my coworkers are obsessed with talking about their kids … and I’m the only childless one here

A reader writes:

I work in a small public-facing office of a government agency. Due to some staffing changes in the past few months, my coworkers are now exclusively mothers of young children, with one exception who is the grandmother of young children. I am now the only man and only non-parent in the office. I have no problem covering shifts when people have childcare needs, but the amount of baby-related conversations at the office is driving me crazy!

In the past few months, I’ve heard detailed play-by-plays of potty training (including details like the texture of a toddler’s poop), frank conversations about postpartum depression, and details I as a gay man never thought I’d learn about the birthing process. On the one hand, I’m happy my coworkers are able to support one another, as I’ve gathered that such mother-affirming workplaces are pretty uncommon. On the other hand, I find it really distracting.

I tried using noise-cancelling headphones when chats get out of hand, but even this wasn’t foolproof: my colleagues often share with each other videos of, say, their seven-month-old eating carrots for the first time, played at maximum volume — and the shrieks of joy (cute to those who want to watch, I’m sure) still manage to pierce through my headphones and distract me. Moreover, since disgruntled members of the public sometimes come into the office, I have some safety concerns about not being able to hear all activity.

I really don’t want to shut down all the support my colleagues have found in one another — the support and care they have for each other is very touching. None of their work seems to be suffering, either. But at the same time, I don’t have a child and don’t plan on having one in the near future, so I find this an immense distraction. Is there a way I can bring this up or set a boundary without sounding like a woman hater or anti-natalist?

Oh, this is tricky.

In some ways this is like if you worked in an office where everyone but you was obsessed with sports and talked about it constantly, complete with shrieks of joy when a team won and graphic discussions of a player’s knee surgery. It would be annoying and distracting, and it would get really old.

This is similar, but with poop and childbirth thrown in.

In theory, with any topic that dominates office conversation, you should be able to say, “Y’all, this is a lot and I beg you for a topic change.” And you should definitely be able to speak up when the conversation is actually disruptive.

In reality, with this topic, there’s a pretty decent chance that it will land as “squeamish man doesn’t like women’s conversation.”

And that’s not fair. Your objections are reasonable. You should be able to work without constant bombardment on any one topic, and definitely without poop and childbirth discussions. But with the numbers in your office being what they are — and with the classic tropes that exist in society about men around this kind of talk — it’s still likely to land that way.

Given that, I think I’d just pick your battles carefully. You’re probably not going to be able to do much/anything about the prevalence of kids as a topic. But you can speak up when things are getting too graphic (“I learn a ton here about kids, but I really don’t want to hear about poop while I’m trying to focus — can you skip that?”). And if you really have safety concerns about not being able to hear over the noise, you should raise that too — possibly with your manager since that’s a pretty serious issue that should fall in her purview.

Beyond that … this is going to be a child-talk-heavy office and your best bet is to try to see it like any other topic you might not be interested in (again, like an office of sports-lovers or foodies or, I don’t know, avid hikers). Set some boundaries around the outlier stuff, and figure the rest is just this office’s quirk.

Also! Assuming you’re stuck with a good amount of this as long as you stay there, is it possible to mentally reframe this as an interesting opportunity to learn things you haven’t been this exposed to previously — a peek behind a curtain that a lot of men don’t get or don’t take advantage of? If you can approach it with more curiosity than aggravation, it would probably go a long way with your colleagues — and would also make it clearer that you’re not being anti-woman or anti-kid when you do set some boundaries. (To be clear, I’m not saying they should be overwhelming the space with this topic as much as they are; they shouldn’t be. But realistically, if you can’t change that, this could be a useful way to approach it.)

{ 339 comments… read them below }

  1. Lightbourne Elite*

    Honestly, I might reframe it as just a volume issue. No matter what they’re talking about or what videos they’re sharing with each other, they should not be so loud that noise-cancelling headphones can’t block it out. I’d leave the topic of conversation out entirely and just ask that people keep it down a little.

    1. Merci Dee*

      I think this is a good idea, and has a better chance of succeeding. It makes it clear that the issue isn’t necessarily with the topic, but the loudness with which it’s being shared.

      1. Alexander Graham Yell*

        Completely agree. Realistically, any topic discussed or the subject of any video so loud it’s cutting through noise canceling headphones is going to be disruptive. If they turn the volume down (and, okay, maybe cut the poop talk – eek), the vast majority of these issues go away.

        1. Heart&Vine*

          Totally agree. He could even frame it like “Talk about ANY (i.e. not just kids) bodily fluids and functions make me squeamish” as opposed to “I hate all this talk about kids”, to avoid being labeled as That Guy.

          1. Emily Byrd Starr*

            Oh, absolutely. I’m a straight married woman (albeit childfree by choice) and I don’t like hearing talk about poop, potty training, and bodily functions at all. I’ve had no problem in the past letting my co-workers know that I’d rather not hear about such talk at work, and it’s never been an issue.

    2. Mid*

      I would think volume is part of it, but it’s also not unreasonable to not want to hear graphic details of birth or poop at work as well.

      Also, to soften the blow, it could help to enthusiastically engage with the conversation when it is things that you don’t mind hearing about. “Wow, Johnny is getting so big! He’s already eating solids?”

      1. Venus*

        I agree, but I would start with volume and then see how they react. If they are talking more quietly then LW is less likely to hear the gross topics.

        I’m wondering if there is a time and place solution. Is there a break room where these talks would be more appropriate? LW doesn’t want to stop the talk, but wants to be less a part of it. In the past I have said to coworkers “Hey, I’m trying to concentrate on a time-sensitive problem and I really want you to continue talking openly so would you be able to do it in the break room?”

        1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          Good idea. Start with the obvious — hey can you turn the volume down please? See how that goes over. if it goes over okay, then try the other topics as – can we not be so graphic please?

          I mean I’m a woman and hearing details of poop – even if not eating – would make me queasy. I have a low threshold for elimination functions.

          1. UKDancer*

            Same. I think focus on the volume and say you’re needing to concentrate and it’s harder to focus even with headphones. People are a lot more willing to turn down the volume than change the subject.

            I also don’t want to hear about poo, bodily functions and other such issues at work. I mean that’s falling under too much information for my comfort. The only exception to this was when I had a member of staff with a colostomy and he wanted to discuss reasonable adjustments for his condition. Otherwise fecal matter is inappropriate for the offices I’ve worked in.

          2. Chief Petty Officer Tabby*

            Right. I’m a vet assistant turned petsitter, and believe me, we hear and see grossness all day long (this is one of those places where kids and animals are alike, trust me), but I don’t want to talk about it all the time, nor do I want to hear it from anyone, no matter how cute the parent thinks it is – and for some reason, people seem to think I would LOVE to talk babies because I’m a woman, and OF COURSE I’m interested. No, Sally, I’m not. I’ve changed one human diaper in my life, when I was 14, and have spent literally DECADES avoiding a second experience.

            I really wish parents were more discerning about who they share these things with.

      2. Lora*

        I adore pets, but don’t have any. I never minded the constant talk of animals (heck, I joined in). I was looked at like I had three heads when I asked my coworkers to refrain from detailed discussion of dog poop at the lunch table. they could not grasp that people might find that kind of conversation inappropriate during a meal.

        1. Jaina Solo*

          I have dogs and while we may need to pay attention to bodily fluids at times, inevitably one of us will be eating or otherwise squeamish and we shut it down.

          I would say I can’t imagine this happening but years ago I did have a male coworker seek refuge in my office at least once when all the women were discussing topics like childbirth :/

    3. Sparkles McFadden*

      Yes, the volume is the issue that can be addressed. If you can’t hear what you need to hear in the office, they need to tone it down.

      I feel for you LW. This sounds like a circle of hell.

    4. animorph*

      This was my first thought – it’s not the topic of conversation per se, it’s that it’s dominating the office noise. If you’re unable to focus on work because of office chatter, then the volume needs to come down. It is the perils of an open plan office, but there’s definitely room for compromise.

      And frankly sharing any sort of video on your phone at maximum volume is obnoxious, no matter how adorable the baby (and I really like babies).

      1. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

        Pretty much my thinking on it. “Hey guys, can we keep the volume down” is an eminently reasonable thing to ask in the workplace. So is “hey guys, when we’re chatting in the open I need headphones to focus and I’m worried I won’t be able to hear what’s going on when clients come in, can you help me out.”

        1. Attractive Nuisance*

          I’d go one step beyond and say you almost missed something going on (customer walking up etc) due to not hearing them the first time. The colleagues may be way more receptive to “phew that was a close call” than something more hypothetical.

          And as someone who formerly worked near the cube of an enthusiastic cat owner, who overshared litter box details, it’s not only parents who do that!

      2. Raina RayCost*

        Don’t forget too – we normalize these conversations. We normalize strange things like baby showers in the office and we think it’s fine.

        But all these conversations never take into account the neighbor struggling with fertility, the woman in the next cubicle who just had a termination, and also the gay man who does not want to talk kids all day long.

        Once or twice is fine, otherwise keep the kid and the kids talk at home.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          I think your three examples are different in kind. The first two are actively struggling with something outside of work, and this particular conversation topic is going to push that button extra hard.

          I’m a child-free lesbian, and never-ending talk about babies might get on my nerves after a while–but it’s more like the person who didn’t want to hear all about Game of Thrones every Monday & Tuesday. It’s the office culture, and I can suggest some changes around the margins but for the most part, I just have to deal.

    5. Lacey*

      Yes, the volume is the easiest bit to address and will fix a lot of it.

      Though, I also think he can say, “I love that you all are supporting each other, but I can’t handle hearing descriptions of poop all day”

      I’m a child-free woman who loves kids & wishes she could have them. I still would not be up for detailed descriptions of poop.

      1. Ellen*

        I’m a parent of a potty-training toddler and I *still* wouldn’t want to hear graphic descriptions of someone’s child’s poop at work…

        1. Consonance*

          Am currently potty training my toddler, and I give general descriptions like “Still a lot of accidents!” or “We’re spending a lot of emotional energy on sitting on the potty.” Can’t imagine describing the quality of poops to coworkers, or frankly, anyone outside of my house.

          1. STAT!*

            Yes, the quality & quantity of our child’s poop is perpetually discussed by my husband & me. We occasionally remark to each other how this fascinating topic would be of absolutely no interest to anybody else. As it is not. LW, I feel for you having to work in this environment.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        …”And we should be keeping toileting discussions in an area not accessible to customers. “

      3. Pescadero*

        I will say that when you’re elbows deep in diapers on a daily basis – you really develop a tolerance.

      1. Shiara*

        Maybe. Although he doesn’t actually say that. It’s possible that there’s a public part and an office part, and largely the public are in the public part and the conversations are in the office part.

        He specifically cited it as a safety concern with disgruntled members of the public arriving in the office specifically, not that he can’t serve the public because he can’t hear them.

    6. Elle*

      Yes! Very much agreed. I would not mention the child-centric nature of the subject matter of these conversations/videos/interruptions unless I was directly questioned. When you’re a gay person with no children, it’s just too easy for people to point to that and say you’re anti family or something.

      1. Statler von Waldorf*

        As a queer male, I wouldn’t even mention the child-centric nature even if I was directly questioned.

        There are people in this world who want me dead. I’m not giving them any ammunition for their hateful campaign to have me be declared less-than-human if I don’t have to.

    7. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Came here to say this. The kind of volume you describe would be a nightmare for me, regardless of the topic. I wouldn’t be able to get anything done when that was happening.

      I can also imagine that clients who come in to access your services also might have a problem with this, if it comes off like everyone is too busy with this than providing services. (Obviously, I don’t know if this is visible to anyone else, though I’m guessing it’s audible). Is there a broader issue of your colleagues ignoring work to have these discussions? From the letter, it sounds like this may be the case, or it may be that it’s only happening during appropriate breaks. So this may be another way to frame it to the manager – these discussions make your office look bad to clients and is making you be less effective at serving the public than you otherwise would be.

      1. Shiara*

        He does say that “None of their work seems to be suffering, either.” It’s not clear that clients are actually around the conversations (except occasionally disgruntled ones where the concern is more safety)

    8. JSPA*

      Yup. I don’t have an aversion to hearing about kid stuff, But I do have an aversion to high pitched noises, and little kid voices –let alone shrieks–fall squarely in the problem range. “High- pitched noises set my brain off, could you please play kid voice and pet noise videos on the lowest volume or save them for break” might make things more bearable?

      Similarly, “I’m squeamish about a lot of normal bodily functions. Like, at a level that puts me in a cold sweat. Intellectually I totally support your right to talk about that stuff with each other, and I love it for you, that you can do it here. So instead of saying anything, I’m preventively wearing headphones. But now my ears are sore, plus I end up missing stuff I should be hearing. Can I ask to have four “bodily-function free hours” each day, regularly? And to get a warning if I’ll need to grab my headphones?”

      Note, however: for some guys, being gay means that you never have to get over childhood / pre-teen squeamishness about female bodies. And also about how we all start life bawling, mewling, incontinent, spitting up, helpless and stinky. As a human being, it’s broadly helpful to come to terms with All That. Even if life hasn’t made it part of your personal path.

