updates: everyone gives me plants, the “childless” shirt, and more

Welcome to “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager! Between now and the end of the year, I’ll be running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

There will be more posts than usual this week, so keep checking back throughout the day.

1. My boss and coworkers keep giving me plants (#2 at the link)

My question was low stakes, and my update is as well. To answer your question on why everyone was giving me plants, my boss and most of my team were all middle-aged women who just really love plants. My boss had a garden of plants in her office, and I think assumed that since they brought her joy that they’d bring everyone joy. Her love of plants rubbed off on the team. Plus, in many situations they’re easy to give as gifts, especially in a situation like mine: I have several severe food allergies and intolerances, so when people would normally get a cake or something, I got plants.

My plant killing days are behind me now. Due to reasons entirely separate from the plants, I left the old job in mid-2022. Before I left (and with a lot of help), I kept a succulent alive long enough that it had many plant babies. I repotted those and gave one to each team member on my last day, which they all loved. The original plant died a week after I left, in a surprise to no one.

At my new job, my coworkers asked if I wanted a plant early on for my desk. I told them “only if they want to watch the plant die over the course of a few weeks” and they laughed and never asked again. I admire my coworkers plants from a distance, and I decorate my desk with pictures of my dog.

2. As a manager, should I not wear a “childless” shirt in my off-hours?

I did not buy the sweatshirt.

I did spend some time thinking about your comment at the end — about how I placed myself in the preferred category due to being childless. I am nonbinary/transmasculine myself (“don’t ask, don’t tell” with regards to work, so I’m assumed to be a woman there). I am young enough that someone can still assume children are in my future, so some hypothetical sexist boss could both give me bonus points for the “will have kids eventually” assumption and at the same time not “mommy track” me. I also have never really personally experienced weirdness around not having children — most of the people in my circle are childfree, so there’s no one breathing down my neck about kids. But I have heard the horror stories about how weird people can get towards childless women! I completely agree that it can get women can’t win when it can go weird either way.

Thanks for taking up the question and for all the commenters who weighed in!

3. How should I respond when employees complain about financial stress?

I got so much wonderful feedback, both from you and your readers. It was especially interesting to engage in a conversation surrounding what compensation looks like at nonprofits versus private companies, and how that dovetails with privilege and diversity in this sector.

I heeded the advice I received to continue serving as an empathetic sounding board to my employees who were voicing concerns about their financial struggles, while also working on not taking those conversations so personally. I am happy to say I continue to increase pay when I can as well as to expand non-monetary benefits. In general I have had less of these conversations which affirms to me that some of my employees may have simply been facing challenges in their personal lives and saw me as a safe place to share those frustrations.

4. My new coworker’s annoying habits are driving me mad

My colleague was late coming into work a couple of times and said he was going to a physiotherapist to work out some muscle and joint issues. His fidgeting really was due to pain and discomfort. Treatment seems to be helping.

If he texts while I am talking, I stop talking and ask him if he needs a minute. This seems to have addressed the issue. I guess he was unaware he was doing it? Or unaware that it was rude? I’ve also noticed that he used to pick up his phone during meetings, and he no longer does that. I’m not sure if he noticed that no one else did that, or if someone else mentioned it to him. I think he’s still adjusting to professional norms.

I read through the comments. Many thought I just needed to deal with it, and, yeah that’s part of the job of working with people. Many of the commenters suggested various neurodiversity possibilities. That had occurred to me before (we do work in a technical field), but I did wonder what difference that would make to how I would respond. The only thing I could think of is that maybe I would be more direct; instead of expecting him to be able to recognize non verbal cues, I could tell him directly. So I tried that. Whenever it wasn’t a good time for me, I told him. Feeling like I have better control over my time and space has helped my attitude a lot.

{ 92 comments… read them below }

  1. Jaybeetee*

    Deadbeat Plant Parent: We are kindred spirits, for I, too, cannot keep a plant alive for love or money. I’ve never figured it out either. I have killed cacti, succulents, air plants, jade plants, all posited to me as “idiot-proof” and “impossible to kill”. In another forum I’m in, someone mentioned a plant they had that they’d forgotten to water for months, that was still fine! But like you, no matter how much or little I water or what I try, plants just sort of slowly wither and die over several months, and I’ve given up for now.

