It’s not always about kids

I was interviewed for the radio a couple of days ago. It was a program about combining work with children, and I was contacted as an expert on the topic. It was a good interview; I got to say what I thought was important. However, I was a bit disappointed because it turned out they cut the most interesting part. Towards the end of the interview I was asked whether or not I think it’s fair that people who are single or don’t have kids have to pick up the slack when people with kids need to go home (after a full day’s work). Finally it was getting intriguing but for some reason they didn’t find it relevant or that it added value.

People without children are often expected to put in hours that people with children aren’t simply because anything other than children doesn’t seem to be a viable reason to go home when there is work to be done. Although let’s face it, there is always work to be done, it really never ends. Well, I guess we should be grateful that employers realize that kids do need taking care of and that in this day an age it´s generally frowned upon to keep parents from doing so. However, every once in a while I hear a childless person who has had to put in the extra hours complain that it is unfair, and rightfully so. It is unfair.

The thing is it isn’t only married people with children who have families. Most people have families, even people who are single. The so-called nuclear family is not the only type of family you can have. For some reason we assume that kids are the only ones in society who need care. However, other people may need care too, like ageing parents or ailing siblings and friends, and although this may come as a shock to some, childless people may also have care responsibilities.

But it isn’t only care responsibilities that should factor in when deciding whether or not a person should be asked to work long hours. Let’s not forget that there is more to a balanced life than work. And yes, people who are single also want and need balance in their lives.

When I was working on my PhD, I started interviewing women both with and without children, because I was convinced that children are not the main reason people opt out. Well, I soon realized that I needed to focus on women with children simply in order to add to that debate, but get this: the women with and without children all basically talked about the same thing. They had the same reasons for leaving and wanted the same types of things for the future. Although some of them didn’t have to juggle a career with children, their narratives were still strikingly similar.

Care responsibilities really shouldn’t be seen as a problem. And although those who have to pick up the slack tend to feel irritated and fed up, the issue really isn’t that people with children can’t work hard enough. The issue is that many employers don’t recognize that it is neither sustainable nor okay to monopolize someone’s life. Maybe we shouldn’t be asking anyone to work around the clock, whether or not they have care responsibilities.


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