Category Archives: Childfree

Childfree in the workplace: the forgotten front of the Mommy Wars

“The Mommy Wars” are something that most adult women are, in some way, at least a little bit aware of. For most people, the issues that immediately spring to mind are things like working mothers vs. stay-at-home mothers, or the “right” way to parent with regards to things like what food you feed your kids or what schools they go to. There’s a whole other battle in the Mommy Wars, though, and that’s the one being fought by the Non-Mommies, and the front it’s being fought on is the workplace.

The issues that the childfree (those who have chosen not to have children) face in the workplace are often unexplored in an examination of the many facets of the Mommy Wars, but these issues exist, and they could use some discussion.

I work in an environment that skews fairly strongly “female,” and for the sake of this post, when I talk about “the workplace,” I’m referring to non-executive, primarily female-dominated fields, such as retail, customer service, education, and other fields where you find a majority of women in the workforce, and jobs that require “coverage,” or for someone to physically be present to do the job at specified times. I don’t have experience with the types of jobs where you can leave your work on your desk for the next day, so I can’t speak to the childfree experience in that type of environment.

In industries where working a specific shift is the norm, and where coverage is king, the childfree often find themselves holding the short straw when it comes to scheduling and job duties. Parents who work, I’m sure you’ve found yourself in the position of having to stay home from work with a sick child, or having to leave early because of an important parent-teacher conference, or coming in late because there was a delay in the drop-off line at school in the morning. I know that these are all common occurrences, and I know this because I’m the one who has to cover those times when the employee with kids isn’t at work.

The childfree are often the ones who are expected to work on holidays, weekends, and nights, because there’s a presumption that “no kids” equals “no life.” And if a childfree employee tries to get a workplace to adhere to a more fair way of assigning less-than-desirable shifts, such as seniority or alternating holidays, they’re accused of not being a team player. Need to leave two hours early because little Johnny has a school play that you simply can’t miss? Well, sure, that’s understandable. Until you ask the childfree employee who’s had to reschedule a doctor’s appointment for themselves three times because they can’t take the time off, and are expected to handle their personal business on their personal time. Someone called out sick? Well, jeez, call the employee without kids, because they have nothing else in their life but work, and it’s not fair to ask parents to do anything extra on what was supposed to be their time off.

I don’t blame parents for this unfair standard. I blame employers who allow it to happen; employers who have created an environment where parents have special rules and special exemptions and the childfree are expected to suck it up and deal. “Don’t like it? Get another job!” is the common response when these inequities are pointed out, but the economy hardly makes that feasible, and my experience has been that it’s the same in every workplace. Kids are a legitimate excuse for missing work, and employees without kids have to pick up the slack or be told they’re bad workers.

Is there a solution to this problem? Is there a way for the childfree not to feel resentment when they see parents being granted all sorts of lenience with scheduling? Is there any way that parents can maintain a work-life balance without their childfree coworkers being taken advantage of? Is there a way for the world at large to realize that “work-life balance” applies to everyone, not just parents? I hope so, but it needs to start with employers. Either all employees can come and go at will because of personal issues, or none can.

Shift work is tricky. You can’t always predict when your kid is going to get sick, or your babysitter falls through, or there’s a critically important soccer game that means you can’t work your scheduled shift on Saturday (well, actually, yeah, you can predict that last one), but having a job that requires you to bodily be there means you sometimes have to sacrifice things. But by the same token, it’s not feasible to say that parents maybe can’t do these sorts of jobs because of the predictable unpredictability of a parent’s schedule. Bills still need to get paid, and the job you can get is the job you take. Trust me, I get this. I may not have kids, but I sure as hell have bills. I’ve had to miss doctor’s appointments, funerals, holiday celebrations, and all sorts of things because I’m scheduled to work, and the expectation is that I’ll be there, working. And if I’m not, there are consequences. The trouble is, these consequences are not applied evenly to all employees, and that’s where the resentment comes from.

I don’t think there’s an easy answer. I think parents will always ask, “Well, what do you expect me to do? If my kid is home sick, I need to stay home, too,” and the childfree will always resent being the ones to pick up the slack when their coworkers are out for the sixth time this winter because the schools have yet another snow day. And employers are stuck between a rock and a hard place, too, because that parent is calling out, and now there’s no coverage, so, really, who is there left to ask? The manager? Sure, sometimes, but often those shifts overlap, so the manager is already working, and very few places can be run with only one employee at a time.

As a childfree employee, I guess the best I can ask for is to be afforded the same lenience that parents are. I want to have the option to come in two hours late because 9 a.m. on a Tuesday was the only time my doctor could see me, and I don’t want to be penalized for it if my coworker wasn’t penalized for showing up two hours late because there was a delayed opening at school. Or, conversely, I want parents to have to use their owed time (like vacation, sick time, and personal days, if such things exist in a particular workplace) for all of those various little forty-five minute, two hour, or full-shift spots, and if I don’t have an hour or two at a time deducted for kid-related reasons, well, then, I still get to use all of my paltry vacation time on a vacation, and maybe my coworker who’s a parent can’t, because they’ve used that time in other ways. I don’t know what the answer is, or if there’s any way to make employers realize that all employees have lives, and that extending special treatment to some employees and not to others creates conflict and resentment where none should exist.