    I’m so glad you’ve moved to a new workplace where you can quietly avoid being the plant reaper!

    1. Sara*

      I’ll say as someone that does enjoy plants -those types of plants (succulents, bamboo, air plants) are my downfall. I have no idea how to care for them. I have a lot of nice leafy plants that need various amounts of water but the second i have one that should be left alone I don’t know what to do with it!

      1. Rocket Raccoon*

        I am a plant killer too (usually do to overwatering) but I have one jade plant that has survived many years by following the rule “water the plant on payday”. Other than that I don’t touch it!

      2. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

        This is my exact problem- succulents die a slow, painful death with me but peace lilies, pony tail palm, pothos, etc. are all doing great. I’m not so hot with flowering plants either, but at least that issue that they don’t flower. They tend to live okay.

        1. Bee*

          I think it’s the light that’s the problem – succulents need more light than my apartment gets (and a LOT more light in winter), but the pothos & philodendron are happy with a much wider range of indirect light! The one that lives in the south-facing room grows faster than the one on top of the bookcase, but they are both growing just fine.

          1. Isopod IT*

            Hawthorias are really the only succulent that thrive in indirect window light. I keep succulents, mainly echeveria, and the ones I’ve kept alive inside are ones under a white grow light. Plus people don’t realize “well draining soil” really means “mostly pebbles with a tiny bit of soil.”

      3. AngryOctopus*

        Same. I can’t have non succulent plants because the cat chews them, and I can murder a succulent pretty fast, so I’ve compromised, and I have a ton of fake succulents in planters around the house.
        I do have some non succulent fake plants but the cat also chews those, so I guess I can’t win on that front.

      4. Anon in Aotearoa*

        I find I’m the same. Plants that need a lot of water thrive under my care. Plants that like being dry don’t tend to last long. I can’t bring myself to not water them.

    2. Unsolicited Indoor Garden Advice*

      Honestly, those listed plants are all plants that can survive certain kinds of neglect but can be very easy to kill (depending on the specific ones). In particular, very easy to over water and end up rotting.

      I don’t think there’s really any such thing as an unkillable plant. However, not being able to keep a plant alive isn’t some great personal failing. And if you just don’t want to be responsible for a plant, you shouldn’t have to be!

      That being said, if I had to pick a relatively easy to care for plant, I’d pick the peace lily. Err on the side of watering less. They wilt very obviously if they do dry out too much, but in my experience if you water them then they’ll perk right back up. Granted, I noticed some scarring on the stems if I allowed this to happen repeatedly, but they lived.

      If they live long enough and do thrive, though, you will eventually need to repot them and split them, or they’ll burst their pots. And that can be a pain if you don’t have a great spot to make a bit of a mess with potting soil. I did manage to have that degree of success with mine, and I haven’t been able to keep cacti, succulents, and jades in good shape. So YMMV, but that’s my recommendation.

      1. 3DogNight*

        Mint and SnakePlant have joined the chat.
        LOL, SnakePlant are pretty hardy, just don’t let them freeze. I’ve seen them live in a literal pond, as well as on my front porch, with no light, and no water.
        Mint is a menace to society! Or at least my garden.

        1. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

          I think I must be the one person who cannot keep mint alive. I do fine with other plants! But weirdly, I always end up killing my mint plants. Especially if they’re potted.

          1. Bee*

            Mint is unkillable in the sense that if you cut it all back and repot the root ball you’ll get a whole bunch of new sprouts, but my god, I cannot get it to thrive in a pot. It’s an endless cycle of happy new sprouts turning into leggy floppy stems with small leaves that eventually start to wither until I cut it all back once again.

          2. CB212*

            Mint wants a lot of water, so inside it can run up against climate control systems. Where I am the heaters are always under the windows, so for mint to get enough light in winter it is vulnerable to drying out.

          1. metadata minion*

            Me too! I appear to be good at keeping pothos and spider plants alive. One of my desk plants is the grand-clone of the spider plant I got in college, almost 20 years ago now. Both types do well in artificial light and seem to be just fine with me forgetting to water them until they start to look wilty.

        2. AngryOctopus*

          I have the perfect mint situation: it’s growing/rooted in the neighbor’s yard. It sneaks under my fence. I can keep those parts under control, and have lots of lovely fresh mint all summer!

