my boss keeps leaving her kid with me

A reader writes:

I work at a tristate chain. My location manager is the owner’s wife, Jane, but rumor has it that he recently cheated on her and ran out on her and their kid. It’s a terrible situation that should be none of my business.

The issue is that when summer break started, Jane began bringing her seven-year-old, Ripley, with her to work. She didn’t do this last summer, so most of us assume that this is due to the aforementioned personal drama.

She comes in and leaves Ripley behind the counter with an employee and an iPad. I know she’s a working mom in a tough position, but she’s basically assigning childcare to our crew (albeit without outright saying it). Her kid is attention-seeking and clearly bored out of her skull. Obviously I hold no ill will towards this child, but the truth is that she is rude, disobedient, and combative to everyone who is not her mom. She especially dislikes me, probably because I’m the one who most often ends up watching her (most of my coworkers are high schoolers, I’m in my 20s).

I know she’s just a kid, but the constant stream of whining and insults is still unpleasant. Worse are the unanswerable questions she keeps asking me, such as whether or not I “shave down there” or if my family is fat like me (LOL) or if I’ve seen her dad lately (that one just broke my heart). I’m honestly pretty bad with kids even when I don’t have a million other things to do, and, frankly, my wages are far too mediocre to add child-minding to my tasks. I’m also nervous about a child being behind the counter. I don’t want her to get hurt, and I don’t want to be made out to be responsible for it if she does.

Do I just wait it out until Ripley goes back to school? Should I approach my manager about this? If so, how? I’ve had trouble communicating with her in the past—she can be very combative, and she routinely says weird and offensive stuff (e.g.; “Don’t give applications to ugly girls”). If I were to go over her head, I’d be talking to her allegedly adulterous and deadbeat husband, which I don’t think I’m willing to do.

Oh no. Yeah, Jane is in a tough situation, but the solution isn’t to foist off childcare on her employees, particularly with no discussion or acknowledgement of it. (Acknowledgment wouldn’t make it okay either — but it’s particularly egregious that she hasn’t even discussed it with you.)

As the location manager and still-wife of the owner, she has standing to bring Ripley to work with her if she wants to, but not to assume employees will babysit. If she’s bringing her, she needs to be the one supervising her — meaning Ripley should be in her office or otherwise accompanied by her.

That’s all separate from the Wildly Not Okay things Ripley is saying to you, because this would all be a problem even if she were perfectly behaved. On the other hand, you might feel more willing to help Jane out if her child weren’t being insulting and inappropriate. (You wouldn’t need to be okay with mandatory babysitting, even with a perfectly behaved child — but the behavior is making the situation worse.)

I suggest saying this to your boss: “I can’t keep watching Ripley when you bring her to work— I’m not comfortable being responsible for her and it’s taking my focus away from work. Can you keep her with you rather than leaving her behind the counter?” You could add, “I was willing to help out short-term since I know you’re in a pinch, but it’s more than I’m comfortable handling.”

There’s a chance Jane is going to try to tell you that you’re not “responsible” for Ripley — she’s just in the same space as you. If she says that, you should say, “She requires a lot of supervision and interaction, and with no other adult around, of course I feel responsible for her. Plus, some of the things she’s asked me about have made me really uncomfortable. It’s not something I can continue doing.” (And if Jane asks what Ripley has said, you should tell her! In fact, you should consider telling her even if she doesn’t ask, because she needs to know her kid is saying those things to people … people who in this case are essentially a captive audience.)

Will this solve it? I don’t know — I give it 50/50 odds. But it’s a reasonable conversation to have.

If you’re not willing to do that, or if it doesn’t work, the other option is to go and get Jane (or just call her) every time Ripley does something inappropriate: “Ripley is asking inappropriate questions — can you come get her?” … “Ripley is being rude and disruptive — can you come get her?” … etc. Or just take her directly to her mom if that’s an option and say, “I can’t keep an eye on her up front so I’ve got to leave her with you.” In other words, if you can’t solve the main problem, you can at least shift responsibility for some of the worst behavior back over to Jane, and — importantly — make the set-up more inconvenient for her than it is right now.

And if you know your coworkers are similarly frustrated, encourage them to use one or both of these approaches too.

It sucks that Jane is in this situation, but making other people non-consenting babysitters isn’t the way to handle it.

{ 349 comments… read them below }

  1. Tio*

    While the answer here is perfectly reasonable, I foresee it just… not working. I the boss says “Well I just need you to watch her for a couple hours” and you say no, and she says you have to… what do you do? It can easily turn into a war of attrition until OP finds a new job.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Same, but Alison is right that the LW probably wants to try those first, but should also be looking for a new job, because LW, your manager sucks and probably isn’t going to change.

    2. Valancy Trinit*

      That’s when you go over Jane’s head to the company owner, who hopefully, for all his purported faults, has the sense of shame that his wife lacks. And if *that* doesn’t work, the whole house is full of bees and you gotta get out ASAP.

      1. bamcheeks*

        has the sense of shame that his wife lacks

        ahh, the good old, “the person with full-time responsibility for the child who is doing badly is more to blame than the person taking zero responsibility for the child.”

        1. I edit everything*

          And if they are splitting up and custody is an issue, OP definitely does not want to get into the middle of that fight.

            1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

              However, if they are having the Super Fun Divorce Party Pack, the OP being the one who told the other parent about any of this may lead to them getting called as a witness in the court case if the parents end up litigating custody rather than being able to work it out amicably.

              It may be in the OP’s best interest not to be the employee that either party particularly remembers as the one making the most noise about this so as to decrease the likelihood of being called to testify. This is something to keep in mind about bringing any of this to the attention of the other parent.

              1. Princess Sparklepony*

                With the idea of a possibly contentious child custody problem, it would be wise of mom Jane to not give her ex any reason to try to yank custody (even as a power play.) It’s the mom’s benefit to be seen as acting reasonably as a competent parent.

                Maybe the mom should use company funds (as a co-owner) to hire a sitter. (Not sure how that all works but right now she’s possibly courting a date with CPS if someone complains about an underage kid behind the counter. If it’s a food establishment, that’s a dangerous area. But it also depends on which state. Arkansas is all good with underage workers so won’t bat an eye at a kid in the work area.

            2. Observer*

              That cannot be OP’s issue

              True. Which is all the more issue for the OP not to go to Dad.

              There is just no way that is going to work remotely will for them. The OP doesn’t need to put herself into a position to need to defend herself from Mom or Dad or to be a witness in court in an ugly court battle.

            3. anne of mean gables*

              I don’t think it’s that OP needs to worry about protecting her boss in this workplace/relationship fiasco of a situation, but rather that OP will best serve her own interests by not touching the relationship side of things with a ten foot pole, which means not reaching out to the owner. I cannot imagine that reaching out to the owner/Ripley’s dad will in any way improve OPs day-to-day or long-term prospects at work.

              (I would have a different take if Ripley were in any danger, e.g., being dropped off in a laboratory or manufacturing plant. She she seems to be mostly an annoyance rather than in any danger herself.)

              1. Seeking Second Childhood*

                That last depends on what type of counter. Even a simple cashier’s counter might have age-controlled objects behind it.

        2. AngryOctopus*

          In this case, that’s not actually OP’s problem. She’s not going to the dad because he’s the dad. She’s going to him because he’s next in the chain of command and she’s having a work issue. Does it suck that he’s also involved personally (or should be) in this drama? Yes it does. But that is not OPs problem or fault. She has to treat it like a work issue, just saying “Jane is leaving Riley at the front desk and expecting us to watch her, and it’s unfortunately disruptive to have a 7 year old at the front desk with us. Please advise on what we can do.”.

          And really, OP, brush up that resume and get it out there. It doesn’t sound great inside there, and you deserve better.

          1. Jellyfish Catcher*

            It normally would be a work issue – but not in this case. The issue is due the divorce and the parent’s poor relationship. There is no upside for the OP to jump into the middle of that mess.
            The best bet is to focus on job searching.

          2. Worldwalker*

            I also wonder if the rumors are accurate. In particular, did the details come from the problematic branch manager herself (“that louse cheated !”) or from a third-party source (“The owner brought his mistress to the company Christmas party!)? Because if the source of the rumors is one of the involved parties — the branch manager in this case — the accuracy of the information may be open to question.

            The behavior of the child points to some major dysfunction in that family, too; that is not how well-raised children behave even under stressful circumstances.

            I agree with getting out of there. It’s going to get worse before it (if it ever does) gets better. That office might not yet be full of bees, but there’s some very ominous buzzing going on.

        3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Especially effective if he’s the one who put most of these ideas in Ripley’s head to begin with. Not at all unlikely if he really did cheat and leave mom and Ripley for the AP.

          (Younger son had a close friend in elementary and middle school. First time I had the kid over, we ordered pizza and because it wasn’t something our family did often at the time, I asked him what the usual tip amount was. That 8-year-old’s answer? “If it’s a guy, give him a dollar. if it’s an ugly girl, give her a dollar. if it’s a pretty girl, give her three.” And the more I met the father of the family later, the more obvious it became to me who the kid was this and similar ideas from.)

          1. Llellayena*

            Actually, it sounds like the kid is getting her ideas from her mom (or both parents). Her question “is your family fat like you” compared against the “Don’t give applications to ugly girls” statement from the mom seems to indicate that one pretty clearly. You can hold out hope that the dad is better, but it’s still not a cesspool I’d like to dip a toe in…

            1. Worldwalker*

              “My dear Watson, you as a medical man are continually gaining light as to the tendencies of a child by the study of the parents. Don’t you see that the converse is equally valid. I have frequently gained my first real insight into the character of parents by studying their children.”

              — Sherlock Holmes, “Adventure of the Copper Beeches” by Arthur Conan Doyle

            2. goddessoftransitory*

              Yeah, even if Ripley didn’t exist that Jane said that out loud is a huge issue in itself. She’s a terrible manager all on her own.

      2. Random Dice*

        The owner’s wife has previously told her employees not to give job applications to ugly girls, well before this crisis started.

        I can’t even.

        I’m gonna say evil bees abound with both the manager and her deadbeat husband / boss.

        1. Ex-prof*

          Yeah. LW can surely find a better job, by which I mean a job almost anywhere else doing almost anything else. This boss sounds toxic and her husband is presumably toxic in absentia.

        2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Oh hold on. I skimmed on the first read and thought it was one of the many obnoxious things Ripley was saying and it’s THE WIFE? Dear god, that whole family is full of bees. Run, OP, run.

        3. Festively Dressed Earl*

          Yep. BEST case scenario is that the Ripley problem is solved, but OP is still left with a toxic boss and no way to escape her even if OP gets promoted. Get outta there now.

        4. M*

          That line gave me a flashback to my days waiting tables. Sleazy guy who owned it always wanted to know if applicants were hot, did not want to hire “ugly girls” either.

          If your workplace is as crappy as a dive bar on the wrong side of town, you need a new workplace, or at least you should be raking in cash under the table to make up for it.

      3. Observer*

        who hopefully, for all his purported faults, has the sense of shame that his wife lacks.

        In addition to what the others have said, what makes you think that this is in the least bit realistic? This kid is clearly NOT seeing her father. That’s why she’s asking the OP if the OP has recently seen her dad. If he can’t be bothered with some sort of general contact with the kid, what makes you think he’s going to do *anything* about her acting out?

        1. Zarniwoop*

          “ can’t be bothered with some sort of general contact with the kid”
          Might not be “Can’t be bothered.” Might be “Isn’t permitted.”

          1. Observer*

            Could be. In which case what exactly is going to be able to do, even if he *wants* to? Ans Also, if he “isn’t permitted”, there is a non-zero chance that he’s the worst person to tell about the kid’s misbehavior.

            1. Princess Sparklepony*

              If he’s not permitted, then the fact that mom is parking kid relatively unsupervised at work is going to be a point for him in negotiations.

      4. Lenora Rose*

        It’s exceedingly rare that I would trust that the absentee father is better than the foisting mother. Yes, it happens, but it’s really not the way to bet, and it’s OP’s job on the line.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        If not fired, certainly ignored and at the receiving end of some backlash.

        But to be fair I’m cynical.

    3. But Not the Hippopotamus*

      Well, maybe they could try calling up the city childcare licensing folks. I’m pretty sure OP is not a licensed childcare provider. This would obviously be a nuclear option, but if the child is not with a parent, then the company has become a childcare center.

      alternatively, if there is any HR or legal department, IP could flag this for them in terms of being worried about liability since “I’m not good with kids and the space isn’t well suited for it” or something.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Nothing’s going to come of the first point, so it’s not really a nuclear option it’s just a waste of time. But someone like HR or legal who have concerns about insurance liability may have some sway.

      2. Magpie*

        In most states, people are able to care for a certain number of children (in my state’s case up to six) without being a licensed child care provider. This is how it’s legal for high school students to babysit without any formal licensing or training.

        1. Jess*

          There are rules around employees who interact with or supervise minors and background checks, which can be got around if the child is constantly supervised by a responsible party. Which, they are not.

      3. Observer*

        Well, maybe they could try calling up the city childcare licensing folks.

        Please do not consider this option unless your store is a truly unsafe place for a child. These agencies are unfortunately a *very* blunt instrument and can do a lot of damage. I’ve gone on the record to advise calling CPS (or whatever they are called in a particular judiciousness) but those were always cases where you could make the argument that the child was being abused or being put at significant risk. That’s just not the case here, for as inappropriately as Mom is behaving. Don’t pull them in.

