holidays. Married and not planning to have children? Cue the flood of constant harassment about your life choices. ;)

          2. Hannah Lee*

            I completely agree. There is this weird bias about single people, or people who enjoy the company of their FOO that they are somehow stunted or immature.

            And while sometimes it can just be an impression, it can also have real, tangible impacts on how employees are treated. For example, as a single woman in my 30’s, I once managed a team including a guy who was a married father of 1 with another on the way and a SAH spouse. This guy was a mediocre performer … like one misstep away from a PIP. At annual review and raise time, my manager, the VP, pulled me in to review all the performance assessments for our division, and allocate merit increases/raises. Our company did the “x%” increase for the department, you allocate it” approach. Manager insisted that mediocre man get a bigger raise than single people because “he has a family to support” The guy got a better raise than I did, even though I was rated “exceeds expectations” AND was a paygrade above him, simply because the assumption was single, no kids, no family responsibilities. VP didn’t ask about what my family responsibilities were, so he had no idea I was a) contributing to my retired but poor mother’s living expenses, b) contributing to my disabled on a paltry limited income sister’s living expenses, c) had just loaned my brother money for a down-payment for his first home. The first 2 I considered part of my fixed expenses, the 3rd, granted was optional.

            But it was just a case of him not even imagining that someone without a spouse or children had any need for their earnings aside from tossing it in the air and spending it frivolously. And it annoyed me to no end that I couldn’t get him (a supposedly super smart, PhD holding logic-dude) to acknowledge that compensation should be commensurate with experience, responsibilities and value to the organization and not who needs the money more (based on his personal, biased swag). And I didn’t raise my person financial situation to him because, again, IT SHOULDN’T MATTER for compensation purposes.

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              Yeah, at one point my boss started explaining that he wanted everyone to take a cut in pay… except the colleague who had just royally messed up on a project I was in charge of, because she had already taken a cut in hours since she’d had a baby.
              And there I was, thinking I’d be more responsible and wait till either the company was in better shape, or I found a job with a company in better shape, to start a family. I just got up and said, no need to cut my salary, I’ll have a baby instead then I can keep the same hourly pay but cut my hours like RoyalMesserUp

        5. meagain*

          Absolutely. It also plays into this annoying stereotype that married people are “allowed” to take family vacations or go visit their parents. What is so strange about singles wanting to do the same? Maybe they enjoy spending time with their family who they may not see often if they live in a different state. Are they supposed to use their vacation time to go partying in Vegas or booking trips to Miami or going on annoying girls trips if that is not their thing? Taking a solo trip to another country? Is there a script that single people are supposed to follow? I would never judge how someone wants to spend their (probably limited) vacation time.

        6. Alienor*

          I got married when I was 24 and honestly nothing changed – my husband and I already lived together, so we just kinda kept doing what we were doing. Having a baby a few years later did change our lives, but not in a “now we’re more mature” way, in a “now we’re really tired all the time” way.

        7. Hippo-nony-potomus*

          Third party opinions of “family” vacations are so ridiculous. We got married in our late 30s. Now, if we go on vacation with parents, we are the mature people who are ensuring that the grandparents get to see their grandkid. But if we did that five years ago, we were the “kids” who didn’t have lives of our own? Or we were obligated to do so because we didn’t have our own family?

          Marriage changes your primary loyalty: when you’re married, it’s to your spouse [absent abuse, etc.]. So yes, your parents DO have to take a backseat to that and it can be a really hard adjustment. But it doesn’t make you more mature, more responsible, or give you a license to do Christmas by yourself that you didn’t have before. Spoiler alert: if you’re 25 and want to spend Christmas morning in your apartment, bundled up and drinking cocoa while petting the cat, rock on. You’re not obligated to see your parents just because you’re not married.

        8. Katt*

          That perception is extremely annoying. Also, I’m 25, single, and I live away from my parents, who I am close to, so yes, when I go on vacation, it’s probably with them (helps that they bankroll it…). They do their own vacations without me and I have the occasional trip without them as well, but I fail to see the problem of doing the yearly cabin trip with my parents and Christmas with my immediate family, and oh look, there goes half of my vacation time.

          I will note that many of my friends are poor, or they work in retail/some other crazy industry and cannot get time off easily – people are starting their careers. Doing the big vacations with them is not realistic. Now that I have a little more money, I’m going to be doing some solo travel, but I don’t think the vacations, or lack thereof, I go on with my friends should be a statement on how close I am with people in my own age group…

        9. meagain*

          Also, the whole you’re “still” single reads as if it could be condescending even though you might not have meant it that way.

      2. Naomi*

        Do you have a well-formed explanation of why “it is important to be close to people in your own age range too” to the point where having vacations with your parents is an issue coworkers should care about? As someone who lives very far from family and has often used my vacation time (with kids! and spouse!) to meet with them, it seems really strange that it would be something colleagues care about.

        1. Mac*

          And I have plenty of friends who are closer in age to my parents than me. That is also part of being an “adult.”

      3. Calliope*

        This is weird – it’s fine for someone to take family vacations instead of friend vacations. Like, what?

      4. Caramel & Cheddar*

        It’s not really a big deal if it /is/ the majority of her vacations too, though. She’s allowed to do what she wants with her vacation time, whether you think that says something weird about her or not.

        1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

          Agreed. I find would think nothing of anyone taking family vacations.

          My parents are my parents and family, no matter my age…which they remind me of regularly :p

      5. meagain*

        When I was single and lived in a different city as my parents, I tried to use a lot of my vacation time to fly home and see my family. Parents age. They aren’t here forever. I had a ton of friends, but my family was important to me, maybe especially as a single person. I had no shame in saying I was flying home and going to see my parents and family. I’ll never get that time with them back and I really don’t care what anyone else thought about it.

        1. Katt*

          Yes! Exactly. I’m single, 25, and I live far away from my parents. I am definitely going to spend a lot of my vacation time with them. They won’t be around forever.

          Also – this is kind of the age when a lot of people are just starting their careers, or still spinning their wheels. Most of my friends are poor and/or work in industries that don’t give a lot of time off. Going on vacation with them is in most cases simply not able to happen; even if I have the money and the time, they do not and cannot.

          1. meagain*

            Yes! And going on vacations with friends isn’t always “fun.” The friends who are available and have the money to go, may not be the ones who make a good travel companion. The older I got, the less I wanted to travel with the majority of my friends. They are good friends and nice people, but you start realizing that people don’t always have compatible interests, budgets, desired ways of spending time – being active and exploring or fitness hobbies versus relaxing, lounging, cocktails…high end places and dress codes versus casual… early morning risers and night owls…. type A planners versus laidback/don’t want a detailed schedule…. friends who like to splurge versus friends who are just reasonable or who may be stingy or cheap… that just because you have friends your own age doesn’t mean you want to be around them for a week straight… that deliberately choosing to vacation with family over friends much of the time isn’t so odd at all.

            1. Hannah Lee*

              So true!

              Thankfully I got all the bad trips with my “we’re not meant to vacation together” friends out of the way when I was young and vacations were usually cheap road trips where when stayed in inexpensive locations.

              I had one friend through my 20’s and 30’s who was a good vacation/travel companion, and we took a few real, spend the savings, vacations together, when our work schedules and interests overlapped. But the majority of my vacations/trips during that time were either local excursions with groups I was part of or family vacations where our relationships were already solid and I didn’t worry about whether or not someone would be crushed if I decided to wander off instead of hang at the beach, or stay back chillaxing instead of roaming the club scene.

        2. londonedit*

          Absolutely! I’m 40 and I don’t live with my partner, so for all intents and purposes usually when I visit my family it’s as a ‘single’. My parents are getting older and my sister and her partner now live near them and they have a child, so my whole family is in one place including my young nephew who’s growing and growing all the time. I live 150 miles away from them and have done for over 20 years, and I’m fortunate enough to enjoy spending time with my family – so I can’t understand why it would be ‘strange’ for me to want to visit them for Christmas or at any other point during the year. My parents also have a house in another country which they spend half their time in (during Normal Times anyway) and I don’t earn a ton of money, so it’s nice to a) have a family holiday with them there and b) have a cheap means of getting away for a holiday abroad! Certainly when I was younger there was a bit of side-eye from my friends about how I was ‘still’ going on holiday with my parents, but I enjoy it and it makes it affordable for me so why on earth not?

        3. Sorry My Parents Are Cool I Guess*

          Exactly this. I’m in my early 30’s with somewhat older parents, and we’ve already crossed into the place where I have spent a good amount of time doing caretaking activities to ease mobility issues for them. I recently moved across the country and it’s been really hard to not see them as often, and to not be there to help them out. Not sure why someone would judge me as immature for being close to my family–like, sorry I worked through my young-adult-angst with them already and now we simply enjoy each other’s company? Time is finite.

        1. Abated*

          Agreed. I am nearly 50 and have never taken a vacation as an adult with my parents, but I’ve also never judged anyone else for it. I have co-workers of all ages who continue to visit parents and go on extended vacations with their parents. This is nothing to be concerned about. Anyone who thinks this is weird is being weird.

      6. Rosemary*

        Whut?! I am in my 40s and most of my vacation are spent with my parents and siblings and nieces/nephews. Why is this “strange”?? It would never in a million years occur to me to think this is strange.

      7. Oryx*

        I mean, who cares if it’s the majority of your vacations? It’s an odd leap in logic that taking frequent vacations with your parents suddenly means you aren’t close to people your own age.

        I’m married. We both have plenty of friends our own age. We also frequently vacation with either of our families. Sure, we also take our own vacations together or with our friends, but we also like traveling and vacationing with our family.

      8. Lady Danbury*

        Coordinating trips with people in my age range means maneuvering around issues related to budgets, limited vacation time, partners, childcare, different travel priorities, etc. As a result, most of my friend trips have ended up being centered around traveling for events as opposed to specific destinations. Almost all of these issues are eliminated when I travel with my mom. We tend to have similar preferences/budgets (or she pays the difference if she wants to indulge beyond my budget), obviously no childcare concerns, we can generally agree on destinations, etc. Although I don’t only travel with my mom, choosing to travel with parents/other family members is not an indication that one does not have close relationships with their peers.

        1. quill*

          Also when you coordinate a trip with someone in their late 20’s who doesn’t live nearby, you tend to get a lot of people backing out early in the planning phase, due to “don’t think I can afford to go to X” or “don’t want to use all my vacation time on Y” or “X family member has a major life event scheduled around then.”

          1. Lady Danbury*

            Yup, my peers and I are all at the stage in our lives where there are a lot of moving parts. Our parents’ generation tends to have less demands and more flexibility (obviously not true for all).

