I know my colleagues with kids are struggling … but it’s causing more work for me

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I think this is just a question of checking in with myself and better enforcing boundaries, but here goes:

I’m childless in my late thirties, so I am:
1) surrounded by parents of young kids
2) constantly flexing or taking extra work for colleagues, folks in volunteer organizations, etc.
3) constantly asked what’s wrong with me that I don’t have kids. (Answer: nothing! There are many pathways to a meaningful life!)

I’m happy to do extra work and be supportive (e.g., taking over projects while folks are on parental leave) or be flexible (e.g., I’ll take the late-afternoon meeting while you pick up your kids, or we can schedule a meeting before working hours because that’s when you have child care). I’m also happy to meet friends wherever and however they need to, including procuring dinner and taking it to their house so we can hang out with them and their kid.

However, I think folks *expect* it of me. It feels … not good. I feel taken for granted. Folks will do things like just not show up and tell me a minute beforehand, and the reason is that they’re parenting — that’s hard! Just give me notice or give up the role (this is in the context of volunteering). Commit to what you can! I feel like I’ve flexed a lot that I can’t keep bending or done a lot of “extra” tasks and am now tired. I going to be totally candid and say I’m starting to feel resentful.

I mean, I intellectually know the reason this problem exists — folks have the truly impossible task of parenting during the pandemic (and/or without adequate supports – a situation that existed long before the pandemic, inequitably, of course). We need a better system — that’s the real problem here. I take part in my local mutual aid to help families w/ low income get some basic needs met, but that’s not the same thing. That also doesn’t change the system but patch some of the worst holes in it.

Does anyone have advice? How do you keep showing up as a good friend and supportive colleague who understands that we are all contending with broken systems? Everyone is overwhelmed; my life has more “give” in it than others’ do because I set it up that way (and had the privilege/resources to do so). I needed the stability it brought me. I want to be a generous person, but something isn’t quite working for me.

I wish I could boil this down into a simple question — maybe it’s “how do I stop resenting that people’s impossible situations (i.e., pandemic parenting) are resulting in more work/inconvenience for me?” Is it just perspective — constantly reminding myself that they wouldn’t be asking for help if they didn’t absolutely need it? That we are all just doing the absolute best we can? Or is this a sign to take a vacation?

Thanks for reading, and I welcome your perspective — even if it’s to tell me to get over myself.

Readers, what’s your take? (A note: I appreciate this writer’s empathy for parents, many of whom are in an impossible situation right now, and I request the same empathy in the comment section. Thank you!)

{ 645 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    A repeat of that request for empathy for everyone — parents and non-parents. Comments that are outside that spirit will be removed. Thank you.

  2. Sara M*

    We’re all doing the best we can.

    Including you, trying your very best to be generous with people who are genuinely struggling, while YOU are also struggling.

    It might help to focus on positives. Praise and thank people who actually _do_ communicate and acknowledge the burdens? That reminds them it’s helpful to keep doing those things, and they are appreciated.

    It’s a tough issue. Thanks for being so thoughtful about it.

    1. Lynca*

      I think focusing on the positives may also need to include not being the first person to jump to help and taking time to recharge your batteries.

      I know I am always willing to volunteer to help but it does eventually wear you down because it can be a thankless task. What I’ve done is focus on “I have the ability to help and that is wonderful on it’s own” and then making sure I don’t overwhelm myself with tasks. It’s a hard process because I truly want to help!

      1. Lea*

        I think op would be much happier if they decided what was really important to them and set stronger boundaries.

        Ie volunteer to help/cover unless they are ok with it. When asked to do something against their boundaries evaluate on an individual basis and sometimes turn them down. Or make it quite clear that this is a big favor and not just fine.

        1. Boof*

          This! I am a parent and really appreciate folks who can be flexible and help, but it’s a-ok to set boundaries! I would want to know if I’m asking too much! (Also, i’d never think there was something wrong with someone who didn’t have kids, much less as out loud – rude folks there!). Op you sound very giving please take care of yourself too and remember just because you can do something, you don’t have to. Just because you have some advantages and flexibility in life, doesn’t mean you don’t get to have boundaries.
          If someone asks for last minute coverage 1) say no if it’s a hardship for you or 2) clearly state you need more notice in the future if you do do it (presuming this isn’t someone who starts off acknowledging the bad timing etc)

          1. BubbleTea*

            Yes! It was actually becoming a parent that taught me this lesson. I guess having a baby used up the very last of the slack in the system that let me say yes to everything and juuuuust keep it together. Now I have to say no to stuff because I cannot I just cannot and… it’s fine. I said no to someone today who I’ve previously bent over backwards for and would have say yes to in the past, for the same request. She was absolutely okay with that, which I would have been really worried about before. Somehow having a child to worry about has let me set boundaries for myself too.

            There’s probably a lot of therapeutic work I need to do in counselling so that “because it wouldn’t be good *for me*” becomes as adequate a reason to say no as “because it wouldn’t be good for my baby” but in the meantime it has been a useful and essential learning experience.

            LW, you too can say no just because it isn’t convenient for you, even if it’s technically possible. You also have caring responsibilities to someone important: yourself.

            1. LittleMarshmallow*

              I don’t know how to word this exactly and want to stay in the empathetic space. For context I am also childless, late 30’s and could’ve written this letter myself. It’s so hard not to start feeling resentful when it is expected that you must always be the flexible, available, understanding one. I think it’s interesting that you say you set boundaries now that you have kids and people are cool with it so childless people should be comfortable saying no too. My experience is that parent vs non-parent is the difference here. If you were childless they may not be so understanding of your no. The people that frustrate me the most are the parents who feel absolutely entitled to NEVER have to be flexible at all and that of course child free people MUST be flexible for them because parenting is so hard. And unfortunately I have encountered quite a bit of this in my life especially at work (friends not so much because that dynamic usually leads to a natural drifting apart). I don’t have good advice for LW but I do have an ask for the parents that non-parents bend over backwards for. Try to remember to be appreciative not entitled and if there are times when you could pitch in some do it! You don’t have to cover extra shifts or flex your schedule to cover a non-parents dr apt or whatever as often as non-parents do, but make an effort to make arrangements to help too sometimes. A little goes a long way on the give and take. We just don’t want to feel like it’s 100% one way.

              1. SenseOrSensibility*

                This is really true. People really do hold people with kids and people without kids to totally different standards. If I set a boundary, there’s pushback and I’m being lazy or irresponsible or uncommitted. If my mom friend sets a boundary, then it’s obviously because of her kid and we should all cut her some slack.

                And I’m not saying don’t cut her some slack! She needs it… but I might, too, sometimes!

                And, maybe it’s a fault of mine, but I like to be acknowledged when I do pick up the slack. Just a simple “thank you” does wonders! But, unfortunately, the more you do for others, the more they come to expect from you. I end up taken for granted because “of course SenseOr can do this” … because I usually can! But then if I can’t, it’s seen as me imposing on them… even though it would actually me be doing them a favor.

                Basically, gratitude comes a long way. Parents who often ask their coworkers to cover for them–what can you do to let them know you’re grateful? I’m not saying go all out… just a “thank you”… or seeing if there’s a way to reciprocate for them somehow.

              2. Chirpy*

                This, at my old job my concerns about being left alone in the office from 3-5 EVERY FRIDAY were completely brushed off because “the parents needed flex time”. One of them had a stay at home spouse, she didn’t need to leave early to pick up her kid. I was 25 and afraid of being physically attacked if the wrong person figured out I was in an unlockable, windowless office alone, where no one would be able to hear me scream. I literally just wanted *one other person* to stay in the office for the full office hours with me.

                I was also expected to be available to work every after-hours event without being asked, because I “didn’t have a life” apparently due to being childless. I was happy to help out, but it was never asked, always demanded, and I if I did have other plans or tried to say no, my reasons for not being available were always treated as less valid than someone who had kids.

        2. quill*

          It’s also probable that OP’s work needs to actually prioritize what they can do with the reduced capacity that they have. It’s worth asking the boss what can be put on hold: same with volunteer organizations who might be cutting down their number of social events, etc.

          1. noradrenaline*

            This is a huge part of the issue. If the company is not able to maintain staffing to support the scope of the work they need done, they need to reduce the scope, not pile more work (for no more pay) onto the staff they do have.

          2. AcademiaNut*

            This is really, really important. You can’t reduce manpower significantly and get the same amount of work out of people on a long term basis! If half your staff are working at half capacity, expecting the remaining staff to work time and a half is not a solution. You’re either going to produce at 75% of your normal output, or you’re going to have to hire more people.

            This is also why government support in an ongoing crisis like this is important, because a lot of businesses can’t increase their staffing by 25% and stay profitable/in business.

            1. SenseOrSensibility*

              Yep. Businesses, especially small businesses, can’t afford to hire extra staff to cover for staff that they’re also paying, but who miss a lot of work. That leaves other employees picking up the slack.

              Government support would sure be great. When my coworker’s kid got Covid, I took on her work for two weeks–which was fine. I don’t mind pitching in extra. But then my coworker herself got sick and was out for two more weeks. But she was still getting paid using her PTO (as well as benefits my employer pays), so you can’t just hire someone else when the money isn’t there.

      2. Sloanicota*

        Right! Lead by offering what you can, but don’t always be the first to dive on every grenade. If your workplace/volunteer orgs wanted to, they could probably arrange more coverage or improve the systems causing these shortfalls. Are you helping them not do this because you are the first to volunteer? You can’t care about an organization more than the people in charge do.

      3. J*

        I’m in my late 30s with two small children. I agree to set boundaries and not always be the first to volunteer, but also remind the person asking that this is someone else’s responsibility. If you’re asked to cover a meeting during kid pickup, maybe say this is Sally’s project – can we schedule the meeting earlier in the day instead. I would much rather my responsibility become possible than ask someone else to do it.

        Also, not having children is a completely valid decision/situation. It’s not acceptable for people to act any differently. Look for friends who don’t have young children and organizations with lots of childless members. You have a great deal of freedom without young children, from being able to attend late night bar trivia to wine or beer tastings to spending a weekend backpacking. Do any of those spaces appeal to you?

        1. matcha123*

          I’m probably the same age as you, and I don’t have and don’t want children.
          But, a lot of my free time is taken up by dealing with parent-related issues or side hustles. I may not have kids, but I also don’t come from a comfortable background.
          A parent with a partner at least has another adult they can bounce ideas off of, but as a single person it’s just me alone to deal with issues at my workplace and so on.
          I haven’t been able to devote time to learning a new skill because after counseling my parent, I’m too stressed to even concentrate.

          I understand the sentiment, but I do think that a lot of times parents assume that their pre-kid lives are what others are living, and that’s not the case for many of us.

          1. SenseOrSensibility*

            This is really true. I know a lot of people have kids shortly after college, so maybe they look back at their college years and assume that’s what it’s like to be child-free? It really isn’t!

            I know I have more free time than someone with young children, but I have two jobs and a mortgage and health problems and pets. Late night bar trivia would mess up my sleep schedule for days! Who has time to take an entire weekend for backpacking? When would I do my laundry?

      4. Jean*

        Thissss. It’s 100% OK to not always step up and volunteer. Your needs matter too, and it’s your job to look out for them. You have to secure your mask first, as the flight attendants say during the preflight safety presentation.

      5. Wintermute*

        THIS, absolutely this.

        Boundaries are love. Boundaries are respect for yourself and others. LW, If it helps you mentally reframe and give yourself permission to hold healthy boundaries keep in mind that the people you’re helping, if they’re at all empathetic, would be genuinely distressed if they knew you were incurring real harm to help them. By just trying to stoically do it all and exceeding your own healthy limits you’re making them unwittingly complicit in causing you harm and that’s not fair.

        They probably don’t think about the burden to you because it’s not at the front of their mind, to them if they can’t do whatever they volunteered for it isn’t the end of the world it’ll be taken care of or if it’s not that vital it just won’t get done. They’re not thinking of the mechanics of HOW, they have bigger concerns at the moment. That doesn’t mean they’re being inconsiderate of you on purpose even if they’re literally not considering you, and it ALSO doesn’t mean it’s your obligation to somehow make it all magically work. Because if they did stop to think about it I’m sure they wouldn’t want you to take all that on yourself.

        1. Despachito*

          “the people you’re helping, if they’re at all empathetic, would be genuinely distressed if they knew you were incurring real harm to help them.”


          I have always appreciated very much the approach of my aunt, who was willing to babysit for us, but I could rely that if she already had other plans, she would openly tell me. I am unhealthily afraid of being a burden/nuisance to someone, and I was immensely grateful that I could be sure that it was not the case with her because if it was not convenient for her she would simply have told me, no big deal.

          My other aunt and uncle, on the contrary, babysat their grandchildren even if that meant they had to cancel their meetings with friends, and did not even tell their son and daughter-in-law that they did that. If I was their son/DIL and learned that I would be mortified. (And it did not prevent a large disruption between them and the son and daughter-in-law later on).

          I think the key is – DO NOT DO anything that is not a pleasure for you per se, or at least you do not mind doing even if the person you do it for shows no gratefulness at all.

          If you are doing something that is causing you inconvenience, you absolutely need a reward (not necessarily a material one, sometimes it can be the gratefulness of the other person, reciprocity or just a feeling you did something right). Without this, you will soon burn out and feel increasing resentment, and do much more harm to yourself but also to others than if youd did not do it at all.

          1. allathian*

            Yes, I agree. I realize that I’m in a privileged position because I have more PTO and longer maternity leave than most readers here, and very flexible working hours, so scheduling an appointment in the middle of the day doesn’t inconvenience anyone else.

            When my son was born, I was also privileged to have a MIL (she took early retirement a few years before our son was born) who was both willing and able to care for and spend time with him, even when I was on maternity leave, so that I could de-stress. Both my husband and I made a point to emphasize that we absolutely did not expect her to drop everything else at our convenience. She didn’t, and now that our son’s about to become a teenager, they have a great relationship. My mom was still working when our son was born, and didn’t get the chance to spend as much time with him when he was a baby, but he’s had more sleepovers there than with my MIL. My dad’s physically disabled, so he wasn’t able to care for my son when he was a baby and toddler, so their relationship is more distant but there’s no conflict. My FIL has sadly never shown much interest in him, but then he was never a particularly engaged father either, according to my husband. My son has a much closer relationship with my MIL’s husband than with my FIL.

        2. MigraineMonth*

          Seconding (thirding?) the “boundaries are love” comment. I have a friend who doesn’t consistently enforce her boundaries, and it can be exhausting to walk on eggshells and second-guess when she agrees to something. I’m sure your friends and coworkers are grateful for your help, but it’s not a kindness to give them so much you feel resentful.

          I like to schedule things that bring me joy. Maybe that’s a commitment with others (I schedule phone calls with friends in other states) and maybe that’s a commitment to myself (e.g. “play with my cats while listening to an audio book”). Having something on my calendar helps me decide when I do or don’t have the bandwidth for additional commitments.

        3. CM*

          “the people you’re helping, if they’re at all empathetic, would be genuinely distressed if they knew you were incurring real harm to help them…”

          Flip side: if they’re NOT at all empathetic, then it’s doubly important for you to set boundaries! So either they’re kind and would feel bad for overstepping your boundaries, or they’re self-absorbed and will trample all over your boundaries unless you set them firmly and often. Either way, figure out what you are happily willing to do and say no to everything else.

          I think the biggest problem here is #3, “what’s wrong with you that you don’t have kids.” Honestly, anybody with this mindset does not really deserve the benefit of your flexibility. The people you want to bend for are the ones who respect and appreciate your efforts.

      6. Insert Clever Name Here*

        Yup, this is what I came to say. I’m a fixer — it’s really hard for me to see a problem and not step in to fix it if no one else is. I have to work really hard to not allow myself to be overwhelmed, and some of that is just recognizing that it is not my job to fix every problem even if that means the problem *doesn’t get fixed*.

        As a parent of young kids, I also want LW to know YOUR TIME IS IMPORTANT TOO. Hold the boundaries of what you need in order to keep the work/life balance you want to have. Like someone else said, it’s your organization’s responsibility to make sure things get done, not your personal responsibility. Don’t try to do it all.

        Also as a parent of young kids, I’m trying to be very aware of how my actions impact other people on my team. Thanks for the reminder to keep it up — it’s hard for them, too.

  3. ThatGirl*

    I am 41 and child-free, and I sometimes marvel that I have managed to avoid the worst of the judgy comments about not having kids. Nobody has ever really harassed me about it!

    But regardless – I think part of the answer is for this LW to set boundaries. Start saying no to things that feel unreasonable. Take time off and be unreachable. If you *truly* don’t mind doing these things, then great – do them with an open heart. But I find that when resentment starts to build, reinforcing your own boundaries and setting your own limits can be a good antidote. This is not your problem to solve, all alone, and being a generous, caring person does not mean you have to give and give and give until you’re drained and resentful.

    1. Lilac*

      Same. 41 and childfree.

      I think a huge key here is to start saying “no.” LW sounds like they are carrying so much weight for other people, which is amazing and lovely, but also exhausting. Perhaps it is time to step back and recharge.

      1. Not A Girl Boss*

        It feels like LW may be having a hard time saying “no” because she feels that its selfish to say no when other people have a better ‘reason’ for their need for flexibility than she does. But no is a complete sentence – you don’t always need a ‘reason’ for why you are choosing not to take something on. Sometimes ‘I am choosing to prioritize myself right now’ is a good enough reason.

        Like LW, I purposely set up my life to have more flexibility. I’m a very sensitive person (to lack of sleep, stress, schedule disruptions, etc), which is part of the reason I made the choice not to have children. I certainly didn’t make that difficult life choice, only to give up all of that flexibility it afforded me to people who chose differently. They made their choices, and I made mine, and now we are all doing our best to muddle through them.
        Obviously, when my friends and coworkers chose to have kids they weren’t anticipating a global pandemic. No one ‘deserves’ what life looks like for parents in 2022. So absolutely, when it makes sense for me, I try my best to be the flexible one or the volunteer. But ‘life is incredibly difficult for parents right now’ doesn’t invalidate ‘life is hard for me right now too, and sometimes I need to set limits’. Suffering is not a competition. We all just need to do the best we can. Just because someone else out there is taking on more than you right now, doesn’t mean you can or should take on more yourself.

        1. another_scientist*

          All of this. OP didn’t go into detail how she can tell that people expect extra flexibility from her. I am sure that is the case sometimes, but maybe at other times it’s a self-imposed expectation. My inner voice would say ‘Someone has to do it, and since I don’t have parenting obligations or other excuses, I guess it has to be me.’ Guess what, the world will not stop. You get to take shortcuts too and go easy for a bit.
          The challenge for me was to train myself out of feeling like I need to justify setting those boundaries. I want to be the colleague and friend that says yes. I enjoy being generous. It’s an ongoing process. You have to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. You will be able to be more generous in the long run if you prioritize your needs regularly and it will make you feel more in control, because you are choosing to be generous, rather than out of habit or obligation (a small shift in perspective but so powerful).
          In a functional organization/group of friends where you are treated as an adult, it should be ok to say ‘sorry, I won’t be able to xyz’, without detailing the exact reason for your inability to accommodate a request. And this doesn’t mean that you are being dishonest – preserving your health, positive attitude and ultimately your ability to be a good productive member of the org or friend group ARE valid needs.

          1. quill*

            It’s especially hard when you’re used to covering for short term unexpected circumstances, and then the circumstances are just never evaluated again because ~someone~ is taking care of the problem, it must not be urgent.

            OP, what’s the worst thing that would happen if you just stopped doing some of these things? Say “I won’t be able to coordinate Volunteer Luncheon after the end of May,” and maybe someone else takes it up. Maybe you don’t have Volunteer Luncheon. Maybe there’s lower attendance.

            At work, definitely ask your boss what is actually necessary, and if anything that is less important comes up, don’t take it. Let it sit there and have its timeline extended. Work will expand to fill any amount of space you let it, so stop giving it room to expand.

            1. Shan*

              Yeah for volunteering especially I think its totally reasonable to set those kind of limits. I’m involved in a few volunteer organisations and there is always the understanding that members only take on what they can, and can always take a step back if it’s too much. If no one has time to something and it ends up delayed or cancelled that’s just how it goes sometimes.

            2. SenseOrSensibility*

              Yes! Some of these comments are a little blamey… like LW got herself in this position because she refuses to say “no.”

              But it’s not usually that simple. You cover something small a few times, and then it becomes expected of you all the time. As long as the thing is done, no one cares that the person doing it is horribly overworked. And when you’re the non-parent who eventually puts their foot down because you no longer want to do something that wasn’t your job to begin with, suddenly you’re seen as the problem.

              1. Mannequin*

                In my experience, the Venn diagram of people who have resentments because they feel used, taken for granted, or put upon and people who can’t or won’t say No are a circle.

          2. Botanist*

            I’m on an Encanto kick, and you are reminding me a of Luisa with what you are saying. She didn’t feel like she could say no because it was so much easier for her to perform feats of strength than anyone else- so how could she be selfish enough to say no? It’s almost comical that one of the men asking her to do something is telling her that the donkeys got out again, so Luisa has to go around literally picking up the donkeys and carry them back to their pasture. Could someone else collect the donkeys? Yes! Could they carry all the donkeys at once like Luisa? No! But could it get done another way? Absolutely! But meanwhile Luisa was near her breaking point, all the while feeling like she COULDN’T say no.

        2. Despachito*

          “They made their choices, and I made mine, and now we are all doing our best to muddle through them.”


          When I decided to have kids, I have also decided to make some sacrifices, one of which was to choose self-employment and WFH because I wanted to be physically with my kids, did not want to give up the work I love, and at the same time did not want to become too stressed.

          I do not see any reason why anyone else than my husband and me should bear the brunt of our choice. I could count on the fingers of my hand the times when we asked our friends or relatives to take care of our kids for longer than several hours, and we were immensely grateful that they were willing to do it. We would never expect anyone to pull the weight we should be pulling ourselves.

          Either choice – to have kids and to remain childless – has its own pros and cons, and by making the choice, we are accepting them (and I consider lucky every person who CAN make that choice either way, as I am aware that there are people who would want to have children but they can’t). The cons of having children include not being able to do many things we could do as childless, the pros include a chance (not a certainty) that you will always have a very special loved and loving person in your life. I hesitated quite a long time before I decided to have kids because I valued the freedom to do almost whatever I wanted very much, and I saw absolutely no reason why to sacrifice this for someone who had made a different choice.

      2. Green great dragon*

        Yes. And maybe also ‘yes, but’. So you can do that early morning meeting, but you’ll be having a long lunch. You can only pick up their project if you can put down something else (which needs to be a conversation with management, I think). The only time you can swing by your parent-friend’s place is when you’re already in that part of town. If people cancel last minute, you invite them to things that you’ll still enjoy if they cancel, and if they can’t make it, well, maybe next time (but keep inviting them)

        This is not a way to subtly drop your friends! This is you managing your energy, like they’re managing theirs. It might mean less face to face contact in the short term, but kids get older, and you’ll hopefully all still be there.

        – late 30s, didn’t go out much when I had a baby in the house, very glad my friends were still waiting when I came out the 2-under-2 fog.

        1. plincess_cho*

          Yes, I really agree to this! The “yes, but” is very important. Setting limits or even establishing what quid-pro-quo could look like is helpful. Yes, I’ll bring dinner over but you’ll pay for it 2/3 of the time to my 1/3. (Or in my case: Yes, I’ll bring dinner over as long as I get to play with your dog as long as I want!)

          I think too the key here is also acknowledging the times where if the give/take isn’t reciprocated as “Okay, then let’s find another time” / “Sounds like it won’t work this time.”

          1. SenseOrSensibility*

            Yes, I think that last part is important. I’m the kind of person that, if I reach out and invite you to something several times and you always turn me down, I’m going to assume that you don’t want to have a relationship with me any longer because you’re too busy with kids now.

            Even if there’s a good reason, it still hurts when you feel like you’re the only person who cares about maintaining the friendship. It doesn’t even have to be equal, but at least send a text and pretend to care about my life or something, ya know?

      3. Atalanta0jess*

        This!! I know I tend to get resentful when I am allowing my boundaries to be trampled, or doing more than I can sustain. Start saying no….and also, I wonder if there are places in your own life where you want to request some workplace flexibility. Do you need a day off to do a particular activity? I know other people may not value that as much as they value family care tasks, but they are wrong….and I wonder if there is any element here of teaching people how to treat you. Take the time that you need for the things that are important to you!

      4. kms1025*

        this is exactly what i came here to say…just say no…practice saying no…dont agree to everything…youre wearing yourself out dealing with an unending supply of other peoples needs…you’re totally allowed to say “i’m sorry, i just cant”…i really liked the suggestion of offering an alternative solution, like lets move the meeting time…good luck to you, you sound like an awesome co-worker and friend…be that awesome to yourself too…hugs

    2. londonedit*

      I’m 40 and the comments have definitely stopped in the last five or so years, but before that…it’s not like it was constant or anything, but there were a not-insignificant number of occasions where I was totally blindsided by a ‘but WHY don’t you have children’/’but you’ll never truly know love until you have a child’/’you’ll change your mind, clock’s ticking’ conversation. Once in the hairdresser’s, some of the time randomly at a party where I was having a nice time until someone decided to interrogate me about my life choices, and disturbingly often from friends who really should have known better.

      I agree that the OP should set boundaries – everyone is allowed to set boundaries. Remember that no one truly knows what’s going on in anyone else’s life – people may think you ‘have it easy’ because you’re not dealing with childcare, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make decisions and set those boundaries that are essential for your own health and wellbeing. You know how they say ‘put on your own oxygen mask first, then help others’? It’s great that you’re generous with your time and your help, but you can’t do that all the time. Sometimes you need to help yourself before you can help other people.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Yep. You can’t pour from an empty cup and all of that.

        And of course, even people without kids can face plenty of stress and demands on their time; being child-free does not mean being commitment-free or worry-free.

      2. Sloanicota*

        Ha I’m single and also childless (and honestly, pretty darn happy day to day!) and I’ve been surprised by people’s comments that my life must be meaningless haha. I must be so very sad! Just doing my own thing all the time! Tragic! It’s so baked in to our culture that for the people who have bought in, it’s invisible.

        1. Really?*

          Yes, the cultural expectation and pressure on women that a nuclear family centered life is the only valid aspiration is so baked in that it’s not even questioned. Women can’t have valid, good lives without centering them around others (husbands and children), it’s the patriarchy I guess. It can be difficult to establish an identity and lifestyle when swimming upstream against this. I hope the tide turns, singleness becomes accepted and understood as a perfectly good way to live.

          1. ffs*

            Our poor planet can’t handle every human reproducing. And nature certainly doesn’t intend every human to reproduce. So many women I’ve talked with about reproductive choices sound like they never imagined just choosing not to, but seem amazed and pleased about it once they stop and ponder.
            So much external presure feels like ‘misery loves company’ or validating one’s own choice by pressuring others to choose the same.
            Our species really needs to be much more intentional about adding to the planet’s burdens, but we are fighting male/religious extremists tooth and nail all the way.

            1. Rosemary*

              I always thought I would have kids, always assumed I would have kids. Never met anyone I wanted to have kids with, and I did not want to do it on my own. If you had told 30 year old me that I would be single and childless at 46, I would have wept for my future self. Sure, I have moments where I wonder if I am missing out, but BOY I sure am happier than I ever thought I would be! I jut assumed having kids was necessary for living a happy and fulfilled life. And I am realizing now that SO much of my angst in my 20s/30s stemmed from my desperation to achieve that. I never once paused to think that hey, maybe I can be fulfilled and happy WITHOUT kids…did not realize it until, well, that ship had sailed.

              1. Ally McBeal*

                I’m 36 and it looks like I’m headed in your direction. I’ve always wanted kids, in the process of trying to make that happen (I recently moved to a city with lower COL and more family support) I’ve adopted a cat who is the apple of my eye and have started some really fulfilling hobbies that… well, I’ll always want kids, and I’ll be sad if that never happens, but it won’t be the cataclysm I’ve previously imagined it to be, and there’s a lot of freedom in that knowledge.

                1. Alt Alterson*

                  I’m 34, and I just broke up with my long-term partner of 9+ years, and … thank you. By the time that I can be emotionally ready to find someone new, it might be too late, and I am looking at “oh god but if I don’t, am I doomed” and it feels good to hear that it might be OK.

        2. Anhaga*

          I am always so amazed at parents who would say this kind of thing to someone who’s chosen not to have kids . . . like, are they not being honest with themselves how utterly hard it is to deal with small humans invading your life? I love my kids very very much and would not choose differently than I have, but I am jealous sometimes of childfree friends simply for the quiet they can have. I would not take that away from them for the world, because I know how precious it is.

          The fact that culture here in the US pushes people to have children but then refuses to ensure they have the support needed to raise children without huge amounts of stress and expensive is appalling, but it is not the fault of people who have chosen then no-kids route, and they should not be forced as individuals to shoulder the burden of our societal failures.

          1. Software Dev (she/her)*

            I sometimes suspect that this is behind those ‘oh life is so unfulfilling without children’ comments—I genuinely suspect there is a measure of jealousy there, especially from people who had kids because that’s ‘what you do’. It’s very unkind to take that out on others, but I really suspect they’re justifying their own choices.

            1. allathian*

              Yes, this.

              I sometimes wonder how many parents really regret their choice to have children? It’s hard to judge, because it’s such a taboo subject that people don’t generally talk about it. If someone says they wish they’d chosen differently and opted for a childfree life, people look at them like they’d grown another head or something, especially if the regretful parent is assumed to be a woman. Even in these days of fathers who’re more involved in raising their kids than any previous generation, it remains more acceptable for a man who doesn’t want to be a father to simply abandon his responsibilities of raising his children, at least as long as he pays some child support, than it would be for a mother to do the same.

            2. Mannequin*

              I used to be friends/roommates with that person- she was angry & resentful towards me because I wasn’t ‘tied down’ with a young child like she was, and could do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.

              Mind you, as a friend & roommate, I drove her everywhere, including doing fun stuff when she could get a babysitter. I helped with daily childcare, babysat, cooked for all of us, even helped her get welfare & disability for her kid when the sperm donor skipped out on them. This wasn’t “single lady parties while divorced mom lingers at home, swamped with duties”, it was “when you have Responsibilities, you can’t do All Of The Things that people who don’t share those same responsibilities are able to do.

              It was EXTREMELY irritating, especially after a few serious talks about “people make different choices in life” led to the admission that she’d never actually thought through what it would be like to have a child, other than holding a cute gurgling baby in her arms.

          2. JPDubz*

            I have a very muched planned toddler who I love more than anything. I love and genuinely enjoy being a parent. I wanted kids for years and I’m so happy I have him. But man, this would be absolute hell if I hadn’t actually really, really wanted children and everything that came with it. I NEVER ask child free friends if they’re going to have kids, because tbh I assume that the default is not wanting them. This is such a specific and all encompassing life change, society does a huge disservice to everyone by pushing the idea that this is what everyone will / can want in a way that wouldn’t be the case with ANY other life choice.

            1. JPDubz*

              Whoops, meant to say ‘will / should want’ but ‘can have’ is also a consideration that needs to be given more attention.

          3. 2Legit*

            There’s a spectrum of how someone remains without kids…. it’s not always necessarily “chooses to not have kids”… it can be wanted to have kids, but never met the right person

            It could be wanted to have kids, but has medical reasons that make it impossible
            It could be wanted to have kids, but there are medical reasons that make it unwise to bring a child into the world

            But as others have pointed out, it is a huge burden for women to carry the lie that they are meaningless without children… women and girls need to be taught that they are beautiful, whole, and complete regardless of whether or not they choose to take on the role of wife or mother.

          4. Lalala*

            Same. Several of my friends are having the conversations about whether they are going to stay child-free, and my advice to them is always that if you don’t *absolutely* want children then it’s very OK not to have them! I adore my kids but parenting is overwhelming. Not to be entered into lightly!

      3. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        Late 40s here and I never had anyone question why we didn’t have kids. I’m guessing folks must have consciously or unconsciously agreed that I shouldn’t parent anything with 2 legs an opposable thumbs!

        1. Hired Hacker*

          Very good advice here. I’m childless, too, and very happy to be.
          My advice for OP is that she should set boundaries. And, also, start going out more with other childless people.

        2. emmelemm*

          Oh, good grief! I also am late 40s and childless and never really got a ton of flack or intrusive questioning about it. Part of it, I’m sure, is that I move in very non-religious circles, so that aspect is removed. But now I’m wondering if everybody didn’t instantly see that me being a parent would be a disaster and held their tongues! :-)

          1. Louise B*

            I also move in non-religious circles, in a large blue city, and consistently am told that I 1) should reproduce 2) will eventually regret not reproducing. It’s not an issue of religion.

            1. Splendid Colors*

              That happened to me as well. I’m now past childbearing years and long divorced… and people are sooo saaad for me when they ask about my kids and I say I never had any. I can barely take care of tomato plants or freshwater fish, a cat would be way above my level of competence, and I should have had children?

              And don’t get me started on how intrusive it is to ask someone you just met if they had considered fertility treatments.

        3. AAH*

          Aw don’t say that, I doubt that’s the case! You probably just have respectful people in your life that know that is not an appropriate question to ask people!

          1. toas*

            Maybe this is just a me problem, but I find my empathy and helpfulness toward parents is much more generous when they don’t complain about their children all the time. (Alternatively, people who won’t stop talking about their kids grind my gears but to a lesser extent.)

            I’ve never worked in an office where someone wasn’t constantly moaning about what appeared to be the worst decision of their life. If you don’t want kids, don’t have them. If you hate your kids and your life, try therapy if that is available to you. But I don’t want to hear about it. And I don’t want to be told I’m not empathetic enough because you made a bad choice 1-18 years ago.

            I literally don’t care that you want to come into the office to escape your child from hell. But I do care when you use that child you you sh*t talk all day as an excuse to leave early or not do you work.

            And the worst part is that when this person is a manager you’re trapped.

        4. quill*

          I have loudly and preemptively announced to every relative possible my intention to be the “fun aunt.” I’m at best a mediocre influence, but I can teach a lot of life skills, such as “if you microwave a water balloon it WILL explode.”

        5. Clisby*

          I didn’t have kids until I was in my 40s, and I don’t remember getting any questions about why I didn’t have children. Not even from my parents, although possibly since they had 6 children they figured the chance that *somebody* would produce grandchildren was pretty good.

          1. Rosemary*

            I have two siblings who both reproduced prolifically, which I think definitely helped keep my parents off my back :)

      4. Pants*

        I’m 46 and childfree. I’ve always known I didn’t want kids. I never even entertained the notion. I was constantly asked why, told I won’t know love, that I’ll change my mind, etc. Oh, and my fave: “Who will take care of you when you’re old?” (Cos that’s a reason to have kids?) This went on through my mid-30s, even though I was also very vocal about not really wanting to get married and not having an interest in even dating–I’ve met The One and it’s me.

        At 36, I had cervical cancer and had to get a hysterectomy. I’m fine now. The situation was not ideal, but I found the funny in the treatments and ran with it. They were funny then, they’re funnier now. (I mean, radiation d1Ld0s?! That’s FUNNY!) While it’s probably a little evil, I do so much enjoy answering all those boundary-crossing questions with “I can’t have kids because I had cancer, okay?” and watching the blood drain from their faces as they sputter over themselves. Sometimes I’m extra evil and add “so this is why you shouldn’t be asking these questions when you don’t know the situation. Do better.” The “do better” is the clincher. It’s delicious.

        1. MEH Squared*

          Looks like we answered at the same time and I just had to tell you that I love everything about your answer. EVERYTHING! I recently had a life-threatening medical experience that has changed my outlook on so many things–but not on not having children. That’s still the best decision I’ve ever made.

        2. SPDM*

          Yeah, I don’t have ovaries anymore due to cancer. I save those kinds of lines for when I need to burn it all down. I’d have to go full nuclear if someone still brought up adoption though.

          1. Pants*

            I don’t play the cancer card much. But when I do, it’s pure napalm. High five, fellow vet. (We didn’t survive. We fought. We are veterans.)

        3. Managing to get by*

          This reminds me of my favorite Cher anecdote:
          “My mom said to me, ‘You know sweetheart, one day you should settle down and marry a rich man.’ And I said, ‘Mom, I am a rich man.'”
          Why not give our children the options to choose whatever path they want instead of just one?

        4. Frankie Bergstein*

          I love your absolutely savage response. Thank you for this work you’re doing on behalf of all of us. :)

        5. WindmillArms*

          Thank you for your service to people who are childfree-not-by-choice!

          I never wanted kids, so I delight in being this kind of “lesson” to intrusive busybodies. I tell myself I might be preventing them from upsetting someone who wants kids but can’t have them.

        6. Azure Jane Lunatic*

          Brachytherapy high five! I had my endometrial cancer about the same age as you, and I agree that it’s a great answer for all sorts of impertinent questions being asked without any regard for the actual person attached to the theoretical uterus.

          (I realized fairly early on that I was never going to be able to psychologically endure a pregnancy, and my bad reaction to my chronic insomnia made it unlikely that I would be able to survive taking care of a newborn. So getting the organ out of me was on my to-do list even before my doctors sprung the news about the standard of care for my abnormal endometrial cells, and then, well, they found what they found.)

          My facility offered tours to orient new patients (or, in my case, to give more information to patients who have completed their treatment but are still curious), and my companion and I got one of the physicists doing the tour. Since it was just us chickens, he talked a lot about the physics and the history of some of the companies. Seeing him leaning casually against the brachytherapy machine as he talked was the most reassuring moment of all, also learning that the closet that it’s stored in has a very simple code like someone from Spaceballs might use on a suitcase.

          There were so many inherently ridiculous parts of the whole thing, but the moment that cracked me up the most with the radiation was when I got the geiger counter waved over me to make sure that the radioactive source had gone back into its container properly.

      5. MEH Squared*

        51, female-presenting, and from two cultures (American and Taiwanese) that thinks women must reproduce. I got asked quite often in when I was in my twenties and thirties about having children. When I said I didn’t have them and didn’t want them (only in response to other women, always women, bringing it up. I NEVER brought it up myself), I received responses from dismissiveness (you’ll change your mind) to untruths (it’s different when it’s your own child) to anger (you must think I’m stupid to have them).

        When I turned 25, my mother went on a 15-year campaign to get me pregnant (it’s your duty as a woman, I’m so sad we won’t have that special mother/daughter bonding over the daughter having children experience, etc.). I’ve known since I was 22 that I did not want children and have never wavered.

        All that aside, I agree that the OP should start thinking about what she truly wants to offer that will not cause her resentment and do that. It’s ok to not do something even if you technically can. You’re going to feel guilty, OP, but that doesn’t mean you have to let the guilt dictate what you do. And I second the suggestion to cultivate friendships with other childfree people in order to take some of that pressure off yourself.

        1. Pants*

          I was very lucky that my mother didn’t go that route with me. VERY. My grandparents, not so much, but she did step in. I hope your mom has long since stopped trying to live vicariously through your nethers.

          1. MEH Squared*

            Ha! Yes, she’s given up but only because, I suspect, she thinks I’m now too old to have kids. Thankfully! I know it still bugs her, but, I honestly don’t care.

          2. SimonTheGreyWarden*

            This. Luckily my mom was on the childfree spectrum until she met my dad in her later 20s, and has never once faulted either my sister or I for our child-decisions (I waited till late 30s, sister is childfree). Mom has always, I think, vaguely regretted the things she didn’t do because of us, and while I love her so much, she was not a small-kid-person and never really knew what to do with us until we were older than about 5. In addition, my MIL was in her 30s having my husband and he was an only child (they didn’t want more than one) so she never brought it up either. She is thrilled to have a grandchild, but she would not have ever guilted us if we chose not to have a kid.

      6. Despachito*

        I think that healthy adult people should not need so much help from their peers – they should be able to pull their own weight first.

        Barring some emergencies, which are usually quite few and far between and do not exhaust the helper, I see no obligation to help healthy people around us just because we have more time on our hands.

      7. SenseOrSensibility*

        I’m 30 and I usually get people who are just baffled that I don’t want kids because I really love kids, and I’m really good with kids.

        But that’s because the kids then leave with their parents, and I get to go home where it’s quiet!

    3. Person from the Resume*

      I agree about boundaries. What struck me most is the Folks will do things like just not show up and tell me a minute beforehand, and the reason is that they’re parenting.

      Assuming that you’re already wherever beause it’s only a minute beforehand, a boundary here is just to not take over. Mother Jane didn’t show, you can’t host/lead/manage in her place. But if that’s too hard to do then provide feedback to Mother Jane that you need more notice and this cannot happen again. Tell someone if they can’t fulfill your volunteer responsibilities, they should drop out. Have your volunteer board tell volunteers this.

      I’m not sure if this answers the LW’s overall question.

      1. ThatGirl*

        yeah, sometimes you have to let the chips fall where they may – do your part, but don’t try to do anyone else’s, especially without prior notice.

      2. Wendy2*

        Yeah, this part stuck out for me too. And seriously, I get it (and I’m a parent) – there are times when despite your best efforts, kids end up needing your time and attention ASAP and you have to re-prioritize. I’m lucky enough to work from home and set my own schedule and my spouse has a bit of flex in their workday, so between the two of us we can generally deal with emergencies without tapping out on important obligations… but a lot of parents don’t have that luxury. Balls get dropped, and it really sucks when that ball ends up being you.

        HOWEVER… it is a choice, and volunteers who regularly choose to flake out on you are making it clear that they don’t consider their volunteer time to be an inflexible obligation. If you’re counting on them to be there and they don’t show, it may be time to restructure your volunteer roster so someone more dependable is there instead or in addition to your flaky parents. Ideally they’d be more open with you about this – “I want to help but there’s a chance I won’t be able to make it at the last minute sometimes so don’t count on me” – but not everyone is that self-aware.

      3. Really?*

        Unfortunately, kids can get sick or hurt with no notice at all. It sucks, But barring true emergencies, parents or anybody else for that matter should avoid last-minute cancellations, its kinda rude.

        1. Despachito*

          Yes, I can imagine a situation when a kid gets hurt or sick and you have to resolve that immediately, and a reasonable person will acknowledge this..