        Also, If it ever comes out that you were the one who called, you *will* be fired, and if the story gets out to others, it could harm you professionally.

        1. NeedRain*

          honestly, if they call the childcare licensing org instead of the child welfare org, nothing will happen. The childcare licensing will not care. Babysitting isn’t against the law, no one is running a daycare here.

          1. doreen*

            CPS won’t care either – it’s not neglect or abuse to leave the kid with a caretaker who doesn’t want to be a caretaker. If there’s an HR , they might care – but I’m not at all sure Jane is the owner’s wife rather than a co-owner. And if she’s a co-owner, HR can’t do anything either.

        2. DJ Hymnotic*

          Dropping a dime with CPS may be the right call here, though–not because of the LW’s store, but because Ripley is a seven-year-old making asking rather explicit questions of the adults around her, which as other commenters have noted should at least be a yellow flag for potential child abuse.

          LW, I feel for you and the no-win situation your employers have put you in. And I feel for Ripley. Her parents have made both of you collateral damage to their dysfunction, and I genuinely hope you can find a way to do right by both you and Ripley.

    4. Sloanicota*

      I wasn’t even sure the manager was physically on-site all day, TBH. I don’t know if location managers are like, in the back doing inventory, in a private office behind the counter, or driving between locations etc during the day. The advice assumes she’s there to drop the kid off with. I also don’t assume it will work but agree it’s the first reasonable thing to try.

    5. Chirpy*

      I had this happen to me at a previous job (also in my 20s). The office manager would leave her kids in my office as it was where we stored the TV. They were polite and mostly well-behaved kids, but it still made it hard to get work done.

      Eventually she moved the TV in her own office, but speaking up got me nowhere as I was already the only one without kids (and youngest) so everyone already treated me like the expendable one (and in the end eliminated my position because of it.) The boss was never in the office and didn’t seem to see a problem with any of it.

    6. Laser99*

      I would push back a little with a hint about the wages being too low to justify the added hassle (“I have been sleeping poorly because I can’t pay my utility bill, worrying about Ripley is making it worse.”).

  2. Alex*

    Poor kid. The fact that she is acting/behaving like that really shows her home life is difficult. Not your problem, obviously, this situation just sucks all around–for you, for her, and for Jane. It can’t be easy still being the employee of your cheating husband. Yikes.

    Unless there’s some REALLY good reason to stay in this job, I’d start looking for a new one asap. Nothing good is going to come of this.

    1. Lomster*

      Yes, and going to get her mom every time she acts out is only going to make it worse, because then LW is just another person who doesn’t want her around.

      THIS IS NOT THE LWs FAULT OR RESPONSIBILITY, but my goodness it’s actually terrible for this child to be continuously foisted off on people. I feel so badly for her.

      1. Zap R.*

        Yeah, I had a caregiver adult die when I was 7 and the result was being constantly foisted off on adults who (understandably) didn’t want to deal with a grieving child while they were trying to work. I was old enough to understand what a burden I was and that made me alternate between sullen withdrawal and acting out.

        It’s extremely unfair to put you in this position, OP. Jane may be going through something awful but her behaviour demonstrates a serious lack of boundaries.

        1. Satan's Panties*

          Yeah, I hate to think that you saw yourself as a “burden”. You were a person. Too bad the adults around you didn’t recognize that.

          (Me, as a kid: Can I help?
          Adult: Yeah, you can sit right there and don’t move!)

      2. lucanus cervus*

        Yeah, Ripley is clearly miserable and I feel horrible for her. That’s not something that LW can fix or should have to deal with, but the parents should be getting the kid SO much more support than she currently has.

    2. Sloanicota*

      I definitely noted that the child saying inappropriate things is probably hearing this from the parents at home, based on that comment from the mom about applications :( Again though, not something OP can or should expect to fix.

      1. Random Dice*

        On my first read I thought the kid said that, and it was bad but understandable as a kid who’s deliberately pushing buttons.

        But an adult, and manager, giving her employees that as official direction?!?!

        (Also, ironic, given the cheating. I might have understood if she had said not to give applications to pretty girls, it’s still screwed up but at least has a certain logic to it.)

      2. Irish Teacher*

        Yeah, the kid has heard those comments from somewhere. They are not, in my experience, normal things for a 7 year old to say. A preschooler who hasn’t yet learnt that there is a value judgement to the word “fat,” sure or a teenager who is trying to get a reaction, but seven is both old enough to have some idea that certain things are not appropriate and young enough that they aren’t likely to be learning it from say googling inappropriate websites.

        Given the mom’s own comments and the indications that she is going through a divorce that appears to be somewhat accrimonious, I wouldn’t be surprised if the kid has heard her parents using those kind of insults to each other.

        But again, not the LW’s problem. To be honest, my impression is that there is a fair bit of dysfunction going on in that family and as they run the business, it doesn’t seem likely to be a great place to work – just having your boss and the owner as exes seems likely to put you in the middle a bit. I think it might be worthwhile keeping an eye out for another job.

        1. Van Wilder*

          Yeah I have a 7-year-old and … no, these are not questions that she would have the context to come up with, even if she were deliberately trying to push buttons. I’m sorry for whatever this kid has experienced at home.

          1. lucanus cervus*

            Nor mine. He’ll tend to disregard personal space when he gets overexcited and he thinks butts and poop are hilarious, but he would never ask those things. Not because he has spectacular boundaries, but because he has never once had reason to think about what adults do with their pubic hair. I am having uncharitable thoughts about the parents.

        2. goddessoftransitory*

          The asking about the shaving is what really set me spinning–why on earth does a seven year old know about that at all? It was the only time reading the letter that I thought okay, maybe CPS does need to hear about this. That is just so horrifically inappropriate that to me it’s something that needs to be in a file.

          1. Laser99*

            I have heard that if a child is exhibiting aggressively sexual behavior, it is a sign of sexual abuse. I don’t know if this qualifies but it is a red flag, in my opinion.

        1. ina*

          I will put in the caveat that when threads get long/involved OP can refer to the comment OP, too, but the definition still applies as others have given it.

          1. allathian*

            Yes, this. That’s why I tend to call the letter writer LW and the original poster of a subthread OP, especially on the Friday and weekend open threads.

    3. Dona Florinda*

      Right. Your manager is bringing her kid to work and the other parent is also the owner?! Odds are, things will end up bad for the weakest link, which in this case sounds like you, OP.
      Also, what if you eventually snap at the kid or she injures herself and blames you? You know your manager better than us, but from what you wrote, sounds like this situation isn’t salvageable.

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        Or says something in front of a customer and that spirals? Because if I was in that store and heard a seven year old child ask an adult about “shaving down there” I would freak out, no kidding.

    4. Double A*

      It is really concerning that a 7 year old is making sexualized comments to her mom’s coworkers. That is a huge red flag for sexual abuse. Honestly, as a mandated reporter who is trained every year in signs of abuse, this is behavior I would have to report. (The LW is not a mandated reported. I’m just providing my perspective as one).

      1. just a random teacher*

        Yeah, that stood out to me too. That’s not a normal topic of conversation for a 7 year old.

        1. RVA Cat*

          Yes that leaped out at me too. Even if Ripley isn’t being molested, if she’s accessing adult content on the iPad while she’s been foisted off on the LW….yikes on bikes!

          1. 1LFTW*

            Even if she’s just field-testing insults she’s heard while her parents are fighting… yeah, it’s not worth the risk. This is the kind of thing I’d need to flag as a mandated reporter, and it might even move the needle with CPS from “her parents suck but there’s no evidence that she’s being endangered”, to “she’s probably not endangered, but it maybe we’ll open a file”.

      2. Observer*

        It is really concerning that a 7 year old is making sexualized comments to her mom’s coworkers. That is a huge red flag for sexual abuse.

        Yup. Absolutely setting red flags flying.

        Mom needs to be told and the OP needs to document that they told her. Because if something blows up, the OP is likely to be right in front of the fan.

        Documentation is not going to keep the OP from getting fired, or course, but it will help with dealing with unemployment insurance and possibly officialdom in the sense that they can show that the issue must predate their care-taking and that they acted “reasonably” and “responsibly”.

        The OP does not need to – and probably should not – say “I think your child may have been abused.” Just “this is what your kid is say, and it’s unusual and inappropriate.”

      3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Yeah – this kid is spouting things a seven year old shouldn’t know about – and my heart hurts a bit for them. If letting mom know what she’s asking about doesn’t make any changes when school starts maybe report to them. It sounds like this girl is in a really crummy situation and needs some help.

      4. Marna Nightingale*


        Like, yes, on a workplace level this isn’t OP’s problem to solve.

        On a society level, I think it’s time to ask the kid “Why are you asking me that question?” a few times, maybe, and consider making a report.

      5. AGD*

        YES. Very bad sign. Needs to be reported safely. Google for a local abuse hotline if there’s no obvious local way of doing this.

    5. goddessoftransitory*

      Yeah; time to blow this pop stand, LW. Any kid who’s as rude and inappropriate as Ripley is has problems way, way, WAY above your pay grade, and there is no scenario where you should be dealing with them.

  3. I should really pick a name*

    I’ve had trouble communicating with her in the past—she can be very combative, and she routinely says weird and offensive stuff (e.g.; “Don’t give applications to ugly girls”)

    How invested are you in staying at this job?

    1. Lady_blerd*

      That’s what I’m thinking because as someone says above, I have a feeling the boss will say that OP will indeed have to watch her kid regardless of legalities or appropriateness.

      1. Laser99*

        Right. Like Alison says, “Reasons are for reasonable people.” Jane sounds out of her gourd, to use the technical term, so trying to reason with her is futile.

    2. bamcheeks*

      Yes, that was my thought too. It sounds like there are problems going on here that are WAY above LW’s paygrade.

      Honestly, if you have options which aren’t working at a chain owned by someone who a) employs his wife b) cheats on his wife c) abandons his wife and child d) doesn’t pay his wife enough to cover childcare either as an employee or the mother of his child e) doesn’t care about his wife creating multiple liability issues for the company, I would explore them fast. Every rock you turn over here has more creepy crawly things under it.

      I feel desperately sorry for Ripley, but that’s not something you’re in a position to fix.

    3. Tiara Wearing Princess*

      I came here to mention the same thing. Is it any wonder that the kid says wildly inappropriate things!

      OP could wait until school starts up again but I have the feeling that every holiday, every half day, weekend, the child is going to show up.

      I’d be job hunting.

      1. Tiara Wearing Princess*

        This nested in the wrong spot. I am referencing the “don’t give applications to ugly girls”

    4. ferrina*

      Truth! Jane doesn’t sound pleasant in the best of times, doesn’t sound open to feedback, and almost certainly won’t change. Best solve is to move on. Good luck!

    5. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Yeah – I also think job searching is the order of the day. This place sounds like a first class case of “Heads they win, Tails you loose.” Please don’t stick around to find out what loosing looks like.

    6. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Because “I only have to put up with it until school starts.” Oh you sweet summer child. School is from 8-3.
      So mom will be leaving to pick her up to bring her to work until she is done. Everyday.
      And as is mentioned below, holidays, teacher in service, and what happens when the kid is sick? Is mom staying home with her?
      The employees are now her support system. OP, you will gain nothing from this job. Boss is overwhelmed by her own life. She will not mentor you, help you, make your work day better or your career better. Start looking for a new job now.
      It will get worse before it gets better.
      It will get worse.
      Someone is going to find out about the private day care, if not customers calling or parents of teenagers wondering why their kid’s part time job has a kid there. Or the kid’s teacher will make a report when the kid asks about her genitals or family and it comes out that the kid is parked behind a store counter with an iPad all day.
      The explosion and the fallout will not be OP’s problem. But watching this kid every freaking day until it happens, is.

    7. Goldenrod*

      Seriously. “Don’t give applications to ugly girls”???!!!???

      Just find a new job. These people stink.

  4. Tangerine Thief*

    Aside from anything, those questions and attitude from a seven year old are alarming and should definitely be made more of. They are not sounding like normal questions a child asks a relative stranger. OP should definitely push back.

    1. MsSolo (UK)*

      Combined with her mother’s comments about not hiring ugly girls, I suspect some of it comes from the way women are talked about at home (with the addition of deliberate boundary testing of a bored child), which means OP may not get much traction with her manager if she raises it.

    2. Clisby*

      I agree. When the OP first said the child was disruptive, I was thinking “disruptive” – not that that’s OK either, but I was picturing something like the child wandering around the work area and picking up things, or drawing on nearby manila folders, or interrupting work to ask OP to do something, or trying to use the phone. That would be bad enough, but it’s the kind of thing I’ve seen bored children do when they’re left to their own devices. This a whole other level of disruptiveness.

    3. Zap R.*

      The question about “shaving down there” is likely mere childhood curiosity from a kid with serious boundary issues but it’s at least a little bit concerning.

      1. ferrina*

        That raised a red flag for me. Most 7-year-olds wouldn’t be aware that “shaving down there” is a thing. It might be an innocuous thing- overheard an older cousin’s conversation, she has a body book and that was the one page that stuck, etc.- but (as a former educator) I’d be listening very carefully for other signs that might indicate if she was being inappropriately exposed to sexual content.