            1. quill*

              All my friends are approaching thirty warily, while our parents are trying to figure out retirement. Even though very few of us have partners and none have kids, we’re almost all in separate states (or far enough away within the same one that we might as well be) and almost none of us can coordinate the way we did when all of us lived less than 200 miles from each other immediately after college. The days of the new year party that lasts three days, but where everyone is too broke to buy any good food, are firmly behind us at this point.

          2. Katt*

            Even with people who do live nearby! You’ll have one person who’s so poor they can’t afford it, one person who works weekends while everyone else works M-F, one person who works an uneven schedule of night shifts, one person whose employment is technically “casual” but when their work calls them in they have to go, one person whose days off are in the middle of the week… Not to mention budgets, student loans, rent, uneven incomes, the debate about whose car you take, or even the situation where you find yourself as the only driver out of the group and have to decide if you want to be the one solely responsible for transportation.

            Several of my friends are dirt poor. We’d love to go on trips! But they can’t afford it and I can’t afford to, also am not willing to, front someone $1,000 for plane tickets and whatever else. And, although this is just due to my own hangups, I don’t do long road trips with people who cannot drive. Driving is exhausting and it’s impossible to enjoy the trip when you’re fully aware that it’s solely your responsibility whether you arrive at the destination on time or not. Short trips, like 4 hours or so with an overnight in between, sure. Long trips all in one day? Won’t happen, because I don’t have the energy to do so, aaand then you run back into the problem of having money to pay for overnight accommodations…

            These problems don’t exist with my parents, so yeah, we’re gonna go on trips together. Obviously. We’re family! Family is important!

      9. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        Huh. I AM married and I actually spend more time on vacation with my parents than with my spouse, because they’re retired and I have literally three and a half times the PTO my husband does. And my parents and I are all Disneyworld annual pass holders, so we end up there at the same time 2-3 times a year most years, and my husband does not like Disneyworld that much.

        1. Alexis Rosay*

          Yup! I am married, in my 30s, and sometimes I just go on vacations with my retired parents that don’t include my spouse. People might think it’s weird, but it’s not their business. I love spending time with both family and friends, but ultimately family time is more important to me.

      10. Scmill*

        I don’t see a problem with vacationing with your family. I’m much older now so many of mine have passed away, but I fondly remember going to the beach or mountains with 27 of my favorite relatives.

      11. Ooff*

        I really don’t understand this perspective. Is there a certain percentage of vacation time I’m allowed to with my family as a single person perform I’m considered “tied to my parents apron strings”? Is it like 30%? 40%? If I do a weekly happy hour with my friends does that allow me to increase the percentage of my family time for the next year? Does traveling to an out-of-state funeral count towards my family percentage and therefore increase the likelihood of being seen as “tied to my parents” or should I plan on not going home for Christmas that year just in case?

        This would be such a bizarre thing to keep track of in my office. Perhaps it is different in other orgs.

        1. Office Lobster DJ*

          If it is different in other orgs, can we get a list? As a single adult who sees her parents regularly and vacations with them*, it has never even occurred to me to worry about this, and I would not want to work anywhere that I had to.

          *At least in non-pandemic times

      12. I should really pick a name*

        Taking the majority of trips with your parents might come across as strange to some people, but that’s no reason not to do it. People should vacation with the people they want to vacation with.

        I’d suggest trying to avoid judging someone because they live their life in a way that you wouldn’t choose to.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Literally anything we do might come across as strange to some people. I see it as all the more reason to do it anyway.

          People will talk no matter what you do and how you live, because some people just plain love to gossip. Took me 40+ years and a divorce to realize that. My mom is in her 80s and is still obsessed about what people will say. I told her that people will say something no matter what we do and her whole mind was blown. She spent her entire life basing her decisions and choices on how it would look to others. What a sad way to live.

          I didn’t get along with my parents well enough to ever want to take a trip with them, but if someone else enjoys a trip with theirs, that’s fantastic! Take all the trips with parents! If it’s fun, then go forth and have fun!

      13. So Tired*

        Why does it matter how much of her vacation time she chooses to spend with her parents though? Last time I checked, parents are still family. I’m mid-20s and I live on the complete opposite side of the country from my parents (and sister) and every single time I’ve used vacation time at work it has been to go see them–whether it’s home or meeting up somewhere else–or hung out with them while they’re in town. And far from giving a bad impression at work, my coworkers and bosses ask what fun plans we have for the time I’ll be gone, and have even offered suggestions if we’re going somewhere they’re familiar with. *Especially* after the pandemic I can’t imagine looking down on someone–regardless of their age and stage of life they’re in–for choosing to spend their vacation with their parents/siblings/grandparents/whomever else you don’t seem to think counts as “family”.

        1. Liz*

          Same here although I’m probably twice your age. When retired, my parents moved out of state, and as it was just me and them, I spent most of my vacation time going to see them. I still took trips with friends etc, but the majority of my time off was spent seeing them. Adn after my dad passed away, i still continued with my mom. She now lives about 30 minutes from me, which is great, so no more trips to see her, but I still spend holidays and a lot of other time with her.

      14. Miss Chanadler Bong*

        This is such a weird idea to have. My best friend is my mom. I’m also close with my aunt. When I travel, it’s usually with my mom or to go see my aunt. It’s also weirdly out of touch with most young people’s expenses; I can take better vacations with my parents than I can with my friends. When I have travelled with my now-married friend, who’s really the only person I’d consider travelling with, we had to get help from our parents to pay for it.

      15. Kate*

        Hm, I entirely disagree!

        Taking a family trip is entirely normal; how it’s described can make you seem older or younger (e.g. “I’m going with my mom and dad to Florida” vs. “I’m going on an extended family trip to Florida.” But nothing about that should be seen as problematic or neglecting “to be close to people in your own age range.”

      16. Missy*

        The majority of vacations I take are with my family. I’m 42. I’m single. My friends are either married or have young children and can’t go on a vacation alone for a week. You know who can? My semi-retired mom. A woman who wasn’t able to take vacations when I was growing up because she was too busy as a single mom.

      17. Rinn*

        I would respectfully disagree. Our adult children meet us where we are vacationing. We enjoy each other’s company and enjoy vacationing together.

      18. Esmae*

        I mean, I’m close to people in my own age range, but I don’t travel with them. We’re all poor and busy. A lot of them have kids. We might get lunch or go somewhere on a weekend, but we’re not going on vacations together. I think it’s pretty normal for vacations to be primarily family-focused, whether that’s spouse/kids, siblings, or parents.

      19. Gumby*

        It’s odd that I can “give the impression of being tied to apron strings” merely for using vacation time to see family. Particularly since a major contributing factor is that they all live so far away from me. I have 2 parents, 5 siblings, and 10 nieces and nephews (before we even get to extended family which I am less likely to visit; I did visit grandparents when they were alive) who are spread over 4 states – the closest of whom is more than 350 miles from me and half of whom are more than 1500 miles away! If I didn’t use vacation time to see them I would never see them at all!

        Also? My friends are mostly married and have kids – getting time away from their commitments is hard. Coordinating with more than one of them? Yeah, we can barely come up with agreeable times when the entire book club can meet for 2 hours; I can’t imagine getting a group of any size together for an actual vacation. You know who has free time and can afford the occasional vacation? My parents who are (mostly) retired.

      20. Niki T*

        Sure glad my adult kids (31m- single, 25f – single, and 27m married with spouse) don’t feel that way. We travel together quite a bit. Disneyland trips, California coast, new york city in 2019. We have fun times and enjoy each other’s company. Where is the rule that says you can’t be friends with your parents once you are an adult?

        Oh and by the way, as an adult I went on a lot of cruises with MY mom. Would give anything to have her back to take another cruise together.

    3. CatPerson*

      Anyone who would give you the side-eye for that is emotionally stunted. As someone who had a very close relationship with my mother until she passed at the age of 97, you will not regret a moment you spent with them. You’re lucky to have the relationship and you have nothing to apologize for!

    4. angstrom*

      To me, “With my family” could include siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. as well as parents. It’s very normal to be close to at least *some* of those folks. ;-) If there’s a concern about sounding too attached to one’s parents, substituting “family” for “parents” in conversation might be helpful.

    5. turquoisecow*

      I took vacations with my parents until I got married, even though I had moved out, and it wasn’t a big deal. We actually took a vacation this summer with my husband’s family. I don’t think vacations with parents signify “young.”

      I think people might be more concerned about other signs of youth, like you need your parents help to make large purchases, or they cook your meals or do your laundry, or they give you rules you’re expected to follow, like “oh I can’t go to happy hour Friday night because my dad wants me home by ten,” or “I had to take this job instead of Y job because my parents didn’t want me to drive that far.” None of these things is bad but they definitely give an impression of someone who can’t handle responsibilities on their own, so if your mom does do your laundry (and there’s nothing wrong with that if you live with your parents!) maybe don’t mention that in the office very often.

    6. Barefoot Librarian*

      I think vacationing with your parents is totally okay. My 24 and 25 year old travel with us when we do bigger vacations or go overseas. Part of that is that we are all close (our family FB chat is active) and part of that is that they are still youngish professionals and need a bit of financial help to go overseas or take a cruise. They do their own thing with the rest of their travel and are very capable adults, but I like to be able to give them something they would otherwise not have access to. My parents and I always had rocky relationships so I treasure that my kids want to hang out and seek my husband and I out for advice.

    7. Lady Danbury*

      I don’t think there’s anything wrong with taking family vacations as an adult. Some of my most cherished childhood memories are family vacations with my parents and grandparents. As an adult, I’ve done girls trips with my mom and sister, trips with just my mom and family vacays with siblings and parents, along with other personal travel (solo, friends, bf, etc.). Mature adults are allowed to enjoy their family’s company.

      1. UKDancer*

        Mine too. I have some very fond memories of holidays with my grandparents. When I was in my 20s and they were in their late 70s they often asked me to accompany them to places like Prague, Vienna and Budapest. They wanted to go but didn’t want to go on their own because it was out of their comfort zones and as I was younger they could ask me to do some of the running around and carrying suitcases (including running errands like going to 3 pharmacies in Prague to find the toothpaste my Granny wanted). I was very short of money so would not have been able to go abroad on my own account. It worked amazingly well in that we all enjoyed it and I have lovely memories now they’re dead of the times we had together.

        I see nothing wrong with holidays with family. I go on holiday with my parents sometimes, my friends sometimes and on my own sometimes. I used to go with my ex and sometimes with him and his parents. As long as you’re all enjoying it I think it’s great.

    8. NotAnotherManager!*

      I think there’s a huge difference in going on a family vacation and talking about how your parents helped you with your work (which, in my line of work, would be a huge issue because of confidentiality requirements). The things the employee is saying are totally appropriate for discussions with friends, but not with people who need to see her as a smart, capable, independent adult.