      2. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

        Bamboo and mint are both famous for being unkillable, but that’s once they’re established in the ground. It may be possible to kill bamboo in a pot. (My next door neighbor has about half his backyard taken over by bamboo. It’s as tall as the (two-story) house and would require a machete to cut it down to size followed by a backhoe to rip out all the roots to kill it. And even then it might try to come back.

        1. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

          Not an indoor plant at all, but my dad’s wisteria laughed in his face when he’s tried to kill it. It just keeps coming back, heartier than before, and thriving in this global warming. If you tell me in 10 years wisteria will rule the world, I won’t think you’re kidding.

          1. AngryOctopus*

            My best friend backed over our fence by accident (total new driver move) when we were 16, and ran over mom’s trumpet vine in the process. Well, the trumpet vine liked that, because it promptly grew INSANELY HUGE all over and down the fence, to the point where you had to very carefully back out of the driveway to make sure nobody was coming (pretty rural area so we didn’t see the need to cut it back instead).

          2. La Triviata*

            I once saw in a store window they had plastic plants which had turned grey and were dropping leaves.

    3. My Cabbages!*

      I was gifted an orchid once. It sat, slowly dying, in my office until I emailed my botanist coworker in desperation asking if she would please adopt it.

      She did, and as far as I know that orchid is now doing well.

    4. Lenora Rose*

      A lot of the plants listed as “Don’t do anything and it will be fine” actually do need some specialized care. You can not-water a cactus all you want but if your environment is humid it can still be too much. Succulents don’t need traditional care but they do need attention.

      I managed to keep an orchid alive for 2 extra bloom cycles – effectively for 3 years – but on the third, I ended up drowning the poor thing. A — normally Highly successful — suggestion how to water it is to leave the whole pot inside another cup full of water for 15-30 minutes. I did this – then got distracted and left it that way for several DAYS. it had budded but the buds wilted and fell with only one even making a token effort to open the petals, and some of the seeker roots withered away. It seems to be still alive but I’m almost scared now to water it at all.

    5. Trippedamean*

      I was an incorrigible plant killer for years. I didn’t want to be, though. There’s a British gardener named Monty Don who was the first person I ever heard admit that he’d killed tons of plants on his way to being a master gardener. Suddenly, a dead plant didn’t sound like a failure but a lesson. So I tried again and, using some of my science background, started with one plant and one way of treating it. When I was able to keep that alive (an anthurium for anyone who is curious), I got a couple more of the same kind and tried to keep those alive for a while. I’ve branched out slowly (pun intended!) and now am known as the plant person in my office. I’ve even been able to rehabilitate a few for other people. If you want to try to be plant parent, I’d recommend this method.

    6. Leia Oregano*

      As a now-reformed deadbeat plant parent, imo those are all kinds of plants i find easy to kill! The only succulent I’ve managed to keep alive is an aloe my mom gifted me — i ignore its existence and it tolerates mine. I accidentally killed a cutting from a century-old cactus gifted to me by my ex-partner’s dad. I went through a succulent phases and they all died slow deaths.

      Then I got a pothos for $10 at Aldi about three weeks before the pandemic started in 2020 and my collection has now exploded to, like, 30 or 40 plants.

      To anyone looking to test the plant parent waters, I recommend a pothos! Mine loved being on a tall shelf next to a standing lamp until it outgrew the space. Water when the leaves are just starting to droop and keep near a light source of some kind — window, lamp, plant grow light, etc, — and watch them grow! There are lots of pretty varieties, they’re easy to care for, and super easy to grow long or periodically chop and propagate for new plants. Mine had vines 5-7 ft long before it got chopped earlier this year!

    7. Umami*

      Same. We recently bought a new house, and I thought surely I am now able to keep plants alive now that I have raised various children and pets successfully. Bought a really nice plant stand and covered it with all sorts of plants for our housewarming, and ….. yeah, no. Only one is still alive-ish.

    8. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I too have killed them all and let nature reclaim its wanderers.
      I love the Charlotte’s Web ending, with cuttings moving to cube neighbors while the noble progenitor passes gently away.

    9. Inkognyto*

      When I started in IT, we had group to support the hospital, and got a new area offsite as we needed more space, as the team had grown. Someone from another location bought us a plant as we had nice windows and as gift.