      I suppose ideally you’d want that to be through a dear friend, and at a time of your choosing. But sometimes (whether it’s a coworker’s pregnancy and child travails or a coworker’s cancer, or ostomy, or any of those other very human things that can make themselves known in the workplace) you learn about life, and being human, at work.

      Speaking only for myself, it turned out to have been a good thing to have picked up information overheard in the workplace, before being faced with body-product challenges in my personal life. (Turns out that, on some level, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a dying, delerious family member or a new baby who needs to be gently but thoroughly cleaned.) Being able to muster the thought that “this is a thing that people in families do for each other” brought a freaky and miserable situation that had me melting down into the realm of, “not freaky, just miserable, and I can rise to the occasion.”

      1. I Have RBF*

        My wife has cancer, and has nephrostomy tubes to drain her kidneys. If I talk about it with coworkers, I stick to generalities, like “changing dressings” or “flushing tubes”. I don’t get into details, because it’s just not appropriate to air to strangers the blunt reality.

        I have helped to care for elderly friends, and yes, that includes handling bodily excretions. I don’t share details, out of consideration for all concerned.

        I have certain challenges in that area as I age. (Thanks, IBS-D… Not.) No one needs the details unless “How the F do I deal with this?” question comes up. Then I focus on pragmatic advice and commiseration.

        I guess what I’m saying is: Yes, sometimes I need to discuss details to help someone out, but I don’t do that in a more public area out of consideration for those who are not intimately involved with it.

    9. Not Totally Subclinical*

      This. I have coworkers who frequently talk about their dogs. I have no particular interest in hearing about their dogs, but the only time I’ve ever asked them to tone it down was when I couldn’t hear the music in my earphones over their conversation. They’re great at their jobs, and I don’t grudge them the bonding time over their common interest.

    10. GoodGravy*

      Disagree. Since this is ALL they talk about, it’s not only gross, but exclusionary, which is a bad thing in this government office. They are essentially freezing out non-parents, who will leave quickly if hired. The one topic chat might be acceptable if they were working in a baby supply store or day care, for instance, but not here.

    11. Laura*

      Definitely. Especially because anybody listening to anything on their phone at top volume is extremely annoying.

    12. wowzers*

      Agree! This is a great suggestion that will solve part of your problem. It must be really, really loud if you can’t block it out with headphones.

  2. Joan of Snark*

    Oh boy. I think Alison’s advice is spot-on, and I really don’t see any alternative, but (as an intentionally childfree woman)… this office would wear down my will to live.

    1. Clisby*

      I would hate it too, and I’m the mother of 2 deeply loved children.

      The minutae of looking after a child is not all that fascinating to anyone but the parents. And sometimes not even then:

      Husband: Hey did you know that when you change Joseph’s diaper he can pee over the side of the crib?

      Me: No, honey, and I didn’t need to know that.

      1. Other Alice*

        I would argue that the people needing to change Joseph’s diaper are the only people who do need to know that :)

      2. Frankie Bergstein*

        I agree with this comment. For me, minutia of any sort is really boring. This office would be a poor fit for me (or really anyone who is not very invested in their role as a parent of very young kids? I could see many of my Mom friends wanting work to be a place to see themselves in a different role).

        But being perceived to be anti-family is going to hurt you, sadly.

      3. Macy*

        Agreed. I love when my coworkers ask me about my kids, but I’ve never talked about their poop consistency with anyone except my husband or their childcare teachers (and that’s only if there’s a concern, I’m not going around discussing it for fun). This would be way too much.

      4. JB*

        Even for parents they can view the workplace as a space that’s more around adult talk and grown-up interaction. It doesn’t mean they don’t love their kids, it’s more setting a work/home life balance. If the workplace sounds like a parent social group it defeats that intention.

    2. DameB*

      Nod. I’m a mom and I would find this very wearing. Hell, I found it wearing when my child was young (and I find the endless “where are they going for college” conversations wearing now.)

      1. Abundant Shrimp*

        They are wearing on you now because these conversations are 80% competition and one-upmanship amongst the parents. I once had someone that was walking past me and my bf at a party stop in her tracks, make a full 180, make a beeline for the two of us, and proceed to lecture me for a good 15 minutes, after she overheard me telling the bf that one of my sons was changing his major from engineering to psych. She was adamant that I talk him out of it. Source: her only 10yo child’s tutor told her humanity degrees are not good for a career. I tried to deflect with the usual Midwest-nice “thank you, I’ll tell him” “I’ll let him know”, “I’ll pass this on”, along with the honest-communication “he knows”, “he has good reasons”, “I promise he will be fine”, but she kept going. Finally stopped until I looked her straight in the eye and exclaimed HOW ABOUT THAT ICE STORM!!! (we’d had an ice storm that morning) then she finally got the message and walked away. Joke’s on you, lady, he changed his major two more times after that.

        FME, parents eventually stop talking about their kids when the kids reach their mid-20s and life kicks in. All of a sudden everyone has skeletons in their young-adult closet that the parents would rather not talk about. Then finally, blessed silence. (In the old days, that’s when people would start yammering about their grandkids instead, but very few of my kids’ age peers have their own kids these days, in this economy.)

        1. Plate of Wings*

          HAHA an ice storm is just absolutely *perfect* forceful-subject-change weather! Well done.

          That’s so obnoxious of her and it’s also sad. Psychology isn’t humanities anyways, but neither should be thought of as irresponsible or bad for a career. A college major choice doesn’t exist in a vacuum. I picked a degree that people like her (and the tutor) would “approve” of, but now that I exist in the working world, I see my professional peers have backgrounds of all kinds.

        2. Cmdrshprd*

          “They are wearing on you now because these conversations are 80% competition and one-upmanship amongst the parents.”

          Maybe but not necessarily, I know I’ve asked this of parents who have high school/college age kids, not to be competitive (I don’t have kids in/near college age) but to show interest in their lives and kids lives. I have usually found that a good chunk of parents often genuinely are happy to talk about their kids, often in parties asking about kids/family is usually a good small talk topic.

          I don’t doubt some people do it to be competitive, but in my experience it was not meant to be, I’m sorry that yours was so negative.

          Sometimes certain topics can wear on us, because for us it is the 15/20th person/time we have has a certain question asked, but for the other person if they haven’t seen you in a while or know you are dealing with x-topic it can seem like a good thing to follow up on.

        3. Laura*

          Well, you can tell her that Psychology isn’t a humanity, it’s a science! Also, lol that he changed his major twice more. But not surprising!

      2. womp*

        Honestly I think I’d rather listen to poop talk than “where are they going to college.” I have no children but am still burned out on college admissions talk from when I was going through it myself nearly 20 years ago.

    3. A Poster Has No Name*

      Agreed, and I have two kids.

      One of the nice things about going into the office is the possibility of adult conversation that doesn’t primarily revolve around the kids. If all I heard about in the office was other people’s kids? I’d die.

      1. ampersand*

        Same. When I worked in an office (as opposed to WFH) it was SO NICE to have time to focus on work and not have to think about baby/kid stuff. I understand the importance of being able to bond or feel heard on the topic of kids, and also I would be annoyed to no end if I were in LW’s situation.

    4. Abundant Shrimp*

      I’m a mother of two young adults and, if I’m honest, even when they were babies and toddlers? I came into the office to get a break from them. Today when they have facial hair and lives of their own? it would drive me batty. Chasing after two small kids all day wasn’t even all that exciting the first time around in person, and those were my two closest family members that I deeply love and would take a bullet for, and whose growth and development I was extremely excited about. Having to relive it every day through my coworkers’ kids whom I don’t even know, would drive me off a cliff.

    5. Child-free not by choice*

      Does it matter if you’re intentionally child-free or not? Why is there a need to make that distinction here?

      1. allathian*

        Good question. It might be an annoyance to someone who’s made an intentional lifestyle choice to be childfree, just like excessive talk on any subject that you have no interest in would be. But I expect it’d be rather worse than that for someone who’s struggling with infertility and who’d give anything to be able to contribute to the conversation. Or even someone who doesn’t have kids because they don’t have a partner and don’t want to be an intentional solo parent.

        As much as I love my son, the thing I liked most about returning to work after maternity leave was the fact that people saw me as something other than a mom/wife. Sure, I’m happy to talk about him if people ask or if the subject of kids comes up in conversation in a natural way, but I don’t change the subject to kids if we’re talking about something else.

        1. Child-free not by choice*

          I get that and it probably wasn’t a necessary comment for me to make. I just hear the phrase ‘child-free by choice’ or variants a lot and it always stings, as it feels like an unnecessary comparison to those of us for whom being childless was not a choice. I know Joan of Snark didn’t mean anything hurtful by it though, and understand how it could potentially be relevant in this case.

          1. Joan of Snark*

            I was trying to concisely explain that this is indeed an issue with his coworkers, not women in general. Many people assume that if a woman doesn’t want to talk about children, it’s because it touches on a personal nerve, and I wanted to clarify that some women are simply uninterested in children.

            I am sorry if this came off as insensitive; that was not my intention!

          2. Chief Petty Officer Tabby*

            It’s actually a pretty necessary distinction, though. For me, and anyone else who adds “by choice”, it’s because it’s a deliberate choice not to have kids. We weren’t forced into it by circumstance or medical issue. I most certainly don’t want people to think I was forced into not having kids, and offer sympathy I neither need nor want, when they could – and should – be offering that to people who didn’t have the option, because it’s always terrible to be denied a part of life you really, REALLY wanted to be a part of.

            1. I Have RBF*

              Yeah, I tend to use “childless” for people who want kids, but can’t for whatever reason, and “childfree” for those who deliberately choose not to. Yes, constant kid talk can be rough on both groups, but for different reasons.

              I try to respect the feelings of people suffering through unwanted infertility, even though it’s not a thing I want. It takes all kinds to make the world. Some parents, though, are very inconsiderate of both the childless and the childfree.

  3. Garfield*

    As a cis het woman desperately trying to become a member of the Mom club…I wouldn’t want to hear this either!

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Yeah, this could be really hard for people who are experiencing infertility. Even if that’s not an issue for anyone on staff, it could be for the clients coming into the office.

      1. Thrillian*

        Yep – I recently suffered a loss and while I’m okay being around kids, incessant talk about them and the joys (and trials) of parenting have been like a knife to the heart every. single. time.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          I’m sorry that happened to you, Thrillian. It sounds really, really hard.

      2. Twix*

        Yup, or other reasons why kids are off the table. I love kids and always assumed I’d have some, but I have several different chronic medical conditions that are both genetic, so I’m not willing to risk passing them on, and debilitating, so I already struggle physically and emotionally to take care of just myself. I don’t think it would be fair to put that on my coworkers by asking them to never discuss their kids, but it is hard to listen to sometimes. Being around that all day every day would be awful, especially since a lot of people assume that if you’re male it’s a non-issue.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          That sounds really tough, Twix. And fair point about how people are probably less sensitive about this with men because of our cultural conditioning.

        2. Cmdrshprd*

          I’m sorry for what you are going through.

          “I don’t think it would be fair to put that on my coworkers by asking them to never discuss their kids, but it is hard to listen to sometimes.”

          I think you are right and it does not really matter the topic, be it game of thrones, fantasy football, etc… If a certain topic has 80/90% buyin from the staff, it sucks if you are not into that, and I think you can ask for the noise level to be kept down, and to cut back a little bit on the topic so it is not 24/7 and/or gross stuff, but I do think it would be unreasonable to ask coworkers to never discuss X topic, just because you don’t like it.

          I get kids topic can have a lot more issues/landmines compared to other topics, not trying to say they are the same.

        3. Twix*

          Thank you both! I do want to add that this not a new situation and while I’m still sad about it sometimes, I’ve pretty much come to terms with it. (I make up for it by being a terrible influence on my brothers’ and friends’ kids. Gotta play the hand you’re dealt, y’know?) The main point I wanted to make is that this can be an emotionally charged topic for a lot of different reasons, and not only for the people/reasons you might expect.

  4. Bruce*

    Oh wow, as an old Dad I would be having fun :-) I agree with Alison, some of this you’ll just have to grin and bear, and the over the top noisy stuff you’ll need to approach carefully. Do you have any cute pets? Maybe you can share some puppy videos :-)

      1. eggo*

        I have a coworker who is obsessed with their dog on a similar level as the moms in OP’s letter and even that has me banging my head against the walls somedays!

        1. anon_sighing*

          Yes, I am baffled by the amount of people in this comment section that don’t understand that listening to people talk about ONE thing ALL day is exhausting. I have one teen niece obsessed with a Korean boy band and another with Taylor Swift — both are fine in moderation and although I’m not a fan, I can engage with them and I love seeing their faces light up…but that’s all they want to talk about and I can’t help but groan until their interest mellows out.

        2. Anonynon*

          Yes, 100. My old office had a couple of people who LOVED dogs. I love my dog. I do. Animals of all kinds, really. But I can’t take a 45 minute conversation about dogs on a daily basis when I am trying to get sh!t done.

          I feel the same way about kids (I have three, love them too), sports (big sports fan over here!), and all my favorite things. Fun non-work conversations throughout the day, yes. Constant conversation about non-work things while the work piles up, no.