          But I think that if you agreed with your friend Jane to meet up for a coffee and she calls you half an hour before that she has to cancel because little Johnny just fell, is bleeding and they are heading to the hospital emergency, you will be probably much more understanding than if Jane calls you every other time to cancel just because “parenting”. The former case is fully understandable, one-off emergency, the second would deeply offend me and make me reconsider the friendship.

        2. Batgirl*

          My partner is dealing with a coworker who keeps forgetting his children’s appointments: “I forgot about Tabitha’s piano lesson so I can’t do that meeting” and this happens weekly. Part of it seems like poor communication with his wife and it really is something he needs to get a grip of at home. Yes, they’ve lost the grandparent who used to do all that kid stuff, yes they both have full time jobs… but they haven’t restructured how they do things at all in the two years since losing her dad. Plus, it’s not at all about giving them flexibility for emergencies, because appointments are known about in advance! That’s why they’re called appointments! If it was limited to emergencies, it would be more like every few months than the weekly occurrence it is with this colleague.

    4. AY*

      Part of the boundaries on the work side may just be to care less and do less. I’ve had to cover for some colleagues due to unexpected daycare closures earlier this year and was happy to do so. But I definitely did the minimum–I didn’t work extra hours or weekends, and I didn’t completely take over their projects. Protect your working/leave hours and your free time!

      1. Chilipepper Attitude*

        I agree about caring less and doing less. You have to triage. Is this an absolutely essential ball and is it essential that I pick it up at this moment? I think we can let a lot more balls drop!

        As we all know, places are understaffed. They should have enough staff so that when someone has to parent, there is not a huge gap in some kind of coverage. You have to “pass the pain up the chain.” If you always cover, the people above you never get to feel the stress of understaffing.

      2. Emily*

        Yes! LW, if you keep stepping in, you’re masking the problem, not solving it. For work, your employer needs to see that they’re understaffed, or that they need to be firmer in their expectations of all employees, or whatever.

    5. Jules the 3rd*

      I am a parent who just had to skip a meeting this morning for child-related reasons, and I support this message.

      Set boundaries. Say no (and No is a complete sentence!). Unplug.

      Thank you for your help, but as you say, this is a system problem, and one person can’t fix the system by themselves. It’s ok to put some of that burden back on the managers who need to find coverage, for example.

      1. Anonym*

        Yep. It’s not on you to take on everything. Pay attention to where you’re at in terms of internal and external load, and say no when taking something on will be bad for you. At work especially, this sort of thing is management’s responsibility to manage.

        And people dumping things on you at the last minute, unless paired with serious acknowledgement and apology, is not due to parenting. It’s being inconsiderate.

      2. Louise*

        Captain Awkward has a good phrase about returning awkwardness to sender and I think it adapts really well for managers as return staffing and workload issues to sender.

      3. Smithy*

        Just here to say that while No is a complete sentence, “I’m sorry, I can’t” and “Thank you for asking me to join, but it doesn’t work for me” are all useful and softer versions. And versions that don’t rely on phrases like being busy or “right now” being the problem.

        I will also say, for closer friends, there can be a lot of power and opportunity to build closeness by sharing what’s going on with you. I was recently invited to visit a friend on the other side of the country with less than a week’s notice. She recently gave birth to twins under really difficult circumstances and while the request was a bit wild, I could tell her invitation was coming from a more emotionally vulnerable place. So instead of kinder/silly platitudes, I shared that I really couldn’t afford it.

        Certainly don’t recommend this for everyone, but for those really close to you sharing when you are really burnt out, or feeling depressed, or have neglected cleaning your room since the pandemic began and it now fills you with dread and until you address that you’re cutting down on other activities – whatever. It can be a little liberating and have some weight lifted to just have your own actual struggles be heard.

      4. AJoftheInternet*

        Seconded! Plus, personally, I will take the lead from where you put your boundaries. If you typically tell me, “I’ve got this, don’t worry about it, take your time” or the like, I will take you literally. I am aware that people say these politely, but I don’t always fully register it in the moment. So be aware that it’s okay to tell parents, “That won’t work, find other cover, make sure to loop in our manager to handle it” etc without causing offense.

    6. LCH*

      agree. if you are feeling this way, you can take a break! maybe some things just don’t get done. in the context of work or a non-profit, it is up to the owners/managers of those organizations to figure out how to proceed with the actual staff/volunteer hours they have if you determine you can’t do it all.

    7. Midwestern Scientist*

      Totally agree on setting and maintaining your boundaries. I’m in a similar situation (working with a couple of colleagues with small children). I’ve been happy to flex my time to when they have childcare, meet via Zoom rather than in person, etc. There is definitely a difference in my attitude towards accommodating Coworker A who tries her best to do as much as possible in the time she has, lets everyone know about schedule changes ASAP, and is verbally grateful for the extra support versus Coworker B who seems to just expect everyone to adjust around her and rarely if ever even says thank you. Though I work more frequently and thus have to adjust more for A, I’m far more willing to. Coworker B has run me to the end of my patience and I’m counting down the days until she leaves

    8. Brooklyn*

      I’m not 41, but I think it’s also important to say that sometimes you have to cut out people who used to be friends. In a work/volunteering context, you don’t have that ability, but in your personal life, it’s important to ask yourself if this person is trying and struggling, or just not trying. You’re allowed to stop putting effort into one sided relationships. I’m old enough to have many friends with kids. I’ve cooked two casseroles and left one in a friends’ freezer more than once. I’ll gladly take on 90% of the work to maintain the friendship, at a time when the other person can’t. But some people decide that they are entitled to this, and start begrudging the 10%. Same thing OP is describing – I know your kid’s swim class wasn’t scheduled 3 minutes after we agreed to meet up, and it’s insulting that you don’t even bother acknowledging that you forgot about our plans. It doesn’t help how much advertising and media tells new parents that having kids must be their everything from now until forever, that their identity is now Parent. You cut those people out, you hope that as the kids grow, they remember and put effort into reconnecting.

      1. Lisa*

        Brooklyn, it’s like you’re a fly on the wall in my own life. I’ve seen so many friends slip into that Identity is Now Parent mode, and use it as a means to justify their crappy, entitled behaviours that, quite frankly, existed long before they became parents but could never be justified. Now, they wear their children as shields.

        It may be that this is the time in the OP’s life when it’s appropriate to assess whether these “friendships” are worth the effort of maintaining them.

      2. Emily*

        Yes! The LW is mixing three different scenarios that have different responses. She has more power over her friendships over her fellow volunteers or coworkers. I’m a parent and I heartily cosign this:

        ” It doesn’t help how much advertising and media tells new parents that having kids must be their everything from now until forever, that their identity is now Parent. You cut those people out, you hope that as the kids grow, they remember and put effort into reconnecting.”

      3. Despachito*

        This is so spot on.

        To invest more effort into a friendship due to circumstances is not a problem. The problem is if the person takes your time and effort for granted, and it is perfectly justifiable to end the friendship over it.

      4. SenseOrSensibility*

        YES. I know I will have to put in more effort to be your friend after you have a kid, but you have to do SOMETHING to show me you care in return.

        Most of my mom friends are great and still show they care about me, even if we can’t hang out as much. But others… their entire lives revolve around their kids to the point where they can’t even ask you how you are. It’s like you no longer matter to them at all. Which I understand! Friends come and go, and I don’t blame you for letting your friends go because you have a kid. But, incidentally, they’re the same ones who then post on Facebook about how lonely it is to be a mom and how all their friends dropped them when they had a kid. Like, no, people wanted to be your friend but got tired of having to put in 110% of the effort.

    9. Oakenfield*

      OP YES this comment is very helpful. You do not have to make parenting easier for others. You have your own life. This is good advice.

    10. ThisIsTheHill*

      45 & childfree. For about 20 years, I made the efforts the OP talks about, thinking that when kids got older, my willingness to travel/visit homes/bring food/being a good “aunt” to my friend’s & family’s kids, etc. I’d be at least somewhat repaid in kind. Unfortunately, I had created a default in everyone else’s minds. Once I hit my 40’s, I decided to full stop for a period for my own mental health.

      Some friends drifted away, others got closer. I don’t regret trying to be the best childless friend that I could in a sea of parents, but some of the losses still sting.

      Like others have said, start creating boundaries for what you’re willing to give & stick to them. For pushback from friends, you may need to lay out in specific terms (if you want, no one deserves anyone else’s self-care reasoning): “I can’t always be the one who drives x hours any more”. They’re that adage about people not thinking about *you* as much as you presume they are, & it’s true. Your friends may not realize that you feel taken advantage of, because it’s always been this way. Say “no”. Focus on the people who do show up &/or give thanks.

    11. Willis*

      Yes, I think this is a major part of the answer. If you legitimately don’t care about covering a meeting or picking up dinner, for example, offer to do it. But if you don’t want to or you’re tired of always being the one to do it, just don’t make the offer.

      Also I think a lot of time people who are inclined to offer their help think there’s going to be a lot more consequences when they don’t offer than there actually are. People can just move their meeting to another day, or order their own dinner or whatever and it’s likely to all be fine.

    12. mskyle*

      I am in a similar situation, 43 and no children, and yeah, I just try to remind myself that if I choose to cover for someone, that’s generally a choice I’m making, not something they are forcing me to do.

      I think some of the problem is that, of course you’re not going to bail right in the moment! You’re going to pick up the slack because this is something that’s important to you. So it helps to do some reframing – a lot of things are more work now than they used to be, and I think we have to take that into account when we estimate how much time and effort we’re going to have to put in. You kind of have to go in assuming that X number of people are going to flake out. Do you still want to make these commitments knowing that, realistically, you’re probably going to be doing more work than you’re officially committing to?

      So, rather than setting boundaries in the moment when people don’t show up, I feel like the real work is in prioritizing so that you have the energy to cover for people when they don’t show up. Also take other people’s commitments with a big ol’ grain of salt – don’t just look at what they say they can do, look at what, realistically, you think they’re going to be able to do.

      People are flaky; learn to expect it and make your plans/allocate your time accordingly.

    13. Joielle*

      Agreed! I’m early 30s and no kids/not planning on having them. So far, I’ve mostly avoided judgy comments about it – but I definitely have a nontraditional/goth/weirdo vibe, which probably helps (in other words – it’s maybe not surprising that I’m following a less common path, and those who would judge me probably think I wouldn’t be a good mom anyways).

      I am very willing to pick up the slack for colleagues with kids to a certain point, since they are in a really hard situation which I certainly wouldn’t want to be in (and have specifically organized my life to avoid!). But when I start feeling resentful, that’s when I know it’s time to pull back. The world is not going to end if I say I don’t have the capacity to take on a task. Someone else can step up if it’s really important, or it can just wait. And because I do often volunteer to help when I can, people respect when I say I can’t. All you can do is manage your own time and boundaries!

    14. Software Engineer*

      I was thinking this exactly. When you always say yes, people expect it and they don’t think about how they might be putting you out. It’s okay to have your own life and your own boundaries even if your evening plans are just “catch up on zoom with a friend” or “go grocery shopping and have a quiet evening with my book.” You’re allowed downtime!

      At work you can have a conversation with your manager about what kind of flexibility the team needs and how to handle everything without it all falling on you. You can set limits to how many last minute requests you accept, set your own standards for when you work (it can be starting later and working later to accommodate others who have to finish early, but if it’s built into your schedule and not a surprise it’s easier to handle in your life), how much you’re willing to pick things up last minute. You can’t be responsible for keeping everything running despite the chaos in schedules—that’s your managers job and if tire going to take it up you should be paid for it!

      Set boundaries, decide what’s reasonable, figure out whose responsibility it is to deal with issues too can’t reasonably help with and send it to them. And in your personal life if people flake on you, it’s ok to tell them how that impacts you (I planned my day around this and turned down other things, etc) and if it’s a repeated issue with a friend who doesn’t respect your time I would be less and less eager to hang with them over time

    15. Wintermute*

      agreed 100% Also, if you’ve never let anyone know they’re asking too much they’re going to assume you’re okay, eager even. Organizations take the path of least resistance, so if someone is reliable they’ll pretty consistently go back to them again and again until they burn them out or use them up. Better-run organizations are aware of this tendency during good times, but when things get tight most fall back on the pattern of going back to the same well.

      It’s your responsibility to let them know when you’re running dry, otherwise they’ll just assume they can repeat indefinitely.

      1. Caroline Bowman*

        I agree so much. Organisations of all kinds, even decent and fair ones, do this. It suits people and companies to have people who will say yes, show up, be amenable, so they will obviously ask those people for help first, which makes sense.

        The trick is to only say yes when it absolutely suits you. You are obviously a kind, generous and empathetic person, which is to be commended. If more people thought of others and extended slack, we’d all be better for it, but speaking as a parent of 3 kids, with several dear, incredible friends who are child-free, they are fortunate to have you as a colleague. You’re a person too, you’re allowed to have preferences and to say that you cannot make a silly-o-clock meeting, or even to show that you’re not delighted if someone repeatedly flakes last minute. Not to be rude or nasty, but to acknowledge it’s put you in a tough spot. You count, you count a lot and it’s fine to have some reasonable boundaries. Your organisation also needs to realise the extent of the situation and not always going along to get along might help them see the reality.

        Hope it improves and works out well, you certainly deserve it.

    16. A Feast of Fools*

      I’m 55 and, back in my 30’s thru 40’s, got told by various co-workers that I was *selfish* for not having children. Then those same people called me selfish for not taking their shifts / leading their meetings / working weekends to cover for them when child things came up.

      OP – I hope you’re able to tune out anyone who even hints that being childfree is a negative. They’re telling you a LOT about themselves and literally nothing about you.

      And I agree with everyone else who is saying to step back a bit. Put your own oxygen mask on first. You, alone, cannot cure / fix our nation’s systemic problems. And you won’t be able to help out your tiny corner of the world if you’re burned out.

      Also, my experience with volunteering is that No-Call-No-Shows come with the territory. The most effective program I was a part of banned those people from signing up to volunteer in the future. I mean, if the person was in a terrible accident on their way to the volunteering gig, that was understandable; but the people who just flaked out without calling were put on a “Do Not Ever Schedule These People” list.

      1. Caroline Bowman*

        Wait, what? I don’t understand. Surely it’s the actual pinnacle of selfish to have children (I have 3!), because it’s not like we’re running out of people, so what possible benefit could it be to anyone… other than the people who want those children?

        There is literally no good reason to have a child other than ”because I / we want one so much”, which is a good reason, but it is absolutely and incontrovertibly ”selfish”.

        Only when we’re running out of people will it be selfish to not have children! I think you’re safe!

        1. SenseOrSensibility*

          Whenever people ask me why I don’t want kids, one of my answers in rotation is, “I don’t know, I guess I just didn’t think my genes were all that special.”

          I only use that one when someone is being irritating, though! I have no problem with other people having kids but it always astounds me when people think it’s selfish or irresponsible of me not to want kids.

        2. Rufus Bumblesplat*

          I’ve been told I’m selfish for not having kids as apparently I’m denying my parents their right to grandchildren.

          My actual parents have never commented on my child free state, thank goodness.

      2. Katie Impact*

        For people who act like that and won’t respond to reason, I find that weaponized self-deprecation can be surprisingly effective. If you cheerfully agree with them that you’re selfish, there’s nowhere further for the conversation to go. It won’t improve their opinion of you, but it will very likely stop them bothering you, and sometimes that’s enough.

      3. allathian*

        Yeah, my sister who’s known forever that she doesn’t want children, and whose former SO wasted 10 or so years trying to convince her to change her mind, told me once that she got a former coworker to finally shut up about it when she said something like “So just last week you called me selfish because I neither have nor want kids, and today you’re calling me selfish because I won’t lead your meeting so you can go watch your kid (do whatever it was) again this week. But your decision to have a child has nothing to do with me, and it’s selfish of you to imply that I’m in any way responsible for solving your childcare problems.”

    17. evens*

      Along with saying “no” if you need to, don’t pretend to be happy about taking over duties. Say, “Wow, so, in one minute? That’s not much notice! Okay, I can do it this time, but next time could you let me know in advance?” You can do this perfectly pleasantly but still show some concerns with the timing.

      Also, ask for things in return. “Sure, I can take that. Do you mind going to the meeting tomorrow at 1:30?” or whatever it is. Ask for favors in return. That way, people will stop taking you for granted, but people also feel more friendly toward those they’ve done reciprocal favors to.

      1. Despachito*


        If we do not value our own time, nobody else will.

        And, to be honest, it is much more taxing to deal with people pleasers with no boundaries than with people who are not unwilling to do things but have strong boundaries and are not afraid to assert them.

        I once refused an offer of my friend’s mom to babysit for us – not that it would not be very helpful but I know that my friend’s mom is such a people pleaser, too kind and too unable to set her boundaries, and I envisaged that it would create much more problems than benefits.

    18. Erin*

      Same – mid 40’s and child free. I’ve never been harassed about my decision to not be a parent. I’ve also never been expected to take on more work for someone who has parenting responsibilities that conflict with professional responsibilities.

      However, I did get tired of being the person to flex my schedule for my friends with kids. I found myself doing it in all of my various friend groups because pretty much everyone else is a parent. I have made 2 friends in the last 10 years who don’t have kids, and I see them frequently. I still adore my friends who are parents, and I doubt they realize how much I accommodated their needs. At least, that’s not how they would remember that time in our lives ;)

      Anyway, set boundaries and protect your time! Go to the gym, read a book, stare at the wall! Whatever you want! Make no apologies! Also, make some new friends who don’t have kids! We exist!!

    19. WfH or Bust*

      Just say ‘no’ is really sucky advice to give when the reason people end up with boundaries that are the issue is because they’ve never had it demonstrated as a skill – or worse, they’ve gotten punished for having them. Especially in an environment where you can’t just walk away and/or go non-contact in response to escalations.

    20. Teapot Wrangler*

      I really can’t wait for the comments about childlessness to go away (maybe another 5-10 years?). I not only don’t want kids, I also don’t think I’d be a good parent. Weirdly, when I say that, the people I’m talking to think I’m right (no maternal instincts at all) but still want to persuade me into parenting…surely we should leave raising new people to those who want to do it and would be good at it rather than “you’ll like your own”ing at people who don’t have any interest!

  4. A Simple Narwhal*

    “…Or is this a sign to take a vacation?”

    Yes! If you are able to do so, definitely take a vacation! It sounds like you’re getting burnt out, and some R&R and distance can really help.

    I won’t pretend that it will solve your problem, but I will always encourage someone to take a vacation if they have the time/resources to do so.

    1. arloguthrie*

      Agreed! It seems like the issues aren’t new to you, it’s your own response to them that is troubling you. When the same stimulus provokes a different response its a sign from yourself that you need a real break.

    2. Clorinda*

      Oh yes, take the vacation, and also, don’t always be so quick to say yes to cover the parents. “I can’t, I have a commitment” is a fine thing to say, and if the commitment is going to the grocery store and taking your time in the produce department, that’s perfectly legit. You have a real life, just as the parents do.

      1. Caroline Bowman*

        Yes to the holiday, just take one. Everyone needs a break and you’ve more than earned yours. Your commitments, barring completely disastrous unforeseen emergencies, are as important as anyone else’s.

    3. Macaroni Penguin*

      Taking a vacation is a good idea! It could be a chance to rest and reflect on what precisely is bothering you. And once that’s internally articulated, what boundaries you want to enforce. Because it’s not okay for people to presume upon your capacity. It’s not okay for others to consistently cancel or muck up your life because of parenting. Once or twice can be grounds for child care compassion. But when it becomes a pattern of expectation on you? Nope. As a new parent, I’m grateful for the future compassion of my coworkers. Babies are chaotic! But it wouldn’t be okay for me to expect priority.

    4. sub rosa for this*

      I’m on Team Vacation too.

      A week in a mountain cabin (or a tropical beach, whatever’s your flavor) just resting and chilling and doing what *you* want to do would be a great stress release.

      I used to vacation with a group of other childfree folks every year or so, and it was a great stressbuster. Having people to talk to and go sightseeing with, without having to dodge the usual conversational bricks about family planning – amazing!

      I also second the “volunteer less” philosophy. Cut yourself some slack and plan in some “me” time. It’s OK to take care of you and put yourself first sometimes!

    5. DrSalty*

      Yeah honestly taking a vacation to step back and recharge is probably a good move here. It’s not going to solve societal deficits, but it probably will help you personally.

    6. New Jack Karyn*

      Or even a staycation, where she scritches her dog, reads books, and only goes on the internet to read AAM!

      1. A Simple Narwhal*

        Sometimes that’s the best type of vacation! No packing, no travel time, lots of puppy kisses!

      2. Jessica Fletcher*

        Either way, a vacation from saying Yes to every request, just because the other person is a parent. Not having kids doesn’t mean you’re obligated to take every extra project, lead every meeting, etc. If you say no, they can ask someone else. The world will not end if you take some breathing room.

    7. Katie Impact*

      In addition to helping the OP, the vacation will also mean that colleagues will have to figure out solutions other than “rely on OP”, which is necessary in the long run anyway since it’s not like they can count on OP to be around for all eternity. And once those solutions are in place, they can still be used even once OP is back.

    8. Azure Jane Lunatic*

      Endorsing the vacation wholeheartedly!

      The method I would suggest for working out the boundaries is to think about hard numbers and go through some questions while on that vacation.

      How much time in addition to your own workload are you willing to take on in a single day? In a one-week span? How many days of extra work per month? How many days/hours of notice, in any given situation? (Band recital, at least two weeks. Trip to the emergency room is probably instant, but only if you are actually available.)

      What happens if you say no? In vague order of worst and least likely to less bad and more likely: Will someone die? Will the company go under? Will someone get fired? Will you lose a big account, or have to pay penalties of some sort? Would you get passed up for a promotion due to “not being a team player”? Does a deadline get shoved back? Will people be annoyed with you?

      Do you quit, because you can’t keep it up any longer?

      Is your manager aware how burned out you are? Would a roster with emergency availability (even if it’s scant from some folks) help take the pressure off you?

      When you come *back* from the vacation, or once you have it worked out, it’s time to tell your team that you’ve also been on the edge of burnout, and you have spent some time to reflect on how to avoid that. Be clear about how much extra work you can absorb under normal circumstances, and also have an emergency limit to keep in mind. The video game industry has adopted some extremely nasty habits around “crunch mode”, which is basically a deliberately scheduled ongoing, understaffed work emergency and should be outlawed on the grounds of cruelty to workers by any sensible government.

      Is there anything your manager can do, to juggle the more time sensitive tasks off the plates of the parents with the youngest kids, and juggle the time-consuming but less time sensitive tasks off of yours? Could it be improved by adding more staff, if they have the power to do that?

  5. Serious Pillowfight*

    LW, I’m in a similar situation (late-30s, no kids), and think you’re a wonderful person based on the concern you show for parents. However, I think part of the issue is that you might expect it of YOURSELF to be overly accommodating. The key here, I think, is to really consider what you are able and willing to do without being resentful. I think we as people with no kids tend to put ourselves last because we do have that flexibility. But your life and your wishes and desires and thresholds and boundaries matter, too. Consider what you’re willing to do and to put up with, and don’t allow yourself to be pressured (even if it’s from yourself) to be inconvenienced if you know you’ll resent it later. I sense someone as empathetic as you has a lot of situations where you don’t mind and won’t feel inconvenienced, but some situations you do. So get clear on what the latter situations are, and try to politely set a boundary.

    1. Loulie*

      Came here to say this! I’m a mom of 3, and because I live far away from family I have had to lean on friends for help. However. Even though I benefited from good friends or colleagues like LW being helpful, I hope I never lost sight of the fact that having a family required sacrifice on *my* part too. Sometimes I had to just, miss out on opportunities. Say no to volunteering. Inconvenience my spouse instead of asking a colleague for a favor for the 1000th time. Take the fallout from having to parent. If you feel resentful, that isn’t because you are a bad person but it may mean you need a break. You don’t *owe* anyone your time just because you arranged your life in a certain way and they made other choices.

    2. cubone*

      this letter actually reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend recently about a family member who is asking for a lot of support (emotional, physical, financial, etc.), to the point that it doesn’t feel like asking, but expecting (or perhaps even demanding). Obviously that situation is different from the LW as I think the family member is clearly taking advantage, but they also see themselves as in an impossible situation and needing support.

      It really seemed like all my friend really needed to hear was: you’re not A Bad Person for choosing not to help sometimes. I think a lot of us struggle with the idea that we can EITHER be empathetic OR set boundaries and protect our own time. We need to understand that saying no to someone isn’t inherently unempathetic or cruel. Yes, we’d like to be “helpful” and kind, but it’s okay to weigh that generosity against your own needs, values, and impacts of giving it. Maybe it’s a gauche analogy, but I actually think of it like giving money to charity: you weigh what you know about the situation, what priorities matter to you, your budget and decide if today you can give your spare change or a chunk of your savings, you know?

      1. allathian*

        Yes, indeed. And it can help to consider if what you’re doing is supportive or enabling. Sometimes having a friend to vent to when you’re unhappy about something can actually be the stopgap you need to avoid seeking professional help. In that case, the friend who sets boundaries and says they can’t listen to the venting anymore when nothing changes can actually spur the venter to seek professional help.

    3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Honestly being polite but firm when setting boundaries to make sure you are taking care of yourself is important too. If you feel whole and rested, it is easier for you to know how and when you can flex to help your friends and coworkers. But those boundaries can also help your friends know how they can help you too.

    4. Beth*

      Agreed. OP, it’s wonderful that you have so much understanding and empathy for parents right now. But I think you’ve gone so far in being kind to parents in your circle that you’ve wrapped around and started being pretty mean to yourself. Your work/life balance is eroding (meetings outside work hours, taking on others’ jobs while they’re on leave), your life is less stable (accepted last minute cancellations and changes in plans, often without much communication, as inevitable), your boundaries are being pushed (who is hassling you about not having kids?? speaking as a woman in my 30s, please know that getting constant comments is not a default for us, it’s a thing someone or several someones in your life are choosing to do to you), and your friendships are no longer centering you (it’s normal that new parents will need friends to adjust to their needs for a bit, but if that’s all your friendships, it’s hard on you to always be the one giving and accommodating and never being centered yourself).

      And amid all that, your question isn’t ‘how can I get the support I need in order to continue thriving and continue being able to support others’–it’s ‘how do I change my perspective’. OP, I don’t think there’s anything off in your perspective. I think you’re genuinely dealing with difficult, shitty circumstances–like parents are, yes, but you’re dealing with it too and you need support and accommodation sometimes too.

      I think you need a vacation; you need some time that’s just about you and what you need, and a vacation is the best way to get that. And then I think you need some rebalancing in your life. It’s good to support parents at work, but not to the extent that you burn yourself out.

      It’s okay to say “if you can’t be consistently available for your scheduled things, or at least reschedule in advance, we need to consider if this volunteer position is still a good fit for you.” You can tell people, “I hear you that your work hours skew earlier, but due to my own schedule, I’m not available before 9am. Given that, when can we squeeze this meeting in?” When you do choose to bend and accept something outside your normal boundaries, act like you’re doing a favor (all you want is for them to acknowledge that and thank you for it, that’s not asking the world). This applies to personal life as well. You need some friends who will, yes, maybe ask you to bring dinner over and watch tv at home some days, but also leave the kids with a partner or trusted caregiver and do something you want to do some days (or maybe a friend or two who doesn’t have kids would help–either way, you deserve to not be accommodating others 100% of the time). You can and should tell whoever is pestering you about having kids to shut up about it. Your needs and boundaries are just as important as everyone else’s, and I think insisting on getting them met will go a long way.

  6. Erin*

    I think that it’s hard because you are an empathetic person who has already shown a willingness to be flexible, and the worry is that if you stop doing that, it’ll be noticed and possibly commented on. But you also have clearly realized the toll it’s taken on you, and that’s great that you’ve noticed and not okay that it’s taken such a toll on you.

    My advice is to set boundaries, even small ones, in your professional and personal life. You can’t control other people’s childcare situations or last minute schedule changes, but you can control yours. Think about what areas you’re most willing to be flexible on, and the areas that you aren’t. If you’re willing to meet before work hours or work later, maybe you can limit that to one day a week. Tell people that Wednesday is your day for early morning meetings and Thursday is your day for late afternoon meetings. If you have people in your life who constantly seem to over-commit and then bail at the last minute and you can be frank with them, do it. Tell them that it would be better for both of you if they promise less and deliver more. (Which I know is easier said than done.)

    One of the things that has come out of the pandemic has been a willingness to be open and honest about burnout and overall mental health. I think that if you can identify people in your life with whom you would be comfortable having this conversation, you should have this conversation. Even if there’s no one else in your life that you need to take care of, you still need to take care of yourself.

    I know this is a tough situation, and I wish you the best of luck!

    1. A Beth*

      I really like these suggestions for structured flexibility. Early in the panini I was working with adult students who couldn’t necessarily meet during regular work hours, and we found that shifting our availability to accommodate early morning and early evening meetings made a big difference for folks, but we still got to have some control over our schedules.

    2. darcy*

      I have certain friends that are always late or prone to bailing at the last minute (some with kids, some without) and I never agree to meet them somewhere if it’s going to be annoying for me to wait if they’re late. So I won’t meet them at a restaurant where we have to book a table for a certain time, because I’ll be stressed and annoyed if they’re late. I would be happy to meet them for a picnic in the park because I can take a book and hang out and read if they don’t show.
      If I’m going to a meeting with someone flaky and it makes sense (e.g. it’s in a different city than we both are), I might offer to pick them up and drive there together. When I do this I tell them a pickup time that allows for them to be running late when I arrive, so I know we’ll be there on time even if it takes them ten minutes to appear once I’m waiting outside. Or I’ll say that I’m leaving at a certain time, and if they’re not ready by then I go without them!

      1. Nobby Nobbs*

        Some of the best advice I’ve seen for maintaining a “going places, doing things” sort of friendship with people who regularly have to cancel last minute for totally understandable reasons (caretaking responsibilities, chronic illness) is to only invite them to things you can truly enjoy on your own if they don’t show.

        1. SenseOrSensibility*

          I have certain friends I try to only invite in groups so that I don’t get disappointed when plans inevitably fall through.

      2. Beth*

        I live in an area known for flakiness and lateness (and that reputation is maybe overstated but also kind of true!) and unless I know someone is reliable, I plan basically all meetups around whether there’s a coffee shop nearby where I’d be happy to read for an hour or two. I show up around our planned meeting time and text my friend that I’m in the area; usually I get a text back that they’re running [time period] late; I go to the coffee shop and chill with my book until they let me know they’re parking or have arrived. Way less stressful than standing around counting down the minutes.

      3. EmmaPoet*

        This. I won’t be the person who stands outside waiting at the subway stop for half an hour when it’s 95F out for the unreliable person. I did that in the past, and I’m done. Now I arrange to wait somewhere comfortable and if they don’t come, I go on with my plans.

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, I had a similar friendship that sort of withered on the vine when I was no longer willing to accommodate my former friend’s constant lateness. We didn’t have any mutual friends, so I couldn’t schedule the sort of activities where I’d meet up with the person who was on time and the latecomer would show up whenever. In my current friend group there’s a busy mom of 4 kids who also tends to overschedule, and that’s why she’s often late, but it’s not a problem because I never schedule anything with just her, so even if she’s late, we’ll just start without her.

      4. PotsPansTeapots*


        I have a cousin I dearly love but she is prone to bailing or showing up late. I invite her to things I would be at or doing anyways, then I put it out of my mind. If she shows up, great! If she doesn’t, I still have a good time doing the thing.

  7. Kowalski! Options!*

    Regarding #3 in the list (which is beyond ridiculous): I’ve found that a dead-aim stare and a poker face muttering of “Kids? Oh, [favorite expletive]…I forgot….” tends to take care of it.
    And, yes: definitely be candid and let the volunteer organizations know that you’re starting to feel resentful. You’re probably not the only person feeling that way, and it’s better that they know now, and can deal with it now, before the volunteers quit en masse.

    1. Corporate Lawyer*

      I love your response to #3 in the list! I wish I’d had that in my toolbox 20 years ago when I could have used it (now post-menopausal, so I’m no longer on the receiving end of these comments).

    2. Not A Girl Boss*

      My favorite is feigning genuine cluelessness that dogs don’t count as children (obviously, they are not the same, but I really enjoy watching people squirm through explaining that fact to me). My MIL in particular gets so exasperated.

    3. cubone*

      I have started responding to: “when are you going to start a family?” with a furrowed brow and a very confused “I have a family??”. Sometimes I even add: “you know, my parents, [name & name]? My partner, [name]?” I try to do it like I’m a bit genuinely worried they’re having a stroke and just wait silently for them to respond and it’s ALWAYS the most flustered response. I doubt it really teaches these people a lesson (why, why, why are people still asking these questions) but it does entertain me at least.

      1. Kowalski! Options!*

        Total digression away from the main topic, but….
        That makes me think of the co-worker I had who joked about hearing, “We never get together except for weddings – when are you gonna get married?” and saying, “We also get together for funerals – when are you gonna die?” I don’t know that he actually did it. But it’s an option.

        1. Evan Þ*

          At one of my cousins’ wedding, my aunt gave that joke. I turned to my one still-unmarried cousin and gave a deadpan, “Okay, which of us is going to provide the opportunity?”

          Turns out the next wedding was a dark horse: my younger sister! But, she wanted a smaller ceremony, so we ended up not having an extended family reunion for her wedding after all. Cousin and I are still both firmly single.

      2. Gabby*

        I love this response!

        My child free aunt used to get the “when are you having kids?” question a lot from religious folk and her response “if god wanted me to have kids I would have them” always shut down that line of inquiry haha

      3. WindmillArms*

        I was definitely asked questions about “having a family” when I was in my 20s, but I’d never come across before it as a euphemism for having children. So with total sincerity, I’d answer “Oh I have one! I’ve got [my parents/siblings/etc].” It was only years later I realized what these people meant, and I had a good laugh about how confused they must have been. It’s a nonsensical phrase that deserves a nonsensical answer!

    4. Don't Be Longsuffering*

      1. LOVE your username. Makes me giggle just to see it.
      2. Kudos for being able to answer rude inquiries that way. Like you haven’t made deliberate decisions to craft your life as you see fit! (Or you aren’t suffering from infertility, smdh.)

    5. mli25*

      Late 30’s, long married, and luckily the comments around having kids died off fairly early. I made it perfectly clear to anyone who brought it up/asked that I didn’t have kids and had no plans to have kids. The fact that I was quite transparent (with friends/family) about my hysterectomy probably helped too.

      1. This is a name, I guess*

        35 and queer here. Peers ask sometimes, but usually not in a rude way. Just a curious way. I know that can be insensitive, but it’s not passive aggressive nor conformist just inquisitive…and usually only once.

        I’ve found that people have stopped asking in the passive aggressive way. Probably due to my queer relationship and my barren age (lol). I also think a lot of people get it a lot more, thanks to the pandemic. Lots of people are like, “UM PARENTING SEEMS IMPOSSIBLE NOW I DON’T BLAME YOU!” Which, true!

        1. quill*

          Yeah. Barely 30 and I’ve never gotten it from anyone besides clueless relatives and a few people who think small talk in an elevator is “so, got any kids?” “I have houseplants.”

          It did help a little that I’m out as queer to one side of the family, now that the only person who might have been a pain about it is gone, and that the other side already had an alternate script for “female who does not want to marry.” Unfortunately, that script was due to my great aunt being a nun, so I kept getting “you’ve never dated, have you considered a convent?” for quite a few years there.

  8. Dust Bunny*

    Well, yes, I think it’s a sign to take a vacation.

    But, longer-term . . . you don’t have to be endlessly flexible here.

    One, it’s not always true that they absolutely< need it–some of this is probably that you've trained them that you'll give if they ask. I'm not saying to cut this off completely but it's OK for things to not work for you any more and for you to give, but give a bit less.

    It's also OK to limit how many extra tasks you take on. If this is volunteering then maybe this organization needs to recruit more volunteers to cover the work and offer greater flexibility, and it's time for management to be told that in clear terms if they're not noticing how much you're doing.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      So, basically, I’m with everyone else: Boundaries. Boundaries don’t make you bad or an ungenerous person.

      1. Anonym*

        Boundaries make you a healthy person who can contribute in the ways you value and find sustainable!

        1. Despachito*

          Boundaries also make you a person much more pleasant to deal with, because I can take you at your word that if you are willing to do something you are REALLY willing to do it, and I do not need to bother second-guessing what you really feel.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      I also think that there is a lot of tendency to assume that people who aren’t parenting don’t have other trials that fill in that space. My emotional support network evaporated. I’m responsible for my parents in a way and to a degree that my child-having siblings are not (as in, they are not at all, since they don’t live nearby). I can’t go to any of the places I used to go because of COVID so my choices are pretty much at work or at home or, weather and insects permitting, somewhere outdoors, which means that most of my pressure-release activities are no longer a thing. I don’t have a spouse, I haven’t seen my boyfriend in person in ages because there are too many other humans/disease vectors in his house, and a lot of my friends have jobs where they can’t limit contact with the public. I don’t even want to take PTO to stay home because I can’t handle any more time with my parents (we all live together).

      It’s like being middle-aged and living your 15-year-old life. I am actually really stressed out.

      1. A Beth*

        Wow, that does sound super stressful. I hope you get some relief soon! I imagine it’s especially hard to see more and more people starting to go back to pre-covid routines & behaviors (at least in the US) and when you are still dealing with the same restrictions from two years ago.

      2. Bunny Girl*

        If anyone takes away anything from the thread – I hope it’s this. Managers, friends, coworkers, everyone stop assuming people who don’t have children don’t have full, chaotic, and busy lives. Our lives are different than yours; not stress-free.

        1. Really?*

          People with children were once people without children and hopefully know this already, I sure did.

          1. AnonPi*

            Apparently my former managers did not, as I often had my vacations plans rearranged or cancelled because coworkers had more valid reasons to need off since they had kids (and I did not). Also got voluntold for most evening/weekend emergencies for the same reason. I don’t have kids so it’s not like I have plans right?? :p

            1. PotsPansTeapots*

              This regularly happened at my partner’s old job, never mind that he’s taking care of multiple disabled family members (I only get to see him two nights a week!)

          2. matcha123*

            I’ve found that there is a good number of parents who lived their lives as they wished and upon having a child, for the first time experienced what it was like to have someone dependent on you.
            Because they didn’t have that experience before having a kid, they assume that other people without kids similarly do not understand the pressure.

            It’s a very wrong assumption, especially since there are lots of eldest children who are expected to look after younger siblings, immigrant kids who are expected to serve as on-the-spot translators for parents, and low income kids who have to work to insure that their family bills get paid.

            1. Blandine*

              I fully agree that something like that is at play in many parents’ mind. Spot on observation.

        2. Emily*

          And even if your life is not full and busy, you can still say no to things sometimes! Or heck, all the time! LW, it is not your job to step in for everyone who needs help, every time they need it.

    3. mli25*

      I set a boundary when it seemed like everyone I knew was having babies. For the first year of the kid’s life, I will go to you and follow whatever schedule needs you have (naptimes, bedtimes, etc.). After the first year, I expect that you will have figured a few things out and that there should be more flexibility towards you coming to my house or meeting up somewhere for a meal. Each new child gives another year of my boundary/flexibility. I also never told any parents directly, but my husband knew.

      1. Louise*

        LW, if you choose to go this route in your personal life, I’d definitely think about the possibility that some parents still may be unable to come visit or go out to a restaurant after a year (childcare costs, child proofing, whether the toddler is really going to be able to handle a restaurant, pandemic, etc) and consider whether you have some relationships where you’d be okay ending the friendship over it and others not – it’s okay to triage, especially in your personal life!

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          Yeah, barring pandemic, sometimes Months 2-10 are easier to cart the baby along than Months 12-72. As my best friend said with his 3 month old, “He’s still luggage.”

          1. turquoisecow*

            Yeah, 3-4 months was fine, she slept most of the time and if she woke up and fussed I could give her a bottle and she’d fall back to sleep. If there hadn’t been a pandemic going on, we would have gone to lots of restaurants.

            Now at 19 months she wants what I’m eating and fusses if she doesn’t have it, wants to be entertained while she’s sitting there, and sometimes isn’t satisfied with one of the many toys I gave her, so I have to focus on her, which means I barely get to eat my meal, never mind engage in adult conversation. We eat outdoors sometimes and I’m okay with that because it’s usually less loud, and one of us can walk with her for a bit if she fusses, but inside with a toddler would not be fun.

            Also, we have not gotten any better at the scheduling or planning or anything else that would make it possible for us to socialize outside of the house. We’re mostly on a schedule, but sometimes she doesn’t want to take a nap and is overtired in the afternoon. Often my attempts to do things on a schedule fail. My kid is human and every human, every *day* is different, and a year and a half into being a parent I cannot say I’m any better at arranging my life than I was two months in.

            If I have a babysitter then sure I’d be happy to go out to dinner with you or visit your house without the kid. But I can’t drop things last minute and I may have to cancel last minute. I can’t drop the parenting responsibilities after a year – if anything it’s getting harder as she gets older.

          2. Glen*

            Yep – Month 0 through walking were definitely easier than walking through year 3. I think people don’t realize or forget how high energy small kids are. Sometimes we could get about an hour to ninety minutes of sitting relatively still in a restaurant; but if they’d been cooped up (like a long car ride), we’d barely get until they finished eating before they wanted to run around (not screaming, mind you, just unable to sit still any longer – usually one of us would take the kids outside while the other ate in peace, then we’d switch). And I never thought I’d be the “nap times are sacred” parent, but when the alternative is crabby, whiny child, yep, I was.

          1. Louise*

            Overall, both with work and friends, I find it helpful to think about the “or else” – it sounds so threatening/ominous, but it can be really clarifying about what‘s important. I wanted a raise from my job and had thought through what I was willing to take versus what would cause me to start job hunting. With friends, there might be some people where you don’t care if you have to go to their house for five years, and others where you’d rather just step back from the relationship rather than do that.

            1. SenseOrSensibility*

              Yes, that’s true! It doesn’t feel nice to always be the one making compromises and putting in the effort to keep the friendship going–even if the other person has a good reason, like having kids. Sometimes it’s best to just move on instead of feeling resentful.