      It was big and leafy, no idea what it was but after like 5 months one of the co-workers asked “this plant looks a bit off, is it being watered?”. The team lead poured the remains of his cold coffee in the plant and said “yes, like this whenever my coffee is cold”.

      The plant was removed from his care promptly by the one who asked, and still lived at least 2 years, after that I moved dept as was not on that location.

    10. Poly Anna*

      Some people I know seem to like the Plantsome app for telling them when/how much to water their plants.

  2. Festively Dressed Earl*

    I think Crowley should have used LW #1 to terrify his plants instead of using the garbage disposal. Glad to hear your new coworkers are taking you at your word!

    1. Mrs. Pommeroy*

      There’s a Crowley’s plants fanfic on ao3 that I love deeply: written from the perspective of one of Crowley’s plants, explaining what happens to those that don’t manage to “grow better” – and, spoiler, it’s not the garbage disposal. :D

      1. Zeus*

        Do they get planted in a rooftop garden or something? I think I read one like that, it was really nice.

  3. kalli*

    Update #4 – ideally you’d just be direct with everyone rather than if it’s been suggested they may be neurodivergent. One does not have to be neurodivergent to not understand or simply not see unspoken or non-verbal cues, while being polite and clear about your needs helps everyone regardless of their brain chemistry. Thus, you would not change anything because of the perception of someone being neurodivergent, which unless they have asked you to or agreed to do as some form of recognised accommodation, is likely to at least edge on discrimination.

    A lot of letters here could have been avoided if people didn’t assume the others involved were mind readers or read the right thing into some action or gesture or lack of and instead, just said something.

    1. Common Sense Not Common*

      “ A lot of letters here could have been avoided if people didn’t assume the others involved were mind readers or read the right thing into some action or gesture or lack of and instead, just said something.”

      I agree 100%. I do not know why, in 2023, so many people still have such a hard time just speaking up! Part of it may be the increased use of technology, but it goes beyond that.

      On an aside: I’m looking at 10+ pages of email back and forth that could have easily been avoided if someone had just picked up the phone 9 pages ago and gotten clarification.

      1. Dulcinea47*

        It’s because people (still mostly women) are still taught not to speak up for themselves, it’s a pretty necessary skill for childhood to not contradict any adults, and most people don’t have grown up role models who do it well either. The actions people choose to take or not take are not technology’s fault.

        1. allathian*

          Depends a lot on where you are and the culture you grew up in. At least in my area, kids can and do speak up in a lot of families. Obviously it’s not good if they become little dictators in their households, but as long as the parents and other adults make the final decisions, there’s nothing wrong in letting kids have a voice in matters that affect them. Kids who have been heard also tend to be able to speak up as adults. Granted, I’m not in the US.

      2. metadata minion*

        “I do not know why, in 2023, so many people still have such a hard time just speaking up!”

        Because in many contexts directness gets read as rudeness, especially if it’s across a power differential. There’s also a vast spectrum in between “strategic sighing” and “extreme bluntness”, and it can be genuinely hard to figure out where along that line “polite directness” lies in a given context.

      3. Sally Rhubarb*

        . I do not know why, in 2023, so many people still have such a hard time just speaking up!

        Because women/AFAB people are seen as bitchy/bossy/rude when white cis men are seen as assertive in the same situation. So you pick your battles and learn to quietly stew rather than be labeled the office bitch.

      4. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        In many countries in Europe (the UK, France and other Latin countries…), Americans are judged for being much too direct. Here it comes across as rude. People prefer to beat around the bush and hint at problems. I’m not saying this is right. My Dutch friend is very direct and it’s one of the things I love about her, she cuts through a lot of flak and gets to the core issue straight away. Doing things her way is much simpler than how I was brought up, but some things are hard to change.

    2. ferrina*

      That’s a little harsh. In the original letter, LW was understandably frustrated with a colleague. It sounds like they took the advice, gave the colleague some grace and became more direct in what they said, and it’s been working well for everyone. Yes, it would be nice if everyone was comfortable saying things directly from the get-go, but saying things directly doesn’t always work out well (I’m a very direct person, and that’s come back to bite me quite a few).

