When None Of Your Co-Workers Is A Parent

A friend of mine””not a parent, as will quickly become clear””told me about something that had happened to her at work the other day, something that had completely frustrated her because it had been a complete and total injustice.

Apparently, everyone at the office was working on a collective deadline and was therefore expected to stay until at least 8:00 pm, but then one of the women received permission to leave at six o’clock because the woman’s daughter was going to be performing in a ballet recital.

”I mean, what the hell?” my friend asked. ”I wanted to leave at six too. I had stuff I wanted to do! It’s not like I used an excuse like my dog missed me. And my dog does miss me!”

Instead of immediately telling my friend that she was being myopic and that she really, really ought to stop comparing her dog to a child, I first filed away the information that, despite if it was the reality of the situation, I should never use a child-related obligation to leave work early. Unless I wanted to be considered a slacker by my childless co-workers.

After filing that thought away, though, I immediately told my friend that she was being myopic and that she really, really ought to stop comparing her dog to a child. Because she is my friend and because she is not a total jerk, she understood the points that I made to her. Namely that I highly doubted that this woman wanted to leave anyone in the lurch. But that if she was given permission to leave, then it seemed like the place that required her presence more crucially was her daughter’s ballet recital, not the office. Also that there is a huge difference between leaving for a child-related obligation and an obligation that was not an obligation at all, but just involved ”wanting to do other things.” And finally, I asked whether or not this sort of issue was an ongoing problem with this woman, or if it was a rare occurrence? Because if it was a rare occurrence then maybe just give the woman a pass and let it go? I could practically guarantee that this woman did not want to have to use her child as an excuse to leave work early.

My friend agreed with me and said she was just venting her frustrations, but then said, ”Don’t get so upset. It’s not like I think you would ever behave unprofessionally because of your kids.”

I kind of felt like screaming, right then and there, What does that even mean??? Why is being a parent in conflict with being professional?

But I didn’t scream, mostly because I think I’m already starting to develop a reputation among my friends for become increasingly high-strung and emotional, a quality which is directly related to the decreasing hours of sleep that I’m getting each night, and I’m trying really hard to combat that reputation. So, instead I just thought about why it is that in this day and age of digital communication, when many aspects of many jobs can be done remotely, and many people work flexible hours for a multitude of reasons, why is it that parenting-related flexibility is still frowned-upon as looking unprofessional?

I should qualify this by saying that I work in an incredibly supportive environment and have never felt this type of attitude directed toward me. But I also know that I would really hesitate to use one of my children as an excuse to leave work early unless it was absolutely unavoidable. I’d be much more likely to ask for time off to go to a doctor for myself rather than make one of my children’s doctor’s appointments. Which is ironic, because I’m much more likely to take them to the doctor when they’re sick, and try and treat myself with massive doses of ginger tea and cold medicine before finally having to drag myself, whimpering, to the ER with a full-blown kidney infection.

Anyway! Priorities. That’s the point, really. Why do I feel uncomfortable prioritizing my children over my work? I mean that’s not it exactly. When it comes down to it, they will always come first. But while I am fine with telling my sons that I can’t take them for a bike ride after dinner because I have to catch up on some work, I’d really hesitate before telling anyone at work that I need to leave them because of something at home.

Maybe it’s different in offices where a majority of the employees have kids? I’m not sure. I just know that hearing my friend tell me about her disdain for the mother at her job who had to leave early, I was reminded of how, in high school gym class, guys would always dismissively laugh at girls who sat out because they had ”cramps.” So, yes, maybe some of the girls would fake cramps to get out of doing the three-mile run, but most really had cramps! And the guys would never understand that. Just like how it sometimes feels that people who don’t have children really can’t understand the 24/7 obligations that are attached.

I don’t want to sound like I don’t ever want to leave the office early to get a pedicure or something completely unchild-related, because I do. I definitely do. But I also want to know that the possibility of leaving work to deal with our kids won’t make our co-workers roll their eyes, just like high school boys do when confronted with the idea of girls getting their periods.

(photo: Colleen Hayes © NBCUniversal, Inc)

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