So, there’s this community space I enjoy using with my toddler and babies, and there’s this older lady volunteer there who will. not. leave. the. babies. alone. (With the framing of “she’s just trying to help.”) She hovers over the babies, she micromanages where we’re sitting or where we put our stroller, and it feels as though she’s just poised waiting for my partner or myself to stumble or fail so she can swoop in and grab a baby.
The other day, she grabbed at a bottle of milk that a baby was literally drinking, that my partner was literally holding. (My partner’s a guy, and this definitely felt like that sexist thing of, men are incompetent parents, let’s forcibly take over!) I reported this as harassment, but have no faith she’ll ever change (and she’ll definitely not be leaving the space). Help, what do? I’d really hate to have to walk away from the community space: my family and I could get so much good stuff out of it (and give loads back.) So:
How can I even show my face back there again after reporting a volunteer for harassment (who won’t change)? There’s something in this about the mortifying idea of being known: I made it clear that something that hurt me, and that I needed things to change for me to be able to use a service safely, and I know things won’t change: all of that makes me feel so naive and foolish, like it would have been better to swallow it than to make a fuss?
How do I talk myself down at events there and stop feeling as though I’m going to be pounced on any second?
When she does show up and grab at the babies or their milk, how can I defend them? (She’s already shown that she’ll ignore a loud, clear “please give them space!” from me.)
Thanks so much for all you do!
Twin Mom On Display (she/her, I’m a thirtysomething lady)
I need you and your partner to repeat after me:
“Fuck this pushy asshole and her feelings.”
Say it three times. Now louder. Now again, louder.
You’re allowed to set limits on who is allowed to touch and interact with your babies. You don’t have to take care of people’s feelings more than you take care of your babies. You and your partner didn’t do anything to be embarrassed about, though I understand why you are worried that you’re overreacting. It certainly is to the advantage of people like this lady if you decide that you were overreacting, it would be very convenient for her if you accepted your role as The Person Who Is Overreacting.
I think you were just reacting. How many times have you politely said “Oh thanks but we’ve got it” or “Oh, no, I’ll take care of it” and issued other deflections whenever this person is around and had it ignored? She took your baby’s bottle away, snatching it out of your partner’s hands. No. Fuck that. You’ve tried being polite, you’ve tried being less polite and louder, and it was still ignored. You wanted to be nice to the sweet old lady who loves babies, but something is off here and you know it, so you took action. This is part of your job as a parent.
Say for a second you did overreact. Okay? She can “mean well” or “just want to help” and you can still not want her around your family from now on or be interested in giving her more chances. I’d be very surprised if the community didn’t have volunteer guidelines, training, and policies for keeping kids safe and handling complaints from concerned parents. I would also bet you are not the first person to ever say something about this specific person hovering too much, so be easy in your mind! Reporting this volunteer was the right thing to do even if this lady didn’t mean any harm (she probably didn’t!). People who want to work around small children and their parents need to understand and respect limits, they need to be ready to hit the reset button a lot and not take things personally, and they need to understand that if 999 parents are happy with whatever their personal style for offering help is and one is not, when that one comes in, it’s time to steer clear.
When you go back (you are 100% allowed to go back) if this volunteer happens to be on shift, the right thing for her to do is is to keep her distance, and if it’s necessary for a staff member to get you signed in and situated, she should call another volunteer or staffer over to work with you. She might be incredibly passive-aggressive about it, so let her pout and go very slow and sigh and use all the tactics in her Sweet Inoffensive Little Old Lady toolbag, in fact, insist on waiting for the other staff member for as long as it takes, don’t let her “handle” whatever it is “real quick.” If she approaches you and tries to engage with you at all, she’s almost certainly in violation of what she’s been instructed to do by the management.
There is a face-saving outcome here where she shows she is a person who can respect boundaries by respecting boundaries and no further explanation is necessary. If she doesn’t take this option and things get weirder, that’s a choice she’s making. You were still within bounds to bring her behavior to the attention of the organization and to ask for it to stop when your attempts to address it informally were ignored. And that’s the script I’d use if she or any other staffer or volunteer gets weird about it.
First, do not apologize for reporting her and in no way deny it if she asks if you were the people who did so. Do not flinch. Re-affirm it. “Oh yes, that was me. We’d like you to stop hovering, touching, and grabbing at the babies and their things and generally keep your distance from our family, hopefully the [center management] made that clear and we won’t have any more problems. Have a good day!” (+ WALK AWAY.)
She knows what she did wrong and she’s probably very embarrassed. And now it’s in writing, her supervisor can handle it, and you shouldn’t have to manage her feelings or explain it further. She stays away from you? Everything’s cool. She doesn’t? Y’all have a PROBLEM.
What I’d be bracing for in your shoes is an attempt to apologize (bonus points if it’s a very tearful one) as a strategy to get you to back down (and let her be close to your kids again). Think: mentioning how long she’s been working with kids, how much all the other parents and kids love her, what a loving heart she has, how she just can’t resist babies and got a little too enthusiastic, won’t you please give her another chance?
What you need to do in response if that happens is accept the apology (or appear to) but not back down about not wanting her anywhere near your family. “I appreciate the apology, I know you love kids and probably meant no harm, but you’ve made both me and my partner very uncomfortable a few times and we’d still prefer that you leave us alone when we come to [space]. Thank you for understanding, hopefully we can all move on from this and enjoy the summer!”
You can adapt that if other parents or people in the space try to pressure you or make her case for her, too. “I’m sure [Pushy Lady] is a dedicated volunteer who just got a little too enthusiastic, but we’ve tried multiple times to fix this informally and get her to give our family space, we hated to have to escalate this way but nothing else was getting through, especially *****after she interfered with feeding by snatching a bottle out of the baby’s mouth and my partner’s hands.**** Hopefully it’s nothing, but we really freaked out when she did that. As long as she keeps her distance from us, everything should be fine, thanks for your help/understanding!”
Hopefully a weird apology that’s an attempt to get around your boundaries is the worst thing you have to deal with. Going forward you have “We talked about this” and “Do I have to make another report, ’cause I will” on your side as “gentle reminders” about where your boundaries live, and Making a Goddamn Giant Screaming Scene if less gentle reminders are needed. Please don’t feel like you have to give up this valuable community resource or slink around like you did something wrong. I don’t care how “sweet” or “nice” or “well-meaning” someone is, if they pretend not to hear the word “no” when it gets in the way of what they want, they’re in the wrong and need to be held accountable.
No comments on this one. Letter Writer, hold fast! You did the right thing.
****Name the behavior, always name the behavior, don’t euphemize, tell people exactly what she did that upset you. She grabbed your baby’s bottle away (I had previously misread this as trying to grab the baby, apologies). That’s fucked up and you don’t have to worry about the feelings of people who do things like that.