      LW, sounds like you did well and I’m glad this got resolved. Sounds like both you and your colleague are happier.

      1. Willow Pillow*

        It doesn’t sound harsh to me at all, just direct… and I say that as a neurodivergent, AFAB person who has had to learn how to balance directness and diplomacy the hard way.

    3. Spiders Everywhere*

      Culturally there’s this idea that it’s nicer to pretend you’re ok with something while secretly letting resentment poison your relationship than it is to even hint that you’d like them to act differently, and I think a lot of the time when people ask for advice they’re (consciously or not) really just asking for permission to say something.

    4. Random Dice*

      Kind of harsh.

      I *am* neurospicy, and still struggle with speaking directly. There’s years of programming to unpack!

  4. Monkey Princess*

    I’m always intrigued by the childfree threads. I think it must be so area or maybe class dependent. I’d say that most of my female friends from high school and college don’t have kids. So far as I know, nobody’s ever said boo to them about it. They all have much more successful careers than my female friends who did have kids. (I do know plenty of mothers who have successful careers, I’m just talking about the sample size of people I’ve known 20+ years). We hang out and they tell me about their dogs and cats and I tell them about my kids, and sometimes they tell me about their nieces and nephews and I tell them about my cats, and then we mostly talk about other things.

    I’m guessing this thing where women are stoned in the streets and have random people shouting how they’re selfish, soulless shells of human beings isn’t happening anywhere near the sorts of big cities where a studio apartment starts at $4000 a month? That’s where I live, and where most of my friends settled. (I actually live in the suburbs, where most people I now know have kids. But I crash on their couches when I visit their cities.)

    Interesting, I had kids young for this crowd, at 28 and 30, and definitely got a lot of passive aggressive comments about being young. A lot of people mistook me for the nanny and were quite rude. Most of my “mom friends” are 10-15 years older than me, with our kids being the same age. It just goes to show that women can’t do literally anything right, because considering a 28 year old too young to have a child to the point that you must exclaim about how young they are and then warn you about how expensive it will be, is nuts, right?

    (Also, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone wear a “mom” t shirt, with the exception of sometimes sports teams get them printed when the kids go to championships, and the parents will all wear matching t shirts that say “Basketball Mom” or “Basketball Dad.” I doubt anyone wears those a second time, at least out in public.)

    1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      Significant parts of our country are forcing or trying to force women to give birth, do I think assuming everyone is good with women being child-free may not be on point.

      1. Turquoisecow*

        They’re forcing pregnant women to give birth, I don’t think they’re forcing women to get pregnant (yet).

        As I said below, when I was single it made no difference if someone pressured me to have kids, I can’t do it alone.

      1. Sally Rhubarb*

        That might be the weakest argument ever. “I didn’t experience it, therefore it doesn’t happen.” What???

      2. Morgan Proctor*

        This is not what the OP said, neither literally nor figuratively. I actually think they’re onto something, with the criticism being class-dependent. Ironically, if you live somewhere where you’re making a good salary, the cost of living is probably so high that you can’t afford kids even if you wanted them. But also, you’re probably dedicated to your career and kids just don’t fit into the picture.

      3. Monkey Princess*

        I’m sorry that I came across that way, that’s not what I meant. I know it was a rambling post, which is on me. My point, so far as I had one, was that women literally can’t win, no matter what. There are structural factors working against us everywhere, they just can look different for different people.

      4. H.Regalis*

        That’s not what Monkey Princess said (which is a sentence I never thought I’d type XD). She’s saying YMMV, which is true: How much you’re going to encounter this varies by race, class, geography, personality, age, and just random chance.

        I’m in the U.S, in the Midwest, and in a city. I haven’t encountered this as much, at least to my face, but the times I’ve had gotten were mostly when I was younger, and were all in situations where I could tell the person saying that where they could cram their cheap two cents, and then they knew better than to let me hear them saying that again; but there’s no doubt in my mind that other women in my city have had the polar opposite experience of mine.

    2. Morgan Proctor*

      Yep, I’m childfree by choice and probably half of my female friends don’t have kids, and we are all in our late 30s. No one has ever said anything to me about it, not friends, not family, not coworkers… no one! I’ve literally never witnessed that kind of behavior in any workplace.