      1. House On The Rock*

        Long ago I decided to share stories about either my pets or my own babyhood (within reason and boundaries) when people at work started talking about their kids. I have found it interesting that many parents don’t even bat an eye to their toddler being equated with a cat. Of course I think they should be flattered by the comparison, but you know…

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Well cats are a little like toddlers…they don’t always respond when you talk to them, they get mad when you make them do something they don’t want to do, and they often suddenly and unpredictably jet away from you at top speed.

          1. Phryne*

            They also pretty much play with the same type of toy, you can’t get mad if they break stuff because they cannot comprehend intent or guilt and they insist on sleeping in your bed and then keeping you awake, but you still relent because they are so cute when finally asleep.
            If you have one, you also become fairly immune to poop/vomit accidents.

            I got my cat at the same time various people around me had toddlers, and the similarities were amazing.

        2. metadata minion*

          If someone started talking about their cat in a kid discussion, I would assume they wanted to participate and this was the closest equivalent, or that they were opening up the topic to family-and-loved-ones in general, not that they were trying to equate a cat and a human child.

        3. Wry*

          Tbf, I have heard multiple people who have had both children and pets compare having a child to having a puppy. I wouldn’t be inclined myself to make that direct comparison because I haven’t had kids, but I always feel validated when other people do it! When I got my puppy, my former therapist would tell me that having a puppy is like having a baby (she’s had two kids and a puppy), and my sister-in-law who just had a baby has said on more than one occasion that having a puppy was harder. So, you know…at least some parents out there are on board with pet comparisons!

        4. MigraineMonth*

          Hey, if they’re talking about all the adorable/annoying/dumb things their littlest family members are doing, I can certainly share the same about mine!

          Admittedly, it took me a couple of months to stop slow-blinking at my nephew to let him know I loved him.

          1. allathian*

            LOL. You can’t start too early. My friend who has two kids and four cats taught her kids to slow-blink at the cats at a very young age mainly by slow-blinking at THEM. It was funny to see a toddler sitting on the floor slow-blinking. More often than not, the kids got the cats to approach them when they did that.

          2. Phryne*

            I, a person who does not particularly like children and never felt the slightest need to have any, turned out to be really good with babies to the amazement of friends and family. Of course, the secret is, you securely hold, soothe and lull a baby in the exact same way as a cat. I love cats.

  5. singularity*

    You could also frame this as an issue of being distracted at work with your manager, if it’s impacting what you do and your productivity. You don’t have to mention the topics of conversation if you feel that would make it tricky, but I would tell your co-workers you’re trying to focus on work and the videos and noise is distracting.

  6. No_woman_an_island*

    As a parent, it’s not that we’re obsessed with our kids. It’s just that the life-sucking jerks don’t afford us any time to do literally anything else. ;)

    1. animorph*

      Haha, yes!! I mean, I am obsessed, but sometimes I have so little in common with co-workers (I’m an IT developer and none of my department play video games?!), that kids are (usually!) an easy source of small talk.

    2. i drink too much coffee*

      This hahaha. I just have nothing else going on in my life as sad as that is….

      However as someone that will happily give potty training tips and talk about my two inductions should someone ask, even at work, I think it’s totally fair to ask that the more graphic details should be toned down. I think we, as parents, are so desensitized to talking about poop that we can forget that other people find it gross while we are just like “this is normal.” I wouldn’t be offended to be reminded lol

      1. Genevieve en Francais*

        Yup, same. None of this would bother me in the least. And, at least in this stage of my life, I genuinely have a hard time finding other topics of conversation – especially with other parents of same-aged kids. But I still wouldn’t be offended by someone asking me to tone it down or talk about something different! Maybe a bit embarrassed, but I’d also appreciate the heads up.

      2. animorph*

        Desensitised is absolutely the right word. Once you’ve been googling pictures of baby poop to make sure nothing is wrong, you’ve really hit that point.

        I mean, I still wouldn’t bring it up in the office or any other outside-the-home setting, but if I overheard it, it wouldn’t phase me one bit.

      3. GoodGravy*

        “I just have nothing else going on in my life as sad as that is….” Well, you do have a job! So you can talk about that: how to better serve your constituency, what’s up with the weird person who just left, where did the stapler get to, etc. And you presumably eat, so you can talk about: where you want to have/order lunch. If you can’t afford meals out bc of all your children, talk about what you brought in today, or inflation in grocery prices. Or you can talk about your past: college, high school, your family of origin, your home town – not stimulating perhaps, but at least it give the non-parents a way to relate. Fact: you talk about your family because you like to! Fine! But you don’t have to make your co-workers feel like they count for nothing because being a parent is the be all and end all. Be nice, for heaven sakes!

        1. Cmdrshprd*

          ” Fact: you talk about your family because you like to! Fine! But you don’t have to make your co-workers feel like they count for nothing because being a parent is the be all and end all.”

          I think this is an uncharitable take on coworkers. None of what @idrinktomuch coffee, or even the OP said is close to “make your co-workers fell like they count for nothing because being a parent is the be all and end all.”

          For people who get really into stuff certain topics can be what their life focuses on, and wanting to talk about that is not unreasonable, especially if you have coworkers with similar interests. Having an easy support/social group at work can be good for them.

          It sucks for OP if they are not into that, but it would be the same if everyone else were sports people or video game people and OP was not. There is still room to push back on the noise level/distractions and graphic content.

          But generally other people are not living their lives at you, even if it might feel like it because you are not interested in that topic or can’t for certain even traumatic reasons.

        2. Brigs*

          This. I currently have a coworker who has 4 kids, one who is pregnant with their first, and one who is his child’s primary caregiver while his wife has a busy high paying full time career. Somehow they all manage to have normal adult conversations about a whole bunch of different topics.
          If you cannot talk about anything but your kids anymore, that is a choice you made, not something that just happens to you.

          1. Chief Petty Officer Tabby.*

            That part. Figure out how to tall about other things, or accept that people who CAN tall about other things are going to begin finding other people to talk to. I could yammer about dogs and cats all day (my camera roll is ASTONISHINGLY full of cat and dog pics), but I don’t, because it would get old fast.

    3. Kyrielle*

      I mean, this is true, and yet I only occasionally discussed mine at work when they were tiny and exhausting…because I didn’t want to bring them into the one part of the day they weren’t in!

    4. New Mom (of 1 7/9)*

      Yeah, the two things in my life right now are my religious involvement and my kid(s), and the latter is a MUCH safer topic.

    5. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

      Yeah, when my daughter was little, I used to say that kids are like little vacuum cleaners that suck up all your time, all your energy, and ll your money!

      It’s damned true, too. I adore my (now grown) daughter, and I’m glad I got to be her mom, but it was freaking exhausting.

  7. Sudsy Malone*

    First off, just wanna say to OP that I’m a cis woman and I would also find this type of environment difficult for all the same reasons.

    In terms of advice, I wonder if there are any opportunities for OP to introduce other topics of conversation to break things up? While his coworkers do have this one big thing in common, they’re also individuals. If he can find different things he has in common with them, that might help — the daily potty training discussion might not grate quite as much if it’s diluted by talking about baseball with Coworker 1 or Drag Race with Coworker 2. If OP’s not a small talk guy, fair enough. But if there are any other commonalities, it might be worth leaning into them.

    1. StressedButOkay*

      I actually went through something like this last year! A number of ladies at my office had babies within a two year period of each other and suddenly I was learning WAY MORE about the birthing process than I ever, ever wanted to. (Plugs – they aren’t just for sinks.)

      I’m a cis-het woman who doesn’t want kids, though I love babies – so I finally had to gently say “please, I can’t handle the talk of the birthing process, I’m really squeamish but please keep sharing photos and stories of the kiddos!”

      1. CTT*

        I once went to a dinner that ended up being 95% baby and childbirth conversation; sadly LW cannot use my solution from the night (ordering three glasses of wine)

        1. i like hound dogs*

          Lol, I have a nine-year-old and there’s a group of moms who sometimes gets together for brunch or drinks or whatever, and since most of them went on to have more kids, there is SO MUCH TALK about breastfeeding and other baby stuff that I told my husband I’m not sure I want to go anymore. It can feel very exclusionary (and I HAVE a kid!) not to mention super boring.

        2. Abundant Shrimp*

          My coworkers and I only talked about childbirth once, and on purpose. A group of us women were standing together at a work holiday party having a good chat, when the office Casanova decided it’d be a great idea for him to join in. Someone mentioned the time she was giving birth and he vanished, only to keep trying to re-enter our circle. Anytime he’d pop back in, one of us would go “That one time when I was giving birth!” and he’d vanish again. We didn’t even ever continue past that line, we just said it to scare him off. We thought it was hilarious. We’d all already partaken of the wine!

          1. GoodGravy*

            The constant birth/baby/toddler talk in the office is absolutely exclusionary. But your is an example where exclusion is really appropriate!

    2. Elle*

      Here’s the thing though, I get the feeling like OP doesn’t want to put energy into diversifying the topics of conversation. The impression I got from their letter is that they don’t want to be distracted from their tasks.

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        I thought it was a combination of both, like it’s hard to feel connected when 99% of the conversation is something you’re not interested in / don’t have experience with and also it happens too much and too loud. But I could be wrong.

      2. LCH*

        i had this impression too. like he is fine not participating in office conversation (congenially!), but the office conversation isn’t letting him ignore it.

      3. Chirpy*

        I mean, as a woman completely uninterested in football, I’ve never had any success diverting the conversation away from football either, so…

    3. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Wanted to suggest this, too. I would find it hard to work in an environment where literally everyone else has some specific interest I didn’t share, irrespective of what that interest is. It’d be easy to feel disconnected from the rest of the team. Ideally, folks are sensitive to this and try to bring their odd-one-out colleagues into conversations about other stuff. If not, as the colleague, you can try to bring up other topics. Though I know it’s going to be extra challenging to find stuff to talk about with people who won’t have much time for non-child-related activities.

    4. Person of Interest*

      This was going to be my suggestion. I’m a childless-by-choice woman and find being stuck in group discussions about children just incredibly boring. I have intentionally tried to connect with people in my circle on other shared interests so we have something else to talk about.

  8. A woman never gets a break*

    This is awful for you, OP. I’m a straight, childless, female and would absolutely hate this environment. Why do they have enough time to engage in this disruptive behavior?

    1. no tea*

      This is kind of a weird take (coming from someone else who is child-free and doesn’t want to have EVERY conversation focus on kids).

    2. Sarah Mlynowski*

      Genuinely trying to think of a job where chatting with coworkers about family life and sharing kid videos would be “wildly disruptive.” I work in an organ transplant department where people have to make sudden and difficult decisions with literal life and death repercussions—but somehow normal human conversation hasn’t been ground down to a complete halt!

      1. Elizabeth West*

        It is disruptive if they’re being so loud that the OP can’t focus on work. This would annoy me too regardless of the subject matter (but I don’t really want to hear a daily poo comparison, either).

      2. Allonge*

        I guess it’s the frequency of the thing?

        I don’t have an issue with the topic as such, it’s just that unless they only work with their hands, at some point the conversation has to stop because people need to think about their work, no?

    1. Lightbourne Elite*

      Yeah, I don’t want kids myself but I like them fine. But I find the sound of shrieking baby/child to be possibly one of the worst sounds in existence.

      1. i drink too much coffee*

        Agreed, the full volume is SUPER annoying. If I show a video of my kid I try to start it off as low as possible and turn up slowly if it needs it. Never at full volume lol

        1. Future*

          Videos in public just should never have volume on, even if it’s low. That includes ‘just one video’ at the office.

        2. STAT!*

          I was once told that the vibration of a baby’s crying is pitched such that even people who can’t hear, can detect it. Since then, I’ve noticed this is true at least for me. I can hear the crying AND feel the vibration in my inner ear, even if the crying isn’t loud.

    2. i like hound dogs*

      I’m a woman and I have a kid and I would also hate this.

      I’m probably just a grouch but I dislike all the attention that gets paid to WEDDINGS and BABIES etc etc. Like, there are other things. And I also don’t appreciate anything where there’s an expectation that I have to find something cute or charming or whatever.

      I love animals and I really like hearing about/talking about pets but I don’t really bring up my dogs to my boss because I know he doesn’t care for pets in general.

      1. Frankie Bergstein*

        So with you. I try to celebrate other things (in addition to weddings and babies) too — finishing doctoral exams, finishing chemo, buying a house, getting through something you’d long tried hard to (a project?)

        1. i like hound dogs*

          I definitely agree but a lot of people don’t. My son even perceives that his grandparents prefer the little kids to him. :( Of course they doted on him when he was ages zero to two too, but he doesn’t remember those years!

          1. allathian*

            That’s why I’m so glad for all the baby videos we took. I had age-related secondary infertility so our son didn’t have to deal with sibling rivalry… But my best friend’s daughter was very jealous of her little brother, and the only thing that calmed her down was watching videos of herself as a baby being cuddled and cooed like her baby brother was.

  9. le teacher*

    I just want to say that I understand and get it. In my case, I am on year 3 of infertility and am in the middle of IVF right now. So all the baby talk affects me in a much more emotional/sad way. But years ago, before I was trying to conceive, I remember a coworker talking about her baby’s poop during lunch, and I found it so gross. So I do think there’s validity in asking for limits to these topics.

