Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Ms. Theologian Plays the Parent Card

Dear Ms. Theologian,

I am a single woman sans children. I am a hard worker and tend to work beyond the standard 40-45 hour work week. Why I do that is probably because I don't have a spouse and/or children that need my attention at home. (The cat is pretty self-reliant, most of the time.)
I do enjoy leaving on time and do so, if I feel I have caught up on my tasks for the day.

However, I am currently on a huge project where I have to do lots of work beyond the regular day-to-day tasks because of a badly packaged proposal which leaves me scambling to meet an unrealistic deadline and to pretty much lie to my client to alieviate his concerns about where the project is. That is because the big bosses and sales people didn't set the client's expectations well.

With all that said, today one of the bosses said something that really annoyed me. He is one of the heads of the company and has more of a vested interest than most of the line employees. Last year, he became a father for the first time. Prior to that, he would work long and late hours. Now that he has a child, he has scaled back his hours for a bit. So today he says to me something like, "I have a child who is going to be really disappointed because he is missing out on daddy time because of all the time I am spending on this project." My reply was "I understand. I am missing out on 'me' time because of this project."

I have heard comments like his from other parents at work. Maybe it's just my own sense of Catholic-guilt (without being Catholic) but there is a part of me that wants to feel bad for him because he is missing out on being a father. But at the same time, I feel that just because I may not have children, that doesn't give him a right to throw out the 'parent' card. It irks me. I, too, have a life outside of the office.

Thanks for listening.

- Family Guilt-ed

Dear Family Guilt-ed,

First, a little known fact, Catholic guilt can actually be transferred through DNA. Ms. Theologian is not immediately Catholic, but a set of Italian grandparents is, and she believes this is one of the reasons she likes the eucharist so much. It's really too bad she wanted to be a Catholic priest.

Now on to the challenge at hand. Ms. Theologian has three pieces of information in front of her:

1. Your letter and this letter, which allude to the disgruntledness of many people without children about the expectation that they are more available than people with children. In an informal survey conducted today by Ms. Theologian, all people without children expressed similar thoughts, though it varied by workplace (this is an important detail).

2. The fact that the workplace in the United States is staggeringly unfriendly to people with children, with laws that are much weaker than other "high-income" countries, and weaker than many "medium-income" countries.

3. This revelation by Anne P in comments, that although she is in the more privileged category (a working mom with white collar job with office with door), she is concerned about how her coworkers will behave about her need to pump twice a day in six months. Or a year. Or more.

Here is what Ms. Theologian thinks is happening: she thinks that because many employers refuse to address larger issues of flex-time that many people suffer. You're suffering because you're working long hours rather than doing your own thing. Your boss is suffering because he's not home with his child. And by continuing to avoid the issue, employers are creating an Us v. Them situation. Your boss flexes his schedule and you end up doing his work. You need time to deal with a parent who is in the hospital, and someone has to cover for you.

It does not have to be this way. We do not have to behave as if we could not predict the fact that life happens. We know that people have babies, take care of children, get sick, care for ailing parents, care for sick kids, need mental health help, etc. We know all of this happens. But we do not prepare for it. Instead we cover for one another as if each time the situation arises it is unpredictable. We end up resentful, if we're doing the covering, and scared, if we're being covered.

Ms. Theologian thinks this is what happening. She's not totally sure. But that's how she makes those three pieces of information make sense. Also, you're not imagining that your boss thinks your time is less valuable than his. He definitely does (though part of it is because he's a parent and part of it is because he's the boss).

On a practical level, part of the solution is to weather the storm. This project has fallen behind. You're going to be putting in a fair amount of extra hours regardless of any insensitive comments. You might see if you can figure out a way to work with management to avoid this happening in the future. This isn't blaming you. This is troubleshooting to avoid this happening again. That might make you feel a bit better.

Part of the solution is Flex-Time for Everyone, which simply won't happen unless people (all people) find ways to ask for it. This means that once the project is over, you should make sure that you ask for (and hopefully take) the time you need to be whole, happy, and healthy. That means writing your screenplay, btw.

Ms. Theologian knows you're on Eastern Standard Time and she wants you to go home now. You've done enough work for today. Really.

-Ms. Theologian

P.S. If you'd like to write to Ms. Theologian, send an email to ms dot theologian at gmail dot com.