      This thread makes me want to buy the Childless sweatshirt. It’s from Reductress, if anyone is wondering.

      1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

        My mom might talk about how she wants more grandchildren but everyone at work treats my childlessness the same as my lack of a cat. It might be nice to see photos of the cat/ child and do a small talk but no worries if not

      2. There You Are*

        The only pushback I have ever received about being childless was at work. Both at white-collar office jobs and at retail jobs.

        And, in every instance except for one, when I said something along the lines of, “No kids for me, not if I have anything to do with it,” the reply was, “But if you got pregnant, you’d keep it, RIGHT?”


      3. nodramalama*

        i don’t get pusback at work for my decision. But i have definitely noticed that when it comes to holidays, my preferences are often considered later than the parents because school holidays take precedence. Or school pickup means a mother has a hard out, but I am expected to cancel my yoga class to work late.

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, and that definitely sucks for those who don’t have kids, regardless of the reason.

          That said, if you miss a yoga class, you miss a yoga class. But if your coworker doesn’t pick up her kid, daycare will charge her extra at best and call CPS on her for child abandonment at worst. This is particularly true if your coworker is a single parent. If the father’s in the picture, ideally he should be doing his share of the pickups so that she can work late, too. Sadly we all know that we’re a long way off from gender equality here.

          But it would be more useful to direct your frustration at your employer. Working late occasionally happens pretty much everywhere, but if it’s a regular occurrence, there aren’t enough employees for the workload.

    3. Dulcinea47*

      Nobody is stoning anyone in the streets that I know of. However, as a woman who lived through my entire childbearing years and is now clearly too old to have children, in the relatively conservative midwest, people do look at you like you’re an alien if you don’t have kids. I was completely shunned by my closest (physically and job-content-wise) coworkers at old job b/c they would talk about kids non stop and I have nothing to contribute to that topic. So they’d all take lengthy breaks together while I worked. What I”m saying is, it has a very noticeable impact socially in my experience.

      Some of it is also clearly generational as it’s much more acceptable to not have kids in the age of global warming, fascists, and pandemics, than it was even 20 years ago. And yes, women can’t do it right either way, that’s the soul of sexism right there.

      1. Monkey Princess*

        It’s reprehensible that women’s choices are apparently up for public jury, but pretty convenient that making it so socially acceptable to actively judge women for everything means that we’re too busy being on the personally defensive that don’t have time or energy to fight for structural change.

    4. Turquoisecow*

      I’m 42 and have a 3 year old so I lived most of my adult life so far without kids. I also was single until I was 35 so whenever someone asked I’d say I was open to the idea but unfortunately couldn’t do it alone. The only person who ever really came remotely close to pressuring me about kids was my mother-in-law, and that was only with little subtle comments for the most part (and she backed off when my sister-in-law had 3 of her own, which largely dampened the desire for grandkids at least a little).

      But I’m sure it would feel differently if I had a circle of friends who all had kids or if I lived in a very traditional community.

      1. AnotherSarah*

        Same here! Single until 35, now 42 with a toddler and baby. I’ve only gotten judgy comments abroad, never in the US, but I lived most of my adult years before 35 in Brooklyn.

    5. M*

      Genuinely love this for your friends, but I hate to report that yes, this is very much a thing. I’m director level in a big east coast city and I’m fielding these questions all the time. I’m sure that you are a wonderful and caring friend but there’s some context clues in your letter about why your friends may not be mentioning what pressure they do hear to you.

      1. Morgan Proctor*

        This in itself is passive aggressive behavior toward someone regarding the choice to have or not have kids. Congratulations on proving the OP’s point.

      2. Monkey Princess*

        I don’t think that’s a fair comment, because you don’t know us or the kinds of things we talk about. I believe that you have faced pressure, so why wouldn’t you believe that I know people who haven’t?

        1. Velociraptor Attack*

          I think there’s a level of snark in M’s comment that’s not necessary but I think where they are coming from is that you say that none of your friends have told you they’ve experienced pressure so clearly they haven’t gotten any when that’s… possibly not true.

          I fully believe you when you say you haven’t experienced it, I believe M for saying they have. Some of my childless friends have never told me they’ve received pressure, I’m not going to use that as evidence that they never have.