        This is something educators are trained to watch out for and identify. This is above LW’s paygrade and LW is not a mandated reporter- if there’s not other danger signs, I think LW is justified in walking away from the whole situation.

        1. Haven’t picked a username yet*

          Honestly – alone it isn’t a red flag for me. The kid could have picked up a snatch of conversation from an older kid, or watched reality tv or potentially read someone else’s magazine targeted at pre-teen girls.

          Although it was 30 years ago I, who never had a subscription picked up on some very significant body shaming and “grooming habits” presented as totally normal to young girls.

          Overall I think there are so many other issues with this that I wouldn’t encourage this young adult to jump on potential abuse from one statement. I hope they find a new job soon!

          1. AngryOctopus*

            Or she could have heard her mom talking about it to another adult. It’s not super worrying on its own. In combination with some of her other things, it makes me think this poor girl is just trying to get some kind of attention because her home life is clearly (from the info given!) unsettled. And no 7 yr old wants to be dumped with a virtual stranger at her mom’s work to amuse herself all day. She’s bored, she’s traumatized, and she’s acting out. This of course is NOT any of OPs problem, but the kid is really not to blame in the situation here.

            1. pope suburban*

              While I never talked about it with others because I knew this stuff was taboo, I was definitely dragged into my parents’ fights by my mom when I was around Ripley’s age, and I heard this kind of thing then. That was also not appropriate, but it was a far cry from someone asking me sexualized questions, or molestation. Though of course it’s prudent to keep an eye out for other signs of possible sexual abuse, my first guess it that Ripley is too exposed to her parents’ acrimonious divorce, and her parents are not concerned enough with censoring themselves around her. It’s till gross, though, and not something that should be happening.

              1. lucanus cervus*

                Yeah, my first instinct is that Ripley’s being exposed to way more adult drama than she should be, and that her parents don’t take a whole lot of care about what they say in front of her, but it’s not so explicit that I’d panic. I’m pissed off on Ripley’s behalf though. The circumstances are clearly difficult but this is not good enough.

          2. Frickityfrack*

            >The kid could have picked up a snatch of conversation from an older kid

            Are we not doing “phrasing” anymore? (Sorry, this just made me giggle and think of Archer because I’m secretly 12.)

            1. Princess Sparklepony*

              Any opportunity to use “phrasing” is always a good giggle. Love Archer. I would like Lana to mentor me!

        2. Jaydee*

          In the context of the other comments by both Ripley and her mom about women’s bodies, I’m not totally unconcerned about child sexual abuse but leaning more towards “she’s overheard Mom (and possibly Dad) saying these sorts of things and has either no clue they’re inappropriate or has figured out they’re salacious and will get a rise out of people, so they’re how she talks now too.”

      2. goddessoftransitory*

        Dear Lord, I hope that’s all it is, but honestly, everything in this letter screams “worse and worse and worse than you could have imagined.”

    4. Sloanicota*

      At the very least, I wouldn’t hold myself back from being kindly direct with the child. “Ripley, that’s an inappropriate question to ask a stranger and I’m not going to engage with you about that.” Or “Ripley, I think your mom is expecting you to watch your ipad and not make comments like that to the employees here.” What’s the mom going to do, complain you’re not providing good-enough unpaid volun-told childcare? You probably have a fair bit of leeway here. Others may comment this will cause the mom to dislike or fire you, but I’m guessing mom would rather you tell Ripley to stop being inappropriate or annoying rather than you walk her over to mom’s office as advised, TBH.

      1. higheredadmin*

        Yes to this. OP, I know you say you are not regularly around kids. Well, it is totally OK to tell a young child in a firm but kind manner that something is not ok – this is how kids learn. If they go and complain to Mom – well, tell Mom that if she wants actual childcare then she should pay for actual childcare.

      2. Guacamole Bob*

        Now that I have kids a little older than Ripley I would definitely start with this approach. When I was in my 20s I had spent very little time around kids or caring for kids and would really have struggled to know what was appropriate and what wasn’t or how to get the tone right. So I have a lot of sympathy for OP here.

    5. Wintermute*

      ABSOLUTELY 100%

      I don’t mean to be hyperbolic but it sounds like some of those questions were awfully sexualized for a 7-year-old which is a very alarming sign that some kind of abuse may be happening or that she’s being exposed to radically age-inappropriate material.

      That is “call CPS and tell them a child is exhibiting signs of precious behavior and lack of boundaries that indicate potential abuse” territory without a doubt.

      CPS will investigate, it’s not an automatic thing, but the consequences of NOT calling could be so tragic.

      1. Sloanicota*

        I was guessing someone would say this … it would take a lot more than one comment about shaving for me to call CPS on a single mom whose dad just walked out on them, personally. As inappropriate as it is to use your store as childcare, it doesn’t rise to that level for me.

        1. Wintermute*

          It’s not about her using the store as childcare, at all. It’s that a child showing age-inappropriate knowledge, lack of boundaries and socially aggressive behavior (like the fat comments at an age when kids really should be on the cusp of knowing better) paints a troubling picture that has serious indica of potential abuse.

          Yes, it’s not clearcut, but the consequences of not making that call have such potential for tragedy the risk/reward calculus tips strongly towards making the call so long as you know the services agency in your area to be reasonably competent as it is in mine.

          1. Observer*

            Yes, it’s not clearcut, but the consequences of not making that call have such potential for tragedy the risk/reward calculus tips strongly towards making the call so long as you know the services agency in your area to be reasonably competent as it is in mine.

            That’s the key problem here. I agree that there are some red flags, but given the rest of the context, I can’t be as confident that there is abuse going on. And on the other hand, a *lot* of these agencies are *not* as competent as they should be. And even when they are “competent” there are a lot of ways for this to go wrong. The reality is that there is a lot of risk *to the child* in calling CPS. And I don’t think that the evidence is strong enough here to warrant it.

            1. somehow*

              “And on the other hand, a *lot* of these agencies are *not* as competent as they should be.”


              They are short-staffed and under-regulated. Incompetence cases are rare.

          2. waffles*

            Her knowledge isn’t age inappropriate, and neither are her lack of boundaries. Kids are socialized to know bigger bodies are not society’s ideal from the outset, and even well intentioned language about often implies big bodies are bad and small bodies are good (or being considered pretty or beautiful is better than being considered ugly). Using language that says ugly people or fat people don’t deserve chances is a direct reflection of what society teaches kids implicitly and explicitly. It’s wrong but it’s not abuse or neglect. Kids who live with adults or teenagers definitely have exposure to the hair/body care of adults – knowing people can choose to remove their body hair is not an inappropriate fact for her age. Safe and protected kids also have these questions/opinions. There’s nothing here from the OP’s description that seems to be warranting CPS/DCFS.

            1. Em*

              Agreed as well. There are many normal, non-problematic scenarios where the kid could learn that some people shave pubic hair: maybe she goes to a public pool and changes in a locker room. Maybe she takes baths with her mom. Maybe she sees her mom grooming herself at home. Maybe she hears her mom making appointments for waxes. Maybe she has a older cousin who tells her about stuff like this. Making a recommendation to call protective services based on this tiny view into a chaotic time in this family’s life is not only overkill (in line with the extreme policing American mothers get, though), it’s also bad advice for OP, who’s trying to extricate themselves, not get further involved.

        2. Kara*

          Is it just the one comment or is it a pattern?

          Frankly, my advice to the OP, if they’re not comfortable just going ahead and reporting, is to keep a close eye on things and see if stuff like this comes up again. If it does, I’d say make that phone call. This is a somewhat darker train of thought, but this particular behavior combined with “single mom whose dad just walked out on them” is semi-personal for me. A family member years and years ago was molested by their father. When the mother found out, she kicked him out and divorced him, but did NOT report it to the police or anyone else. There are a lot of reasons that people won’t report pedophile family members, and in this particular case mom has a Sword of Damocles over her head with the reporting structure. Daughter being in the store doubles as free childcare which mom may not be able to afford elsewhere and keeps daughter in a somewhat safe place where her abuser isn’t likely to make any wrong moves. Scuttlebutt says ‘affair and walked out’, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s actually what happened. The rumors around my family member’s parents’ divorce never came close to the truth.

          1. Wintermute*

            this is a great summary of why my hackles are up– an unstable home life and some worrying questions definitely raise some real dark possibilities and it’s worth being wary.

            Around where I am, with pretty good support services, they emphasize that you’re not an investigator, it’s not up to you to get to the bottom of it, a suspicion is enough and then they will do the investigation. But I can also see why someone might want to wait for more proof.

            But her rudeness is another potential sign– not as big as it might be if the genders were different but it’s dangerous to assume only men are abusers– children who are being abused can present as people-pleasers that will do anything to be loved OR as prickly and intentionally rude and off-putting because they think if people don’t like or want them they will not attempt anything with them.

      2. HBJ*

        Yea, I was thinking about that, and that question in and of itself isn’t a red flag. My child of that age and younger asks me about shaving my legs, and I don’t think it’s that inappropriate for a child of the same gender to have seen their mom’s “down there” and be aware that sometimes there’s hair and sometimes there’s not. Or have seen other people’s in locker rooms and know that some people have hair and some don’t.

        And the fat question is just kids having no filter.

        1. AngryOctopus*

          Or she overheard her mom talking to another adult about shaving, and she’s specifically asking that because she’s bored and has found it’ll get a reaction out of people. As for the fat question, if her mom is telling people not to give applications to ‘ugly girls’, I’d bet that she’s hearing a lot of body shaming talk at home that’s she’s just repeating.
          Long story short, this kid is not having a good time at home for many and varied reasons, but there’s nothing to indicate anything over and above a standard “nasty parental breakup acting out” explanation.

        2. Susannah*

          I didn’t see either comment as a filter/curiosity issue at all.
          I think this is a girl who knows making such comments or asking such inappropriate questions will get a reaction. Or attention. Which she seems not to be getting from her parents.

      3. ferrina*

        Based on the examples LW gave, the only question that might indicate this was the question about “shaving down there” which is not a clear sign of sexualization. This is something that she might have picked up in a body book (a book about how puberty changes the body- it’s a great resource for a kid to help mentally prep them for adolescence). Or maybe she walked in on her mom taking a shower, which isn’t super unusual for kids this age.

        It’s definitely something that I’d keep an eye out for further signs, but this isn’t something that you need to call CPS about (yet). CPS can also make a hash of things. But if LW is seeing other worrisome comments that they didn’t share, a call to CPS might be warranted. LW could also anonymously call a DV hotline and outline what they are seeing to see if the DV folks might have insight or suggestions for what to report/not report.

        1. Wintermute*

          That’s fair, I would absolutely be on my guard for further signs, in my area CPS is widely known as pretty competent and cautious and they probably err on the side of not getting involved more than they err on the side of getting involved, and that is important context.

          If you know for a fact– not just having heard people speculate or unsubstantiated complaints (remember every parent that ever has CPS called will say it’s baseless and CPS can’t defend themselves for privacy reasons)– that your local agency is not as competent or measured then I would probably leave it as observation unless I saw further signs. On the other hand if I was in a state that made all adults mandatory reporters I would be much quicker on the trigger.

          1. K in Boston*

            Thanks for that context. While I’d never pretend to truly understand what it’s like to be a kid in the system or what social workers have to deal with, I’ve done enough work with my state’s equivalent of CPS to have gotten a glimpse of what things look like and how things work in my area.

            Which is to say: I have a ton of respect for social workers and believe that CPS is a well-meaning and necessary system…but if you’re a kid involved in a CPS case, you’ve experienced some kind of trauma. There just isn’t any way around that. At best, a case opens, a CPS worker comes to your house and finds the claims to be unsubstantiated and closes the case, and that’s it (which I did personally experience as a child) — but you still faced the threat of being taken away from the only parent(s) you’ve ever known, let alone whatever it was that brought CPS to your house in the first place. (According to the National Coalition of Childcare Reform, abuse occurs in 1/4 to 1/3 of foster homes, so there’s your “at worst.”)

            That doesn’t mean that you should never call CPS, because there are for sure times where it truly is in the child’s best interest, especially since CPS isn’t “just” removing kids from homes; the resources that suddenly become available to parents when the state gets involved can be very helpful (but also kind of sad they don’t tend to offer that BEFORE parents hit a certain point). I don’t want to scare people away from making that call when necessary, because it can absolutely change a child’s life for the better. But I don’t think enough people take into account the baseline trauma that comes with a CPS case before making that call.

      4. Anon for this one*

        Not necessarily? It could very well be that the kid’s mom offhandedly mentioned needing to shave “down there” and it stuck. CPS is a super nuclear option (especially if the parents are poor or Black) and this definitely wouldn’t qualify for me.

      5. Chocoglow*

        Pretty squicked out about those comments too, but it may not be necessarily be direct sexual abuse; boyfriend and I are going through similar issues with his kids, due to his ex-wife having repeated group sex with others.

        I want to clarify that I’m bisexual,and supportive entirely of poly relationships built on a good foundation (and even FWB are totally fine) so long as any kids in the situation are not exposed to age-inappropriate sexual behavior. We’re dealing with the revelation from yesterday that the kids are sleeping on a sofa while Mommy sleeps with her boyfriend and girlfriend, and the boyfriend’s kids have their own bedrooms.

