Thursday, October 8, 2009

No kids? No problem!

The Wall Street Journal is not somewhere you'd expect to find articles on parenting, but they actually have a blog called "The Juggle" that brings up some interesting work and family-related issues.

Yesterday's column posed the question: "Has the workplace become so pro-family that if you don’t have a child, you have to make one up in order to get fair treatment?" For those who say "yes," there is, apparently, a solution of sorts: The Office Kid. "With one simple kit, you can do as your coworkers with children do -- make excuses, miss work and blame it all on your kid," the site says. The kit includes a framed snapshot of a child and a childish drawing to display in your cubicle. (!)

I've blogged about being childless/free in the workplace before. I guess I'm fortunate that I've never really felt taken advantage of at work because of my childless status. (Of course, until just a few years ago, few of my immediate coworkers had young children.) I'm willing to cut my co-workers some slack for whatever reason, so long as they don't abuse it, & I expect they would do the same for me, kids or not.

Also, I've never been one to hang around the office at the best of times. As a couple of the commenters said, you have to manage people's expectations. Maybe I'm foolish -- and I'm not particularly ambitious -- but I'm just not into accumulating face time to score brownie points with the boss. I'm already away from home 11 hours a day, including the commute -- and after a certain point in rush hour, the trains only run once an hour. That's a long enough day, in my opinion. I don't mind picking up slack for sick or overly busy coworkers occasionally, and I will stay late (or take work home) if it's necessary -- but most days, when the clock strikes 4:30, I'm outta there. I may not have kids, but I have a life too. (At least I think I do, lol.)

But I do know this is an issue for many childless/free people.

One anonymous commenter (who apparently can't spell) had this to say:
"Why do you fell this way, having kids DOES entitle one to flexibility, if you are jealous of you co workers having flexibilty because of kids, simple fix is to have your own kids, then you can actually contribute to soceity instead of wishing for what others have. Grow up"

I felt like cheering when, a few comments down, I read this:
"I most likely can’t–and many others can’t either. Thanks for providing such a “simple,” empathetic, and well-thought out solution, those struggling with fertility (and those, like me, who have come to terms with being childless) certainly thank you. Wow. I’m able to manage my situation quite well, but I am a manager. Others aren’t so fortunate. Since being a mom doesn’t appear to be in the cards for me, I’ve developed a full life outside of work that should command just as much respect as those who have children."

Whoever you are, thank you!!


  1. Gah. The misunderstandings amongst humans continues. Can't we all just get along? :-) I have had to "get over" the fact that many around me have children easily (and often complain about their responsibilities) -- I feel true empathy towards them for the fact that raising kids is tough, and demands effort, so I'm willing to pitch in to help as needed. All I ask for in return is mutual respect for the fact that my life is busy and challenging too, despite the fact that I can't have children of my own (even though I very much wanted to). Everyone's life is full -- with or without kids, a job, a home, a spouse, an illness, etc etc. If we could extend a hand more & point a finger less the world would be a better place, in my humble opinion. But no one asked me ;-)

    You always find good articles! Thank you!!!!

  2. Why am I not surprised that people have to make up kids to feel part of the pack. Such a bizarre world we live in, isn't it?

  3. I'm guessing that first person is really young and has not faced any life altering challenges yet. Hopefully when she does she'll learn about empathy.

  4. High five to whoever you are too !

    When I was working,I oftened got sucked into staying late or picking up the slack because someone had to go home to their family. Eventually, I got so pissed at this, that I just started leaving when I suppose to. I have a family husband !

  5. It's been a few years since I left full-time work to freelance, but it's always interesting to read about how having, or not having, children affects the workplace. My former company was mostly women, as is typical of publishing, and we had flex time and worked mostly independently; our teams were loose structures. I never was asked to pick up the work of a parent who had to cut out early, although work was juggled for chronic illnesses and maternity leave. I have heard that law and finance careers are very different.

  6. Wow. That first comment would have pissed me off.

    I have no problem with covering for co-workers, as long as it isn't abused. And unfortunately, in every situation I've been in, it has been abused. Promotions and raises are given to people with kids because they need it worse than I do, even though I work harder than they do, longer hours, less flexibility, etc. And yes, in the case of a co-worker who was the sole breadwinner for his young family, I understand that he needs the money worse than I do. But when the system is set up for MERIT raises, and I get shafted because co-worker has a kid and I don't, I get pretty mad, esp. as I've been covering his a$$ for months and months and months. Not cool.

    And unfortunately, what I've discovered is that it's not just cutting slack because of family situations, it's also a camaraderie among people of similar life stations. In my old job, both my boss and my nearest co-worker were single parents, and so, co-worker could get away with ANYTHING as long as she said that it was some issue having to do with her kids, which, 90% of the time it wasn't. And boss just turned her eye when abuses were pointed out. BUT, when I had something important going on for me (in my case, playing in a quartet with some students), I was berated for asking if I could count on leaving reliably at the same time on one certain day of the week (which happened to be 30 minutes after I was scheduled to be there, so asking 'hey, on Fridays, I'll only be able to stay half an hour late so that I can make this appointment that I have. Is that okay?" and being told that it ISN'T okay. Suck, suck, suck.

    So yeah. I get that families and kids require workplace flexibility, but I am so not okay with any situation when it leaves me shafted, when treatment is blatantly unfair.

    Which is why I no longer work outside the home, because I cannot handle corporate nonsense like this. I'm just not well suited to bureaucracy.

  7. It really took me aback a bit when I was interviewing for my current job and I was asked about flexibility in my schedule (I am not asked to work more than 40 hrs/wk, but those hrs may come in a varied schedule, depending on the week). My knee-jerk was to say, yes, I'm flexible, and then later, I realized, I really AM--no husband (now), no babies or the possibility even in sight. It was a strange moment for me, but nice, in a way.

    Somehow, your post here reminded me of that. I spent the last few years being married, hoping for children. Now I'm "just" single. Things have come up a couple of times in trainings, etc, about expectations for workers with "families" (that means kids--though I guess partners can fit. Cute dogs, probably not.). I am getting used to being in a different category, now. Happily single, no kids.

  8. Sometimes I wish I were a brain surgeon, cause then maybe people might actually believe I'm busy with my life. That I too have a noble purpose in life. Even if my own life, I feel like my husband would respect me more if I was a mother.

  9. Amen. If our personal lives consist of "family" in the 2.5 kids and a dog sense, we are lauded for valuing it. If it doesn't consist of 2.5 -- even if we want it too -- all personal lives are somehow less important. Why?

    It's a question I try to teach my students, but one I have to practice myself. Why are the lives of those without children less important than those with children? What does family mean? What is it about having children that makes a family a family?

    Sorry, rambling/ranting.

    Thank you for posting these articles. I find them thought-provoking, if not infuriating (the comments, at least).

  10. The mind simply reels.

    The thought of using my kids as a trump card never occurred to me. So stereotypical. I would also never use them as an excuse for not doing my job while still expecting to be "employed". To me though - that is just common sense and common decency!