Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Resentment is a two-way street

What I said to my [single, childless, mid-30s] sister was, "What childless people don't seem to realize is that when we parents leave work, we are not done working."

What she said to me was, "Yes, but it gets a little old having the parents leave 15 minutes early because the day care is closing or not be able to stay a minute past 7 because of Pookie's recital. Just because I don't have the excuse of children, I am always the one to close up the office and wrap up the event."

I said, "But when you wrap up the event, you can go home, drink a glass of wine and read for two hours if you want to. Sleep in the next day if it's a Saturday. I am cooking for and feeding the masses, listening to their arguements, overseeing the cleanup of 417 Legos and aiding with baths, then getting up at 7 a.m. the next day -- no matter what day it is -- to do it all over again."

She said, "You chose to have children. Should your personal choices matter to me at work? What about the THREE MONTHS you were at home after J was born. If I'm your employer I have to watch that work go undone or hire a replacement while you're having a three-month pajama party."

Me: [silence. She knows it was no pajama party, though not nearly the degree to which it was not a pajama party.]

O.K. She didn't actually say "pajama party" at all. But she did say childless people have a legitimate beef with us breeders in the workplace. And "my sister" is actually a composite of childless relatives and former bosses.

How, oh how to diffuse the tension and create mutual understanding?



Blogger mamaloo said...

What I would say?

"If you are doing more and better work as a result of not having children, you'll be recognized for it when the raises and promotions come round."

I have to wonder, when people complain thusly, why do they let their employers take advantage of them. Are they paid adequately to devote endless hours to work? Do they not know how to say "no" to staying later? Can't they get their own work done in time?

Perhaps it's the parents who leave a little early who work twice as hard in less time to achieve the same thing?

1:53 PM  
Blogger Kim said...

I agree that having children is a choice, but so is not having children. Those who make that decision and choose to work in environments where us child-bearers work must know that things go this way.

It doesn't go on forever, eventually the kids grow up and leave more time for us to pitch in after hours. Heck, sometimes I even take the kids and we get finished twice as fast while spending time together.

2:33 PM  
Blogger ellen said...

This resentment is an inevitable consequence of the way most workplaces are structured. I believe that if employers were to offer more flexible schedules for everyone and hire sufficent people to do the anticipated work load a lot of this tension would vanish. When everyone but the parents are expected to "be team players" and "pitch in" there are bound to be hard feelings. It's a profit issue, of course. There is no additional profit to be gained by incremental contentment in the office.

7:26 AM  
Blogger cooler*doula said...

Such an interesting issue. I totally felt this way about my "with child" colleagues when I was not. It did seem like they had a permanent Get Out Of Jail Free card, while the rest of us schlubs had to stick around until the bitter end every day.

And I had a total failure of imagination when it came to understanding that, as you say, the work didn't stop for them when they got home. Pyjama party seemed to be what was going on at their house.

Now I have a son. But I'm also out of the workplace. But I finally understand how much of a mad juggle my working firends are engaged in. And frankly, how much more important our children are than staying until exactly 5pm.

It seems to me, the problem is, that until you have some of your own, which totally changes something in your brain, it's quite impossible to imagine what it is like. And I remember how wild this drove me, when people suggested it to me pre-baby. But, yeah, turned out to be true.

Probably because since we've lost the extended family, most of us don't really see parenting in action until we're the ones busy at it. And I agree with a previous commenter, that a more flexible employee schedule could help reduce the resentment.

8:26 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

I just watched the movie "Sicko" by Michael Moore, and it showed that in Europe women get 6 months to one year of maternity leave, and day care costs like $1.00 an hour, and everyone gets 5 weeks vacation and as much sick time as they need, and they only have to work 35 hours a week! I think if we americans worked in an environment like that we wouldn't even have these issues at the workplace.

3:04 PM  
Blogger reeciebird said...

I don't know how to diffuse, although keeping a log of times you make extra effort/time at work.

But everyone at large should realize that while children are a choice they are also Necessary. Without them society would die, economies falter, etc. etc. So she does have a stake in your choice, however inconvenient.

12:42 PM  
Blogger Natalie said...

In my workplace there is absolutely no correlation between having children and productivity and/or having children and hours worked/week. In fact, I would venture to guess those of us with children work harder and longer hours than those with don't. (Seems like their partying/hangovers/socializing gets in the way or work quite frequently.)

On a slightly separated but related point: Of people I know who stay late at work to tidy thinks up like your "sister," many are extremely inefficient after hours. If you stay until 7 but spend half the time surfing the internet does it really count? In my experience, some of those late hours are simply because they don't have anywhere else to be.

My personal resentment is toward coworkers who have a stay-at-home partner. Our two-academic career family seems *so much harder* than other scenarios.

8:46 PM  
Blogger doulicia said...

Just a shout back to say I read all of these comments and enjoy the thoughts/discussion. I agree that reconciling various vantage points is hard (impossible?) in a work system that is not generally compatable with life balance.

Of course, the notion of work/life balance is an industrial age conundrum. When one grew (or hunted) one's own food, working was living.

I think that's the source of my frustration. The work I get paid for is a fraction of the work I do. The folks who were in my example above are freed from the working=living when they leave the workplace. Yet they somehow think I'm the scammer for leaving "early" every day (mind you, I get paid less for my reduced hours...)

10:04 PM  
Anonymous Spincerely said...

Wow, it has been 10 years since I worked FT and it looks like things have not changed much. What about the moms/dads that skip their breaks so they can leave 15 minutes early? What about the childless co-workers who drag out their work to make it last longer so they can get paid over time? Anyway, I think in the end it probably all equals out and people should just help people get through whatever stage of life they are going through. The childless coworker may not be childless forever and they may someday have a sick parent, spouse, or sibling to take care of. They may even have their own health battle someday where they will need some coworker leniency. Everyone just needs to try their best to get though life helping each other out.

8:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it's also worthwhile to remember that not all childless people have the luxury of going home after work and "relaxing with a glass of wine". Children and family chores are not the only major after-hours responsibility that a person could have. Their obligations may be just as important to them as children are to their parents.

They may feel resentful--not because their leisure time is being infringed upon, but because their obligations are often shunted aside for parents', simply due to not being as immediately understandable or common.

In short, don't assume the childless have plenty of time on their hands, either! ;)

9:49 PM  

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