Thursday, July 13, 2006

Look: Another Wedge Issue

So, yesterday I posted Family Dinner. And later, I went back and removed a sentence and the last two paragraphs. Because even though sometimes I open my mouth before I think, I tried to teach my children that most of the time when you make a mistake, do-overs are possible and appropriate. Not always. But, mostly. And, they are damned good role modeling for your children to see what you do when you put your foot in your mouth.

I had overheard two people using a couple of terms for children and parents that struck me then, and still do now, as rather mean spirited and nasty. The two I overheard were certainly being snide and contemptuous about it. And that was the second time I had heard those terms in the last week; one of them I have only heard the two times and the other not used quite that way. I said that I would like to eviscerate people who used those terms and dance in their guts. (I told you I am opinionated and passionate about things.)

So then, after I had said that rather aggressive thing on my blog, then I googled the terms. Then I read about the childfree movement. And, although I still don't like the terms, and although I can see that there are some mean spirited people in the childfree movement, I also can see this anger between people with and without children as part of a bigger picture and I want to talk about that.

"United we stand; divided we fall." As long as we are engaged in fighting each other, we don't notice that we are all being screwed. As long as blacks and Hispanics believe they are competing for jobs, they don't notice that no one is getting them because they are going overseas. So, we have these divisions that are being fostered and encouraged and that result in our not putting our attention on our elected officials and the other power brokers who could do something about it. You know, working women vs. stay-at-home-moms, gays vs. "Christians," working class white men vs. everyone else who wants a job, the common man vs. illegal immigrants, men vs. women. All of that sort of thing. And, here is another: parents vs. the childfree.

The very workplace problems that are overwhelming parents are overwhelming the childfree. Parents are working longer hours and spending less time with their kids. The childfree are being asked to work even more, because they don't have kids. And so, the childfree feel taken advantage of (because they are!). And, now that the parents and childfree are diverted into this tussle, they aren't getting together and demanding better working conditions where neither are required to put in these long hours, where both are paid decently, where neither is afraid that if they complain about it the jobs will be sent to India.


Deja Pseu said...

I'm a parent, but totally support those who don't want to have kids and I think they do sometimes get a raw deal. Two issues, though:

1. Some of the rhetoric I've seen from some (not all!) childfree folks makes it sound like they feel they're entitled to never have to be around children at all, even in public spaces. While some people don't discipline their children or expect good behavior from them, many of us do and have kids who are usually well-behaved in public. That said, kids are kids, and sometimes melt down. Most parents I know are very considerate of other people and will try to remove their kids if they're causing a disturbance.

2. As a manager, I have to say that if people without kids are being expected to pick up the slack of those who have kids, then that's bad management. Blame management, not the parents. In my workplace, everyone gets the same amounts of sick, personal and vacation time to use at their discretion. If one person uses their sick time to stay home with a sick child, the impact on the group is no different than the person who calls in with bronchitis. When a staff person goes out on parental leave (or, in the case of one of our staff who used their FMLA leave to care for a dying parent), we bring in a temp to help cover the work. It's about being fair and equitable. (We also try to keep any overtime to a minimum, because everyone, parents or not, should have a life outside the office.)

Joycelyn, I so agree that we're fighting each other when we really need to looking at a more systemic approach to giving everyone a better work-life balance (and in keeping good jobs in general!).

Maya's Granny said...

I think that some child behavior problems are a matter of the child being poorly disciplined. I have, however, also run into tired child being picked up from day care by an already exhausted parent and then melting down in Safeway. Often the parent is afraid to do anything about it for fear she will lose what little control she has on her frazzled temper at that point and clobber the kid.

I think that there needs to be a clear delineation between public spaces where children are to be expected (and if you don't like it, go elsewhere) and public spaces where children are not expected (and please don't bring them). If a couple is going out for an anniversary dinner, they need to expect kids at Marie Callendar but not at the best restaurant in town.

Frankly, I think that there are not enough places that set up to make children welcome and unproblematic. Restaurants with coloring placemats have the right idea. On the other hnad, small children are not able to be quiet and mannerly for long periods of time and taking them to a restaurant where they have to wait forever and then expecting them to sit quietly while mom and dad converse with their friends after dinner is over is asking way too much of them. When you put kids in places they aren't ready for, you are going to have trouble.

Deja Pseu said...

Exactly. Our general guideline is that if a restaurant has white tablecloths, it's a Mom & Dad only place. We started taking Sam out to eat at an early age, and he knows the drill and is well-behaved. So do we, and we a) take books for him to read, b) check out the menu ahead of time so we know they'll have his favorites, c) know we have a limited time window; if we have dessert, get it to go and enjoy at home after he's gone to bed. LA is great in that there are a lot of options for people with kids that don't necessarily have clown decor. A local Thai place is a favorite, and the waitstaff make kids feel welcome.

I was in one of those "meltdown in the market" scenarios once. I had finished shopping and was paying for my groceries; Sam was about two years old and was cranky and started squawking. A lady a few cash registers over started yelling at him "be quiet! be quiet!" I just walked by her and smiled and said, "guess you haven't been around kids much, then" but I was hopping mad.