  10. Smithy*

    I really agree that finding a piece or a part of the conversation to shut down is likely easier to tone down. Generally speaking, it provides a gentle way to indicate the breadth of the conversation topic isn’t for everyone along with specific guidance on topics to make less for the general office. And bodily functions in specificity are a solid point of pushback.

    I will also say that while right now all or the majority of this team are parents with children, being a place that’s open to feedback on its culture at risk of becoming exclusionary is helpful. Anyone childless (regardless of gender) joining the team is put in a place of active listening as opposed to contributing. Someone facing infertility might find this a really challenging office culture. And it’s not to say that the OP should present their problems as a way of standing up for future unnamed coworkers struggling with their fertility, but rather that hearing that poop and medical postpartum details aren’t for everyone would helpfully be helpful in trying to develop a team culture composed of many different people.

    1. GoodGravy*

      Brilliantly expressed! I said the same, but not as well as you. (I am trying not harsh on the people saying: address the noise issue and not the topic – but I think they are wrong, wrong, wrong! I see this as “mean girl” stuff. Unconscious maybe, but it’s like: we’re interested in this, and if you are not, that’s ok, you just don’t exist and your discomfort is not my problem. Unfortunately, the odds of getting two or more non-parents in this office at the same time – to start a different topic occasionally – look slim. I can’t see anyone not in the group lasting more than 6 months in this environment! Probably gets wearying for some of the ones who DO join in, even.)

      1. Michelle Smith*

        I’m unwilling to categorize it as mean girl stuff without more information. If LW hasn’t said to anyone that the topic makes him uncomfortable, they probably aren’t even thinking about it or trying to intentionally be mean/exclusionary/offensive. I wouldn’t ascribe malice to something that’s probably just ignorance of how the conversations are affecting someone else.

  11. Vin Packer*

    I actually have a lot of faith that this letter-writer would be able to make it clear that he isn’t a stereotype. His empathy is evident throughout this letter — he clearly has a profound appreciation for why this type of environment would be important to his colleagues and even seems to sincerely value their support for one another. A+ dude.

    I think the main challenge would be putting what he actually wants into concrete terms. “Don’t talk so much about this that it makes me want to scream” is a reasonable thing to want but sort of nebulous for others to execute. He might have more success if he makes it more specific and therefore easier for his coworkers to actually do — a quiet hour from 2:00-3:00pm? a specific subtopic, like poop, off the table?

    (Also, if it helps: time should eventually mitigate the more bodily-function-related stuff, if not kid talk in general. Parenting during the baby-toddler phase is particularly…..corporeal….in a way that recedes as kids get older.)

      1. don'tbeadork*

        But it makes for a heck of a long year. I feel for OP and hope that he can find some way to ask for a compromise.

        And, of course, nothing says these mothers will stop at whatever number of kids they currently have.

      2. Allonge*

        I was also thinking that: how many potty training tips are there to discuss, like, overall? One would assume they get to the end at some point.

        But the thing is, if they are talking about kids all day, they will continue that. Going to school, sibling issues and so on will keep being a topic.

    1. ChaoticNeutral*

      I totally agree with you that this LW would be able to frame it well if he tried. His empathy and understanding really stand out in this letter and he seems like a supportive coworker! If I were his coworker I would think something along the lines of “I’m so glad little Timmy is almost potty-trained, but poop talk makes me squeamish” or “That’s a really cute video, but can we turn the volume down a little?” was MORE than reasonable.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Yeah, the LW *isn’t* anti-woman or anti-kids. As long as he makes an occasional effort to engage in the reasonable parts (e.g. “I’m so sorry you’re dealing with post-partum anxiety, of course I’ll cover the Matheson account if you need to take some time off” and “Oh wow, first steps, you must be so excited!”), I don’t think it will come off badly if he sets some basic “no bodily fluids discussion with me/at lunch” boundaries.

    2. Double A*

      I also wonder if he could frame it as feeling a bit left out? I mean, if he’s open to other topics of conversation. Like, maybe share with one or two of his coworkers he has the best rapport with that he enjoys hearing about kids, but since it’s so omnipresent and not his experience, he can’t join in and is feeling left out? And ask if they can kind of be amplification allies, where if he’s talking about a different topic they could engage or redirect the conversation if it takes a kid turn.

    3. Phryne*

      Unfortunately I don’t think time will help here. If it is a group of people, it is unlikely they all had a baby at the same time, more likely every time one kid hits a milestone another ones kid emerges and all the mothers jump on the opportunity to share experience and wisdom. This will keep going all the way to college if given the chance.

      But I agree that OP sounds like a caring person. If any and all attempts to tone it down fail, it is on them not OP.

      1. Butterfly Counter*

        Once a commentary thread, we should be able to give a gold star to our favorite comment.

        I would give it to this one, and I’m not even a football (?) fan!

        1. Hashtag Destigmatize Therapy*

          LW, is there maybe one person among the baby-chattering group that you think would be receptive to feedback about this? In a 1:1 conversation, I think you’d have a better chance of getting your point across without sounding like you’re shaming them for being excited about baby stuff. (Disclaimer: I’m a cis man with no kids, so I’m *not* speaking from experience).

          I agree with others re: focusing on the volume part. If I’m trying to focus on something and someone starts playing any video (baby or otherwise) on their phone at full-volume, it’s pretty shattering to my whole mental state. It can take me 10-15 minutes to regain my focus.

          1. GoodGravy*

            Well, they should be ashamed: for 1) talking about poop at work (assuming “work” is not a medical office, sewer treatment plant, or toilet paper marketer); for 2) possibly for socializing too much and neglecting their work; and 3) for excluding the co-worker from the socializing, by never picking a topic he can participate in. These are 3 things to be reasonably ashamed about. So if they have sense, they ARE going to be ashamed when it’s pointed out to them. (Doesn’t follow that it shouldn’t be pointed out.)

      2. House On The Rock*

        As a Lions fan who finally, for at least one wonderful year, is very happy I don’t need to make this joke about my team, I salute you.

  12. nnn*

    You can disarm some subsets of kid talk without appearing anti-child by expressing sympathy for the child or looking at it from the child’s point of view.

    Example: “Aww, poor kid, imagine if all your mother’s co-workers knew what your poo looked like!”

    Or if, for example, the situation was that the baby didn’t want to eat carrots, “Aww, poor kid, imagine if after a lifetime of milk you suddenly have to eat something orange!!”

    Doesn’t work for every scenario, but it’s a tool you can keep in your pocket.

    1. Juicebox Hero*

      I used something similar with a coworker from my retail job, who was a total helicopter grandmother. She had a grandson who was maybe 10 at the time, and she was paranoid about his health because another grandchild had died of strep throat that went septic. So I could understand her worry, but she had zero filters.

      The poor kid got a skin infection in a very private place. Coworker went around telling the details to anyone who stood still long enough, including the medicated cream and where the kid’s mother had to apply it. This was pre cell phones so she’d use the department phone to have long detailed conversations with her daughter about the kid and his treatment in front of customers.

      Eventually I asked her if she thought the kid really wanted Nanny talking about his crotch to everyone in the store. She was furious at me but she stopped talking about it around me, which was all I cared about.

    2. OnyxChimney*

      Honestly as a mom of an infant I find this way worse then someone saying. Oh ew gross please don’t talk about poo. Sometimes a parent needs that reminder that this isn’t life for everyone else.

      Your scripts come across as real mom shamey in a way that would leave me pretty irritated with you. Especially the carrot example you used. That just comes across like you are shaming the mom for not being empathetic enough about their child’s journey to solid foods.

      1. New Mom (of 1 7/9)*

        Yeah, “imagine if all your mother’s co-workers knew…” is really passive-aggressive and weird. It’s OK to be more direct and say “please don’t discuss toilet stuff at work.”

      2. metadata minion*

        Oh, interesting, I found the first example really shame-y, but the carrot one just sounds like an amusing way to sympathize with the Terrible Drama of being a small child.

    3. Nobby Nobbs*

      Having known a few toddlers, there’s a very decent chance they do, in fact, want all of their mothers’ coworkers to know what their poo looks like, and would gladly tell and/or show the entire office if given half the chance. Whether they’ll regret it in ten years, on the other hand…

    4. House On The Rock*

      That’s not the “child’s point of view” that’s the snarky point of view of someone punching down and being passive aggressive. LW specifically wants to continue being on good terms with his coworkers, this is not helpful for that!

  13. KareninHR*

    This could have been written about my office! All but two of us are parents or grandparents of young kids (and/or are pregnant). And as a parent of a young child, the pregnancy and baby talk is too much for even me!!! I certainly don’t mind talking about it some, but part of the joy of coming to the office is to get away from the baby talk! I totally feel for my coworkers who are basically a captive audience when the breakroom chat inevitably drifts to breastfeeding and “How often did your baby poop?” I do try to help them out by steering the conversation to other topics as much as possible. OP – could you enlist the help of another coworker to do the same?

  14. Tobias Funke*

    This would be hard for me as well (for different reasons). I’m a woman who is not a parent at an age where most everyone else is and I feel like a perma-child next to other women because of it. And so working amongst this all day would absolutely send me – I can’t even do the one thing I can do (work) at the place (work) where I am supposed to be to do it???

    And also at the same time I know the world can’t be set up for me to accommodate me and shield me from every bit of discomfort and/or feeling badly about myself. If I didn’t know that I would be shitting and changing tampons with the stall door open and not understanding why that was not okay. It’s really a challenge.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      I’ve aged out of that age group but for a lot of reasons it’s still sort of a sore point.

      However, I don’t think that not wanting to hear about poop all the time when you work somewhere that isn’t literally a gastroenterologist’s office is not at all too much to ask. For anyone. Regardless of our baggage.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Same. And it’s worse when people treat you that way, or as a less-than if you have stepkids. I’m thinking of an old office in particular.

      2. MigraineMonth*

        IME, getting older does fix this. Once I realized I’m not actually meant for marriage, I discovered that I was already living the life I wanted: working a job that pays enough for me to save money and travel, living with a dear friend, spoiling my niblings rotten, and of course starting my collection of cats. Spinster aunthood, here I come!

  15. Dust Bunny*

    Cishet woman with no kids here, but my mother, who obviously has children and weathered the cloth-diaper era, has left social groups because of this dynamic. And I used to work for a veterinarian and can wield poop stories with the best of them (let me tell you about the time my scrubs were soaked through not once but twice in one day. Not with pee) but, as a mercy to my friends and coworkers, I don’t. I think it should be very reasonable to ask people to keep the waste talk out of the office. Talking about poop all the time would get you some real side-eye in most situations; the fact that it’s kids shouldn’t be a free pass. They can go for a walk at lunch or call each other after work if it’s that important.

    1. Frankie Bergstein*

      That’s amazing to me that your Mom left social groups because of this dynamic. Love that she did it, hate that she had to. It takes time to find and establish social groups.

    2. Oh, just me again!*

      Reminds me of something I read in a book. The author recalled her mother cautioned her about avoiding “the 4 Ds” as topics at social events, because they tended to dominate women’s conversation (and caused the party to segregate): diapers, doctors, dress, and domestics!

      1. i like hound dogs*

        Wait, do women talk about doctors a lot? I know older people discuss health issues a lot, but is this particularly a women’s thing? Does it refer to OB-GYNs? I’m so curious, lol.

  16. morethantired*

    It’s too bad there can’t be a dedicated Teams or Slack channel for the so the conversation isn’t audible and you can choose whether or not to follow it. We have channels like that for parenting, sports and pets on Slack and it’s a nice way to get support/advice if needed, but entirely optional and not distracting.

    1. Oh, just me again!*

      This is not why you come to work. Dedicating a channel to it just shows it’s become a distraction from your jobs – not just an occasional organic exchange, but a focus – and that it needs to stop.

      1. morethantired*

        Rules here are we take people at their word and my word is that it’s not distracting. These channels keep chitchat online so no one has to overhear it. Lots of workplaces have friendly conversations both in person and online.

      2. metadata minion*

        Nearly everyone I know who has a work slack has this kind of subject-specific channel. And the ones at my workplace are if anything *less* of a distraction from work than organic conversation — I can just reply “aww, adorable!” to someone’s cat picture, or ask if anyone has a good recipe for molasses cookies, and then get back to my work.

  17. Hiring Mgr*

    If everyone else but you is a new parent, I think you’ll need to accept that this is just how it’s going to be for a while. Yes they can tone down the volume a bit but this is the situation when you live in the US and can’t take a year or so off for parental leave

      1. Elle*

        Yes, this is absurd. These people (including some commenters?) are acting like poop is a completely acceptable topic?! I think some of these parents need to understand that just because something is a common topic of conversation in their home life, it’s not automatically acceptable for work.

        1. Bast*

          Yes, I agree with reining in on the poop talk, but it seems like the real issue is the volume and frequency, as this is mentioned quite a few times in the letter. It is so loud and frequent that it is distracting LW from work. It seems like this would be the case whether they were discussing poop, the Red Sox, or last night’s episode of The Bachelor. In that case, it’s worth addressing volume control. Someone else may also be having a hard time focusing as well but does not want to say anything — there’s plenty of people who get distracted easily and will join in the conversation almost against their own will because everyone else is just too loud and they can’t focus, so then they join in as well.

