Like the so-called “mommy wars” between working moms and stay-at-home moms, there’s another battle reportedly going on between working parents and their “childfree” colleagues. I put “childfree” in quotes because it’s a newly coined word — a more positive spin on “childless” or “non-parents.”
I’m not sure if this war is anything new since it seems as if the issue is raised every couple of years or so with “childfree” workers complaining that they have to pick up the slack for working parents who cut out early and make excuses.
“[I]t’s often the childfree employees who pick up the slack because of a co-worker’s flexible schedule, holiday plans, or maternity leave,” writes Katherine Reynolds Lewis in The Fiscal Times.
This seems to be a gross generalization. The working parents I know bring work home or come into the office early to make up for times that they leave work to attend a parent-teacher conference. But the childfree are pissed off about what they see as unfair treatment.
“You can work all the holidays, you can take the weekend trips, you can work late when your colleagues have to run home for the soccer practice or the recital,” said Laura S. Scott, author of “Two Is Enough” and founder of The Childless by Choice Project. “There’s an assumption that the childfree don’t have lives outside of work. There needs to be an acknowledgement that all employees, whether they have children or not, need work-life balance.”
The whole debate strikes me as petty. Of course, ideally, we’d all have flexible jobs and employers would understand that everyone (not just parents) need a work-life balance. But the reality is that raising and educating children benefits society. As Claudia Mills, a philosophy professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder points out, children are going to be the workers of the future. So it makes sense that workplaces favor families (and let’s be real – most workplaces aren’t that family-friendly!)
My Strollerderby colleague Robin Aronson finds the whole issue “bitter and vindictive and facile.” She recalls that she once got into a debate with a friend who doesn’t have children about how graduate students without kids shouldn’t have to subsidize the insurance of grad students with kids.
“I had to point out to her that in fact most pediatric care is preventative, and much less expensive than care associated with, say, being overweight or smoking,” said Aronson who wonders “is it so hard to help someone else out?” Also, the Family Medical Leave Act allows for any person with a family need, not just maternity leave, to take 12 weeks unpaid leave.
To me, the larger issue is the backlash against kids and parents with childfree folks demanding child-free plane compartments. Yes, to be sure, some parents use their kids as an excuse to shirk work responsibilities. But then, some “childfree” folks cut out early for other reasons or call in sick because they stayed out too late partying.
And what about the worker who leaves early to take care of elderly parents or has to go to doctor’s visits to treat her diabetes? Are they taking advantage of their fellow workers too? I’m all for an open conversation about these issues — as long as it doesn’t rely on finger pointing and generalizations.
What do you think?
flickr/Jeremy St. Martin