    6. Blip*

      As a woman who willingly had a child–and thinks anyone who does not want one should be fully respected and left alone–I have found myself increasingly uncomfortable about the pitting of child-having and child-not-wanting against one another. It feels like every other “AITA” post is about how annoying children are, or how inappropriate their presence is, and as a group children get treated without the respect, attention, compassion, and age-appropriate (or nero-divergent) understanding we afford to other groups of human beings.

      If I saw a shirt like that in the workforce, I would interpret it as falling under this category as well, no matter the original intent. It sounds like a boast as opposed to an answer to a potential question. Children are supposed to be part of a larger community, and parents aren’t supposed to be going at it all alone, our choice, you wanted it, you take care of it, etc. Children grow up to be productive members of society, for the benefit of all, and that really does take the proverbial village.

      That said, I will go to bat for anyone who does not want kids and feels forced to deal with pushback.

      1. boof*

        Yessss – I have kids. Most of my college friend group have not (and I’ve never felt the need to inquire why or if they wanted to etc). I still love talking to them (about many things, usually kids are mentioned but not the major topic), they indulge my kids if there are visits; folks can be childfree and not a child hater! It takes a village, it’s all good, YOLO, etc etc.
        As a new mom I had internalized a lot of complaints about children (some of them from more virulently childfree circles who I only knew online by other social groups, but would say, rant about how sick they felt looking at pregnant woman’s belly). I was super anxious about breastfeeding anywhere public, etc. As a result, I didn’t go out much and well; later on I stopped caring and other things went better.
        Which all is to say I think we can celebrate everyone but should be careful about critical slogans in public. I don’t know if a childfree shirt would be critical or not, but I could easily see it making new moms extra self conscious. But we can only do so much to try to avoid offending others, and/or I guess I’d just ask what the intent is in wearing it.

      2. nodramalama*

        The letter writer wasn’t planning on wearing it in the workforce. They were just planning on wearing it, period.

        And your point goes to the bigger issue here. Why is it bad to ‘brag’ about not having children if its ok to ‘brag’ about having children? They’re functionally the same thing. It’s only if you perceive having children as a positive and not having children as a negative. If we’re really pro whatever choice women want to make, then it shouldn’t be an issue to be happy to be childfree any more than its not an issue to be happy being a parent.

        1. Ginger Baker*

          Personally I don’t think it’s okay to “brag” about having kids either. I have kids, but it’s not like…something I expect an award for, and I would be very uncomfortable if someone decided to compliment me in any way just for…being a parent (versus maybe giving appreciation for work I do as a parent if it was noteworthy in some way, but I would put that on par with recognizing the effort anyone puts in to something that takes work – I am highly impressed with the Plant Patrons above who manage to not kill plants, something well beyond my skill! so like, I wouldn’t give someone kudos for having 40 plants, but I might say “wow, I am impressed you got this orchid to bloom 4 times, you might be a wizard” because acquiring plants is nothing particularly special but getting an orchid to bloom is pretty great [note that my standards for what should garner kudos from other re parenting is a lot higher than “managed to keep alive this year” for obvious reasons!])

    7. Mianaai*

      Yeah, I think you’re on to something with the variability by class and area. I live in the suburbs of a major metro area and have a successful career as a scientist and only rarely get the “oh but you need to have kids or you will regret it later” and similar. Weirdly, my boss is the one of the biggest culprits; she’s someone who had several kids and for whom that was very meaningful/fulfilling and she just sort of expects that everyone else must have the same attitude. Not judgement necessarily, but certain degree of “oh just wait and see, you’ll change your mind”.

      On the other hand, returning to the rural area where I grew up is always incredibly fraught. *Multiple* people pulled me aside at my mother’s *funeral* to tell me how disappointed my mother must have been that I didn’t provide her with grandbabies… Very much an attitude that not having kids is a major transgression of social norms, and that I am bad and selfish for not doing so. I don’t visit much.

      1. There You Are*

        Those comments are always so baffling.

        “You are selfish for not having a child, while *I* am completely selfless and altruistic because I brought human beings into the world so that I wouldn’t be shamed like I am doing to you right now.”

        1. Fiona Orange*

          I’ve never had anyone make those comments to me (yet), but if they ever do, I’ll say, “I didn’t have kids because I was afraid they’d turn out like you.”