        We are talking to a lawyer ASAP because both kids have come to us all summer with increasingly inappropriate comments and some very, very skewed views on relationships. Think “Dad, does Cassie call you Daddy too?”

        I’m still so fucking furious as I type this. She has full custody, and both kids desperately wanted to stay yesterday, and it’s just such a shitty situation.

        1. Wintermute*

          Just so you know, that is still abuse, it’s not interfering with them directly but exposing them to age-inappropriate behavior is still considered abusive in this day and age (whether it should be is a debate, after all such activity in front of kids was normal for most of history, but it’s where we are as a society now that such things are considered abuse). And that is part of my point, it’s not necessarily that it’s direct it could just be exposure to adult situations and content– but that’s still not okay.

          1. Brooke*

            Having sex or discussing heavily sexual things around children is still abuse. IDGAF how open minded you are, there’s still a line that’s being crossed.

          2. Lalaroo*

            For a lot of history it was normal to own other human beings, so I’m not sure an appeal to history is very effective when it comes to moral issues.

  5. i drink too much coffee*

    First of all I’d never do this anyway but I would be HORRIFIED if I did and my child was acting like that. Ugh. I feel for you LW. I hope we get an update to this one!

    1. Jane Gloriana Villanueva*

      My money is on Jane not exactly being horrified at this point in her life. She’s in a terrible place right now and the kid is a little too much for her while working, so she’s pawning her off. She may feel ashamed but would probably come off as defensive. I hope hope hope I’m wrong about Jane and that things improved for LW well before kid had to go back to school, but I’m feeling super pessimistic on this one.

      1. i drink too much coffee*

        1. LOVE your name ;)

        2. True. I’ve never been in quite this situation, but I have had some childcare issues in my time with 2 little ones. I’ve had to call people/neighbors/whatever last minute a couple times back during COVID when I was working from home with my first baby. It’s REALLY hard when there isn’t family around to help. BUT….. this obviously isn’t the solution. I hope Jane gets it all figured out and hope her situation improves, but being in that situation doesn’t give her the right to do this to her employees. And her daughter, honestly! She probably hates this!

  6. Person from the Resume*

    I’m curious about how old this letter is because kids have been back to school for about a week now where I am. I can’t imagine this will be an every day thing for much longer.

    Alison’s answer is great, but may not work. Quitting may be the only option to get away from a place with both an unreasonable manager and location manager, but the kid is already or will be back in school soon. LW needs to think about quitting, though, because if Alison’s suggestion does not work, this is likely to continue during holidays and school breaks.

      1. The Person from the Resume*

        Oh, I totally know that, but it is still only 2-3 weeks until the daily problem resolves itself.

        1. Kimmy Schmidt*

          This doesn’t resolve the issue at all. 3 weeks is a long time if you aren’t used to caring for children, and the mother may think this is her childcare plan for every inservice day, snow day, and holiday.

          1. virago*

            Not to mention every day that Ripley has a fever and Jane can’t afford to take a sick day to stay home with her.

          2. Person from the Resume*

            Three weeks is a very short time to job hunt, find a new job, give two weeks notice. So in the interests of not quitting a job without another job line up, the kid will be back in school before the LW can find a new job.

            And in my comment I also note that I did already say “LW needs to think about quitting, though, because if Alison’s suggestion does not work, this is likely to continue during holidays and school breaks.” so yay you actually agree with me but you somehow make it sound like I didn’t already say it and actually forgot about school breaks.

        2. londonedit*

          Where I live the kids go back in the first week of September, then they’ll have a week off towards the end of October for half term, then two weeks off over Christmas, another half term break in February, two weeks for Easter and another half term week at the end of May. Quite a lot of holiday time for the OP to cope with if this isn’t resolved.

        3. Magpie*

          Who knows what the mom’s plan is for care before and after school. Depending on everyone’s work schedules compared to the school schedule, the kid might still be spending hours a day there when she’s not at school.

    1. Juicebox Hero*

      It varies by region and school district. Kids around here typically go back the last week of August or first week of September.

      My gut feeling, like a lot of others, is that pushing back on Momboss is going to go badly and LW is likely going to have to find a different job. That stinks for LW, who hasn’t done anything wrong, but they deserve a workplace free from rudeness and being a de facto babysitter.

    2. Sloanicota*

      Best case scenario, this is one of those “forgot to sign up for a camp in time” end-of-summer temporary childcare gaps, and doesn’t mean the kid will always be there every other day off school (…you don’t work weekends, do you OP?). If the separation was unexpected, perhaps it really is just this one gap week. I wonder if you could just ask Jane directly what her plan is. I agree, if it’s a week or two I would tolerate it grumpily but if this is the New Normal and kid will be plonked down every day after school lets out, I would quit.

      1. DataSci*

        Around here there are NO camps the last week before school starts. Largely because the high school and college students who are counselors need to go back to school themselves.

    3. Alex*

      This sounds like retail/service, so it’s entirely possible that childcare is needed outside of school hours but during work shifts.

    4. Llama Llama*

      It doesn’t matter if it is just for a few more weeks. There will be lots of days that the school will be out that need to addressed.

  7. 123*

    I would just physically send her to her mother every single time she says anything. If it doesn’t work I would let her husband know Whatsup.

  8. Peanut Hamper*

    I’m not sure why people are suggesting OP get a new job when the kid will presumably back in school in a couple of weeks and a lot can (and probably will) happen over the course of the next nine months.

    Also, the owner’s behavior is just a rumor, not an established fact, so there could be something entirely different going on here. (I know the commentariat here love gossip and rumors because drama, but rumors do not a fact make.)

    1. Tio*

      It doesn’t actually matter whether the owner is the reason Jane’s doing this or not – it’s still unprofessional and not something to sign up for. I absolutely would not be up for two more weeks of babysitting if that wasn’t actually my job!

    2. Janice*

      Even with no kid, this is a workplace where OP’s direct manager and the owner are going through a divorce. It’s not a bad idea to send out feelers for a place with policies for familial manager-employee relationships.

      1. The Person from the Resume*

        I think the LW’s direct manager is not the same person as the Location Manager/owner’s wife, but I agree that the LW should consider getting out.

    3. bamcheeks*

      It sounds like a pretty awful and unstable working environment even without Ripley being there.

      plus, there are a LOT of school holidays.

      1. Hlao-roo*

        Yeah, pulling out a few phrases directly from the letter:

        – “my wages are far too mediocre to add child-minding to my tasks” (the wages may be reasonable for all of the non-child-minding tasks, but the letter writer could probably find similar pay elsewhere without added-on child-minding)
        – “[my manager] can be very combative”
        – “[my manager] routinely says weird and offensive stuff”

        I think the last two alone are worth looking for a new job. Not necessarily jumping at the first offer you get, but worth starting to investigate if there are better work environments out there with similar or better pay.

      2. Csethiro Ceredin*

        Not to mention whatever time span exists between school ending and end of business, five days a week.

    4. Eldritch Office Worker*

      What shifts does OP work? What does afternoon and evening childcare look like? How are holidays/sicknesses/vacations going to be handled? What other red flags about the workplace is this highlighting – poor boundaries, for sure, probably a lot of culture issues with the comments the kid is parroting.

      Looking for a new job is not a leap.

    5. Lady_blerd*

      The mother could be having the kid in the store after school or even on weekends. So the situation may not resolve itself even if Ripley goes back to school.

    6. Irish Teacher*

      I can’t speak for anybody else but the reason I was suggesting it is that Jane sounds like a terrible manager, both because of the way she expects the LW to childmind and the comments she makes. Add in the child’s comments, which are likely learnt from Jane (given the similarity to Jane’s own comments) and yeah…she does not sound like a good person to be working for.

      In a couple of weeks, the issue with childminding might be done, but Jane will no doubt still have the same problematic views, which will likely affect how she treats the LW and other members of staff and I am also not convinced that expecting the LW to mind her child is going to be the only unreasonable expectation she will have.

      If the rumours about her marriage are true, that adds another issue. If the split becomes acrimonious, then having two people who might hate each other as your bosses is likely to get awkward at best and could threaten the LW’s job at worst, if one of them thinks she is supporting the other, for example. And if they are not true and Jane and the owner are still deeply in love, the she has a manager who makes extremely inappropriate comments, who appears to hold pretty harmful views and who makes ridiculous demands of her employees and that manager is likely to be completely supported by the owner. Neither of those situations strikes me as a good one to work in.

    7. Observer*

      I’m not sure why people are suggesting OP get a new job when the kid will presumably back in school in a couple of weeks and a lot can (and probably will) happen over the course of the next nine months.

      Because Mom is being *deeply* unreasonable, regardless o the reason, and a terrible boss overall. It’s not just the childcare issue.

      And because just because school is starting, that doesn’t mean that the childcare issue goes away. There is after school care, all the days that school is off, and any days Ripley can’t go to school for any other reason.

      Also, the owner’s behavior is just a rumor, not an established fact, so there could be something entirely different going on here.

      True. But *something* is up, and it’s not really the OP’s issue to deal with. All that’s important is that Mom is handling it *very* poorly. And it’s apparently hitting the kids very hard.

    8. Chirpy*

      The office manager who did this to me largely dropped her kids off in my office from 3-5pm, after picking them up from school. So school being in session doesn’t necessarily fix the issue.

  9. Jane Gloriana Villanueva*

    I’m so sorry. Alison’s advice is kind and understanding, but having been in multiple lousy situations with retail managers myself, eeeeeesh, I think you’re kind of stuck until you find a new job. Unless you and your coworkers are all willing to no-show at the same time to make the point, and I can understand you not taking that route, this is terrible behavior that the manager will absolutely continue to get away with, because that’s how it goes. Jane is not going to like hearing anything she deems a complaint, especially hearing the truth of what Ripley is saying, and will probably bite back. I’m so sorry. If there’s a great update to this one, I’d love for you to write back, OP, and restore some faith in humanity!

    1. Juicebox Hero*

      Yeah, retail managers are a special kind of horrible, because they lack actual management experience most of the time. They tend to get promoted based on seniority or (as in this case) family connection, and when the family has a crisis, the whole thing goes to pot. As a result they tend to be either clueless or petty tyrants, and it sounds like Momboss falls into the latter category. “She’ll be back in school in two weeks so just shut up and deal with it if you want your paycheck.”

  10. Sales Geek*

    I know it’s a terribly unsympathetic position but honestly this is a lawsuit waiting to happen. If this child is injured while in your care or another employee is injured due to being distracted while watching the child you’ll need a really, really, good lawyer.

    At the very least I’d recommend taking a hard look at whatever insurance (if any) covers this business. It may be an eye-opener.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      It would likely fall to the business, not the individual employee – but regardless, that’s a huge liability to be party to and way more of a headache than it’s worth.

      1. Irish Teacher*

        And it sounds like the child is probably technically (or at least legally) in the care of her mother at the time. If the mother is in the building, I can’t imagine the LW being held legally responsible because she was the adult nearest to the child at the time and the mother was say…up in her office.

    2. Hannah Lee*

      One option (that is also way above LW’s paygrade) is to flag the situation to the company’s commercial insurance carrier. “Just wanted to check, we have an employee’s child onsite at the workplace, in the public sales area behind the counter with no parental supervision on most days … is that something that’s covered by the policy if something were to happen?”

      That could trigger a change in what boss is doing. But frankly, I get the sense that bringing the kid to work is the boss’s ‘best of a limited number of not great options” given the upheaval in her family life right now, and may not result in anything good for the child, or LW (aside from keeping the child out of her workspace)

      Given the overall work situation, the boss’s already not great way of operating, and grand boss’s bad character and the low pay, LW is probably better served to look for a different job with other people. A new job likely won’t be perfect, but at least the lousy things about it will be completely different lousy things, LW will be out of the bees’ nest of the managerial family stress and strife.

    3. MF*

      Agree. If I were the OP, I would absolutely want to get it in writing that I can’t and won’t be providing childcare services on the job. There needs to be no ambiguity about that for the OP’s protection.

  11. Oysters and Gender Freedoms*

    There’s someone above the location manager, right? It’s a chain. Corporate might not be thrilled at potential liability if a kid is around every day.

      1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

        I understood this to be a franchise. Like the father “owns” several locations, mom is the manager at this location, but there is still a corporate. Kind of like how someone can have several McDonalds in an area but they still have to abide by corporate mcdonalds rules.

      2. Tio*

        If this is a chain, then corporate will be above a local owner still, in many regards. But whether they would get involved would be a separate issue, and whether OP would face repercussions from the local owner another one still.

        1. Hannah Lee*

          Well, he also probably should be doing something to not blow up his family life and abandon his wife and kid, so … I won’t be holding my breath his involvement would improve things. For anyone.

        2. Your local password resetter*

          Yeah, but they shouldn’t be involving the kid in their work in the first place.
          And getting into their interpersonal drama is risky at the best of times.

        3. ferrina*

          “should” is very different than “will”.

          It’s possible that he’d be horrified and take immediate steps to secure appropriate childcare for his daughter.
          It’s also possible that he’d just use this as ammo in his (possible) divorce. Either to threaten Jane not to fight him (“I’ll tell everyone what a terrible mother you are and you’ll have your kid taken away!”) or to try to argue he doesn’t need to give her any more child support because clearly the kid doesn’t need after-school/summer care.