      (Vacationing with your parents is not unusual where I am either – I live among the wealthy and upper-middle class, and whole families vacationing together, often on the parents dime, is very common. They want to take their grandkids, especially, and so the kids get taken along for the ride. It’s also not unusual for extended families renting a nice beach house and getting all the siblings/cousins together at a time other than Thanksgiving/winter or spring break. My spouse and I are not wealthy and the nicest place their parents ever took them was to an agricultural convention related to their family business. One of our kids laments all the time that we never take them the same places their friends go on vacation, we just go see grandparents.)

    9. Erin*

      My sister and I are both single, childfree, and in our mid-30s, and it’s definitely an interesting spot to be. We’re very clearly adults with our own careers and lives, but without grandchildren our parents can still indulge us.

      1. Anononon*

        One thing I have noticed, though, is that it’s become less “weird” now that I’m in my 30s, compared to in my 20s. I think it’s a combination of caring less what others think as I get older but also that it’s more socially acceptable because I’m more firmly an adult, age-wise. I think society sees it as when you’re in your 20s, it’s less clear if you’re otherwise independent but just spending time with your parents for a day versus still being looked out/cared for by them.

        1. Dust Bunny*


          My brother and I, in our forties, are now at the point where we sometimes travel with our parents to make sure they don’t overdo it. I feel like, in a weird way, our increasing abilities and our parents’ declining abilities are going to meet in the middle.

    10. Loulou*

      Maybe it’s just because I live somewhere where multigenerational homes are common, but I don’t find it weird to discuss your parents a lot at work. I think it’s more the nature of what this employee says about her parents — bringing them up in conversations about adult tasks. But parents come up a lot in discussions with my coworkers simply because many of us live with or close to our parents, so just as one person would say “my husband told me X over breakfast…” another person would say “my mom was just telling me…”

      1. Snark*

        Yeah, this. It’s not bringing up the parents, it’s bringing them up in ways and contexts that make one seem younger and more dependent than they really are.

      2. PT*

        TBH if you’re a woman and you’re always talking about your husband such that you seem like you’re joined at the hip or in a 50s-style marriage, there can be professional consequences to that too.

        1. Loulou*

          I mean, sure, but we work with people, not robots, and it’s completely normal for people to bring up their partners and family members in conversation! I don’t want anyone to think they shouldn’t say “oh, my mom/husband/whoever loves that show” in a conversation about TV.

    11. MissBaudelaire*

      Yeah, we bought a house with my mother, for financial and health reasons.
      So yes, I DO talk about my mother a lot, as much as I talk about my kids. We’re one family, after all.

    12. EmmaPoet*

      I wouldn’t think anything of someone saying they vacationed with their family, whether that’s their parents or their kids. If you refer to them as Mommy or Daddy, that might come off as childish, but spending time with them in whatever form you wish doesn’t make me bat an eyelash.

      1. Lady Danbury*

        Calling your parents mommy/daddy can be cultural, so I wouldn’t be quick to judge people on the terminology that they use either.

        1. Anononon*

          NGL, when it’s just us, I’ll sometimes use “mommy” or “daddy”. But, also, my mom still sometimes uses that for her parents, who both passed about a decade ago, when talking about them with her siblings.

        2. generic_username*

          I’m 30 and still call my parents Mommy and Daddy. Those are their names to me – that’s even how they’re saved in my phone. But I refer to them as “my mom” and “my dad” when talking about them to other people, which is an important distinction to me. Except my nieces – when I talk about them with my nieces I call them “grandma” and “grandpa” because those are their names to my nieces.

          1. Broadway Duchess*

            Same! And I’m not a southern, spoiled princess-type rich kid. That’s legit what I call them. ::shrug::

            1. NotAnotherManager!*

              In Southern, it’s Momma and Daddy. :) My mom and her siblings called their parents that until they days they died. Can’t speak for spoiled princess-type rich kid.

              1. KittyCardigans*

                I’m southern and working class, and I call my parents Mama and Daddy. Each of them call their own mothers Mama to this day. Siblings excepted, I do not call my parents Mama and Daddy in conversation with other people unless I’m relating the dialog of a story.

                Tbh, I think the comment about “southern, spoiled princess-type rich kids” is pretty unnecessary (and rude).

                1. Pikachu*

                  My mom’s biological dad was born and died in a Kentucky holler. He was “Daddy.” For some reason, I can’t imagine him being called anything else. I think it was the way my mom still kind of said it with a bit of a southern drawl, even though she lived the vast majority of her life much further north and didn’t have an accent at all.

                2. Broadway Duchess*

                  If you found that rude, I’m not sure how you got there. There is a princess stereotype about people, especially women, who call their fathers daddy (on this blog, actually); I’ve personally dealt with that. There’s also one about Southern people who say Mama and Daddy — which my mom called her folks who were from Mississippi.

                  My point was that I call my parents Mommy and Daddy, and I’m neither southern, rich, nor the princess type found in these stereotypes. I pointed it out to indicate that people can so this and it’s not always for cultural reasons. Maybe it’s just what people sometimes call their parents. Why on earth would I disparage people for doing the same thing I do?

          2. UKDancer*

            I’m in my 40s and I call my parents Mummy and Daddy because that’s what I’ve always said. I use “my mum” and “my dad” when talking about them. They’re my parents and anyone who doesn’t like it can do the other. I’m from England but don’t know how typical that is for the UK.

          3. Katt*

            25 and same. People may find it weird, but my sister is married and still does it. It’s just the way our family is – cultural, indeed.

        3. TiffIf*

          My dad passed away 3 months ago–to the end I called him “Daddy” and I still refer to him that way when talking to my mom and siblings, and so do all my siblings.

          My mother is “Mama” (which is also what my mother called her mother as well). I don’t remember at what age we transitioned from “Mommy” to “Mama” though.

          (“Mama” is a southern US thing–if you want to see how it is used, watch Steel Magnolias and how Shelby (Julia Roberts) uses it when talking to M’Lynn (Sally Field).)

          I’m 37.

          1. WantonSeedStitch*

            “Mama” isn’t just southern. I am a born-and-bred New Englander, and my mother was Mama until I got to be…probably a preteen? and it started seeming too kid-like. Then she became Mom, and later on Ma, mostly because that was what I heard her and my father call their own mothers.

            My father is, was, and shall always be Papa.

      2. Anononon*

        I had a friend in middle school and high school (so, age about 12-17), and she would talk about her parents as “mommy” and “daddy” and it was just really odd and interesting because that was really the only thing unusual about their relationship.

      3. CoveredinBees*

        If most people said they were vacationing with their family, I wouldn’t think much of it. If she’s talking about them paying for and planning it all, it might come off differently given the totality of the other things pointed out by LW. Still, I wouldn’t bring it up in the meeting with her about this. There are far more pressing things to address.

        1. Threeve*

          I have a mid-20s coworker who is not shy about revealing how much her parents subsidize her life and it does make her seem a little childish–both the endless parental support and the lack of tact in frequently referring to the Bank of Mom and Dad (her words).

          “It’s too bad you don’t live in [extremely expensive part of the city], I love that my apartment is within walking-distance to the office!”

          And I kind of want to say “yes, I would love to. But sadly for some of us, our salary is our only source of income.”

          1. Anononon*

            I worked with someone like that once. My favorite was that, when asked what her parents do, her mom was a philanthropist. How nice!! (Her dad owned a bank.)

      4. Nina*

        Mommy/mummy and daddy are not considered childish in every culture and dialect, I wouldn’t get hung up on that either.

    13. Madeleine Matilda*

      I’m single in my 50s and still vacation with my mother and brother (incl SIL and their late teens/early 20s adult children). We have done this for 25 years. We all live far away from each other so we spend summer vacation together and time at Christmas. Not once have I ever thought that someone in my professional setting questioned my being close with my family and using vacation time to be with them. I know many coworkers who still vacation with their families of origin and have never heard of anyone having an issue with it.

    14. Broadway Duchess*

      Agreed! As a knocking-on-40 parent myself who genuinely enjoys hanging with my young-at-heart folks, I find this a really tough thing to navigate. My mom like shopping and picks up things for me; when I’m complimented on a sweater or bracelet and I’m asked where it’s from, I don’t know why I should have to lie that my mom got it for me.

      My dad and I both work downtown and probably have lunch twice a month if our schedules align. Sometimes my husband joins us, but he’s mostly in the field. I don’t know why it seems to bother some people if they ask me what I’m doing for lunch and I say I’m meeting my father!

    15. WellRed*

      But it sounds like the employee IS younger and that, along with “adulting” comments etc., all adds up in a way that seems Young in a way that a 37 year old won’t.

    16. Pam Poovey*

      I have the same issue, especially because I had to stay with them for awhile recently. While I was job-hunting I usually said I was staying “with family” instead of specifying my parents (if it came up) to sound less like a failure to launch situation.

  2. Alice's Rabbit*

    I think a lot of people go through this phase at some point, but for many of us, it was in earlier jobs, like fast food or movie theaters, when most of our coworkers were also kids and young adults. We got to see how annoying these behaviors were in others, and so we learned to avoid them ourselves.
    For some reason, this employee didn’t have that experience. So it’s definitely a kindness to say something. Politely and privately, of course. And preferably when she’ll have time to really think about what you’ve said afterwards (so not right before a meeting or a time-sensitive task).

    1. Snark*

      There is also a culture, among younger millennials and Gen Z, of being very public, open and matter of fact about insecurities, mental illness/wellness, life struggles, milestones, social dynamics, impostor syndrome, and the like. In a lot of ways it’s very laudable and offsets the Boomer and older Gen X stigmas around those kinds of topics, but it can also cross the line into excessively familiar and personal in a way that can scan as unprofessional.

      1. Alice's Rabbit*

        Agreed. Those are laudable things to discuss… with friends. Not with coworkers. And while your coworkers might be friendly, most of them aren’t your friends. That’s something folks new to the workforce have to learn, too. In 10 years’ time, how many of your coworkers are going to even remember your name? Not terribly many, let’s be honest. Even fewer will still be in contact with you, and most of those will be Christmas cards and LinkedIn connections. Maybe one or two will still be friends.
        Do you really want people who won’t even send you a Christmas card 10 years from now, knowing all your intimate secrets? Not a good idea.
        You’re right that it looks unprofessional, too. This is work, not group therapy. While kind coworkers do want to be supportive, it’s hard to take someone seriously and rely on them to get work done if they’re constantly telling you they don’t think they can do it. It’s not my job to be someone else’s confidence (the “believing in one’s capabilities” definition, not the “secret keeper” one; obviously if I am told something sensitive, I keep it quiet unless there is a serious need otherwise).

