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Do parents get special treatment at work? I try hard not to

Categories: Balancing Act, Career Talk

17 comments

The opening sentence of Sue Shellenbarger’s piece in the WSJ caught my eye:

Has the workplace become so pro-family that if you don’t have a child, you have to make one up in order to get fair treatment?

I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot recently. At my job, there are many parents, but I also have many colleagues who don’t have kids. I’ve found that I’m often conscious about how I might be perceived as a working parent and careful to not expect or demand any special treatment from my boss or colleagues. For example, when we had a product release coming up, I knew that it would mean several very late nights in the office. So I lined up some extra babysitting (from my dad, thank you!) and asked my husband to please be home on time — I wanted to make sure that I was there, with my colleagues, as a team during that important and stressful time. I thought it was important that if I could swing it, that I not use the “I’ve got a kid at home” excuse to leave the office early.

Obviously, I am a working MOM and this means that there are days when I come in late or have to leave early. During another product release my husband happened to be out of town on a business trip and I had to get home on time one of the days. This meant leaving my team to cover for me at the office during a very late night, for which I was very appreciative. But that’s life and in my opinion, totally fine as long as it doesn’t happen as a rule. My non-parent colleagues need to come in late some days (doctor’s appointment, for example) or leave early (to meet up with an old friend visiting from out of town). The way I think about it, as long as I don’t expect anything above and beyond what the rest of my colleagues expect in terms of flexibility at work, I’m not crossing a line.

When I was starting out in my career I was on the opposite side of this, as one of two non-parents on a team in a very demanding job. More than once I remember being told that I should stay late to finish something because I didn’t have kids at home to run to. I absolutely hated this and would never, ever want my current non-parent colleagues to feel this way.

What do you think — should working parents get a bit more slack/flexibility at work? Are you conscious of not asking for or expecting special treatment because you’re a parent?

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17 comments so far...

  • Well, first, let’s assume you have not negotiated more flexibility in exchange for some sacrifice such as lower salary, slower climb up the ladder, etc. Because many parents do this going in, and there is nothing wrong with expecting both sides to live up to the deal.

    So assuming that you’ve promised yourself, your boss, and your colleagues that you’re not going to let your parenthood limit what you can do at work. Even then, childless colleagues (especially younger ones who might have children someday) should be considerate of the extra load you are carrying. Not because they “owe” you or whatever, but because it’s the right attitude, and they should have the maturity to realize they will be in your shoes eventually - if not due to parenthood, then due to illness, bereavement, etc.

    I mean, most of us are considerate of the impulsiveness of children, the slowness of elderly people, etc. We understand instinctively that this is a stage of life that we all must go through. What goes around comes around. Unfortunately, I seem to observe a trend toward ignorance in this respect, so maybe some people do need reminders to be considerate, sad as that may be.

    I think most people can tell the difference between someone who has a challenge due to being a parent, versus someone who uses her status as a parent to get unfair treatment. I honestly haven’t seen much of the latter. I’m more likely to see people making illogical choices for their kids that happen to be a pain for colleagues. Not intentionally, but out of foolishness - and the foolish culprits are rarely climbing the corporate ladder anyway.

    SKL  |  October 27th, 2009 at 7:50 am

  • I luckily have never been in the situation of being told to stay late because I didn’t have children. That probably would have irked me. I loved the response from one of the consultants who noted that her dog’s bladder was every bit as important. She had a dog walker come halfway in the day but you still couldn’t expect the dog to last until 10pm!
    I actually took a step back down the ladder to choose a different fork, because I didn’t like the path I was on. My boss, who was a working mom taking a different choice, was at least understanding and as long as I was clear that it would affect things she was fine with it (I still got my bonus that year for what had been accomplished which some pettier places might have withheld).
    Part of what I hate about all of this though, is that it didn’t used to be this way outside of the C-level suites. My friend’s father was general counsel for a VERY large corporation and still got to go home every night for dinner. Yes, sometimes while prepping a case they were there until midnight, but it was not the norm. It has become the norm in too many firms. The reality is NO ONE should have to work those hours all of the time and more people should be allowed to work remotely when it does extend into those hours.

    Mich  |  October 27th, 2009 at 11:25 am

  • Hmm. I also never experienced having to stay late when I didn’t have children just because I didn’t have children.

    Now that I DO have children, I exploit it shamelessly when it comes to traveling (I just won’t do it). I’m “lucky” in that I do get to work from home during off hours, so if I have a lot to do, I do it after the kids go to bed.