          It would be nice to think that no one would be as heartless as the second example. But then again, half of my family proves otherwise. (I’ve got so many parenting horror stories)

        4. Petty_Boop*

          That would presume that 1) he knows what’s going on and 2) he gives a whooping funt about it.

    1. blood orange*

      This is a good point if the manager doesn’t report directly to the owner, her husband. If there is a district/regional manager and/or HR that’s another good route. That’s probably after Alison’s suggestions, though.

  12. Jinni*

    School isn’t full-time for children in most places. Is there a likelihood the mom will still drop off the child after school? If, so, I think the conversation needs to be had. There are also school vacations, holidays, etc., that make the situation a longer-term issue and still untenable.

  13. Programmer Dude*

    Honest question in this case. Since LW is a “captive audience” and the child is saying some pretty risque stuff, would that fall under any kind of workplace or sexual harassment?

    1. i drink too much coffee*

      This is a very interesting question. I want to say no since the child isn’t technically an employee? But I have no idea!

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        But the employer is making the child an active part of the environment – HR (which I doubt this place has, but theoretically) would most likely err towards the side of the manager creating a hostile work environment and intervene, because that’s not a litigation anyone wants to risk.

      2. Wintermute*

        your employer has a duty to protect you from harassment by anyone, including customers (something many people REALLY don’t want their employees finding out, especially waitresses and bartenders, no it doesn’t matter how much money they spend, you have to throw them out if they harass employees or risk liability if you allow it to go on), vendors, contractors, visitors, and so on.

      3. Ray Gillette*

        Sexual harassment does extend beyond employees of the company. Every mandatory HR training on the topic I’ve attended has included an example involving a vendor or customer.

        The kid obviously doesn’t understand the full implications of what she’s saying (and is almost certainly repeating things she’s heard at home), but the LW still has a right to not be exposed to sexually charged questions and discussion in the workplace.

        1. Clisby*

          What did the kid ask that you consider “sexually charged”?

          Her questions are really rude and inappropriate, but I don’t see anything sexual about them.

          1. allathian*

            *Any* reference to genitalia, no matter how metaphorical, is a sexual reference when it happens in the workplace and not to be tolerated. The obvious exceptions are discussion related to patient care in medical offices, some healthcare-adjacent service providers such as sex counselors, and actual sex work.

            I would definitely consider a question about whether or not I shave “down there” to be sexual in nature, and totally inappropriate regardless of the age of the person who asked.

            That said, I’m in Finland and our attitudes to nudity, including within the family, are much more relaxed than in the US. I stopped going to the sauna with my son when he was about 10, and I was about the same age when my dad stopped going to the sauna with me. So at 7 my son would certainly have known whether or not I shaved, but he had absolutely no reason to care one way or the other.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        At my agency, we have a responsibility to protect public-facing employees from sexual harassment from members of the public they’re interacting with, to the extent possible – it’s not just preventing employee-to-employee harassment. Employers have a responsibility to make sure that their employees aren’t being bombarded by inappropriate questions, regardless of the source.

        1. Eliot Waugh*

          There’s a laundry list of reasons the company should be stopping what’s going on, but a 7 year old is not capable of sexual harassment of an adult.

          1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

            They absolutely are. Sexual harassment isn’t about the intent of the harasser – it is about the fact that comments of a sexual nature are being made to a party that wants them to stop.

              1. Zarniwoop*

                If I asked a coworker if she “shaved down there” I’d be looking for a new job.

                If a customer asked our head of marketing if she “shaved down there” they’d be looking for a new supplier.

                LW has a right not to be asked that at work. If that means removing the child, well that’s what should happen anyway.

                1. Buzzybeeworld*

                  The question was inappropriate because it dealt with something highly personal. Shaving is personal grooming, shaving isn’t a sex act. People shave for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with anything sexual. The question was akin to asking about bathroom habits, not anything sexual. Bathroom habits are not workplace appropriate discussion, but not all inappropriate discussion regarding bodies is sexual.

                2. allathian*

                  Out of nesting, but this is for Buzzybeeworld:

                  *Any* reference to genitalia, no matter how metaphorical, is a sexual reference when it happens in the workplace and not to be tolerated, regardless of the age or maturity level of the commenter.

                  The obvious exceptions are discussion related to patient care in medical offices, some healthcare-adjacent service providers such as sex counselors, and actual sex work. But even there, parties to a discussion can be presumed to have consented to it at least implicitly simply by being there.

                3. Zarniwoop*

                  Ok, please try asking your coworkers about their pubic grooming practices and let us know how it goes.

          2. Head sheep counter*

            Actually I don’t think you are right. I do think that sexual harassment can come at the hands of a child. It would/should be handled differently than an adult.

    2. Single Parent Barbie*

      I was thinking the same thing. If a co-worker asked me that stuff, it would be an issue. There is also the power dynamic. Although the 7 year old is not an employee, Ripley does have the power due to her relationship with the boss and owner.

        1. Not my real name*

          She’s the owner’s daughter. And she absolutely believes she has power with the comments she’s making.

          1. Eliot Waugh*

            This is making up things not in the letter. We know absolutely nothing about what this CHILD is thinking or feeling.

            1. Clem fandango*

              Thank you. There is a lot of stuff being leveled at the child in these comments and honestly her inappropriate questions sound…pretty typical for the age group.

            1. Chirpy*

              The employee is still being harassed, and it needs to be dealt with in an age appropriate manner get the kid to stop. The OP shouldn’t have to “just take it” just because the perpetrator is a child who probably doesn’t know better.

              1. Eliot Waugh*

                Not sure why y’all think I’m implying OP has to just take it. My point is that accusing a child of sexual harassment in this case will only serve to make OP look unhinged.

    3. Wintermute*

      it technically would, yes but children that young are under the age of legal responsibility so it also wouldn’t, it’s complicated. Generally companies have a duty to stop any harassment, including from customers (something they desperately don’t want people to find out, especially retail and restaurant workers), vendors, etc.

      That said I think it’s more alarming that’s a serious sign of potential abuse than any hostile workplace implications.

      1. ecnaseener*

        I don’t think the kid being legally responsible factors in — the point of laws about workplace harassment are that the *employer* is required to provide an environment free of sexual harassment.

        So yes, I think the company technically could be legally liable here. I don’t think in practice anything would come of pursuing that angle.

    4. Ann O'Nemity*

      If the OP files formal complaints but the comments continue, it could potentially be a hostile work environment. I mean, if an employee is harassed by a customer and management won’t intervene then the company can be held liable for hostile work environment. So I would think that even if the source of the inappropriate comments is a seven year old, management is responsible for protecting employees from that kind of crap.

    1. Clisby*

      From watching her mother, maybe? A lot of parents are not shy about being naked, etc. around their children.

      1. Sassenach*

        Right. My seven year old daughter knew all about periods. It would not have surprised me if she said something.

      2. londonedit*

        Yep. Could be from seeing her mum, or gossip from friends with older siblings, etc. It’s another step along the line from the three-year-old informing everyone on the bus that Mummy doesn’t have a willy but Daddy does. This kid probably isn’t happy with the situation either but she also wants to come across as grown-up and cool in front of the high-school/20s people she’s being forced to spend time with, and she most likely knows a question like that is a ‘naughty’ thing to ask. She’s doing it to push boundaries, like kids do.

        1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

          Could also be something she overheard from the highschool girls that work there. And since she heard it a the workplace, doesn’t have a filter (like many kids) doesn’t think there is a problem with asking that question.

          Honestly OP needs to say that is a private question that you don’t ask people about their bodies.

          I feel so very bad for everyone

      3. Poison I.V. drip*

        Could be something they heard on TV (which mom probably uses as a babysitter) but could be something much darker, like maybe she’s being abused. Which is why I’m not a fan of reporting this line of questioning to the mom: She may shoot the messenger and accuse them of sexualizing her kid.

      4. Third or Nothing!*

        Very well could be. I’m pretty open with my daughter about body stuff (up to a point) because I want her to know proper terms for body parts and have a basic understanding of how her body works.

    2. Juicebox Hero*

      There are TV commercials for women’s razors where the tagline is “down there care”, including one with a cartoon character rapping about her “hair down there” that also features honest to god singing dancing animated pubes.

      I have a hunch the kid is plonked in front of the TV a lot, and might not know exactly what shaving down there is all about, but it sounds slightly naughty and something to shock the adults with.

      Because even bad attention is attention, to a lonely and frustrated kid. (Been there, done that.)

    3. Wintermute*

      it’s absolutely a potential sign of abuse, and it needs to be reported. Age-inappropriate questions and lack of boundaries is genuinely alarming.

      1. Clem fandango*

        As a parent of a similar age child this is a very alarming suggestion. Children pick up things from a lot of sources, are curious, have no filter and love to ask questions that might get an interesting response. Please don’t recommend calling CPS for this type of behavior.

        1. somehow*

          Exactly. That would be a waste of CPS’s time and resources and would deprive kids who really do need the service.

    4. Your local password resetter*

      Presumably because she’s lived on Earth for 7 years?
      Kids pick up a lot of things, and she’s not a toddler. She could have heard that phrase in a lot of different ways.

      1. Jam on Toast*

        I have to say, while I appreciate the career issues the LW is facing, I’m more concerned by the risk this young child may be facing. I would *never* expect a seven year old to be asking any adult, let alone a virtual stranger, about genital grooming. My spidey senses are tingling and frankly, I believe, as others have said here, that this child clearly needs more support than they’re getting to ensure that they are safe and not being exploited or neglected or worse. Whether that support can come from the parents, mid-divorce, is something the LW will have to judge for themselves. I agree CPS is a nuclear option and I’d encourage the LW to raise their concerns with the mom first and see what changes, if any, happen as a result. We all know CPS is overworked and under-resourced and has a dreadful track record dealing equitably with many marginalized communities. A report might also give an abusive parent ammunition against their former spouse or even cover for further wrongdoing, if a valid claim wasn’t properly investigated. So it’s not something that should be entered into lightly, but it shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand, either.

        I know that my parenting experiences aren’t universal but to give folks without regular kid exposure a sense of the type of body and relationship questions I was getting and how I was talking about them with my seven year old boys: by seven, they’d asked me about my pregnancies and delivery experiences (yes, you grew inside me, and then I went to the hospital…), asked lots of questions about LGBTQ+ people and queer families (you have a Mom and a Dad, but some of your friends have two dads or two moms, or only a mom or a dad or live with their grandma…), I’d explained periods and given them a basic outline of why it happens each month, taught them to use the proper names for body parts, reinforced their bodily autonomy and our family’s expectations for privacy versus safety and answered endless questions about poop and pee. They didn’t ask any questions about sex or sexual acts until they were tweens/teenagers, and even then, their questions were focused on consent and social media dangers and things like that. At seven, they were only interested in understanding their own similarity/dissimilarity to people they knew, learning about different family relationships, and how different bodies worked.

        1. goducks*

          I’d like to point out that shaving is just personal grooming, not a sex act. It is wholly age appropriate for kids to know that some adults (particularly adult women) shave their “bikini zone” as the commercials call it. In fact, during summer they might be aware that mom shaves so she can wear her swimsuit without certain hairs sticking out.
          Knowledge of personal grooming isn’t inappropriate. Especially if it’s just presented to the kid by the parent as a matter of fact part of adult life.

        2. Samwise*

          Eh, when I was in junior high I babysat two girls, one 7 and one 9. They once asked if I had “fur” on my privates — when I asked where they’d heard such a thing, they said well mom has fur and she said we would get fur when we were older and turning into grownups. You’re almost a grownup,

          Lol. I told they shouldn’t ask people about their privates, because it was private.

    5. Student*

      Grim likelihood:

      Because she’s getting told she needs to shave. Down there. By someone at home.

      I remember going through that at her age. It didn’t go well for me! I hope Ripley’s in a better situation than I was. Had a doctor make a modest effort to intervene with me – I do wish they’d been able/willing to do more. Ended up trapped with a pervert until I was 17, then I escaped forever.

      1. bamcheeks*

        I am so sorry that happened to you, but I disagree that it’s “likely” that that’s what’s happening to Ripley. I have an eight-year-old and honestly, Ripley sounds like a miserable, but developmentally normal, kid. “Some women have hair down there and some women don’t” is a normal thing for a seven-year-old to know, and there’s nothing terrible about her knowing that that’s because some women shave and some don’t. And at seven she probably also knows that you don’t ask people about it, but she’s trying to get attention and be obnoxious and it’s shocking enough that it works.

    6. Alex*

      Lots of kids would know that–from seeing their mom naked (maybe mom shaves?) or even from seeing TV commercials.

      Now, most kids would know not to make comments on other people’s privates, but this kid is not being very closely parented.

      1. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

        Honestly, it sounds like the kid DOES know it’s inappropriate to be making those comments and is doing it on purpose. Because she’s seven and her life is getting torn upside down and nobody pays her much attention unless she’s naughty. Still not the OP’s problem, but poor kid.

        1. bamcheeks*

          Yeah, that’s my read too. She doesn’t sound like a child with no idea that what she’s saying is inappropriate, she sounds like a child who knows she’s being naughty but negative attention is better than no attention. Which is a completely normal way for a seven-year-old who is going through a messy and traumatic divorce and being left with people who don’t want to care for her.