Maya's Granny said...

Pseu, You are more civilized than me. Just thinking of someone yelling at a two year old like that, I get lived. I won't say it makes me, since I know it is my choice. I choose to get lived. Too bad we don't know her name, or I could put her on my Publisher's Clearinghouse list.

lorettambeaver said...

Have a child, or childless that is not a reason get or have to do hours beyond reasonable. It staggers the mind to think that the oursource is sent to people who earn so little and work in sweatshops to survive. Where is our humanity? Can't we just find a way to be fair to everyone. Perhaps this blogging can be a form for good ideas and new friendships. Great post!

ShortWoman said...

Well, two completely unrelated thoughts.

First, I guess I'm unusual in that I have always expected good behavior in public from my kid and almost always seen it demonstrated. People have always told me how well behaved he is, even at really nice restaurants. The reason (most) kids don't know how to behave in a nice restaurant is that they have not been taught. They go to places that have playgrounds or toyboxes, and rightly think it is a place to play. (Crayons on paper placemats are another deal; a kid can quietly occupy themselves nicely until dinner arrives with them.) Kids' parents do not insist they sit down and eat your dinner and so they wander around accidentally making trouble. Kids everywhere get a bad rap because other kids don't know any better. Note to the servers of the world, ask before deciding to bring the kid's entree 15 minutes before the parents' meals, mmkay?

Second, please keep in mind that I accept everybody's individual decision or circumstance to either have or not have kids. However, the nicest thing I can say about the sort of person who uses the word "breeder" to refer to another human being is that at least they have no children in whom to instill such views.

Gina said...

I agree that Americans are overworked period, and workplaces are friendly to no one, family or not.

Admittedly, though, it seems like kids are everywhere, and I've even got one. Hubba-hubba and I have a hard time finding a place to go on our "dates" to escape a bit from the kids! Well, that and we don't have the money for fancy places, so that doesn't help either.

Zan said...

I agree completely that we're expected to work way too much, children or not. I don't have children and I don't plan on it, because I know my own personal limits. I'm a great aunt and Big Sister, but if I had to devote the time and energy it takes to raise a child on my own, I'd probably end up in a mental institution. (Which says nothing about children, just that I know what I'm capable of and not.)

I've been on the end of being expected to cover for people with children. Now, some people I don't mind. My manager is a single mom and when she asks me if I mind covering something so she can go pick her son up from school or something, I don't mind. Because she asks. She doesn't assume. She treats me like an adult with a life, so I don't mind going a bit farther for her than I normally would.

But, what bugs me to no end is being expected to work holidays because, well "you don't have kids." No, I don't. But I do have a family that would love to see me, just like people with children. And frankly, my work can be done in advance and doesn't require anyone from my department to work holidays -- but the big bosses want someone on duty for some reason.

The only way I got my company to get off my back and accept that I wasn't going to work myself to death for them was by bringing in documentation from my doctor about my health issues. I really, really didn't want do to that, but I didn't have a choice. If I hadn't, I'd have been fired for not being "enthusiastic" about working holidays, long weekends, unexpected overtime, nights, weekends...whenever they wanted me to work.

It's ridiculous how much we work in this country and how little we have to show for it. Everyone suffers. Everyone's exhausted, everyone's on edge, people snap at strangers, families suffer. I know people at my office who are taking tons of abuse, because they're afraid if they don't they'll lose thier jobs. And they've got families and bills and committments, so they can't afford that. That's got to be harder when you've got kids. If I lose my job, I can always throws some stuff in the car and drive to California if I want to. That goes a long way to take away stress. But my brother and sister-in-law would have a harder time with that, since they've got a child. (Plus, my parents have threatened to hold the grandbaby hostage if they try to take her away ;)

J said...

Just thinking that this post and the family dinner one are related in a way. In families where the children don't sit at the table and use decent manners at home, how can they be expected to do so at a restaurant? They don't know how. But if they learn decent table manners at home, as they get older, they can go to any restaurant you can think of.

Maya is 10, and she's capable of going to fancy restaurants with us, though I wish she were wrong when she said that there's no need to dress up, because everyone is so casual these days.

Not that she's thrilled with fancy restaurants...she gets bored and starts chattering, and then we have to listen to a long dialogue on pre-historic beasts or Kim Possible. But that's not painful to anyone else in the restaurant but us. ;) And our own darned fault for not planning a sitter ahead of time.

Oh...and the work thing, that was a big deal at my old job. Before I got there, which is when they finally got the money to bring in more people to do the extra work, there was a problem because the childless workers were expected to put in a ton of overtime (unpaid, since these are exempt jobs), while the workers with children has a (valid) reason to leave. What was bad was that the childless employees had a valid reason to leave as well, which is that they had worked their full day, thank you, and they have a life as well, even if it was only going home to watch the boob tube. They did rectify the situation, but it was bad for awhlie.

Anonymous said...

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