    It also helps that I’ve slowed down a LOT in regards to my career. I’ve purposely chosen a position that doesn’t require a whole lot of after hours work.

    june  |  October 27th, 2009 at 3:01 pm

  • Here is a different side to the story:

    My current workplace is not child-friendly at all. I did not know this when I started working here, which was on a freelance basis just after I had a baby. About a year after I went on staff, it was made clear to me that it is expected you will work until all hours or on weekends if needed. Not too many people here have children. There are 7 dads and 4 moms. The company has 60+ employees and a bunch of freelancers.

    I find it interesting that I never hear the dads ever complain how late they have to work, if they have to travel and be away from their family for any length of time, or how their long work hours affect their lives.

    But the moms have said things like “my son hates me right now”. Or “I have to get home and see my daughter just once this week before she goes to bed.”

    I feel like I am frowned upon if I ever have to take time off, come in late or leave early for anything child related. I very rarely have to do that, but it does happen.

    In Sept, a few of us had first day of preschool things to do with our 2-3 year olds. I asked for 2 days off, in order to participate with my daughter and be avail for whatever could come up. I asked for this time off a month in advance. Toward the end of my 1st day off, I was asked to come back in and work the next day. I protested, and explained that I had asked for the time off in advance, and felt it was important to be with my daughter during these first days. There was pressure put on me to get back to work. I agreed to work a half day…after my daughter went down for her nap.

    It has been very difficult working for a company that has little to no understanding or patience for working moms. Needless to say, I am leaving the company next month and look forward to working in a more child-friendly environment.

    I think any time off should be respected, whether or not it has to do with being a parent. If I have to leave early for a school function, and a co-worker has to leave b/c they have great seats to a ball game, so be it. We all have a life outside of work and we can (and should) cover for each other when needed.

    VMT  |  October 27th, 2009 at 7:40 pm

  • The reality is that work-life policies suck in the US for parents and nonparents alike. When we give in to the bickering about parents having it easier or people without kids having it easier, we allow ourselves to be distracted from the overarching principle that work should be a PART of life, not ALL of it. If as workers we would band together and push back on the expectation to be perpetually available to our employers, maybe we could make some real progress on all fronts, both those important to families with children and those without. As long as we allow the media and corporate America to distract us with debates like this, there will be no progress made.

    LMJN  |  October 28th, 2009 at 7:47 am

  • I’ve never been in the position to stay late because I don’t have children, but I stayed home with my sick child (toddler, high fever) yesterday and my co-worker’s acting all high and mighty because she had to cover one issue. Ick. It’s not like I chose not to be here.

    CAW  |  October 28th, 2009 at 8:59 am

  • I question the assumption that businesses and childless workers have no obligation to the next generation of society. “You chose to have kids, you deal with it,” seems to be the prevailing attitude. Businesses should structure the work and deadlines to account for parents needing to be home with their kids in the evenings and on weekends. Fairness to the childless should be done by giving them comp time off to pursue their personal interests outside of work, rather than pressuring parents to take extra time away from their kids.

    SoftwareMom  |  October 29th, 2009 at 7:32 pm

  • I definitely feel like I’m working extra hard to ensure no one can claim that my status as a parent is detrimental to the company. So far so good, but it’s still something I think about almost every day as I scramble to meet demands at BOTH my jobs (in the office and as a mom).

    Leah  |  October 30th, 2009 at 1:44 pm

  • I absolutely agree that working parents shouldn’t get more slack than non parents.

    I think non parents in the workforce often forget that they use their flexibility for other personal reasons. Maybe the difference is they can say “I’d like to use my time for this”, where as a lot of parents will say “I have to do THIS.. because of my kids.”

    Miss Britt  |  October 31st, 2009 at 9:12 am

  • I just read all the comments and am surprised that I didn’t even CONSIDER the idea that ‘uh, yeah, remember when work was a PART of life?’

    I’m glad so many people here brought it up, because it’s an excellent point.

