Dear Prudence: Is work-life balance unfair to childless employees?

Help! All the Parents at the Office Leave Early and Stick Me With Extra Work.

Help! All the Parents at the Office Leave Early and Stick Me With Extra Work.

Advice on manners and morals.
May 20 2013 2:45 PM

But It's Not Fair!

In a live chat, Prudie counsels a young attorney who works late while the colleagues with kids leave early.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at

Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. I look forward to your questions.

Q. I Have a Life, Too!: I'm a junior attorney in my late 20s. I work in a busy office that prides itself on work-life balance, and many of my co-workers have young children. Often, these co-workers leave at 4:30 or 5 on the dot to pick up their kids or attend their events, leaving me to stay late (up to several hours) to finish up work that needs to be done. It's frustrating—just because I don't have kids doesn't mean I don't have a life outside of work. What's weirder is that these co-workers often acknowledge that they're being unfair but state that "when" I have kids I'll get to leave early, too. Because I plan to remain child-free, at least for the foreseeable future, this is less than encouraging advice! How can I draw boundaries in this situation without seeming unreasonable? I love my job otherwise, and these people are all genuinely nice—they just seem to have a blind spot when it comes to this issue.


A: It's great that your company is sensitive to the needs of parents, but not if their family needs become your work burden. You say that because they leave early, they leave you to pick up their slack. That's simply unfair, and you need to bring this up with a supervisor by way of "clarifying" how duties are divided. Keep in mind that like Sheryl Sandberg, many hardworking people leave the office early for family dinners, then once the kids are in bed, they return to the computer to finish the work day. It might well be that the parents do some shifting of duties outside your sight. So tread carefully when you explore whether you're getting short shrift.

Dear Prudence Live in New York: Mentally Ill Ex

Q. No Physical Attraction?: I have a bit of a dilemma that has left me puzzled. I recently had drunken sex with a longtime friend of the past five years. What started out as us spending the day having drinks with a group of friends turned into us having emotional, drunken sex in her bed. Prudie, this girl is my best friend, and we talk/text/message all day throughout our workday. The problem is while I am very much mentally attracted to her, I don't necessarily know if the physical attraction is there, and she feels the same way. She really understands me, as a man, very well, and I her. The question is can this work as a relationship? Can you be so mentally attracted to someone, but not necessarily physically attracted to them, and have a successful relationship? I feel like if I don't give it a shot with her, I'll never find someone who is so compatible with me personality-wise.

A: If the only circumstances under which you two can imagine completing the act is if you're both so inebriated you'd stumble into bed with anyone, then turning this friendship into a romance sounds as if it won't make your hearts swell, just your livers. There's generally a reason a highly compatible man and woman have mutually decided not to make the relationship physical. But humans are endlessly surprising, and there are couples who've known each other platonically for years who then get simultaneously sprinkled with pixie dust and realize they each are "the one." Both of you seem puzzled and slightly embarrassed by recent events, but you are good enough friends to be able to talk about it. I suggest dinner at a nice restaurant and just enough wine to set a mood, but not so much that the mood is "I'm about to black out." You two need to address whether you're both more comfortable in the friend zone or whether it turns out Harry has met Sally.

Q. Explaining Abuse and Divorce: My daughter is divorcing her abusive husband of two years. Two weeks ago he attacked her viciously, breaking her nose and her arm. Her bruises have healed, but her broken limb has not, and as such, my daughter does not want to see her half siblings. I remarried 10 years ago and have an 8-year-old daughter and a 5-year-old son. Both know and love their soon-to-be former brother-in-law, because until recently, no one in our family knew about the abuse. My daughter is still very much ashamed of being abused and does not know how to explain what happened to her to her little brother and her little sister. My kids miss their big sister and have been asking about her and her husband. My wife and I want to respect my daughter's need to process the divorce in her own way, but we want to encourage her to come around our house and see her half siblings. That said, we have no idea how to explain the divorce or the abuse to them.

A: Thank goodness your daughter has gotten out. It's terrible that this relationship has left her both with broken bones and a damaged psyche. She should not be the one carrying a burden of shame; her monstrous husband should be. Please encourage your daughter to call the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1−800−799−SAFE(7233), to get advice on finding a therapist or group where she can talk about what happened. Your youngest children are very young, so they need to be told in an age-appropriate way why brother-in-law Voldemort won't be around anymore. It doesn't make sense to lie because they've already figured out something strange is up. I think they should be told that you have sad news for them. While Voldemort seems like a nice man, he actually was very mean to their sister, and unfortunately he hurt her, so they have to get a divorce and Voldemort won't be around anymore. Then answer their questions honestly but succinctly. I hope your eldest will realize she has nothing to hide and her loving family will be a source of shelter.

Q. Re: Hey, junior attorney!: Welcome to life in a law firm. You have just begun your career, and you have to "put your bones in" before you can enjoy some of those perks. It's just the way it goes. Sorry. Think about using this to your advantage: Be proactive, work hard for a couple of years, and show your partners that you are a great asset!

A: I wondered about this. Is this just something this young lawyer should suck up? I know brutal hours are expected in the law. But does that also mean that your colleagues are regularly allowed to tell you to finish up work they've left hanging?

Q. Kissing Cousins?: When I was 8 and my cousin 5, I would "re-enact" kissing scenes from movies with him, clinchy embraces and mushy open-mouthed kisses. When I was home visiting from college several years ago, he cornered me and said "I remember what you did to me" in a tone that stopped just short of accusing me of molestation. We're now adults with kids, and I constantly avoid him and family gatherings. I'm not sure how to address this with him. Was this kids playing doctor, or am I some sort of creep?