      2. Cat Lady*

        As someone in their mid-20s who works with college student interns, agreed. Our interns are awesome people who do great work, but some of the things they say throw me a bit. As an example, one of them off-handedly mentioned to me the other day that she was on her period (not because she needed supplies and was in a pinch, she just casually brought it up as if she were discussing the weather). I just kind of awkwardly went “well, let me know if you feel too ill to work!” and she went “oh no, I’m good!” and then we thankfully moved on.

        Is it just me, or are bodily functions a little too personal for work? I wish I’d said something to her in the moment, but I was very surprised and didn’t think of it right then.

        1. Batgirl*

          Hm I don’t know. I think I would feel it was over the line if someone went into it as a bodily function/gross details, but I think it can be generally referred to in the same way as you have a headache or head cold. It depends. It’s not something I could say to someone I just met, or an arms length person, but I could see myself saying it to a colleague I knew well.

  3. CatPerson*

    That was a great question from a compassionate supervisor. This is what leadership looks like.

    And good advice from Alison, of course!

  4. Valkyrie*

    I wonder if it could be helpful to give her some other context for how she talks about her family. For example, setting a clear boundary like Alison said, but if she lives at home, as a lot of people my age still do (and I’m 30, to boot!) because of student debt, saving up for a house, etc. then her parents might be a big part of her life and hard not to talk to, in the same way that you might casually talk about your roommate, boyfriend, or friends, so it might be helpful to provide coaching around what it helpful and what professional conversations about family look like.

    1. Elenna*

      Yes – I’m 25 and still live with my parents and I occasionally feel awkward answering normal small-talk questions like “how was your weekend” or “do you have any vacation plans” because the truthful answer is “I went to [event] with my parents” or “My family (me, my parents, and my sister) are visiting [place]”. And I don’t want to come off like a kid, but also it’s the actual answer!

      (Also, I wouldn’t use the term “adulting” at work, because I do worry that it would make me look young/unprofessional, but I’ve definitely complained about having to adult with friends.)

      1. Madeleine Matilda*

        If you think mentioning your parents is impacting people’s perception of you, how about answering without mentioning them. Along the lines of I went to [event] on Saturday or I planning to go to [place].

        1. Loulou*

          Absent other context (like what the LW described), I don’t see how what Elenna described would impact people’s perception of her. Maybe it’s a cultural thing, but where I work it would be totally normal for someone to mention doing family activities over the weekend. We shouldn’t encourage people to feel self conscious about this!

          1. Madeleine Matilda*

            It wouldn’t impact my perceptions of anyone, but since she said it made her feel awkward, I wanted to offer her an alternative.

        2. Valkyrie*

          I don’t know that mentioning who you go to an event with is necessarily unprofessional though – saying “I’m going to a concert this weekend with my mom” or mentioning seeing relatives for Xmas, or that you recently went to Jamaica isn’t your family… I think it’s now much you reference your family. If your constantly referencing your family, or even your friends, I think the often-ness of it is the problem because it seems like you lack clear boundaries (e.g., it would be odd to reference getting help from your mom on your work to your coworkers, or to be talking about partying all the time when it just sort of seems immature, like oversharing vs. knowing how to limit how much you share)

      2. Valkyrie*

        Right? I don’t say I’m “adulting” – the only time I could imagine ever having done so if I was clearly joking, such as “what did you this weekend?” “Oh I cleaned out my closet, figured it was time for some adulting *joking tone*, how about you?”.

        I find that when I talk about my family, it tends to look more like “my parents were visiting last week, so that was nice to catch up” or something like “I celebrated X holiday with my husbands parents” – but I’ve also been living alone since I was a teenager, so its easier for me, at this stage in my life, to have that professional delineation where that’s how I keep those boundaries, but it was a learned skill for sure.

        1. Alienor*

          I do say “adulting” sometimes, but I’m 50 and have a grown child, so I’m not worried that anyone’s going to think I can’t do adult tasks. To me, it’s just acknowledging that some adult tasks suck no matter how old you get (boy, do they).

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

      I’m in the same situation. I don’t have enough money to buy a place for me, and pandemic made rent skyrocket in such a way many single people are returning to their parents’ instead of leaving. Nobody should be shamed for it.

      1. Valkyrie*

        This is like where I live too. It is continuously referred to as a “housing crisis” where I live and it’s like ok cool cool cool, lots of people I know will possibly never be able to afford a home because they are unable to live at home for whatever reason and have to pour all their money into absurdly high rent fees. It’s honestly bonkers, and it’s just absurd. So of course, you’re living sitch will come up in conversation, whether that be a hubby, parents, or roomies.

  5. Serenity*

    That’s an outstanding answer. And yes, a compassionate question from a thoughtful manager. What a lovely Q& A to read!

  6. Adulting*

    Something I’d add here is that OP may want to suss out what’s merely grating on them personally versus what’s actually undermining the employee. I’m in my mid-30s and would use “adulting,” for instance, to describe paying bills, taxes, medical appointments, etc; e.g. “ugh, this weekend was a lot of adulting!” It’s a handy catch-all word for a variety of burdensome tasks that we associate with being an adult and moving out on our own. Language and conversational norms change, and it’s important not to sweep up new words or ways of describing things as “unprofessional” and/or “juvenile.”

    1. Lady Danbury*

      I’m close to you in age and also use “adulting” all the time in the same manner. I’m more likely to say it to friends or coworkers than to managers, which may be part of the disconnect here. I would frame any advice about the word adulting as formal vs informal language, as opposed to immaturity. Adulting is part of many millennials vocabulary and we’re heading into our 40s!

      1. Snark*

        This is a useful distinction. Sympathetic friends and peers going through the same things are a very different audience than one’s (especially older) coworkers. I think it’s not so much about maturity as about reading the room and compartmentalizing.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Exactly. I use a lot of slang or references with people closer to my age than with the higher ups who I know wouldn’t like or understand them. “Adulting” is one I might use with colleagues my age or younger (though I’ve heard Gen Z also doesn’t like it haha).

      2. Bean Counter Extraordinaire*

        My manager is also a millennial (or possibly the tail end of Gen X, I don’t remember), but we definitely reference adulting we did over the weekend! Now my grandboss, who is decidedly NOT in that age range? I tell him I did things around the house and ran errands.

      3. Rosie*

        Yup I’m also mid-30s and use it all the time! I think a lot of it is just being aware who to use it around. It’s tossed around all the time in our mostly millennial and gen z satellite site but people at the main site, where the higher ups have their offices, definitely don’t use it around them.

    2. I Faught the Law*

      Thank you! I’m 43 and I think the letter writer is incredibly judgmental and out of touch.

      1. Anonymous Luddite*

        With you on that, IFTL. I’m 50 and my response to the OP was “really?”
        Then again, I regularly see many different iterations of “Inside every 50 year old, there’s a 17 year old wondering what happened.” so maybe I’m a different demographic than the original writer.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Agreed. OP clearly doesn’t think negatively about this person, they’re worried about the optics which is incredibly valid and not something people new to the workforce necessarily have nuance about. Like I said above I say “adulting”, but not with all my coworkers, and I know when to be more serious and adult-mannered and when I can be glib and silly. That’s a learned skill in a work environment and it’s a kindness for OP to take the time to teach it.

          1. CoveredinBees*

            I would assume that LW has a better sense of the working environment and how certain things are viewed. There are places I’ve worked that it would have gone over just fine and I’ve worked places where certain people would have viewed it as, “We entrust you to do important, complicated work and you’re saying paying your bills is a huge burden to you?” I don’t agree with this take and it doesn’t seem like LW does but sees how others in that workplace might.

        2. Tuesday*

          I think so too. I didn’t see any sign of her being judgmental. I think she’s just looking out for her employee, and it’s a legitimate concern. I also think the term “adulting” comes across differently when it’s used by someone in their 30s than when it’s used by someone younger.

      2. Smithy*

        Inevitably the perception of younger staff – especially women – on any given team and in any given office is often more sensitive to behaviors that read as immature or unprofessional. And while it’s often worth challenging in the macro-sense, if you see a young coworker putting themselves in a position to be taken less seriously, it’s a kindness to help give them insight.

        For those of us who have no risk of reading as 22, whether we use newer slang or talk about the financial advice our parents gave us – it’s usually from a place of being judged differently than someone newer to the workplace. And if we’ve had the benefit of working somewhere for a while at a certain level of seniority, there’s even greater certainty that our professionalism is being judged by our work and not whether or not our grandparents still buy our plane tickets for Christmas.

      3. Wisteria*

        Yup, I’m there with you. It is neither compassionate nor sensitive to allow someone’s conversation about their parents or use of newer slang terms to undermine your opinion of them. OP has a choice in how they form their opinions, and they can choose not to find the term “adulting” to be a sign of a lack of maturity or emotional intelligence. They can also choose to enlighten others who might comment on it in the moment. The same goes for the other things OP is casting judgements on.

        Frankly, I’m not at all surprised that the younger employee is female, as young women as a group are judged more harshly for things like emotional intelligence than young men and middle-aged people.

      4. That IT Guy*

        Also 43, also couldn’t really see what the big deal was. Adulting is a great term for “all the things adults must do that kind of suck”. Nothing the employee said here would raise any red or even yellow flags with me.

    3. Snark*

      Whatever language you use to do it, though, I think the issue is that it’s not a great idea to convey the impression of being naïve and overwhelmed by adult life when you’re dealing with your coworkers and managers. Because that *does* give the impression of someone you might not be able to rely on come crunch time.

      1. EmmaPoet*

        Yes, If Sally says, “I spent all day adulting” on Facebook or twitter, it just seems like common parlance. At work, it does come off a little too informal/naïve.

    4. Loulou*

      Good point. I HATE the word “adulting,” but it is just part of the lexicon now. At the same time, it’s true that the OP’s report may be undermining herself more broadly, but focus on that and not pet peeves.

      1. PT*

        I am a Millennial and I agree with you. I usually just say chores or errands and I don’t see why we needed a whole new word to describe chores or errands.

        I get how getting stuck in that loop of “a tiny chore that should take five minutes, like making a doctor’s appointment, takes 4 hours over two weeks because it has hidden steps due to disorganization or bureaucracy on the end of the doctor’s office” is uniquely obnoxious and onerous beyond, say, mopping the floor or buying groceries, but I think chore still fits.

        1. EmmaPoet*

          I vote for “tedious hellscape chore” but then I have just made my fourth call in a month to this doctor’s office in the vain hope of getting an appointment scheduled, and since it is a new doctor I cannot do this online. Joy.

      2. Anonymous Bosch*

        I hate that word, too.

        To me, it’s equivalent to playing dress up. Either you are an adult or you are pretending to be one aka: “adulting”.