  9. hmmm*

    OP you sound like an amazing understanding friend, family member and co-worker. As a parent I try not in infringe on other people’s time. Thank you for making the accommodations you have. That being said I want to point out, you are allowed a full life. It seems like someone needs to do something for you and put you first! Parents will live having to make other areas of life a priority once in a while – for example Dad’s off early one day a week, he can take junior to baseball practice… this will let your coworker take the evening shift so you can leave on time. I felt like in your letter you described yourself as second best, your not! While I think it’s great you are willing to work with everyone’s schedule, don’t forget to make your schedule a priority too!

    1. I wonder...*

      Spot on! OP make yourself a priority. You are a wonderful person but it’s ok to put yourself first!

  10. CommanderBanana*

    This is such a hard situation to be in. I left my last job because I was also in my early thirties and childless and many, many of my coworkers were having babies, which meant that I was covering travel for everyone while they were on maternity leave.

    When they returned, they didn’t want to travel (which is reasonable to not want to travel with an infant!) but this went on for over two years, and management refused to tap anyone else, so I went from traveling once every six weeks to being out of town about three times a month. I was missing out on my actual life, and because many of our events ran over weekends, was missing out on spending time with my friends and family.

    So I quit. Going from 20% to 60% travel with no end in sight, no advancement, no plan for scaling it back wasn’t something I was willing to do, and given that my boss and my boss’s boss were both people who had recently had children and didn’t want to travel, they really didn’t care.

    1. No_woman_an_island*

      This is spot on. Parents shouldn’t be punished for having lives outside of work, and childless people shouldn’t be punished BECAUSE parents have lives outside of work. It’s on companies to make sure they have enough coverage that all their employees have enough work/life balance to want to stay.

      1. Ella*

        Yes! Came here to say this. Both parents and non parents need more empathy from the employers and to enforce boundaries. I don’t think this is a parents vs non parents problem but really an employer problem.

      2. desigirl412*

        uh… childless employees have lives outside of work too!!! Your attitude is the crux of the issue that single people have with their collegues with kids…

        1. No_woman_an_island*

          Uh, I think you misinterpreted what I was saying. Parents having outside lives doesn’t equal non-parents don’t have outside lives. My point was exactly the opposite: non-parents shouldn’t be required to pick up the slack when employers/parents assume they have nothing better to do outside of work.

          1. Despachito*


            Before I had kids, I once had to assert myself at work to have some time off during Christmas because there were two coworkers who felt entitled to that because one of them had kids and the other didn’t but was his friend.

            I waited for some time to be certain that the one with the kids did have his time off but after or 2 or 3 years I suggested that we should alternate and that it was not fair for me to always have to cover Christmas. They grumbled but finally accepted. I do not think why someone’s choice to be a parent should make him entitled to everything with no compensation or even acknowledgement. No way, José.

      3. NotRealAnonForThis*

        This! I came here for THIS! This is an employer problem.

        The employer has made their staffing issues YOUR problem instead of addressing it.

        Companies need to not run on the gnat’s arse with manpower. They need to have enough coverage to ensure that every employee is able to have a work life balance. Even before having children, I have worked at companies where the person who handles payroll CANNOT take a Monday off, ever. EVER. Not vacation, not sick, EVER. Or payroll isn’t done. This isn’t right at all!

    2. hmmm*

      I’m just curious, have you heard from your old employer since? What did they do once you left? The gossipy part of me is hoping they finally realized all the extra time you gave and sacrifices you made; maybe they had that “oh crap” now we have travel moment. I’m glad you stood up for yourself and made yourself a priority.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        Well, I was there for about five years. They hired two people after me who quit after about a year each. I don’t know what the present situation is; all of my former coworkers that I kept in touch with have since quit as well. The place was dysfunctional in more ways than one and this was only a part of it. Sadly, it’s part of the continuing pattern I have of working in places that only take issues seriously once I’ve sent notice to resign. I don’t think that’s ever going to change. The further I get in my career, the more I start thinking that most workplaces are dysfunctional.

        1. hmmm*

          I hope one day you find an employer that appreciates your dedication and work/ life balance.

          I feel like your scenario, at least in the company you described it becomes a management or HR issue. The job requires x amount of travel. If you can’t do it then you need to find a job that better suits your needs. Sadly that does not seem to be the situation and you end up taking on the brunt of something you didn’t “cause”.

          I wish you the best. Maybe start your own company?

          1. CommanderBanana*

            Having worked for several small businesses, I can tell you that starting your own company means working 24/7 in most cases. The job didn’t require X amount of travel, the issue is that I was traveling to and staffing events that were not part of my portfolio.

            My actual job required Y amount of travel, which was workable for me and part of the job description. My actual portfolio was never decreased, which mean I was responsible for my job, y travel, PLUS X travel and staffing because every.single.person in my department had at least one baby during the time I worked there (my industry tends to be majority women).

            1. Don't Be Longsuffering*

              I think hmmm meant that your coworkers’ jobs required travel. They were unable to do their jobs. Or they could, but they refused. What did your boss say if you just refused? It wasn’t your job to do, after all, it was theirs. Glad you got out.

        2. Tired Social Worker*

          Sadly many employers only address a problem when they are forced it, like when the employee quits and there is high turnover in a role (i.e. like splitting a role into two jobs). I never understand why they are so short sighted and are willing to lose people who have the skills for the roll and would rather repeatedly train new people.

      2. Sloanicota*

        I could also see the outcome (for a healthier company than it sounds like this was) as being, they realized this is a mostly-travel position and advertised it that way to find people who were willing to take that on, likely with other benefits to compensate like letting the position be based in a remote office or adding flexibility. Oftentimes it takes the overburdened employee quitting and leaving (not just complaining) before companies will totally reevaluate what they need/want in a position.

        1. CommanderBanana*

          I think their mindset was that it was “only temporary” (2+ years is not temporary), plus the two people in charge of making that decision were both women who had had children, gone on maternity leave, and then didn’t want to travel. I had proposed several solutions, from tapping other staff who were actually interested in staffing these events to reallocating parts of my workload so that I had the bandwidth to travel more, but they were always brushed aside with “well it’s just temporary.” My boss was pregnant again when I left.

          The last I heard was that the turnover in her department was so bad that she was laterally moved to a position with no direct reports.

    3. A*

      Same! Although in my case I made an internal move. My previous role had a ~15% travel requirement, as did everyone in the dept. All but two of us had kids back to back so it was a never ending cycle of at least 1-2 people being out on parental leave. Me and the other ‘childless’ individual (they have older kids / are an empty nester) had to absorb the travel and it was terrible. I gave it a try, but quickly discovered that while 15% feels like business travel, 50-60% felt like a straight up lifestyle choice – and not one I’d ever choose for myself. Some people like that kind of thing, but it is not for me and I quickly started falling behind in my life outside of work.

      To my employers credit, they desperately tried to hire more people to address this but we are in a remote area and the nature of the work calls for an unusual blend of specialized skill sets that can be hard to find. We were already slightly overstaffed to account for any absences or unexpected departures etc…. but we did not foresee 90% of the dept family planning at the same time so they were left in a tough spot.

      Luckily I was able to make a lateral move to another function that doesn’t require travel. While I miss my last role, I’m SO glad I left when I did because it got a lot worse. Similar to what you experienced, the vast majority of the individuals who recently had kids in that dept decided they were no longer comfortable travelling once they returned. Completely understandable, but ultimately it meant they were no longer able to fulfill their job description so we had to part ways. Luckily the timing of some of the travel bans gave enough time for the company to get new folks in and work with the individuals that were leaving to either move them into other functions or keep them on staff while they secured external positions.

      Only silver lining is that it’s helped keep other frustrations I would most likely be feeling in re: to covering for parents throughout the pandemic in perspective. Taking on evening calls etc. when people run into child care challenges feels like a breeze to me now when compared to that travel situation.

  11. straws*

    FYI, I’m speaking from the perspective of someone with small kids, so the opposite of OP.

    First of all, #3 is infuriating. No one should be told that not having kids is wrong, even if they’re dismissing the comment. I hate this with a fiery passion. Kids were something I wanted and prepared for, but that’s my personal decision and shouldn’t dictate anyone else’s life. Ugh.

    Anyway, you are a saint in a hard time. Everything you’ve listed that you’re happy to do is incredible and totally above and beyond what, imo, should be expected. And, it should be appreciated – it sounds like maybe that’s the part that’s missing and that’s why you feel taken for granted. It IS difficult to parent during the pandemic, and I’m lucky to have at least some support in place – it’s still so hard! BUT. That doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to be polite and courtesy to the people helping you. Maybe the people in your life are forgetting this in the hecticness or maybe they’re just rude. I think you can push back on at least that part though. If someone is giving you no notice for a change or making assumptions about what you are/aren’t willing to do – call them out. You can stay true to your polite and kind self while still holding firm.

    And honestly? We can all use a break now and then. Your vacation idea may be what you need – your own life may be more flexible, but it sounds like you’re “loaning out” your flexibility to your own detriment. At the very least, some time off and to yourself will certainly not hurt you! Just make sure to be truly unavailable for anything that isn’t for you during that time.

    1. Lab Boss*

      “Maybe the people in your life are forgetting this in the hecticness”

      I think this is key to remember. There’s a line in a Catholic prayer that goes “Because I am blind in my own concerns.” We as humans tend to do that, and often there’s no malice in it. OP recognizes that pandemic parents are doing the impossible, and shouldn’t forget that the parents probably aren’t being thoughtless AT OP, they’re just… blind in their own concerns. That doesn’t mean OP just has to give in and be a doormat but remembering that can help fight resentment or anger with others.

      1. Wintermute*

        This is a very very important point.

        People think about themselves and their own concerns basically 100% of the time, even when they are consciously empathizing they’re usually filtering it through their own concerns, needs and values. They think about YOU approximately none of the time, if they’re a very good friend or family they might think about you a few dozen times a day at best. How what they do impacts you is just not on their radar, even if they would realize better if they sat down and listed out what they’re planning on doing and its full list of impacts they’d see it impacts you a fair bit, that thing is only one tiny part of their much bigger life.

    2. Antilles*

      #3 is especially infuriating because there’s also plenty of reasons why the answer might be pretty personal – wanted kids but struggling with infertility, repeated miscarriages, had a kid but passed away at a young age, etc.

      1. This is a name, I guess*

        Or, you’re queer, and you can’t afford to have a child and/or having a biological child would put an undue burden on your body because queer pregnancies are medicalized for most. As a queer person with PCOS who didn’t meet my partner until I was 33, I’m happy to help out parents in need, but when parents act entitled to my support because of “feminism” or “humanity” or “it takes a village,” I sometimes feel hurt because they don’t always see how their ability to procreate is itself a privilege and me being childfree isn’t 100% a choice. (Yes, a few queer couples have minimal difficulty having children, and some straight people struggle with infertility, but adding queerness to the mix inherently complicates reproduction for medical, logistical, and discriminatory reasons.)

      2. Office Lobster DJ*

        True, and could also affect how people feel about covering for parents in this situation. Not that anyone can or should do anything differently when it comes to work, but if someone is childless-not-by-choice, it’s another potential sore spot being pressed on.

      3. Nobby Nobbs*

        Not singling you out, since this comes up every time the subject of childless/childfree people comes up on this site, but I’d like to point out that there are reasons this kind of thing might be sensitive and personal besides wanting kids but being unable to have them. Infertility can be devastating, but so can deciding not to have kids because of abuse in your own childhood, or “I’m queer and this is just one more way society punishes me for not fulfilling my gender role,” just to name the first few that come to mind.

        1. This is a name, I guess*

          Or, “I’m ambivalent about children, and I’m going to have to spend $100,000 and then worry that my conservative state legislature will undermine parental rights next year.”

          1. quill*

            Or “I definitely don’t make enough money to support children.” None of my peers from college could afford to support a baby even if they were partnered at this point. Nor do any of us have the kind of jobs where we could be relatively certain we wouldn’t have to move cross-country within the next year or so to get a new job.

        2. Emily*

          It’s just a really personal question.

          I have one child, and when she was a baby, I still had some lingering hesitation about having an only. So when I met an older parent with one, I’d say something like, “Oh cool, I have an only too!” It didn’t take me very long to realize that some people don’t choose that outcome, and they’re still grieving it. The number, timing, conception process, etc. of children is private!

          1. allathian*

            CW miscarriage.

            Yes, this. My son’s an only as well. I was 36 when I got pregnant on the first cycle we tried, which was a very pleasant surprise. But although my son was a reasonably “easy” baby to care for, the adjustment of becoming a parent at that age was tough enough that I didn’t want to even consider a second pregnancy for a few years. When I was willing to give another pregnancy a chance, I had 2 miscarriages and a suspected chemical pregnancy within 2 years. When I realized that I was more relieved than dismayed by my losses, my husband agreed that it would be best if we stopped trying (he mourned the losses more than I did). It’s not that I couldn’t get pregnant, it’s that I couldn’t carry a baby to term.

      4. londonedit*

        Also, ‘I don’t want them’ is a perfectly good reason on its own. Every time there’s an article on women (it’s always women) choosing to be childfree, they all have to have a reason like ‘I’m not having kids because of the impact on the environment’ or ‘I’m not having kids because I’ve chosen a high-powered career instead’. No one ever says ‘I’m not having kids because I don’t want to’, but that’s totally valid.

    3. J.B.*

      Not show up and tell the letter writer a minute beforehand is also infuriating. I mean, I’ve had a couple of brain farts and missed or been late to things – but that is a couple of times over two years. If lots of people are doing this or one person is doing it over and over, it’s a them problem.

      1. Ella*

        Yes! My brother and I both have kids. Pre kids he was always late and I was on time. Since having kids, it obviously is harder to get out of the house in time, but his lateness has gotten significantly worse and mine only a little worse (still make it on time instead of 10 minutes early). Yes blowouts and children refusing to get in the car at the last second happen occasionally, but if it’s frequent, it’s probably more just that person.

    4. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

      I completely agree. I have a toddler, my spouse works long and unpredictable hours, and I have a high-impact managerial role. Do I sometimes need to tap someone else to cover for me when something comes up (like a sick kiddo or daycare closure)? Yes. Do I expect it of them? Not usually. And I would NEVER abuse their flexibility or goodwill by not honoring my commitments or just not showing up when I said I’d be there.

      Some of what OP is describing is the result of parenting in a pandemic, but it also sounds like his/her coworkers are also kind of being jerks about it.

  12. DataGirl*

    I think giving yourself permission to get annoyed or frustrated is ok and might help. Just because something is difficult for another person and you have empathy for that difficulty, doesn’t mean you don’t get to feel frustrated when it makes your life more difficult too. And, just because you don’t have kids doesn’t mean you don’t get to be a priority too! If something is not going to work for you, you don’t have to bend over backwards just to accommodate other people. It’s okay to say no, to not *always* be the one to compromise, and to do what’s best for you sometimes.

  13. MI Dawn*

    OP: it’s very tough, but I think you’re just being too much of a “yes” person. When you do all the giving and don’t receive any consideration, frustration builds up. I get it. I used to be the same – sure, I’ll give up my scheduled time to accommodate the needs of the person who is sick/has young children/family emergency/whatever. But over time, resentment that what I was giving built up and I had to learn that I am NOT a bad person if I say “no”.

    And, I also KNOW that families are having it tough. I see it in my own children’s lives – juggling work, daycare (open/closed/quarantine), family time. I have great respect for them not losing their minds. But you also need to take care you yourself, and it doesn’t sound like you are doing that.

    Remember what they always say on the airplanes: put on YOUR OWN oxygen mask before you help others.

      1. Lemonade*

        Agree on this being a case of being to much of a “yes” person and a want to make others happy (which I get!). I wonder if it would help you to ease away from thinking of it as a kids/no kids dichotomy and move to thinking of it as a yes/no thing. I say this because your description of yourself reminds me of a friend with two young kids! Holiday coming up? Sure, she will host (and make everything from scratch). Friend going to be in town? Sure, she’ll host (even if her spare room was unfinished and she needs to stay up late sanding/painting/cleaning/prepping for the week prior). Invitation to hang out? Sure, she’ll come to you, food and drink in hand (schedules or need to rest be damned).

        I’ll say to you what I recently said to her: you always do THE MOST, and it’s ok to do less. Good luck!

        1. Ella*

          I have kids and I always tell myself to put my own oxygen mask on too. This letter actually really resonated with me. Love that advice to see it as a yes/no thing vs kids/no kids thing!

    1. Claire W*

      Agreed! I’m slightly earlier in my 30s than OP but I have the same issue a lot of the time. In my recent talent review my constructive feedback was that I take on too much/say yes too much, so I empathise with OP – I often find that when someone asks me for something I’ve typed and send “Sure, will do!” before my brain has even finished reading the full queestion! It’s really hard to say no to things, especially last minute, and you tend to feel like your reasons for saying no aren’t “valid enough” compared to the other people you’re covering for… We just have to get better at accepting that mental burnout, exhaustion, and just plain old “I’ve done my share” are good enough reasons to say no to taking on more!

      If it helps to reframe it OP – saying no more often will mean that when a true, genuinely URGENT thing comes up, you’re more likely to be able to say yes and help out, because you haven’t burnt out helping on the little tiny constant things that someone else could have taken on!

  14. WockaWocka*

    It’s ok to say no and not help out or adjust your plans. It seems like you feel you need to carry the burden of always being accommodating to others and that’s just not necessary. You seem like a very thoughtful person who is aware of the situation many parents are in, which is wonderful, but it’s not your responsibility to always be the one accommodating. It’s a great thing to do when you can, within your own reasonable boundaries, but take care of yourself as well so resentment doesn’t build up.

  15. Lab Boss*

    OP, I sympathize. It can be utterly deflating when you feel like you’re making sacrifices and working hard to help someone out, and then they act like they expected it of you. It goes from the satisfying feeling of doing a good thing, to the thud of “meets expectations.”

    I’ve had some success using an internal re-framing. Did the thing I do help? Did I expect to be rewarded for it? Would my good deed have been any more good if the recipient had acted grateful instead of like they expected me to do it? The answers are usually Yes, No, No respectively- and that means I can go forward knowing I did a good thing, regardless of anyone’s reaction to it. Then the final question- Is this level of self-sacrifice sustainable? That’s much tougher. I struggle (and it sounds like you struggle) with the feeling that if I CAN give, I SHOULD give, and anything less is somehow being selfish. It’s OK to say that you can’t help sometimes, and “don’t set yourself on fire to keep someone else warm.”

    It’s NOT graceless to ask for people to meet you halfway where it directly causes problems with your work, though. You mention people no-showing on you with no notice. You can ask them to try to give you more advance notice or to keep you looped in on their planning. Just keep the emphasis on the concrete ways that their short notice impacts your ability to do your job- don’t get sidetracked into how it makes you feel, or that they should be nicer because you’re doing them a favor.

    1. Beth*

      This kind of reframing is definitely helpful, but I want to gently push back on the “not expecting to be rewarded for it” thing. I think we should expect to be rewarded when we make sacrifices for someone else! We should, at bare minimum, expect them to notice that we helped and say thank you. We’re social creatures–acknowledgement that our sacrifices were helpful for others is a big part of why doing nice things feels good. If someone isn’t doing that, it’s fine to stop going out of your way for them.

      There are exceptions, of course. If someone is in acute crisis, their attention probably is and should be fully on that; no one writes thank-you notes from the ER! But if a person routinely fails to show that the sacrifices others make for them are helpful and appreciated, it’s natural to wonder if those sacrifices were really necessary. We all have limited resources, and we all know plenty of people who could use a little extra support. If person A doesn’t seem to need or want what I’m able to offer, then I’m going to give it to person B next time instead.

      1. Lab Boss*

        Fair enough! But I didn’t say “you should never expect to be rewarded,” but rather that you should consider whether you actually expected to be rewarded. Sometimes the answer is (or should be) definitely yes :)

  16. Just sad about this whole situation*

    I don’t have any advice but I’m in the same situation. It’s clearly the systems that are broken. But it’s inherently hard not to be resentful when a critical training is put off because someone needed a nap (I don’t mean a kid, I’ve had two parents tell me this is why they missed meetings) or I have to work late because something popped up and I need to cover. The sentiment I feel is always “why is my time less valuable.” Why is it always me that is chosen to take the trip, to call in an emergency, etc. It makes my days hectic. If I decline I am viewed negatively because I can *technically* do it because I have a less busy life. But I chose my less busy life for a reason and this does not mean I’d like volunteer to take on extra work. Presumably I wanted to enjoy the extra time in my 24 hour day and not spend it trying to decipher Tom or Linda’s notes on their high priority task that I’m not trained on. It also pits parents and not parents against eachother because I’ve had parents be insulted if I can’t bend over backwards to assist with their workload. Not ok, and I’d be attacked immediately for even saying it.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      It also pits parents and not parents against each other.
      This is the biggest issue. It should never come down to this. It should stop with, “Hey manager, I need X.” and management finding a way to deal with that instead of “Just Sad will do it.”
      Which is how Just sad gets all the work and parent gets “sorry, I needed a nap.”

    2. A*

      “It also pits parents and not parents against each other.”

      100%. This is my greatest source of frustration – even pre-pandemic – when it comes to the whole parents vs. childless topic. Rather than pointing fingers at each other, we should ALL be pointing fingers at the broken systems. Rather than get upset that Childless Person won’t take on more than their share, or that Parent has to frequently change their schedule last minute due to child care challenges – get upset at the lack of affordable child care availability, and the societal perspective that everyone’s free time isn’t equally important etc.

      1. Software Dev (she/her)*

        So much this. Watching friends try to figure out childcare and decide if one of them (the woman, of course) should just leave her job is really bringing home how utterly broken childcare is in this country.

      2. WfH or Bust*

        I do just get mad at society. But I also get mad at the assumption that while we’re trying to fix the societal issue, the expectation is I’ll fill the gap as I don’t have children. Especially since doing so has serious health impacts and has previously pushed me out of work several times.

    3. cubone*

      One thing I try really hard to do as a childless person — which also, I haaate that phrasing, I’m not ‘less’ of a child, I’m just… me? — is cut off any of the “my time is less valuable” thoughts, both externally and in my own head.

      Get asked to work overtime when I was planning a relaxing evening to myself?: “no, sorry, I already have plans in my schedule I can’t change”. No explanation of what the plans are, they’re just My Prioritized Plans that make me unavailable to help.
      Thinking “ugh I should really help out Parent Colleague Y, they have a lot on their plate” –> “I have things on my plate too”.

      For the record, I do genuinely balance this WITH helping (and honestly, part of the reason I don’t want children is I’d much rather be the cool aunt to a bunch of nieces, nephews, and niblings from friends and family) but I think a really important part of being able to help IS setting these boundaries and validating your own priorities so that you can try to avoid falling over the line into resentment.

      1. Lunch Ghost*

        “-less” just means “not having”, not “worse for the lack of”. Otherwise we wouldn’t say “faultless”, “flawless”, “fearless”, “painless”, “harmless”…

        1. cubone*

          This makes sense and I don’t want to derail with a semantics debate, but .. I still dislike it, even if it’s “childfree”. I guess what I take issue with is that I need any kind of descriptor to explain whether or not I have children, and that that descriptor is used to define my identity? I recognize I AM “child-less”, in that I have zero children. But I don’t think of myself as “childfree” or “childless”, because my identity isn’t defined by the absence of (biological pr otherwise) children. I don’t THINK ABOUT children in relation to my life, so “I’m a childless/free person” just doesn’t feel necessary. I find it weird and uncomfortable when people assign that identity to me because it’s often said as if “ahhh yes you’re childfree”, like it’s explained some kind of philosophical stance or Card-Carrying Union Member when I’m just .. a person. With a lot of different identities and descriptors, but not having children is not the main one.

          1. allathian*

            I hear your frustration. That said, most people will categorize others as people who have children and people who don’t, possibly because becoming a parent is such a life-changing experience. It definitely was for me, and being a mom is certainly a part of my core identity. Naturally it’s not the only part, but it’s a pretty significant part. Nevertheless, anyone who says that you can’t have a fulfilling life without having children is obviously talking rubbish.

            A former coworker once said something very similar; she said that to her, “childless” seems wrong because she doesn’t feel like she’s lacking anything because she doesn’t have children, and she used language that’s very similar to yours when she said that “childfree” didn’t describe her feelings either. She described herself as indifferent. Some people reacted to that as if she’d said that she hated kids, which wasn’t true. But certainly, if anyone talked about kids in her hearing for more than a sentence or two she’d either try and change the subject or walk away, and she wouldn’t admire photos of your kids or grandkids even to be polite, which probably led some people to conclude that she did, in fact, hate kids. We got along great, and she’s the only coworker I’ve ever been able to discuss my geeky sci-fi fandoms with.

            1. Despachito*

              “most people will categorize others as people who have children and people who don’t”

              I beg to differ. There are many situations when it is not important at all, and I for example share a hobby for several years with a lot of wonderful people for most of whom I ignore whether they have children/are married/are gay or straight, because we have a lot of much more interesting topics to talk about than our personal lives. I have casually mentioned my children when it was relevant (I could not attend a group meeting because of their performance, I took one of them with me to an event with some people of the group present), but I think I am in the minority and could not care less.

              Of course, you do know this in case of close friends and possibly coworkers, but I have never considered it to be a centre of attention unless it is relevant.

              I think it is pretty weird to show people photos of one’s kids or grandkids, why would anyone want to do that? It is not that I hate kids, I am just not interested, same as I am mostly not interested in someone showing me pictures of their house/holidays, and that does not mean that I hate houses or holidays. And I assume this is the case of most people, and there is nothing wrong with that.

      2. Child free!*

        Yeah, one reason I chose not to have children is because my time *is* valuable and I didn’t want to have to share it/change my lifestyle to accommodate a kid for at least 18 years.

      3. Beth*

        Very much this. Not having kids doesn’t mean my time is free or without commitments–I have friends, family, nieces and nephews, social hobbies that rely on me showing up, a cat, a partner, etc. Most of those are more flexible than parenting an infant (my cat might yell if he’s fed an hour late, but he won’t actually be hurt by it), but they’re still important. I can’t show up for them if I’m spending all my time being flexible for others–or if I burn myself out hard enough that I’m no longer stable and energetic enough to juggle it all. I like to help where I can, but ‘where I can’ means ‘where it won’t impact my existing commitments and self-care,’ not just ‘where there’s an opening in my google calendar’.

      4. MigraineMonth*

        I prefer “child-free”. There’s a lot of freedom here. Plus, I’m winning the “coolest aunt” competition.

        I’ve never gotten a lot of “why don’t you want children?” questions (other than a gyno surgeon who was irritatingly focused on preserving my fertility). I think that if someone asked me that today, I’d just laugh hysterically for five minutes. There are so, so many reasons not to have a baby right now.

    4. Office Lobster DJ*

      “If I decline I am viewed negatively because I can *technically* do it”

      This is the stinger, right here. I hope OP can set some boundaries and start saying “no” without fallout, but there’s always this risk. From someone else in this boat, I had to decide I was okay with that risk.

    5. This is a name, I guess*

      The narrative has changed in the last 20 years re: parents-vs-non-parents. We’re now seeing supporting mothers re-enter the (white collar) feminist movement, which I think is generally the right move. Personally, I’ve covered for both of my bosses during maternity leaves during my career, and it’s been hard during those months, but ultimately fine because my bosses are great supervisors and they made sure my workload was manageable.

      However, the feminist push to support parents is just another example of trying to regulate individual behavior to solve systemic solutions, which the OP and most commenters thus far have recognized. I do think there’s a lot of soft feminist pressure to say “yes” to parents right now on the individual level, especially if the OP is regular reader of this site. The comments on every letter about working as a parent during the pandemic quickly become an exasperated deluge of struggling parents venting, many of whom claim (implicitly or explicitly) that they have it the worst of all during the pandemic. (I also think this happens in most spaces where white collar people congregate and are reported on.)

      I understand why this happens, and I don’t really blame anyone, but if you’re a conscientious person reading the comments, you’re likely going to feel like you need to say “yes” and that you don’t have the right to complain because you could have 2 immunocompromised kids in constantly-shutdown daycare who can’t be vaccinated. There’s definitely a weird social pressure. I feel it.

      (FWIW, this new iteration of mother-inclusive feminism is still a very white, middle class, STRAIGHT version of feminism. So few feminist narratives about motherhood, pregnancy, infertility, and reproduction even pay basic lip service to the inequalities surrounding queer issues. I wish all those feminist friends from college chronicling their IVF journeys on Instagram would at least ACKNOWLEDGE that their “last resort” is my “starting point” for reproduction, and the lack of insurance coverage for assistive pregnancy and infertility harms queer people even more than straight people.)

      1. OP*

        I think this is the essence of the issue – there were calls to “drop off casseroles and check in on your friends who are Moms” at the beginning of the pandemic. But They weren’t talking about moms with low-incomes, it was this (as you aptly state): “a very white, middle class, STRAIGHT version of feminism.” I might even add married to that list of identities.

        Obviously, I’m talking about a thread of thinking in our culture — plenty of actual people feel very differently as evidenced by all the parents weighing in on this thread.

        As I said in my original post, I support families with low incomes through mutual aid — and I harbor zero resentment about that.

        I think some of my unhappiness comes from being conscripted to support folks with even more privilege than me with my time, energy, flexibility, etc.

        1. Despachito*

          But please realize that you are by no means obliged to act upon those calls, and be very frank to yourself as to what part of this obligation is real and what is just in your head. You are definitely a kind and caring person but unless there is a life-or-health saving emergency, you are under NO obligation to help adult, healthy people who are perfectly able to help themselves. Your resentment of that is a healthy sign that you shouldn’t be doing that.

    6. Tangerina Warbleworth*

      In addition to what others have said here, what about the person who has decided not to have children because of a medical condition, which is no one else’s business? Or a child-free person who has to care for family members that have medical conditions, and it’s just as exhausting for them to cope with as a new parents coping with their baby? Like several commenters above, as a person with a child, it wouldn’t occur to me to blame child-free people for not taking over MY responsibilities at my job. The decision whether to have children is such a personal one, and it’s not for anyone to criticize, whether you have them or not. My point is, as with all things, people cannot assume that they know another person’s situation.

      1. Despachito*


        For quite a long time, I could not imagine that I would ever want children. Then I decided otherwise, and I am happy I did, but in both cases it was MY (and my husband’s, of course) decision and I felt that it is primarily up to ME (US) to bear the consequences of my decision, whatever they might be, and it is no one else’s business, for the bad and for the good. It is extremely bad taste to pester people because their choices were different to mine, and everyone should remember that those choices might change over time. My kids or lack thereof are no one else’s problem, and although I definitely may need some accommodations if I do have them, I would consider it rude not to proactively offer some other solution (I think it is reasonable to propose a more convenient time for a meeting because of the timing of my childcare but it is not reasonable to slack off and let another person deal with the meeting and take that for granted)-

    7. Childfree and Loving It*

      Also in the 40s and childfree by choice camp. This was long ago, pre-pandemic – and wouldn’t work everywhere – but to assert that “My time and life commitments are just as valuable” in the workplace, I would literally say: “I have child care issues that day / time” when I needed to set boundaries on my time or decline a commitment and thought there was a chance of pushback.

      Everyone knew I did not have a child, so it made the point. I am unavailable for that specific ask because of other commitments; and I am giving the reason that was always accepted without question and others were supposed to work around. I didn’t do it often, but I did it when I needed to or was hitting that frustration point with lack of reciprocal flexibility. If someone pushed back, it forced the question – why does it matter what my obligation is? If Sally has child care issues and we bend to her, why isn’t it OK for me to have something that makes me say no?

      Secondly, in my 20s, it helped me reframe my own guilt around “But I could *technically* do it…”. Even when I only said it in my head, it reminded ME that my life and time is just as valuable as child care is. So, I set reasonable boundaries that were important to me (even if it was Tuesday nights I quit at 5:00 and drink wine and watch movies alone), and mentally reframed it as my untouchable “child care issues”.

  17. Ew, David*

    When someone is feeling the kind of resentment that you are, it generally means that they need different boundaries.

    Right now, when your co-workers need accommodation because of their childcare schedules, you are taking on the responsibility of making that accommodation.

    What if you put the responsibility and impact back on the organization as a whole? Stop meeting before your work hours. Stop taking on additional work. If tasks take longer to execute, that’s on the org as a whole to solve, not on you as an individual.

    1. Indeed!*

      THIS. ALL DAY LONG. It is not the responsibility of childless employees to make up for the deficiencies of management.

    2. Unkempt Flatware*

      So true! These feelings are my brain’s way of telling me I’ve just betrayed myself and my boundaries. This is absolutely on the org to solve.

    3. Kaisa (The Librarian)*

      Yes! As a parent I am so grateful for coworkers like OP who graciously step up when they can. But we’re two years into a pandemic and OP can’t be the one to shoulder this burden – we need organizations to reconsider how they are structured (in so many ways really, but that’s another soap box).

      OP, take your vacation and then take a step back. The last two years have been tough for everyone and you need to take care of yourself.

    4. cubone*

      “Right now, when your co-workers need accommodation because of their childcare schedules, you are taking on the responsibility of making that accommodation.”

      I LOVE this framing, thank you for sharing it. It really summarizes it so perfectly. It’s an accommodations issue and it’s not your personal responsibility that organizations and management haven’t seen it as such.

    5. Dual Peppin Whiskey*

      Whenever I have friends complain about something work related where they’re shouldering too much of a burden for whatever reason, I always tell them their company (regardless of what company it is) is NOT going to change until whatever situation becomes a pain point for them. Arguably this is an easy thing for me to say because I am privileged enough to be able to walk away from jobs in ways they’re not, but frankly, in my (jaded) experience, a company just isn’t going make any changes (hiring more employees, adjusting work levels, etc.) until it impacts their bottom line in a noticable way.

      All that to say, +1 to your comment :).

  18. Gerry Kaey*

    Can it be as simple as saying “no” more to the things that are making you feel resentful? I really loathe when something I was doing as a favor becomes an expectation, and the only way I’ve gotten out of it is to stop doing the thing. I know it’s easier said than done, but I really believe it’ll allow you to support more people in the long run by preventing burnout/additional resentment.

  19. bunniferous*

    It sounds to me like what you would like is some appreciation and acknowledgment of your own efforts to be accommodating and helping-no one ever likes being taken for granted! Would it be possible for you to gently speak up and let people know how you feel? And-on occasion remind yourself that it is ok to occasionally say no as well?

  20. V*

    I feel like both parents and non-parents should get to push some of this problem back on employers. I know that’s really difficult, but a problem here is that there is not sufficient coverage/slack given the real world situation of employees. It pains me to see us all bending over backwards to make sure that everything gets done, when perhaps the reality is that everything should NOT get done.

    1. Dinwar*

      This was going to be my comment. The problem isn’t the employees with kids or the ones without. The problem lies with companies who attempt to staff tasks with the absolute minimum number of people, making it so that if one person leaves it becomes a burden on everyone else. It’s a huge issue, not just with workers but with everything–lean management and just-in-time supply chains sound great to shareholders in a quarterly meeting, but create extremely fragile systems that can’t handle even the most common and predictable shocks.

      Somewhat ironically we’re more willing to forgive delays due to supply chain issues than personnel issues. If an excavator breaks or a piece of equipment is unavailable it annoys my bosses but they deal with it. If someone’s unavailable due to illness or the like, they are much less sympathetic. For my part, I make every allowance I can for human biology. I DO NOT want someone who’s ill or distracted operating heavy equipment next to high-power electrical lines!!

      Unfortunately employers have a pretty powerful mechanism to prevent pushback: They can fire you. Sure, they can’t fire EVERYONE, but unless you’re willing to get fired it’s really hard to push back very much. Ultimately it comes down to a pretty simple cost/benefits analysis: Is the cost of pushing back greater than the cost of dealing with being overburdened because the company under-staffs? If yes, then most of us will put our heads down and deal with it.

      1. Ace in the Hole*

        “Somewhat ironically we’re more willing to forgive delays due to supply chain issues than personnel issues. If an excavator breaks or a piece of equipment is unavailable it annoys my bosses but they deal with it. If someone’s unavailable due to illness or the like, they are much less sympathetic. ”

        This is such a huge point. Management at my (small, public sector) agency has been butting heads with the board of directors for years over staffing levels. The board keeps pushing to cut staffing levels, management keeps telling them that we need the “extra” people who are “just standing around” to cover in case of emergencies. We’re the kind of infrastructure that can’t stop operations for even a single day without causing a public crisis.

        Recently we had a very serious fire at our facility. This is a known risk of the industry, and several similar facilities to ours have been completely destroyed by very similar fires in the last few years. Ours didn’t. We not only evacuated everyone safely (staff and public), we were able to assist the fire department to put out the fire quickly, manage traffic control to reroute people to alternate facilities, do all the cleanup and safety inspections necessary, and reopen for regular operations the next day. This type of incident has forced other facilities to close for months…. we were shut down for a whopping 6 hours.

        At the next board meeting they were thanking us and the fire department for what a great job we did and saying how lucky we were. Our operations director told them, “This is why we keep telling the board we need more staff. We were able to catch this early and respond efficiently because we had a few ‘extra’ people ‘standing around.’ Those extra people noticed smoke when the fire had barely started. Those extra people were spraying materials down with water while we evacuated to keep the fire from spreading until the fire department arrived. If we had followed the board’s direction to reduce staffing earlier this year, our facility would have burnt to the ground. If this had happened on a weekend, when we run a skeleton crew, our facility would have burnt to the ground. If we didn’t have enough employees to devote staff time to training and drills, our facility would have burnt to the ground. We weren’t lucky. We were PREPARED.”

        That’s what it took to get the board to stop pressing for staffing cuts. Until something was literally on fire, they couldn’t see why a buffer was necessary.

    2. bamcheeks*

      Yes, I think there are two different problems here which “feel” the same to OP because the cause is the same (parents being badly supported) but actually they are quite different in structure:

      a) being flexible with work colleagues— you should not be dealing with this alone, but equally, you don’t simply get to set your own preferences here. Your manager should be fully involved in figuring out what is a reasonable amount of flex, what the strategic priorities are, what can not get done if people are genuinely less available! Not all of this is your problem, and you should be asking for help and support from your manager more and letting her know when you are starting to feel resentful or stressed or unable to concentrate on the things that you want to concentrate on.

      b) being flexible with friends— this is a totally different situation where you *don’t* have someone external to the situation to ask for support, but equally you *can* consult your own desires here. If making plans with certain friends is starting to feel one sided and not bringing you joy, you can change something. That might mean swapping coming over or meeting outside for something lower-effort if there’s a high risk of cancellation. It might mean asking them to prioritise. It might mean seeking out or reconnecting with other friends without kids or with older kids who are less likely to make you feel deprioritised. All these things are ok. Of course you want to show up for and support your friends— but they don’t want to be *just* a duty friendship. They want you to be actively happy and supported in the friendship too and sometimes that means prioritising your own care and pulling back if they can’t support you too. That might mean some of those friendships suffer— but they’re suffering already if you feel rubbish about them.

      I would try and keep the Work Feelings and the Friendships Feelings separated though, because they will feed and multiply each other if you get them confused but they’re actually two quite different problems which have very different solutions.

    3. cubone*

      I worked a really toxic job and after a doctor-mandated stress leave and lots of therapy, the most important thing I realized was “it’s not my fault if balls get dropped when I’m not the person who threw that many balls up in the air to begin with” (this phrasing is terrible, but hopefully makes sense).

      I know not everyone can afford to think “just fire me then”, but I came back to work with a sense of “there are X hours in the day and if someone gives me work that could never take less than Y hours, that’s their bad math”. I’m never again taking on the emotional responsibility of someone else’s failure to manage.

    4. Beth*

      It’s hard to talk about this because most people aren’t empowered to tell their bosses “no” forever. So when the boss (whether it’s a manager or the CEO of a company) takes a “this needs to get done, this is our current staffing, figure it out” stance, a lot of people end up in situations where it’s coworker vs coworker. You’re right that it shouldn’t be! But workers aren’t always empowered to present “we can’t do this, you need to staff more” as a solution–especially in white-collar work, where unions are uncommon.

  21. CTT*

    I’m sorry, this is really hard. I’m in a similar position and I’m sympathetic. For the extra tasks, is there any way you can you say no? I know that’s not possible with everything, but for the tasks that can wait a few hours or until morning, I think it’s worth pushing back so they stop assuming that you will happily take things on.

  22. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    Bored Panda currently has a collection of stories from child-free people who are experiencing the inequality in the workplace and in their personal lives. This indicates that this has always existed, but has created a bigger problem on both sides because of the pandemic.
    People with kids who were always given extra flexibility because of that have ended up needing more and more. People who have always picked up the extra half hour here and there (even consistently, but still) were suddenly expected to take up many times as much, because “kids.” Nobody was doing the math, nobody was looking at the big picture. Nobody saw a difference between, pre-Covid: Sara can’t work after six on Thursdays because “kids” or even Mary can’t work on Saturdays because “kids” and Covid: Sara has “kids” all day everyday. So you need to do X. Oh, and Mary and Tom and Dick and Harry have kids, too.
    It’s a management thing to fix.
    It’s not about me as a staff member being frustrated that people with kids get flexibility. It’s not about staffers with kids using the flexibility offered. It’s about management finding a new way, about actually managing. Yes, OP you are annoyed that “kids” is a get out of tasks free card, or more specifically, a stick the work on someone else card. And that is up to management. To hire people, to cut down on work, to change hours, to shake up the whole boat instead of pushing everything to one side, because that boat will tip.

  23. bee*

    Definitely take a vacation! And say no to things more! It might mean that things don’t get done, or have to be canceled last minute and that prospect is scary, I get it. But long term, leaning on you to fill in the gaps isn’t sustainable, and sometimes the only way to get people to recognize that is to let some balls drop.

  24. Reality Check*

    FWIW, this is temporary. In a few years (5? 10?) you, your friends, your coworkers, and their kids will be in a completely different and much easier stage of life, and this will be a memory. I say this as someone who just went through it.

