Earlier this week, Slate’s "Dear Prudence," Emily Yoffe, featured a letter from a young attorney who was seething with resentment because many co-workers in her law firm regularly left the office early. Their explanation? They had children and needed to tend to them. “These co-workers often acknowledge that they're being unfair,” the attorney writes, “but state that ‘when’ I have kids I'll get to leave early, too.”
I get annoyed when the kid card is played. As a working parent who for years struggled to juggle my professional obligations with my parental ones, I’ve paid baby sitters to stay late (and forgone other things to do that), used vacation time to attend grade-school graduations, and traded off early departures with other co-workers (not all of them parents) so my husband and I could go to awards ceremonies, etc.
Of course, as Prudie’s answer noted, parents may well return to work via their laptops after dinner is over and the kids are tucked in. Still, I empathize with the young attorney who regularly looks up to see them leaving because “I have kids.”
Not everyone does. Not everyone wants to. Not everyone can or should. But they may have other people they need to look after or projects they need to complete. Perhaps they share the care of an elderly parent or grandparent. Or maybe they’re taking graduate courses to better position themselves in a competitive market. Or swing dancing, for God’s sake, just because they want to.
The point is that children, like a lot of other delightful things in life, are usually a choice. And the decision to have them implies that you’re willing to make adjustments and that the world doesn’t adapt to your needs all the time. Cutting back on your social life, for example, is an option. Cutting back on obligations that allow you to support a child you chose to have is not.
I’ve worked on holidays and over weekends so parents can spend time with their children, in the interest of equity and to be a good co-worker. But I’ve also had colleagues argue that they should get every Christmas off “because I have children.”
People without children have lives that are as legitimate and that they cherish as much as people who have children. This unwavering entitlement—I need time off; I have to have this holiday; I need to leave a half-hour before everyone else does, every day—kills office morale. (And obviously this doesn’t apply to emergencies.)
A family-friendly workplace can be a wonderful thing, but there is more than one way to have or to be family. And the quality of life for people without children shouldn’t be affected because someone is pulling the kid card.