Sip On This

Sometimes “Helping” Can Really Hurt


When you resent someone for having to take on their work, but don’t tell them, who suffers most? And is it possible to forgive your parents for obsessing over your weight?



Dear Ashley,

I love my co-workers so much, which I know is a rare gift. Seriously, I have never worked any place where I genuinely enjoy the company of my colleagues both at work and when we socialize. We’ve actually all become great friends. Which is what makes the problem I’m having with one of them incredibly awkward. This woman has a critical job to the function of my team, and if she slacks on her work, I end up having to pick up the pieces. Ashley, she’s been slacking—a lot. This isn’t just a few missed deadlines; she simply isn’t doing her work. It’s gotten to the point where I anticipate needing to cover for her before she’s even been given her next assignment, and it’s creating an impossible workload for me, a tense working relationship between the two of us, and making our small team struggle in ways that we can’t afford. How do I tell her about her lack of focus and follow-through? Or should I go straight to our supervisor? And how do I do this without ruining our friendship?

Sincerely,
Sick of Doing Everyone Else’s Job

Dear Sick,

Congrats on having an awesome job full of great co-workers! That is rare and precious and you’re right to want to maintain the fun and the friendships. It’s just way cooler to work with people you also consider friends. But you guys are co-workers and that means you need to co-work. Not you work, and she watches you work. That doesn’t… work. So you should definitely speak up. And probably sooner rather than later, because the longer you wait and the more resentful you become, the more likely you are to say it in a less friendly way. Or maybe that’s just me.

So the way I see it there are three options here. And only you know what will work best for your particular work situation. Generally, I would start with going to the supervisor first because it isn’t your job to supervise your coworkers. And if you’re doing extra work outside of your job description, that is something your supervisor should be aware of and address for you in some way. I understand that you might not want to rat on your friend, but it’s also not your job to critique her job performance directly. If you talk to your supervisor, you can address the problem that YOU are having which is that you currently have more work than you can handle. It’s up to your supervisor to figure out how to solve that problem, and they have more resources at their disposal to figure out how to do that than you do.

I understand why you would want to talk to your friend first. It shows respect for her and the friendship, and there’s always a chance that she’s going through something personally that is leading to her difficulty getting work done that you can talk about as friends. But depending on her personality, and the nature of your relationship, she might be offended that her peer is critiquing her work. There are pros and cons to each approach! I actually don’t think you should talk to her first, but if you do, I would suggest focusing on articulating the problem that you are having rather than critiquing her or assigning blame or reasons for her behavior. Something like “Hey, I’m having a hard time at work lately because in addition to my assigned work I’ve also had to (insert specific job duties you took over for her very recently) it’s been happening often enough that it is starting to overwhelm me. I’m usually the one who ends up picking up the slack for you and it’s become more than I can handle.” Or something like that.

Now you’re thinking, ok that was two options why did you say there are three? The third option is the pettiest (and I live for petty) but… what would happen if you just stopped doing her work? You say in your letter that you “have” to pick up the pieces, and that you “anticipate” needing to do her work ahead of time when it’s first assigned to her. That sounds super stressful, and also like something you’re putting on yourself. I notice that you didn’t write “when she slacks off my boss MAKES me pick up her slack.” Whatever you decide to do, don’t lose sight that you have chosen to take on the extra work. Your friend isn’t making you do more work by slacking, she’s simply slacking. It sounds like you’re super dedicated to your job and really want things to go well which is great! But it’s also worth asking yourself why, if you’re on such a great and supportive team, this became something that you felt like you had to take on all on your own. You might learn something new about yourself! If you just stop doing it, your supervisor would probably notice, or other teammates would spread around picking up the slack, or something might get delivered to a client late and your coworker would actually get to see the consequences of her slacktions. Yes, it’s the passive-aggressive approach and I can tell from your letter that you are too good a person to take it, but I would be remiss if I didn’t offer you the pettiest option available.

Good luck!
Ashley

Dear Ashley,

How do I get my parents to lay off me about my weight? To back up, I’ve gained weight in the last few years. I work full time, I’m in grad school part-time, I’m in a serious relationship, and I’m entering my late 20s, so yes I am fatter now than when I was 22. I hate that I even have to give reasons to why I’ve gained weight.

My parents interpret my weight gain by assuming that something else is going on—that I’m depressed, that I have a thyroid issue, that I’m an alcoholic or a drug addict, the list goes on and on. And then they try to come up with all these solutions to “help me.” My dad has basically tried to become my long-distance fitness coach which I will absolutely not have. I’ve explained to them that, while yes it would be nice to have more time to exercise (or more time in general), I am not ashamed by my size or the way I look. But in their eyes, I should be ashamed. It’s placed a huge strain on our relationship. Every time I go home now, or they come to visit, my weight “issue” is brought up and discussed at length. It is so draining. I’ve told them repeatedly in every way I know how that this is not helpful and just leaves me feeling bad about myself (and it certainly hasn’t made me lose any weight). I know they think they are coming from a place of care but all it does is make me want to avoid them. It’s starting to feel like the only way I can have a good relationship with my parents is if I’m skinny and I really hate that. What else can I do?