        1. quill*

          It may not even be different coworkers, lots of people have kids that are even a decade of years apart in age.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          You said “this is temporary”, implying that it’ll solve itself soon. But “soon” has already passed and gone and it’s not over yet, is it, nor are there any solutions on the horizon?

      1. Office Lobster DJ*

        This. Two years and counting! Any comfort and strength I got from thinking about this as a temporary situation and myself as a hero in an emergency fizzled out at least a year ago.

    1. Gracely*

      FWIW, this is super unhelpful to someone who clearly feels burnt out right *now*. And no one should have to take up the slack for anyone for 5-10 years.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        This recalls the post on bored panda where a child free person works at a doctor’s office. Everyone has to work one Saturday, except that OP. Because Sandra has a kid and can’t work Saturday. That kid is now 17. Sandra has never worked a Saturday. These situations don’t evolve/work themselves out. They become the new norm and practically codified.

        1. Emily*

          Yeah, some of the things described in these comments aren’t a “parent” thing, they’re an entitled or disengaged person thing. OP is in the “everyone is having kids” phase of life, and that’s temporary. But then it will move into the “everyone is getting divorced” phase and the “everyone is taking care of their aging parents” phase.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Speaking as one who went through a complete breakdown at the start of all this – these kind of comments while intent to help actually don’t. It’s the equivalent of saying ‘just think positive thoughts!’ to someone with crippling depression.

      It doesn’t help, and it’s not actionable either.

      1. Reality Check*

        It wasn’t meant to be actionable. Just a perspective, food for thought. That’s all.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          You probably didn’t need to say it. I think OP is well aware of this viewpoint.

        2. quill*

          Being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel doesn’t help if you can’t actually move towards it right now.

    3. A Library Person*

      This may be true with friends (assuming those friends aren’t still having kids at that point), but I think many (most? all?) workplaces with any kind of turnover will end up with new colleagues who have young kids. So this is unlikely to go away completely.

    4. Bunny Girl*

      Honestly it’s not temporary. Childfree people have been pushed to cover for other people for years because their time as viewed as less valuable or they “have more time.” This is 100% on the companies to fix these issues but lets not pretend this just popped up during the pandemic. It’s just magnified everything.

    5. Chairman of the Bored*

      Technically *all* my difficulties are temporary, given that human lifespans are finite.

      This is not an especially comforting or helpful thought.

    6. plincess_cho*

      This was most likely the most hurtful piece of advice I received when I shared my frustrations about having all friends with young kids. “Wait 10 years.” Okay, so I’m just supposed to feel burnt out and unloved for a decade while my friends all go on with their lives? No.

      Yes, some things do resolve themselves over time, but it is completely unreasonable to expect childless/childfree people to always account for the choices of others for such an extended period of time with nothing in return. The return will look different than what a parent needs, but it is not unreasonable to expect a return of some sort.

      1. allathian*

        I agree. It’s one reason why it’s common for people to drift apart when their life situations are very different. I’m sure it would be awful to lose a group of friends because they decided to have kids and you decided not to (or if you wanted kids but had fertility issues while everyone else was getting pregnant). I’ve never felt so lonely as I did in my late 20s and early 30s when all of my friends were at least dating, if not having kids and/or getting married when I was single. They were much less available to hang out than I wanted. But I adjusted, and enjoyed the company of my friends as often as we could make it work, and also made some work friends that I could hang out with sometimes. That said, my work friendships tend to be very situational, so when I left that job, I stopped seeing them.

        Eventually I started dating my husband thanks to my best friend. I was the perpetually single person in my friend group, and my husband was in a similar situation in his. My best friend’s husband happened to have a coworker who was my husband’s friend, we exchanged emails and went on a blind date (online dating was a thing then, but it wasn’t for me because I’ve never been good at casual dating, my husband and I were exclusive as soon as we decided to go on a second date), and the rest is history…

        Now most of my friends are about 50, and even the youngest children are at school, so scheduling things is a little bit easier. But there’s no going back to the time when all of us were single and free to meet at very short notice (hours or days rather than weeks or months).

        Making new friends can be hard, but sometimes it’s the easiest way to deal with the changing priorities of your friends. It will help to cut down on the resentment, even if your main friendships are on the back burner for a while. It’s possible to go back to a friendship even after 10 years if both parties want to resurrect it.

    7. Reality Check*

      OP if you’re reading this: Some on this thread are really stuffing words in my mouth. I am NOT saying you should keep doing what you’re doing indefinitely. There are so many suggestions from others on things you can do, I really couldn’t add to it (I’m of the Set Boundaries/Just Say No Whenever You Can mindset.)

      And it has indeed been my experience that as I’ve gotten older and moved forward in my career, these requests have died down dramatically. We’re (my colleagues and I) older and higher-ranking now. Just the other day a bunch of us were reminiscing about what I call the “Hell Decade.”

      So again, just offering my sympathy, a “Hang in there.” My advice would be to set boundaries, as others have stated.

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        If everyone in the thread is having the same reaction to your words, possibly the issue is not that folks are ‘stuffing words in your mouth.’

      2. Mannequin*

        I agree with you. I see FAR too many people both IRL and in online comment sections who are so deep in their own/the world’s troubles that they can’t see any way that they could possibly ever end. And that is a SUPREMELY unhelpful perspective to have, because time changes everything, even if one takes absolutely no actions at all. It’s impossible for it not to.

        Just changing that perspective can be freeing enough to get one out of that mental rut so they CAN start thinking about how to change their future. I know because I’ve been there (PTSD & suicidal depression after a string of 7 deaths in 2.5 years which included both my parents, my MIL, & both my husbands best friends, plus the same kind of predatory guardianship they made that movie with Peter Dinklage about.)

    8. Beth*

      This is helpful to keep in mind when it comes to friends (who are probably mostly around OP’s age, so there is a definite stage to young-child-having; who OP probably expects to have in their life long-term, and can therefore wait this stage out; and also who OP is presumably supporting by choice and out of love and within the limits of boundaries they have full control over). It’s less helpful in a work context. In a work context, OP’s boss should be figuring out accommodations for these needs that don’t involve OP taking it all on; even 2 years isn’t “temporary” in a work context, where 2 years could easily be someone’s entire tenure at a job.

    9. Yikez*

      If a parent needs to work a bit harder and not see their kids as much for 5-10 years it’s temporary and it will just be a memory.

    10. I heart Paul Buchman*

      I agree and I think this can be a helpful perspective. It can be easy to frame this as one person always getting their way. I find it helpful to remember that I was once the worker who picked up the slack for the parents, them I was a parent with young children who needed help and support. Now, I am again a person without young kids who can help pick up in some areas. I find reframing my thinking can help, even if it doesn’t change the physical situation this isn’t the same as saying ‘buck up’ to someone, it’s offering another way to view it. And yes, take the holiday (always) if you feel burnt out!

      Oh, and I’m aware the op isn’t wanting/planning to be a parent but in the future they may have other life circumstances needing support such as caring for parents or returning to school.

  25. Lady Lynn Waterton of Bellashire*

    I may be off base, but I’m wondering if you have feel that you have a duty to help others and it is potentially coming out of a response to people’s judgments on being childfree? Do you feel like you have something to prove to parents about your worth?

    Maybe I am less empathetic than you, but I think you are giving way more of yourself than is reasonable to expect. You can reinforce boundaries while being kind and understanding. Fill your own cup first, etc.

  26. Lady Knittington*

    From reading your email, it sounds like you need stronger boundaries. ‘Yes, I can reschedule the email to fit with your childcare, but I can’t type up and distribute the minutes for you’ or whatever.
    It sounds that the resentment is coming from your support being presumed to be available at any given second, not that you’re offering support in the first place. I think the boundaries will help make that clearer what you are and aren’t able to give.
    And yes – having a holiday is never a bad suggestion.

  27. Viki*

    Do you have any friends without children? If you don’t, that might be the first step just to have some social circle without having to be flexible due to childcare (not that you won’t have to be flexible for other things, just that it’s nice to have a break)

    Work wise…I don’t have any good answer. I complain to my spouse when I have to work later because someone has slipped because of child care in the pandemic, because it’s the 17th time this year and I’m tired of being flexible and the one picking up slack because I chose not to have children. And then I feel guilty, because I know it’s an impossible situation and you want to extend so much grace, but it’s been two years of the same thing and it just sucks, and I’m running out of grace.

    I have a really supportive boss and directors who are very proactive, and know the strain we’re under. We have permission to drop things, and let them know and they will go to the bat for us on those dropped things to SLT. I also happen to be the only woman on a team of men (my manager is a woman but still), the sexism my team and my situation benefit from are not insignificant (most of their wives are doing childcare, if someone has to care for their child, it’s rare.)

    I keep on reminding myself my country has a high vax rate, things are opening up and SLT is signaling we’re moving back to the previous norm (we’ve got some hard deadlines for those norms) and that my extended grace will be back to normal soon.

    (And that since my job/industry is primarily men, this is not going to be a huge effect to my work flow, but has and will definitely push women/diversity down)

    1. Littorally*

      > Do you have any friends without children? If you don’t, that might be the first step just to have some social circle without having to be flexible due to childcare

      This is a great point. Obviously in the volunteering/work angle, OP can’t help who they’re around, but they’re also mentioning social angles. My (large, mid-30s to mid-40s) friends group has very few parents of children in it — being in this age range doesn’t have to automatically equal being in a sea of new parents!

    2. Dust Bunny*

      Being endlessly flexible because you’re childless is also an impossible situation, though. Parents don’t have a monopoly on impossible situations.

    3. TCO*

      Your point about friends is a good one. OP may not have much control over who’s in her work circle, but she can cultivate a diverse friend circle if most of her current friends have young kids.

      Some of my closest friends have young kids (I don’t) and yes, sometimes that does mean that hanging out might mean bringing dinner over to their house and reading bedtime stories to the kids. And I don’t mind that at all; I care about their kids. But I also have other friends without kids (or whose kids are grown) and those are the friends I can call with a last-minute invite, plan overnight trips with, or meet for dinner without watching the clock to make sure they’re home in time for the babysitter. Having friends with a variety of lifestyles is enriching and fun, and it also helps ease the frustration that can come with rescheduling your plans for a third time due to a sick kid.

  28. helvetican*

    In my read of this, it sounds like you’re talking about a general issue – pandemic parenting – with a lot of individuals. Are the people not giving you notice on volunteering the same ones that need early meetings? Or are they different? You can recognize individual people and respond differently even if they all have the same issue, based on what they need and how they treat you.

  29. Renee Remains the Same*

    I’m not a parent, so all I can offer is my understanding and sympathy for the situation we’re both in. If it helps you feel less alone in your situation, then I feel I’ve done my job! I have had the same thoughts and know that these thoughts will arise from time to time. I do think the resentment and frustration is because you’re stamina is low, so you have less ability to withstand the pressure. Plus — and correct me if I’m wrong — it sounds like you might represent yourself as someone who is accepting and supportive of people, which means you take on things that perhaps you might otherwise say no to? (I may be projecting my own issues onto you, feel free to tell me to shut up).

    I’m terrible at taking my own advice. But, it really sounds like you need to take some time for yourself. A week (or more) off – somewhere you want to be, with people you want to be with (or even just spend quality time with yourself). Do what you want, when you want. Sleep in. Read books. Thrash to heavy metal. Take walks. Eat ice cream. I can’t promise it will erase the frustration, but it may make it more bearable knowing that you can have moments that support your goals and aspirations or even just your own whimsy.

  30. Anon w/o kids*

    I think what’s helped me is 1) boundaries, 2) making plans to recharge my own batteries, and 3) trying to remember that later in life I will surely rely on these children as the doctors, nurses, bank tellers, grocery shop workers, contractors so helping out where I can is good for me and society in the long run since the parents are still maintaining the overall responsibility and “burden” of raising children who can do all of the things listed above…

  31. Just a Manager*

    I’m a manager of a team of seven. Two have young babies and two more have babies on the way. I try as hard as possible to be flexible and keep “equity.” One person has childcare issues so instead of coming into the office two days a week like everyone else, we found an arrangement that they come in during the afternoon for three days. If someone has an appointment, how can they make those hours up in other ways? I feel there are many ways to do things and try to find one that works for all.

  32. Kissy face*

    I agree with Thatgirl. Setting boundaries in a respectful manner will help. No need to offer a lot of details, just a simple “that’s not going to work out for me, sorry”.
    Help when you can and want to, polite refusals otherwise.
    As for the rude comments about being childless…my favorite reply to rude questions is “why do you ask?”. If they insist, “I can’t think of a polite response to your comment/question”. Then walk away or direct your attention elsewhere.

    Seriously. In this day and age we still have to deal with these dumb attitudes.

    1. bamcheeks*

      “I can’t think of a polite response to your comment/question”

      Absolutely stealing this.

  33. HannahS*

    So…speaking as a new parent, I think there`s actually a couple of different things, and I think they`re worth separating.

    There is nothing wrong with not wanting children. That`s 100% a normal way to feel, and the fact that you`re made to feel less-than for not wanting children is wrong and unfair.

    Then there`s work. You`re overextending yourself at work to cover for the legitimate needs of other people. You also have legitimate needs, even if those needs aren`t caregiving. You need to be able have regular start and end times at work. You need to be able to decompress. If your workplace`s solution to parents having needs is that you`ll just cover for them endlessly, then your workplace has a problem and they need to solve it. Maybe your team needs to be bigger. Maybe that meeting will have to wait until it can be done during working hours, and work will just take a bit longer. You are entitled to set boundaries at work.

    Then there`s friends. That`s where you have the most choice. It is a kind and loving thing to do to be accommodating to your friends who are parents (also wow you show up with dinner, can you please be my friend) and this is a phase that will pass as the pandemic wanes and children get older. Also, personally, I`m still learning what I can and can`t manage with a child, because I`ve never had one before! It`s easy to overpromise because the baby is super portable, except one day she suddenly can`t sleep in new environments* and now I can`t go out after a certain time (not that I last-minute flake on people, but it`s easy to do, especially if a child gets ill.) While stating your own needs might be helpful, it might also help to restructure the friendship, and restrict to meeting with the worst offenders in a way that doesn`t irritate you as much if they can`t show up. For example, instead of meeting somewhere, consider trying to meet for a walk but bringing a podcast along in case they can`t come.

    Also. Take a vacation. You deserve it.

    *If any of you offer me advice about how to make my baby sleep in a way that is convenient to you please know that I will pray for your computer to delete all of your tax information so that you have to refile at the last minute.

    1. HannahS*

      Oh, also, I haven`t read the thread, but I suspect that someone will very likely say something like, `Talk to your friends with kids about your feelings` and I just want to preemptively say that I don`t think it`s a good idea, unless they are repeatedly flaking in which case I think a solution-focused conversation may be helpful–along the lines of, `What can we do together that`s amenable to last-minute changes.`

      The reason I say it is this: I am currently not being a great friend to one of my friends. She is reaching out and asking me how I`m doing and generally being very nice and solicitous and wants to hang out. I am a frontline healthcare worker and so on top of trying to keep myself, my husband and baby, and all my patients alive, I worked all day yesterday, came home and held the baby until she fell asleep, worked for another hour and a half, slept for 6.5 hours, went to work, wrote this post with breast pump somewhat painfully milking me, spilled milk on the pants that I was planning to wear to my call shift tonight, and then I have to jet over to another hospital to do my overnight shift. I will finish work at 9:30 tomorrow morning, after which point I will go home, hold my baby until a family member arrives, and then I will sleep for three hours before then waking up and spending more time with my baby. Last week was an awesome week where I got a whole hour and twenty minutes to myself, plus another 20 when my husband took the baby to the grocery store. That`s it. That`s what I get to decompress, other than 15 minutes of reading-and-talking-t0-my-husband before bed. I know that you know that your friends are busy, and you are being so, so compassionate and patient with them. And I appreciate how patient my friend is being with me. I also know that if she said, `Hey, I feel like you don`t have time for me and it hurts my feelings` my answer would be along the lines of, `WHAT EXACTLY WOULD YOU LIKE ME TO DO.` I don`t think it`s likely to be productive.

      1. bamcheeks*

        <3 I am just managing normal-not-healthcare-work and my children are slightly older now, but all the love to you. This sounds so hard!

      2. Gracely*

        Oh, man, I went through this with friend of mine over the last couple of years, with the roles reversed (she was in your situation–including front-line work–I was in your friend’s). I know that during that time, her life was crazy. I kept reaching out to her–not to make her feel crazy busy or bad that I wanted to hang out, but because A) I had no idea when/if she would be free/want to do something, B) to give her an excuse to get out and do something that wasn’t work/baby/etc. if she wanted to and was able, and C) to let her know that even though things were crazy, I was still around if she needed, and would be after things calmed down.

        It sucked not being able to see her but once or twice over those couple of years, but that’s just how these things go. A good friend will understand–and probably wants to help if there is a way they can help; from the outside, we just don’t always know what will actually be helpful.

      3. This is a name, I guess*

        I don’t know your friend, but they could just be reaching out to make sure you still feel connected and supported. Most childfree people expect their friendships to change when their friends have kids. We’re not clueless. We’re often just waiting for you to tell us what you need because you know what you need better than I do. But, I would be really upset to get such a dismissive accounting from you, unsolicited, of how little time you because of your job in healthcare and your baby, both of which are your choices. I’m not an idiot, and you don’t have a monopoly on life being difficult. Having a child is perhaps one of the most common human experiences on the planet.

        1. HannahS*

          You have misunderstood me. I`m saying that I understand that I`m not being a good friend to her, I appreciate the grace she is giving me. What I`m expressing to the OP is that it would not be helpful for my friends to tell me that they feel I am too busy to be a good friend right now, because they are correct but it`s not something I am currently able to fix. Obviously having a child and being a healthcare worker are my choices, as are their various obligations, which include their own jobs and caregiving for elderly parents.

          1. This is a name, I guess*

            Ah. Sure. Two things:
            1) No comments here advise OP to “talk to your friends” as you predicted they would, so that makes your pre-emptive suggestions come off a little oddly, but no big deal in the long run! We can’t predict it all.

            2) Perhaps you could tell your friend what you need? It might be, “I’m going to be slammed between work and infant care for the next few months, but could you keep texting to check in? I really like that. I’ll let you know in a few months when I have more time to even function as a human. I really value your friendship.” You could be more direct about your own needs instead of expecting someone to intuit.

            As the childfree person of multiple people with kids, new parents all have different friend support needs. Some want me to be exactly the same so that I’m a connection to their old life. Some want me to go to Costco with them so they can have an adult conversation while they get their chores done. Some want me to go for walks with them and the babies. All are totally fine. But, you gotta tell me. And, as you said yourself, I can’t predict what new parents will want because new parents are still learning what they need everyday. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution.

            1. HannahS*

              I think you’re imagining a situation where I haven’t done that, and assigning a script to me that I haven’t participated in.

              1. Rotate Your Owl*

                Many days too late, but HannahS, I agree with everything you’ve said and you sound completely awesome.

    2. A*

      “*If any of you offer me advice about how to make my baby sleep in a way that is convenient to you please know that I will pray for your computer to delete all of your tax information so that you have to refile at the last minute.”

      I just need to say I admire your creativity here, definitely stealing this ‘threat’ line LOL

    3. TCO*

      I also structure my plans with my least-reliable friends (for kid reasons or otherwise) to avoid disappointment or frustration. Like you said, I’ll arrive with a Plan B to make the outing enjoyable if I end up doing it alone. I also have certainly flaky friends that I will only invite to group activities, so that even if they cancel I still have my other friends there.

    4. RagingADHD*

      Oh, didn’t you get the memo? You have to pre-order the “convenient sleeping” option from the baby factory. Unfortunately, you can’t retrofit it once the item ships.

      I don’t know why they don’t just make it a default setting. It’s so popular, you’d think they would.

    5. Nope, not today*

      Yes to a backup plan for any plans! My sister-in-law used to be super flaky. We’d make plans with her myself and my kid, she’d no call/no show and my day would be ruined. So I started planning “well, if she ACTUALLY calls me we will do X. If she doesn’t, we will be ready to leave the house and then we will go do Y by ourselves”. It helped me from constantly being disappointed and angry with her. Of course, once she had a kid who needed play dates with his cousins she never flakes on me anymore…. (so the resentment is still there, but its just shifted focus a bit lol. But that’s fine, I can live mildly resenting someone I love, because its far easier to do make plans accepting the likely potential outcomes or motives than to ignore reality).

    6. Taxes?*

      Oh, that’s simple! Just tell the baby that it is really important for them to stay awake for {reason(s)} and not to go to sleep….

      Kind of like the best way to hide something is to very carefully and intentionally place your llama brush in the 3rs desk drawer and say “the llama brush is in the 3rd desk drawer so I know where it is and can find it next time I need it.”. The brush will never be seen again.

      Wait. What is my computer doing? “File not found?”

      PS- Hang in there. We are all doing the best we can, child-full and child-less alike. Grace and patience and kindness will see us through eventually.

  34. Archangelsgirl (FKA)*

    Sometimes people with kids want to get out of their volunteer commitments, but they also can’t say no. So when you schedule a meeting for 9, and they said they can’t make 9, and you say great I’ll reschedule it till 8, you might actually be doing them a favour to leave it at 9. They might be able to use that as an excuse to say oh the meetings are always at 9 and I can’t make it because of the kids so I have to drop it. I mean I should not be on you to be facilitating other people’s inability to say no, but the main thing that I would add to all the other comments would be set meetings for the volunteer organization that work for you. If other people can’t make it, then they can’t make it. They haven’t been able to make it three or four times, then maybe they’ll just drop out of the organization. You have committed to give your time to the organization which is admirable, you have not committed to single-handedly keeping it afloat

    1. Claire W*

      > So when you schedule a meeting for 9, and they said they can’t make 9, and you say great I’ll reschedule it till 8, you might actually be doing them a favour to leave it at 9. They might be able to use that as an excuse to say oh the meetings are always at 9 and I can’t make it because of the kids so I have to drop it.

      If they can’t do it they need to say so. I KNOW it’s difficult and scary and makes people feel super guilty, but that’s just what being an adult means. If I’m rescheduling around you it’s probably because I actually need your help enough that it’s worth the inconvenience of rescheduling, so if someone then takes that as “ugh I was hoping to use that as an excuse to drop out” that’s just crappy of them. Don’t try to make it my ‘fault’ that you can’t join, just admit to yourself and to others that it doesn’t suit you.

  35. anonymous first timer*

    I completely relate- this could be me. It is really hard for me not to be resentful because of the assumptions (I have a life!), but also because we’re privately going through IVF and desperately want to be parents. It is hard to hear the complaints about what you want most (plus IVF=hormones). People make assumptions about me so I try not to make assumptions about them- they may state the need to childcare, but that may or may not be true- they may have their own crises and childcare is the least intrusive to explain. I try to reframe as poor planning or communication and treat it as I would for all those situations.

    What I’ve also learned is that I need to protect my own boundaries- be empathetic and apologize that I’m not able to cover at this moment or take on additional tasking because my bandwidth is full. I remind myself that I need the boundaries so I don’t burn out- because if I do burn out, then I won’t be able to help when I am able.

  36. why can't my username be anon*

    I relate very much to what you wrote LW (mid-forties, childfree and happy now despite prior infertility struggles). I have had jobs where I was expected by my manager to take on the responsibilities of my co-workers with kids because I did not. It took me a long time to realize that the things I devote my time and energy to are just as valuable as kids, and that I can set boundaries around those things. One other thing that has helped me is to cultivate more friends who don’t have young kids – that’s gotten easier as I get older, since people my age are more likely to have adult kids who no longer live with them – but we are out here. It really is ok to say no, and to not always be the flexible one.

  37. I can’t think of a clever name*

    I wonder if you have some empathy fatigue-I learned that term from this community actually and it helped to name the feeling. I’m also in my thirties with no kids, and I’ve felt the same way. I think you need to take a step back and reset. What do you need right now in terms of flexibility? For example, maybe you offer flexibility by making early morning meetings since that’s when parents have childcare, but ask colleagues for flexibility so you can workout during the day. I sometimes we think oh this isn’t as important, so I’m not going to ask, but that’s not true. I’m sure your coworkers would happily return the flexibility when they are able to.

  38. Christina D*

    Another vote for “boundaries” – emergencies happen, but if people routinely make plans and then cancel with barely any notice, asking them to let you know earlier or not making plans with them for a while is totally ok. Us child-free people sometimes get caught in that mire of “well, you have time!” and reasserting that our time is also valuable can be really powerful. And it sounds like you really try to help when you can, so it’s more than reasonable to figure out which parts of helping also work for you and which ones make you feel taken advantage of.

  39. Ben the PM*

    I’m in this boat and I try to remind myself of two things:

    One is that, *because* so many parents are in a truly impossible situation, it’s my responsibility and my privilege to help All Of Us Out by flexing a little to cover for them, not just as a personal favor but also as my role to play in society right now. This isn’t magical, but it does help me feel better about what otherwise is an annoying series of impositions, trying to look at them with gratitude.

    But the other is: I am no less important and I don’t need an excuse to not take on responsibilities. Late afternoon meeting? What if you were sick or double-booked? Would the person with the kid just ignore their child and cover you? Probably not. It is absolutely legit to say “sorry, I don’t think anybody can cover that, we’re all unavailable. Let’s look for a new time.” If you are truly *choosing* to take on these added responsibilities, you can also NOT take them on and stop apologizing for it. You’re unavailable. So are they. No reason to talk about why. People have responsibilities and lives and their own mental health.

    (This is separate from the volunteer -related topic the OP calls out – volunteer flakiness is a perennial issue that may have been exacerbated lately but is by no means new, and maintaining a healthy relationship to unpaid work is a whole essay in itself.)

  40. As a parent*

    As a parent, I worry about asking too much of people in my life, and it’s REALLY helpful when they set clear boundaries. If you can say no without resentment that they asked at all, that will be tremendously helpful for them as well as you. They’re allowed to ask; you’re allowed to say no. That’s how any of it works.

    Some people will get upset when you say no, and that’s a different issue and honestly comes up with parents and childfree people. And it’s just rude. But I do find that when I cheerfully say, “Oh, I can’t change my plans last minute, but let’s plan something tomorrow!” then most people aren’t jerks about it.

  41. Dr. Tea Blender, PhD*

    Unconnected thoughts:

    1. Say no to things you don’t have the capacity to do, and trust it will get sorted out somehow. “I don’t have the capacity to cover that project for you, but I’d be happy to ask around to see if someone else would like the opportunity.” (Or, depending on your structure “why don’t you talk to your manager to see if they know if anyone has capacity for that.” Coverage is a management issue, and they generally have more visibility into workload. Also they have the ability to truly say “this can wait” if the team is stretched too thin.) Like, it’s great to be willing to take on extra work when asked to help out, but being able to set boundaries (kindly, of course) can help to send the message that while you are helpful, you are just not default coverage.
    2. Have conversations about how certain behaviors impact your ability to get work done. “I know you have a lot going on and so understand that things happen, but if you know you’re not going to be able to make our plans, I would appreciate getting as much advanced notice as possible, so I can adjust accordingly.”
    3. With volunteering, I think you have a little more latitude to gently suggest stepping back, because it’s not going to impact their livelihood. “I’ve noticed that I’ve been taking on a lot more work lately and I don’t really have the capacity beyond x, y, and z. Could we see if anyone else would like the opportunity to cover a, b, and c, at least while your childcare situation is touch and go?”

    In all of these situations, you’re really focusing on what you have the capacity for and not assigning blame, and you’re working together to make sure it doesn’t continue to happen this way moving forward.

  42. Workerbee*

    Echoing the boundaries, boundaries, boundaries sentiments here.

    It really is okay to say No. It’s also okay to say No even if you aren’t actually doing anything in exchange that the world recognizes as “doing.” You can say “No, I can’t take on any more of X” even if you’re just going to flop down in a chair and zone out during that time. We may not be taught this overtly and we may have to deprogram ourselves from overt and covert messaging otherwise, but I am serious that it really is okay to act in your own best interests, to commit to yourself. Your words sound beyond burned out.

    This could be a good time to recall just why it is we’re supposed to put on our own oxygen masks first before helping others with theirs.

    You are not a mindless vessel for everyone to keep pouring their needs into. You are as much of a whole person as they are. Who’s taking care of your needs?

  43. Just sad about this whole situation*

    To all of the commenters saying “just say no” I’d like to remind them that it’s tough to do because you don’t want to say no to everything. So that means if you’re asked 10 times in a week to do something outside of your job description our hours you’ll likely have to do at least a few. But it’s me in particular that’s asked as a person without kids because folks know I have the time outside of work. Think about the times you’ve gotten requests from a manager or a generally good colleague. Imagine if you, personally, got 10 requests you felt weren’t reasonable and said no to every single one of them. It’s rare. You don’t want to let other staff down down, especially if you really need the job. I don’t think those replies will be helpful to OP.

    1. ThatGirl*

      For the record, I didn’t say “say no to everything,” I said “start saying no to some things”. Can it be hard, especially with expectations and a desire to be a people pleaser? Sure. But it’s also necessary to help avoid resentment and burnout.

      1. After 33 years ...*

        +1 Yes, often you can’t realistically say “no” to some requests, so setting priorities is necessary. As someone who has LWs tendency to want to help fill gaps, I tend to think of priorities rather than boundaries. That’s especially true when leaving something undone or done later could hurt other people – for me, that’s our students. I’ve found that not picking up everything allows me to do some of the extra things more effectively.
        As many commentators have said, you need to consider yourself. Nothing good will come if you’re burnt out or resentful – something I’ve had to learn painfully…

    2. Dust Bunny*

      I don’t think anyone has said “just say no to everything”, only “say no to more than you currently are”. Nobody has advocated dropping it all entirely, only agreeing to less.

    3. Purple Cat*

      I understand what you’re saying from, but it’s really truly the ONLY thing that the LW can do and has control over is to say no. Nobody says Say no to EVERYTHING, but she HAS to start saying no to SOME THINGS.

    4. Rara Avis*

      I work in an industry that is notorious for burning employees into the ground. Because if you say no, you aren’t a team player. If you say no, you don’t care about the clients. But I have been practicing my noes this year. No, I won’t give up my lunch break to weigh trash during Earth Week. No, I won’t work with a client at lunch instead of the officially designated meeting time. No, I won’t cover for someone during my only free time in the day. I have also come to realize that no one can do all the things we’re supposed to do. All of us are cutting corners somewhere. No one has gotten fired yet. Maybe start small? Say no to two things this week?

      1. bamcheeks*

        I have worked in close proximity to several of those professions and I also want to point out that the people in senior roles in those industries are nearly always people who have mastered the art of saying no, even though it feels impossible at the junior level.

        1. Lasslisa*

          It’s hard to say no to things but it does show leadership to communicate boundaries and priorities and think about team health. As someone with a generally good and helpful track record, I’ve been surprised to realize the times I’ve pushed back have consistently gotten me more recognition and appreciation.

          With most of my managers. One of them could not take any pushback or questioning at all. I don’t work there anymore, which was a win all around.

    5. Person from the Resume*

      Some of the boundaries I’d set here is
      (1) I can’t take meeting earlier than the start of the work day. I start early already; I wake up, get ready for work, and start work. Any earlier and I’d have to wake up earlier and that would throw a lot of things off for me. I know there are some people who do other things before work or stop by coffee shops, but that isn’t me.
      (2) Some days (maybe not all) I can’t stay later than my scheduled hours. I have evening committments several nights a week, but the LW’s committment can be to going home on time or doing her shopping after work and still getting home at a reasonable hour or doing volunteer stuff. I would not be available every night for late hours.
      (3) I also wouldn’t take on extra tasks that cause me to work much later than my normal hours because I now have too much to pack into the day with the extra work.

      It’s not “no” to everything, but it is a matter of not being overly accomodating to the detriment of the LW.

    6. Sad Desk Salad*

      “Folks know I have the time outside of work.” How do they know this? The only way they could know this is because you’ve told them, or they’ve made an unfair assumption based on your reproductive status. Just because you don’t have children doesn’t mean you have tons of free time. Maybe you do! They don’t need to know that. People have lives and obligations outside of children, and childfree people are no exception to that. So what if your obligation is to yourself? That’s none of their business.

      Others have discussed the response to “just say no” better than I could, so I won’t add to that discussion.

    7. Just sad about this whole situation*

      I’m speaking in hyperbole here. I don’t mean actually saying no to every request. I’m trying to point it out in the extreme so folks can agree it’s not that easy to decline things, especially when you’re declining most of the requests that come in. A lot of the folks in the situation OP is in already set boundaries. Maybe they aren’t, but it’s quite common to say I can only do 3 of the 10 things, but those 3 things are already lengthy and demanding of your time/ well beyond the scope of your job. If boss says X isn’t done because someone else’s childcare fell through it might take up my entire Monday just trying to understand what the task is. Then I truly can’t say yes to requests Y and Z because I’m so behind. But the more I say “no” the more the higher ups say “can’t you just take care of it” because my work is good generally. It falls back on my time is not valued in the same way.

    8. fposte*

      Right now the OP doesn’t sound like she’s saying no to *anything*. I think people are just trying to move that needle, not turn her into somebody uncooperative.

      I think also in addition to boundaries the OP might benefit from creating some of her own structures so that she doesn’t have to think through the question from the ground Every Single Time. Can she come in early once a week if needed? Cool, that’s what gets offered. Can she cover for a volunteer at filing but not at programming? Cool, then that’s what gets offered. She’s still offering much needed flexibility, but she’s preserving some of her own structure as well.

  44. That Bih*

    This is definitely a structural problem in workplaces. People who are not in conventional marriages and/or don’t have kids are expected to do more and be more available, but are not generally given the ability to say “no,” set boundaries, and are not sufficiently compensated for the extra work.

    It’s easy to say “set boundaries” if a person is in a workplace where that is allowed; in my experience, very few workplaces and bosses allow employees who are overworked to set meaningful boundaries without risking some kind of blowback. Employers are responsible to hire and retain appropriate staffing levels to cover the work but have developed a pattern of perpetually understaffing, underpaying, and overworking employees. We’ve become acclimated to this environment and don’t collectively advocate against it because we are all too worried about needing the income. Because we DO need the income, especially as most of us went into significant debt to get a degree or two, along with rapid inflation of cost-of-living over the past couple decades without similarly inflated salaries and wages.

    Altogether, I feel for this person. Fundamentally, employers are systemically exploiting us by placing ever-increasing workloads on burnt out, underpaid workers.

    1. bamcheeks*

      People who are not in conventional marriages and/or don’t have kids are expected to do more and be more available, but are not generally given the ability to say “no,” set boundaries, and are not sufficiently compensated for the extra work.

      I would reframe this— the structural problem is that the work environment puts the same pressure on everyone, but the external pressure on parents and people with other caring responsibilities (“I literally cannot just not pick up my four-year-old from daycare”) equals or exceeds the work pressure to say yes in a way that, “I cannot let my friend down / put off the Netflix series I’ve been meaning to watch for weeks / tell me niece I can’t make her birthday party” only does if you decide it does and stick to it.

      There are definitely some work places that will put more pressure on non-parents (or non-primary-parents— lots of places will of course put the same pressure on fathers because “surely your wife can do that”), but my experience was that the pressure from work was the same but the costs of not saying no were exponentially higher. You have to learn to take your own (or your co-parent’s) need for relaxation, time off and a work outside life just as seriously as people with primary caring responsibilities!

  45. Nails*

    I feel that the nuances of parenting, free time, dinners, work, mutual aid, etc are all very important in your personal life, and are important topics generally, but they’re a distraction around the heart of the issue. People will seize them and run in different directions about them, getting very granular about the cost of childcare or the precise arrangement of your volunteering hours, but that’s not what I think this is really about.

    I feel that there is a gap in information between yourself and your friends/colleagues. You are not sharing information, and they are not asking for it. The relationships around you are built on assumptions that aren’t correct. You are (demonstrably) a polite and generous person, and probably have a core identity around “a busy and meaningful life” mixed with a lot of “social independence and personal free time”.

    Therefore, when people ask you to do unreasonable things, you often try to accommodate them (being generous) but do not point out that the thing itself is unreasonable (being polite), so everyone assumes you’re perfectly happy to accommodate them, and calibrate their expectations accordingly; and while the result is the “busy and meaningful life” you enjoy, it’s really started to cut into your “social independence.” Over time, people are trained to expect that their unreasonable asks are actually reasonable, and they probably don’t perceive you as minding at all. So you can’t be particularly happy in this situation, regardless of pandemics, toddlers, Boston terriers, takeaway meals, out of hours teapot explosions, or whatever forms the problems take. I truly believe the forms of the problems are a distraction. You could set up the same situation and feel the same tension if you had three children and your friends expected you to exert yourself unreasonably.

    But on the flip side, the people around you would probably feel guilty or ashamed to be shown this letter; if they’re good people, they’d probably feel bad that they took advantage for so long. They might even resent you for not being open about the fact that they WERE taking advantage and slowly spending their social capital with you until the bank was empty, when they perceived you as being genuinely happy to help. So to save your relationships and help your friends, you can’t do anything BUT be honest.

    They’re asking too much, not giving enough, and you need to be looked after/cared for/covered for too.

    I’m sorry, OP, I think you’re right in your suspicion – “checking in with myself and better enforcing boundaries.” I can see why it’s tempting to set it up as some sort of framing narrative about child/childfree, poor/prosperous, organized/disorganized, Ask/Guess, etc. and therefore not have to do any difficult conversations. but I think you probably know the answer here yourself.

    1. Nails*

      I didn’t say anything about my own age or parenting status, but rest assured they’re both tremendously interesting and relevant. ;-)

    2. A*

      “Over time, people are trained to expect that their unreasonable asks are actually reasonable, and they probably don’t perceive you as minding at all.”

      I think this is key. I was in a similar situation as OP, and found this to very much be the case. I had to recalibrate expectations by easing into my ‘new norm’ (helping when & where I feel I can without hitting the threshold where I feel burnt out or infringed on). It was more challenging in the professional realm, but socially it really was just a matter of my friends with kids not realizing that it had become unsustainable because they weren’t asking any more than they had been previously and it hadn’t been an issue at the time. I just levelled with them that I needed to take a step back and find more time to take care of myself and my own household (and I made it clear it wasn’t anything personal, or an issue being caused by any one person – it was a collective problem). Luckily they were all extremely understanding.

  46. not neurotypical*

    I feel that this situation would be less vexed and vexing if we weren’t so surrounded by reprocentric cultural ideas (e.g., the idea that OP isn’t complete or fully adult due to not having children) and practices (e.g., tax breaks for parents while nonparents pay for the public schools and playgrounds, workers expected to cover for parents while not being offered similar paid leave to pursue their own avocations, and don’t get me started on the habit of expecting others to step off the sidewalk to make way for parents walking side-by-side with a stroller rather than politely shifting to single file so that nobody has to step off the sidewalk).

    So, while I do of course recognize and empathize with the impossible situation of parents these days, I don’t think it’s for non-parents to make the adjustments to make the situation more tolerable. It’s parents collectively who have to start showing empathy for nonparents, feeling uncomfortable with the privileges extended to them as parents, and taking action to ensure that their peers who devote themselves to things other than reproduction are treated as equals rather than adjuncts.

    1. Nanani*

      Fully agree with this entire take.

      Also yknow, empathy for how hard it is for parents doesn’t change the fact that it’s on management, not colleagues, to plan adequately for humans having human needs.

    2. TheSockMonkey*

      People not going single file on sidewalks is a person issue, not a parent issue. That’s just a person being rude. Also, no parents at my workplace get more leave. I have used all of my leave for sick kids and childcare gaps and have not been able to take time for myself as a result.

      Also, not sure what country you are in, but the tax breaks for parents in the U.S. mean almost nothing. Being able to deduct some childcare expenses is of little benefit as I pay so much more each year in costs than gets deducted.

      Just want to say that parents also face challenges in the workplace–missing out on opportunities because of lack of flexibility, stunted professional growth and possibly fewer options for advancement because of lack of time availability.

      Also re: taxes paying for public schools-are you also upset that your taxes pay for a road on the other side of town that you don’t drive on? Kids being born today will be paying into your social security or whatever money you get in your retirement. When they are old, they will be your doctors, collect your garbage, etc.

      For what its worth, I completely understand why people wouldn’t have kids

      1. This is a name, I guess*

        FYI: There is a middle ground between “our tax system incentivizes parenthood to the detriment of nonparents; two example are tax cuts and universal support of public schools” and “I don’t want my tax dollars to pay for public schools because I don’t have children who will use them”. I imagine that the commenter is in the former and not the later.

        I am childfree, and my partner and I both live in a state we didn’t grow up in. We’re happy to pay for public schools via our property taxes and general public/human services through other taxes, but we’d also like our state to be more inclusive of queer people and more inclusive of transplants. When speaking with legislators and policymakers, I frequently bring up that we’re the type of people they should want to move to our region: we have portable, high demand jobs; and other states paid to educate us, while, as childfree people, we’re paying to educate other people’s children, so it’s a double win for the State. The least they could is make the residency policy for the public university system more transparent for transplants!

    3. OP*

      “reprocentric cultural ideas” is so perfectly put and feels like an important root of – exactly what you said – what makes this issue so darned hard and guilt-inducing.

      (I’m happy to put $ towards public schools and the like because I just think education and other public goods are so important.)

  47. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

    This is the endless conversation in childfree spaces. I am also childfree, 31 and sterilized. How do we give our friends, family and colleagues grace and flexibility while also not allowing ourselves to become either the scapegoat or taken advantage of? Where do we find the balance? I think as other commenters have said, it comes down to boundaries boundaries boundaries.

    In my personal life – I’ve had clear conversations with family members and friends. I will not babysit, if our plans are going to include your child(ren) (Which is a-ok!) I need to be told in advance, and if you have to cancel, flex or adjust our plans that is fine but I need to be communicated with.

    In my professional life – I’ve made a point to just have really strong work-life balance boundaries. I try not to stay late for any reason and try only to take on extra work when it’s absolutely necessary or will have a positive effect on me.

    As for the selfish comments I say, “It would have been more selfish to subject children to parents who don’t want them, so it’s a greater kindness to the universe that I didn’t have them.” and leave it at that. Or jokingly say “okay, you pay for the extra $10k a year it costs to have a kid, because I can’t afford it.”