(This post originally appeared in Persephone Magazine.)


I suck at being an adult, and I don’t care

As my 32nd birthday looms large on the horizon, this little voice that has taken up residence in my brain is starting to get louder. It’s always nagging me, asking me, “Why aren’t you a grown-up yet?” I hate that voice. I ignore it as much as possible. Mostly because I hate that there’s this one-size-fits-all set of preconceived notions about what an adult is: what you should have, what you should do, what you should be. And every time I realize that my life doesn’t match up to those notions, a little feeling of failure creeps in.

What I’m realizing more every year, and what I’m trying to remember so I can drown out that obnoxious little voice, is that there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all life. For every way I don’t feel like I’m a “real” grown-up, there are ten ways that I’m glad my life is exactly the way it is. I don’t own a house, sure, and that bums me out sometimes. But I see my friends who own houses, and it can consume their lives. Every weekend is a new household project. Taxes and insurance are outrageous. And while renting doesn’t build up any equity, there’s something to be said for realizing your boiler is broken, picking up the phone, saying, “The boiler’s broken,” and having someone else be responsible not only for getting it fixed, but for paying for it as well.

I’m married, which is pretty “grown-up,” but I don’t have kids, which sometimes makes other people see me as not a real adult. I won’t get into all of my reasons here, (mostly because I already have), but I see a bunch of positives with not having kids, where others see it as a giant negative. My Facebook feed is clogged with people lamenting not having quiet time, a parade of birthday parties and school functions, and assorted other complaints that come with the territory of having a child. For all of these people, it’s worth it. For me, it wouldn’t be. Being a childfree adult means I can nap at will, don’t have to provide a nutritionally balanced dinner, and can wander away for the weekend on a whim (well, as long as the dogs are taken care of). It’s all the best things you dreamed being an adult would mean, back when you were a kid: ice cream for breakfast, never getting out of your pajamas, and playing video games until 3 a.m. Sure, people with kids can certainly do these things, but not without a certain amount of effort. So +1 for being an adult my way, I suppose.

I don’t have a “real job.” This one bugs me the most often, I think. A “real job” being one that has prestige, pays outrageously well, and uses my expensive higher education in even some small way. Instead, I work in customer service, and have for the past 15 years. When I start getting depressed about my job, though, I remember a few things. Like, I can pay my bills. I have health insurance and a retirement plan. I have a schedule that I love and that allows me to work full-time in four days, instead of the standard five. I don’t take my job home with me. Sure, it stresses me out from time to time, but I don’t spend all my time at home checking emails and freaking out about work-related shit. I leave the job at the front door of work, and there’s something to be said for that. I’ll never be rolling around on giant stacks of cash strewn over my bed, but quite frankly, that’s horribly unsanitary, and I choose to believe that having a lot of money brings its own set of problems.

Everyone I talk to who is around my age has the same feelings every so often: that they aren’t doing something they’re supposed to; that something is missing; that they aren’t as adult as they should be. And if we all feel this way, how valid is it, really? Maybe this is the new way to be a grown-up: pick and choose the parts that you want in your life, and disregard the rest. Because, seriously, what good is it to be an adult if you aren’t having any fun?

I traded my biological clock for an Xbox: understanding the childfree

We’re going to start this one with a statement of fact: not everyone wants to have children. If this fact confuses you or causes you great moral outrage, proceed with caution. It’s only going to get bumpier from here. If you’re capable of processing that first fact, but are still kind of tilting your head, wondering if it’s really necessary to point out that very simple, basic notion, let me assure you: it is. I just want to make sure everyone’s clear on that before we go any deeper. Mostly because life experiences have taught me that way too many people have a notion in their head that having children is not a decision; it’s a predetermined fact. And for someone who has decided not to have children, that notion is equal parts infuriating and exasperating.

People who have decided not to have children call themselves a variety of things, but “childfree” and “childless-by-choice” are the two most common. Some don’t call themselves anything special, because they are optimistic enough to believe that making a personal decision like that doesn’t need to be given a name. Unfortunately, it sort of does. Because being a parent is seen as the default, and anything that is different from the default seems to need a name so people can process it better. If I have to use a name, I prefer “childfree,” because any version of “childless” implies that children are the desired result, and I am lacking in them. There’s also the fact that “childless” is often used to describe someone who is infertile, or who wants children and does not have them, for whatever reason. While the childfree may be infertile, it’s usually by choice.