          1. Bast*

            I guess my point is, if they suddenly stopped talking about poop and started talking about the Red Sox, it would be just as distracting and loud, which is why it should be framed more generally as a noise issue.

            1. Hiring Mgr*

              Loud, extensive talk about the 2024 Red Sox would be surprising enough even for die hards :) (STH here)

              1. Bast*

                lol, I was thinking along the lines of malicious compliance (well, can’t talk about the kids so we’ll just find a NEW topic) and being a decidedly un-sporty person, I figured that since football season is over I’d best move into baseball.

      2. Hiring Mgr*

        Agree you can rein it in, but it’s going to be very difficult to get a bunch of new parents to not talk about their kids as much especially when they’re all new parents together.

        I agree with the original advice – pick your battles

        1. Me... Just Me (as always)*

          yes! Work doesn’t appear to be suffering & just because the OP isn’t enjoying the conversations doesn’t mean that others aren’t. Why yuck their yum?

          1. Oh, just me again!*

            ‘Cause it’s mean. “This interests us. If it doesn’t interest you, that’s okay, because you don’t exist for us and your discomfort is not our problem.”

          2. Trixie the Great and Pedantic*

            Talking about their kids’ bowel movements seems like it would yuck everyone’s yum, but what do I know?

    1. Museum Conservator*

      I don’t agree that these people have no choice but to talk about poop because they can’t take a year or so off for parental leave. It’s a choice, and I wouldn’t want to deal with it either.

    2. Wren*

      Yeah, I agree–this is just gotta be something that you deal with. They’re not going to want to change and they’ll resent you if you ask them to do it. Let it ride for a while and job search in the meantime.

    3. Candace Green*

      They do it in Canada too, where you DO get a year of parental leave. It kind of doesn’t matter because being a parent seems pretty consuming and people talk about it. Plus these kids are at potty training and solid food stages, not babies.

  18. kiki*

    In this situation, I might start by addressing the noise and level of distraction, leaving the topic of discussions out. You should be able to have a calm and relatively quiet work environment without coworkers routinely sharing videos at full blast. And if the conversations are occasional, that might be different, but it sounds like there are long, ongoing conversations that are getting in the way of you being able to focus on work.

    I do want to push back a little bit on this, though:

    “I don’t have a child and don’t plan on having one in the near future, so I find this an immense distraction.”

    I would think through the source of your annoyance a bit. Are you distracted because the conversations are happening or because conversations are happening about topics you personally don’t care about? Overhearing conversations between coworkers about things that are not relevant to you is really normal at work. As a woman of color in a white, male-dominated field, so much of what my coworkers talk about from a small talk/ personal chatter level are of no interest to me. It’s not really my place to push back and demand they keep topics to things I find personally interesting or relevant to my life. Does hearing more about children and motherhood bother you because it’s truly a distracting amount of discussion interrupting your ability to do work? Or would you be okay if the coworkers were talking about something you also like?

      1. MigraineMonth*

        It’s a very good point to think about. LW recognized in the letter that it’s an unusual situation to have these women even able to openly discuss parenting young children and support each other; in a lot of workplaces, mentioning that one is a mother “too often” can harm one’s career (while the opposite is true for fathers).

        I hope LW and their coworkers can find a way to a quieter workplace with less discussion of poop that still allows the women to support each other.

      1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

        “Entitled” because… they’re talking about poop?
        It’s entirely reasonable for LW to be squicked out and request they tone it down, and there’s probably a good business justification in asking them to refrain where customers could hear them. But it’s also pretty reasonable for a group of coworkers with a set of shared experiences to talk about that experience, and for a year or two after giving birth, poop is the majority of a parent’s non-work daily experience. If they don’t tone it down after a few friendly requests, sure, they’re out of line. But it doesn’t sound like we’re there yet.

        1. Museum Conservator*

          I think it’s pretty entitled to ensure that the entire office, where this person is essentially a captive audience, has to listen to extremely personal discussions.

        2. Laura*

          And yet, poop is not appropriate for discussion at work, regardless of how much a part of life it is for these people outside of work.

        1. Oh, just me again!*

          “Oblivious” is a good word to use here. Obliviousness more often the hallmark of “cool kid” behavior than actual meanness. But it’s simple (if not always easy) to put an end to obliviousness. Simply enlightened them. And if that doesn’t result in a change, it’s moved into meanness.

    1. BellyButton*

      But have you learned about the best golf club or their form??? ;)

      I think it is probably because that is ALL they talk about and LW can’t participate and would maybe sometimes like to talk about something different.

    2. Ally McBeal*

      I gotta push back a little. I love kids, used to work in daycare, have not been able to have any of my own (yet?), and am a devoted aunt. But loud, frequent workplace conversations about the texture of a child’s poop is several bridges too far. Save that sh-t (literally) for happy hour or a group text for willing participants.

      1. kiki*

        That makes sense. I do think it would be fair to ask that poop talk be entirely eliminated, at least where other employees who aren’t opting-in to discussion can overhear.

        I may be mistaking what exactly is bothering LW the most (the graphic nature of the talking, the exclusion, or the distraction), but it seemed to me like LW would still be annoyed and distracted if poop and bodily fluid talk were removed, but other motherhood discussions remained. That’s why I suggest starting with a general discussion addressing all the chatter as a distraction. I don’t think I would be able to get the nuance right to directly address all the motherhood talk. That’s just me! There are definitely people capable

    3. AvocadoQueen*

      I’m a cis woman, no kids. People talking about poop and playing videos of loud children in a volume I can hear even with headphones is just distracting. I can tune out sports chat, or pretty much any basic non-gross talk. But high pitched videos and talk about bodily functions is distracting, very difficult to tune out, and isn’t something people should have to hear at work. They can speak softer, or have a group text for that sort of thing.

    4. fine-tipped pen aficionado*

      This is a good point and also someone upthread mentioned that centering all office socialization around one topic, no matter what the topic is, is inherently exclusionary.

      It’s always good to self-reflect as an individual about why a topic bothers you in particular. And likewise, it’s good for any group of people to self-reflect on whether their behavior is excluding anyone for any reason and whether they need to rebalance anything.

      Even if you don’t like small talk, if the topic is always the same and you can’t contribute to it, that feels bad and hurts the health of the team as a unit. I agree it’s important for OP to really reflect on this. I also think it would be valid if he found this topic in particular is more disrupting than others because it’s so deeply tied to that non-belonging. It would be unreasonable to try to ban the topic given how mild the impact is, but asking folks to maybe chatter about more than one of their interests and be mindful of volume seems a mild enough solution to match.

  19. Dances With Code*

    As a person who struggled with infertility, this would also have been hard for me to listen to. Just hearing that my cousin and my aunt got pregnant while I was struggling with it was a trigger, much less having constant mom of young kids talk at my workplace. (All resolved, btw. My kids are now old enough they could have their own before long depending how life goes.)

    That said, I agree with other commenters that addressing this from the angle of volume and possibly “please can we not talk about poop” angles would be less controversial and a good starting point.

  20. tabloidtained*

    I think you’ll have better luck curtailing conversations you absolutely hate (e.g., poop talk) if you ooh and ahh over a cute baby picture now and then. That helps drive home that it’s not the “kid” parts that you hate, but the gross parts (doesn’t have to be true).

    I also like the idea of asking them to keep the volume down. Do you have a boss or manager who can back you up, especially since making sure you can hear when/if people come into the office sounds important for your work?

    1. Just thinking questions*

      Agreed on both parts, but particularly the first. OP, you might be already doing this, but here a little warmth can go a long way. Spending a couple minutes a day/week appreciating baby pictures (depending on tolerance) can build up goodwill to spend on asking the parents to moderate their talk.

  21. Yup*

    I think that, as with any subject, people should be aware when they are oversharing or monopolizing the room with their topic. Sometimes we have to steer the subject away.

    That said, being a working parent is really hard, and worrisome, and isolating, and lonely, and when all you have are your colleagues to speak with on a regular basis, sometimes that’s just what you do. In the past, whole communities and extended families helped parents out, so the burden was lessened and divided. Today, it’s all on the family to not only work full time but also take care of children and the house and all the other things, too. It may feel like the conversations are Too Much® (and maybe sometimes they really are), but on the flip side it is sometimes saving a parent’s sanity and keeping them feeling grounded and understood in ways no one else can help with.

    All to say I get it, but know too that being a parent in today’s society–and the expectations, burdens, responsibilities, and loneliness that entails–is incredibly hard and thankless, and sometimes the best solution for you is to just get up and walk away and let them talk.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Being a gay man can also be isolating, especially if you’re the cultural odd person out in your workplace. Lots of things are hard, worrisome, and isolating, but I don’t rail all day about being a middle-aged woman with elderly parents and no support system.

    2. fine-tipped pen aficionado*

      I think this is where things like ERGs are really valuable.

      As Dust Bunny points out, there are many areas where our support structures fall short and individuals pay the price. That stuff can also be really fraught for people, as evidenced by all the folks in this thread talking about how painful it is to hear this stuff while struggling with infertility or how work is their one chance to NOT think about their parenting for a few hours.

      I think there’s a compelling interest for working parents to have space and time at work to talk about their shared challenges. I think there’s also a compelling interest for other staff-even if there’s only one of them right now-to be able to opt out without giving a reason or being seen as a ruiner of nice things. Having a designated space for this stuff can open up more space for other topics elsewhere, and also it signals company support for parents and is a much more trauma informed approach.

      We have so many topics that seem like harmless small talk that are so tough for so many people to navigate and it’s always worthwhile to reflect on where we can make it easier. Even if this fella is just annoyed by the sameness of it!

    3. Anonosaurus*

      I understand what you’re saying but I don’t think this takes into account the toll it takes on those of us who don’t have mainstream lives to hear continually from those who do.

      Like, the overwhelming majority of people my age are parents and partnered. I’m not. I’m widowed and have frail elderly parents. I have no other living family and no partner. I have a good support system and I invest a lot in my friendships, but my life doesn’t look like any of my co-workers’ lives. I don’t work somewhere like OP but I don’t think people who are married with kids have any idea how alienating it can be when you’re the only person in the room who isn’t, from talking about weekend plans to holiday season to office social events.

      I’m actually content with my life and my choices but I don’t always feel part of the community around me. I would love for there to be more recognition, in offices like OPs and in these discussions, of how that can feel.

      1. roster gang*

        Yeah, this is what these threads had me thinking too.

        I simply can’t relate to wanting to shut one specific topic of conversation down – if there are 12 common topics (to choose a random number) of conversation in my office, I’d be lucky to contribute to one of them without lying. I often feel pressure to make up an entire ‘nother personality just for work so I can seem like I’m getting along with people.
        Colleagues often ask me directly about topics which not only don’t interest me but also feel politically fraught to me in a way that likely never occurs to them, and I do need to lie.

        I’ve also been in situations where it’s people who are a different kind of minority group to me making jokes about well, my minority group, without knowing I’m part of it. I just keep my mouth shut. It’s a horrible feeling, particularly in an office that talks so much about bringing your authentic self to the office.

        That said, I feel like anything that punches down or would be a reasonable topic that would gross someone out, should probably not be a topic for a workplace even if you’re 99% certain that your colleagues won’t mind. Just pick something else.

    4. metadata minion*

      But opening up the conversation to other topics, ever, can help expand that zone of support! I know parenthood is different for everyone, but plenty of my friends who’ve had kids have talked about enjoying getting to hang out with me and do adult-people stuff for a while, as well as me coming over and playing with their kid. People who are not parents can be social support for people who are in ways that don’t have to involve hearing about their kids’ bowel movements.

  22. Morgan Proctor*

    I was in this position at my last employer, and I found it SUPER weird. When I was at the job I had before that one, I had several coworkers who had young children, but they rarely talked about them. These were both companies in creative industries. Now I was hearing TMI details about babies and childbirth every goddamned day. I learned intimate, gruesome details about c-sections (honestly I was enlightened by that one, I had no idea it was so physically traumatic) that really affirmed my decision to be childfree. I learned more than I wanted to know about my coworkers kids’ intellectual disabilities, problems at home, eating habits, etc etc. I found it strange, compared to my previous job, where everyone seemed to have hobbies separate from their children.

    But, you know, whatever. Babies exist, and they’re a big part of people’s lives. I couldn’t really begrudge my coworkers’ habit of oversharing about them. It was something they all had in common, and so obviously they talked about it. I just kind of zoned out when that conversation started. I guess it’s annoying, but we have to share this planet with 8 billion other people, and each of those 8 billion people started life as a baby, me included. Dealing with conversation that doesn’t directly relate to my life experience is simply part of life on earth.

  23. DramaQ*

    Working mother here and I don’t want to hear or share about my childbirth either! A lot of times I feel like those conversations are either humblebragging (All natural no epidural! Oh you had a C section so sorry!) or are trying to scare the crud out of new mom’s to be. I do not share my child birth experience unless I am expressly asked to and even only then with people I know intimately. Somewhat the same with breastfeeding it’s a conversation that has it’s place and time when asked. It’s not a round robin water cooler subject for me. I would never dream of constantly talking about those things at work, especially knowing those are sensitive topics for a lot of people for various reasons be it they are childfree or desperately want to have kids but can’t or have trauma surrounding their own experience. Plus how boring! I am way more than just a mother.