    Sidenote for general awareness: Childless=wanted kids but don’t have them/Childfree= chose not to have kids. There’s a distinction between the two terms.

  48. Lizzle*

    I’ve found that most parents can be divided into two rough categories: those who accommodate parenting and kids into their life and generally handle their business and don’t make their family anyone else’s problem (except in emergencies, of course,) and those who make parenting their entire life and also expect everyone else to prioritize them and their children above all else.

    You can work magnificently with the first group, but the second needs hard boundaries. Once you can recognize the different styles, you can decide who to work with, and how you’re comfortable working with them. Everyone deserves some grace and help, especially right now, but their problems are not yours, and it’s not up to anyone else to solve them.

    1. EvenstarEnchanted*

      This. You never owe anyone a favor no matter who it’s coming from, but it definitely has helped me at times to divide up people in this way. There are people in my life (friends/family/coworkers) that I will go out of my way to help/accomodate, others that have burned through my good will, and a third group that’s more situational if I have something left. Figuring out those groups was actually pretty useful for me because then I’m not using up the limited time/energy I do have on the people who have used up more than their fair share and feeling resentful + overextended when someone who I really do want to help or value asks.

      Also, #3 is completely infuriating – NO ONE should have to justify their decision to not want kids or not parent. FWIW, I came to parenting after serious infertility/medical issues and there was a point where we resolved to move on as childfree if the final situation didn’t work out. Living childfree is absolutely a meaningful life.

      OP, you sound lovely and empathetic. I hope you’re able to reset the balances and take that vacation soon!

    2. Software Dev (she/her)*

      While I agree with your general point, you kind of make it sound like some parents just choose to put their children above all else, but some parents have different children/families/etc? That does not mean that these are your problems to solve at all and the need for hard boundaries stands, I want to emphasize. Just—let’s not assume that Jane, who has one healthy child, family nearby and a supportive partner, is the same as Kim, who has a non-supportive partner, no nearby support and a child with health issues.

      And to reemphasize that is not our problem to solve in the workplace, but the phrasing here just smacked a little of the way people talk about disability, ie, “some parents (disabled people) are the ‘good ones’, who don’t let their parenting (disability) affect their lives in a way that inconveniences me.” Probably unintentional, but just mentioning it.

      1. Louise*

        +1 I think when there are coworkers schedule/coverage problems it’s more helpful to separate out “this is how it impacts X for me and what needs to change” (especially since most changes are going to be addressed to management) from “this group is doing parenting/chronic illness/elder care/pregnancy/maternity leave correctly and that group isn’t.”

  49. Nannerdoodle*

    I’m going through the same thing at work and with volunteering. It’s great that OP is very empathetic to parents who are still in an absolutely awful place. I’m going to say something that helped me: don’t set yourself on fire to keep others warm. There are limits to how much anyone can give before they’re overloaded as well. Figure out what those limits are, and then work with volunteer coordinators and your boss at work if it’s not possible to get everything done with the amount of people you have.
    There are two specific things I’ve done in similar situations that can help. First is that while you can make yourself available for all the reschedules and take the later afternoon/early morning meetings, can you switch some “less desirable to you” volunteer/job duties to the parents that take place during the normal working/volunteering time? I’m not saying give them all the crappy things, but I’m saying occasionally trade a favor for a favor. Example: if one person has to do “really boring spreadsheet” every month, can it be someone you had to cover for? That way it feels less like you’re being taken advantage of and more like an equal give and take.
    The other thing, is if someone is really struggling (particularly in volunteering positions) with getting everything done, and OP is regularly picking up the pieces, it’s worth having an “It’s okay if you need to step down from this position for at least a little while so you can keep your family as priority”. I’ve known plenty of volunteers who stepped away from things while their kids were newborn-six and then came back when their eyes didn’t have to be glued to their children/easier to find childcare. Or OP can talk to her boss about how she’s always staying later in the day to deal with those late afternoon meetings because everyone else’s schedule can’t accommodate it and ask if she can have a later start time to accommodate that so it’s more of a permanent schedule change, and so she’s not taking the early morning and late night meetings (and this may signal to the boss that coverage needs to be fixed so it’s not all on the one person with a flexible schedule).

  50. Blarg*

    Agreeing with what everyone else has said as another 41 year old childless woman.

    Two things to add: No is a complete sentence. You do not have to give a reason, let alone a “good reason” or a “good enough to ‘beat out’ a parent’s” reason. You can just say no. I’m not available.

    And the other thing is that I’m a hardcore introvert so in many senses, being alone for the last two years has been … nice and I’ve felt like I’ve had the easiest pandemic of anyone I know and felt very fortunate. But the cracks are starting to show for me, in ways I didn’t anticipate. I recently took a week off (cause I was feeling depleted like you’re describing) and barely managed to leave the apartment cause I legit just couldn’t figure out what I’d do once I got there. I didn’t just not leave town. I didn’t leave the neighborhood. So recognize that “how bad was your pandemic” isn’t a competition and that you can acknowledge to yourself and others that this is HARD and that life is HARD and that doesn’t diminish the experiences of others.

    PS: telling people joyfully that I’ve had my tubes tied is my favorite way to shut up the inquiries. They just don’t know what to say.

    1. londonedit*

      Totally agree that ‘how bad was your 2020’ isn’t and shouldn’t be a competition. I lost a few social media acquaintances two years ago who were banging the ‘Parents are doing The Hardest Job In The World, no one has it harder than parents! No one else is allowed to complain!’ drum (and, not to put this all on parents, I also lost a couple of social media acquaintances who kept saying that if you weren’t working on the NHS frontlines then you didn’t have anything to complain about either). It all sucked for just about everyone. Childcare, homeschooling, health worries, job worries, relationships breaking down, isolation and loneliness, worries about accessing food/healthcare/medication – and just the general panic and anxiety about living through something massive that you’d never experienced before. I think hardly anyone escaped, and ‘But I had it worse than everyone else!!!’ isn’t helpful. OP is allowed to need some time to recharge even if they aren’t dealing with children and even if they aren’t working on the frontline and even if no one they know has died of Covid.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        I firmly believe that anyone can say it’s been a traumatic time, or stressful, or difficult without having to add qualifiers to try and be judged the one who’s suffered the most.

        Got no patience for the ‘you didn’t have it as hard because you don’t have children/a dependent’ speech and like you I removed some people off Facebook for it. People who actually knew what I went through but still decided it was a contest.

        We’re all allowed time to ourselves, to try and heal, to catch our breaths, to just say no to an obligation.

  51. Yellow*

    “Thanks for reading, and I welcome your perspective — even if it’s to tell me to get over myself.”

    Parent of a 5 year old here, you do NOT need to get over yourself. I try very hard to show up for my childless and child free friends as much as they have for me. And I try very hard to not let my child interfere with my work life. There are of course times where that’s going to happen, but people need to be aware of their actions, and how it’s affecting others and take steps to mitigate that.

  52. Casey*

    One of my favorite empathetic advice blogs, Captain Awkward, often starts responses by posing this question: “what would you do if you knew for a fact that the other person’s behavior wouldn’t change?” I’m guessing that part of the resentment is coming from the feeling that you were initially highly willing to cover for others because of the additional pandemic burden, and, well, now it’s been two years, so the sense of “how much longer must I hold out” is frustrating and overwhelming. But setting that aside, if you knew with certainty that Fergus would ALWAYS cancel on volunteering last-minute, or Letitia would ALWAYS leave the office at 3:30, would that help with setting boundaries on your own time and energy?

  53. the cat's ass*

    LW, you sound like a great colleague and awesomely decent person! That said, this isn’t a you thing as much as it is a company thing-this shouldn’t be your thing to fix, but your company’s. And i second the vacation idea; time off really can give you some breathing space. And when you get back, there will be times when you can say, ‘No, I can’t do that (particular thing.).”

  54. hamsterpants*

    What worked for me was frequent check-ins with myself about what I could enthusiastically say yes to, and then saying no to everything else. When you never feel you can say no, it also makes it harder to say yes, to pitch in and help when it’s needed, without feeling resentment.

    If you feel under pressure to say yes right away, what would happen if you gave yourself 24 hours to respond to any request for help?

  55. Lou*

    I think YES to vacation, and also YES to some additional boundaries. For example, that you can’t cover/help out for someone with less than 1 hour’s (4 hours, 1 day, whatever) notice. You can communicate that in the moment if you like, “so sorry, I can’t today, and I’m realizing that I need at least XX heads-up so I can figure out my schedule”, or just leave as “so sorry, I can’t today.” Or even say you have pre-existing plans, even if those plans are to lie on the couch for a while.

    There will, of course, be last-minute emergencies or requests that you take (or it’s your absolute bestie, so you’re willing to do it), but pushing back a little bit more is not unreasonable. I think you’re not wrong that people are beginning to rely on and expect your flexibility, but they’re probably also not remembering that 1) you’re just one person and 2) they’re not the only one relying on you. Probably the multiple people relying on you is part of the problem, not that it wouldn’t be problematic if it was only one person, either.

    You are doing your friends and colleagues a wonderful service by being so flexible, but it’s not unreasonable to start setting some boundaries around that. Your friends/colleagues may be upset up about that, but those are their feelings to manage, as long as you’re not a jerk about it (and you sound like you wouldn’t be!). Otherwise you’ll burn yourself out and that will hurt you more in the long run.

  56. Chairman of the Bored*

    As somebody without kids I find it helpful to remind myself that whatever I have going on is *exactly* as significant as parenting-related tasks, and ask for the same flexibility and understanding of my colleagues that parents do. Don’t get made about what the parents are doing; instead get on that same bandwagon.

    For example, it sounds like LW’s organizational culture is such that people can just opt out of a meeting with short notice because life happened? Great. I’m doing that too!

    I’m sure not taking on “extra” work except as a very short-term measure in response to true emergencies; and I’d do this for a colleague regardless of whether the nature of the emergency involves parenting,

    If this means that work goes undone then my employer is welcome to hire more people to fill in the gaps. If they choose not to then they are telling me that undone work isn’t too important.

    1. Nanani*


      Return the difficulty to the -management-
      It’s not your job to do management-level planning about staffing and redundancy and cross-training. It’s literally what the higher-ups are there for.

      let the (work) balls drop, it’s not your fault they were too cheap to install a net.

    2. Failing Up*

      Plus One!

      Same goes for the “non smoker’s smoke break”. Lean into the flexibility that they offer people.

  57. Caramel & Cheddar*

    I think with the volunteer piece of this (it sounds like you manage them?), if it’s happening repeatedly with same person/people it might be worth implementing some sort volunteer leave of absence where they can take a few months off from their roles without it impacting whatever benefits come from being a consistently regular volunteer (e.g. seniority on a specific committee, time counted towards years of service, eligibility for an award at the annual volunteer appreciation event, discounted tickets at local attractions, whatever it might be).

    Normally, you’d turf a volunteer who kept not showing up at the last minute without warning, but if we’re extending grace to them due to extraordinary circumstances then this might be a way of doing it that helps you plan more than five minutes out from when you need them but also makes them feel like they’re still part of the organization even if they can’t actively participate at the moment.

  58. No Dumb Blonde*

    I was there 20 years ago. In my case, two things happened: One, because I’m a people-pleaser, I eventually became a burned-out shell of a person and quit my high-paying job without another job lined up. (Don’t do that. Push back harder than I did on people’s implied expectations. There is a way to do it with the powers that be; I just didn’t do that, which was my own fault.) They always say, We teach people how to treat us. I “taught” my managers and coworkers that I was such a dedicated employee, all they had to do was say they had to be home by 5:30 pm, and I’d stay late to finish the deliverable that was due the next day, because I didn’t voice any commitments or preferences of my own. My direct supervisor was one of the people with kids, but had I been brave enough to speak up to our higher-level managers, they might have recognized the imbalance and added more resources to the project or shifted workloads around rather than lose me, which is what happened.

    The second thing that happened to me was that I aged! I’m in my 50s now and I have to admit, it’s nice to just say no when asked if I have any kids. I no longer hear “but why not?” or get the “you must be so sad” look.

    1. No Dumb Blonde*

      …and I should have mentioned that my people-pleasing tendency played out in various situations, not just the ones involving coworkers with kids. It’s taken me years to learn how to say no.

  59. "No" is a full sentence*

    +1 to all of this, and also: “No” is a full sentence. You don’t owe anyone an explanation or a justification for being unavailable–just, “No, I’m sorry, I can’t do that.” And you don’t have to feel guilty about it because you don’t have kids. Self-care is a fine excuse.

  60. Dr. Tea Blender, PhD*

    It’s also worth saying: If the people who are just assuming you’re good for extra work are the same people making the comments in #3, you have my permission to be less kind with them…

  61. Critical Rolls*

    Thirdteenthing the motion to reexamine and reset your boundaries, and maybe take a vacation from both this issue and all the issues, if you can.

    One place that you can reasonably pull back is differentiating a bit more between “needs” and “helpful extras.” Colleague must go pick child up from daycare because their childcare fell through for the afternoon? Need. Colleague would like to leave early to go to a dance recital the other parent has covered? Helpful extra. It’s more than okay to be judicious about lending a hand for the second category, and you shouldn’t be picking up the first category all by yourself.

    In your volunteering situation, I don’t know how much standing you have to speak to people or if you have a volunteer coordinator or something who can intervene, but parenting is rarely and excuse for a no-call no-show. That’s someone who’s overbooked or undercommunicating, and those are both inconsiderate issues that are in their power to fix. It’s not unreasonable to feel resentment of people who are being consistently inconsiderate; that’s not excused by whatever challenges they’re dealing with.

    1. Dr. Tea Blender, PhD*

      And “needs” can be separated into “emergency needs” and “recurring needs known in advance.”

      Jane’s daughter is sick, she has to be out to get her: we need to cover the meeting and whoever is available and able to do it will help with this (just as if Jane herself were sick).

      Jane picks up her kids at the same time every day: We avoid scheduling meetings at this time, if there is coverage it can be divided by multiple people, an exchange can be made (Wakeen takes over a standing meeting during that time and Jane takes over Wakeen’s 10 am standing meeting, etc).

  62. nonprofit writer*

    You sound like a great person, OP!

    I agree with those who have emphasized boundaries. But first it may be worth asking yourself whether you understand and have internalized what boundaries really are. I don’t mean that in a snarky way at all! I’m saying it because I’m the daughter of a mother who has always been a caregiver to others (my sibling and I, her parents, in-laws, aunts, uncles, and countless older folks who were not related to us) and I’ve come to realize that she doesn’t actually understand what boundaries are. I get the sense she thinks they are “mean,” when it’s actually the opposite. And it honestly hasn’t been great for her because it’s bred a lot of resentment in her, and caused confusion among those of us who have leaned on her at times when we genuinely thought she wanted to give us that help but then got mixed messages. So maybe take some time to think about that, read up on it or talk to a therapist, whatever helps.

    I also agree with the commenter who said you have a few separate issues. The people who say snarky things to you… I don’t even know what to say. As a parent myself, I would never advise anyone to become a parent if they don’t want to be one! So yeah, those people are just jerks and I can see why it would wear you down.

    Work-wise: vacation, boundaries, ask your manager for help.

    Volunteering and friends: I would maybe ask whoever is in charge of the volunteering to be more clear with people about what expectations are. I’m a busy parent but I would feel awful if I ditched out on a volunteer commitment at the last minute. People may need to be reminded of that (but if possible, maybe someone else besides you can do the reminding because that is its own thankless task!)

    Friend-wise, you sound like an awesome friend to your peers, but maybe you want to think about expanding your circle to people not in your age group? I personally love hanging out with my friends who are in their 50s and 60s whose kids are grown–I don’t always want to hang out with people who want to talk about their kids and mine! I know these days, it’s easier said than done to make new friends (I am feeling that HARD right now) but maybe your volunteering or other interests might provide a pathway to you.

    Overall, you sound really thoughtful and giving and I hope you will find a way to take some of these burdens off your back so you can recharge.

  63. Nikki*

    I’m a parent of two small children and I’m so overwhelmed right now, but I realize it’s not fair to make demands on other people because of my life choices. I really appreciate it when people go out of their way to make my life easier but I certainly don’t expect it and I express gratitude to anyone who does. LW, sounds like a lot of people in your life have an entitlement problem and you should feel very free to set boundaries with them. Stuff like not letting you know they’re not showing up until a minute beforehand is not the result of having small children. It’s possible to send a quick text even when you’re surrounded by chaos and you should feel free to be less accommodating to people like that. Think about what you’re happy to continue doing vs. what makes you feel resentful and draw lines with the people in your life as needed.

    1. Alexis Rosay*

      Yeah, I think this is true. I have lots of friends with kids and they rarely cancel on me at the last minute. Yeah, it happens, but not to the point where it’s A Thing! When they cancel last minute, it’s almost always because the kid threw up or just started running a fever and then my reaction is “Thank you for not exposing me to a sick child, I appreciate that!” rather than resentment.

      1. A*

        Same – my friends with kids don’t cancel any more frequently than my friends without kids (not sure if that’s a positive commentary on my friends with kids time management etc., or a negative commentary on my childless friends fickleness). They tend to be more last minute, but to your point that’s often because of illness etc. and I would 100% rather have a last minute cancellation than catch whatever their kids have!

    2. AnotherSarah*

      Yes! I have a kid, but until recently I didn’t, and I find that I STILL hate it when people cancel a few minutes before, regardless of the reason. It’s so frustrating. I wonder if you’re thinking this is a parent issue because that’s a common excuse/reason, whereas non-parents might have more divergent reasons.

  64. HigherEdAdminista*

    My best friend has three children and pretty much no help. There are times when I get in touch with her several times without hearing back, but when I tell her something is important to me, she is there for me. When I tell her I have a need around our get togethers, she respects it (like during the worst of the pandemic when I was not comfortable meeting indoors, but she was). I am willing to go over to her house and play and help out as a way to spend time together, and she is aware that s0metimes we both might benefit from some grown up time and she makes sure her husband knows he will be on duty alone when he gets home from work. Because we love and respect each other, there is give and take.

    I think in these situations it is great to be flexible when you can, and understanding when you can, but also to understand that you are allowed to have needs too and enforce those with boundaries. Offering to meet outside of the workday with someone who needs a little help once or twice, but consistently shows up otherwise is a great thing to do. However, if that person is consistently asking for you to make concessions and they don’t show up for you in the ways that they can, it might be that this person isn’t someone you should be flexible for all the time. You can be sympathetic to their situation, but know that you cannot be part of them solving it, and that’s okay.

    People always look for the easiest solution first, as well they should. When it doesn’t lead to you feeling resented or taken advantage of, it is great to be the easiest solution for people. But if it is starting to negatively impact you, you need to consider each situation a little more individually. Is this a person asking for occasional flexibility or are they consistently asking a lot of you and offering nothing much in return? Is this person asking you to take on the bulk of the work and swanning in after the hard part is over, or did they cover for you when you needed it? Is this person asking for something personally reasonable, but you just have too much on your own plate and it isn’t a good time right now? Those are the sort of things you need to think about with each situation and to give yourself permission to sometimes not be the solution to their problem, especially when it harms you.

  65. Lucky Clover*

    OP – I think the reason why you feel like you are expected to take on all of this is because in a way society has put this expectation on childless colleagues to pick up extra work for parents.

    To me – it feels like a diversion of the real issues in the workplace- understaffing, heavy workloads, few opportunities for recognition or growth.

    I think more care and support from management goes a long way in situations like this. There is a point where work simply can’t just be pushed on another person – we all have a limit to what can reasonably take on.

    1. Nanani*

      THIS. a thousand times this

      A lot of the commenters are giving social, friend-tier advice about flexibility and understanding.
      That’s great if you’re trying to plan game night around toddler sleep schedules, but means very little to WORK problems where the problem isn’t solvable by peers. The WORKPLACE needs to staff better, plan for contingencies, compensate people who pick up the slack so as to motivate people to do so, etc. etc etc.

    2. AnotherSarah*

      Yes, and perhaps there are structural ways to avoid this. For example–are there meetings that are often scheduled around daycare or school pick-up times? Could changing the typical timing of meetings results in fewer last-minute cancellations?

      1. LuckyClover*

        That would be a great first step that could alleviate cancellations of meetings. Without addressing the structural issues causing the problem we aren’t going to fix this and the cycle of burning people out will just get worse.

        There is this constant pressure that leads to resentment between parents and nonparents because recognizing their need for flexibility is often at the expense of recognizing flexibility needed by others for other valid reasons.

        People have a right to feel resentful when these decisions aren’t made equitably.

        All over I see “short staffing” is a huge pressure point for workers. More people are leaving but not being replaced, but the expectations remain the same as when there were more people working. Add onto that with being told you have to do more work because you can be more flexible because you don’t have kids- but also you don’t get a raise or title, or the same privileges of flexibility when you need it, etc – it’s going to make you feel frustrated.

  66. Colette*

    A few thoughts.

    1) It’s great that you want to support people who have other committments! But I think you might be being too flexible and accommodating. (When someone doesn’t show up or inform you, that’s a choice they’re making. They presumably knew in advance they wouldn’t make it, and it’s OK to say things like “I’m disappointed you didn’t tell me in advance, I was holding this time for you” or “Could you let me know earlier next time? I understand parenting comes first, but it messes up my day when I’m planning to meet with you and you cancel at the last minute.”

    2) If a parent isn’t able to do something, you don’t have to pick it up. Sometimes things just won’t get done – and that’s OK. (There may be exceptions where something really has to happen, but much of the time it’s OK to let stuff drop.) I’m a long-time volunteer, and sometimes I’ve quit a task and no one has picked it up, so the organization just doesn’t offer that service anymore. That’s OK – if no one else cares about it enough to pick it up, then it’s not worth me burn myself up doing it.

  67. iHateGlitter*

    A few years ago I worked in a customer service type job. After feedback from customers, company decided that they needed to have phone lines open wider hours. We were previously open 8am – 5pm, and we would now be 7am to 6pm. Of the 4 people in my department, I was the only one who didn’t have kids. The others had strict daycare/school drop off/pick up schedules. So I was told (not asked) by management that I would be required to work the extra hours by myself. Of course people want to call customer service for their personal matters outside of their normal work hours! Those 2 extra hours were by far the busiest part of the day. I was overwhelmed. The problem was not with my coworkers, but with management. Refusing to come up with a better long term solution beyond just having me working 10 hours of mandatory overtime each week.

  68. I should really pick a name*

    I don’t think you’re doing anything fundamentally wrong, I think you just need to figure out where you want to be on the scale of helpfulness.

    Being supportive doesn’t mean you need to say “yes” all the time. Treat each request individually and respond based on how you’re feeling with your current load.
    If you’re feeling that you’re being taken for granted, pull back a bit. You don’t need to pull back completely.
    If you’re feeling more energized, you can do more, up to the point at which you don’t want to do more.

    With regards to volunteers backing out at the last minute, you can be compassionate, but firm.
    “I appreciate that circumstances change, but we do need advance notice if you aren’t able to do something. If you aren’t able to provide that notice, you may not be able to volunteer in this capacity”

  69. SansaStark*

    The boundaries suggested in work stuff may also work with your friends, but also one thing that has helped me (early 40s-childfree) with my friends with kids is reframing this as my friend is in a time of their life where they need more flexibility. While I don’t have kids, there have certainly been (and will be) times in my life where I’m the one needing more flexibility. I said this often to my friends when their kids were little and they thanked me for understanding for moving our hangout session or whatever – “you’re in the stage where you need this right now and I’m sure you’ll do the same for me when it’s my turn to need it.” If you’re worried that your friends WON’T deliver that when it’s your turn, then you need to reexamine those friendships.

  70. Clorinda*

    Oh yes, take the vacation, and also, don’t always be so quick to say yes to cover the parents. “I can’t, I have a commitment” is a fine thing to say, and if the commitment is going to the grocery store and taking your time in the produce department, that’s perfectly legit. You have a real life, just as the parents do.

  71. Saucepilot*

    No is a complete sentence. You need to look out for yourself too and not run yourself into burnout. It’s not on you as an individual to keep the place running. If the success of the entire organization hinges on one person that’s a sign of extremely bad management.

    I would prepare for pushback though, after working triple the workload to cover for other people for years I finally realized how badly it was affecting my mental health and started setting boundaries and telling people no. Suddenly there was whining from the folks who had come to expect me to bend over backwards to cover for them which turned into retaliation from management to keep those people happy and I eventually ended up leaving. I set boundaries from day 1 at my new job and I’m much happier.

  72. laundress*

    A couple thoughts from another late-thirties no-kids person (but actively trying to have kids which comes with its own resentments and frustrations):

    1. Can you cultivate (or deepen) professional and personal relationships with other child-free folks? I find these friends are great to spend time with because we don’t have to accommodate each other as much. We can go to a bar! or make plans that we actually stick to! Also, spending time with them will make you feel less “othered.”

    2. When a request for flexibility or extra work is difficult or unpleasant for you to accommodate, let the requester know that! If I were asking someone to reschedule a meeting, and it inconvenienced them, I would want to know – even if I still had to make the request, I’d have a better appreciation for them and their situation. Some of your friends and colleagues with children are likely so overwhelmed by their own situations that they’re not even thinking about how you’re affected – so tell them. I think this will help with the “getting taken for granted” feeling.

    3. As others have said, give yourself permission to say no sometimes. It won’t negate all the kind things you’ve done.

    Finally, I want to say: this is a rough spot to be in, and I hope it gets easier soon!

  73. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    45+ years old, vigorously childfree, had the comments of ‘but don’t you love your husband enough to give him children?’ or ‘you’ll change your mind! Never say never!’ Since I was in my early 20s. It does not get easier.

    Additionally I’ve covered a LOT of work in the last year or so for parents of children on my staff who have had to work reduced hours or call off at a moment’s notice and I was definitely getting to exhaustion levels. Dreading going to work, doing nothing but work and sleep, feeling like I couldn’t take time off because simply there wouldn’t be enough people to get the work done!

    (And I’m the boss, but I used to be a techie so I can cover the work)

    I actually posted here about it on the Friday open post and people were unanimous in telling me to take a break. Just let the plates stop spinning and if they crash on the ground it’s still better than ME crashing.

    I took 2 weeks off, with no email or phone. Didn’t think about work. Sat at home and played dragon age for hours on end. When I returned I saw that while yes, some things had just not got done, the really important stuff had been handled.

    So my advice is: give yourself a break. Take time off, don’t pick up extra work that going to send you into exhaustion/stress, let the plates stop spinning!

    Basically it’s okay to be every bit as selfish as the people who say we are for not having kids! Put yourself first.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Additionally I started using these phrases:

      “I can’t take on that task for (parent) because I don’t have the resources” (meaning I do not have the energy or time to do it)

      People who flake at the last minute and do it more than once in a while: “in future, I need to have a bit more notice than that. Additionally if this is going to be a recurring thing can you let me know so we don’t rely on you for these meetings/volunteer work/going out somewhere”

      For friends doing this, that I can’t say because I’m not friends with any parents of young children (deliberately).

      1. SnappinTerrapin*

        I had wondered how you were doing, but it seemed impertinent and intrusive to ask. Glad to hear you are feeling better.

        We all need some relief sometimes. Especially those who are relieving others.

  74. Minerva*

    Is there a manager you can talk to about some of this “last minute” stuff or the *expectation* that you are able to take work because of pandemic parenting?

    Setting boundaries is great, but it may help to have someone who is one your side who has the ability to reallocate work or see where there are issues.

    Maybe say something like “I understand that parenting in the pandemic is really hard, but I find that I am increasingly expected to cover co-worker’s, sometimes multiple co-worker’s(!) work, sometimes with last minute notice. I am sympathetic and want to be a team player, but can we get some cross-training or have assigned backups for certain tasks so no everything extra goes to me by default?”

  75. MCMonkeyBean*

    It’s rough, but I think I agree with your first sentence that right now it comes down to trying to set some boundaries and then enforcing them. It can feel hard to start saying “no” sometimes if you’ve always said “yes” in the past. But this is coming at you from all directions in all areas of your life and that’s just too much for you to take on!

    If there are certain people in particular who seem to be repeat offenders on just assuming you will pick up their slack, try telling them that you are happy to help out *on occasion* but that it’s getting to be too much. At work, if you are one of the only childless people that doesn’t mean you should be the only one picking up extra slack! Presumably your coworkers with kids don’t all have the exact same struggles at the exact same time, so they should be able to help each other out more too if that isn’t already happening. It can’t all fall to you, that’s just not sustainable. Try to start advocating for your own schedule more often–so if someone asks you to pick something up and you are already loaded up with a lot of work then just say that! “Sorry, I really don’t have room on my plate to take that on right now.” And definitely talk to your manager about it as well. Tell them you really value being seen as a team player and you are happy to help out your coworkers sometimes but that it’s starting to take up too much of your time and you need to set more boundaries so you can focus on your own work, and hopefully they can help.

    With your friends it’s probably harder and will depend a lot on your relationships. Some friends may be willing/able to try to make things work on their end on occasion if you say something like “I love coming over here and hanging with your family, but it would be nice if we could find some time for just the two of us once in a while” or something like that. But for a lot of people, it may honestly come down to you having to decide between putting in most of the effort to make the hangout happen or else not hanging out with them at all because they just can’t make it work any other way.

    1. Momma Bear*

      Agreed to talk to management. If there’s x work and y people and it’s unbalanced, maybe there needs to be another person on the team or a shuffling of tasks.

  76. T.*

    39 and child free but I have 10 nieces and nephews. My time off is just as important with my extended family as the people with kids of their own. Enforce your boundaries and make sure your boss knows that PTO and flex time needs to be equitable for all. Say no once in a while so they don’t expect you to drop your plans for them. It’s hard and I suck at it but when it’s my choice, I have less resentment.

  77. Fluffy Fish*

    You can be empathetic and still let people know when they are being rude or creating an issue for you. Cancelling last minute? “Hey I appreciate things do come up, but when you cancel last minute it creates xyz problems. Can you try to give me at least x amount of notice?

    On the personal side, I get it. I do have a child but I had her very young so when she was little my friends were all single and having the time of their life. Now she’s an adult and my friends are married and raising children. I will spend time with them with their children, but we also spend time together out without them.

    Sometimes as we go through life, our friends lifestyle becomes incompatible with ours – and that’s OK. If you occasionally want to spend time kids in tow, that’s wonderful. But it’s ok to ask for time with just your friends. And if they can’t provide it, instead of feeling like you must fit into their life all the time, consider cultivating new friendships/acquaintances. I joined a few classes met some new people. Even if it’s just chatting with people at the activity – it’s something you are mutually enjoying.

    Eventually your friends children will grow and their lifestyles will shift again.

  78. A Genuine Scientician*

    For me, a lot of it has been giving myself permission to say no sometimes, and actually hold some boundaries.

    I continue to be a lot more flexible with people who are in impossible situations than I was pre pandemic. There’s a difference in what is fair to expect of people planning out normal life logistics, and planning out once in a lifetime global pandemic logistics. These things are not the same.

    But at the same point, I *also* can’t reasonably be expected to work 70 hours every week just because I live alone. (And, you know, I’m not in Big Law or Investment Banking or another field with that type of compensation) So I’ve begun saying “I’m sorry, that doesn’t work for me, how about…?” in response to things that I could realistically do once a month but can’t be doing 2-3x / week.

    I don’t think anyone in my orbit was consciously trying to offload way too much onto me. They were just overwhelmed, and since I never objected, they thought it wasn’t a problem. A few people at work have seemed horrified when I spelled out all of the extra I was doing, because it was some each for a bunch of different people who weren’t talking to each other, so no one but me knew the full picture. Very few have continued to push when I say I don’t have the bandwidth for something, and my boss has encouraged me to take on even less than I have been.

    Your mileage may vary, but for me, there’s been a big shift in the mental framing of “I’m willing to do up to X, but no more”. I no longer feel resentful of requests up to X, and it results in actual conversations once I’ve passed X about what the larger team priorities are, so we can juggle some things. Some, because some of it just isn’t negotiable, due to the nature of the job.

    1. After 33 years ...*

      +1 million
      Your fourth paragraph summarizes my work life over the last 10 years perfectly. Your fifth is exactly what I have had to learn to do.

  79. Siege*

    OP, you sound like you’re really in touch with yourself and your needs. I’m going to echo a piece of advice, and I’m going to add something (at least as of writing).

    Be okay with saying no occasionally. It’s okay for things to not get done if you can’t do them and no one else can. In my volunteer org, I’m responsible for social media. Currently we have no social media because I just can’t. Other members of the team are dropping balls we all kept up pre-pandemic, and it’s okay. It’s not parenting for any of us, it’s burnout. It’s the inability to refresh ourselves with community or travel or movies or fine dining or whatever it is that feeds us. I love reading and I can still dive into books, but I can’t safely travel and I’m starving. If I can heal that a little by not meeting our very minimal social media needs, I’m okay with that. So be okay with letting things go, and also, take some time to feed yourself. I stepped back for a month from that volunteer gig because it’s not helping right now. I leave our meetings sad and lonely and stressed. I’ll go back in mid-May feeling recharged for this task, but right now I am an empty bucket and I need to put something in. It needs to be okay for you to do what you can and not feel responsible for covering for everyone else, whether they’re a parent or a childless burnout. You are not the Giving Tree.

    The most awful part of our pandemic response is now, when people feel like they should be back to normal and should be able to give endlessly again, and just based on statistics around masking on public transit, the majority of us can see that we aren’t back to normal. We feel it, and we’re still working around all the impossible situations people are in.

  80. Momma Bear*

    I think it’s all valid – that parents are struggling, that people dealing with aging parents are struggling, that people who are both single and married are struggling….it’s a mess.

    What I would suggest to OP is to give themselves permission to not flex if they don’t always want to. You can bend over backwards, but you shouldn’t always do so. If a Friday afternoon meeting does not really work, then suggest another time. If a project needs to go forward and you can’t get all the parties, tell the people who need to attend their kid’s soccer game that you’ll take meeting minutes. There’s ways to both be accommodating and understanding and not burn yourself out. Your time, energy, and mental health is also valuable, OP. Maybe people will grumble, but let them. So long as the work is getting done and you’re professional it’s not your problem to manage things for them so they don’t have to feel the pinch. I took off for my kid’s Spring Break (as did half the company, it seemed). I logged into work exactly once. I did my timesheet. I answered one email. I shut down. The office did not catch fire. It is OK to have boundaries. It’s also OK to do things like never make a meeting after 3PM for a team where three people have to rush out to get their kids from daycare. Or delegate if you’ve already taken one additional thing this week. It’s all about balance.

  81. CASH ASH*

    My only advice is to try not to take on everything.
    Move meetings to the morning? Yes. Cover an afternoon meeting instead of moving it? No.
    Pick up extra work? Sure, not every day.
    NO is an answer. You don’t need a qualifier. If you need a qualifier try “I am unable to commit to adding more to my plate just now. Can you discuss ith X (whoever their supervisor is.)
    Also, don’t be afraid to take time off!

  82. kittybutton*

    It sounds like people expect you to do this because you do it! Especially within your personal life, they might even believe you prefer it. For example, the fact that you always offer to go to friends’ houses may read as your preference (I personally find it much easier to host, but I have friends who would much prefer to come to me). Or with regards to the early meetings, are you sure they know you are accommodating them or could they think you are just a morning person?

    I could be off base and it could be abundantly clear that you are doing these things to accommodate them, but the fact that it seems expected makes me think they do not. Either way, my recommendation is to think about what you actually want to do and voice it/act on it. Your friends who are parents can come to you. If you do not wish to work around another person’s work schedule, you can allow a meeting to slip or allow someone else to work equally hard as you to make a time work. You don’t always have to be the one to sacrifice. You may even find that you had been assuming preferences of your friends/coworkers that were incorrect.

    As far as bending over backwards, you seem really clear on what feels fair to you. You mentioned that when someone is taking parental leave, of course you are happy to step up and manage their work while they are out. But if someone just flakes on you, you can let the ball drop. You don’t have to be the one to pick it up. Allison often talks about allowing colleagues to experience the consequences of their actions.

    For context, I am a parent of a pandemic baby so I understand and relate to the parenting challenges. I appreciate when colleagues are understanding if something like an unexpected quarantine closes daycare and I suddenly cannot attend a meeting in person and need to balance work with caring for my infant. This respect and support should go both ways, and parents should appreciate colleagues who are willing to step up for them and be willing to reciprocate.

    1. Colette*

      To build on your first point, it’s important to remember that “I’m doing something because I feel like I have to even though I really need a break” and “I’m doing something that I’m happy to do” often look the same from the outside. And then you get more resentful and blow up, and the other person is shocked because you never mentioned that it was a problem.

      Trust those around you to understand you have limits, and communicate what those limits are.

  83. Nanani*

    Ultimately, this is not a problem you can solve individually.
    There is no point in assigning blame and guilt because this isn’t a problem of compassion or of weighing whose non-work obligations matter more – it’s a problem of staffing and management. Neither of which you can solve (unless you’re higher up than the letter makes it seem)

    The management needs to do things like hire more staff so everyone – not just parents, everyone – can have a humane schedule with room in it to take time off for emergencies (whether kid related or note) AND avoid having it blow up the workflow for everyone else.
    The management needs to put in the work of scheduling with redundancy, cross-training, not promising the impossible to outside clients, whatever is applicable.
    And then of course there’s the wider societal sphere of problems and impossible expectations, but that’s a ramble of its own.

    Point is, compassion is great but it’s not the solution, because peers can’t solve a higher-up problem.

  84. Alexis Rosay*

    OP, I think it might be worth setting some boundaries for yourself and being clear on what you are willing to do. For example, “I can take on last-minute tasks, but not if I would have to miss out on time with my partner” or “I’ll take responsibility for late afternoon meetings, but not after 5pm”. The same can go for social stuff–for example, I’ve realized that I’m happy to do park/playground visits with my friends and their kids because I genuinely enjoy that, but I don’t enjoy being at restaurants with kids below a certain age, so I’m not going to agree to that any more.

  85. Former Retail Manager*

    My comment is geared more toward the personal aspects of your question, such as friendships with people who have children and those parenting demands sound like they’re taking a toll on your friendships. I’ve been in this scenario, but in the opposite role….I had my child very young (18) and surprise! none of my friends at the time had kids. Guess what….those friendships really didn’t endure, except for my best friend. All the others scattered like cockroaches. And I understood, both then and now, that it can be very challenging to be friends with people who are in different phases of life. It’s the reason that most mothers of young children hang out with other mothers of young children…they have things in common, they keep similar schedules, they have the same challenges in their lives generally speaking. Also why most single people are friends with other single people.

    For the personal friendships, I’d say take some time away, that vacation you mentioned, come back refreshed, and also step back a bit when you return. If you’re the one to always reach out, don’t. See if they reach out to try and schedule time to hang out. If the only way that you can spend time with your friend is with their child present, and that isn’t your preference, then you have to decide if you care about the friendship that much. And if some of these friendships don’t endure, just recognize that your lifestyles don’t align and that’s okay. Maybe when their children are older, you will reconnect and they’ll have a different perspective.

    And in any situation, work or personal, there should be give and take with both parties, and if you’re not getting that from the other parties, and you’re the one always giving, then I think it’s time to step back where you can or create some clear boundaries so you don’t feel taken advantage of.

  86. LondonLights*

    LW – have been in the same situation myself (e.g. being the person selected to work late / at weekends to finish projects when colleagues who are parents got to leave at 5pm). Your right to your life outside work is the same as anyone else’s, and while I admire that you’re flexible perhaps give yourself a set number of ‘flex’ times in a month when you say yes, after which you say no. If you work out the ‘saying no’ thing do let the rest of us know – that’s definitely not easy!

  87. Louise*

    First off, yes, I think you should take a vacation. You’ve just done two years in a pandemic – that’s hard! You’d probably benefit from a break. Second, I can think of two ways to approach the volunteering and work situations, depending on how much brain space you have to devote (and you could mix and match). First idea is to lobby for more staff at work and a volunteering leave of absence so parents can stay connected but the organization isn’t currently relying on them. However, that takes work and convincing people, which you understandably may not be up for right now. So my second idea is to write out (by hand, on paper you could tape to your desk or other prominent spot), what you’d like your boundaries to be. No meetings before 8 or after 5? Only one oddly timed meeting per week? Working no more than X hours? Is there a point where you’d prefer to take a break from volunteering? Writing these down and putting them where you can see them may help with the saying yes to a lot of things that feel small in the moment but have added up to a pretty big burden. Role playing how to say no in different situations (ie to coworkers vs boss) may help you feel more comfortable, as well as rehearsing saying to your boss “I have XYZ which will take A hours and I only have B hours this week – would you like me to push off X, Y, or Z.” I’ve found that line takes a lot of rehearsing but it has worked for me. Good luck, I really hope some of the suggestions here can help.

  88. Not That Kind of Lawyer*

    I am in the same situation as you. Friends, family, and coworkers all have kids and commitments. I, as the “fun auntie,” am expected to just roll with it. As soon as I started feeling resentful, I made three important changes:
    1. I got very comfortable with saying “no.” This was hard because I do love my family and those kids, and I do want to help out my coworkers, but things were just hard on me. The first few times I said no, I peppered them with apologies and excuses. This sometimes just gave the askers permissions to push back or cajole. So I changed my “no” to “I’m sorry, that won’t work for me. Maybe next time.” Yes, there was still some push back (mainly from family), but the new phrasing implies I have other plans already and most people will not suggest you change plans for them.
    2. I started actually making plans. I am a homebody, but I forced myself to go do stuff. Even if it was to just walk in the park, or pick up the groceries I missed. I also, went to events I figured I would enjoy. Not going to lie, sometimes my plans are a comfy blanket and a movie I have seen a million times, but they are plans that I want to stick with.
    3. The hardest thing was expressing myself. For example, when plans were changed last minute, I accepted gracefully, but the next time plans were made, I would be honest and say something like, “You cancelled on me too last minute last time. If you do it again, you’ll have to pay me what I’m out (said in a joking tone because I would never expect payment, but making clear my time has value). When someone wants to bring their kid, and I really just need my friend or just want adult time, being honest that I need adult one-on-one time and being willing to just pass on plans if that’s not possible. Also, putting the ball in their court, i.e.: “It sounds like you have a lot going on. Call me at a time that works better for you.”

