Wednesday, July 7, 2010

On working without children

Last week, my department hired a new consultant. As my boss was making the rounds introducing the new woman, the woman commented that she had left a hectic job because she wanted a better work-life balance (I can't imagine what her work-life balance must have been at her old job if she thinks it's going to be better working here). Anyway, my boss made this joking comment that I didn't have kids at home, so I had more free time and was more available. I, trying really, really hard to not start a major battle in the workplace, responded that just because I didn't have kids didn't mean that I don't also have a life outside of work. Then the conversation turned to travel (apparently something I get to do because I don't have kids), and no one got shot.

Here's what ticks me off: I'm not having kids because I don't want them. End of story. If you want to have kids, that's great, but you've got to figure out how to take care of them and do your job, not me. It is not my job to pick up your slack because you have to go to girl scouts or softball practice or whatever. (I don't think any of the mothers with whom I work are slacking, I'm just saying...)

Please don't misunderstand. I definitely think that being a good parent is of utmost importance. I'm especially dependant on how other people are raising their kids and what sort of people those kids turn out to be because I'm not making any contributions to the future of society. Yes, I know: it's your kids who will be my nurses when I get old; it's your kids who will be the pilots flying me places; it's your kids who will be doing a million other things that need to get done. Yes, I get that.

And I also understand the importance of working mothers, not only as strong role models for their daughters, or for the additional stability that a second income brings to a family. Statistically, companies with women, and specifically mothers, in the C-suite are more profitable.

There's this adage that if you need somebody to get something done, you give it to a working mother to do. It stands to reason that someone who works full time and manages a couple of kids has both multi-tasking and efficiency down to an art.

However, I think there's this presumption that women who choose not to have kids do so because they want to be completely devoted to their career. I am not one of those people who defines myself by what I do. I don't want to have kids because I don't want to raise them. However, I also don't want to work 80 hours a week. (Really? Is this astonishing?) My feelings about having kids and my feelings about my career are not related. Along those lines, there are a number of other things I don't want to do that also have nothing to do with not wanting kids or not wanting to work 80 hours a week, such as eat peas, clean out the freezer, and be subjected to more ridiculous Twilight nonsense.

What I want to do is earn a paycheck that covers the bills, with a little extra, so Captain America and I can enjoy our lives.


  1. I feel some of your pain. When I have to leave work early (inside of my technical hours), I always compensate because I'm a salaried professional. Like this year, I spent about 2-4 hours every Sunday afternoon working, so I don't feel terrible about scheduling a doc appt. at 2:30 when teachers are supposed to be on campus until 3:00. I always feel that funny little look I get, though, when someone asks, "Why were you gone yesterday when I stopped by your office?" with that tone that says, "What could possibly be more important than your job? It's not like you have kids." I also get asked non-stop about when Pete and I are having children, and I sortof feel like saying, "My job is birth control, especially YOUR child!"

  2. Honestly, I don't understand why more people don't think before they open their mouths. At a party last weekend I was talking with a graduate student whose advisor had said to her, "I don't know why you have such trouble finding people to help you. You're an attractive woman." Have you ever heard of a MAN freaking out over a comment like this?

  3. Wow. That's something. I wonder how the grad student reacted to that. That kind of comment is ridiculous and so inappropriate.