    I had a coworker who went into WAAAAY too much detail about the birth of her kid when another coworker announced her pregnancy. Yeah nobody needed to hear or visual that.

    Since you are going to be the outlier unfortunately in terms of the topic I would agree with broaching it as you guys are being too loud/distracting can you turn down the volume? If you deal with customers that is a perfectly reasonable request. If they can’t handle that maybe approach the manager if she isn’t also in on the baby making talk about having a discussion about inside voices?

  24. ChurchOfDietCoke*

    This is a noise issue, as well, surely? If you can hear full-volume screaming over your noise-cancelling headphones it’s…. too loud!

  25. Susannah*

    Oof. Tough one. I realize this will get cast as a gender thing, but I’m a woman who would MUCH rather talk about a sports team than kids. And I definitely don’t want to hear to hear about poop consistency.
    I do have to wonder of anyone gets any work there – is this an office, or a support group? And I’m glad, seriously, if some of these women find support with friends at work, especially on things like PPD. But there are boundaries – and LW should not have to fear drawing them just to prove he isn’t the Clueless Childless Man.

  26. shedubba*

    Something else that might help OP to remember is that kids grow, and the childbirth/diaper/potty training phase only lasts a few years. In all likelihood, your office will age out of this topic within the next 5-7 years, even if some coworkers have multiple children. Faster if there aren’t more younger siblings or if some new moms leave the workforce (entirely possible) or if inevitable turnover brings in new coworkers who are more visibly uncomfortable with the topic. If you enjoy the work and the environment aside from this one issue, it may be worth enduring it for the time being.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      that’s a long-ass few years, and then they have a second round of kids so it starts all over again. And then the place hires a couple of younger employees so the veteran parents start re-sharing all the old stories.

      Parents can have enough self-control to not do this at work. If they need to talk about it so badly they can do it on their own time.

    2. Oh, just me again!*

      I doubt he will last anywhere near that long, in a place that is freezing him out like this.

  27. Spicy Tuna*

    I agree with what someone said upthread about framing it as a volume issue. I had a similar situation at my last job. The people who sat in the cubes right outside my office all belonged to the same religious sect (not sure if they all went to the same church) and they talked about God, their faith, who was more “faithful”, etc, etc. ALL DAY LONG!!!! It was incredibly distracting. While I did have an office with a door, it was not practical to keep it shut all the time.

    The situation was complicated somewhat because the folks in the cube were in a different department from me, and their supervisor worked out of an office in another state. So it was hard to escalate the issue.

    It eventually resolved itself when their supervisor realized that they were spending most of the day talking about non work related things and let several of them go.

  28. MansplainerHater*

    I was recently at a dinner with clients/colleagues and encountered the inverse of this. Almost everyone at the table was a new parent/parent of young kids, and the conversation was dominated by a single, childless dude that spends all his free time traveling and reading books.

  29. JP*

    I used to work in a cubicle next to a woman who would tell every person who walked by her desk the same stories about her kids. I remember one story in particular about how her daughter vomited in the car, which she recounted in graphic detail several times throughout the day. I’m not usually bothered by that type of stuff, but it got to the point where I started feeling nauseous listening to her. There were some other stories she would tell that she thought were funny “kids being kids” situations that I found a little disturbing. She was also the type to start crying at the drop of the hat. My boss couldn’t even discuss minor work errors with her without her breaking down. So, I didn’t feel like I could approach her about the issue without throwing her into a tailspin.

    She was eventually laid off, and I guess that solved the problem. I have no tips for the letter writer here, just sympathy.

    1. BellyButton*

      After the 5th time of her telling the story, how did you resist popping up and finishing the story for her?? Those people seem to almost have a line by line script!

  30. BellyButton*

    As I was reading the letter all I could think about was the office I worked in where people were obsessed with college sports and then I get to the first paragraph of the response… “In some ways this is like if you worked in an office where everyone but you was obsessed with sports and talked about it constantly,” HAHAHA I am glad I am not the only one… gah.

    I was polite and nice and listened for the first months I worked there, always saying I didn’t follow sports and knew nothing about it. As I got to know people I became more vocal that I not only didn’t follow, and knew nothing, I actively disliked sports. And as the years went on and on and on I tolerated it less and less “Is that the orange ball one or the ice ball one??” and would literally walk away while they were speaking. I had expressed myself politely, I had said I don’t know anything, don’t follow, don’t LIKE it- so why are you cornering me and telling me play by play about something I don’t know anything about! There was one person who, every morning ,after some “big game” would come find me to talk about it??? No matter what I said or did they would do this- it felt personal and aggressive (maybe it was just because we were the first two in the office, but it sure felt personal). UGGGG If I was in a group and they began discussing sports I would just slip away or excuse myself, even if it was my conversation (work or not) that had been hijacked.

    I have a weak stomach and can be squeamish about certain things, especially bodily functions, so I would have no problem saying “UH… y’all that is too graphic and too much for me, can y’all stop with the poop talk, please?” It usually gets a laugh, but most people stop.

    I understand that as humans we are looking for some sort of connection and support to gain and to give, but we also need to be aware and inclusive of others around of us.

    Good luck LW!

    1. BellyButton*

      PS. I have actually dry heaved from people describing something particularly gross. That tends to make an impression about how gross they are being– maybe try that LW ;)

    2. fine-tipped pen aficionado*

      Yeah I worked in a Parks & Rec environment where meetings kept getting delayed while folks talked about sports. I went from being indifferent to sports to resenting sports and it wasn’t because everyone talked about it all the time. It was how they expected me to also share their interest?

      It seems so minor and petty, but there’s actually a huge gap between starting with “Oh hey do you like any sports?” versus “Who’s your team?”. While the inescapability of a topic that inherently bores me is mildly annoying, the cultural expectation that I should know or care about it is significantly worse.

      Now that I think about it the same might be said of parenting. And Christianity. And a lot of other stuff white people like that I’m too white to think of right now.

      Anyway, solidarity to my non-parent, non-sport, non-Christian people who get called anti-social for not liking small talk with no awareness of the caliber of small talk available to us.

  31. Father of a Figment*

    I’ve been the only (gay) male in all-women-with-young-children offices! I made supportive comments and looked at pictures and asked about the kids. It was easy enough, but you can’t help but feel left out when other people have such big things in common.

    I don’t necessarily recommend this to the letter writer, but I found an interesting way to cope. After a while I announced, “I’m going to make up a child so I can join in on these conversation!” Thus, “Ariel” was born. My coworkers never failed to include me in conversations after that. It kept things lighter and a little silly and it was wierdly fun to learn more about my little “button.”–Ariel loves to read (like me) but hates “Harry Potter” (probably just because I liked it). She wants to be a Marine Biologist like her mom. So help me–if she loses one more retainer I’ll go crazy! etc. etc. etc. We even made up stories about Ariel’s playdates with other office kids.

    It’s a weird coping strategy, but it was fun. It did make people more conscious of being inclusive in office conversations.

    1. BellyButton*

      HA! At least they all knew she wasn’t real, there have been a couple of letters here about a coworker faking a child.

      What is Ariel up to these days??

      1. Father of a Figment*

        How kind of you to ask. Let me think. She’s likely off at college now. She’s very studious, still wants to be a Marine Biologist, and–happily–got into my old school! So now I get to have bumper stickers saying I’m a proud dad. Spring break is next week and instead of coming home for Easter she’s going off with her roommate whale watching. Methinks she and her roommate are a little more than just “roomies” but she hasn’t said anything.

    2. H.Regalis*

      I like this ^_^ It’s so cute.

      I talk about my friends’ kids when my coworkers talk about their own. It’s no fun being left out! My best friend’s son is the human equivalent of hurricane, and they both get sick so much (she works at his preschool) that I’m pretty sure the daycare itself was built on the site on a long-ago battle and thus is cursed.

    3. ariel*

      This is really sweet and I’m glad the result was having fun and awareness on the part of the parents!

  32. atalanta0jess*

    I really appreciate this writer’s empathy and understanding of how this is helpful and functional for the people participating in the kid-talk. Being a working parent of young children is consuming, and having comrades in arms is really helpful. Thank you, OP, for approaching this with such empathy and compassion.

  33. AnonInCanada*

    The OP mentioned this in his letter to Alison:

    Moreover, since disgruntled members of the public sometimes come into the office, I have some safety concerns about not being able to hear all activity.

    Could he approach this with his manager from that angle? I’m not sure what government agency they work for, but if they’re already disgruntled because (reasons), the added noise and baby talk may be bringing them to a level that OP needs not have to tolerate. Just a thought.

  34. H.Regalis*

    I don’t have kids and won’t be having any, but I actually don’t mind this stuff *in general*. I’ve had pets, worked in home health care; and have had cleaning jobs as a janitor, a housekeeper, and a maid. I’ve had to clean up so many bodily fluids that I just don’t care anymore.

    That said, if my coworkers started talking in detail about their own bodily functions, it would squick me out. Kids I guess it doesn’t bother me, because it’s more like war stories in a way. Parenting when your kids are little is a ton of work. I can’t begrudge people needing to vent about it.

    However, if stuff is so loud that you can’t even block it out when you’re trying to with noise-cancelling headphones, then it’s too loud.

  35. Frog&Toad*

    This reminds me of all the March Madness talk that used to happen in our very small office, at least an hour a day, this time of year. It drove my co-worker absolutely crazy, I could feel the irritation rolling off of them. I commiserate – and am very happy to now be working at home!

  36. SJ Coffee Adict*

    That is so tough. As someone with 2 kids, I personally only talk about my kids at work if specifically asked about them. Even then it’s a generic, oh Lancelot loves to joust, or Millicent is a great archer, and that’s it. The last thing I want to talk about at work is my kids. I would definitely speak up if people are talking about poop at work, that is just disgusting. Also, when are these people actually getting their work done? If it’s disruptive enough that noise cancelling headphones are needed, that’s a LOT of non work related talk.

  37. CM*

    I agree with the first comment saying you can frame this as a request about volume, and I think it could also work as “I’m sorry, but I’m so squeamish about bodily functions — I’m really having trouble with all the intimate talk about health and medical issues, would it be possible to save that for when I’m not around?” Another way to address the distraction without being perceived as anti-kid. (However, this assumes that you’d be OK with still hearing “the cute thing my baby did” as long as it’s not about their bodily functions.)

  38. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

    I’m a mom and I do not want to hear about feces or detailed accounts of birth in the office. Full stop. It’s neither the time nor the place. The excessive chitchat about personal topics would get on my nerves too, but you really do have standing to push back on the poo and birth. As soon as it pops up, I would say something like “No offense, but I prefer not to hear about bathroom/medical topics in the office. I find it distracting. Would you mind picking this back up on your lunch break when you’re out of the office? Thanks for understanding.” Totally reasonable.

  39. girlie_pop*

    In situations like with the noisy video, I think it would be totally reasonable to say, “Hey, sorry, could you turn the volume on that down or maybe watch it somewhere else? I’m really trying to focus right now and it’s pretty distracting.” That could even work for just normal conversations, if they’re having them around his work space. That way, it’s not about the content of the video/conversation, and more about just needing to keep the work area quiet so people can focus.

  40. H*

    IDK if it changes much, but Alison I think the issue is not that he can’t hear potential safety issues over the chatter, but that he is concerned about not hearing potential safety issues because of the headphones he wears to drown out the chatter.

  41. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

    It’s reasonable to ask people not to talk about gross things where you can overhear them. It’s also reasonable to ask people to keep their volume down to a moderate level.

    On the other hand, it’s not reasonable to try to control conversations that you are not a part of simply because they don’t happen to interest you.

    1. Abundant Shrimp*

      “On the other hand, it’s not reasonable to try to control conversations that you are not a part of simply because they don’t happen to interest you.”

      If they were at a party, I would agree, but presumably they are all there to get work done? If LW’s performance suffers, will any of the moms in his office come to his defense and say, Oh he just cannot concentrate because the rest of us cannot stop talking about our kids or keep our volume down? nope, they won’t!

    2. Sarah Mlynowski*

      Just want to highlight Elspeth McGillicuddy’s original comment, which I find both useful and compassionate!

  42. Starbuck*

    “Also! Assuming you’re stuck with a good amount of this as long as you stay there, is it possible to mentally reframe this as an interesting opportunity to learn things you haven’t been this exposed to previously — a peek behind a curtain that a lot of men don’t get or don’t take advantage of?”

    This is a bit patronizing and I don’t think it’s helpful; as a childfree woman I’d have all the same objections this guy does, and this framing isn’t useful. I have purposely opted out of this kind of stuff. I chose not to learn it because I didn’t want to. If society should respect my choice about that, why not his?

    1. nnn*

      Because men’s ignorance of some of this drives harmful public policy choices? So he can better empathize with women in his life?

      1. Starbuck*

        As a childfree woman, I get plenty of those experiences myself through friends and family; I don’t need to hear about toddler poop every day at work to be able to empathize with working mothers! This really seems like a reach, but hey – if he can reframe it that way, more power to him I guess. But I would definitely roll my eyes at anyone who suggested a workday full of toddler talk was somehow good for me.

        1. Head sheep counter*


          I cannot imagine a work environment with only one line of conversation (and a very gross one at that) no matter what the line of conversation was. Dog Poop? Don’t like it. Vomit? Don’t like it. Burping? Don’t like it. My period? your Period? anything involving fluids… don’t like it.