        2. AnonORama*

          Totally. She heard it somewhere (teens in the store? tweens on the school bus?) and thought it was “gross,” so she’s saying it to get a rise out of OP. She’s bored, her home life is crap, and she’s throwing out everything she can to make people pay attention to her. (Which is NOT to say that OP should have to take care of her, or that OP wouldn’t be happier in another job away from this family.)

    7. Chirpy*

      I learned about the existence of leg shaving/ the societal “need” to do so as a 7 year old, from other 7 year olds who were gossiping about how “gross” our student teacher was for not shaving her legs. All it takes is a kid to overhear the wrong conversation and assume it’s a normal comment because they haven’t heard differently.

    8. waffles*

      Any 7 year old who lives with someone who removes their pubic hair would know this is an option. This isn’t some sort of uncommon or lascivious behavior. Some families are extremely conservative when it comes to nudity, but plenty of families are not, especially between the same gender. My kids definitely know what body parts of mine have hair or don’t because we live in the same house, and we are comfortable with nudity that is necessary in the day to day (like taking off clothes to get in the shower) not because I am inappropriately showing them my pubic area.

      1. littlehope*

        Yeah, my four year old neice recently informed everyone in the ladies’ at the train station that “Mummy has hair on her bagina because she’s a grown-up.” Embarrassing, but also hilarious and normal and no-one’s calling child services. She also knows that Mummy sometimes shaves her armpits, because she noticed that Auntie has hair there and Mummy doesn’t and asked about it. It’s not remotely odd or suspicious that a young kid knows that grown-ups have body hair and some of them remove it.
        Seven is old enough to know it’s not appropriate to ask people about their genitals, but it sounds like that’s the point, especially with the context of the other comments – she’s trying to get a reaction, probably because she’s unhappy and resentful about being dumped on Mom’s employees.
        This isn’t a good situation, but nothing about what OP’s told us suggests sexual abuse.

        1. Observer*

          Yeah, my four year old neice recently informed everyone in the ladies’ at the train station that “Mummy has hair on her bagina because she’s a grown-up.”

          Yes, and she’s four years old. If a seven year old made that announcement, I would be concerned. A seven year old is old enough to know better. So something is up. I’m not convinced that there is abuse going on, but the question is inappropriate enough that it’s definitely something that someone should be keeping an eye on. *Not* the OP, though. But letting Mom know would be a good idea.

          1. littlehope*

            Agreed, it’s not the same thing. But seven is kind of in-between; she’s old enough that it isn’t odd that she knows it’s a thing, old enough to know it will get a reaction, and young enough probably not to understand exactly *why* other than “it’s gross,” so probably not to understand that it’s quite as inappropriate as it really is.
            But yes, absolutely Mom should know that she’s saying things like this. I don’t think this comes anywhere near evidence of sexual abuse, but it’s inappropriate and a sign of an unhappy kid acting out, and also OP should not be having to deal with it.

    9. Maggie*

      Saw someone at the gym, saw someone at the pool, saw her mom naked, heard her mom say she needs to shave, heard about it on tv, heard an older sister say it, saw her older sister shaves and her mom doesn’t, saw someone with hairy armpits and asked her mom what other places people get hair, a kid at school said they saw their mom/sister shaving, read a book about puberty at the bookstore, read a book about puberty the parents gave her, has early onset puberty herself, there’s literally SO SO SO many reasons a 7 year old kid would be aware of what pubic hair is and what some people do with it.

  14. anywhere but here*

    Is anyone else deeply concerned about how “shaving down there” is even a subject a 7 year old knows about??

    1. bamcheeks*

      I’m not *super* happy about it, but I wouldn’t say that it’s so concerning by itself that someone who isn’t any kind of childcare professional would need to report it. Like, if I was a teacher who heard something like that from a child, it would be time for a quiet talk to make sure it was just something they’d heard from their mom and a conversation about what is an isn’t appropriate to talk about at school, and an escalation through appropriate channels. But LW isn’t a childcare professional, and they don’t have any tools or responsibility to address it directly with the child, nor any “appropriate channels” to raise it through.

    2. I should really pick a name*

      Yes, but the LW isn’t in a position to do anything about that beyond reporting back to the mother.

      1. Wintermute*

        yes they are, call CPS and say a child is exhibiting a worrying precociousness and lack of boundaries that indicate potential abuse. It probably doesn’t rise high enough to be in mandatory reporting territory in those states that make all adults mandated reporters but it’s something that’s a strong enough sign it really should be reported.

    3. Eldritch Office Worker*

      At 7? No not deeply concerned. There’s a variety of ways a child could see or hear about that once they reach 1st or 2nd grade.

    4. Chief Petty Officer Tabby*

      Not necessarily: I knew about that at that age because I was stealing my mother’s Bertrice Small books at that age (my mom tried to break me of the habit, but it was impossible; there was nowhere in the apartment she could hise them where I couldn’t get to them, poor woman!) and let me tell you, she was Very Detailed about body hair removal on the heroines trapped in Ottoman harems and whatnot.

      1. virago*

        Yes, when I was Ripley’s age, I was always grabbing the books my mom had on her nightstand and hiding somewhere to riffle through them looking for the racy parts. (Being scolded didn’t deter me.) Though I haven’t read it in years, Lois Gould’s “Necessary Objects” — set in 1970s Manhattan among four acquisitive heiresses to a department store fortune — had a lot about appearance and personal grooming. I’d be shocked if body hair wasn’t a topic in that novel.

        1. Clem fandango*

          I did the same thing! I would find the books with the most scandalous looking covers and then try to replace them Exactly So but I’m sure in retrospect my mom knew about it.

      2. UKDancer*

        I’d forgotten Bertrice Small and her interesting writing style and range of subjects.

        I discovered Barbara Taylor Bradford when I was just at senior school (11 or so) and it was very educational in that respect, even though I was far too young. I think the main message I took away was the importance of getting revenge by wearing amazing clothes (with shoulder pads) and owning a massive department store but then it was the 1980s. My mother never censored my reading, she just knew some of the subject matter would go over my head (and it did).

        Children read what they’re not supposed to and see what they’re not meant to.

      3. Kammy6707*

        Chiming in as another Bertrice Small fan (who also read her books at an age when she really shouldn’t have been!). I like to say that everything I know about the Tudors, started with Bertrice Small!

    5. Myrin*

      Not really, no.

      I actually remember my best friend in primary school bringing the topic up in an awkward roundabout way and I remember the flat that happened in and thus know that we must’ve been in second or third grade.

      I couldn’t tell you how I knew about it – both of my parents are and have always been very hairy but with the exception of my father’s beard, neither have ever shaved – but it definitely wasn’t the first time I’d encountered the concept. I was a curious kid, though, and read a lot, especially my parents’ books, so I can easily imagine even just seeing a picture in some health book (my mum worked at a doctor’s and had a lot of those) or similar.

  15. Narise*

    I ran preschool nursery for our church and it was a younger age group. When they would be inappropriate we would tell them once next time we’ll see what mom or dad says about that. And next time, march them to their parents and state Johnny is saying or asking this. Kids learn not to say things they don’t want parents to hear. I agree this is completely unacceptable to be forced to watch her kid.

    1. Texan In Exile*

      That seems like a rather harsh approach with pre-schoolers! And it seems like a harsh approach in this situation, where the poor kid has been thrown into an awful situation.

      1. The Person from the Resume*

        This “poor kid” is rude and mean and calling people fat and asking about grooming habits in the public region. This kid is what her parents made her, but LW can make an attempt to teach the kid that her questions and rudeness are unacceptable by sending her away to her mom whenever it happens.

        1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

          She is a child who doesn’t understand what is going on. She is 7 and all she knows is that daddy isn’t there anymore. Mom is probably acting very angry and/or sad. She has been left with people she doesnt know and is beyond bored. This is typical acting out and is something that naturally happens at this age when these types of things happen.

      2. Stopped Using My Name*

        Your comment is strange. Do you any actual experience dealing with very young children?

        1. Texan In Exile*

          Yeah, I do have experience dealing with very young children. And I would not “march” a pre-schooler, who does not understand what she is saying, to her parents, and ask, “DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOUR KID SAID?”.

          And I agree the seven year old in question is being inappropriate but is she being malicious? I don’t think the solution is being mean back to her. I do agree that sending her to her mom is fine and I would also say something about, “Yeah we don’t ask questions like that!”

          1. Irish Teacher*

            I don’t think walking a child to their parent and telling the parent what they have said is particularly harsh. I think a parent should know if a child is making comments like this child is. Yeah,word “march” sounds a bit harsh, but I can’t see it meaning anything other than walking with them to the parent.

            I doubt it would work in this case, to be honest. Firstly, I’d imagine a child who is as rude as this child appears to be would likely just say, “no, I’m not going” and ignore the LW. And secondly, I’ve my doubts that Jane would care, but I don’t think it’s that harsh, unless the adult is saying, “you’re child is a rude brat. Please teach them some manners.” If it’s just “come on. We need to talk to your mum” and then “Jane, your daughter just said…” that doesn’t seem too harsh to me.

            1. bamcheeks*

              I’d actually agree with it as a way of dealing with a seven-year-old, but I can’t really see it as a way of dealing with a four-year-old or younger. At that age, I would just brush it off / ignore it, and maybe mention it to the parent (or escalate it to your safe-guarding person if it’s really concerning.)

              At that age, you’re still teaching them that actions like biting or pulling down your pants to show your friends your bum isn’t appropriate: taking them to their parents and doing a punitive, “I told him not to say this but he said it again!” is more likely to cement the behaviour as “has interesting and dramatic consequences” than discourage it.

    2. Chirpy*

      Most of this kind of comment is the kids truly not knowing what’s appropriate, and just repeating something they’ve heard. A far better way to deal with it is to kindly say “we don’t say things like that here” or “why did you say that?” so you can redirect them gently to a more appropriate answer. Marching them over to the parents may shut the kids up, but it just shows kids they can’t trust adults, or can backfire with angry parents (either punishing the kid, or lashing out at you for suggesting their “little angel” isn’t perfect.)

  16. BatManDan*

    There’s a distinct chance that if the LW answers a question like “do you shave down there?” or an adjacent question (out of sheer frustration, short on patience, not thinking clearly) they could be charged with child sex abuse. (What sort of parenting has a child of 7 years old curious about even asking that question? WTH?)

    1. Portia*

      She may be less curious than trying to shock — the “fat like you” question tends that way too. This little girl is smart, bored, miserable, and testing boundaries, and there’s a world of trouble that can come with that.

      I think LW is going to have to get out of there if things don’t’ change a lot once Ripley is back in school.

      1. Clisby*

        Yeah, that’s what I think. This is a lot more than the type of disruptiveness I’ve commonly seen in children, which is usually just being annoying, not deliberately trying to shock someone. I think it’s way overreacting to be worried about the child being sexualized; it’s not like she’s asking OP how many times she has sex every night.

    2. TechWorker*

      I mean… is there? That seems distinctly unlikely. (There’s lots wrong with this situation, let’s not add in unnecessary panic)

    3. Melissa*

      I would be extremely nervous about being alone with a child who is this inappropriate (and I’m not blaming the child for asking weird questions; it isn’t her fault that she doesn’t know what’s appropriate and what isn’t). Because you are exactly right– if the employee finally gets annoyed and goes “OMG NO I don’t!” or even gives a nonsense answer, now the child can go home and (because kids that age are attention-seeking) say “Miss Melissa told me she doesn’t shave her–“

      1. somehow*

        But it would have to be proven, and any lawyer can zoom right through a 7-year-old’s statement, especially when there is no corroborating evidence.

        1. Melissa*

          Would YOU want to be in a situation where your lawyer and the family’s lawyer were arguing about whether you are or aren’t making sexual statements to a second-grader?

          1. somehow*

            You’re over-thinking things, because that question is absurd.

            The point is, the scenario is so unlikely, and so unlikely provable besides, it’s not worth remotely considering. The kid is precocious because she’s 7. Surprise, surprise…

    4. Pretty as a Princess*

      Any sort of parenting where your 7 year old walks in on you shaving your bikini line, honestly. Kids have a habit of being able to magically find their parents at the most opportune times. And kids are curious. They absolutely will say inappropriate things before someone can gently correct them about the things being inappropriate!

      The mom should not be leaving her kid for OP to do mandatory babysitting, for sure. But jumping to “what sort of parenting has a child of 7 years old curious about asking that question?” Kids are curious about bodies. It happens. The LW is in a difficult spot but this particular aspect really can be age-appropriate body curiosity. LW shouldn’t have to be having the conversations about what it’s appropriate to ask other people, but I would not jump to any conclusions about parenting based on a kid being curious about that.

      Conclusions about parenting would be much more straightforward to draw from the kid being left behind the counter at the business with the staff and the parents not being responsive to feedback when the kid is always there, may be rude, or may say things that are inappropriate.

      1. londonedit*

        Even if it doesn’t come from the parents themselves, all it takes is a kid in the school playground with an older sibling informing everyone that their sister shaves her bits – seven-year-olds will jump on that sort of thing because they know it’s a bit naughty and they shouldn’t be talking about it.

        1. UKDancer*

          This so much. Children are nosy and all over things they think are “grown up” or “naughty” I think when I was about that age one of my friends saw her brother in the shower and told us all loudly about how he had hair under his arms and elsewhere and described what his boy bits looked like.

