Don’t Have Kids? Help Out Those Who Do
Frustration from the childless over having to pick up the slack for their co-workers with kids is the latest twist in the on-going…
Frustration from the childless over having to pick up the slack for their co-workers with kids is the latest twist in the on-going discussion about how best to combine work with family life. Marie Claire published a piece by Ayana Byrd about how those without kids feel that their colleagues with children receive more flexibility at work, leaving the childless with little work-life balance of their own.
I can certainly imagine how much it must stink to get stuck at work now and then while, night after night, your colleagues with kids get to dart out at six o’clock on the dot, and occasionally even earlier in the case of a stuffy nose or a dance recital. (If it is more than once in awhile, then that is ethically wrong, and possibly illegal. Federal Equal Employment Opportunity laws require that benefits given to one employee, like occasionally leaving the office early, must be available to all.)
But, all you childless out there, are you really so sure that our kids should never be your problem?
The most obvious reason as to why you shouldn’t complain about picking up working parents’ slack now and then is that you might have kids one day and, well, karma. While this is good, practical advice, this explanation taps into our societally-groomed instincts for self-preservation and self-advancement, qualities that, ultimately, do not a truly family-friendly society make.
The real reason why you should help a parent out is because, as Whitney Houston put it best, our children are our future. Raising well-adjusted kids doesn’t just benefit parents; it benefits us all. Children raised with security and love make better adults, and better adults make a better world in twenty-some years. A mom cheering on her child during a soccer game, or a dad soothing his sick infant can have a deep impact on how confident and well-adjusted that child is in years to come.
Unfortunately, the attitude that we should not feel responsible for one another’s children runs much deeper than a few frustrated colleagues in the United States. I hate how many times I have written this fact — but until things change it bears repeating: The U.S. is one of three countries in the world without mandatory paid parental leave policies and falls short when it comes to affordable and reliable childcare as well. When MSNBC host Melissa Harris Perry made what she thought was an “uncontroversial” call for a more communal approach towards raising our children, she incited outrage among conservatives.
The problem is that parenting in America is seen as something to be done in our private time, by ourselves. When parents make any demands otherwise, they are seen as selfish and difficult. Sure, there is a certain type of indulgent parenting played up in the media, best embodied by the fictitious Pinterest-dwelling child Quinoa, or the infamous helicopter parents, but most parents don’t have the money or time to hover quite that closely. We just want our kids to feel safe and loved, which is, in itself, hard enough without any communal or governmental support.
I see this whole “people with children are from Mars and people without children are from Venus” attitude all the time. There are the more subtle signs, like the bitter side-glances we get when trying to eat out at our favorite restaurants with our infant. Friends of mine recently visited Portugal and were pleasantly surprised by the warm welcome their baby received in restaurants, bars, and more. I've witnessed a similar open attitude towards kids among my Israeli friends, which I wrote about here. Indeed, researchers have found, as Nina Willis Aronowitz pointed out in the American Prospect, “that Americans segregate our kids from larger society, not receiving much assistance from the community, more than pretty much everywhere else in the world.”
And then there are the more glaring signs, like, for instance, the relatively little energy the women’s movement has put into parental leave and government-subsidized childcare as compared to reproductive rights. It’s as if everyone is telling us,from the left, right and center,“Mom and dad, you are on your own.”
So, all you overworked, put-upon, childless colleagues out there, I urge you to put your energy into fighting that “time macho” culture that is unhealthy for everyone, and often impossible for parents, instead of resenting working parents or barely existent family-friendly policies. Because, as things stand now, we really could use a hand.