        I would have a hard time taking someone seriously who refers to themselves as “adulting” in terms of doing something that a adult does on a regular basis, such as paying their own bills,

      3. Bucky Barnes*

        So I’m 44 and I occasionally use “adulting.” But that’s usually with a friend and not necessarily at work (at least I don’t think I’ve used it at work). I’m fully capable of handling things on my own, and I do. It’s one of the newer words that I don’t mind.

    5. ecnaseener*

      I disagree. The word does have inherently “young” implications, even though it’s not exclusive to young people. (Struggling to summarize the implications, but something along the lines of “it is meaningful that these are adult responsibilities, in contrast to [how I see myself / what I’m comfortable with / etc].”)

      Obviously I’m not saying you shouldn’t use it, or that anyone should judge you negatively for it! But in the context of “how can someone in her early 20s avoid undermining herself,” the reality is this word suggests a youthful perspective.

      As a general rule I agree with you to separate out personal preferences from things that really might undermine the employee. I just think “adulting” falls in that second category.

    6. Oryx*

      I’m 40 and use it the same way. It’s all that boring or tedious — but also necessary — life maintance tasks.

      1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

        I use “life admin” because of my personal dislike of “adulting.” So, I do agree with @Adulting’s point that a quick check of whether this impression is wider or just the OP is worthwhile.

        That said, I suspect OP is correct to be worried about the impression the employee is giving when she says things shared in the letter.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        44 and same. I guess I use it mostly tongue-in-cheek, really. I got a Christmas bonus at work and bought tires. Yay. Adulting.

        I live with my parents because housing is expensive and I don’t make that much, but they aren’t involved in that many aspects of my life and I definitely wouldn’t bring them up at work in a pointedly parent-child context. If it’s something that two adults might talk about, anyway, sure, but I’d mind how I phrased it.

    7. Elenna*

      Yeah basically – I think the issue with the term “adulting” is less that it makes them seem young, and more that it’s pretty informal language and also I want my coworkers to see me as competent, which means I don’t want to seem overwhelmed by adult life. Of course even competent adults can be annoyed by or behind on those kinds of tasks, but it’s not something I really want to talk about with my coworkers.
      I do think your example of “ugh, this weekend was a lot of adulting!” is less problematic than something like “ugh, adulting is so hard”.

    8. MsClaw*

      I’m in my 40s and hate the word ‘adulting’. Other people it won’t bother, just like any other slang phrase. Some people use it, like it, hate it, or do not care.

      I think the bigger issue is the employee undermining herself with the constant talk about her parents. *How* are they helping her with her work? Is that even appropriate?

      “My dad helped fix my sink this weekend.” No one cares.
      “My dad helped check my figures for the Jenkins account” That? Might seriously raise some eyebrows.

      1. Abated*

        I agree this is the more important part to be focused on. Who cares if she goes on vacation with her parents or has dinner with them or whatever? I would definitely inquire further about how they’re helping her with her work, if indeed it means work work and not housework or other errands and chores.

    9. LinuxSystemsGuy*

      I’m closer to 50 than 40 and I still use the term. Getting older/more mature doesn’t make unpleasant tasks any less unpleasant. “Adulting” describes the tedious ongoing tasks of life in a way that makes them sound slightly less tedious. Besides, I’m still convinced there was some mistake somewhere and I’m still supposed to be 26.

      1. Jackalope*

        Yeah, I’m in my 40s and I often use the word adulting to talk about things like planning how to care for aging parents, writing up a will, learning to be a caregiver, etc. Some of it is based on routine mildly unpleasant tasks but some of it is also that at every age we take on new tasks and responsibilities, and some of them (like planning for aging parents or being ready in case a spouse dies) are not the most fun.

    10. anonmouse*

      I know a great many Gen Xers me included that use Adulting in such a fashion. It’s a very common term these days, I’m more surprised that the manager was taking issue with it.

  7. thisgirlhere*

    I don’t disagree with the advice, but recently we have turned “adulting” into a thing that’s discussed. I know people well into their 40s who talk like this. It’s part of a larger conversation about taking too much on and the mental load etc. I agree talking about her age is undermining, but there’s a cultural reckoning going on that says we do put in too many hours between work stuff and life stuff. As part of the conversation can you also tell her that everyone feels this way sometimes? She might be looking around her and thinking she’s the only one struggling to juggle it all.

    1. Life Admin*

      Not sure where I picked it up but somewhere I heard “life admin” being used for this sort of thing and it really stuck in my head. Taxes, bills, budgets, groceries, taking the car to the garage or for inspections, running the kids to all their activities, etc.

      I’m in my late 40s and I appreciate that different generations will coin their own terms, but “adulting” sounds to me like someone trying to distance themselves from actually being an adult – and then the connotation that they’re not seeing themselves or presenting themselves as a self-sufficient, independent person. Which might not be great in a professional context. But then again – if one’s colleagues, managers, and even higher-ups are increasingly from the “adulting”-using generation, it may not jar or land in that negative way.

      As an aside, it’s somehow only in the last few years I’ve heard the term “catching feelings” to describe getting a crush on someone, and I cannot say how much I adore this turn of phrase.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        I agree with your take on the connotation of “adulting”. I’m in my mid-40s and am not sure I’ve ever heard any of my peers use the term – it is something I hear primarily from my fresh-from-college hires, most often, maybe some of the late 20s/early 30s and in a very tongue-in-cheek manner then.

        I think it has less to do with age and more to do with at what stage you started having to be responsible for yourself. My mom’s a lovely person but very immature not very worldly, so I had to start taking care of a lot of things and making my own decisions pretty young. It adds up, and I loathe with the fire of a thousand suns dealing with health insurance and school bureaucracy related to our child with autism, but most of the rest of it just is what it is. To me, paying bills now is so simple compared to Ye Olden Days (as my children call them) when you had to write and mail checks or go in person to pay the electric bill with a money order.

        That doesn’t mean that this stuff isn’t challenging and it’s certainly not exciting, but I find the “adulting” tasks are usually the easiest things to wipe of my to-do list and move onto the more challenging ones. Sending an e-payment for a bill has nothing on trying to help a special needs kid navigate the junior high social strata. :)

      2. CoveredinBees*

        I also call it admin or life admin/kid admin, because the adulting thing has always come across as “playing at being an adult”. I know that some people mean it differently, so I keep that in mind but that’s still why I avoid it.

    2. Xena*

      I think you’re right that ‘adulting’ and mental load is becoming a more discussed topic, but it is a very slangy term to bring up for the work one gets paid for. I can see it over coffee with coworkers when talking about the weekend or something similar but especially as a new employee I wouldn’t want to classify the work I do as adulting. To me, it means “tedious and/or difficult task that is part of being a responsible person”, and saying “I acted as a responsible person” does imply that I am sometimes not a responsible person, which is not the self-image one wants to project while at the workplace.

  8. turquoisecow*

    “One day you have almost no responsibilities with real-world consequences, and the next day you’re signing contracts and have a 401K and people are talking to you like you’re 40, but clearly you are not 40 and you’re not even sure you’re that different from when you were 17.”

    I just turned 40 and had a kid fairly recently and honestly sometimes I still feel like I’m not a “real” adult and “actual adult” people shouldn’t give me responsibilities or trust my judgment. Like they let me walk out of the hospital with my kid? What? And then I look at other, I guess middle-aged people who have it together, and still think of them as so much older than me.

    Alison is 100% right that starting to talk to other people as though you are a competent adult will help you to feel more like a competent adult and it certainly doesn’t hurt you at the company. They didn’t hire an intern, they hired an employee, so while of course learning and growth are expected in any job (especially entry level jobs), the company sees you as an adult. Coworkers will assume you’re a competent adult until they see evidence otherwise. Something as simple (but still difficult) as changing the way you talk about yourself can really help change the way you feel about yourself, too.

    1. DataGirl*

      I have kids who are adults/nearly adults and I still sometimes question why anyone thought it was a good idea to have me be the person responsible for other humans.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      My spouse is pretty chill, but being handed a baby to take home with no instruction manual or supervision hit them hard.

      1. Pikachu*

        I was in the room with my aunt and uncle right after the birth of my cousin. My uncle was holding him and he said something that sticks with me to this day, because it was just so funny and endearing and emblematic of that moment in so many ways.

        “Man, I’ve seen a lot of these but I’ve never had to keep one alive before.”

        That’s a hell of a realization LOL

    3. Snark*

      I’m around the same age, and co-sign on all of this – especially the faking it till you make it angle. I think you also hit on the point that this kind of wry self-deprecation is something that’s best compartmentalized. It can be true and authentic and real and also not part of your work persona. We all choose to bring certain aspects of ourselves forward at work, and push others back.

    4. Fed-o*

      One of the big surprises of middle age has been looking around and realizing all of us feel like kids in grown up clothes with creaky joints and the people who seem to have it together are also just hanging on for dear life in at least several areas of their life. Luckily, it is balanced by the near-simultaneous realization that most things that feel like big deals truly aren’t.

      1. STG*

        This. I wish I learned at 18 that most adults really don’t have a clue and are just trying their best to get through the day. I think that would have saved me years of anxiety over not feeling as ‘sure’ as other adults seemed to.

    5. CoveredinBees*

      I’m nearly 40 and often wonder at the fact that I felt more like an adult in my early/mid 20s. I have a mortgage on a house rather than 9 roommates in a shithole apartment. A spouse and two kids. A graduate degree. A retirement account. All things that society tends to mark as “adult” (whether this is fair or accurate is a different matter) and I frequently feel like less of an adult than my peers. I have no idea why.

  9. xenniel*

    I use “adulting” and I’m in my 40s. Context is important, of course, but I like that we as a society are finally acknowledging that
    * this stuff is actually hard,
    * it’s harder than it used to be thanks to late-stage capitalism (student loan debacle, repeating housing/mortgage shenanigans, gig economy and jobs without benefits, no paid time off, no living wage, no healthcare not tied to a job — or at all — stagnant wages for decades, disappearing middle class…. etc etc),
    * mental health issues due to all of the above are real, valid, and can and should be openly discussed rather than buried under stigma and denial, and
    * it doesn’t serve us to pretend that none of this is true, just denies us the opportunity to ask for/get help and moral support.

  10. The Smiling Pug*

    I understand both where OP and the young employee are coming from. Even though I graduated from college fairly recently and still live with my parents for financial reasons for now, I try to keep them out of conversations unless absolutely necessary. The optics are pretty strange.

    1. Alexis Rosay*

      I lived with my parents for many years after college. Even after it stopped being an absolute financial necessity, I stayed. I tried to keep it a secret at the time but now I feel bad that I was ashamed of it. I love my parents and we really enjoyed each others’ company during that time. But I also totally understand the feeling of wanting to keep it a secret.