    2. Head sheep counter*

      That struck me as off too. I don’t actually want a peek around the curtain and I am a childfree woman as well. Poop is not work appropriate. Surgery is not work appropriate. Basically if happens under your clothes… it is unlikely to be work appropriate.

      Telling me to fake it… doesn’t magically make it work appropriate and does make a body super angry. Do we tell people to fake it when they are in a racist office? Or how about in sexist office? I mean one can get all kinds of glimpses behind the curtains of all kinds of things… not that excessive discussion of bodily functions and medical procedures are the same as racism or sexism… however exclusionary such discussions are.

        1. Starbuck*

          Yeah those equivalences aren’t necessary to make the point that hearing about birthing and excrement etc during workplace conversations all day long is just way too much! It would be one thing if they limited it to like, lunch break, and water cooler breaks, and the start of meeting chit-chit (like 5 minutes) but this just sounds like SO MUCH conversation for any non-work off topic discussion.

        2. Getting old*

          But freezing someone out – a whole group of people who might potentially want to work there, if not for this – kinda is. Not 100%, but at least a little bit.

          1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

            They’re really not freezing him out, though? They’re just talking about a shared experience. They are definitely overdoing it, but there’s nothing here to suggest that they’re unwilling to either include him in the parenting conversations or switch to a different topic if he introduced one.
            This is not systemic oppression; it is just a mildly awkward social situation.

          2. H.Regalis*

            They’re not freezing him out, and people having obnoxiously loud conversations about things you’re not interested in is 100% not systemic oppression.

            “People who don’t have kids” is not a group of people facing higher arrest rates, disproportionately high percentage of prison populations vs. general populations, worse health, lower education rates, legislation against where they can live, forced sterilization, being the target of violence based on who they are, etc.

            Sometimes people are obnoxious. I agree that screaming toddler videos turned up 11 or Poop: The Epic Saga are things the LW can reasonably ask his coworkers to cool it about. That doesn’t mean their conversations discriminatory or that they’re doing something illegal. It’s okay to be bothered by rude behavior without having to extremely dubiously try to claim the moral high ground.

        3. Head sheep counter*

          However, there are many folk agreeing that it isn’t safe for this lad to speak out. He will be considered a “child hater” or some such nonsense for simply requesting that work not be a show case for “Rate my Poop”.

          If it isn’t safe then… I’m sorry… it does roll right over to all the other abuses folk endure. Is the magnitude different? Sure. Although if it leads him to loosing his job… will it really feel different?

          1. Starbuck*

            I don’t think his safety is at risk here, this is a really weird way to put it. Might he accidentally offend someone if he phrases his request indelicately? Perhaps. Being worried about that doesn’t mean you’re -unsafe-. I think the risk of him losing his job here is very low.

            1. Head sheep counter*

              Over and over people say he can’t directly address this lest he painted a child hater and be ostracized. That is a real consequence. If simply trying to get your peers to stop something causes you to be frozen out… then management needs to stop this. One could have hoped that common sense would stop it… but…

              To be clear, ostracizing can lead to job loss as one can seriously have their work impacted by this behavior. No his peers won’t “fire” him… but if his productivity and ability to do his job is impacted… no one is going to grant him leniency because the women were mean and offended that he didn’t want to hear everyday all day about bodily functions and trauma.

              1. Starbuck*

                I think calling it “unsafe” for him is still a really poor way to frame it; it’s overstating the stakes here in a way that feels kind of icky, like the types who complain about reverse discrimination. It’s not a good way to try to get him more sympathy.

      1. Pescadero*

        “Do we tell people to fake it when they are in a racist office? Or how about in sexist office?”

        If that is what is required to stay alive? Yes.

        1. Head sheep counter*

          As a community we should not advocate for folks to put themselves in harms way… but staying in a toxic/dangerous environment is still staying in harms way.

          I mean if this is the only job and the management team believes having a poop/vomit/c-section driven office is more important than having a more normal office… I suppose suck it up butter cup is better in this circumstance than with racism… but what a race.

          Poop… Racism… Poop for the lead and coming in on the back corner we have Racism… but wait… with vomit and pictures of C-Sections Poop is closing in…

  43. Abundant Shrimp*

    I’m just going to leave these two verses here, of a poem that my mom wrote when she was a bit younger than I am now (late 40s – early 50s), in our native language, about work. She was a supervisor of a small team and one of her employees just had a second baby in her 40s, 20ish years after she had her first, and was apparently overexcited about it, as mom hints at in the poem where she mentions the pooping. There will be a translation.

    “А наш рабочий коллектив!

    Впустую все кричать готовы
    И обсуждать хоть целый день
    Болезни, сплетни, кто покакал
    А кто и нет и почему.

    Но лишь серьёзного вопроса
    Коснётся дело, все в кусты.
    Вдруг сокращение, о боже
    Зачем же я, уж лучше ты”

    (rough translation by me)
    “And let’s talk about our work teams! Everyone’s happy to shout about nothing and to discuss things all day like illnesses, gossip, who pooped and who didn’t and why not. But when a serious issue comes up, we’re all quiet. A layoff? oh my god, not me, let’s pick you instead”

  44. Whomst*

    As a new mother just returning to work at a 1000+ person company where there is exactly 1 other working mother with an infant, what a fascinating glimpse into a different workplace culture.

    1. anon_sighing*

      I think there should be a good balance. The “all or nothing” view some people are bringing to this is very strange and tapping into something way too personal in their own lives, because we need to understand our coworkers on a human level – whether that’s care giving to an adult or child, rec league sports they do, music they play, or other small things that help you learn & sympathize with them a bit about them in an appropriate way.

      I hope your work is going well – it can feel so isolating and like people are unsympathetic (whether they are or not) to juggling childcare when there isn’t anyone talking about it. Even those with adult kids seem to forget…and often they are the meanest, in my experience, to the growing pains of new parents (“I did it, so you can, too”).

  45. theletter*

    Could you ask to be moved to a spot that is closer to potentially disgruntled clients and further away from mom-talk?

  46. AXG*

    I don’t have this at work as much (have some childfree coworkers who are amazing!) but ALL of my friends are parents of young kids, which makes conversations challenging. A few things I’ve found helpful:
    – Being candid about the fact that I don’t have kids: Yes, they all know, but in the throes of a conversation about potty training or preschool, it’s easy to forget
    – Having private discussions with 1-2 trusted folks about how all the kid talk makes me feel and hey can we talk about something else?
    – Being upfront: I love you, I support you, and I support your role as a parent. How can I do that in a way that plays to my skills/our relationship dynamic?
    – Setting boundaries: I won’t babysit, but I’ll bring you a meal when you have a newborn; I don’t want to hear about the gross fluids of your child, but let’s talk about your anxiety around potty training’

    It’s hard, OP, and I can’t imagine having to deal with that at work. I’d talk to your boss too. It always helps coming from a place of empathy (which you are!) and delineating what you’re looking for :)

  47. GoodGravy*

    This really needs to be stopped. It’s not inclusive and it makes for a rotten hiring environment. Anyone not a parent will feel like an outsider, and if they ever hire a person who is unhappy about not being able to have children, (including anyone unpartnered, who for economic or moral reasons doesn’t see deliberate solo pregnancy as an personal option – which is another kind of “infertility” than the medical kind) it will be HELL for that person. OP will probably move on, eventually, unless he gets some relief, and so will the next child-free man or woman. The non-parents will never reach the critical mass needed to introduce another topic of conversation if each one leaves before another arrives.

    1. Starbuck*

      It also just feels like a huge amount of time in the day for ANY non-work topic discussion, excrement related or not.

  48. Garblesnark*

    LW, I just want to say that I work at a hospital in OB/Gyn, and even here, it is completely acceptable to say, “hey, could we put the birth stories on hold for a bit? I need to focus.” I don’t have children and have said this with good results, as have men.

    This makes me think that “office with moms,” a place less explicitly birth-centric, would also be open to it.

  49. Wrong Takes Only*

    I’m just flying on vibes and probably dead wrong here! But this letter doesn’t quite feel to me like, “random sports-neutral person in sports-obsessed office.” It feels like, “random person who was bullied by athletes as a child and carries minor trauma about it, but can’t/won’t admit that’s what’s going on and is therefor having a REALLY STRONG reaction to sports talk.”

    I’m autistic and have a lot of difficultly engaging in regular small talk; normal volumes and topics of conversation easily cause me irritation. But when the topic is a hot button issue for me? WHY IS EVERYONE CONSTANTLY TALKING SO LOUDLY ABOUT THIS, WHAT IS WRONG WITH THEM? WHY DON’T THEY FIX THIS OBVIOUS THING THEY’RE DOING WRONG?

    But sometimes they aren’t doing anything wrong, I’m just the wrong audience.

    1. Millie*

      Personally I don’t get that vibe from the letter, but it is good to keep in mind. I’m also autistic and can relate, if it’s something that really bothers me I can’t “filter it out” like I can with other small talk.

  50. Purple People Eater*

    Alison’s sports example was a great one and what I was thinking when I read the letter. I work in a sports obsessed office. Especially when home teams are playing (football, baseball, and basketball) EVERYONE is wearing jerseys and talking about the game. All. the. time. It’s exhausting if I pay attention. But honestly, I’ve learned to just go with the chitchat, pretend interest for a few minutes, and then excuse myself. It’s mostly white noise to me now.

  51. ariel*

    My best advice is to get to know your colleagues individually and bond with them over other things – watercooler stuff like favorite TV shows, music, vacation spots, food, anything!! – so that you could try to change the topic occasionally too when the child-ness of it all gets to be too much. I probably chat with my colleagues about their kids once a week or less and if it were more than that, I’d find it difficult, so my hat’s off to you for working to appreciate the support your colleagues get from each other while also noping the heck out.

  52. Museum Conservator*

    I had a very similar situation and finally one day, as I could hear screeching about epidurals from the group of coworkers gathered right in front of my desk (for some reason?) over the sound of the Zoom meeting I was having, I walked up to the group and asked them to stop because it was making me squeamish AND I was in the middle of a meeting and couldn’t hear. I got some weird looks, but it definitely stopped! PS I’m a woman, but I don’t want to hear about poop/barf/afterbirth when I’m at work. I don’t share my personal medical details with my coworkers and I’d like that to be reciprocated!

  53. Head sheep counter*

    I’d like to advocate for bodily function and surgery/medical procedure free workplaces. Not that people don’t have/experience either… but that as a rule, if it happens under your clothes, it should, mainly be a mystery to one’s colleagues. If the organization is large enough to have employee groups, then huzzah go find like minded colleagues. If it is too small for that, may I suggest… lunch outside the office? Or a breakroom?

    Work colleagues are fundamentally different than friends. Between power dynamics with bosses and supervisors and the various polite fictions we use to survive working with people day in and day out – we’d all be better off being kind but mysterious to our colleagues. I’m glad you have digestion. Glad your family digests. That’s it that’s all I need to know.

  54. Wren*

    tbh OP this is something that i wouldn’t try changing. You’re going to come off as anti-woman and anti-children no matter how you phrase this, and as a fellow gay you don’t want a target on your back right now, more than ever. In my experience at least parents do not care about whether this talk is disruptive or gross to other people; they are in their own world that has its own challenges. It sucks, but i would just try to ignore it and maybe job search.

    1. Z*

      He really won’t be able to stay there, under the circumstances, because it sounds completely awful. He must be looking for other jobs, or transfer to a different location (or freelancing, or marrying wealth/winning the lottery, whatever works!) Definitely speak up. They should not be doing this, and a keep-your-head-down attitude doesn’t help change the world.

    2. Emily Byrd Starr*

      I disagree. I see nothing wrong with saying, “Can we please not talk about poop at work?” or “Could you please keep it down? I’m having trouble concentrating.”

  55. Lauren19*

    It sounds like you all get along, so can you just ask them? Say exactly what you say in the last paragraph, I’ll bet there’s at least one mom or grandma in the group who would rather talk about the weather or newest flavored coffee or literally anything else.

  56. sunny days are better*

    This reminds me of a lovely man (a father of two sons) in my department who often joined us for lunch in the cafeteria. We were a predominantly female team of women with young children and the conversation would often be about husbands and kids and he would be the lone man at the table.

    He would sit there silently eating his lunch and every once in a while, we would turn to him to get the man/husband point of view – trying to understand why our husbands did X or Y and he would just shake his head and say “why do I sit with you guys?” and we would laugh, and the same thing would happen again the next week.

    This went on for a few years until he had to go for emergency surgery one day and did not survive. We really missed him a lot and I still recall him fondly over 20 years later.

    All of which to say that the OP must be very well liked for these conversations to be had in his presence because I know that we didn’t do that with any of the other guys on the team – only him – because he was so nice and we felt so comfortable around him.

    To the OP: I would just focus on asking them to lower the volume when it really gets too loud.

    1. butthehashbrowns*

      It doesn’t matter if the OP is well-liked – he’s explicitly said it makes him very uncomfortable, and the kind thing to do would be to respect that if they really like him! It’s not cute or funny to be subjected to conversations that are both exclusionary and inappropriate in a work context.