    Doing these things will feel mean and selfish at first. Eventually, I saw that I do not have to sacrifice myself just because I do not have kids. Also, I did not lose the love and respect of those who are important to me. I still see and spend time with family and friends. I am still happy to help out when I can at work. I still get to be the fun auntie, but now I do not feel OBLIGATED to cater to their lives. Bonus – fewer last-minute babysitting requests because, people no longer assume I am just available.

    1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      This is all good stuff. I do have kids but have had some people-pleaser tendencies that I’ve learned to undo to some extent, and a couple things I’ll add. Saying no may feel really forced and artificial at first–do it anyway, even if it IS artificial because you don’t have a huge “reason” to say no. Also, something I found was once I felt that I could say no to certain things, it really freed me from resentment for a lot of situations. SO things I would have kind of second guessed myself about and felt resentful or weird about, I would say yes and it would be fine because I knew I could say no.

    2. Environmental Compliance*


      Making these changes is hard – I still struggle with 1 & 3! But it gets easier with practice, and easier as those around you learn where the boundaries are. It’s always rough when you start drawing out those lines, but it’s much better to have that rough patch at the start than to fall off the burnout cliff at the end.

  89. Single Mom*

    For your close friends, it might be worth having a conversation with them about it. “Hey, I know that you can’t change this, and I genuinely am happy to do x, y, and z, but sometimes I feel a little taken advantage of. I feel like my problems/life aren’t important. I know that kids are a huge responsibility, and I don’t want to diminish that and I know I can’t and shouldn’t change that–but sometimes, when I go out of my way to be accommodating a “thank you” would be nice.” I’m a single mom, and I genuinely appreciate my friends who still show up for me. I’m not sure that I thank them enough, though. Sometimes, I feel like my resentment can be calmed with a little bit of expression and acknowledgement–might be worth a shot?

    1. desigirl412*

      hell no – they’d just say “of course your life is unimportant you barren witch”!!

      1. Cedrus Libani*

        If so, that’s great! It would mean OP never has to help that person ever again.

        The core of my personal morality is this: I reflect back what I’m given. If our situations were reversed, how would you treat me? That’s how I will treat you. I will err on the side of grace, stuff happens and also maybe I don’t know the full story, but I’m nobody’s sucker. If it becomes clear to me that somebody’s not here for a reciprocal, “I’ll watch your back and you’ll watch mine” sort of relationship, but instead is here to take whatever they can get, they’re not getting anything from me. Not rude, just fair; I’m not getting anything from them either, so we’re even.

      2. OP*

        From this and your comment below, it sounds like you’ve gotten some of the same, “oh, WoC? You’re expected to serve and reproduce!” that I have.

        I’m also a BIPOC woman and have really had to get clear with myself that despite the fact that my family’s messaging to me that I existed only to serve them and make them look good, or broader social messaging that that I’m just there to be productive, I’m an actual full real person.

        So – in case you need to hear it, your time, emotions, needs, dreams, comfort are just as valid as anyone else’s. They’re no less valid than a person who is a Mom. They’re no less valid than a White man. They’re no less valid than Karen’s. There no less valid than mine. You are a person who deserves the same consideration as anyone else on this planet, no less, no matter how people treat you or what they may imply about your worth.

        The explicit or implicit message that you’re less – less important, less valid, less worthy – is simply not true, no matter how many times it gets repeated.

  90. Just Your Everyday Crone*

    I have a guideline for myself that when I feel resentful, it means I made a wrong decision, somewhere said yes or took on something where I should have said no or delegated. Reading your letter, I wonder if it’s difficult because you don’t mind any one thing, but you mind all the things. So, I’d suggest looking at where you may have limits that you’re ignoring and start honoring them. You don’t have to be constantly flexible just because you can. Re the volunteer issue, I think that’s somewhat inherent to volunteer work, and not just parents, but I think it’s fair to politely tell the person they inconvenienced you and ask for more notice.

  91. desigirl412*

    “A repeat of that request for empathy for parents and an appreciation that many are in an impossible situation. Comments outside that spirit will be removed. Thank you.”

    A a great fan of yours and with all due respect, what about empathy for single people (especially single childless woman who are ostracized by society faaaaaaar more than single childless men)?

    In my former workplace Single men push (especially single white men) push back aggressively against any attempts by parents to dump work on them and so it often ends dumped on the desk of women of color like me who were considered in oh so many ways as the bottom of that company’s caste system, and the corporate Mammy there to absorb all of the sh*t work that others don’t want to do.

    Last Halloween, I was aggressively bullied by a work Karen to stay late and finish her work so that she could go home and finish sewing her kids’ Halloween outfits and make organic, dairy-free, gluten-free, GMO-free (you get the point!) candy from scratch to hand out to the kids in their neighborhood. I tried to push back, explaining that I had to get on a flight to go to my mother’s aunt’s funeral (she is one of the few members of our extended family here in the USA). Halloween Karen, snorted at me an snapped that “a great aunt is not real family”????

    Luckily, I had already started looking for another job and received a great offer the week after Halloween. I strategically waited the week before Thanksgiving (when business heated up at that company), the day before Karen was expected to migrate to the Bahamas with her whole brood for the next 10 days to resign, effective immediately.

    My boss looked like he swallowed his tongue, and the first words out of his mouth was “this is about missing your great aunt’s funeral – right??” I just shrugged and smiled, and Karen had a taste of her own medicine by having to forgo an important family event.

      1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

        OK, that was abrupt, sorry. Yes, absolutely, child-free folks do deserve empathy and do get a bunch of garbage, but as you point out, a lot of this is more about gender (and race) than about parents vs non-parents. Everyone deserves empathy.

        1. desigirl412*

          I agree with you – it is also an issue of companies not having enough people in their organization to pick up the slack when someone is out for an afternoon.

    1. StellaBella*

      Ohh, ouch. Too bad your manager did not step up so you could go to the funeral. That seems to be what a good manager would have done, while pushing back on the bullying colleague too. I am so sorry. I hope you are in a better work place now.

    2. CommanderBanana*

      Good. I wish I could have been there to see it.

      You bring up a good point. WHO is the extra work getting shoved onto? It often isn’t the white guys.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Empathy for both parents and non-parents is important. What I won’t allow here is hostility toward parents as a class (as sometimes happens when this topic comes up). The problem is employers and our societal lack of structures to support child-rearing, not parents themselves.

    4. Olivia*

      I totally agree. It’s totally acceptable for parents to complain about all of their pandemic problems, but childfree people can’t say a cross word about how the pandemic problems of parents become the problems of childfree people. This applies to the office as well as personal relationships.

      If parents can’t do their job the same way they used to, the answer is to address that with management, not shove your work off to someone without kids. I’m very tired of the narrative that this pandemic has only/disproportionately affected parents, and childfree people must extend parents unlimited grace, going on year 3 of a pandemic.

      I agree wholeheartedly with your other points about this extra work being disproportionately shoved onto women and POC. (Since women are all future mothers, of COURSE they should understand and “help”!)

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        There’s no rule here against childfree people discussing how the pandemic problems of parents become the problems of childfree people or suggesting childcare people can’t give unlimited grace. In fact, I’m not sure how you got that since that’s what this post is entirely about.

        What the rule bans is hostile comments or a total lack empathy for other people’s situations (like blaming parents for their own situations because they chose to have kids in the first place or using pejorative language to refer to children — both of which have been problems when this topic has been discussed here in the past.).

  92. A Little Bit Alexis*

    I am a later in life parent of very young kids so I’ve felt this from both sides. What I will say is you sound like a wonderful, helpful colleague and friend. From the colleague side it’s very nice of you to be flexible when you can/want to be – and when you can’t/don’t feel no guilt. That can be something parents work on with their own managers and family support since you’re not responsible for everything. As for the friend thing, I truly didn’t understand how hectic/tedious/frustrating it can be to make plans with small children. While of course there should be a balance in friendships, in reality, at this point in my life, if my friends didn’t accommodate my schedule I would almost never see them. It’s a really, really unfair set-up; I can do their first choice time/activity like 10% of the time and I’ve lost friends because of it and I don’t begrudge them. I do know it’s a season and I’ll be able to move back to a more equitable balance once the napping/etc is over, but I can imagine how annoying it must be. I think you should take a nice vacation since you sound like you’ve been a support for many people for quite some time and that’s a heavy thing to do. And when you come back adjust your expectations and effort to support yourself.

  93. Purple Cat*

    Kudos to LW for clearly identifying her issues and being so well-spoken about them.
    For most of them LW needs to be able to recruit other people in her organizations to back-up and support her. There’s no excuse for volunteers to no-show last minute. A reminder that the organization needs XX lead time would help there. But LW also needs to find someone else who’s not her who is responsible for covering the slack.

    Same in the workplace. It’s not the fault of working parents that’s causing the imbalance, it’s management that’s allowing it to happen. So a little more structure of LW knowing when she can and can’t flex and working with management for alternate solutions is the only thing that’s going to work.

    LW needs to take to take to heart the maxim that working parents are forced to learn quickly – you have to fight and guard your own personal time. Everybody is willing to take a mile when you give them an inch.

  94. BookMom*

    Regarding the volunteers and maybe also work…. Having a “backup” person preassigned for most responsibilities in advance can be helpful. We do this in my work team.
    Also when I had small kids and was on volunteer groups of people who also had small kids, we did a lot of “co-chair” or paired roles so that if one person couldn’t make it last minute, other(s) were already prepared to step up.
    Stuff’s going to come up .. illness, babysitter cancellations, vacations, whatever, so heading off the last minute emergency sub needs can help. Save the emergency red alerts for actual emergencies.

  95. Hunnybee*

    I’ve been single, living alone since the pandemic started, and like the OP I have no kids. I’ve gone out of my way to be supportive to my colleagues with kids but in no way have had reciprocity. Recently, my PM hit the roof because I was going to be online 30 minutes late one morning (no projects at the time being). I needed to bring my car to the mechanic for a rusted tie-rod; I had nobody pick me up so I would have had to walk home after dropping off the car — hence, 30 minute late start. The PM completely lost it when I told him I would be online late and ranted to the point that I ended up cancelling the appointment and taking a personal day to bring my car in another time. He was actually so upset that I had planned to start my day 30 minutes late that he told my MANAGER about this, even after I cancelled the appointment. And, he told me that he told my manager.

    Every day — once or twice a day — this man takes time off his day for kid-related errands or family necessities. Every single day. I just needed flexibility one morning, for 30 minutes, on a day that impacted nothing in my work.

    It’s really hard for me to continue to feel like being helpful when the empathy and flexibility and understanding that I’m expected to automatically give my colleagues with parents is in no way, ever, remotely reciprocated. Sorry, but there has to be some degree of mutual respect.

    1. gmg22*

      I would have hoped that your manager’s response to the PM was essentially to shove it and that you are due the same flexibility within reason as any other employee — but unfortunately it doesn’t sound like that’s what happened.

      1. After 33 years ...*

        Unfortunately, common courtesy isn’t always common. Hunnybee, hugs and good karma to you!

      2. Hunnybee*

        Ha, no, gmg22, that isn’t what happened at all…..but that’s a whole other gruesome and off-topic story. : )

    2. bryeny*

      Wow, your PM is a huge jerk. I wonder what he thinks is the difference between his daily breaks and your one-time tie-rod appointment. Might be interesting to talk it over with him — or with HIS boss. :) In any case I hope your manager rolled her eyes and told him to stop being such a putz.

      1. Hunnybee*

        Yes, and thank you. So, his boss is also my boss, and it turned into a nasty sort of thing which I never would have expected, not at this point in my career. The whole ordeal made me re-evaluate my interest in staying on the team. Which, tbh, tomorrow is my last day.

    3. AntsOnMyTable*

      Yep, it is about both sides being flexible. This isn’t a parent/non-parent thing but at my mom’s job she will often switch shifts and help people out even if it impacts plans she already has. And yet the, maybe one time a year, that she needs someone to switch shifts with her it is nothing but crickets.

      Yes, be willing to help out these parents in the moments that they need flexibility. But that should mean they then plan to stay a day late another time or cover a meeting for you. When you step up they should know they need to plan it in their schedule that they then take something off of your plate.

  96. StellaBella*

    I am a childfree woman in early 50s. In my 30s I was in your situation (sans pandemonium of a pandemic) and where I worked – many of our team were parents and needed time off for chicken pox, flu, measles, etc for the kids. I had an amazing manager who enforced boundaries and granted many of us without kids extra perks after long slogs like working 21 days straight due to security testing pushes or shipping pushes etc (this was software). While everyone was treated fairly, those that did do the majority of the work were noticed (in annual reviews, and with little things like a lunch bought here and there etc). Some parents were right there along us childfree folks (many of whom are divorced/remarried now, sadly). All I can say is work with your manager, enforce your boundaries, be kind to all of your colleagues (who deserve it of course!), and know that there are tons of women and men out there like you who love life as a childfree person or couple. As for people who badger you on having kids, you can be direct and say, “That’s a rather personal question, don’t you think? Anyway, how’s your job/vacation plan/kid feeling/new dog?” I was always blunt and said that there were too many people already and I did not need to contribute, and that I liked my sleep, but that may be too direct for your situation. Good luck!

    1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      I am sure you didn’t mean it badly, but it’s not necessarily sad that someone is divorced and definitely not sad that someone is remarried.

      1. StellaBella*

        oh yes, sorry – I meant that because of the crazy workloads, a few folks did get divorced – that was sad because of the toll on their lives (divorces are not easy). I did not mean this badly, sorry it was worded awkwardly!

  97. Jean*

    I empathize. I’m in my 50s now, but when I was OP’s age and all of my friends were parenting, this happened a lot. Or the friend would say, I can meet from 11:30 to noon on Saturday, and then show up late and with child(ren) in tow (often because they literally had no other choice due to their co-parent being….not great). I would resent it because that time slot meant that I would lose ‘my’ day off. I had to do some self-reflection and figure out what my boundaries were and what was right for me. Often, I would just say, ‘sorry, that doesn’t work for me, we’ll have to try again another time’. And stick to it. I did lose touch with some friends, sometimes temporarily, and we reconnected once their situation and mine changed to make the meshing of needs easier.

    Oh, and it happened at work ALL the time. e.g. you get this crappy project that requires working endless evenings and weekends because we can’t give it to Jean because they have children. (I didn’t want children, but I had other friends who DID want children and couldn’t have them, and they were hit with the double whammy.) Then being judged if you said no. I was hoping that things had improved in the last 30 years, but….

    But I do think this is something that you have to figure out the boundaries for yourself. And it might differ for each particular friend/colleague and at different times depending on what is going on for YOU. Don’t feel guilty. You are absolutely entitled to figure out what works for you.

  98. Kathy Hosvlo*

    The word that kept popping up in my head as I read your letter was boundaries. My most effective mantra is: Kindness is born from Compassion and nurtured by Boundaries. You are obviously a compassionate person and others have benefitted from the kindness that comes from that but achieving balance is critical. You have to look out for yourself, too. If you are unable to cover for someone (or don’t want to) – don’t do it. If you continue to encounter people who take advantage of you and then try to justify it by using their parent status as an excuse, stop doing things for them. I have been a working parent for many years and can tell you with total confidence that being a parent is not an excuse to take advantage of others who may have more to give. I didn’t lose my manners and common decency when I gave birth. I can’t imagine expecting more from someone than I am willing to give just because that person is childless and I am not. You deserve kindness and compassion, too. Spend more time with people who understand that.

  99. Keyboard Jockey*

    I see a lot of folks that are recommending saying “no” and setting boundaries. As someone who really struggles with this, what I’ve found incredibly useful is to come up with a rubric for myself for how and when to say no to things. For me, that looks like: I can’t take on last-minute responsibilities, I need at least an hour’s heads-up if I have to step in to represent someone else’s work, I am unreachable before 9 and after 5. The truth is that none of these are fast and firm, but they are what I communicate to my coworkers, which allows me to make the exceptions *I* want to make. Sometimes enforcing them looks like seeing a Slack message at 7pm my time and choosing to un-see it until the morning, at which point I apologize and reiterate that I’m not available past 5. But having those situations I will say no to predefined makes it so much easier in the moment to have a script to stick to!

  100. LMB*

    I had my child in my 40s, so I know exactly how this person feels. The world is a strange place for a person in their late 30s who isn’t a parent. My direct manager at the time was my age and had kids and he would make comments all the time like you can’t go out with friends when you have kids, you don’t have weekends when you have kids, everything is so expensive when you have kids. Eventually I said, “you had kids in your early 30s so it seems like the reason for this is the kids, but all this happens as you get older anyway, my life is not much different than yours. It’s not because you have kids, it’s because you’re 40.” In any case…it is a hard/weird position to be in. I would do my best to remember that in any adult workspace people have lives that complicate work whether they have kid or not. You might be taking one for the team now but one day your colleagues will hopefully do the same for you when you need them. And there will come a time when you do for illness or caring for elders or grieving or whatever. If the culture is kind enough, it eventually all comes out in the wash. The other thing is that your colleagues may resent YOU because you are able to take on work opportunities that they can’t. I know this is a volunteer situation, but with paid work I can say from experience when you are on maternity leave or daycare is closed AGAIN, it’s not fun thinking about how your childfree colleague is getting a bigger piece of the bonus pie as a result. Again, it all comes out in the wash. And you CAN say no. Help out to a reasonable degree but you don’t have to do everything.
    I will also add that most of the time you can’t call out in advance when there is a daycare closure or a sick kid or whatever. I don’t know if there is a way to avoid that part of it.

  101. Bunny Girl*

    I will echo what a lot of other people have said – Boundaries. Start saying no. Start saying no even if you have no reason other than you just don’t really want to. And start expressing how you feel in an open honest way if you think there can be some changes. Again, don’t focus on them being parents. Focus on them doing things that are inconsiderate. Say “Hey, I totally get schedules change, but would you mind alerting me as soon as possible if you can’t make a meeting? It helps me to keep my day moving.” But the biggest thing is stop picking up so much slack. It’s your company’s responsibility to get these tasks covered. If you can help out, fine. If you don’t have the emotional space for it? Don’t.

  102. cactus lady*

    Also childless in my late 30s here. I don’t know that there is a good answer here, but something that has helped me make good boundaries on this front has been having good work/life boundaries in general. For me that has been making it very clear that when I’m off, I’m off, and I’m DOING THINGS and not sitting around checking my email. I think that there’s this narrative that people buy into that if you’re not raising kids you must not have anything better to do than work (there was a really good article on this recently, I wish I could remember where), and I have tried to make it very clear to everyone that I care about my job and want to do it well, but work is just one of many things I do. I have a lot of hobbies, an active social life, I traveled a lot pre-covid (and hopefully again soon). Do you need me on a long weekend at the last minute? Sorry, I was backpacking in Montana and didn’t get your message until Monday morning. Hopefully you found someone else to take care of it. This is a bigger systemic problem that is not yours personally to solve.

  103. ThoughtfulCarrot*

    Boundaries! You need them! Parents have built-in boundaries (“I can’t do x, I don’t have childcare”) so you need to start creating some. No need to list an excuse or a rationale. Just “sorry, I can’t.” And leave it at that. If you feel icky about it, consider the alternative — constantly bending over backward and building up resentment, as you are currently experiencing.

    If you start setting boundaries and receiving unfair pushback — either formally, or informally (i.e. negative reactions from people), I think it might be time to consider whether this is an organization that is truly sustainable for you. It’s ok to appreciate what an organization does without feeling like it’s a good fit for you personally. The job market is great right now. Go take your talents elsewhere if you need to, to a place that values your time and sustainability the way they ought to.

  104. HugsAreNotTolerated*

    Talk to your friends! Friendship is a two-way street. You sound like a lovely person, so I hope that you have friends who are also lovely people. Don’t you think your friends would want to know that you’re feeling this way? They can’t fix it or make an effort to change if they don’t know that something is wrong. In my case, when I gently broached this topic with my friend group most of them thanked me for telling them, saying that they knew that had to be hard to bring up. Then we talked about how we could change things up a bit to make the relationship more equitable. Honestly one mom was thrilled because she always brought the baby and was starting to feel like we only invited her so that we could see the baby. Being told that sometimes we’d rather just have it be adults was both a relief and affirming for her that she could be Sally, and not Tabitha’s mom Sally.

    I don’t have any suggestions for work or volunteering that haven’t already been said, but all I can say is talk to your friends. It’s not selfish to ask for the things you need in a friendship. If anything it makes them stronger.

  105. Sharon*

    It sounds to me like you may be proactively taking on other people’s problems. Try limiting your accommodations to when they are asked for. Don’t volunteer for an out-of-work hours meeting. If your friends want to get together, why don’t they invite you to share in their family dinner? Presumably they would feed themselves and their kids whether or not you showed up.

    Also, don’t assume you have less on your plate than anybody else. One of the things about being single is that there is nobody else to take on certain things that need to be done. Nobody but you is gonna make dinner, do your taxes, mow the lawn, get the car serviced, let the dog out, meet the repair guy, go grocery shopping, or do 1000 other tasks of life that people who live with partners can divide and conquer.

  106. ibis*

    I’m also childless and I agree that setting boundaries is good, but it’s also hard, because I am *terrible* at saying no to things. So here’s a hack that might help: Schedule things.

    These can be “real” things — like hobby groups or taking a class at night — or things that are “real” but also flexible — like a scheduled call with a family member. Or they can be things you just want to do for yourself, like “I’m going to do chores between 7 and 8 on Tuesday and Thursday”, or they can be totally made up and you just tell people you’re going to start having commitments at night from now on, and in your head you’re scheduling it as “me time”. But I find it helps to make them really specific times, like to book myself out for this number of hours at this time on these days of the week, and I’m unavailable because I have something going on, and I can tell people it’s an appointment or a class or etc (usually it actually is, but I find it so helpful to say that I fully endorse using this even if you’re not as busy as I am but need to make time for yourself — people don’t have to know that the appointment is with a bath and a good book).

    This helps me say no, because it provides a built-in excuse. And it helps people accept that no. And some of these things are flexible, so if there’s a true emergency I can “rearrange my schedule” — quotes because that’s what I say, not because it’s fake; I really am usually rearranging my schedule — and even though I never guilt-trip people about it and say it cheerfully, the fact that they’re aware I’m rearranging things to have to accommodate puts it in the context for them that they know this is inconvenient for me, which I find helps the social aspect because they’re grateful and mindful about doing it often (as is good! as people should be even if it they didn’t perceive themselves as inconveniencing me!). And then, because my time feels more valued, I don’t get resentful.

    So that’s something that hugely helps me. Adapt as is useful!

    1. Hunnybee*

      It’s really great advice! Having a plan in place makes boundaries so much easier when your inclination is to want to genuinely help. Thanks for the post.

    2. Person from the Resume*

      This is great advice! I basically do this and tried to describe it, but you explained it much better.

  107. Delphine*

    A lot of the resentment comes from (at least in my experience) the feeling/understanding that this kind of accomdating behavior isn’t reciprocal. If you have a non-child related conflict in your work schedule (let’s say you have to take a parent to a doctor’s appointment), there are no coworkers standing on the sidelines ready to take on your work or reschedule your meetings.

  108. The Original Stellaaaaa*

    People tend to make presumptions of your time and workload because the default assumption is that everyone gets their “turn” someday…and there’s no social code for how to operate within that system when you know that the consideration and resources will never flow the other way.

    I think it would be reasonable to say, “I’ve been generous for the past two years with little return and I’m starting to need some consideration to start flowing back in my direction. Is there anyone else who can take on X task?” And maybe ask people to consider why you’re always the default backup. I’d bet that they’ve never really thought it through in a critical way.

  109. Elliot*

    Your empathy is amazing, and I applaud you for keeping it through what is understandably a frustrating situation!

    I think one thing that’s helped me (also young and child-less) is to set boundaries around my time, just like people with children do. That doesn’t mean I’m inflexible – I also will take on a late meeting with enough notice, or meet at a time when someone has childcare, etc. But I also block off things I want and need to do for myself, and I stick to that calendar time. So if I was going to drink wine, eat takeout, and watch TV…. then “Sorry, I am busy at that time” is enough of a response when I’m asked to pick up slack. I think this also helps push problems that are above my paygrade to where they belong. It is not your job to make sure someone else’s work gets done – it’s on your company.

    As for cancellations, I’d just address it with frequent culprits using the same empathy you have here. “Wow, I can’t imagine how hard it is to be a parent and try to keep up with these commitments during this crazy time – would you like to take a year off of your duties on this volunteer committee? We love having you, but also need someone who can make these meetings, and I don’t want you worrying about trying to do everything when even finding childcare is a struggle!”

  110. anonarama*

    I have a small child but am also an old parent, so saw the other side of this (albeit pre-pandemic). I’d just like to echo saying no to what you can, bringing up repeated issues with management (“we’ve been without an evening volunteer coordinator for 6 months now and I’ve been filling in as available but that no longer works manager”), and make sure not to volunteer to cover if you don’t want to. I recently had a bummer of an interaction with a team member who, from her perspective, volunteered to take something off my plate because I’m an overwhelmed parent and was kind of resentful. From my perspective, public facing work I was fully capable of doing and had planned was taken from me for no good reason and was resentful. Don’t solve people’s problems for them without their input as to what their problem actually is

    1. Working Hypothesis*

      Did you tell them, “Actually, I really want that piece of work; I’ve been looking forward to it?” I agree that nobody should be yoinking stuff away from parents without making sure that’s actually what the parents are after, but in my experience, blunt communication usually solves this one.

  111. AdequateArchaeologist*

    Childless by choice here, but I don’t think that it’s unreasonable to hold parents to the same communication standards. If someone can’t come to their shift/event/etc, it’s common courtesy to send a text/call ahead/smoke signals/carrier pigeon. Especially with the amount of technology and ease of connection in this day and age. I understand if there’s a legit emergency that it might be harder. But just “oh, I’m parenting” as a reason for no heads-up is not cool.

  112. Savory creampuff*

    I encounter this frequently in the non-work context, so let me offer one thing that has helped me.

    Basically, I’ve found ways to build in flexibility when making plans with friends with young kids in ways that don’t leave me resentful. Sometimes, this means leaving things very last minute – planting myself in the right neighborhood, checking if it’s a good day/time to come by, and if it isn’t, continuing with my own plans. Or, if possible, having a larger range of time for a meet up that can account for nap times not lining up etc. Sometimes, this means making plans in a small group, where at least one other person can reliably show up, so that if there are cancellations, the whole thing isn’t shot. This is obviously more difficult during Covid, but still adaptable to many situations.

    Also, I’ve found one place where I’ve grown resentful is that I’m always the one reaching out, trying to make the plans. It’s a mental lift that can make friendships feel one-way when you’re always the one doing it. If this resonates, give yourself permission to take a break from that. And with people you’re closer with, consider having a conversation about that burden. I found having it acknowledged eased the burden and guilt a lot.

  113. Really?*

    “Parenting” is often “mothering” and the abysmal support provided to parents in the workplace reflects the lack of support by the government and society as a whole to women in particular.

    Parents do not want anybody to feel taken advantage of and likely would be happy to pick up slack whenever they can for non-parent coworkers. Don’t be afraid to ask them!

    My years as a single mother dealing with inflexible policies and unsympathetic coworkers was stressful beyond belief. Just make sure that the parents are truly affecting you and not that you just don’t like that they may do things differently than you. I experienced this and it was just awful. I didn’t have a child AT anybody.

  114. animaniactoo*

    LW, I think that a large chunk of this is recognizing that you also have needs that are fixed and need to flex sometimes. And a lot of that is the energy you have to take on any additional tasks. Physical energy, mental energy, and so on.

    I think part of managing the resentment is an awareness that yes – somebody needs to handle this – but it can’t be you. You already have X, Y, and Z on your pile. You’ve already taken on 5 extra tasks. Your flex room is full, it has no more flex in it. Sorry, yes, something is going to possibly go undone. And that is not your fault. It’s not the fault of the working parents either. But it definitely is not YOURS if you don’t pick up the slack that they don’t have. It is the fault of our system and even all the companies that have bought in to the idea of having exactly the amount of people you need to handle the workflow when everybody is there.

    In an extended period of time when things are all in flux all the time – it’s okay to defend your inability to take on more than you realistically can take on and make it the company’s problem to figure out how else to get that thing done.

  115. Lacey*

    I think the answer is different for colleagues vs. friends.

    For my colleagues I am happy to pick up some slack during work hours – just as I would for a coworker who had a medical condition that could cause unpredictable absences, but it’s up to our employer to make sure there’s proper coverage so if it’s too much – I’m bringing that up with my manager and explaining that it’s unsustainable and that we need to figure out a solution.

    It sounds like the OP is one person picking up the slack for several people. That’s just not realistic in the long term.

    With my friends – I try to be very chill about last minute cancellations due to children being sick or throwing a fit or the sitter canceling. It’s a disappointment to my friend as well! It sucks for both of us, but there’s no helping it.
    But, my friends with kids are also very good about making time for us to hang out as just adults or to meet me halfway in doing something that will be both enjoyable for us and keep their kids busy, so I think that makes it much easier to be understanding when things sometimes just fall apart.

    1. SansaStark*

      I think your point about your friends being disappointed to have to cancel is really good. The people that cancel willy-nilly (parents or not) are not people that I will make 1:1 plans with. We can hang out in a group setting, but I have people that I won’t base my plans around bc they tend to flake and then that cuts into the time that I could have been doing something else. Having friends that you can actually talk about this with is important – people who understand that you need adult time and balance that with the times that they need to do something with the kiddo.

  116. Really?*

    Oh, and insofar as advice for the OP, don’t do anything you don’t want to do. Truly, if it leads to resentment you would be better off not doing it. I appreciate that you wrote in and seem to be a good friend and coworker.

  117. Lizzy Lou*

    The way I handle any underlying resentment about this is to remind myself that I too will probably need flexibility at some time in my life. If my parents get sick. If I get sick. If I get a dog. If I burn out. The trick is to find an employer who values everyone’s work life balance no matter what that might look like. And then to give yourself permission to take some summer Friday afternoons off.

  118. ManyHats*

    1. Nothing odd here.

    2. If you truly feel taken advantage of, it’s time for a conversation with your boss.

    3. If people are badgering you about not having kids, they’re jerks, and if they’re colleagues, they’re creating a hostile work environment and need to be shut down hard and fast.

  119. learnedthehardway*

    One thing that might help you – manage your calendar in a way that blocks your time. That way, colleagues can’t just assume you’re free to do things, just because your calendar shows open hours.

    I’ve found this necessary in my business, since I have clients and stakeholders who have access to my online calendar. If I have to be somewhere, I now block of travel time. If I need a couple hours to work, I block it in the calendar.

    If nothing else, it gives me a way to say “NO” when a client wants something unreasonable at short notice. “Oh, sorry, I’m fully booked this afternoon. I can’t get to X until tomorrow/Friday/Next Week” feels pretty good to say when I’m asked pull together a project report at the last minute.

    You could do the same – your colleagues don’t need to know that your 2 hour blocked time period on Thursday is for you to contemplate the great mysteries of the universe. You’re just not available then and can’t reschedule your activities.

  120. guest*

    Do what you can (and want to.)

    Let that be enough.

    The resentment is a signal that you are doing too much. It’s OK to scale back.

  121. Kate*

    I understand why it feels like there’s a bloc of parents who are consistently taking you for granted, but I wonder if it would help to reframe it as individuals struggling, who happen to have this one thing in common. Some of the taking for granted may be structural (can your workplace change its practices to be more attentive to individual schedules?) some may be individual (some friends are genuinely flakier/last-minute oriented more than others) and the response to the situations will differ based on the circumstances. As many have said, the workplace burden isn’t yours or the parents’ to fix alone, and speaking up about it in a spirit of “of course we all want to fix this, this isn’t just the parents’ fault” could go a long way. When it comes to friends, honestly, I have friends who flaked a lot pre-kids and still do, and ride or die friends who will hop on a plane with their baby to come see me. The advice is more friend advice at this point–is it worth putting up with flaking to sustain the relationship?

    The volunteer thing is trickier because you are being inconvenienced but you probably don’t have standing to suggest that another vol give up her role. You certainly can decline to take on extra work and let the chips fall. If you do choose to take on extra work, I wonder if it would help you to see that stepping in for your community when a parent can’t do it IS mutual aid. Bringing dinner to your parent friends so they can enjoy some desparately needed adult convo IS mutual aid. They are helping build up the community by raising the next generation, and you’re helping build up the community by volunteering and maintaining friendships now. You’re both giving to one another and also to the community at large. And as a parent, thank you for the empathy you display!

  122. Lizzianna*

    I lead a team that has parents of young kids, parents of older kids, parents of grown kids, and people who are not parents. I myself have one young child and am pregnant with a second.

    Honestly, this is a management issue.

    I’m greatly appreciative of my colleagues who have stepped up to help me out over the last 2 years. We have a cohesive enough team that for the most part, I trust them to work as a group to distribute work if one person is struggling. At the same time, I don’t expect people to take on more than they can handle to take the pressure off of someone else. So if a parent (or really anyone with responsibilities outside of work) tells the team they can’t cover a meeting and no one else has any give, that’s my problem, it’s not the problem of the employees already stretched to the max.

    Here’s how it played out this week. An employee is in and out right now dealing with a family emergency, and isn’t able to keep up with some mission critical work. He asked another employee if that person could cover the work. That person couldn’t while also meeting his own deadlines. So they came to me, and I worked with them to reset priorities and deadlines to something that the individual employees agreed they could achieve.

    TLDR: if a team is understaffed and can’t absorb the flexibility that parents need, it’s not on the non-parents to make that work at their own personal cost, if management wants to offer that flexibility, they need to staff the team or set the priorities accordingly. If they’re not willing to do that, they’re going to lose good employees (parents and non-parents).

    1. Lizzianna*

      I also see a lot of ask vs. guess culture colliding on this particular issue. I think it’s worth reading up on that dynamic, as it may help reframe some of the interactions with parents who are asking for things that you feel are unreasonable.

  123. bryeny*

    OP, I don’t think you have a perspective problem. If everyone had your perspective and half your willingness to step up, the world would be a vastly better place. I can see that you’ve helped tons of people. How many of them acknowledge it? Would you feel better about all this if the people you helped consistently said thank you?

    If so, you probably can’t fix all of this, but are there a few people you can talk to who can nudge things in a better direction? Maybe your boss can remind your group that when someone reschedules to accommodate them or outright picks up their work, words of appreciation are in order? (You might not be the only person who feels that way. If nothing else, it’s good to make sure your boss understands that you’re smoothing the path for the parents around you.) Can you find a way to let the friends you bring dinner to know that you feel taken for granted?

    Fwiw, thanks for helping.

  124. Optimistic Prime*

    I don’t know if it fits what you would like to do… but if it was me, I would stop being “available.” I find that a lot of times I would get taken advantage of because I let people. I like to help, I like to be a people pleaser, but I would find I am bending over backwards for someone who wouldn’t do the same for me. Regardless of what their reason was (kids or not). Try and not be able to jump in. “Sorry, but I already said I would take care of x, so I can’t do your thing.”

  125. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    It may help to signal your own personal needs etc, and keep you feeling like you’re not the Cinderella in the situation, if you can use scripts like “Yes, I can shift that meeting before my normal start time, if that makes it easier for you — I’ll be able to take my after-work walk earlier that way.” Or, “Since you need a hard stop on the meeting time for the school bus, I’ll send you the notes of what you missed and you can enter them into the project management tool once the kids are settled.”

    Lay out the accommodation you’re making for them, and how that will also result in a different type of accommodation for you.

  126. Ari*

    Honestly? If you’re feeling resentful and tired, you need to start saying no sometimes. If people continually ask you for support, it may be partly because you are always quick to say yes. So they’ve come to see you as their go-to person.
    We all have limited emotional/mental resources that need to be recharged, and you need to take care of yourself even if you choose to also take care of others. You sound like a very giving and generous person. I like to think people aren’t intentionally taking advantage of such characteristics, but I do think those traits might open a person up to doing more than their share. It’s okay (and good!) to set some boundaries to protect your own mental well-being. Fair warning though: 1) learning to say no can feel awkward and rude, plus 2) people might be upset with you at first and you have to learn to live with that. Be gracious in your no but firm. You and your time and talents are just as important as everyone around you.
    Best of luck to you in finding balance and making time for yourself!

  127. Emily*

    There’s no shortcut to drawing a boundary and dealing with the consequences. I was in a work situation that was very difficult with young kids. That my coworkers did not have children created issues for me, because expectations around evening/weekend availability were not ones I wished to meet. So I did my best to draw boundaries around what was important to me, and when that was insufficient for meeting my needs, I left. Parents do this all the time, and particularly for women it can really suck for your career, and you do it because you decide that it’s important. But anyone can do this for any reason: you can decide that a state of affairs is not working, you can start out by saying “no, I can’t do that”, and if that doesn’t get you what you need, you leave. (Or you can determine that this is the best deal you’re currently going to get job-wise, in which case at least your framing shifts from “I’m doing this to be helpful” to “I’m doing this because this is the best situation for me.”)

    Similarly with friends, you can say “I know you’re stressed but it bothers me when you do this”, or you can stop making plans with people who cancel on you (or only make plans that are convenient for you if they do cancel.) And that might mean there isn’t a way that particular friendship can work on terms that both of you can meet, or that you don’t see someone for awhile. So you decide what’s important to you and what consequences you’re willing to deal with.

    There are ways other people should be thoughtful about their actions and how those actions impact you. But until you start pushing back, no one really knows how important it is to you.

  128. plumerai*

    “I’m unable to do that, I’m sorry.”

    “Actually, I have other plans!”

    That kind of thing. Without overly apologizing, and depending on context, without explanation. The people asking you for help don’t need to know that the “other plans” involve a nap and a good book. Child-rearing is more important than my nap, but that doesn’t mean that my life is less important than theirs—and putting up boundaries means that when there really is something I can help with, or an emergency, I’m not filled with resentment from all the other times I gave up that nap in order to pick up someone’s kid from school or whatever.

    I’m also going to gently ask whether you are volunteering without realizing it, or otherwise making yourself open to this kind of intrusion. I am a child-free woman in my 40s, and am similarly happy to accommodate friends and coworkers who have children, in much the same way you do. But I’ve never felt like anyone “expects” anything beyond what I do already, in part because I am very very careful about what I volunteer for. I don’t say I can do something if it’s not something I can genuinely fit into my life.

    You don’t sound like you’re at risk of becoming someone who isn’t a part of the village that makes a child. You’re doing your part.

    1. BlueberryFields*

      I like the idea of not explaining yourself. In my office, I share very little about my personal life. I joke that I could have 3 kids at home and no one would know. Because I will not let my relationship status, parental status, or any other non work related identifier become something that can be weaponized against me. From 9-5, I am an enigma and that is the way I like it. I, personally, would be happier if we all functioned as kind, polite enigmas.

    2. londonedit*

      I’m really trying to get better at not explaining and giving reasons/excuses when I can’t/don’t want to do something. For years I’ve felt like I have to have a good reason for saying no, or like I have to say ‘Oh no, I’m so sorry, I can’t do that, I’m already going to the gym in the morning and then I have to do some shopping and then I really should clean the house…’ or whatever. When in fact if you just say ‘Oh, sorry, I can’t make tomorrow but I’ll see you soon!’ people totally accept it. They just accept it! No one has ever been upset or annoyed with me for giving a simple ‘I can’t, sorry’. It’s very freeing to just be able to say ‘I can’t do tomorrow, sorry’ and not feel guilty about it even if the reason why I can’t do it is that I don’t really want to, or I’m planning to sit on the sofa and watch TV.

  129. Tirving*

    I found this to be an issue long before the pandemic. The single and or childless colleague is somehow expected to pick up the slack for those with kids. It’s tough as it’s not seen as blatant taking advantage of someone else, but that’s what it boils down to. who would your colleagues turn to to cover them if you also had kids and needed to go pick them up ? Like others have suggested ,setting boundaries in an unappologetic manner is the way to go. I suspect that will be hard at first, as your letter almost seems like you’re feeling a bit guilty and therefore obligated for having a good life, so then over compensate. As to the why don’t you have children questions-people still can’t seem to get their heads around the fact that not everyone wants that. I was accused of being selfish by a coworker for not having children lol.

    1. Pikachu*

      Yeah, this has been an issue for me in every job I have had right out of college. Couples/parents that were prone to taking advantage of single childless/childfree people, assuming they have no meaningful lives outside of work, already existed in droves. The pandemic only exacerbated these tendencies.

    2. Emily*

      If I take a job contingent on “this is the time I pick my kids up every day”, my coworker who works later hours is not picking up the slack for *me*. Rather, we both have arrangements with our manager/our employer, and we are both free to negotiate them, or to leave if we’re not satisfied. But you never know what conversations someone else had when they were hired or after that — it’s entirely possible that they’re working this job specifically because of the hours/lifestyle that came with it.

  130. AthenaC*

    I think there are two separate issues –

    1) Parenting during a pandemic – this is where your coworkers are proactively planning around their known schedules and limitations. Sudden changes and cancelations can happen but should not be a regular thing.
    2) Coworkers being irresponsible – parents or no, adults still have to adult, so if they are regularly canceling last minute with “sorry have to parent lulz” when they realistically could have / should have planned around it, that’s a coworker problem.

    If pressed, I’m betting you could name which of your coworkers fall into bucket #1 and which of them fall into bucket #2. You have been more than gracious with all of your coworkers, but it definitely is time to try to carve out some inflexible “you time” in your calendar that you do NOT give up for the people in group #2. When they try to cancel on you, go ahead and respond “sorry, I have a prior commitment I can’t move so I can’t fill in.” Let those balls drop and let management sort it out, assuming that’s something you can do. Also – yes, take a vacation if you can.

    And I say all this as a parent of 3 kids who BOTH knows that things come up AND can read a freakin’ calendar.

    Good luck!

    1. AthenaC*

      Also, not trying to do a parents vs. non-parents thing, since in my experience it tends to be more a competence vs. incompetence thing. I worked 70 hours the week my kids were on spring break because several of my coworkers (NONE of whom have children) let things go to the last minute, so guess who had to make the magic happen before the external reporting deadline? My 8-year-old son spent his spring break on the couch in front of the TV and yes, I am still quite pissed about it. So if I sound harsh, that’s where it’s coming from.

