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I went on maternity leave for 3 months with my first baby. I know I'm entitled to a year off but at only 50% of your pay with no top-ups and being the breadwinner makes that an impossible dream. I came back exactly when I said I would and while they were glad I came back (lightened their workload) I had to deal with all kinds of assumptions and stereotypes.

They asked nosy questions about my childcare options (assumed the childcare was 100% on me and not on my husband too) and thought I should be at home with the baby instead of working. While I'd love to stay home with the baby, I make more money than my husband does right now so I need to work to pay bills! They also made massive assumptions such as: my husband works a 9-5 same as me(there are other jobs in the world), we own a house (nope -renters), my husband wouldn't want to look after baby (he loves being home with her), we own a car (nope), we've been married and settled for years (nope just 2), and they talk to me like I'm 45 or something (I'm 26!). The act a little awkward around me and I've been branded MOMMY. Some are even nervous. I find this all very annoying.

They followed the laws surrounding maternity leave and didn't do anything illegal so I can't do anything. How can I put an end to the awkward and invasive questions/comments?

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    Hi and welcome to The Workplace. I'm sorry your coworkers are being so annoying -- not what you need right now. :-( I've made some edits to your question to move it from "why do they do this?" (we can't really answer that; we'd just be guessing) to "how do I make it stop?", which I sense is your real question. Please feel free to edit further if I got anything wrong. – Monica Cellio Nov 23 '14 at 3:06
  • Sit down with your boss, and talk them through the problem. Curiosity is normal, and I can't tell from the text if it goes beyond normal or not. Your boss can. And if your boss is the one asking the uncomfortable questions, all the more reason to tell them. – Peter Nov 23 '14 at 13:59
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    If you're barking at them when they're trying to just express interest (and perhaps even support), I can't blame them for being nervous. "Never assume malice when stupidity is an adequate explanation." Either educate them, or simply say "Thanks for your interest and concern, but it's a bit distracting right now -- let's focus on the job, OK?" – keshlam Nov 23 '14 at 14:02
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You handle it by acknowledging the question, giving a minimal response, and then refocusing the conversation. For example:

Coworker: How can you be back already? Shouldn't you be home taking care of your baby?

You: Oh, we've got that covered. My husband is a great stay-at-home dad. Now about that design review, do you think you'll be able to have your part ready tomorrow?

(If the conversation is in a social context -- you weren't discussing work in the first place -- then you can refocus on something else instead. "So I hear you went white-water rafting last weekend; how was that?", etc.)

If the questions are really invasive and persistent, well beyond what most would consider the normal level of discussion around a new situation, then you can ask your manager for advice. I once had a coworker who had been out a lot for unspecified medical reasons, and I guess she got some nosy questions because eventually someone higher up the chain sent out a note saying "thanks for your concern but please respect her privacy; the people who need to be involved are". That took care of it.

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Sometimes people think they are friendly and caring by asking you these kind of questions. It seems that 2 things are bothering you:

  1. The way you think you are perceived
  2. The nosy questions

You can't win them both. If you'd like to change the way you are perceived you'll need to answer nosy questions.

Remember that you are not obliged to answer these questions as this is your personal life. People will understand if you give very little information. I've worked with people who are private about their families, it's not offensive and absolutely understood even if it's not explicitly said.

However, if you wish to fix #1 you'll have to give great detail about your husband, his work, his hours, how much he loves your daughter, etc. Think what's more important for you. You can't have them both.

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Nosy questions aren't a problem in themselves, only if you let them rattle you. Remember, you don't owe anyone an explanation for anything that's not work related. Some questions aren't even worthy of a response, but before you take that tack it may be worth probing to make sure you understood the motivation behind the question:

Them: Shouldn't you be at home taking care of the baby?

You: Why do you ask?

I would suggest you don't aim to change the way people perceive you and simply gently challenge nosy questions like this. When they come up with some weak justification, just say something like, "I have got everything under control, like a super-mom!" ;)

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