      1. sunny days are better*

        I’m just pointing out something that he may not have considered – that they all probably really like him a lot – and as a result, probably has a very good working relationship with them.

        This makes it additionally tricky for him to say anything, because it could affect the work environment.

        You’re right that it’s not fair that he has to listen to it, but as Alison said, it’s tricky how to say anything without offending, which is why I suggested that he ask them to lower the volume when it gets too loud.

          1. allathian*

            They’re oblivious, not malicious. Parenting young kids is pretty all-consuming, and when you’re changing diapers all day and sometimes even at night, you get desesitized to it.

            But I never shared poop stories at work, I saved those for my mommy friends. Even if the story about having to wash the poop out of my son’s hair one night when he had explosive diarrhea and his diaper leaked is quite funny. He laughed until he cried when I told it to him and it’s become a part of our family legend. But it’s not a story I’d ever share with my coworkers.

            The LW won’t be able to stop most of the kid talk and I don’t think he wsnts to stop all of it, but asking them not to talk about poop and to keep the volume down sounds entitely reasonable.

            1. cosmicbrownies*

              You literally just shared a poop story to an audience who didn’t ask for it. No thanks for that.

    2. metadata minion*

      Asking someone for a “man’s perspective” on marriage is just as weird as asking “what do women want”. He is not your husband. He doesn’t know why your husband is doing something. I’ll take your word for it that he was sitting with you by choice, but that sounds really isolating and uncomfortable.

  57. YetAnotherAnalyst*

    I’m just going to throw this out there, but the problem with the new-mom talk really is the quantity and the volume, rather than the topic itself. In my experience, the US needs more open discussion about pregnancy/parenting, in general. Our culture tends to paint motherhood as this rosy soft-focus daydream, and reality can be a shock. I know my own experience of PPD was worsened by the feeling that there was something wrong with me that I was sleep-deprived, miserable, and elbow-deep in effluvia. Learning that it was both potentially treatable and within the range of normal was a huge relief.

    Talking to other parents in person, particularly other working moms, helps with recommendations for doctors and daycares, helps set expectations around what parenthood looks like, helps inform political opinions, and is generally a great way to combat social media propaganda.

    But – it absolutely needs to be done in moderation if it’s in a workplace, where coworkers can’t easily opt out.

    1. butthehashbrowns*

      Yeah I don’t think it’s unfair for the OP to have the choice to opt out of conversations that make him uncomfortable, even if it’s a topic that you personally feel should be discussed more.

  58. Elsa*

    I’m a mother and I would hate this. In general I think that workplaces where everyone, or almost everyone, is the same demographic (same gender, same age, same family status) are less healthy than workplaces where there is more variety and balance.

  59. Lisa*

    I’d be making a sign on a stick – with a poop emoji with a line through it – and holding it up with a big smile whenever I heard poo talk.

    1. Emily Byrd Starr*

      That’s hilarious, but I’d only do that AFTER I’d tried a more direct way of politely asking them not to talk about poop at work, and then they occasionally forgot.

  60. Have you had enough water today?*

    I work in a male dominated industry, so when I came here from nursing, which is female dominated, I was pretty surprised by the conversations I was privy to ALL.THE.TIME…these men have three topics of conversation – food, sex, & sport. I thought it was a myth, but if they are not discussing work, they genuinely do not talk about anything else other than the afore mentioned topics. It gets old, but unless they are being too crass I just put up with it because it is not my job to police what they talk about.

  61. HannahS*

    A few thoughts on Alison’s last lines–removing the particular dynamics about gender and parental status (and once you set boundaries about volume and poop talk,) your problem is one that a lot of people face; you’re the odd one out in a group that is fairly homogenous, and it makes you feel excluded. That’s totally valid. You can lean into that and become increasingly frustrated (which is kind of exhausting and won’t make you feel better.) Or you can try to participate, which is often more interesting AND can divert the conversation to one that’s more inclusive of your interests.

    As an example, I find hearing about sports incredibly boring and frustrating because they ARE so boring (argh!) but also because I hated gym class, was nerdy, [insert appropriate baggage.] But it’s way more tolerable when I participate, and say things like, “What do you like about hockey?” or “But why haven’t the Leafs won since 1967?” or “What do you mean when you say that the coach isn’t good? What do coaches at the professional level actually do?”

    You might find it dull to hear parents swapping stories about their kids eating solids, and that’s a conversation that you can’t participate in. But by asking questions, you can lead a conversation about children eating to a conversation about cooking and favourite dishes and comfort foods, which might be more interesting and something that you can join in on.

    The other thing is, find ways to talk to your coworkers 1-1 and initiate small talk that isn’t about motherhood. Even if the conversation trends back toward parenting (because, I mean, that IS what they did all weekend,) it allows you to co-create a series of topics that OP-and-Sarah or OP-and-Becca talk about. Surely ONE of them watches a TV show that you also watch, or has a hobby that you also have?

    1. anon_sighing*

      The issues is I think you’re giving advice something else here and projecting feelings onto OP that OP hasn’t indicated. OP doesn’t want to join these conversations — if he did, he could. He’s not asking for ways to connect with his coworkers. Someone else below put it in nice perspective: what if your coworkers talked non-stop about “sports or Game of Thrones or fad diets”? It’s just annoying to have to hear about one singular thing all the time (esp if it’s not interesting to you personally — one or two boring convos are okay, but all day is not fun to hear) — if they just switched it up, it wouldn’t be an issue. Likewise, OP also tried to come up with solutions (so they could talk all they want) but the volume is an issue.

      1. HannahS*

        So what? “It’s just annoying, if they just switched it up” yeah, sure! But his coworkers aren’t reading this column. Like I said, sports are annoying, too. You can ask people to keep it down and avoid bathroom talk, you can stew in your frustration, you can participate and introduce new topics, you can try to have different conversations, or you can leave your job.

  62. i like hound dogs*

    Ugh, I feel for you. It would be easier for me (as a woman with a kid), but I would probably just say, “New challenge for everyone. Go one week without discussing poop.”

    A lot of them would probably take the hint.

  63. Delta Delta*

    A couple thoughts:

    1. I’m avoidant sometimes, so I could see myself just removing myself from the situation and working elsewhere. I had a job once where I figured out I could work in a conference room and crack the door just enough so that if someone came in they’d know I was there, but from outside couldn’t see me. If this works at OP’s workplace, it may be a way to “hide” for a while to escape the constant drumbeat of poop.

    2. You could swap out baby stuff for sports or Game of Thrones or fad diets, or whatever else people go on and on about. It’s so hard to be around the constant discussion of something you’re just not a part of, especially if it’s incredibly loud. You could talk to them and point out that it’s a lot and it’s all the time and it’s loud and it’s disproportionately poop-focused.

  64. Numbat*

    I gave birth in 2020, and am conscious of how much I talk about my kid because we spent so much time deprived of normal social interactions. I’m sure it’s too much sometimes. Just another layer to consider – parenting during and post pandemic is lonely.

  65. DJ*

    Yeah agree can raise as a volume issue.
    See if you can introduce other topics that you feel everyone may be interested in. Ie something on the news eg Kate Middleton’s cancer diagnosis, last night’s TV show, an activity you’re into, weekend outing etc etc

  66. Cacofonix*

    I wonder why so many commenters feel the need to add their gender, parental status, and sexual orientation to their comments and commiserations on this one? Ugh.

    1. Samwise*

      Context.And also to let the OP know that he shouldn’t feel that his gender or sexual orientation makes him wrong in this situation.

    2. anon_sighing*

      Because it’s directly relevant to OP’s concern and the context of this situation? Are you seriously proposing that these dynamics don’t play a role?

      Mind you, I understand completely where you’re coming from — facts are facts, but we don’t live in an objective world.

  67. BikeWalkBarb*

    Another element of the specific shrieks-of-joy-or-whatever videos: Human brains are hardwired to respond to the calls and needs of the young of our species. It isn’t just the noise, it’s the content of the noise that leads to distraction.

    That could be an element of the turn-it-down request: “As a homo sapiens I’m hardwired to respond to kid noises even when they’re not mine. Not something any of us can turn off; it’s why we survived as a species. It’s coming right through my noise-canceling headphones sometimes. I love that you have a supportive workplace connection that’s obviously important to you and I’m not trying to get in the way of that. For the sake of concentration on work, and so any of us could hear someone come in when we have foot traffic to be sure we don’t have a conflict situation if a member of the public is unhappy, I need to ask that the volume come down in the shared space.”

    If they do have a break room they could go to and he suggests using that as another option (as long as it has a door), that’s going to clarify for them just how often they’re doing this. Every time someone says, “Oh, hey, I forgot, let’s take this to the breakroom” they’re reminded how much time is going into this. I work in a public agency too and there is always, always more work than we’re staffed or funded for.

    Speaking as a manager, someone else mentioned thinking ahead about an inclusive culture for new hires. Everyone brings their own neurotype into the workspace and they don’t all coexist well with loud sounds. When they hire someone who’s wearing the headphones to block out auditory input that means they truly can’t work and they’re going to end up going home early from a hostile work environment, the group is going to have to stop owning the airspace and volume controls as a very reasonable accommodation. May as well start easing toward that now.

  68. Samwise*

    Cishet woman with a now adult child. I participated in lots of conversations about children, childbirth, breastfeeding— with my friends. Away from the office. Discussions about bodily functions do not belong in the workplace, unless the workplace is a hospital or doctor’s office.

    1. allathian*

      And even there, such dicussions about your kids would be inappropriate, except possibly as a fully opt-in discussion in the breakroom.

  69. Candace Green*

    Alison’s advice is terrific. But can I just add, that it’s even more awkward when you are in a similar space and you ARE a woman, but one who does not have (and never wanted) kids? And doesn’t have any nieces, nephews, or other kid-adjacent situations in her life? People make all sorts of strange assumptions and ask a lot of really personal, awkward, sometimes intrusive questions. Sometimes they assume we were unable to have kids, and start getting pushy about adopting or fostering, so that “you can have kids in your life, because life is meaningless otherwise” (gee thanks). Or they ask WHY we don’t have kids (not really your business, but to be blunt, neither of us wanted our own kids). Then they either think I’m a horrible person who deprived my husband of the most important thing in the world or vice versa (not the case). Or they assume we are kid-haters or money-obsessed careerists (no, and also, if I was money obsessed, I’d be a career that pays more). But wow, people make a ton of assumptions, and can be super rude. I’d never criticize someone for having and wanting kids; I can’t understand why our choices are anyone else’s discussion topic, especially at work. We do have good reasons, but they’re deeply personal and not something we want to discuss with office-mates.

  70. Mmm.*

    My husband is the only man in an otherwise female-only government job as well. We also don’t and won’t have kids. After jokingly asking if this was him, he had some advice: Get over it, and enjoy the environment’s relative lack of toxic masculinity.

    (Damn, I picked a good one, lol)

    1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      Eh, I disagree. Just because I could be in a much worse environment, and am grateful that I’m not, doesn’t mean I just have to accept all things I don’t like about my current environment.

      Being grateful for what you do have can be a good coping technique, but when it’s used to avoid making changes to an environment, it can also be a form of spiritual bypassing.

  71. anon_sighing*

    If it makes you feel any better, even for other parents of small kids, this office would very, VERY exhausting. I don’t think I have ever been in a place where kids weren’t a singular water cooler topic or just thrown in because that’s part of coworker’s life. It never got into detail unless someone asked (although potty training comes up sometimes, usually a funny story or just “*sigh*”)

  72. Caramellow*

    As a pediatric RN, I changed thousands of diapers in my career. And I hate gratuitous body elimination talk. No scatological humor either. So you are not alone.

  73. CallYourMother*

    Allison’s advice is spot-on! Let me just add a little hope – this will eventually fade. It sounds like these women are in the throes of early parenthood and matrescence. It can be an exciting, overwhelming, lonely, wonderful, gut-wrenching phase. But it is just that – a phase. Try to do as Allison says – reframe, break up the convo with something new or adjacent, etc. I appreciate the sensitivity you are showing these women. I’ve been very very lonely as a working mom, been mistreated by coworkers and bosses for being pregnant and a new mom. The coworkers who showed me an ounce of grace and kindness made a HUGE difference as a new mom.

  74. Beancounter Eric*

    “None of their work seems to be suffering”…….are you sure about that??

    Perhaps the work is all fine…….or perhaps things aren’t being properly done because of the lack of focus which I would bet is occurring as a result of all the non-work chatter.

    If you look back a comments I made here years ago, I argued people need to keep their personal life out of the workplace. In many respects, I still hold that opinion….one comes to work to, well….work, not to chat about TV, sports, their kids, their spouse/sig. other, or any of the other things people like to prattle on about. But choosing battles is important, and that is one I will lose.

    Your office leadership needs to rein things in a bit… it or not, your colleagues are going to yammer incessantly about their kids. But leadership needs to have them cut out the poop, pee, barf chats, etc.

    And a final word… work for a government agency. Your taxpayers deserve greater diligence than it appears they are getting.

  75. Empire*

    If this is a govt agency and public facing and they’ve made it hard to help the public with their chatter by making you distracted, I would use the anonymous suggestion box or feedback line for the public and say the staff here chats too much. If a member of the public comes in during the poo chatter, even better to cite it.

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