        2. DataSci*

          This. So much inappropriate stuff comes from other kids with older siblings, not from anything in the kid’s own home. Ask anyone with a kid who learned all sorts of vocabulary on the playground in kindergarten or first grade. It terrifies me how many people here assume everything comes from the parents and leap straight to calling CPS.

        3. AnonORama*

          I remember my sister and BIL being super careful about not cursing in front of their kids…until their older son got on the school bus and learned all.the.words very quickly. And even though he didn’t really know what the words meant, he would say them in a way that made it clear he knew he was saying something “bad.” (He’s a good kid, then and now, and was just testing the waters in a normal way. But he definitely knew some words that would make you wonder about his family if you didn’t know he was riding the school bus with 6th graders.)

    5. Chief Petty Officer Tabby*

      Really? Have you ever met any children? They’re very curious about EVERYTHING. And they’re nosy. They WILL f around and find out things you think they shouldn’t, all day, every day.

    6. Dinwar*

      “What sort of parenting has a child of 7 years old curious about even asking that question? WTH?”

      Don’t have kids, do you?

      Boundaries are cultural and need to be taught; curiosity, especially about group norms, appears to be instinctive (at the very least it’s present in the ape species I’ve looked at, indicating it originated with our clade at the latest). This leads to all sorts of fun awkwardness as a parent. Every parent I know of has horror stories of a kid walking in at inappropriate times–while taking a shower, for example. This isn’t bad parenting, it’s the nature of small children. And if they see Mommy shaving, they’re going to be curious, and not knowing proper boundaries, I can absolutely see them asking a stranger about it. For that matter, if the girl has an older sister or older cousin going through puberty and walked in during a discussion of that process the girl could become curious enough to ask questions.

      There’s also the potential for medical issues. Part of getting a vasectomy or hysterotomy is to shave, for medical reasons. Even minor surgeries can be scary for a child, and one way to address this is to explain what’s going on and why you’re doing it. It’s not bad parenting–abnormal, perhaps, but not necessarily bad, especially if someone in the family has a medical background or an illness where such things are going to be part of their lives.

      (As an aside, it’s strongly recommended that you teach your children the proper names for their anatomy, because of anything does happen they’ll use the proper terms with the doctors and police, rather than euphemisms that can be misunderstood. I know of at least one court case where a young girl’s use of euphemisms nearly allowed her rapist to walk free.)

      To be clear, none of this in any way indicates that the LW was wrong to feel the way they did about watching the kid, or that the kid’s question was appropriate. None of it in any way excuses the boss–leaving your kid with an employee without enthusiastic consent on the part of the employee is wrong, period. All I’m saying is that this behavior in no way indicates poor parenting. If a child asking inappropriate questions was sufficient to prove poor parenting, EVERY parent would be a failure.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, sure. And it’s also cultural. I’m in Finland and routinely went to the sauna with both of my parents until I was about 10, and I did the same with my son until he was about 10.

        Sure, he asked a lot of questions when he was younger that I and my husband answered to the best of our ability and at a level of detail that was appropriate for his age at the time. My parents did the same with me, and that’s why I don’t remember ever getting “the talk” from either of them, I got my questions answered when I asked.

        The problem isn’t that Ripley’s curiosity was inappropriate in itself, it’s that it was directed at someone other than her parents or some other safe caregiver who had consented to that role. The LW hadn’t.

        1. Dinwar*

          “The problem isn’t that Ripley’s curiosity was inappropriate in itself, it’s that it was directed at someone other than her parents or some other safe caregiver who had consented to that role. The LW hadn’t.”

          But the child didn’t know that–and probably couldn’t fully comprehend the issues involved anyway. The child thought they were with a safe caregiver; after all, why would their parents put them with someone who wasn’t safe? Declaring that asking such a question is proof of mistreatment, and basing this off of the LW’s perspective rather than the child’s isn’t right; the child can’t know what no one’s told them.

    7. New Jack Karyn*

      No. That’s not going to happen. This is a terrible work situation for OP, but let’s not catastrophize this far beyond reasonable concerns.

  17. RJ*

    LW, I feel very badly that you’ve been put in this situation. I would follow Alison’s advice and at the same time start up an active job search. Aside from this and what you’ve shared, your boss sounds awful and isn’t likely to change.

  18. Overit*

    Look for a new job. Today.

    Allison’s advice would be wonderful if the manager were not, well, who she has already shown herself to be. Combative, defensive, uncaring, authoritarian, and willing to foist her child off on others. She is toxic.

    Get out.

  19. Polaris*

    I’m sorry, did I just walk back into my life in RetailHeck? Because it sure sounds familiar – district manager divorcing from someone at corporate level, leaving precocious (and obnoxious, not even sorry) grade school daughter with the teen/early 20 something staff at the counter. Yeah, it was a lot. And it was solved by finding a new job, because overall corporate had already made their statement by keeping the DM employed even with a lot of interesting shippers and bills of lading that were oddly short by one item at a time….things you’d set up an apartment with like pots and pans or knives…

  20. HonorBox*

    OP, while the daughter is going to go back to school shortly, there’s nothing that makes me think mom isn’t going to be bringing her in after school and during breaks. I think you absolutely need to talk to your boss. Point out what the daughter has said to you and how if a coworker said the same, it would be seen as sexual harassment. And point out that you can’t be responsible for your regular work AND childcare. What’s the worst that happens? It sounds like you’re not paid well enough and maybe there’s a better option elsewhere. I’m sorry this is happening, but I only think it’ll get worse as the divorce proceeds.

  21. BellyButton*

    UGGG what a horrible situation to be in. I would tell the kid each and every time they are being rude or asking inappropriate questions “that is rude, you can’t ask people that. When you say things like it makes people feel bad and then they don’t want to be around you/play with you./your friend.” I am honest with kids when they are being brats. Kids need to hear it and IDGAF if their parents get mad at me, but of course, none of them have been my boss!

    1. londonedit*

      Yeah, I said further up but this child is probably trying to push boundaries and react to a situation she doesn’t want to be in. She’s looking for a reaction when she asks a question like that – she knows she shouldn’t be asking it and she wants OP to be shocked and give her a reaction. So just don’t do that – if she asks inappropriate questions, answer in the blandest way possible and don’t give her the shock value she’s after. ‘That’s not an appropriate question to ask’, ‘I’m not going to answer that’, etc. Totally flat tone of voice and no recognition that she’s being ‘naughty’.

      1. ferrina*

        Yeah, unfortunately this sounds like a pretty normal response from a kid going through a really horrible situation that they have no control over. The kid is probably reeling from the abandonment- honestly, this is a pretty normal way to do it. “Everyone will abandon me, I know it, so why should I bother to be nice? I’ll just push them away before they abandon me.”

        Weirdly, I’m wondering if Ripley “especially” disliking the LW is a sign that she feels safest with LW – rebellion can actually be a sign that the kid knows that you are still safe even if you are mad at them (because the other grown-ups they know are not safe when angry). If Ripley’s home life is a mess, Ripley also has no model of how healthy interactions take place. If LW is calm and reasonable, this might be a wild departure from what Ripley is used to. It feels wrong to Ripley because it’s unfamiliar, but it is also a welcome relief from the chaos of home. And that’s in addition to the boredom that she’s feeling in the moment.
        Of course, Ripley could also just be obnoxious.

    2. Nobby Nobbs*

      I’d stop at “that is rude, you can’t ask people that.” The kid already knows nobody there wants to be around her, play with her, or be her friend, so bringing it up as a consequence seems disingenuous and likely to backfire.

  22. Melissa*

    I’m sorry.. a seven year old asked you WHAT?

    I realize that has no bearing on your question, but… what?!?

  23. Glenn Fleishman*

    This reminds me of when I worked at a corporate-run creative educational center run by a pathological liar a few decades ago. We had great instructors, leading in their fields, come to teach amateurs and professionals; classes ran a few days to a week and instructors came up for a week to three weeks. One day, one of them says to me, “Well, my son Riley [not Ripley!] will be an intern here this summer.” Riley is, I think, 14, and had been visiting with the in Me, in charge of interns and many things: “No, he’s not.” Instructor tells me to talk to the boss. I do, and he says he had agreed to do it. I said, we don’t have the capability of supporting a teenager. The kid was precocious, but fairly annoying and had boundary issues like the questioner here, and had basically been abandoned by a parent all summer. I don’t know what the story is with the other parent. We were sympathetic, but felt like this wasn’t our job (me and my various colleagues). Our boss was already barely raising a teen granddaughter whose parents had died by hiring a barely competent nanny. In the end, the poor kid was foisted off on the nanny all summer.

  24. MuseumChick*

    Echoing what others have said about Alison’s suggested script being perfectly reasonable but having a high probability of not getting the result you want. This is such a sucky situation for everyone. My advice is to start job hunting. I just don’t see a perfectly reasonable discussion working in a situation like this.

    The only other thing I can think to do (and this is also risky) is when the kid starts acting out can you bring her to her mom and in a neutral tone say something like “Ripley (insert behaviors) and its distracting me from getting (insert job duties) done. So I’m brining back her to you.”

  25. Anonymous Hippopotamus*

    I have been in a pinch with my special needs child and had to bring him to work with me a few times. However, he was always directly under my supervision and I would never dream of asking anyone else to watch him. The fact that she thinks this is acceptable to begin with is mind boggling.

  26. Betty*

    I am assuming this is retail and not food service, but there was recent news about a McDonald’s being charged with a child labor violation because the manager had her 10 year old child in the food prep area actually working during overnight shifts. I assumed when reading it that it was because in the absence of childcare she was having her kids come to work and “help out” to keep them occupied. But regardless, there may be legal and safety implications for having a kid “behind the counter” that you could use in the ways Alison sometimes suggests (“I think there are laws that mean we could really get in trouble for…”)

    News story:

  27. Potatoes gonna potate*

    The manager sounds like an awful person, personal drama or not. I feel awful for the child.

    1. LB33*

      I agree this situation is unworkable, but I don’t think there’s anything showing the mgr is an awful person. There’s enough wrong here as is, no need to exaggerate

      1. Admin Lackey*

        “I’ve had trouble communicating with her in the past—she can be very combative, and she routinely says weird and offensive stuff (e.g.; “Don’t give applications to ugly girls”). ”

        I think this is sufficient evidence that the manager is awful

  28. Juicebox Hero*

    For the people wondering how a 7-year-old could know about “shaving down there” and are concerned about how she could even know about such a thing that young, there are TV commercials for women’s razors where the tagline is “down there care”, including one with a cartoon character rapping about her “hair down there” that also features honest to god singing, dancing, animated pubes. The first time I saw it it nearly melted my brain because I’m old enough to remember when bra commercials had to show bras either on a mannequin or on a model wearing a turtleneck underneath.

    I have a hunch the kid is plonked in front of the TV a lot, and might not know exactly what shaving down there is all about, but it sounds slightly naughty and something to shock the adults with. Because to a lonely and bored child, even negative attention is good attention.

  29. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    Previous job my boss brought in his two small kids during Xmas holidays and told me that I was to ‘just keep an eye on them’. Fixed him with a death glare and said that if he was seriously suggesting leaving his (dunno exact ages, primary school?) young kids with the freakin IT department all day he’d better be ok with them learning a truly astounding amount of profanity because we swear like sailors.

    Now I had the privilege to carry that threat off, and the political capital to push back (and everyone I work with ever knows I do not like children) and he took the kids into his own office.

    For when you don’t have that kind of power it’s a whole lot trickier. It’s easy to say on the Internet forums what snapback remark to give the kid or parent but reality is never as clear cut. In the cases such as this I’d recommend leaving your (rightful!) feelings out of any discussion with your boss because there’ll be a clap back against any ‘I don’t feel comfortable with this’ statement under her circumstances.

    Instead try the grey rock approach – simple statements that you will NOT debate. ‘This isn’t appropriate’, ‘I’m not the right person to do this’ etc. Although this may not work either and from what you’ve said in your letter I’m not putting the odds on it.

    I’m sorry.

  30. JustKnope*

    Are there any safety regulations that you could cite for not having a child behind the counter? If you’re in food service especially I wonder if there could be something to help strengthen your case.

  31. Observer*

    Two separate thoughts.

    Firstly, Jane really does need to know what this kid is saying, because they do present a bit of a red flag. *Something* is off- some of these questions are “just” rude, but some of them are very odd coming from a child this age. On the one hand, by 7 years old you can expect a kid to have *some* sort of filter. But more concerning is that some of the things she’s asking about are kind of adult for a child that age. Sure, it’s not proof of anything, but it’s the kind of thing that tends raise antennas. There is nothing you can do about this, but Mom should have this information.

    Secondly, I am a lot less optimist than Alison, because Jane is not a good boss. “Don’t give applications to ugly girls” is not just “weird and offensive.” It’s gross, probably illegal and just all around bad management. So, I don’t really think she’s going to be all that reasonable here. So, start putting stuff into email. And start looking for another job.

    1. somehow*

      “…some of the things she’s asking about are kind of adult for a child that age.”

      Young children are curious about the human body in ways too numerous to count – and it’s perfectly alright.

      I’m stunned at the number of comments that are trying to turn that curiosity into a possible sign of abuse. Stunned.

