When Your Colleague Offers Your Firstborn to Sweeten the Deal

Reader N wrote in with an interesting problem: her colleague offered to throw in her firstborn to sweeten the deal. HiLARIOUS, right? Here’s her question:

Here’s an interesting dilemma, recently a senior male colleague and a new client were haggling over price when my colleague said jokingly, “to sweeten the deal we will throw in [my name]’s first born” (I am in my 20s and have no kids), they all laughed. It has since become a running joke, to refer to my first born in all pricing discussions with this client. I feel uncomfortable whenever it happens, but don’t want to seem high-maintenance. Should I raise it with my colleague?


YEOUCH. What in the… We’ve talked before about how to deal when you work with sexist pigs  and how to deal with sexist jokes from offensive clients, which may or may not be appropriate reads for you if circumstances warrant. I think it’s entirely possible here that he doesn’t mean anything by it (it can always be worse!), and that this is just a Case of the Clueless Dude, promoting the patriarchy unwittingly. I think your feelings are legitimate, though, and I do think you should shut it down. Gently, maybe, but firmly. You are not, after all, the maiden or victim in some fairytale story, and that is kind of the worst thing to me here — it calls up all those old ideas of gender roles. (In fact this is kind of unflattering to all parties here – if the client is an older woman is he saying, you remind me of a fairytale witch? If an older man, a troll under a bridge or firebreathing dragon?) Nope. The next time he brings it up I’d take him aside after the call, privately, and suggest it’s time to move on from that particular running joke. You could be even more direct and, ahead of the next client call, let him know that you’re no longer amused at the trope and everyone should move on. (Or: you could just get a mug like the one pictured! It’s available at Etsy for $15 (affiliate link).) I suppose you could take a jokey turn and address it yourself during the next time he (or the client) brings it up — alas, that’s no longer on the table! I committed my firstborn myself when I made a deal with that genie for complete and total power, sorry! But being direct with him is probably the best thing here.

(As a side note, I must say whenever I hear this kind of thing I think, GAH, who wants a baby to settle a debt, and go on a Seinfeld-ian rant in my head about how impractical the payment of a baby is. Like, have they seen babies? Do they know how fussy they are? And YOU try dealing with the hassle of hiring an appropriate caregiver…)

Readers, take it away — how would you deal with this senior colleague? If someone offered to sweeten the deal with YOUR firstborn, would you be uncomfortable? How would you deal?
Pictured at top (affiliate link).


  1. Lana Del Raygun :


  2. Anonymous :


  3. Anon in NYC :

    Honestly, I would not say a word in this situation. Fake a chuckle and move on.

    I don’t personally read that much into this joke, and for me, I don’t really think the upside would outweigh the strained relationship with a senior colleague and a client.

    • Anonymous :

      If I said anything, I would play along and say something to the effect of, “And to make it even sweeter, we’ll throw in [Colleague’s], too!” If they’re weirded out by it, they’ll stop. Or maybe it will become a running joke with more folks involved than just you (misery loves company). But, honestly, I’d probably just let it go.

      • Yeah, I think I’d just propose adding in other people’s firstborns. Even (or maybe especially) if the colleague has kids.

    • Anonymous :

      I agree. I don’t think this is sexist. A man’s first-born child can be pledged just as easily as a woman’s. I think you should just be a good sport about it, unfortunately. You could, laughingly, say something like, “aren’t you tired of that joke?” But it would have to be the perfect moment so you don’t seem high-maintenance.

  4. Anonymous :

    “Dude, it’s not funny anymore. Let it go.” Rinse, repeat. Move on.

  5. Rant/looking for sympathy :

    Ugh today is just a high anxiety day

    And my anxiety doesn’t manifest itself as anxiety – i just had a quarter life crisis about my career path on the train to work and now im irrationally angry and my coworkers inability to format an excel sheet.

    • We’re having major layoffs of people who didn’t have a clue that their jobs were on the chopping block. Things were so grim in the office that my colleague and I took a mallet and started tearing apart shelving on another floor (that we’re giving away). Physical work and whacking metal with a mallet helped calm us down.

  6. Anonymous :

    “This joke is getting stale, how about someone else’s first born from now on?”

  7. Spinning Plates :

    I must be a real bro-white-male at heart because I don’t get why you’d be offended by this joke?
    … and I actually find it pretty funny as a running joke . And I don’t find it gendered or sexist.

    I mean, you don’t really believe they’re going to use your baby as settlement?

    • I don’t think its sexist but I think it gets old fast

    • Anonymous :

      I think it’s pretty sexist to assume women will have children. If she was had a kid, then I guess I can see it as a joke but I agree with Abby that it would get old fast. But since she doesn’t even have kids, it’s seems weird and gendered to assume that she will.

    • Anonymous :

      It stops being funny after the first couple times. And it’s weird to even jokingly talk about a coworker’s reproductive plans.

  8. If I don’t want to be high-maintenance about a dumb joke, I just combat lame humor with equally lame humor. Nothing kills a bad joke like a worse one. For example, when the joke is made: “Are you sure that sweetens the deal? You’d have to change its diapers and put it through college!”

    As for the “joke” itself, I wouldn’t be offended by it, but I’m not you. If you don’t like the joke you don’t like it. You don’t have to. I agree it’s not really that funny, but I don’t see this one as sexist, personally.

  9. AnonLawyer :

    The boundary of “say something or don’t” is very personal and I can see where this remark would start to grate after awhile with even the most tolerant women. I do think it is sexist. And if it makes Reader N uncomfortable, she should not “just let it go” with a chuckle. Especially once you factor in tone and delivery, as well as the fact that it is said to CLIENTS. That is a big deal to me – say what you will around coworkers, but professionalism is a must around clients. As a young woman in a male-dominated field (law/litigation) I was very conscious of being disrespected or belittled and guarded my reputation and the perception clients had of me very, very closely.

    It’s also very much a “know your office” and “know your colleague” kind of thing. The trick for me has always been to confidently address it, without insecurity or defensiveness. Then immediately move on to a different subject and never dwell on it, unless the behavior continues, because awkwardness is what will bring out anger or defensiveness in the person making the joke. Firm, yet kind insistence on professionalism has yet to go awry for me.

    • Anonymous :

      Yes, outside the office is a different story. We had a coworker who, at business lunches, would ask everyone to join him in prayer. No one ever said anything. And we had a variety of international clients.

  10. I would not say anything. It is a harmless (not funny) joke. If there were some true underlying discrimination involved such as a racist or sexist joke then speak out. If it is really just personal taste of humor….Let it go.

  11. There’s nothing remotely sexist about this joke. It’s just a tired old joke that has been around for years and has been applied to men and women. It means nothing and it deserves nothing more than a mental eyeroll, fake chuckle, and moving on.

  12. I have myself a very incisive sense of humor, and I do not tolerate to be disminuished. I would have replied with a joke like: I would love to have a free babysitter when I get my first born, given all the time I need to put in this deal! I guess it will compensate for all the overtime I am asked to put in it.

  13. I would be tempted to say in a tragic voice “Actually, I’m infertile,” and scare them/let them sweat a bit before telling them that I’m kidding. Just to remind them why it might not be a good thing to joke about.

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