      So there are parents out there who pull their weight and then some, more than their childless / child-free coworkers.

      1. Blues*

        Clarifying question: Did you take the week your child was off as vacation? I’m a little confused about the part about your child spending time in front of the TV—what was the alternative if you were planning to work anyway?

        Or do you mean you worked overtime that you would have spent with them? (If that’s the case, I understand why you’re annoyed!)

        1. AthenaC*

          If I hadn’t been cleaning up other people’s stuff on short notice, I could have had a significantly reduced work week (maybe 8 – 16 hours or less), because I have that flexibility in my role. But the offset to that flexibility is when stuff needs to get done, I need to do it, no matter what else is going on. So yes I could have spent time with my kids instead of working all the hours I did.

        2. Varthema*

          Yeah, 70 hours is a loooong workweek. That basically covers every hour the kid’s awake (tbh it covers every hour I’M usually awake).

  131. Working Hypothesis*

    LW, I admire your generosity, but the reality is that you can’t give what you don’t have. And the resentment you feel is your brain’s way of telling you that you don’t have enough emotional energy to be quite THIS generous with your time and efforts. Nor for this little appreciation.

    That’s not a terrible thing! It just tells you where you need to set your boundaries. But, well… it’s on YOU to set them. Not on anyone else.

    So yeah, people are going to keep asking you, or expecting you, to do all the things that you’ve been doing to help out the parents in your community… *because you’ve trained them to expect it*. Start training them to expect what you can realistically give, instead.

    First sit down with yourself and have a good clear-eyed look at how much energy you can spend picking up the slack for people. If you’ve got a therapist, they can be a real help in that assessment. Translate that into a weekly or monthly maximum amount of time, knock off ten percent to make sure you aren’t always operating at the screaming edge of your range, and begin saying NO to requests after that point.

    Also say NO to any individual request which makes your shoulders go up around your ears with stress just to hear about and consider. Finally, consider saying NO to any request that comes from the people who take you for granted. Invest your limited energy and time into those who appreciate you, thank you, give you proper advance notice (when there isn’t a bona fide emergency that makes advance notice impossible), and generally treat you as well as you’ve been treating them.

    You don’t have to be mean in order to say no! A pleasant, matter of fact, “I’m sorry, but that doesn’t work for me,” or “I can’t do X, but what about Y?” will be genuinely okay with most people, and they’ll be all right finding another way to cope. Its great that you want to help, and yes, things are hard for us parents these days… but we’re resilient and anyone who is raising kids at all adequately will have learned time management strategies that are not reliant on you.

    Meanwhile, if you want to be available for the true emergencies beyond your time limit, feed back in half of the ten percent you knocked off your time limits… but only in weeks when something truly urgent shows up. That gives you the flexibility to make room for someone who’s in real trouble when you’ve already used up your baseline time/energy budget, without totally screwing up your boundaries because the reception is built into the system.

    Good luck!

  132. Esmeralda*

    OP, I have a lot of sympathy for you! My kid is now in college so I’m past that stage, about half my colleagues have infants or kids … now I have a spouse who needs attention. As a person who’s been the asker and the askee, I can tell you: it’s ok to say no. “I’m sorry, but I can’t fit anything more on my plate today/this week/this month.” For people who last minute dump work on you or who last minute tell you they’re not showing up, you don’t need to be quite so nice: “That’s unfortunate, Bobby Sue, because I can’t take care of it/can’t do it — you’ll need to talk to Boss/Manager/Volunteer Wrangler about it.”

    Talk to your boss. And I think working with your boss to set up some sort of formal request and review (including yes/no/not til next June) for work that others can’t do. What’s happening now, I bet, is that it’s death by a thousand cuts — OP, you can pick up this task. A week later — OP, you can pick up this other task. Etc. So no one (except you) has a big picture of how much you’re doing and no picture of how all this makes it hard for you to do your own work and how hard it is to *plan*.

    My coworkers over the years have done a lot for me. And I feel obligated to do a lot for them. But I am ok saying No. And I am ok *hearing* no, too.

    1. Esmeralda*

      Oh, and the “why don’t you have kids” question?

      I had my kid late, so I am familiar with that question. Here are the answers I developed:

      For people you are not close to: “Wow. I don’t think we’re close enough to discuss that. Next topic, please.”

      For people you are close to: “Yeah, no, not discussing that ever. Next!”

      For people who should really really know better: “I dunno, mom/dad, why don’t you ask [husband name] about that, want me to put him on the phone RIGHT NOW? No? OK, then, that’s your answer, today and forever. Are we good?” [haha, yeah, therapy helped me deal with my folks a lot better….]

  133. Taylor*

    It sounds like you’re burnt out, and that is totally understandable, pandemic or not, it’s not fair for employers to just put all the extra work on employees without children as a way to accomodate their employees with children and to assume they can do it because they don’t have kids.

  134. anonymous73*

    When I was in my early 30s, I had a former colleague who became a casual friend after we stopped working together. At the time I was single and childless and worked at a place with a very long commute. I got home from work on a Monday and she asked me to do her a favor – pick up her sister at the airport (no big deal we both lived about 10 minutes away from it). I assumed her sister had left her car at friend’s house so I was willing to do it. But then she asked me to take her home, which was in a different state and at least an hour away. I said no. She explained that her only other option was to ask her best friend, who was married with small children. A few days later I got an email from her trying to make me feel bad for not helping her out. I refused to feel guilty and ended the friendship.

    You need to speak up and set boundaries. You can empathize with their situation and also let them know how their actions make you feel. Yes you need to give them some wiggle room…they won’t have as much free time or be available last minute. But that doesn’t mean you have to become a doormat either. They may not realize how it’s affecting you, but a good friend will listen and be willing to make some changes. Stop being so available at work. Don’t be afraid to say no sometimes if asked to cover for someone. You’ve become everyone’s go to because you’ve always said yes. I’d also speak to your manager and make sure they support you in your decisions. Just because you don’t have kids doesn’t make your free time any less valuable.

  135. Oakwood*

    The best way to avoid a question is to answer with a question.

    Rude person: Why have you waited so long to have kids?
    You: Why do you ask?
    Rude person: I was just curious, that’s all.
    You: Why are you curious?

    You don’t have to be snarky with your answers. Just keep asking why.

  136. Janeric*

    Bless LW for their compassion for and material assistance to parents of small children.

    There’s a lot of talk about how the cure for burnout is multiple weeks of not doing the thing that burned people out — could OP have a “doing the minimum May”? Reset expectations, get a little breathing room, only work during work hours?

    I very much hope that the friends who you’re meeting where they are in what sounds like frankly circumstances that would make me tear up with gratitude are not part of the chorus asking why you don’t have kids — if they are, I’d push back HARD about how rude and intrusive that is. (You can do that with everyone who’s so uncouth, but this situation is particularly egregious.)

  137. Over40andOOFs*

    The older I get, the more I believe in matching energy and investing in relationships where people demonstrate a willingness to return the same (or similar). I would give the folks who repeatedly cancel at the last minute fewer opportunities to do so, because frankly that just shows a total lack of respect for you as a person. Everyone has things happen occasionally and we can show each other grace for that, but when its a pattern of behavior, that’s a respect issue and one that I would just name and then ask them to find an alternative (my time is valuable too!).

    If the pandemic has emphasized anything, it’s that life is fragile and precious and we all need to decide how we spend our time. Being flexible and accommodating for people who return the same energy when they can and don’t take advantage of it is commendable. None of us, though, are required to make ourselves less because other people think their lives are more important or just fail to consider that you have your own things that matter.

    Like others have said, set and enforce boundaries, but beyond all, value yourself and your time and energy and definitely take a vacation. We don’t get do-overs so make today the best you can.

    1. Despachito*

      “I would give the folks who repeatedly cancel at the last minute fewer opportunities to do so.”

      I would give them one, maybe two more (to be sure it really is a pattern), and that would be it.

      I am very sensitive to this lack of respect. Once we had a yearly gathering with friends, one which is usually pretty open as to the beginning (a garden potluck with the instructions “from 1 pm upwards”). One of the group of friends arrived at 4 – which would be absolutely no big deal per se, but she did not omit to comment that “we felt like taking a walk after lunch, and doing this and doing that”, which rubbed me the wrong way because it felt like she really did not care too much to see us and is brazen enough to be open about it.

      Not coming to an agreed meeting without a good reason AND assuming that is normal would be an outrage for me (I would absolutely understand if the person forgot about the meeting and then profusely apologized, but not if they considered that not coming / canceling in the last minute is no big deal). Why should I invest my time and affection in people who do not respect me?

  138. Veryanon*

    I have young adult children so I’m in a different stage of my life than those with young kids, and I am now finding that I’ve become the go-to person at work to take on special projects because others on the team don’t have the bandwidth. What it boils down to is determining how much energy you have and then being honest and realistic about what you’re able to take on. Sometimes things aren’t going to get done because no one has the bandwidth/interest to take it on. And I’ve learned to be at peace with that.

  139. LegoFan315*

    I’m 41, unmarried and no kids so I relate to this very much. I find one thing people in general assume about us is that our lives are “easier” because we don’t have those responsibilities. What they don’t realize is that we’re often shouldering the entire load alone. All the cleaning, laundry, errands and other miscellaneous tasks that have to get done to keep a house and life running are all done by 1 person. Sure there may be less of those things to do but if I’m tired at the end of a long week, or god-forbid sick, all of those things still need to get done somehow. You don’t have someone who can pick up a little extra when you need them to or make the quick run out to get the ingredient you forgot for dinner. Give yourself the grace and space to set boundaries around the things you want and need to do to keep your life running smoothly. Your needs and responsibilities are just as important as other people’s, with or without kids.

    1. EngGirl*

      So much this!! I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve had to explain that to my parent/couple friends, or even my boss. The world is not built for 1. If I don’t cook and clean dinner no one else will. And I’m not sharing the burden of bills and chores with anyone, so I’m paying for/doing less in some ways overall but I am 100% responsible. Parents will tell me about how they just ate off their kids plates for dinner last night because they didn’t have time/energy to cook an actual meal and I’m just like “wow you got chicken nuggets and fries? I had like half a bag of goldfish crackers and a beer because I just couldn’t get up the will to cook knowing I was going to have to clean everything and put it all away and I realized the milk had gone bad so I wan going to have to go to the store”

      1. Software Dev (she/her)*

        This is the most four yorkshiremen thing I have ever heard (great Monty Python skit). I really don’t think it has to be a competition. Things can be hard for everyone.

        1. EngGirl*

          That was kind of my point lol. It can be bad for everyone but it feels like I’m not allowed to point that out to a parent. I have to say “oh wow that really sucks” or “but you’re doing such a great job! Hang in there!” Or in some cases “oh gosh, is there anything I can do to help?” All while having to hear about how great my life must be because I don’t have those additional responsibilities that I have specifically chosen not to take on.

          It’s a societal thing and I would never actually say anything I wrote above to someone, but it’s the kind of running monologue that sometimes goes on in my head.

        2. SenseOrSensibility*

          Yeah, that’s the point. It’s not a competition, but those of us without children get tired of hearing how charmed and easy our lives are, especially when we’re struggling.

    2. CommanderBanana*

      ^^ This. I don’t have anyone to drive me to or from surgery, to stay home to let the plumber in, to watch the dog when I travel, to let the dog out at 5 so I can stay after work to have a drink with coworkers, to pick up any sort of slack or to contribute to anything in the house. It’s just me. I get the flu and can’t get out of bed? Dog still needs to be walked and I somehow have to keep myself alive until I feel better.

  140. ecnaseener*

    Lots of good advice in these comments, but I want to touch on “how do I stop resenting” – I don’t think you do. Trying to turn off an inconvenient emotion never really works. You have good reason to feel resentful, and it sounds like you’re doing a great job at not taking those feelings out on people, but of course that gets harder and harder to maintain. Do you have someone you can vent to about this?

    1. Despachito*

      I think that the only way to stop resenting is to change the amount or things OP is doing.

      The resentment is a healthy response of her body/mind that she is doing too much and that she should limit it, the same as pain is sometimes a response signalizing that she has worked out too much and has to slow down.

  141. Long Time Listener, First Time Caller*

    I am a parent. Not calling to cancel, or cancelling at the last minute is not ok. I’m overwhelmed. Some days I want to just run away to a quiet beach. It’s stressful (and that does not even cover the tip of it) and combining that with work is doubly stressful. BUT. It is basic common courtesy to not cancel at the last minute AND to be aware of how your stuff affects others. I really appreciate you OP, and I really hope you find time to take a break for yourself. You sound like a great person to work with – you just need to set up boundaries (“just” lol) and stick with them. Your work life is just as valid as parents work life, or anyone else’s. Good luck!

  142. plincess_cho*

    Oh friend, I have no comments, only sympathy. For the most part, the parent/non-parent dynamic doesn’t come into play in my workplace, but ALL of my local friends are parents of young kids and it is indeed draining at times. I know that as a childless person, I will always be giving more in relationships that I will get, and that is very disheartening at times.

    My biggest advice is what some of the other commenters have suggested: setting boundaries. And setting boundaries without giving explanations. “I’m sorry, I can’t make it” or “That night doesn’t work, could we do x?” without explaining that you don’t have the energy/desire/capacity to reach out is totally fine.

    Sending you all my support, and I’m sorry!

  143. EngGirl*

    I think empathy is great, but I also think there comes a certain point where it can be toxic the same way positivity can, and I think you’re bordering on that line of you haven’t already crossed it. By that I mean that you’re so focused on the struggles of everyone else that you’ve stopped caring for yourself and your own needs. You arranged your life with an amount of flexibility and you’re not getting to live that life.

    I deal with this a bit (not a ton because I’m in a male dominated field which tends to mean that the parents I am working with don’t take on the bulk of the parenting responsibility which is whole other topic on sexism and gender norms that we don’t need to get into here), and one of the things I’ve found helpful is to set “quotas”

    So I’ll take a look at the beginning of the week and say “ok I can reasonably take on X amount of extra hours of work this week and I know that Jim has a childcare issue so I’ll check in with him first” or “I’ll travel X number of weeks in the next 2 months” and then I do my best to stick to that. If it’s all used up by Wednesday, then sorry but I’ve already done my part this week, or if there’s a day or week where I really don’t want to change my plans for my personal life then I don’t. It helps with the guilt that’s kind of ingrained in us because I can remind myself that I did help out.

    I also take a look at small things that genuinely don’t matter to me but can make a world of difference for the parents. Oh it’s spring break that week? Yeah I’m gonna go ahead on take my vacation two weeks later. First day of school? Cool I’ll push the meeting to tomorrow. We alternate coverage on something and your little dude has a bassoon concert that week and I don’t have any plans? Sure thing we can swap! Do what you can and what you want when you can and when you want and you’re in the clear.

  144. GarlicMicrowaver*

    This all comes down to validation and saying no. You are being validated right here, and you can and should say no. That’s really it, unless you have a magic wand to fix a broken system.


  145. H.Regalis*

    Similar boat: I don’t have kids and am not going to, but I was the primary caretaker for a disabled relative for the last decade of their life.

    If you’re feeling resentful, that’s a good “check engine” light for burnout. Take the vacation! Also, like everyone else said, you’re going to have to start telling people no. With volunteering, that’s also probably going to include letting the ball drop so other people are experiencing the consequences of their actions. At work, probably the same, but it depends on context.

    Cover what you can cover and be flexible when you can, like you have been doing; but if you can’t do something, you’re going to have to say no, or else people are going to walk all over you. You will definitely get people who are annoyed/angry that you are telling them no; people aren’t going to thank you for enforcing your boundaries when it means they don’t get something they want.

  146. Polar Bear Hug*

    So everyone is telling you about boundaries, OP, and everyone is right.

    HOWEVER. If you are like me, you have issues with this because you think you can only say no to something that is completely not physically possible. You agree to moving things and taking over last minute because you CAN do it. It is physically possible for you to do it.

    I would strongly encourage you to use what I’ve learned in more than seven years of therapy: you can say no simply because you don’t want to do it. That is allowed. That is good! That way, when you say yes, it’s a real yes for everyone.

    It’s not easy (hence the more than seven years of therapy) but it’s important. You get to choose. There may be consequences and you may have to deal with those, and you still get to choose. It does not have to be you who handles everything, your time is exactly as valuable as everyone else’s, and “being the person who does everything so the only person is upset is you” is not the right solution to most issues.

    I feel for you! I hope this helps a little bit. It’s super hard to do, but valuable.

    1. Nonprofit writer*

      Agree with this! I posted a long comment earlier that I think got eaten somehow. I won’t rewrite it here but one thing I think is important is understanding what boundaries are & what they mean to you. A lot of us have had to learn that (through therapy or other means). I think when my sister & I have advised my mom to have boundaries with her caregiving of a difficult neighbor, she genuinely doesn’t know what we mean by boundaries. Personally I find the phrase “no is a complete sentence” totally unworkable. The idea of just saying “no” without explanation makes me break out in a sweat. So you have to figure out what works for you.

      You sound great and caring—good luck!

    2. Momma Bear*

      Agreed. It doesn’t have to be “I will only say no when I physically can not.” Maybe start with a low-stakes refusal to build up to the bigger ones.

      There’s also a post going around social media about “ask” culture and “guess” culture – OP might want to look that up. If you are a guesser in an office of askers, you might feel infringed on when in reality the asker might easily take the no.

    3. Despachito*

      “That way, when you say yes, it’s a real yes for everyone.”

      This deserves to be etched with large gold letters along all roads for everyone to see :-)

  147. Perfectly Cromulent Name*

    To me this is a management problem. If their staff cannot manage adequately without relying on one person (regardless of reason!) then expectations need to be revisited. You cannot personally fix a systemic issue. So set boundaries, and remove the “why” from it. Of course parents need to be with their kids- absolutely! But the fix for that is not that people without kids do all the late meetings or whatever. What happens if everybody in the office has kids or caregiving duties? It could happen. So set your boundaries, stop volunteering, take your vacations, etc- and let your employer figure it out.

  148. Beth*

    Captain Awkward has written brilliantly about the Grudge Clock. When you’ve hit the point of admitting that you’ve built up a critical mass of resentment (it can build up a LOT when you’re a nice person who doesn’t want to admit that it’s happening), and you haven’t said anything about it yet, the Grudge Clock resets when you speak up/set boundaries.

    In other words: SPEAK UP, set boundaries, but also let go of the accumulation that happened while you were bearing everything in silence. Give yourself full permission to feel it, and let it go. Reset and start over.

    You’re in this position because you’re a good person, and you want to be able to continue being supportive and enjoying your role in the community. Resentment is entirely reasonable and justified. The caveat is that the Grudge Clock has to be reset on the day you finally speak up and start setting boundaries, because you can’t “get credit” for the burdens you carried as a silent sufferer.

  149. [Insert Clever Username Here]*

    For the comments suggesting that the OP set boundaries – boundaries are good, but there are limitations to the advice. Not everyone accepts boundaries when it comes to parents asking for accommodations. Especially with work – many coworkers won’t accept the boundary because they think parents’ time is more valuable than that of a non parent. While a good manager will step in, (1) not all managers are good and (2) sometimes good managers don’t have a choice (e.g. deadlines, budget issues). I guess OP can look for a new job if push comes to shove, but who’s to say that the next person OP works for won’t do the same thing?

    1. Colette*

      As a childless person, I have never seen that.

      Obviously, the OP can’t let the critical stuff drop – but they can communicate what they can do and, if they’re in a remotely functional workplace, they can expect management to respect those boundaries.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        Childless/free person – I have. I have absolutely been assigned things before because “EC doesn’t have kids so she’s free”.

        However, all you *can* do is set boundaries and enforce. If your coworkers do not respect that, then you need to escalate it up. “Manager, I do not have the resources available to work on my projects A-C and cover Coworker’s projects D-E, what should my priorities be and are there other resources that could be pulled in?” If management does not respect that, then you may need to let balls drop, or perhaps yes – seek a new job.

        Boundaries are needed to start because they very often fix the issue. If they don’t – the issue was much larger and therefore needs a larger solution, which may not even be something the individual can do anything about.

        1. I quit*

          Yes, I quit my last job because my coworker’s work kept being reassigned to me “because they were parenting during the pandemic and we support working parents.”

          The work that did get done was done poorly, but only I was ever blamed for it. Meanwhile I was very ill, but the difficulty that caused didn’t count for anything in comparison to children I guess.

          Glad it’s a former job!

    2. Louise*

      This is true, but short of setting boundaries and looking for a new job, LW can’t do much else. Alison does have some good tips though about screening employers if it comes down to it.

      1. [Insert Clever Username Here]*

        I specifically stated that boundaries are good. Most of the advice here assume that once OP sets and enforces the boundaries that everyone will respect them and things will be hunky dory. However, people who set boundaries often face pushback, and that pushback might be more intense than what OP anticipated.

        The situation OP faces is a societal/institutional problem that’s turned into OP’s individual responsibility (oh, you’re taking on too much work because there’s insufficient support for parents and non parents? You just didn’t set boundaries). There’s only so much boundaries can solve.

    3. SenseOrSensibility*

      Yes… I agree that she should set boundaries, but that’s not the point of the issue. She will likely be seen negatively. I’ve dealt with this a lot–more in a volunteer capacity than in my job. But if I say no to something, I get passive aggressive comments about how I’m uncommitted and “such a millennial” (said in a tone of utter hatred, btw).

      But when the lady with kids (she’s also a millennial) says no to something, she’s met with graciousness and “oh of course, you have a lot on your plate.”

      I also have a lot on my plate, but unless you have a kid, it’s not enough.

  150. Childfree NYer*

    OP is taking personal responsibility for a problem that is above their pay grade, because they’re kind and conscientious. Anne Helen Petersen recently published an article about how so many individual jobs now comprise the amount of work that used to be done by 2-3 people–organizations have trimmed so much “fat” that there’s no give in the system when a ball drops or a colleague unexpectedly needs time off. I agree with what others have said — set boundaries, and if balls drop when someone else doesn’t fulfill their responsibilities, so be it. That will run the problem up the flagpole, and then management can figure it out — because that’s their job. And if someone who is senior to you ever implies or outright says “you need to cover for your colleagues with kids because you don’t have any,” that would be the signal to start job hunting immediately, because that’s not an organization that values you.
    With friends, it’s trickier. I think it depends on how close you are with the person. I’m late 30s and childfree, and for my lifelong friends, I’m willing to bend over backwards/forgive flakiness/mom-brain because I love them fiercely and they’re important to me (and same goes for their kids). But for more casual acquaintances, if it starts to feel one-sided and like I’m putting in a disproportionate amount of effort, I’m fine to let those friendships fizzle out. Maybe try making friends with people who are closer to where you are in life? I’ve found that joining groups like book clubs, running clubs, community choir, etc. I meet like-minded people who have room in their lives for social activities and aren’t so wrapped up in parenting that they have nothing else to talk about (no shade to folks who are in that boat, I’m just not going out of my way to connect with them). Good luck OP! And definitely take that vacation.

  151. Koala dreams*

    You have the answer yourself, in the middle of your letter: Commit to what you can! If you’re getting exhausted or resentful, it’s a sign that you don’t follow your own advice.

    As for how to say no, people always recommend “just say no” but I disagree. “No, thanks” works for a lot of things, but often it’s expected to add an explanation (a perfunctory explanation, not the whole story): No, I can’t meet before X o’clock, that’s too early for me. No, I can’t do Y, I’m busy with other work.

    If you can’t say no, you can say “yes, and…” Yes, I’ll get to it as soon as I finish this task, it’ll be in a few hours/days/weeks. Yes, I’m happy to meet when you find a babysitter, no hurry. Yes, I can do X, that’ll mean that I won’t be able to do Y, do you still want me to do X?

  152. Joanna*

    LW, I’m so sorry people are being jerks about you being child free. It’s really a huge problem in our culture. I know several women who wanted children, but couldn’t have them, and it’s been very difficult for them to get the nasty comments about being selfish and such when they are actually dealing with infertility and should never have to explain that to anyone. I have only one child, and it turns out a lot of people think that single children grow up to be selfish monsters that are emotionally damaged. I had a coworker once tell me my son would hate me if I didn’t give him a sibling. (I really hope he noticed me turning and walking away every time I saw him after he said that.) For people who kept pushing, I started telling them that unless they were going to get up with the baby in the middle of the night and pay for their college tuition, that they didn’t get a say in the matter. A few of the worst offenders sputtered back at me in response, but they stopped pushing after that.

    I also want to ask you to think about how your empathy is serving you. You seem very caring and you seem to grasp the complexity that the pandemic has added to all our lives. That’s commendable. But I wonder if your empathy has a down side, which I like to call the guilt monster. You see all this need around you, and because you care and feel bad for other people, your guilt monster tells you to do things that aren’t in your best interest. It drives you to say yes, when you would be better off saying no. I’ve learned that when my guilt monster has been in overdrive for a while I end up angry and resentful. If you can take a vacation, that would be a great idea, but learning how to manage the guilt monster and say “no” may also serve you well.

    “No” can be really difficult to say. But you are entitled to your boundaries. Your needs matter. And “no” doesn’t need any explanation. It stands alone. There doesn’t need to be any reason behind your “no” other than you want to say “no”. So don’t explain to anyone, including yourself. If your gut says “no” say “no”. And if anyone pushes back on that, “no” is not a negotiation. Don’t explain yourself. Just repeat “No”. The first few times, you may feel terrible, but once you get some practice, it should get easier. And you might stop feeling so resentful and burnt out. Give it a try.

    1. CommanderBanana*

      I’m only here because my mother didn’t want my older brother to be an only child. She didn’t intend to have children but had him and decided that was a valid reason to have a second kid she also didn’t want. We were never close and he died a few years ago, so.

  153. Sylvia*

    I would limit my assistance, flexibility, and grace to my co-workers who have situations that are unavoidable. I consider an unavoidable situation to be sick kids or relatives, picking kids up from day care or school (it can be expensive to hire someone to do that), doctor’s appointments, emergency home repair, etc. Covering for someone in a meeting or finishing part of a project that is time sensitive is fine, but if it’s work that your co-workers could finish at home within the next few days, then they should be the ones doing that work unless it’s an emergency.

    Barring emergencies, have you noticed any patterns that your organization could work around? For example, if 3 pm meetings keep getting cancelled because of childcare issues, maybe important things could be scheduled in the morning and not-so important things could be replaced by emails.

    Bringing dinner to your friend’s house so you can hang out with them and their kids is super nice. That seems like it’s worth doing if you don’t mind it. I had some friends do that for me, and I have never forgotten it–it was truly the most wonderful caring thing. But if it seems like some of your friends now expect it, maybe take a break for a little while.

  154. IT But I Can't Fix Your Printer*

    As a parent, I will say that it’s okay to tell me no if I ask for something! And while there are definitely people who will want to interrogate you about your reasoning and then tell you it’s not good enough because you don’t have kids, most of us are not going to do that. If I ask if we can move a meeting to 7 AM and you say ‘sorry that doesn’t work with my schedule’ I still might not be able to make your 2:00 meeting, but I will say ‘okay, I’ll find another way to get you the information you need’.

    I also think there is a difference between just ‘parents getting preference on all the flexibility because parenting is the only situation that needs flexibility’ (completely untrue; should not be the case in any functioning office) and ‘the next five days are suddenly a disaster because my kid has a runny nose, can you accommodate me for the moment and then we’ll get back to normal’. I know that there are parents for whom there still isn’t much ‘normal’ since March 2020, but speaking for myself I barely need any flexibility on a day-to-day basis, I just occasionally need a few days of lots, the same way a colleague might suddenly need a day off because all the appliances in their house died at once or whatever.

    Finally to other parents: there’s pressure on parents in some circles to still be a “whole person” and do all of the hobbies and volunteering and socializing and date nights and like, there just is not time. There is not time to be a parent and also be your total pre-parent self. This is not the season of life for it. It was really hard on me to turn down a volunteer leadership position recently (especially because my brain was like ‘other moms can do it, why can’t you!?!’) but I had to super honest with myself and say, if I do this I’m going to end up canceling on people and not meeting my commitments and it will be better for everyone involved if I never commit in the first place. So I would encourage fellow parents to be honest with yourself and others about what you can prioritize and what you know will always end up coming second to naptime or playdates or hiding from your toddler in the bathroom where it’s quiet or whatever feeds your soul at the moment.

    1. Clare*

      Your second point is absolutely spot on. I felt so much pressure as a mother to be the “good type” who was a mom but also fired on all cylinders at work and kept up all her hobbies and didn’t let anything change or drop because everyone knows you shouldn’t let your identity revolve around motherhood! Well that’s just not feasible, especially when a pandemic hits and you have two young kids. So yeah, if any other parents are reading along – it’s okay to fully step back from volunteering for awhile!

    2. EngGirl*

      I just want to add that for the child free side of things parents often don’t realize how these instances stack. Like yeah you may have one emergency situation that’s going to be an issue for you and then you’ll get back to normal, but if you have one this week, and person B has one next week, and person C has an issue the week after, the effective result for the person being asked to cover is that it’s constant. If you’re in an office where this can be balanced then great, but if you’re on a pyramid with like 2 child free people and 8 parents it’s harder. I also feel like people have a tendency to ask the child free person first, so it can get inequitable fast.

      1. Beth*

        I suspect this is a big part of it, especially since it sounds like OP knows a lot of parents of young children. Any one of them might not be asking a favor, or flaking on a meeting, or whatever all that often. They might see themselves as asking for help once in a while (very reasonable!). But if OP is the go-to “this person is often flexible with me, I’ll ask if they can accommodate this” person for a dozen friends and coworkers, that piles up fast!

        Same goes for managers managing workloads on teams with a bunch of parents; they might not notice a load building up if any one team member isn’t asking for flexibility too often, but if the labor that goes with those requests is always being handed to the same person, that person might feel the load much faster.

      2. Louise*

        This is why I think many team personnel budgets ought to be number of people who can do the work + 1 (or maybe 0.5, if someone can be cross trained on two departments). At a certain size, it’s just not realistic to expect that everyone will be able to juggle a razor thin staffing margin, because things come up.

  155. CommanderBanana*

    One of the other issues is that there is no equivalent flexibility for non-parents. I am in no way trying to trivialize the support and flexibility that parents need, and it continues to horrify me that the U.S. will not implement things like paid family leave. But, I would love the opportunity to take a 2 or 3 week sabbatical to work on a personal project or scale work back / work more flexibly to take a certificate or master’s program, and these are things that have a definite end date.

    1. Shenandoah*

      I think that’s conflating two separate things. I guarantee you there are plenty of parents who would like a professional sabbatical too, in the same way that there are plenty of childfree folks that could use paid family leave to care for a sick relative, etc.

    2. M2*

      Taking a 2-3 week sabbatical to work on a personal project is not the same as taking parental leave or having to take care of a sick child or a family member. Also, some offices will help you get a certificate or masters and even help you pay for it, just look around!

      I think the bigger is in the US it is live to work instead of work to live mentality.

    3. Dinwar*

      Dealing with a newborn child isn’t a 2-3 week sabbatical to work on a personal project. There’s a lot of physiological changes that occur within parents (even the ones not literally giving birth experience changes). When my kids were born my company didn’t want me back for a few weeks–the sleep deprivation alone would have made me an unacceptable liability.

      I also think that there are different kinds of flexibility. I’d love to be able to drop everything and visit a tropical island on a whim, the way a childless coworker of mine did, or have the money to throw at problems the way he does. There are pros and cons to every situation, and the grass is always greener. I mean, he gets to go to Tahiti, but I get to listen to my son read at night and hold my baby girl. It’s all about what you’re after in life, and that’s an intensely individual thing.

      That’s not to say that I don’t think the balance can be improved. I detest the idea of lean staffing and believe it to be the cause of many of the issues people discuss on this site–if companies were willing to reduce margin and hire more people a lot of job stress would evaporate, and we would have the flexibility that both groups need. The fact that families need both parents working to make ends meet, and childcare eats the lion’s share of one paycheck regardless, is an obviously broken system. And equally obviously relying on those without children to pick up the burden when parents need time off is unjust and unsustainable. There’s a lot that can be fixed. I just don’t think that making this an “Us vs Them” between folks with kids and folks without kids is a useful framework for making changes.

      In other words: We have a common enemy. We shouldn’t let that enemy pit us against each other; we should unite against them! (Those are the most Socialistic words I have ever typed.)

      1. CommanderBanana*

        I understand that.

        My point is that there is a bigger, really horrible, systemic problem with work-life balance in the U.S. the the pandemic really exacerbated, but particularly for parents. I grew up in a socialist country with a very strong social services net and a very different attitude towards employers’ obligations to their employees and much stronger protection for employees.

        That’s why I am a huge advocate for paid parental leave, even though it’s a benefit that I personally will never get to use.

  156. MicroManagered*

    I’m a childfree adult with a job and here’s my take:

    First, if people are constantly asking you “what’s wrong with you that you don’t have kids” you need to memorize some scripts to shut that down because that’s incredibly rude. You could even just say “That’s incredibly rude. Nothing is wrong with me because I don’t have children.”

    My guess is people are not really saying that, but rather making more microaggressive references to the fact that you don’t have kids. Like if you mention you lost your keys last night, they minimize it with “imagine doing that with two screaming kids!” I don’t know if you can do a WHOLE lot about that, but in some contexts a 2-second blank stare followed by “anyway, so I looked all over for my keys and you’ll never guess where they were” might do the trick.

    As far as feeling like you put in more work-effort or have to offer more flexibility than your coworkers with kids, stop doing it so much! If someone asks you if you’re available for this or that, you don’t HAVE to say yes to every single one. You are 100% allowed to say you can’t attend a meeting because you need to get something done during that timeframe, or that you can’t cover their task because you really have to leave on time today, etc.

    Also make sure you are taking some of the same flexibility for yourself! Ask a coworker to cover a meeting so YOU can take off an hour early one day. It could be to take your car for a tune-up or to go sit on your couch and watch TV. You don’t need a reason “as good as” the other person having kids to say no. Your reasons and your time are actually just as important as anyone else’s, including people with kids.

    1. Koala dreams*

      I think the last point is very important, especially with friends and family. Reciprocating is very important, but for that to happen you need to ask other people for help, not just offer to be the the one helping. When you always offer to help, it ruins the friendship. You can start out with small things, if it feels scary to ask for things from others.

  157. But why ...*

    Some absolutely awesome advice here about setting boundaries that applies to many situations!!

    I also wonder…. why people continue to ask favors… Could it be that you might have inadvertently encouraged it by responding – ‘Not a problem’ or “Happy to do it” or “Don’t worry about it” … IF so, maybe you need better responses for these kind of requests in both situations, when you do the work and when you don’t do the work.

    – First scenario – Let me check my calendar.. it going to be tight, I might be able to do just X and you can do the Y when you get back..

    – Second scenario – Sorry I unfortunately can’t. (you can add ..’I’m busy with something else’ if u feel like).

  158. Mehitabel*

    I have known a whole lot of folks with kids/grandkids. I’ve made allowances over and over and over again – making the extra effort, taking on the extra work. But yeah, when people start acting like they are *entitled* to my time and effort because of *their* kids, you bet that’s going to make me start setting boundaries and/or back away from the relationship.

    And I’ll just say this and leave it here. Ten years ago my mother was diagnosed with a devastating, terminal illness. I had to quit my job because she required full-time, in-home care. And all those friends, co-workers and acquaintances with kids who’d just taken for granted that I would go out of my way for them? Not one of them lifted a finger to help me when I desperately needed help. Not even moral support. They acted like I’d died, or moved to Antarctica. So after my mother died I found a new group of friends and co-workers.

    I learned, in the hardest possible way, that the only person on this planet who is *ever* going to look out for me, is me. So now, I put myself first. I’ll still offer support to others, and do so frequently, but only if it is convenient for me to do so. My days of ‘taking one for the team’ are *over*.

  159. Re'lar Fela*

    As a single parent with a tendency to overcommit myself (read: people pleaser), I can say without doubt that the parents in your life appreciate all of the accommodations that you have made for them. Things like flexible colleagues and co-volunteers make it possible for me to do anything at all (I can’t afford things like babysitters and don’t have local family). HOWEVER, as a single working parent (and I feel like I can speak for the majority of parents in general here), we *get* burnout. We feel it on a deep level. If a colleague who had previously bent over backwards to schedule meetings when convenient and covered for me came to me now and said “hey, I’m feeling a little rundown and taken advantage of and it would really help me out to have XYZ from you” I would 100% do XYZ and maybe throw in a little W too if I could swing it. Life is hard at different times and in different ways for everyone and it’s ok to have boundaries and ask to have your needs met. And from the tone of your letter, I sincerely doubt that you would offend anyone by doing so.

    Good luck and, on behalf of pandemic!parents everywhere, thank you <3

  160. BugSwallowersAnonymous*

    Some great advice in the thread, the only thing I would add is – if it’s too stressful to decide individually each time what to say yes or no to, are there a few categories of things that you could make an automatic ‘no’? Like, maybe you decide it’s most important that you’re off the clock by 5 on Fridays, or or you’re not available to run errands on Sundays. Sometimes that can be nice because then eventually people learn, “Oh, OP’s not doing that anymore so I need to ask someone else” and you don’t have to reinforce the boundary every time.

  161. kismet*

    I am a manager with young kids and supervise a mix of staff with and without kids. One thing that the pandemic really sharpened my view on was that there are two separate issues/pain points with being a working parent or working with a working parent, and they often get conflated. The first is the AMOUNT of work that someone can reasonably be responsible for and complete week to week, and the second is the SCHEDULE (and relatedly, how variable or unreliable the schedule is) that the person completes the work on.

    Some working parents have childcare or family arrangements where 40 hours of work per week is do-able, but they need some accommodations with the timing of that work – e.g., I can’t do meetings before 9:30am because I have a very specific window for dropping my kids off at school or daycare but I stay late, or I can’t work past 4:00pm but I wrap up the last hour of work from home after bedtime. Other parents don’t have enough childcare to reasonably take on 40 hours of work per week – and many parents in the first group found themselves unexpectedly in the latter group when COVID started shutting down daycares and schools unexpectedly and there were no back-up options available. Many managers and companies fell back on their experience of dealing with parents in the first situation (just time-shift! we can be flexible! we’ll avoid scheduling meetings that don’t work for you!) without really grappling with the fact that it wasn’t just a schedule issue, it was a workload issue. I think that disconnect is a big part of what resulted in so much being dumped unfairly on staff without children.

    For someone who is on the receiving end of lots of requests to accommodate working parents, it may be helpful to figure out how much of the issue is that it’s adding too much to your workload (bringing you above 40 hours or whatever is reasonable in your job), versus that it’s wreaking havoc on your schedule because you keep having to cover at times when you’re not prepared or you wouldn’t usually be working. Maybe it’s both. But they have different solutions: if it’s creating an issue with the AMOUNT of work you’re doing, it should be dealt with by pushing back on your manager, so if you take over something then something comes off your plate or gets pushed to next week/month. If you’re facing issues with the schedule–and particularly the predictability–of the work, I think that is more than fair to raise with the parents who are asking for help from you. There are things parents can do to reduce unexpected or unpredictable interruptions (including just being aware that the last-minute nature is a problem in and of itself), and it’s reasonable for any employee to have certain times they don’t or can’t work, whether that’s because of childcare or other outside commitments.

    I think more managers (and maybe more friends) need to kindly spell out to parents that even if they can’t magic up more childcare help to increase the amount of work they do, there is almost always *s0mething* they could be doing to improve the reliability of their schedule or reduce the impact of unpredictable last-minute schedule changes. I’ve observed that working parents who invest the effort to be more reliable (even at a lower overall level of contribution) tend to make their colleagues feel less put-upon, even if they still need some assistance to make everything work.

  162. HufferWare*

    I would separate all these situations out as they are different problems despite having the same (appearing) root cause. And as a childless person I’ve been in this exact position many times, here’s how I’ve approached these scenarios

    Personal Relationships- this is the easiest because you can just call it like it is and make minor adjustments for yourself. If you have plans with a parent, text/call them the day before and then again the day of before you leave your house or are prepping for their visit to confirm they are still coming. You are doing this for yourself and to keep your time sacred, not as a reminder service. Should you “have to” do this? It doesn’t matter: the problem is you being stood up, just focus on solving the problem and not “ideal world” scenarios. If your friend still stands you up or cancels last minute, contact them the next day and let them know! Children are unpredictable but do not prevent their parents from being kind or respectful. This conversation might be the end of your friendship for a long while or permanently, but that has nothing to do with children and everything to do with your friend’s shifting life priorities and what they feel they owe their friends (which is different for everyone with or without kids). An honest conversation is worth a friendship that is hurting you.

    Volunteer Groups- just say no. You are a volunteer and only you know what your limits are and only you can advocate for them. Someone declining volunteer work because of family commitments is merely stating their boundaries, which you are also allowed to do. If there’s more work than volunteers, that is the responsibility of the organization leaders. You feeling guilty that work isn’t getting done has nothing to do with other volunteers’ kids. It’s the sad nature of non profit work and the kinds of issues they are trying to address with extremely limited resources.

    Work- Leave kids out of it, stick to the data. If you are not able to get your work done, are working more hours than you reasonably can, are being left holding the bag for your coworkers lack of diligence, are taking the lead without getting the credit for work your coworkers should be doing, all of this can be addressed without anything having to do with kids. Productivity and quality dip for all sorts of reasons and an effective team needs to have reasonable systems in place to ensure that is not a long term issue. Your employer has many resources that you don’t to solve this problem, so your role is to point out the problem (you cannot do all the work but are being put in such a position) and let them fix it with said resources.

    Best of luck to you! Stay off Reddit, people hate children there and will poison your mind. We’re all just people trying to live our best lives in a very hard world.

  163. Lobsterman*

    Item 3 is the crux of the biscuit. Why should LW do literally anything for people who insult the life choices that put them in a position of being able to help?