      1. The Smiling Pug*

        I get that. I’m pretty upfront with people that for now, I live with my parents, but make it clear that it will change. I think early on my embarrassment with the situation was closer to FOMO, because most of my college friends were able to move out with either full-time jobs or upcoming marriages.

  11. Excel Jedi*

    Great answer!

    I hope she’s not shamed for using the word “adulting” – as someone pushing 40, I think that judging someone for that is WAY more out of touch than using the word in the first place.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      It’s not the word itself, it’s the constant sharing that her parents are doing things that adults parents typically do not do for them. I’d think nothing of someone new to the workforce talking about how their parents helped them with their first tax filing or vacationing with them, but someone who *constantly* talked about how their parents made up their budget or, worse, their parents helped them with their work (which would also make me question their judgment)? They sound like a HS student, not an adult.

      1. Tuesday*

        I agree – I think people are getting hung up on that word, but the concern is with the whole picture.

    2. generic_username*

      Yeah, agree. It’s just a new way to say “running errands” or “doing chores/housework.”

      1. Lady Danbury*

        Exactly. For many people, “I spent Saturday afternoon adulting” is just another way of saying “I spent Saturday afternoon doing chores.” Language evolves.

        1. meagain*

          Yea, especially on social media, in Instagram posts or stories or meme accounts, you see it all the time. There are always jokes or references about “adulting.” It’s just an expression for having to do responsible things like pay bills or submit a health insurance form or set up your 401k.

  12. Anat*

    I might preface the conversation with something like “May I give you some advice?” to set the tone as more of a mentoring than a performance conversation.

  13. Resident Catholicville, USA*

    I’m kind of torn about this one because I can see where the OP and Alison are coming from in terms of the optics and how it makes her look less mature or less confident than she should be, especially if she’s referencing parents specifically about work related topics. In that instance, she can definitely take their advice, but I agree that downplaying or outright not specifying that she got that advice from her parents is probably best.

    That said, if it’s personal business (her budget, for example) and she references her parents, I don’t think she should be dinged for that- we all need help from others in our lives to accomplish the “adulting.”* My coworkers regularly mention their spouses or siblings or friends that they help or get help from and even my elderly parents, who I live with and I’m 42, reference the help they get from friends to do things (my dad does a whole bunch of people’s taxes with them; several of them help with yard work or taking each other to appointments, etc). It might be a sign of her immaturity…or it’s a sign that those are the people closest to at this point in time, with the realization that she will probably grow and expand to include others in her life over time.

    *I’m not in love with the term “adulting” but as xenniel pointed out above, it’s a useful catch-all for the every day work that takes physical time and labor, as well as emotional investment, that we’re not paid for and expected to do on a regular basis.

    1. ecnaseener*

      She definitely shouldn’t be dinged for any of this – the conversation to have is not “stop talking this way, it’s inappropriate” but rather “people may (even subconsciously) think less of you if you talk this way.”

      In a perfect world none of this would matter, but humans are messy pattern-matching machines with weird biases, so it does matter.

    2. Colette*

      I think it depends how she’s talking about them. If she’s mentioning them in passing (e.g. “I met my mom for lunch yesterday”), that’s a different situation than if she’s talking about them as if they’re making her decisions/doing basic tasks for them (e.g. “I dropped off my laundry at mom’s last night” or “I wanted to go to a movie, but mom doesn’t want me to stay out past 10”)

    3. Nina*

      This is a good point. Laundry is a weird task, but peoples relatives help them with other chores all the time.

    4. anonymous73*

      I get the OP wanting to help the employee succeed, but they need to determine what habits get on their nerves vs. what habits are clearly not doing the employee any favors as a professional, because a few of the things mentioned sound like personal irritations IMO. And as others have mentioned, a lot of adults use the term adulting – it’s not unique to the younger crowd. If I was just starting out in the working world, and my manager had a conversation with me that said I talk about my age and my parents too much, it would make me VERY hesitant to ever share anything personal again for fear of looking like an child. OP needs to choose their words very carefully and make sure they are clear on the WHY not just the WHAT.

      1. Despachito*

        “they need to determine what habits get on their nerves vs. what habits are clearly not doing the employee any favors as a professional, because a few of the things mentioned sound like personal irritations IMO.”

        Exactly this.

        I orphaned when still underage, and have been living on my own since I was 18. I have a friend who has had a very close relationship with her parents, and talks about them a lot, including about what they have been helping her with. It irked me a bit back then, and I must confess that I thought of her as slightly immature but even at the age of 18 I was able to recognize that a good portion of it was plain old jealousy, and entirely my problem. I never said a word about it to her, and I am glad I didn’t. We are now in our fifties, and her family is a tight-knit bunch which had helped each other out of pretty bad health stuff, and it is admirable.

        This is just to say that I’d think twice what is worth mentioning as REALLY damaging her reputation, and what is just my personal beef. (It was not clear to me whether her parents helped her with her job-related work, which would definitely sound as weird and even a potential breach of trust).

  14. Lady_Lessa*

    While I am retirement age, there are things that I really dislike about being an adult. Funerals and death.
    I do the right things, say the best I can, but wish I didn’t.

  15. Mouse*

    When I was slightly younger, I was self-conscious about this and when discussing my parents or telling stories I would say “my friend” instead of “my mom” or “my dad”, like “oh, I just saw that movie with my friend!”

    I’m not exactly old now, I’m 28, but I have fully stopped caring what people think. My parents are cool, they live far away, and if I get to spend time with them and need a small talk topic, it’s a good go-to.

  16. generic_username*

    As a now-30 year old this makes me cringe. I’m sure I did stuff like this only 5 years ago… especially since the term adulting was so popular back then. I’d ask her to stop crediting her parents with her work (unless they are actually doing her work, in which case, I’d ask her to stop having her parents help her with work….), but move past the “adulting” talk since presumably that’s shared socially.

  17. Ellen*

    I’m 51. I vacation with my parents when I can. I’m a married grandmother. I often feel like I’m pretending to be a functional adult. I have worked since I was 16. My mom, dad, brother all feature highly in work conversations, since I don’t drink, do drugs, party, join MLM groups, or watch TV. I work with people of many ages, so the one thing that I have in common with people involves family and possibly my new puppy. I guess I’m boring? And immature.

    1. ArcticShimmer*

      That’s a good point. I talk a lot about my dad and my family or relatives, because majority of the time that’s something people find relatable in one way or another. I also work with people of all ages, so there’s always something to tell. I am very close to my dad and we talk a lot, we support each other in our lines of work and in our lives.

      (Also I have been raised by my dad and my grandmothers – not so common here – so I always have a nice anecdote as a social lubricant.)

      This whole conversation seems quite weird to me, which might point to the fact that my country is a very different one from USA, where most of the readers and LWs seem to be from. I don’t see many situations in my workplace where talking about parents helping would seem weird at all, but maybe in LWs case you sort of had to be there.

  18. HolidayAmoeba*

    It’s all about optics. If the employee is giving the optics that she is unable to manage without parental oversight, that can be concerning.
    e.g. “My parents helped me figure out a budget.” That’s great that your parents are helping you figure out your financial future. vs “My parents and I go over my purchases weekly to ensure I’m staying on track” That falls into the “what?” category.
    In a professional environment, I always defer to less in more when it comes to personal info, especially early on. Over time, you get a better sense about what will fly and what won’t in that setting. But once you create certain impressions, even if they aren’t accurate, it can be REALLY hard to get pass them and being seen as young and naïve isn’t good.

    1. CoveredinBees*

      Yes. Also, I think it is about frequency. I get the impression that this is happening on a very regular basis. There are very few things I can think of that would be an issue on their own, but taken as a whole would cause a problem.

  19. Amy*

    I’m an (elder) millennial and I’m definitely not a fan of the word in the office. If I’m hanging out with friends, sure! Nothing like having young kids in a pandemic that also made me want to cry uncle on this whole “adulting” business. But at work? It’s almost all adulting all the time in many jobs. Taking client concerns seriously, following legal, health and safety compliance procedures, expense reports, annual reviews, following internal protocols, signing off on documents, setting up 401Ks and HSAs.

    It’s can be a lot of tedium. Which is exactly the word I’d suggest in place of “adulting.” As in “it’s all been a bit tedious this week with the TPS reports” instead of a version of “I’ve been really adulting hard with these TPS reports.” I don’t really want to imagine the Tom Hanks little boy in a business suit at the end of “Big” when it comes to colleagues talking about important workplace responsibilities.

    1. El l*

      I’m with you there – personal fine, professional absolutely not.

      Because I go to work to be an adult – I don’t mean being stiff and formal, I mean more recognizing responsibility and acting accordingly. Complain about “adulting” there, and you’re contravening the whole point.

      That’s why using that phrase undermines her.

    2. Lady Danbury*

      I’m also an elder millennial. I would use the term adulting at the office but never to describe work. For example, I’d say to a peer that I plan to spend most of my weekend adulting but I’d tell my boss that I plan to spend most of my weekend running errands or doing chores. Adulting = personal life admin

    3. kittymommy*

      I’m a solid Gen X and while I don’t particularly care for the word either, it definitely is context oriented in the work place. If my Millennial coworker (whom we have in charge of dispersal of tens of million Covid dollars) starts using the word about laundry/cleaning/lawn care, I don’t care. If they start using it with having to balance her budget or talk to contractors working on their house, It’s going to give me, and others, pause.

    4. Gerry Keay*

      I’m a younger millennial and I agree 100%. The word just really grates me. I know a lot of folks are fine with it in a personal context, but honestly it annoys me there too. I think there’s a weird privilege aspect to it too? Like, plenty of low income kids had to learn “adulting” when they were 12 because their home life demanded it, compared with silver spoon 25 year olds patting themselves on the back for doing their own laundry for the first time.

      1. Time for a slightly different username*

        This resonates for me as well. I’m an older Millennial and, well, I use the term too but also recognize that in certain contexts it hits a bit differently when coming from people who’ve generally been able to outsource a lot of their life admin to their parents.

        This bothered me a lot more when I was in my 20s and at an age where at least some of my peers were in a position to treat “adulting” as something they ought to be able to outsource to their parents to free themselves from having to deal with tedium. It calls into question how they view peers who have to spend their time on those tasks themselves. That distaste for adulting can bleed into work interactions in all sorts of weird ways if one’s not careful.

  20. calonkat*

    I remembered the original letter and went to look it up. The comments devolved quickly into “darn those millennials”, so hopefully we can do better this time :)

    The line from the letter that has always struck me is “talks about her parents and even credits them for helping with her work.” I think that is the issue here, not the “adulting” term (which is definitely more mainstream).

