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Those without kids

Deirdre Sholto-Douglas finch at mcs.net
Thu Apr 27 03:40:32 EST 2000

On Wed, 26 Apr 2000, Linnea Ista wrote:
> Deirdre Sholto-Douglas wrote:
> > : How many of our (childless) readers have heard
> > : the comment "you have it easy ...." from a tired parent?
> >
> > ...as someone who's been on both sides of the coin, I can say that
> > my childfree days *were* a *lot* easier.  Maybe I didn't have fewer
> But, here is the rub.  Speaking for myself, I was well aware of the
> responsibilities and interruptions that come from having children and *that
> was part of the reason I chose not to have them*.

You are in the minority, I fear, reproduction is still pretty much the
normal default for humans (to say nothing of these ruddy hamsters, anyone
in need of a pet, please e-mail me) and as a result, there will always be
the need to address the issues of parents in the workplace.  That you,
personally, do not have to address these issues does not imply that they
can be disregarded, anymore than the fact that I'm not in a wheelchair
means I can disregard the needs of a colleague who is.

I'm not suggesting that your choice was in error, far from it, but if
every researcher or professional woman made the same choice, the world
would be a much poorer place.  The need to come up with workable
solutions is increasing as more and more women enter the work world...be
they in science, business or industry.  To imply that you have no vested
interest because you knew the responsibilities of parenthood ahead of
time and choose to preclude them is a specious argument.  Survival of
the species and the welfare of the human race is always in the hands of
the next generation.  Whether you choose to contribute to it or not, it
*will* affect your life.  

It behooves all of us, child-bearing, childless or childfree to ensure
that the next generation is *not* left twisting in the wind simply because
we (this generation) didn't want to take the effort to reconcile the
demands between professional and family life.  

> If you did not know that would be part of the gig when you decided to become
> a parent, I am very sorry.  But it is not the fault of those of us who do not
> have children that you made this decision. Too often we are treated as if it
> IS and that we OWE parents something.

Tell me, what does being snide add to the topic at hand?

> Don't get me wrong. I like kids (why do we always have to add that caveat?).

<shrug> Who knows? It's okay with me if you don't like them.  Frankly,
I wouldn't blame you if you didn't, the little headaches can be a trial
to people not bonded to them genetically.  For that matter, they can be 
a trial to those who are.

> things  willingly. I believe in that "village" concept. But guess what? *I*
> get to choose my village.

Your village, if it lacks children, will go the way of the Shakers.

> When I, and I think other childless people, get really upset is at the
> attitude that somehow we should feel guilty for not having kids.

Guilty?  Whatever for?  Having more disposable income?  Anyone attempting
to make you 'feel guilty' (how this is accomplished, I can't imagine)
should be ignored.  Anyone attempting to play the guilt card (even
in-laws, maybe *especially* in-laws) is seriously out-of-bounds.  Are
you sure you're not misinterpreting the Guilt-Factor?  Perhaps what you
really have is a parent who's asking you to understand and not presenting
it well.

> As I said before, I think most of us were/are pretty cognizant of the
> responsibilities.  And opted out.

And as I said before, your opting out does not make the situation any
less real for the majority of working women.  

> But childless at 36? It is much different  now than than when I was in my mid
> or late 20s.

Erm...why?  Granted, it's different now for me than when I was in my 20's
also, but that's owing to the passage of time, gravity and incipent
senility.  How does being childless change over time?

> I also think that priorities change as we get older for everyone.  There
> seems to be an assumption that us childless folks continue to act as if we
> were 22 and fancy free for the rest of our lives. 

Assumed by whom?  

> The main difference
> between the "lifestyle" I and my friends who are parents are living is that,
> because the kids are all pretty young, I get a little more sleep ;-).

<laugh> You probably get fewer colds, also.  

> > *Nothing* make science warm and fuzzy...but having options or, at
> > the very least, understanding from one's peers, be they parents or
> > childless, certainly makes *this* researcher less inclined to foam
> > at the mouth or grind molars to dust.
> It would be a totally different story, if, however, it were presented in a
> "poor me, I can't get my work done today and you HAVE to take over for me
> because you see I am a parent and you are not so therefore my life is harder
> than yours and you owe me" sort of manner.

I've not met too many of that ilk.  What I have met, however, are parents
(of both sexes) who are trying very hard to keep all the balls in the air
and *not* have their private needs impinge on their work requirements. The
lengths some of them go to to deny that they need time to deal with family
issues is mind-boggling...I can recall a colleague trying to cope with
three chicken-pox ridden kids at home while *still* putting in a full day
at the lab.  And she tried to do so without making it known because she
was afraid asking or stating she needed time for her family would somehow
imply that she was less dedicated to her career than someone without
similar obligations.  

This sort of expectation is absurd.  However, the (unspoken) implication
of failure owing to a (temporary) priority shift is so prevalent in the
workplace that I daresay there's not a single person reading this group
(male or female, with or without children) who can't relate to it.  It's
erroneous, it's dangerous (especially if it makes one show up for work in
a laboratory situation firing on less than all cylinders) and it's
inhumane.  It need to be addressed.

> If someone is jealous that I have more time than they, honestly, too bad.  I
> did make your decision for you. I respect that decision.  I am willing to

You *did* make that decision for me?  I assume that was a 'didn't' which
somehow misplaced its negation?  If it isn't, then, in all honesty, I'm
not following your train of thought.

> help you out if you ask respectfully.  

All too often, "respectfully" translates into "I expect you to grovel and
apologise profusely for inconveniencing me.  And don't think I'm going to
forget this, come review time."  Is it any wonder many women drive
themselves into the ground before they ask for help?

>I am willing to pay taxes for schools
> (but don't get me started on the whole "vouchers" thing). I am willing to
> lead youth groups or, because I don't have children of my own and am a little
> more flexible, be the person who comes over to take care of Susie so that her
> parents can have a much needed night out.

That's all well and good, and I'm sure the parents you do that for bless
you for your efforts.  I'm not asking for that however.  

> But I am not going to held accountable for your  decision, no more than I

No one's holding you accountable, unless you are doing it yourself.
However, if you expect your choices to be respected, and it appears that
you do, then equal and opposite consideration for the other side of the
coin is in order.  I suspect that's all most parents ask.

> I refuse to feel guilty or obligated because I do not have children and am
> very  resentful of those who attempt to make me feel guilty or obligated
> because they do.

This is obviously a very sensitive issue with you because I note that you
mention 'guilt' quite a lot.  I have to wonder if you're not reading a bit
more into things than is actually intended.  Most parents are too busy
making their *kids* feel guilty to waste any of that effort on their

If you're in a situation where you have a colleague who is attempting to
place you under obligation, then I'm sorry for your troubles, but you
can't use anecdotal evidence as a ruler to judge all working parents...the
brush is far too broad. Your guilt does nothing to make the state of the
working parent easier, so I can't imagine why any would think causing it
is an appropriate thing to do.

Your understanding, on the other hand, could make a vast difference.  
We're not asking you to babysit, just don't roll your eyes and groan when
our babysitter bails.  We're not saying we won't respond to work
emergencies, but bear in mind, we need to make certain our other
responsibilities are secure before walking out the door.  If we have to
leave early, please take note of the bulging briefcase that takes the work
home with us...don't assume we're shirking simply because we're not
physically present.

I expect that all any parent wants...and sadly, it's usually considerably
more than most get.


Deirdre Sholto-Douglas
Argonne National Laboratory
Environmental Research Division


I only pay taxes to Uncle Sam, I don't speak for him.

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