    Miss Britt  |  October 31st, 2009 at 9:16 am

  • Yes, I agree with Miss Britt… that being a Mom especially Single Mom… you always say… I must do it for my Kids… I am a working mom also, working as Store Supervisor and I agree that it’s not easy. Especially in my workplace, we need to work on weekends which are the time the kids are in home and expected you to be with them… Do some extra curricular activities like family bonding. It’s so hard for me to cover up. But regarding the issue of special treatment in the company if you have children is not issue for me. Coz for my own opinion, you are being hired by the company because they need you to do that particular work with out any excuses but to comply with the deadlines. Do your part in the company and make some extra effort for your kids to fell them that you are still their.

    che  |  October 31st, 2009 at 11:31 pm

  • I turned down a job because the listed requirements included being able to run in, even if you were SCHEDULED to be off, if others in the department didn’t show up.
    As a single mom, that’s a no go for me. But I didn’t try to take the job and then chafe at the requirement, I just didn’t take an unreasonable job.
    On the other hand, employers could be more reasonable about child issues. Who do they think creates the next generation of workers? Why should you be penalized for having kids. The best unreasonable quote (and I grant this is 30 years ago) was my mother objected to 4 days in a row of travel. Not 4 days prescheduled which she always managed to do; but drop of a hat “hey we need you to fly out today”.
    Her boss’ reply? “if we wanted you to have kids we would have issued them.”

    Mich  |  November 11th, 2009 at 1:43 pm

  • I am very conscious of not asking for special treatment because I am a mom, and honestly, I probably wouldn’t get it anyway. The field I’m in (marketing/advertising) is typically pretty demanding and my job entails a lot of travel, but I juggle as best I can and usually put in 10 or more hours a day and then some on the weekends. That being said, I am somewhat disturbed by the attitude of the younger workers today that they should come right out of college, get the big salary and never have to work anything over 40 hours because it “invades their personal time.” This type of attitude, while I am trying my best NOT to allow my personal life to interfere with my work life absolutely drives me crazy! That’s why every once in a while I’ll say “Guess what, I’m not working on this project this weekend. I have plans, so whatever social obligation you have can just wait.” I think it needs to be a give and take and while I don’t think parents should be given special treatment, childless employees “right” to personal time is no greater than mine.

    shellbell757  |  January 17th, 2010 at 9:49 pm

  • I find that parents get alot more time off than people with out kids. I hate it I think it is unfair. Having children is a choice and it makes me sick when they get time off and I am working on weekends to get stuff done. On the other side of the coin the people with children do not have the same salary I do due to the fact that I can churn more work out. Their quality of life is much better though.

    Shayne75  |  August 31st, 2010 at 3:56 am

  • I think if is not the norm then yes its ok for parents to get a little extra special treatment. If your child get sick in the middle of the day and you need to leave thats fine, its just life. But I have seen it also where a parent will abuse it. For example I have a coworker who will schedule doctors appointment for her daughters shots during work and will “have to” take the whole day off so she can “comfort” her. The same coworker will also take days off in advance ( a few every month) when she can not find a babysitter. How about looking for one before you give up? It just seems like it can become a excuse to get out of a lot of things.

    JD  |  March 4th, 2011 at 8:17 am

  • You guys might not like to hear this, but when parents get time off for kid’s stuff, we (the non-parents) have to bear the brunt.
    True, you have child obligations, but it was still your choice, you should’ve thought about the impact it will have on all aspects of your life, including work and how it affects the other employees at work.
    No, I don’t have kids, I chose not to for various reasons, but when my cat or dog gets sick, I don’t get time off, even if they are like my children.

    Sometimes it’s no so much about the parent, but about the other employees who are penalized for not having kids.
    We are all told to try and view it from the parent’s perspective. Try to view it from the non-parent employee’s perspective who has a sick dog at home…

    Katie  |  February 1st, 2012 at 8:07 am

  • @Katie: It sounds like you have had to “pay” for others having parental obligations. That doesn’t sound right to me. At the very least you should be compensated somehow, with more recognition, or more raises, or something. If you’re “bearing the brunt” of someone else’s work, I hope you are getting the credit for it. If not, you should speak up.

    But telling us that we should have considered our coworkers before choosing to be parents is really silly.

    At one point, we were ALL non-parents, and probably most of us have also been working non-parents. So I DO get the non-parent employee perspective. When I was a non-parent, I worked a lot harder and worked later hours. This was MY choice. I didn’t have to. I never felt penalized for not having kids, because I chose to work harder to get ahead.

    Once I CHOSE to have children, I CHOSE to slow down my career. I switched to a job that paid less and required less effort. My non-parent coworkers who put in more effort got raises or got promoted above me. That was OK because I chose to concentrate on other things in my life. I did my work, but I didn’t stress over it.

    Also, I don’t get free time off because I have kids. I am using up my vacation days, my sick time, or just not getting paid for that time off. Anyone with or without kids can utilize their right to take time off. If you choose not to take time off when your cat or dog is sick, that is YOUR choice. For the record, I sometimes took time off when my dog was sick (before I had kids).

    Anita  |  February 1st, 2012 at 3:26 pm

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