    It sounds like the employee is crediting her parents with part of her accomplishments, and THAT is the main issue that needs to be addressed. All of us get support from others, but it’s important for the employee to not assign credit for her work to others, even casually. Counseling her to cut back on the talk about home and the inhabitants thereof should help. I like Alison’s wording on the original letter (haven’t clicked through to the article) a lot.

    1. El l*

      Yeah, that also bothers me a little.

      Thank them for funding your education, and perhaps ongoing emotional support? Sure, that’s generous.

      Thank them for your day-to-day working contributions? Absolutely not. She did that, she should’ve done that, and if she’s suggesting otherwise that’s kind of troubling.

    2. Critical Roll*

      Agreed. Giving her parents partial credit for her job performance is peculiar; the rest is hard to tell if there’s actually an issue or if the LW just has some personal preferences that aren’t being met.

  21. Toolate*

    I get where this letter is coming from but this is pretty disappointing. As a single person in my early 30s, my parents are my only family members, and they are the most important thing in my life. So I can’t talk about them or else I will be infantilized? I would only be able to be taken seriously if I talk about a spouse or children? Realistically I know this is true – just like I knew I could not talk about what it was like to have no human contact for weeks on end during the pandemic to my coworkers, who all have small children – but it’s irritating and painful, since I didn’t choose my family status. The flip side is that at least I have strong boundaries between work and personal life, which will make it easy to detach when I move to my next job.

    When I was in my 20s, I worked in an environment where everyone I worked with was about 30-40 years older. There was sometimes a certain power in being younger than people expect you to be that I now miss (especially when coupled with a coolly knowledgeable and professional demeanor). That said, I sometimes wake up in a cold sweat about embarrassing naive things I occasionally said during that time. It was a deeply lonely experience, I found it hard to plug into the organization given the extreme difference in seniority between me and everyone else, and I know by the end that I was shut out and pigeonholed by my boss in part because of my lack of experience.

      1. Loulou*

        Whoops — hit reply too soon. …parents too often are, I hope, in the minority. I think it’s more about this employee giving the impression that she’s dependent on her parents *for completing work tasks.* If it were just that when people ask what she did this weekend, she talks about doing something with her parents, then I don’t think we’d have a letter.

        1. Colette*

          Yeah, agreed. There’s a difference between talking about your parents because they are an important part of your life and talking about your parents in a way that implies that they’re taking care of things that are your responsibility – especially if it’s because they’re talking care of things you don’t know how to do.

          “I don’t know how to do pivot tables (or laundry) so my mom did it for me” is different from “I had dinner at mom and dad’s last night”.

    1. JSPA*

      Talking about your parents or any other family as family–AOK!

      Referencing how your dad (who isn’t an insurance agent or anything) is helping you buy car insurance, because you’re not ready to “adult”… how your mom read over your report, to make sure the tone is on point… how your other dad sets your alarm clock so you get to the office on time… THAT is infantilizing.

      It would be just as bad if it were a spouse or sibling or housemate, rather than a parent. It’s just far more universal for it to be a parent, when someone’s young, new, and has been sheltered. “Oooh, I totally outsource my sense of competency and organization” does not engender confidence.

      1. Office Lobster DJ*

        Your last point is very well put. I was wondering how this situation would be different if the employee was constantly saying “My husband thinks…” or “My husband helped me figure out this report.”

        1. Elsa*

          That would be worse. I had a colleague who used to have her self-employed husband do a lot of her technical work and then talked about it in the office. It really gave the impression that she wasn’t good at her job.

    2. Imaginary Friend*

      But the specific context is important! The LW doesn’t state the employee’s age, but it sounds like she’s in her first job out of college (and perhaps in her first job ever). So she’s probably about 23, probably looks her age, and it sounds like she is acting her age – meaning that she’s acting like a newly-fledged adult who is taking her first solo flight. You’re probably 10 years older than that and it’s an important difference both in life experience and appearance, especially given that we’re talking about co-workers who know you and aren’t making snap judgements about a stranger.

      I remember making the same kind of mistake. I was a little older than this employee but it was my first “office” job, and I talked about my mother IN MY INTERVIEW. Granted, it was because she was in the same industry and I wanted to demonstrate that I had at least some familiarity with it, and also because I was very proud of her. The interviewer very kindly directed me to talk about my own accomplishments and we did that, and I got the job. (I was so unaware at the time that I didn’t even cringe with embarrassment – that took a few years.)

      1. Toolate*

        I don’t know, for all the reasons you list I’d be even more inclined to extend grace to someone in their early twenties talking about their parents at work. Ten years ago when I was twenty-two, it was even more true that my parents were my only family – I no more had a spouse and kids (or siblings) then than I do now.

        Likewise, if I had been the person interviewing you when you were in your mid-twenties and you mentioned your mother, I don’t see why I would hold it against you or think less of you. I see what you are saying about shifting the conversation to stand on your own accomplishments, but I don’t think it’s worth feeling embarrassed over, especially since it wasn’t like you were trying to leverage the situation nepotistically or anything – you were trying to build a connection with your interviewer.

        1. Imaginary Friend*

          I think that the LW is doing exactly that: extending grace to their employee while asking for advice on broaching the topic with them. I was just trying to point out that you’re not actually in the same position NOW as that employee is and probably aren’t going to get the same kind of reactions, just because you ARE fully and unmistakeably an adult.

    3. A*

      This issue isn’t that they are close with their parents – the issue is referencing them / crediting them with your work. It’s no different than if a married colleague was to go around talking about what their spouse’s feedback on their work was, or ‘my husband/wife recommended I approach this differently’. The optics are poor in both cases because it brings your own performance, decision making, and judgement into question. It’s not about married vs. unmarried etc.

  22. cheeky*

    I hate the term “adulting”- especially when used by people who should have these functions figured out.

    1. cheeky*

      I will add, I say this as an elder Millennial who manages younger people- it DOES come across as immature and makes me (usually rightly) question the person’s ability to manage work responsibilities.

      1. STG*

        I don’t think it comes across as immature (and I’m older than you) but it does read as too informal. I typically stay away from slang in work place settings.

    2. I should really pick a name*

      “Adulting” just refers to doing boring adult things, which you presumably know how to do.

    3. A*

      I don’t use the phrase in the workplace, but do socially (I’m in my mid 30s). At least in my social circles up & down the US East Coast, ‘adulting’ specifically refers to mundane tasks that you know how to do – like chores, bills, etc.

      When I first started hearing it, it was more so in reference to new experiences – a young adult ‘adulting’ by doing their taxes for the first time etc. but the phrase has evolved a lot since then.

      1. cheeky*

        I doubt you’re alone- a lot of people have no problem with it. I do, because it feels like part of a trend of extremely extended adolescence. Everybody’s quirks don’t need airtime at work.

  23. JSPA*

    “A certain background level of self-talk about newness, lack of experience, the challenges of “adulting” and parental guidance are all completely normal when you’re starting out.

    But for the sake of professionalism–which impacts not only how people see you, but how people see our office, which employs you–that self-talk needs to happen inside your head. Not with colleagues or clients.

    We are, in fact, delighted with you as an actual adult employee, not some sort of provisional pseudo adult. As you come to internalize that fact, the urge to engage in “just a newbie” talk will drop off naturally. However, for your own sake and our sake, we cannot wait for that gentle progression. We need you to take up the challenge of presenting yourself during the work day as a competent adult, who does not audibly dwell on the newness and the challenges of ‘adulting’ in a workplace setting. Please dial it way down, starting [looks at watch] right now.”

  24. BayCay*

    I don’t think compassionate advice would *hurt* per se, but I think OP should be really cautious with their wording. I am still in my twenties and even though I’ve gotten the memo on using professional language and I get the optics here, I also remember how it was to be a young graduate navigating things. I got a lot of blunt feedback on professionalism at my first job and while it might have helped my career in the long run, the way it was delivered at the time really made me feel shut down and valued.

    Also, everybody uses the term adulting. I’d be annoyed if they used it in important meetings or settings like that, but if they are just talking about personal things by the “water cooler?” Get off the high horse.

    1. After 33 years ...*

      I admit that I’ve never heard “adulting”, and I deal with university students many times daily.

  25. Samantha*

    This is a problem in the work place? Are you kidding me? We have to be careful to not talk of our family and appear younger? Give me a break. They’re likely trying to fit in and relate to coworkers.

    However, it might be a crutch out of nerves. Hence the slang language and general sense of needing assistance in their life by others. Sure, it’s a problem. They shouldn’t be outright admitting it in the work place. It should smooth itself out over time. Or maybe they actually don’t have anything relevant to add to the water cooler, and they’re grasping at straws.

    Maybe you should get to know your coworker better? It could help your perspective before you offer any advice. They likely need a peer. It could range from culture to experience as to why they’re different in your mind. You don’t need their life story but you do need an eye opener.

    1. pancakes*

      I think you missed the part of the letter that said “She often talks about her parents and even credits them for helping with her work.” Emphasis added. No one is saying that it’s bad or infantilizing to talk about your family. The letter writer is questioning whether and how to talk to their coworker about giving people the impression of unusual dependency on her parents.

  26. meagain*

    I think it just depends. Someone younger talking about “adulting” or making references to her parents wouldn’t phase me if she was otherwise competent. On the other hand, we had an intern once, first job, first time living in NYC, who was utterly clueless and helpless. He stressed out about everything and wanted me to talk to his mom on the phone about his personal cell phone plan!! It did raise some eyebrows. You know what though – he grew up eventually and matured and seems to be doing quite well in business and as a father of four. I would have never thought so at the time!

    1. Toolate*

      This type of thing is an issue that will resolve with time. We all start out not knowing things.

  27. Orange You Glad*

    I am struggling to identify with this young employee. When I was first hired in my early 20s, I did everything I could to be taken seriously as an adult since most people treated me like “the kid” for a few years. It’s ok that this employee is asking her parents for help with life things – like making a budget and choosing benefits – but I can’t imagine why she would need to mention them at work.
    To me, the bigger issue is that her parents are apparently helping with her work??? That would set off alarm bells for me.
    Also as an older millennial, I use “adulting” occasionally with friends (ex: I can’t come to the bar at noon on Saturday, I’ve got some adulting to do today) but I can’t imagine why it would come up at work. Does this employee just overshare about her personal life?

  28. Squidhead*

    The optics are definitely weird, but the whole situation speaks a lot about how we all grow up differently. I went off to college at 17 on the other side of the country. Stayed in touch with a few close friends who also left “home” and went to different schools. I visited my hometown on school breaks etc but when I had a job and an SO on my side of the country, I had to pick and choose. Pulling away from my parents was all part of that…they didn’t make me dinner or do my laundry or put gas in my car because I wasn’t there, and all of my peers were basically doing what I was doing. I asked my parents for financial advice on big stuff (taxes, retirement), but would have been mortified to ask them how to budget for groceries this month.

