Work-Life Balance, Part II: But it’s different when you’re a parent!

NOTE: This is the second of a 3-part installment on work-life balance. Part 1 can be found here; Part 3 can be found here.

Part 1 of our work-life balance series ended with the research-based conclusion that everyone suffers when work conflicts with life. Yet the idea that childfree people need and deserve balance as much as their parent counterparts is too often overlooked by employers, policy makers, and by employees themselves. This needs to change.

Image courtesy flickr CC

But it’s different when you’re a parent!

It’s true. Parents and the childfree have different lives and may have different priorities.

Also, children need their parents. Of course, sometimes they need their aunt or their uncle or their big brother or sister or some other non-parent adult in their lives. And the under-18 crowd doesn’t have a corner on the market of need. Elderly parents need their adult children, partners and friends need their support people, and sometimes we (all of us) just need a little goddamn time to ourselves. All of these needs are legitimate. None of them is unique to parents (ok, except for that very first one).

Laura, a librarian in her early 40’s who was quick to note that she does favor parents having the flexibility needed to be involved in their children’s lives, told me,

I don’t want to sound like I’m not in favor of this because I am but if someone needs to have time off for going to their children’s event at school, or parent-teacher conferences, or whatnot, those seem to be given priority over someone who is childfree wanting to have an afternoon off to do something else. I really do believe that jobs should be much more flexible so that parents can take the time to go to the events, those are very important to children, but I just think that if I’m choosing to take an afternoon off to do something else, that doesn’t mean that my choice is less important than their choice.

Ames, a project manager in his mid 30’s, said parents are sometimes treated differently from non-parents in his workplace:

In the workplace environment, there are concessions made to people with children that aren’t made for people without children. Like, someone will say “I have to stay home because my child is sick” or “I have to leave early because my child is sick.” These are understandable situations, but it’s also an easy excuse for people. There’s a certain amount of respect that is given to people with children that sometimes is not given to people without children.

Placing a higher value on how one employee chooses to spend her or his time outside of work over another’s choice is a slippery slope. Unless employers want to be in the (possibly illegal, definitely immoral) business of judging the relative value of employees’ private lives, there has to be a more effective way to handle requests for time away from the office.

We all have roles and people (and pets!) in our lives that deserve to be balanced with work. Image by we’re {not} having a baby!

Flex-time, not Family-time

While it may be true that life and priorities differ for parents when compared to non-parents, it is also true that we all have lives and priorities outside of work. Instead of thinking of “life” as representing children or families, we should expand our thinking to including a broader range of priorities and activities.

Work-life well being expert Cali Williams Yost recommends flex-time policies as an effective strategy for meeting the work-life balance needs of all employees, whether they are parents or not. Social science research confirms the efficacy of these policies. Taking the burden of having to weigh the relative merit of employees’ requests for time away from work out of the hands of managers eases the stress on everyone.

Though I’ve argued in the past that we must re-think our narrow image of what count as family (and still feel strongly that this is important), thinking of the time we spend outside of work as exclusively family time places unnecessarily severe constraints on how we think about our lives and our leisure. What employees need is flex-time, not family-time.

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6 Responses to Work-Life Balance, Part II: But it’s different when you’re a parent!

  1. KN February 2, 2017 at 7:04 am #

    I would like to see an article written about “childfree couples have money to spend”. I woke in an office environment where I get this thrown in my face all the time, several times by my boss actually. It irks me. They don’t know what bills I have, so how can you pass judgment on what I can or can’t afford? I certainly feel like I am being blamed because they don’t have the ability to spend a certain way but I didn’t ask them to have children. Point is that they are passing judgment on my financial ability when really it’s none of their business. I’ve just started talking back and responding with exactly that.

    • Amy February 2, 2017 at 9:41 am #

      Thank you for the suggestion, KN! I hear you re: how frustrating it can be when that assumption is made. While it’s true that those without kids (including childless and childfree) are more likely to find themselves in professional and managerial positions than parents, that certainly doesn’t mean that they all, or that they always, have more money to spend than parents. And whether they do or not, you’re right that it’s certainly not your boss’s business. I’ll kick around a possible post on the topic. Thanks!

    • Melanie Holmes February 2, 2017 at 4:45 pm #

      I heard during my interviews with CF/CL women the following (pg 137 in my book) – Helen said, “The decision not to pursue motherhood came down to the standard for parenting my mom and dad set; I knew I didn’t have the resources to be the kind of mother I wanted to be.” Helen is in her mid-60s and happy with her life. She goes to theater when she wants, and travels, but the point is, finances figured into her decision not to pursue motherhood. And she does have money to do some things–but all the theater and travel doesn’t add up to the Quarter-of-Million dollars that is estimated to raise ONE child in today’s economy (per US Labor stat). No one should assume someone has extra money. They’ve no idea if there’s student debt, an elderly parent involved, a friend with cancer who needs help, or the charity of one’s choice that one believes strongly enough in to tithe significant money toward – eg., Planned Parenthood.

  2. Melanie Holmes February 1, 2017 at 12:49 pm #

    Agreed. Everyone needs/wants work-life balance. It’s no one’s business if a person wants to get a massage, care for an elderly parent, visit a friend with cancer, or whatever. Flex time should be for everyone or no one. Having said this, it seems as though the higher up on the ladder a person is, the easier it is for them to engage in flex-time. Sadly, it is often those who need it most who are told “no.”

    • Amy February 1, 2017 at 3:01 pm #

      Yes, excellent point about workers with less organizational power.


  1. Childfree - Work-Life Balance, Part I: When "Life" Doesn't Mean "Children" - February 1, 2017

    […] This is the first of a 3-part installment on work-life balance. Part 2 can be found here; Part 3 will be linked here once […]

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