When I was younger, I would have classified myself as “militantly childfree.” It was a defense mechanism, really, since at every turn, I was being told I was wrong and young and stupid and didn’t know my own mind. Being part of the over-30 set now has brought me a little bit of credibility, I guess, because while the questioning and the insulting still exist, they’re a lot less overt. So I’d say my current stance is more “gently childfree.” I don’t begrudge the people I know who are parents any happiness with their children, but it still doesn’t mean I want any of my own. And it really doesn’t mean I want to try to be convinced otherwise.

Childfree people get a lot of shit from other people about making this choice. You know, because other people totally have the right to pass judgment on what is, at its core, a very personal decision. Here’s some of the crap we hear:

-“You’ll change your mind.” This is probably the most infuriating, because it assumes that someone doesn’t know their own mind well enough to make a major life decision. And yet, no one says this to anyone who, at 19 or 25 or 30, decides that the only possible way their life will be complete is to have children. Why is that? Why are people who decide the “default” given the benefit of the doubt that they know what they want, while those who decide something that requires an awful lot of contemplation are assumed to be flighty and immature? Do you tell someone who’s pregnant that she’ll change her mind? That it’s permanent and you can’t undo it? That a baby is a big decision that affects the rest of her life and she can’t possibly know at 19 or 25 or 30 that it’s something she’ll want forever? Of course not. But try being a woman who wants to get her tubes tied before having any children. Try telling people that your life plan doesn’t include reproducing. Then, suddenly, you’re an idiot who doesn’t know her own mind, regardless of age.

-“It’s different when it’s your own.” This one comes in response to someone saying they don’t like kids, or don’t have the patience for them, or any other reason that involves not actually wanting a child around in your everyday life. The argument is that when it’s your own child, those things don’t apply. You love it no matter what. Unfortunately, this isn’t true. Plenty of parents can’t stand their own kids. And even if there’s a possibility it’s true, should someone really take that chance? That maybe they won’t hate kids once they have one? Seems awfully unfair to the hypothetical kid if it doesn’t turn out that way.

-“You’re selfish.” So? Quite frankly, I have the right to be. If I decide that free time, discretionary income, peace and quiet, and flexibility with various parts of my life are important to me, then it would be awfully dumb to think I could still have all that with a child. As parents are fond of telling anyone in earshot, having children changes everything. And if someone doesn’t want everything to change, then why do we try to force that? Plus, isn’t having children one of the most fundamentally selfish things one person can do? What are the reasons people give for having kids? “I want someone to love (or to love me) unconditionally.” “I think my DNA is special enough that it needs to be propagated.” (That one’s clearly a paraphrase. Save the angry emails.) “I want a little me.” “I want a perfect combination of me and my spouse.” I want, I think, I want, I want, I want… I have rarely, if ever, heard a reason to have kids that doesn’t start with “I want.”

-“You don’t know real love until you have children.” Yeah. Fuck you very much. Who are you to decide that the love I have for my husband, or my parents, or my friends, isn’t “real?” There are lots of kinds of families, and the ones created from choice are just as meaningful and full of love as the ones created by biology.

-“It’s a miracle.” Every living organism ever since the beginning of time begs to differ. Everything alive reproduces. One could argue that it’s the least miraculous thing possible. It’s happened billions and billions of times and will happen billions and billions more.

-“You’re not a real woman.” Yes, I’ve heard this. Yes, the person was serious. Yes, I did somehow manage to stop myself from telling the person to go fuck themselves. Aren’t we as women, hell, as people, past deciding for other people what makes them a “real” woman?

-“Who will take care of you when you’re old?” Do me a favor. Go to your local nursing home/assisted living facility. Talk to some of the residents. Ask them when their children last visited them. Producing offspring doesn’t guarantee you security when you’re old; money does. Most people end up having to pay people to take care of them in their declining years. Plus, fifty years sounds like an awfully long time to wait for a payoff, and frankly, the investment is too high for the potential return.

-“But you’re such a good dog mom!” Last I checked, you can’t crate kids while you’re at work. Not to mention, dogs are pretty self-sufficient, except for the feeding and walking stuff. They amuse themselves. I don’t need to teach them values and spelling and how to use a fork and stuff. The dogs=children thing is not even a thing. Seriously. I love my dogs; hell, I love them more than I like most people, but they are not a substitute for children.

The point I’m trying to make here is that all the choices are valid. Just because you don’t agree with mine doesn’t mean you need to belittle me, infantilize me (and how’s that for some irony?), and insult me. And take a moment to think about this: if someone has decided that they really don’t want children, why would you spend so much time trying to convince them otherwise? Does it minimize your choice as a parent if someone takes a different path? If you feel that children are The Greatest Miracle Ever and being a parent is The Most Important Job In The World, wouldn’t it be preferable if every child was born to parents who are 100% certain that they want them? After all, a child is a permanent decision, and I’d rather take the very very small chance that I regret not having one than risk the more likely outcome that I would regret it if I had one.