    Overall I have a fairly low level of interlock with my family now and that works for me, but my assumption that this was “the only normal way” was clearly incorrect.

    Now I’m in my early 40s in a different career and many of the people I work with are a) younger than I am by 18-ish years and b) grew up in this town. So, of course they still see their parents regularly! Some of them live with their parents for financial or care-giving reasons. The ones who sound immature when they are talking about these connections are the ones who speak as though they are still dependent children (and whose parents honestly sound like they are treating them as though they are children). It’s one thing to say “Mom brought over some lasagna, it’s so good! On Tuesday I’m helping her prune the rosebushes.” (adults doing mutual favors, doesn’t even need to be quid pro quo, just recognition of needs and abilities) It’s another thing to say “Mom wants help with the roses and I told her I’d only do it if she made my favorite meal. My Dad filled up my gas tank though lol!”

    1. meagain*

      Sometimes it’s just endearing when parents still do things for you. I didn’t meet my partner until later in life and my dad always liked helping me with car things. I COULD do it – he just genuinely liked doing that kind of thing for my mom and me. He would brush our cars off in the snow. Always ask for the bill when I took it for service and write me a check. My parents didn’t really pay my bills or support me – but for some reason, my dad just always took care of car things for me. I didn’t have a boyfriend or husband at the time and it meant a lot. I was self-sufficient in many ways. I just appreciated it. That said, I was self-aware and don’t think I walked around work telling people, “Oh my dad does all that” if they were dealing with a flat tire or something. I think sometimes “letting” aging parents “help” and feel useful and needed can actually be a gift to give them. (Obviously when it’s not taking advantage.)

  29. fine tipped pen afficionado*

    Have to hard disagree here. This letter writer probably does have good intentions but it smacks really strongly of reinforcing norms deep, deeply rooted in white supremacy, sexism, and heterosexism. People talk about their families at work. If this person was talking about a spouse, I doubt the letter writer would blink.

    I’m an asexual person and very close to my family. When you don’t have sexual or romantic partners and all your friends eventually replace your role in their life with a partner of that kind, family becomes woven into the fabric of your life. I talk about that in small talk and I’m not the one who’s unprofessional if someone sees a problem with it.

    And literally…. “adulting”?? I don’t know what to tell you there except things aren’t bad just because you don’t like them.

    A manager who really wanted to support this employee’s success and the general success of the organization would try to change the expectations of sameness in the professionals around them. That’s the problem here, not youth.

    1. cheeky*

      It’s quite a lot to throw out claims of white supremacy and sexism over criticism of “adulting” with zero explanation or qualification of the statement.

      1. Wisteria*

        norms deep, deeply rooted in white supremacy, sexism, and heterosexism

        Short explanation: Modern work culture evolved to suit a worker who could only be white, male, Christian, straight, married, sole-bread winner.

        Long explanation: You should work on researching the long form yourself.

      2. Squidhead*

        I took this claim to refer to the notion that “there’s only one right way to grow up and remaining intertwined with your parents beyond a certain age isn’t it”. (I was making the same point in my post just above this one.)

        How we grow up is subject to the vagaries of our own lives but also to our beliefs about cultural and family traditions. So my young Muslim first-generation-American co-worker says she plans to live at home until she is married, as is typical in her family/religion/national background. For me, coming from a different background, to describe her as “immature” for her plans would be inappropriate. We grew up differently and have different expectations.

      3. fine tipped pen afficionado*

        Wisteria & Squidhead explained what I was getting at perhaps better than I did. I’m not accusing the questioner of being a ____-ist; I’m just trying to explain that a lot of the time what we think of as “professionalism” is really just playing into these ideas. I do the same thing and I would hope people would let me know if I was falling into these patterns without noticing.

    2. Wisteria*

      I don’t know what to tell you there except things aren’t bad just because you don’t like them.

      Honestly, I wish I saw this more often in the answers here.

    3. Batgirl*

      I feel the LW kindness, but I agree that it came across a bit culturally narrow. I’m working class British, and people don’t go away to college and get loft apartments with their mates where I grew up. Regionally, even in professional jobs, it’s beyond average to live with your parents, and to even gloat a little bit about the advantages of that.

  30. Rosacolleti*

    This sounds like a euphemism for a religious person who credits their God for everything they do. It drives me nuts, especially when it’s parents crediting God for the hard work and talents of their kids.

  31. Name Required*

    If you look up #adulting on TikTok you get the following explanation: “Not ready to tackle the real world just yet? *crying emoji*” Recent posts on Instagram for that hastag are blocked because of posts that break their community guidelines (I guess putting the ADULT in ADULTING?). A search on Google and Facebook show a mix of articles and posts, some relating the term to basic life admin, some about how many millenials feel delayed or behind, and some about how cringey or sexist the word is. All that to say, use the word “adulting” with caution in the workplace. It might be neutral for you, but for plenty of folks, it’s still associated with immaturity or insecurity.

  32. JSPA*

    Parents of neo-adults and near-adults (and their friends) also use the word.

    I hear it plenty as people talkabout their kids attempts to launch, their triumphs and their pratfalls. Specifically, how we not only forget how harding adulting were for us, back in the day, but also can fail to appreciate how the internet makes some aspects so much easier (if you can figure out what to search for, and which advice to trust!) and others, so much harder (figuring out what to search for and whom to trust).

    So much of our own adult transition was aided by people giving us “facts not easily available,” and trusted friends and family personally vouching for sources of information.

    Sure, there might be a section in English class or social studies or history on rhetoric, or on recognizing a sales pitch, or on slanted language; but we were not barraged by exquisitely targeted, carefully packaged, weirdly internally-consistent false narratives that would follow a self-driving path to suck us into a state of such individualized confusion, that it would be hard for the people around us to even comprehend the narrative, let alone combat it directly.

    People have worked out a huge range of different coping mechanisms to deal with the barrage (or not). Disconnecting; disbelieving most things except at a surface level; believing most things at a surface level, even if they’re in direct conflict; treating the real world as you would a gaming space (with outcomes tested by doing, rather than asking); cross-referencing facts to a dramatic degree; putting questions, from the most mundane to the most essential, to a vote by social media connections; doing only as told / only to the degree instructed; having interaction rubrics agreed upon by whatever section of the internet and society they identify as “trustworthy,” and I’m sure many others. Some of those strategies smooth the early entry into adulthood, but then leave people hanging in the later stages. Some are counterproductive early, but may pay off later. Some are pretty much a recipe for disaster.

    “Adulting” (taking seriously the parts of adulthood that must be taken seriously, doing correctly the things that must be done correctly) is not easier when you have people telling you that only idiots and patsies pay taxes, that dogecoin is the right investment, and that if you don’t like a job, the appropriate act is to ghost the office.

  33. Snaffabie*

    I think the intent of this supervisor is well-meaning and in the right place, so why is it rubbing me the wrong way? Maybe I need more context? If the young professional said “My mom stayed up all night to help me complete this XYZ report,” then I would be concerned. But if it was just the use of the word “adulting” or incorporating stories and anecdotes about her parents into the conversation, I’m failing to see the lack of professionalism. I know all industries are different, and nonprofit/higher ed has a unique tolerance for the personal – that’s my playing field. So I’ll acknowledge my own caveat. If no one else brings anything of their personal life into work, then maybe she needs a good talking to. But if people share stories about their spouse or partner or kids, I see no reason to counsel a young person to not talk about their parents. I am in my 40s, adore my parents, and talk about them, in addition to my spouse and kids. They are part of my well-rounded life.

  34. Chaordic One*

    This really was a great answer and I love the way that Alison tempered the legitimate critique of her employee’s actions by pointing out the positive contributions she has made. I’m sure the employee would be flattered to be considered a “competent, self-sufficient adult”. Well done!

  35. Huh*

    Wait, “adulting” is not a word to use in the workplace now?

    Many of my Boomer and Gen X co-workers long ago started using “adulting” (in a non-ironic way), purely because they liked it. They certainly don’t look down on us Millenials, or our Zoomer colleagues, for our use of a non-offensive piece of vernacular language. If anything, it’s a nice little informal workplace bonding exercise.

  36. Page 1*

    I thought the word “adulting” was pretty commonly used by older and younger people these days, although I think the word’s origins come from Generation Y.

    But then again, I’m hardly surprised: they’ve been screwed over multiple times by the system. Why wouldn’t they come up with an amusing, slightly ridiculous word to explain all this “grown up” nonsense?

  37. Coffee Milk*

    I feel for the young employee in this situation. It could be other people in the office getting hung up on her age more than the letter writer realizes. I’m the youngest person in my office by 20+ years and when I first started I would get constant comments about how young I was, despite trying my best to seem as mature/professional as I could at 22. I think that’s why I especially take issue with the part about getting her to stop talking about the year she was born. I doubt she would just be exclaiming that out of the blue. More likely it’s coworkers asking as a way to comment how young the employee is, followed by “I have shirts/socks/shoes older than you!”. At least it was in my case. I was never the one who brought it up and it definitely got irritating.

  38. Fresh Cut Grass*

    Ugh, I’m constantly worried that this letter could be about me. (It’s not, due to a number of factors, but it’s close.)

    I’m in my early 20s and single and all my friends live out of state, so most of the social outings I take are with my family! And my dad works in the same field as I do, doing the same job (just at a higher level, obviously), and using the same specific toolset, so sometimes we *do* talk shop over dinner or whatnot, and I really hope that people won’t assume that I’m a ditz because I mention discussing a work problem with him.

    1. calonkat*

      The phrasing to use is “I was thinking about this last night” or “After further reflection”, or (if you must) “I was talking this out and it became clear that”

      Do not say anything that could be translated by an unkind co-worker as “My daddy said”!

      All your co-workers are having ideas during dreams, during bathroom breaks, and when venting to family. That doesn’t mean that they say those things or credit the locations/people with the ideas. You are the one who has the knowledge of the specifics and your company to know if a suggestion is a good idea. Your father is acting as a specialized Google search, but you are the one who is doing the research.

  39. Not that big of a deal*

    I do not think it is a bad thing that she talks about her parents at all. If anyone were to question her abilities because she talks about doing things with her parents, it says more about the person judging than it does her and they may miss out on a really great worker.
    Take for example this individual. She has reviews through the roof, you would really not promote her because she hangs out with her parents or says adulting? Note: the admitting that her parents do her work is an issue. But if she gets along great with other staff members except they roll their eyes when she says “adulting” who do you think is really creating an unreceptive company culture? Would you expect someone to not talk about their hobbies if it could be perceived as immature (think skateboarding, comic book reading). Or if someone suffered from social anxiety so really only hung out with their parents or their parents had a medical condition that consumed the employees out of work time, would you require them to not speak about their life while at work?

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