  164. Caitlin*

    I can’t tell from the post if you’ve told people the impact their actions are having on you? If you think this is something you feel you want to do, I recommend the SBI model (Situation: last Thursday we were due to meet for coffee at 12. (Their) Behaviour: you texted me at 11:58 to say that you weren’t going to make it. Impact: this meant that we aren’t going to see each other for a month and I felt that you don’t value time spent with me). You can also focus on the specific behaviours that are problematic (like texting late) rather than the more emotive underlying “cause” (children).
    If this kind of conversation is something you are interested in having then I’d also suggest reading “Radical Candor” by Kim Scott (you’ve got the compassionate side she talks about down!).

  165. Sparkles McFadden*

    I came here to echo the ideas of setting boundaries and saying no.

    I would also like to say that the having issues with people who have kids is kind of a red herring. The issue isn’t that these people have kids. It’s that they are people who do not respect your time so you need to firm up your boundaries. The kids are just their convenient excuse. I’ve had plenty of coworkers who had kids emergencies (pre and post covid) and they were as considerate as they could possibly be. (Oh, and the people who keep hounding you to have kids are being jerks. They’d be jerks without the kids.)

  166. Lizy*

    As a parent of small-to-school-age children, I would absolutely want to know if my coworker was starting to feel resentful! I think a huge part to how it’ll come across is how you deliver your message. Especially if we already have a friendly relationship, I would be more than willing to accomidate someone who came up to me and said “Hey, Lizy, I know it’s been tough the past few years. I’m happy to help out and be flexible, but I’ve noticed recently that I think some people have gotten complacent. The last thing I want is to be resentful of your flexibility, and so I wanted to approach you now. I know sometimes it’s impossible, but if you could try to avoid last-minute things, I think that would really help me to be willing to help you more.”

    If it’s presented as a “help me help you” thing, I think you’ll have a lot of success. :)

  167. Susanna*

    This is less advice for you, and more advice for managers:
    Understand that your child-free, single employees have lives and pressures, too. Sometimes more – no other income to fall back on should someone lose his or her job.
    I’m thrilled too say I work somewhere where work/life/family balance is not biased in favor of people who have kids and spouses. I’m in awe of what my parent-colleagues have managed to do during the pandemic, and I’m happy to do what i can to make things a bit easier for them. Our manager does, too, leaving one of them basically alone during the time she picks her kids up from school. But – when I was going on vacation, and it looked imperiled days before departure because the EU was thinking about banning US travelers, my manager basically ordered me to take a day (not charged to PTO) to come up with Plan B, in case I couldn’t go. This doesn’t have to be a war of the parents and the child-free. We can help each other – but management needs to understand we ALL need flexibility and accommodation. The upside for management? I’d go to the wall for them, since I’m treated with kindness and respect.

  168. EllieCakes*

    Some thoughts on boundaries:

    For your work colleagues: when deciding whether to go out of your way for a parent, think about the character of the requestor. Think about who you can count on when life gets tough for you. Think about which parents were willing to lend you a hand in the time before they were parents. Those are the people cover for – because they’ll be there for you someday. I know that life isn’t supposed to be transactional, but if you’re going to draw boundaries, some people are going to be kept on the inside and some people on the outside. Don’t expend your precious goodwill on people that aren’t going to be willing to be there for you when you need it. And while we’re on the subject…….ASK for favors from parents every so often. See who’s willing to go to bat for you, and who hides behind the “I’d love to but, my kids……” business.

    For your friends: if you have any parent-friends that are on the cusp of becoming ex-friends because of their behavior, it may be worth it to have a very frank discussion with them. You’ll have little to lose, and it may save the friendship. I’ve had to do this twice, with good results one time and poor results the second time. The first friend was absolutely mortified when I gently called her on her behavior (child-centric to the point of ridiculousness) and we’re closer now than ever. The second friend claimed to be glad I brought up her behavior (I’d gotten tired of ALWAYS being the one to reach out and propose get-togethers) but things never changed. We run in the same circles and I see her occasionally but we haven’t socialized together in years because I’m STILL waiting for her to initiate something. I now think of her as “friend from a former time”, she no longer occupies mental bandwidth, and I’m free to give of myself to friends that both give AND take.

  169. Database Developer Dude*


    Please read that announcement from a startup freight distribution company somewhere out there. I can appreciate a request for empathy for parents, but that request, and the corresponding threat to remove comments outside that spirit, seem like more of the same. The perception is that picking up the slack is -expected- of those of us who are child free, and we’re wrong to not be at least a little resentful of being impacted by others’ life choices.

    The link is an email from a manager in the firm, likely the owner, losing his ish because three people have put in a two-week notice and didn’t think of the effect on the coworkers, especially those with CHILDREN (empahsis his).

    He then proceeds (and you know this has to be a man doing this…and since I am one, I can say that)….to impose, going forward, a requirement for a three month notice during which the person giving notice will receive a $6/hour pay cut.

    As long as there are attitudes out there like his, even the most gentle of “Have some grace for parents” will feel like it’s tone deaf to those of us who are child free.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m child-free myself, by choice. But I’m not willing to host comments that are hostile to parents as a class of people. I do not agree that that’s in any way analogous to the (disgusting and outrageous and likely illegal) Twitter post you linked to.

      1. JumpAround*

        I agree that there’s no need to be hostile to parents as a class of people, but I will admit that I flinched myself when I read your comment at the top of this. The way it came across to me was less “let’s all play nice and not be mean spirited” and more “everyone must maintain empathy for parents” which I think is this commenters point. It’s incredibly frustrating to be made to feel like you’re a bad person because after years you’re running out of empathy for a situation that you also did not ask for. It just feels like everything is so heavily weighted in parents favor.

  170. RB*

    I was just thinking about this today, not so much regarding parents but with people who tend to always bite off more than they can chew and other people suffer the consequences. I think this is just some people’s MO, they like to have a lot of things going on at once and otherwise they don’t feel fulfilled. It’s like the spinning plate analogy that another LW used. But then these people shouldn’t turn around and complain that their house is always a mess and they don’t have time to do yardwork. Some of us carve out time for that because for us it’s more of a priority than being on multiple committees and neighborhood task forces and whatever else. Maybe if those people feel overwhelmed all the time, they should just eliminate one thing and see how that feels — if it makes them feel less involved they can always add it back in after they get a few things caught up.

  171. irene adler*

    Kudos to you for being reliable and for helping others out whenever asked.
    The advice above about setting boundaries is good. So is saying ‘no’ so as to preserve your sanity-which is more important than the task involved or the entity that needs the task done.

    Management should also attempt some semblance of fairness here. Remind folks to avoid the last-second request for help. Give as much advanced notice as possible. Maybe assign a rotating list of “go-to” persons when that last minute request is needed. The “go-to” persons need not be the childless folks either. Parents can help out other parents.

    As to the constant question of what’s “wrong” with you that you don’t have kids: Asking that question of you should be enough for you to decline assisting them. But that’s probably not how you operate. Just know they are ignorant and you are fine. I don’t have kids either. In fact, I’m also not married. I get shocked looks and the “are you happy?” question when someone finds out I’m not married. I just stare back at them until they get uncomfortable. Sheesh!

  172. She of Many Hats*

    A possible script to help you: “I’ve been taking on a lot extra tasks and covering X & Y when things arise with colleagues during the pandemic. I am finding it is starting to affect my work. I need you to find a different solution at this time.” [And being resentful of coworkers *is* something that affects your work]

  173. Vivian*

    Years ago when I worked at a call center, end of month was always busier and people were asked to put in extra hours.
    I can still remember our coordinator telling us: “Picking up your kids from school is as important as attending a gym class”.
    It’s not, and I think she knew that (she was a mother of 2 young kids herself and often putting in those extra hours like ourselves), what she meant is that people without kids have lives too, and if parents make a small extra effort that means the non-parents don’t need to extend themselves so much.
    As a single woman with no children, to me this is about knowing your boundaries. We have lives too, and family members who need our attention, and hobbies we care about. Being supportive doesn’t mean you’re the only one making sacrifices.
    By the way I’ve never seen this much at play at work (except for the call center), because it’s usually something that can hinder one’s professional development. And I live in a country with fairly generous policies regarding child care (good maternity and paternity leaves, and time off days for parents to care for their kids when they’re sick), but employers favor people who are generally available and willing to go the extra mile, and not having that flexibility can make you lose career opportunities. During the pandemic a lot of people were (sadly) afraid of losing their jobs, and most working parents I know were really stretching themselves to parent and perform well at the same time.

  174. lizzay*

    I think one thing to do is try to determine case by case if the person is honestly & truly having issues or is just kind of a rude [butt] situation. In the case you mentioned, getting cancelled on a minute before the start of a meeting, not knowing anything else about the situation sounds like someone who doesn’t have much respect for your time (you didn’t know the babysitter wasn’t showing until 1 minute before? Feels like they could have known at least 5 or 10 minutes boforehand – maybe 4 extra minutes doesn’t help, but it’s better than last minute). Is it the same person over & over again, taking advantage b/c they know you’ll pick up their slack? Having kids isn’t an excuse for assuming someone else’s time isn’t valuable. On the other side, if it is truly just bad luck/bad system/a one-off issue, then I guess your options are a lot of what people have posted above, set your limits for what you can/can’t do for your mental health, try to reframe it in your head, breathe.

  175. Cremedelagremlin*

    I encounter a similar issue, but not specifically with parents – just generally. I was raised in religion and really internalized that if I do “good deeds” I need to basically do them secretly. The result is that I often overextend myself trying to make other people more comfortable/do my job exceptionally well, but I’m uncomfortable talking about it, so it often goes unnoticed (which is fine, except I think then people either expect these things to just happen or think I’m not pulling my weight because they don’t see my contributions, or in some cases, don’t really notice me at all).

    I haven’t figured out how to fix it, short of marching around announcing what I’m doing, though I’ve observed that other people manage to be seen without overtly grabbing for attention or credit.

    I do think, for LW, saying “no” more often might help people to notice that these are actually things you are doing voluntarily, and sometimes at an inconvenience to yourself, which might adjust expectations. I also think letting it show sometimes that a situation is difficult or inconvenient for you might help. (I don’t know about you, but in my quest to make sure everyone around me is maximally comfortable at all times, I often hide my own discomfort.)

  176. Grounded Expectations*

    many of us are doing the best we can. Part of this “new normal” is adjusting expectations. There is no way – pre pandemic- levels of work are being done every day all day. People (with and without kids) are burning out. Others are re-prioritzing things.

    Between vendor delays and shipping issues, the company I work for has had to adjust customer expectations in regards to deliverables. Sometimes the answer is just flat out “no” and that is okay (it can suck). We have periodically (every 2 months) revisited updating things to go back to the “old” schedule with faster turn arounds, but it’s still not feasible. It is more important to the company I work for to have realistic expectations for customers rather than a bunch of people grumpy we didn’t provide X on Y date or earlier, especially if we knew it was going to be delayed from the get go.

    We are also taking our sales team in hand to remind them of what we can actually promise and when. They got a little over excited as things “opened” back up.

  177. Zee*

    If you’re routinely taking on a significant amount of extra work from your coworkers, that’s a management issue. Alison has written many times about this in the past – search the archives for some good language to use. If your coworkers are unavailable, it’s your manager’s job to make sure the work gets done in a way that is fair to the other employees.

    As for volunteering… I know it’s hard when it’s something you care about, but you really have to just say no. Volunteer coordinators are fully used to people saying “I can do 3 hours a week”. That’s normal and expected. Tell them it’s a firm limit, and they’ll stop asking you to cover for others.

  178. Dorothea Vincy*

    I’m lucky enough now to work at a job where there’s a mixture of parents and non-parents and where people asking you to cover for parental obligations give as much as notice as possible in advance (so it’s not significantly different from being asked to cover if someone’s sick). I used to work at a job where this wasn’t the case and I was almost the only person there who didn’t have children, and a lot of resentment built up in me over time, especially when people were asking me to do things that were physically impossible, like get somewhere twenty miles away in five minutes because God forbid that they miss a single minute of Little Miranda’s piano recital. It didn’t help that I was told over and over again that I was a selfish evil person for not having children and that being in the hospital at one point when asked to cover for a coworker with a sick child “wasn’t an excuse.”

    Moving on from that job restored my sense of balance and my willingness to do things for parents. I hope it won’t be that extreme a situation for you, OP, but one thing to remember is that some things fall into an irrational pattern not through any single person’s doing but because people just get used to it and don’t remember things can be different. If you can start setting boundaries, then you might be the needed change in your situation. Most people will probably be fine with that, and it’ll help separate out the ones who aren’t and who you can start reasonably doing fewer favors for or stop expecting notice from.

  179. greenleaf*

    I am a woman in my 30’s and happily childfree and I totally understand this. It really is an impossible and draining situation for everyone. Here are the two things I’ve done to stay sane:

    1.) Use your PTO! If you’re feeling resentful and burnt out, it is absolutely time to take that vacation. Be as unreachable as possible while you’re taking it too.
    2.) Set boundaries – you are just as entitled to boundaries around your work load and schedule as parents are. Absolutely help when you can and feel your are fully able to (logistically and emotionally), but when you’re not, it’s totally okay to say you can’t accommodate a meeting outside your normal schedule one day, or you can’t take on that last minute project.

    As far as friends/family go – the same thing generally applies. If you’re not feeling up to hanging out with a friend with their kid around, just say you can’t make it that time! Offer to help your friends find a babysitter, if that’s something you’re willing to do, so you can have a night with them alone (that’s been a huge help in my relationships with my parent friends). All in all, if you feel yourself starting to get resentful, personally or professionally, take a break and set some boundaries until you feel you’re able to help out again.

  180. StickneyMurphy*

    A lot of people are hitting on all the right things here: set boundaries around your time. It’s great that you are understanding. But you don’t need to be endlessly flexible just because you don’t have kids.

    I’ve seen a lot of this sentiment in general and the pandemic has made it so much worse. What’s truly frustrating is seeing the resentment between coworkers instead of being directed toward management that prioritizes maximizing profits while putting employees against each other by remaining understaffed and taking advantage of parents and non-parents alike. Ruthless capitalism in action.

    At its root, this is a staffing (both at work and volunteer) issue and not a parent vs non-parent issue. But it sure benefits the boss for it to be seen that way!

  181. KRN*

    I think if it were me, I’d look at the people I am bending over backwards to help and ask myself “Would these be the people who help me if I got cancer? If my house burned down? If I lost me job?” If the answer is yes, do what you can for those core members of your community while you are healthy, employed, and housed.

    If you are single, you may need help one day. That’s community. Helping each other as much as you can without burning yourself out. It’s up to you to know your boundaries and limits if you’re experiencing burnout – start putting some in place if that’s what’s happening.

    1. Despachito*

      I think that the answer to your questions from the first paragraph would be almost always “no”, if those people are coworkers, and I would adjust my willingness to bend over backwards for them accordingly.

      And, honestly, I can see a bit of gender playing into it as well – I am convinced OP is a woman, and I am wondering whether people would still expect her to accommodate them were she a man.

  182. BlueberryFields*

    Honestly, I have a lot of empathy for parents, I really do (although my following comment may not seem like it). But I am frustrated, too.

    But as a childless person, the accommodations always seem to go in one direction–in my workplace it is childcare funds, more flexibility, extra days off for parents and caregivers. The managers are all parents. And it becomes their identity. Maybe it’s also because I am a queer woman and I am used to not being supported certain parts of society, but like…okay, cool you had a child. I am sorry that society doesn’t support parents in the workplace, but it also doesn’t do much for anyone else, either.

    The working world is going to be in for a rude awakening when many Gen-Zs (who, if the younger Millennials in their early 30s like myself are any indication), won’t even be able to afford a child or house until well into their 30s, never mind if they want one. The world is falling apart. I get it, it has been hard for parents. But parents are not extra special just because they are parents, especially in the workplace.

    So I encourage you to push back. Say no. Talk about the inequity in meetings. Tell your coworkers that you can’t actually take on their work. Let the parents figure it out. Let the management figure it out. Let the parents who are managers figure it out. Save your energy and empathy for your friends.

    1. OP*

      I think this is such a reasonable take! We are allowed to be frustrated, particularly if we have identities or just lives where our needs just aren’t really considered as much as others’. Maybe it’s harder for those of us where this is the thousandth time we are in a context where we are (subtly, unintentionally) made to feel like we matter less.

      We don’t, though! We matter too :)

  183. Didi*

    As a fairly new parent at 41, I can say I completely understand this issue.
    Some things are unavoidable. Picking up some extra work as a team because a person is on parental leave is one thing. (Although I will say that I do believe that the only fair way for that to work is if it’s a team pickup. Asking one person to do 2 jobs is completely ridiculous).

    It’s great to be flexible, but some things are not reasonable. The extra tasks that come from a colleague leaving early to pick up kids should not fall on you. A supervisor needs to hash out when that person can get their tasks done.

    Rescheduling a meeting so it’s convenient for a person’s childcare is fine once in a while, but it shouldn’t be a regular thing.

    Even with regards to personal life with “friends with kids” if a last minute cancellation happens more than once in a quarter then that person is just rude. If a friend can never make time to see you because they have a kid, then it’s probably not a good friend. Friendships are about give and take and when the hard stuff is just on one side, it’s all give and no take.

    As for a solution, I’m not sure. I think it’s reasonable to push back when things become too much. You’re not a mule for the parents in your work and personal life. You shouldn’t be expected to carry all the load.

  184. Wombats and Tequila*

    If you’re asked what’s wrong with you that you don’t have kids, that’s a very rude question and you are not obliged to indulge the asker!

    “What do you mean by, ‘What’s wrong with me?'”

    If they are actually terrible enough to justify their answer, keep harping on the “wrong with me” thene.

    “You’re saying there’s something wrong with me?”

    “What a thing to say.”

    “What kind of a question is that?”

    “Why do you assume there’s something wrong with me?”

    “You realize you just told me to my face that there’s something wrong with me.”

    “What an awkward question.”

    “That’s a private matter.” If they’re being really pushy: “This is a topic I only discuss with friends.”

  185. Milly*

    I work with mostly childless people. They either have grown children or they are an amazing stepparent. I appreciate them dearly, and I don’t and wouldn’t expect them to take on my tasks just because I have three young children.
    I have to make boundaries between my work and personal life, for my mental health and my family, and I encourage and expect others to do the same.
    No one has a monopoly on stress. Just because someone’s childless doesn’t mean they don’t have important things to handle.
    If anyone feels as though they’re suffering because others can’t handle their role, that’s poor leadership. A person who isn’t able to fill their position for whatever reason needs to be helped, but not at the cost of another’s workload.
    The team needs to be accessed and work restructured so no one feels burdened.

  186. Marzipan Shepherdess*

    Happily childfree-by-choice retired teacher here:

    LW, I second what many readers have suggested; determine what extra help you’re able to give WITHOUT becoming burned out, exhausted and resentful. It may be that twisting your personal schedule into a pretzel is causing you to lose sleep – it’s certainly causing you to lose the opportunity to enjoy recreation. And you NEED that – you need to be able to refresh and recharge, however you do that! Whether it’s time for going to movies and museums with friends, enjoying favorite sports, working on crafts or hobbies or simply curling up with that book you’ve been wanting to read, you NEED downtime for yourself. This is just as important as helping out others!

    And a note to all people who think they’re being “helpful” by demanding to know why someone doesn’t have children: Shut up. Many of us ARE childfree by choice, but many others are struggling with infertility and coming to the searing realization that they will never be able to have the children they’ve wanted to have all their lives. Questions about one’s reasons for not having children are almost always accusatory in tone, with an undercurrent of “What’s the MATTER with you?” or “Are you one of THOSE (bad) women who have sex for pleasure instead of for baby-making?” The reasons why an individual does not have children are none of your business!

  187. Tantallum99*

    I haven’t read through all the comments so this may have already been mentioned but when I was childless in my mid-late 30s and felt like
    I was picking up tons of extra slack for parents when I specifically chose not to have kids. I actually read this from Carolyn Hax and it was honestly life changing with regards to my mindset (paraphrasing): yes, you don’t have kids by choice but these parents are raising the people who will make the world turn when you are elderly and retired: tomorrow’s doctors/nurses, transportation people, first responders, even politicians and government leaders. The world will need good people, and giving parents some leeway now is actually doing something for YOUR future.

    1. Claire*

      I think that makes a lot of sense when it comes to stuff like taxes and child benefits and schools and such, but no one deserves to be run ragged by insufficient staffing. That’s not the world I want for my children. In business situations, it’s the company that’s benefiting from employees’ extra work and no one needs to light themselves on fire to keep the company warm.

    2. DJ*

      Firstly the snarky comments around you not having kids is unacceptable. Address with the first conversation saying something like “You just said [repeat comment]. I respect that you are a parent and although I don’t fully understand the juggle it involves I empathise. However I also expect the same respect back so please stop say [summary of their comment]”. Second convo “How rude, please stop” and walk away if they persist.
      With work if you come in early/work back late/miss lunch to accommodate a parent then you get to leave early/have a long lunch even if it’s on another day i.e. a Friday. Can you talk to your supervisor/manager about what parts of your work do you drop/prioritise if you are expected to pick up on work for others? Work out how much time you can allow to “flex” to parents, when, how often which will help you set boundaries with them.
      Talking of learning more about setting boundaries I’d recommend reading Cloud and Townsend’s book Boundaries. One of them has regular Thursday online Q&A sessions so join both their facebook pages to find out more.
      With your friends consider what would you like these to look like in relation to give and take? Decide on what is realistice. Then set your boundaries. I’ve also noticed that some commenters have suggested making friends with other childless/free individuals which I fully echo.

    3. DJ*

      She bends over backwards to accommodate both her parent colleagues and friends and gets snarky comments (at work at least) in return. And she’ll be paying through the nose for those services when she gets older! I understand in the US she can’t leave any remaining retirement funds to a person of her choice like a married person can.

      1. Claire*

        FYI that’s not true, you can name a non-spouse (even a non-relative) as a 401k or IRA beneficiary. Not the main point but wanted to make sure no one got confused! And it’s a good idea to check your 401k/IRÀ beneficiaries on a regular basis to make sure they are up to date because inheritance of those accounts follows the designated beneficiaries, not the will. Check your wills and paperwork everyone!

  188. Sick of Workplace Bullshit*

    This is so timely for me. We are about to start negotiations for our next collective agreement at work, and someone (with a small child) suggested that parents should get school holidays off. I, a childless 53, countered that it was dangerously close to giving perks (for lack of a better term) to one group but not another, and that what everyone needed was paid personal days, regardless of children.

    I was accused of being unsupportive of women’s issues because of this. By a man, no less. It is absolutely infuriating to be *expected* to make the lives of parents easier, as if I don’t have anything else legitimate to do with my time. I’m always happy to help my colleagues when I can, but the expectation that whatever parents have going on is always more important is so damaging.

    1. Response1234*

      I’m sorry this is your experience. I am a mother with two school-aged children and while I appreciate when people make reasonable accommodations, I don’t expect to be treated different. I am very fortunate to have an incredible support system and the biggest frustration I face is having to convince people I can take on additional responsibility (and therefore advance in my career). I hate the “are you sure? I know you have kids” type empathy/ best intentions. Yes, I am telling you I can and you need to believe me!

      I’ve accommodated people who are having health issues or caring for elderly parents and appreciate the same thoughtfulness with my kids… but in my mind it should be fair and recognizing we are all individuals.

    2. OP*

      Yes, this! The fact that someone even felt comfortable saying this out loud is the whole problem! I think there’s an entitlement displayed by some (not everyone, obviously, as the vast majority of comments on here demonstrate, including the other one in response to this comment).

    3. Poppy*

      I was accused of being unsupportive of women’s issues because of this.

      Good heavens. I wonder why he thought children were a women’s issue specifically?

  189. Anon for this*

    I’m married but childless (by choice) in my mid 40s, so I can imagine some of the conversations related to point #3. I’m actually reading “Childfree by Choice” by Amy Blackstone (about halfway through) and it’s interesting to read different perspectives, misguided assumptions, and stereotypes related to having children or not in the US. Of course there’s nothing wrong with us!

    I’ve only skimmed a couple of comments, but I second some of the feedback about setting boundaries and taking care of yourself. The past couple years have been hard on everyone. Parents have definitely had particular challenges with school, children and child care, but you still need to take care of yourself, and can’t solve everyone else’s challenges (and you probably have had some unique ones of your own – I know I have, even without children.) Fortunately, I don’t feel like colleagues have “expected” me to help out in relation to their child care issues, but it’s a personal goal for me to be helpful to colleagues because I value the team I’m part of. After the past two years of my own work being ramped up for a variety of pandemic-related reasons, I’m exhausted, physically and emotionally. I’ve only just recently started consciously reducing the number of things I volunteer to help with and the pace at which I complete some work. I’m figuring out how to be ok with that, it isn’t easy.

    It is ok not to offer to help or to decline something. Colleagues may not realize how many things are falling on your plate from different people. At some point, it may be worth having a big picture conversation with your manager about what you can reasonably manage, if you haven’t already.

  190. Someone*

    I wonder if the expectation exists because they have always stepped up without it seeing like a burden. At one point I got annoyed with my team for always putting a small, yet frequent administrative tasks on me — I realized that I had taught them to do so because I stepped in at one point just to get things done and at the was like “it’s no big deal — we are all a team”. Honestly all it took was being clear with my team — just saying “I know I did this task to accelerate in the past, but it really is beyond my scope and I no longer have capacity.” No one was offended, just acknowledged my contribution and it should be shared it cross team.

  191. Retired (but not really)*

    As someone who was always volunteering for everything, I had to learn to step back a bit and decide if it was something that I really wanted to do, had the time and energy to do, or if it was just something that I could do but someone else needed to do it instead. It’s a continuing battle, because if I see it needs to be done in a timely manner and nobody is doing it, well you know what happens next! It’s a really good way to get yourself exhausted, resentful and grumpy.

    Do schedule yourself some down time often, even if it’s just a couple of hours every day or two. And plan on an extended time to “get outta Dodge” and do something fun, if just for a weekend. Years ago a friend and I needed to do just that and went to another friend’s son’s wedding in a neighboring state. Drove a couple hundred miles, spent a couple nights in a motel, enjoyed the wedding and good Cajun cooking at the potluck buffet reception, and came home refreshed.

  192. Boss lady*

    47 here, professional with two teenagers. I just want to echo all of those who have said BOUNDARIES! Yes, you are empathetic, kind, and generous, and therefore awesome, and you deserve downtime and a reasonable workload, too.

    One thing I know has worked for many is to schedule time for yourself. “Sorry, I’m not available then” is the only explanation you need give. It doesn’t matter if you’re not available because you’re binge watching Bridgerton. Or maybe you just need to set a monthly limit on the early morning meetings and late nights and be ready to say no when you reach your quota.

    It’s ok to say no sometimes and you don’t need to explain why or justify yourself. But mostly I wanted to express my solidarity with you from the “other side” of this as a once-upon-a-time stressed parent of young kiddos.

    Please take care of yourself, awesome person!

  193. Varthema*

    There’s a lot here on setting boundaries, but I noticed there are three categories of situations here which possibly deserve different boundaries:

    – Co-workers: These are the people who need grace the most, because parents need incomes and society needs a new generation to be doctors and pay taxes and whatnot. BUT, as others have said, this grace shouldn’t come from you and other childless coworkers alone. Take on what you want to, but set boundaries on the overtime and above-and-beyond just as they do. I think one reason there’s a perception that parents dump their work on others is that parents get a crash course in setting these boundaries on their free time since they suddenly HAVE to. But that doesn’t mean they get exclusive rights to do so.

    – Volunteers: After one last-minute cancellation or even two, I think it’s more than reasonable to say, “It looks like you don’t have the bandwidth for this level of commitment. I sympathize, but unfortunately we were left in a tight spot on x and y occasions. Maybe you’d be better off helping with [non-time-sensitive task]?” or alternatively, “Thanks for your help, we’d love to see you back when you have the time!” If you don’t have the standing to say this, and can’t get anyone else to say this to them, then you’re unfortunately stuck in the position of just letting things fall apart when people renege on their commitments (really hard but the problem has to be visible to people managing the labor). Or, devote your time to an org that is better at organizing their volunteers.

    Friends – Tough one again, but again, give what you want to. If you’re keen on making the friendship stick, they’ll really appreciate all that extra effort, trust me. I’m newly in this position and I just have… nothing left, at the end of the day. Nothing. Not enough to organize anything, anyway. But it’s also totally fair to let these friendships hibernate until the critical small child period has passed and invest in friendships with people who have more spoons available to them.

    Questioning your choices re kids is just garbage though, no matter who’s doing it.

    1. Despachito*

      I think that a great chunk of the co-workers/parents issue could resolve itself with sufficient staffing (and therefore no need of regular overtime), and if people are given as much flexibility as possible with tasks that can be done outside the office.

      When I had kids, I was able to continue caring for them and at the same time delivering full-time, but I am lucky enough to have a profession enabling me to WFH, and I just worked at evenings and nights. It was my choice and I do not regret it one tiny bit, and I think that although this is not doable for everybody, it is doable for much more people if their employers are willing to give them this possibility (there is often no reason why the Jones report couldn’t be finished at home in the evening, thus enabling the parent to leave work earlier).

      Re volunteering – it is not done frequently here, and I wonder why people feel they should do this if it is clear that they have already a lot on their plate. As a working parent with little kids volunteering would be the first thing I’d sacrifice without batting an eye.

      Re friendships – I was lucky enough that almost entire group of friends had kids at the same time, so we were able to socialize along with the kids. But if it weren’t the case, I absolutely do not think it would be a problem for a friendship to meet with less frequency if someone is overwhelmed, there are times in life when you have more time and when you have less, and it is only natural. However, I do think that flaking out and showing disrespect IS a problem. (If you tell me that you cannot meet up because you are overwhelmed with work, it would be OK. If you keep cancelling last minute and pretend it’s no big deal, THIS would be a big problem)

  194. KB*

    As a single, childfree-in-my-early-40, soon-to-be-ex volunteer manager, who is also a terrible people-pleaser, I’d like to offer the following thoughts:

    I know it can be difficult, but set boundaries with your volunteer manager (VM). Set out the shifts you can work, and explain that you will no longer be able to assist beyond those times. Do NOT offer additional information about why. Let the VM draw their own conclusions about that. While ‘no’ is a complete sentence, it can be one of the hardest to say. ‘I’m afraid I’m no longer available at those times’ may feel more comfortable. Consider taking up a new hobby, or say you are doing so, to justify it if that would help.

    If your VM does not accept this (and does not add how grateful they are for the additional time you HAVE done) then they are very bad at their job. Volunteer management is HARD and the pandemic made it exponentially harder, but that doesn’t justify them failing to realise and appreciate the effort you are putting in. It’s also not something you can fix or make better. If they haven’t realised that they need to be bringing in more people, or to restructure the role to fit the volunteers they do have, that’s on them, not on you. It’s probably also not something you can fix.

    It may be time to consider moving to a new volunteer organisation and, when you start there, setting clear boundaries on the time you are willing to give it out of your life. It’s absolutely wonderful that you volunteer at all – try and find somewhere that doesn’t take you for granted!

    But first, though, give yourself a break and acknowledge the hard yards you’ve put in (even if nobody else does it for you). If you don’t want to leave the organisation altogether, consider taking some time off. That will have the additional bonus of making the volunteer manager reassess the roles and consider what the organisation is really asking of its volunteer cohort. It will also give you time for yourself, and perhaps that will help the (very understandably) resentment you are feeling fade a little.

    1. Despachito*

      How can a VM NOT accept that someone is no longer possible to work for them for free? What are they going to do, fire the volunteer?

      And why is it necessary to volunteer at all, if it is taking its toll on the volunteer’s wellbeing? I thought the reasonable thing was to volunteer IF and WHEN the person has enough time on their hands to do this comfortably, not to do that at any cost.

      Also, an organization which is taking volunteer work for granted to the extent that they frown at a person who was giving them a lot of their time but cannot do that anymore, is not worth working for.

  195. Bazinga*

    Sometimes you just have to say no. Because you always say yes, they assume you’re always free.
    Of course help sometimes, but sometimes just say “sorry, I have plans”.
    Those plans could be watching TV at home. You’re allowed to have a life outside of work.

  196. Yellow*

    You need to start setting boundaries and valuing yourself equally to others.

    It sounds to me like you’re lying down across the threshold and a little surprised that you’re being walked over.

    People quickly adapt to expect that which is readily available. I can easily see how busy parents could take up your flexibility and initially be grateful. But then over time, as it becomes the norm, the gratefulness declines and they, and you, start expecting these kindnesses as the default. They probably aren’t viewing them as kindnesses or favours any more. But just – you as a helpful person fulfilling your role.

    You need to reset those expectations by pulling back and being less available. It’s reasonable to want to catch up with friends without it being about catching up with their kids. It’s reasonable to expect not to always be sorting dinner when you go to a friend’s house. It’s reasonable to expect that you don’t always have the early start or late finish. It’s reasonable to expect people to turn up for their shifts.

    So start being less available. You need to work out a practical balance between selfish and being walked over. You don’t have to start with everyone at once, but you do need to start being less available. Pick specific things to step back with. That could be I won’t do both early morning and late day together. That might be only picking up 3 late finishes a week. Or making at least every 4th catch up with a friend not child-focussed. Or turning off your phone so you can’t sub in for volunteers who drop out at short notice.

    You might also benefit from expanding your social network and finding some friends/groups that do not revolve around children. Just as it’s important for parents to connect with other parents, it can be really good for non-parents to have those connections with others in a similar life situation.

    Many parents do have it really tough. But when crises extend over long periods of time, it isn’t an emergency anymore. It’s just life. And your life is equally important and valuable.

  197. That One Person*

    I’m definitely in the “set boundaries” camp as I’ve had to apply it in a different way for myself. For me its a matter of how social I am since sometimes I need “alone time” to recharge and if I didn’t then I’d become resentful of the people who kept “stealing my time.” That luckily doesn’t mean you have to forever stop helping people as it sounds like you do get something from it so the real trick will be finding that good middle ground of being helpful, but not used at every opportunity either. The other thing to recognize is that your needs are important too even if you don’t share the particular responsibility of children. Also remind yourself: you shouldn’t be the only resource available. Yes times are currently tough, but as a childless person I can assure you that you’re not the only person without kids to worry about and rely on. So please remember to take care of yourself and if resentment is bubbling up then your boundary has been pushed too far and you need some time for yourself.

  198. Enginarian (Canada)*

    a comment I thought should be made:
    I have two children – both in late 20s. I have never considered parenting difficult. I don’t consider marriage difficult or hard work.
    Lucky? Maybe. Or perhaps we just do it well. And I did not have family helping either.

    But just want to say it is not always hard work or difficult or demanding.

  199. PayRaven*

    I think this has been touched on, but to make it explicit: if something doesn’t get done in the workplace, the world won’t end.
    If a coworker asks if you can cover a meeting, and you can’t (this is your messaging to them; whether you can’t because you will literally perish or you can’t because you have a date with a bubble bath and a book doesn’t matter), then the meeting doesn’t happen, and the world won’t end.
    If a friend asks if you can take on X thing so that they can do Y volunteering thing, and you can’t, then that volunteering thing falls through, and the world won’t end.
    We CANNOT keep doing all the things we did when times were easier. Some of the balls are plastic, and it’s okay to drop them.

    1. PayRaven*

      (If you’re in a job where people will literally die if something gets missed, this doesn’t quite apply, but it doesn’t sound like that’s the case.)

  200. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    I think the OP has received resounding, consensus advice on this blog to just say NO and to set appropriate boundaries. I am guessing that much of the problem is self-created by an overly accommodating OP. I have decades in the workforce without having any children – I acknowledge the problem is real and always has been real (in the Before Times too), but there are ways to successfully handle this in the workplace and minimize or even remove the problem. But it always starts with the word NO.

    Also, regarding receiving hurtful remarks as in #4: That’s a jerk who says that. No one ever said that to me, but if they had, they would have received an appropriately sharp reply from me and they would never say it again.

  201. Darlene*

    Personally, as a mother, who works in a profession dominated by women who don’t have kids, my answer is say no. No is an acceptable answer. You should not be responsible for carrying this burden on your own. It sounds like you have been more than flexible, but it seems people expect it. So set boundaries. Figure out what your limit is and be sure not to go past it. Sorry, I have commitments is an acceptable answer. And for the record, being asked why you’re not having babies is completely inappropriate. I think an acceptable answer to that is, “What a rude and insensitive thing to say.”

  202. Jennifer*

    I love seeing letters like this that are self-reflective and honest. I’m in a very similar situation to the LW and like them, 40’ish without kids, and I am the one who usually accommodates them. The difference I’ve found (for all you parents out there) is the ones who appreciate it, acknowledge it and thank you for your time vs. the ones who feel entitled to it. Thank those people who always come to you, acknowledge that their time is also valuable! Makes all the difference in the world. And sometimes I make a decision for myself – so if I ask them to do something and they then ask if we can do it at a different time during their kids’ naps I just say, “Oh sorry that won’t work for me, another time maybe!”

    I agree with the work advice too. Just because you are childless doesn’t mean you don’t get to set any boundaries. I play tennis twice a week and leave work at 5pm on the dot, just like my coworkers who have to pick up kids at daycare.

  203. AnonymousReader*

    Are you me? Haha, I had the exact same issue when my manager and several coworkers became a parents at the same time. All I can say is “it gets better!” Kids grow up and become more independent as they mature and parents will be able to focus on work (or at least that’s what I keep telling myself). I know you’re probably afraid of getting in trouble (I am!) for being perceived as not child friendly for saying no but my best advice is to be strategic about the things that are in your control. Easy wins are scheduling meetings during school/daycare hours when parents are least likely to be distracted. It sucks to work around other people’s schedule and priorities but it is what is is. Sorry I can’t offer better advice! I just want you to know you’re not the only one.

  204. PlainJane*

    There are so many things wrong with asking people why they don’t have children that I can’t believe anyone still thinks it’s appropriate. I’m also childless without any further opportunities to have children, and it was NOT a choice, and I think if anyone asked me that, I’d burst into tears on the spot.

  205. Teapot Wrangler*

    It is really hard – I am lucky enough not to have too much of this at work but in my personal relationships, almost every friend has at least one child under the age of five, often more. I realised that in a lot of those cases, I was the only one putting effort into the friendship and decided to let my effort slide too. I decided that I would not be the first person to make contact and see who still got in touch with me and only put the effort in with those people. I’m actually very sad about a few of those people but I need to be realistic and realise that I’m just not a priority for them at the moment and stop flogging the dead horse of our friendship. I’m hoping that maybe things will change when their kids are older but we’ll have to see.
    No real advice but just commiserations – I have found the last minute cancellations particularly hard – I know I don’t have kids to wrangle but I still do have a schedule and plans and the lack of respect for that really ground me down. I realised I was getting bitter and angry so took a step back.

  206. Horse and Carriage*

    I’m in my early 40s, I don’t have kids, and I’m a people pleaser, so I feel the OP. I’ve struggled with doing too much and then getting at angry at people. It helped to stop and realize that people who are asking things of me don’t see everything that is being asked of me so they don’t know I’m overwhelmed. They also are not to blame for the fact that I take on too much because I want to help. (This does not apply to work, however; there I am asked to take on far too much to cover for parents because we are understaffed for even an ideal situation, which a pandemic is not.)

  207. Lauren*

    I am 35 and currently childless (my partner and I are planning to have children in the future – we met less than a year ago).

    I have always asserted, however, even when I was a single person, that I *do* have a family and family obligations and I have always presented those as if they are the same as anyone else’s family obligations (because they are). As others have mentioned here, I have had caregiving responsibilities for a parent many times over the years that required just as much time, energy, and emotional energy in a given day that a child would (and I did not have a partner to share these responsibilities with).

    Normalize this. Normalize that all people have families and thus, family obligations (your chosen, non-blood family counts too if that is who your family is!).

  208. bopper*

    Sometimes it is about setting boundaries.
    “Sorry I have a hard stop at 5:00.”
    or “have an appointment” (with your spouse or cat or whatever)

    “Sorry I have an appointment scheduled.”

  209. Enlyghten*

    “I’m childless in my late thirties, so I am:

    3) constantly asked what’s wrong with me that I don’t have kids. (Answer: nothing! There are many pathways to a meaningful life!)”

    I wonder, with how this is written, if you’ve internalized the ‘no kids = not good’ mentality. You even feel the need to rationalize it in the quoted comment. I don’t say this to mock or trivialize your experience – I’m childfree, have been taken advantage of because of it, and had internalized the stigma in my past.

    Things seemed to change for me when I reframed the whole idea in my mind. I am childfree, not childless (childless is implicitly stating that you are missing or lacking something – ‘childfree’ might not be the right descriptor for you, but it seems clear that ‘childless’ isn’t either). When I stopped trying to rationalize my decision to other people and just started owning my decision fully, things changed in a massive way. ‘How many kids do you have?’ None. ‘When are you going to have kids?’ I’m not. ‘Why don’t you have kids?’ I don’t want them. State it matter-of-factly as if you were answering a question about your dinner last night.

    In my experience most of the people talking with you will walk away at this point or start a more personal discussion/interrogation. At this point you get to decide if they’re conversing with honest intentions or not. If they’re honestly curious and openly listening, you can choose to continue the discussion (or not). If they don’t appear to have honest intentions, you don’t owe anyone an intimate conversation regarding your reproductive choices (other than a spouse, perhaps). Couch the response however you want, but make it clear that their comments are odd and off-putting. As is often advised here, you can say something like ‘Why would you ever say something like that to a colleague?’. If they can feel comfortable questioning your reproductive choices, you can certainly feel comfortable questioning their questioning choices.

    There are any number of reasons to not to create offspring, but none of the perfectly legitimate reasons are the least bit compelling to the kind of people who judge you for not having children. ‘You’ll change your mind’, or ‘You’ll understand how wrong you are when…’ is implicitly condescending. It’s honestly maddening and shockingly outrageous that anyone believes there needs to be a reason to not have children. It makes infinitely more sense to need to have a reason TO have children. (You’re) not getting a goldfish. The choice shouldn’t be based on a whim or social pressure. (You) should be as sure as you can possibly be before (you) make a decision to have children.

    There is no rational reason to judge someone who does not have children. It is simply, and by definition, prejudice.

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