Sincerely,
Chubby and Tired of Explaining

Dear Tired,

You’ve come to the right place! First of all, I am so very sorry that this is happening to you. It SUCKS. No one should have to feel this way anywhere, but especially not with their own family members. And thank you for writing about it publicly, because someone is reading this right now who has done this “out of love” to one of their loved ones and they need to know to STOP IT. STOP IT RIGHT THE FUCK NOW! So in reaching out for help, you are also helping other people who were unaware of how much they are hurting their loved ones. You’re so kind!

It doesn’t sound like you have any doubt, but in case there’s any tiny voice in your head that needs to hear it: You are perfect and worthy of love and respect exactly the way you are and at any size. You are the authority on your body, no one else. You are capable of being in charge of your own health and anyone who isn’t a degreed doctor specifically hired for the purpose of helping you take care of your body can shut right the fuck up about it. Size is not indicative of health (or addiction status, I have to admit I thought I’d heard it all, but that’s a new one!), and no one who doesn’t have a medical degree is qualified to determine how healthy you are.

I’m not sure why so many parents seem unaware that things like mirrors and fashion magazines and televisions and Instagram exist, and that having eye balls and the ability to interpret cultural messages, most people already know that our culture prefers smaller bodies over larger ones without anyone having to tell us. No one NEEDS to be told this. Everyone already has this information. It’s as useless as haranguing you every Thanksgiving about how the sky is blue. Maybe you can just yell “YOU’RE SO BORING AND BASIC!” every time your parents bring it up?

But seriously, they say they are doing this because they care about you but there is no evidence that being harassed about your weight helps you lose weight. In fact, there is some evidence that the stress of dealing with harassment can lead to weight gain. Also, it sounds like your life is pretty fucking rad. You’re working full-time, and in grad school, and in a serious relationship?! And you’re still only in your twenties?! You’re killing it! I’ve never done all three of those things at the same time! That means that your body is supporting you through what I imagine is a pretty busy schedule just fine, and that your parents are ignoring a lot of awesome aspects of your life to focus on this one thing that is none of their business.

Normally, I would advise sitting your parents down, asking them to let you speak without interruption, and really telling them how much this behavior hurts you. Make a plan to do it, don’t wait to do it in response to a comment. Don’t sugar coat it. They are hurting your feelings, it doesn’t help you in any way, and that it actually hurts you so much it makes you want to avoid them. I think most parents, if they heard their child was so hurt they wanted to avoid them, would quickly become interested in changing their behavior. I would put the focus on two things: they are not helping you, and they are in fact hurting you.

But I said normally I would advise that. It sounds like you’ve already done that and it’s time to take it to the next step. I like to call it “the last conversation.” It’s for when you’ve had a conversation several times, and it hasn’t been working. This one you might even want to write down and practice beforehand to make sure you’ve said everything that needs saying without getting too emotional. I’d sit my folks down, and let them know that I would like this to be the last conversation we have on this topic. “We’ve talked about this several times in the past, and it seems like you guys aren’t hearing me. So I need you to really hear me this time, because this is the last time we are going to be having this conversation.” Then I would calmly lay out everything you’ve told them before: how this hurts you, how many times you have told them they’re hurting you without them changing the behavior, how it makes you feel to have asked your family to stop hurting you and to have that request ignored, and yes, how it makes you want to avoid them. And then let them know what your action will be if they don’t stop. And only you know what that is, but it might be that you leave the room every time they bring up your weight, or that you stop visiting as often, or that you stop visiting at all. Depends on how close to the end of your rope you are. The important thing is that you communicate the seriousness of the issue, and that you set your boundaries clearly. You can’t force them to do anything, but you can clearly let them know how their actions affect you and how you will be protecting yourself in the future if they can’t stop.

Good luck! I hope sticking up for yourself feels good.
Ashley

P.S. I know someone is reading this right now thinking, “I can’t believe Ashley is advising someone not be grateful to her parents for doing their parenting job by telling her she is fat” and to that person I’d like to just reiterate: ALL FAT PEOPLE ALREADY KNOW THEY’RE FAT. NO ONE NEEDS TO TELL THEM. THAT IS NOT YOUR JOB. THEY ALSO ALREADY KNOW THAT DIET AND EXERCISE MAY HELP. THERE ARE TEN HUNDRED THOUSAND MILLION BOOKS AND TV SHOWS AND WEBSITES ABOUT DIETING AND EXERCISING. THERE IS LITERALLY NO INFORMATION YOU CAN GIVE A FAT PERSON THAT THEY AREN’T CAPABLE OF FINDING THEMSELVES. MIND YOUR OWN FUCKING BUSINESS. IF IT’S BEEN 18 YEARS OR MORE SINCE YOU PUSHED THAT PERSON OUT OF YOUR VAGINA, IT’S NOT YOUR JOB ANYMORE TO POLICE THEIR BODY.

Wait, Keep Sipping! Don’t miss the Sip On This Podcast with Ashley. Catch up on previous episodes and subscribe at Apple, Sticher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. If you have a question for Ashley, write to her via [email protected]

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