        2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          The way I see it, in countries where contraception and abortion are available, it’s having children that’s the selfish thing to do. It’s a choice. I brought two people into the world for my own pleasure. There’s a reason we all tell our parents we didn’t ask to be born: it’s true!

    8. Decidedly Me*

      I have absolutely been called selfish for not having kids in one of the most expensive areas of the US.

      1. bamcheeks*

        I know I’m preaching to the choir but this makes SO LITTLE sense to me. Who are these people who want other people to have kids *selflessly*? What a terrible idea! Everyone should be able to h bear raise children if they want to, and everyone should be able to not bear or raise children if they don’t want to. If it’s selfish to make the right decision for myself, sign me up!

    9. Trippedamean*

      It’s definitely context-dependent. I live in one of the lower cost of living parts of the US (though we have cities here too (but seriously, some people don’t realize that)) and didn’t want kids at all for the first ten years of my marriage. I got tons of comments about it, to the point that I frequently considered telling people I was infertile or had had miscarriages just to make them think twice about saying anything. My partner and I eventually decided to have one child and the glee that people expressed was ridiculous. So while I’m not child-free, I totally understand anyone who is and feels like they need to defend the decision.

    10. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

      It haven’t seen it be class dependent, but it’s definitely regional. When I lived in the south (central FL) I got shit all the time for not wanting kids when I was only like 23. I was asked about it in the first place. Then I was told I would change my mind. I was called selfish (by my boss! at work!). Random women came up to me in public to ask me why I wasn’t married (gauged by no ring on my finger)! It was regular and it was awful.

      Then I moved to Philadelphia. Never happened again.

    11. nodramalama*

      considering you have kids, im confused by the idea that you would know if childfree people have issues around it? To me that kind of reads like men in the office saying they havent noticed sexism. Yeah… because its not directed at them.

      I am fairly young, most of my friends don’t have kids and i am surrounded by progressive people. that didn’t stop someone at a family event asking me if the reason i dont want kids is because i’m a lesbian.

    12. GingerDynamo*

      “I’m guessing this thing where women are stoned in the streets and have random people shouting how they’re selfish, soulless shells of human beings isn’t happening anywhere near the sorts of big cities where a studio apartment starts at $4000 a month?” As a childless young woman, I’m sorry to say that’s not entirely the case, if I’m understanding your hyperbole correctly. I lived in a coastal city with a similarly unhealthy housing market, and I experienced more pressure regarding my assumed future childbearing timeline *from coworkers and superiors* while living there than I ever have since moving to a Midwest state. I was told to “have my children while I was a grad student, because I’d never have time as a postdoc.” There’s also the random pressure from various odd relatives, but that’s practically just to be expected at this point. You might not be stoned in the street, but various people certainly expect you to have the imminent desire to bear children by matter of course. I’m glad your friends haven’t experienced that pressure.

  5. Addison DeWitt*

    Back before cell phones became quite so ubiquitous– think the days of big brick phones that looked like walkie-talkies— I was working for a cell phone dealers’ group, that is, guys who had stores to sell you a phone, but all for the same big brand (imagine they were called Belltech). These guys were so into phones that if we were presenting them an ad they were going to pay a lot of money for, they’d take calls in the middle of the creative presentation, while ten other guys were waiting. So my boss decided that if they did that in the middle of me performing the ad or whatever, we’d wait till they got off the phone and sat again from the beginning. They got the idea, but I regret to say that cell phone users did not all become polite at that point, and bad phone behavior is known to exist to this day.

  6. Jessen*

    #2 as another childless and not out at work transmasc I have so much sympathy here. It’s a situation where it’s a weird double whammy of having to deal with all the gendered expectations people put on women, and also the implicit misgendering and assumption that people can define your identity by what bits they think you have. I know personally, part of my own feelings about not wanting children are that it would inevitably result in me being pushed to identify as a mother and engage in systems built around identity I don’t share.

    It’s difficult sometimes to separate the experience of sexism from the experience of gender assumptions and cisnormativity. But the whole thing definitely adds another layer to the experience of what it means to have or not have children when it’s tied to the imposition of an identity.

  7. nodramalama*

    the original comment section for the childless tshirt was WILD. it really just highlighted how political and fraught the decision to have or not have children is for people.

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