      1. allathian*

        The curiosity in and of itself isn’t a sign of abuse, but the fact that she’s directing those questions at basically a random stranger is a bit concerning. Kids who are raised in a non-abusive environment tend to save these questions for their parents and other safe caregivers, not some employee of their parents, even if they happen to visit their parent’s workplace.

  32. Petty_Boop*

    Honestly, I think the answer is to just… ignore the kid. Pretend she isn’t there. Go about your work. If you’re on one side of the store doing whatever and she’s behind the counter alone and gets into something, oh well, not your pasture, not your bull$h*t. (Assuming she can’t get into anything DANGEROUS to be clear.) If she makes a mess, go to Mom’s office and say, “I think your daughter needs you; she seems to have dumped over an entire bucket of widgets that’ll need to be cleaned up and I’m busy.” etc… Model the fact that you are NOT, in fact, a babysitter. Or, if she gets annoying, walk her back to her Mom’s office and say, “Ripley needs some supervision and I can’t provide it while I’m doing X,” etc… in other words stop BEING a de facto babysitter.

  33. Looper*

    Get a new job. Jane’s daughter is a rude little so-and-so because her mother is that way. Can’t imagine what the owner is like, probably not much better. Sounds like you work retail (me too!). Literally everyone in retail is hiring right now, holiday staffing is just getting started. Get out, find a better job, there is absolutely nothing for you at this company.

  34. Nene Poppy*

    Because the mother routinely makes offensive comments, such as ‘ugly girls’ it puts a very different spin on what Ripley is saying. It is disturbing that both mother and child are making comments about another people’s bodies, looks and/or personal grooming.

    The child is not at fault here, but if it were me, I would make that call to social services and be prepared to be fired from the job.

    1. Misty_Meaner*

      I’m not sure what you think Social Services/DCFS is going to do in this circumstance. The parent is bringing her child to a business she co-owns. That is not against the law. Nor, frankly is being precocious/shocking/annoying. As a former CASA for juvenile court, please do not waste the time of an already overworked/understaffed Child Services worker on something like this when severely abused and neglected children are out there and already often not getting the services they need. This is like calling the police because your neighbor called you a nasty name. It’s a waste of valuable time. Get another job. Yes. Refuse to babysit, if possible. Yes. Ignore the kid when she says shocking things. Meh. Judgment call. The LW COULD be the one person in her life who says, “That’s rude. Don’t say things like that.” Or not. Her call. But do not bring social services into this. They’ll raise their eyebrows and wonder WTF you were thinking.

  35. Tread carefully*

    Taking the child back to their mother could be fraught. If the child won’t come with you, you cannot take them by the hand or touch them in any way. That saps your power to bring them to their mother. I’d call the grandboss & let the chips fall where they may.

    1. H3llifIknow*

      One can certainly say, “Ripley, let’s go talk to your Mom.” Or “Come with me, Demon Spawn,” without touching the child. Alternatively, perhaps there’s an intercom system where OP can ping Mom and say, “I need you out here.” Heck a few calls a day over the PA System of “Boss please come to the counter” to deal with the kid might put an end to it too.. (or an end to the OP’s employment, so that’s a judgment call!).

  36. Chocoglow*

    Raising my voice with the others saying it’s probably wise to job-hunt, OP; this is awful, and you are a fantastic person for being as caring to Ripley as you have been. But this is definitely a case of not my monkeys, not my circus. I mentioned above going through similar behavior issues with my boyfriend’s kids, but it’s definitely not in your pay grade to help provide childcare and therapy for either Ripley or Jane.

    If you really love your job otherwise, try Alison’s script, but sadly, I suspect the divorce may severely affect the chain store(s) they own, and this may be a good time to job hunt before things go sideways. I’m sorry you’re dealing with this, OP.

  37. Risha*

    I have 6 kids. I can assure you that kids get their ideas from somewhere. Even if Ripley learned it in school or from her friends, surely it’s not the first time she’s said something like this. I’m guessing her parents think it’s funny when she says inappropriate things (or don’t correct her).

    I don’t have any further advice, I just want to empathize with you. I would NEVER leave my kids with just anyone. I’m not saying that in a bad way about you, I meant if babysitting isn’t their primary job. You’re doing your job and may miss something Ripley is doing. It takes a split second for kids to get into something and get hurt. I bet your boss will blame you and your coworkers if that were to happen.

    It’s unfortunate she’s in that spot. Being a single parent is so hard, I was one for several years. But you cannot just leave your kids with people who aren’t 100% willing to watch them. If talking to her isn’t an option for you, I would suggest looking elsewhere. This is a liability.

  38. Luanne Platter*

    If I’m understanding correctly, there’s a court case Chapman v Oakland Living Center, where the court held that the employer was liable for racial harassment committed by the owner’s minor child against an employee, because they knew of the harassment and didn’t do enough to stop the child from harassing the employee.

    OP says the child has made inappropriate comments to them. Have the comments been documented and reported to the manager? The company has a duty to prevent the child from saying things that could be construed as harassment against any kind of protected category.

    1. MF*

      +1 — I hope the OP sees this comment and starts documenting the offensive things that the kid is saying, especially if they are sexist or sexual in nature.

  39. Zarniwoop*

    Does Husband own the whole chain or just that branch? If the latter go above *his* head to Corporate. I’m sure they’d be interested in knowing that there’s regularly a semi-unsupervised child in one of their stores, which can’t be good from a liability point of view.

  40. Cj*

    at my first job, my boss brought in his three kids, ages three to seven, on a Saturday during tax season. the only reason I was there on Saturday is cuz I had my own work to do. he was like oh I’m glad you’re here so you can keep an eye on them. he probably assumed I’d be fine with it since he was my boss and I was a woman in my mid-20s.

    I do not like kids. I can’t remember how my answer came out of my mouth, but it wasn’t too far off from oh hell no, because it just surprised me so much and I was absolutely not going to do it. he looked kind of shocked, but he’s the one that kept an eye on them.

    1. Rainy*

      A whole lot of people assume that if you’re perceived as female you like kids and can’t wait for an excuse to hang out with them, and will carry on believing that that generality applies to any specific female-presenting person even in the face of much evidence to the contrary.

    2. Victoria Everglot*

      I have a kid of my own and still wouldn’t watch these kids. I’ve known some astonishingly mature 3 year olds that spoke and acted like kids twice their age, but all kids develop differently and some 3s are basically still just larger babies. And any time you have more than one kid in the same place, especially siblings, you’re guaranteed some kind of trouble. Nope.

  41. H.Regalis*

    Ugh. I hate to say it, but you may have to either tough it out for a few more weeks or find a new job. Jane sounds like a crappy manager, and I imagine if you corrected her kid, ex. “Stop asking me stuff like that. That’s rude and it’s none of your business,” Jane’s probably not going to take that well; and if you’re stuck with a kid who’s being an asshole and KNOWS you can’t tell her to stop, that is going to suck even worse than it does now.

    The only other thing I can think of is if you could anonymously alert someone higher up than her who’s not her possibly-soon-to-be-ex husband, and even then it might not get taken seriously; plus if that were possible you probably already would’ve tried it.

  42. Quokka*

    High school teacher here, so some insight and some tips.

    Ripley’s world sucks right now and she has no ability to change that. She is grasping at what can give her a sense of the power/control she is lacking and doesn’t have the tools to do this properly because she is 7. Attention seeking is really connection seeking – but any attention is better than no attention and it is easier to manipulate and get bad attention than good, even if that doesn’t really get the kind of connection she is seeking. All kids are looking for our approval, some just have funny ways of going about it.
    Totally not your problem, and if you do choose to engage in a more positive fashion (giving out compliments, saying good morning etc) be prepared for her to latch onto you and be your shadow.
    Hopefully your boss sorts this out soon, but in the mean time you can shut down what the child says to you without engaging her. The next time she tries to shock a response out of you, answer with other questions. Eg: Ripley “do you shave down there?” You “what a strange question! Do you ask everyone that question? You probably shouldn’t.”
    Even better if you can answer it while being busy doing something and not giving eye contact until the last bit, then immediately turn back to your work again. If she is likely to try and keep it going after that, you can immediately follow that with a question that changes the topic, like asking if she needs more paper for her colouring in or whatever.
    This sounds like techniques Alison has mentioned before because they are! they work on kids also.
    Try and keep the high road, refrain from ridiculing or sarcasm that will cause her hurt. Responses should sound like mild/vague concern. Sounds like she’s going to need enough therapy already.

    If you are going to be stuck dealing with her, are there any interests you have that you don’t mind talking someone to death about? If they are age suitable of course, then feel free to talk about those. She will probably lash out a few times, but that need for connection and approval will win over. Then at least you have the connection happening on your terms. If it doesn’t win her over, she will at least label you as terminally boring and leave you alone so she doesn’t have to hear it!

    If nothing else works, get her to watch Bluey. See if your boss will pay you to watch it with her.

    1. Friendly Office Bisexual*

      These are great suggestions! They strike a good balance between being empathetic to the kid and setting firm boundaries.

  43. Rainy*

    I feel like this is a “your manager sucks and is not going to get any better, time to go” situation. And honestly, LW, at your age I would probably have done the same thing you are and become increasingly resentful until I blew my stack, which is not optimal. Far better to make a big fuss early on when you’re not fed up yet and can control yourself, rather than waiting until you’re so resentful and angry that you tell Ripley and Jane to their faces what an obnoxious little shit she is.

    I’m sure she’s having a hard time, but being allowed to be rude like that is doing her zero favours in the long run. And letting Jane just…dump her kid off on her employees like that (??!!) is also doing Jane no favours.

    1. Momma Bear*

      Having a hard time (mother and daughter) is still not a blanket excuse for unpleasant behavior. Jane needs to sort her life out, get her kid some therapy…. not dump her problems on her staff situation.

      1. Rainy*

        Right?! I scanned the comments to date and was pretty disappointed by the comments suggesting that LW let the manager and her demonic spawn insult her because “they’re having a hard time”.

        And letting a seven-year-old say shit that she KNOWS is mean and rude without consequences just means that right around the time when school administration stops mandating group participation and interaction (usually middle school, from what I’ve seen), Ripley is going to have zero friends and probably be super shocked about it.

  44. Mothman*

    The “down there” question raises red flags for me as a former teacher. It sounds like she’s very young. Kids see and hear things they shouldn’t, of course. But if grown up themes are common, it absolutely has to be brought up. These topics can indicate some bad stuff.

  45. Momma Bear*

    There’s no “good” action that won’t upset anybody, but I’d take the kid back to their mom when they start acting up. This is behind the counter, so child is talking where customers might hear + interrupting people’s work. I’d secondarily be working on my job hunt/resume.

    I also agree that some of the comments are concerning in other ways and while OP is probably not a mandated reporter I’d at least be specific about the questions with the mother.

  46. That wasn't me. . .*

    look for another job. This business is not likely to survive – at least not in it’s current form – under a divorcing (presumably) couple. (And heaven preserve you if they reconcile! This is business/family/midlife crisis drama central!) Get out while you can!

  47. clifford*

    As a side note, I was really hoping a letter that used “Ripley” would also use “Newt”… :)

  48. CzechMate*

    Once upon a time, I was a volunteer in a nursery that was attached to a high school for teen parents. Even though my role was to watch/play with the children, we would go get their parent(s) the minute they began to misbehave. It was pretty simple–we want you to succeed and do what you need to do, but if your child can’t behave, they can’t be here. It inhibits everyone else’s ability to do what THEY need to do. I am 100% behind getting mom every time the daughter acts out.

  49. Ew, kids.*

    I am not above teaching unruly children horrible swear words. People no longer leave their children with me without prior arrangement.

  50. Sabrina*

    Another point of view: in a way I was that kid? My mom worked at a fast food chain and whenever her shifts and school didn’t align, my sister and I were left in the crew room in the back, watching the same VHS movies on repeat. No one was expected to watch us or even interact with us, maybe that’s what this mom is expecting?

    On the other hand, I don’t remember ever even talking to any of the employees without my mom present, let alone asking weird questions. Also the whole situation just sucked. We were bored out of our minds to the point where we were thrilled to help clean tables or stock ketchup at the registers. Probably illegal too…

    1. Mandatory Reporter*

      Was this the late 70s/early 80s? Did we have the same childhood? Being at work with a parent was the pits. I was so happy once they decided I was old enough to chill at home by myself once I turned 10.

  51. ina*

    The “hair down there” comment is making an alarm bell go off in my head. It’s just not a question a 7 year old should be asking. Along with her behavior, I’m concerned — that’s all I am left with. I’m hesitant to even get on the “tell the owner” unpopular opinion train. The only person I’d tell is the child welfare department. Maybe I am dramatic, I don’t know and the answer is probably ‘yeah, calm down’ but this whole thing just gives a bad feeling.

    LW, just leave. This place isn’t worth it. Why isn’t this child with her mother anyway?

    1. Mandatory Reporter*

      As a mandatory reporter, this comment from a 7 year old absolutely rings alarm bells & anyone who is concerned about children making sexualised comments should not be worried what anyone else thinks!

      It MIGHT be innocent, but what is worse, someone looking into it & determining that it is innocent, or a child being sexually abused & no one saying anything or doing anything because they worry about being accused of overreacting??

      You are a decent human for caring about a child who is a complete stranger to you.

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