A husband and wife are waiting at the bus stop with their nine children. A blind man joins them after a few minutes. When the bus arrives, they find it overloaded and only the wife and the nine kids are able to fit onto the bus. So the husband and the blind man decide to walk. After a while, the husband gets irritated by the ticking of the stick of the blind man as he taps it on the sidewalk, and says to him, “Why don’t you put a piece of rubber at the end of your stick? That ticking sound is driving me crazy.” The blind man replies, “If you would’ve put a rubber at the end of YOUR stick, we’d be riding the bus … so shut the hell up.”
That joke reminds me of an article that appeared in the in-flight magazine that I got on the way to Nice two weeks ago. They have a section called “The Big Debate,” and the subject matter was “Should parents get special treatment at work?” Now I know I have parents reading this, and there are other readers who might like to have kids, but my verdict is no.
It boils down to choice. You chose to have children, so arrange your lives to in order to see after them. Childless couples don’t choose to take on more work and/or discrimination due to the choices of others.
British journalist Stephen Spurdon writes, “Work/life balance is the HR buzz-phrase at the moment, and it’s a lovely idea, isn’t it? In the minds of some though, it’s okay if they have the life while you do the work … The resentment of the child-free towards the special treatment given to breeders has led to the formation of organisations to fight the inequality. The lead has tended to come from the USA, but there is some evidence that the ‘childless rights’ movement is becoming more vocal in Europe.”
One lobby for the childless in Britain is The British Childfree Association that runs the website Kidding Aside. They announce on their website that “most people assume that having children is the done thing and that those who do not have children must be deficient in some way,” and aim to convince childless couples that they are not selfish or petty for not breeding and seek to console couples that feel left out solely because of their choice.
A true story: A mother of four asks a co-worker if she plans to have children. “Oh no,” the young woman replies, “My husband and I aren’t planning to.” The mother sneers and quips, “Well, people like you shouldn’t have children anyway,” and storms off. Why is one choice that married couples make (having kids) fine and dandy while the other choice is repugnant?
We don’t live in times where ensuring future generations was seen as crucial to the survival of the species. This is the 21st century. The human race is not in any danger of extinction. No-one needs to have children. In fact, given what has arguably become the overpopulation of our planet, isn’t it selfish for people to keep breeding? Spurdon quotes BCA chairman Jonathan McCalmont:
“We no longer live in a society that needs to encourage people to reproduce … Kidding Aside is in favor of flexible working practices and maternity leave is a crucially important right, but in an overpopulated world, why do we give special priority to those with kids?”
Also consider, is everyone capable of the difficult task of raising kids? Is everyone fit to be a parent? Don’t you know plenty of people about whom you say to yourself, “They should never have become parents”? Yet, instinctively, most people are under the assumption that having children is natural, is to be expected, and that those DINKs that don’t are aberrant and a threat to society. Hmmm, and I thought the threat to society was the legion of aggressive, thuggish latch-key lads out there because of whom we have to have anti-social behavior orders … silly me. When are we, as a society, going to admit that having a high-flying career and children at the same time is not a good idea and that the impact it has upon the emotional well-being of our kids is anything but healthy? Kids don’t need the nearly 30 weeks of maternity leave to be with and have the undivided attention of their mothers; they need it for quite a long time thereafter. Say, five years. Unfortunately, feminist demands and punitive government taxes have seen to it that mothers aren’t around for their growing offspring the way my mother was there for my sister and I.
But back to the crunch on single or childless couple workers. One CEO of Irish company Graphite HRM, quoted had this to say:
“With over 90 acts, directives and regulatory orders since 1990, today an interesting situation prevails in respect of labor law. Trade unions want more, employers want less, childless workers are starting to feel discriminated against and the very purpose of some of the law is having the opposite effect.”
Spurdon himself writes:
“It is not surprising that such groups [such as BCA] during a period when the UK government has gone into family overdrive. Virtually every policy initiative of the UK government appears to be framed to be family- or child-friendly. A major driver in this has been the Department of Trade and Industry, which was behind the legislation to encourage more flexibility in working hours. This meant that from 2003, parents of young and disabled children gained the right to apply for flexible hours and employers have to consider their requests seriously.”
Well, sounds perfectly reasonable, doesn’t it? Who could find fault with that?
“No such provisions exist for cases where the child-free (or others) have to care for an elderly and infirm relative or a sick partner.”
A clearer example of special rights I’d be hard-pressed to think of. I have to go back to the Jim Crow laws to see the resemblance.
The yes argument in the article was provided by Rosie Carr, who writes, “[But] complaints from this group [BCA] should be dismissed for what they really are: petulant outbursts barely above the level of a playground spat. These moaners can’t bear to see someone else getting something that they’d like to have, whether it’s a six-month break from work, the right to flexible hours or just being allowed to leave early to deal with a crisis at home.”
We child-free workers don’t have crises at home to deal with from time to time? Right! Thank you for making that clear, Rosie. While reading that paragraph, I have a clear mental image of you: Your finger is resting on your upper lip and your head is held high. When it comes to petulant outbursts, the childless have nothing on you.
Don’t get me wrong. I think tax incentives for families are vital and maternity leave is warranted. And couples with children should be granted the right to leave early if they need to – but so should we all. The law should not determine that the only family members for which we need to be there in times of crisis be children.
Those with children find it convenient to take their frustrations out on the childless. We aren’t up all hours of the night trying to calm spooked or teething babies. We have more money for ourselves to do with whatever we like. We don’t have to control the content on our TVs or computers. We can easily take long weekend breaks to the south of France. We don’t have to play children’s games when we’d rather just settle down with a beer and watch baseball at the end of a hard day. Far from not having lives, we have great lives. The breeders know this and they can hardly control their anger. Misery loves company, after all, and they dearly wish we could experience theirs.
Well, tough! Again, your choice. Lie in the bed you made. You wanted the kids, and kids are exhaustively demanding, so deal with it. We’re all adults here. Some of us simply choose not to go through the trouble of raising offspring. Call it selfish if you must, but we decided that having a partner and a pet or two was enough and that’s all we need out of life. Life goes on and the world still spins! If having kids was such a great, refreshing, enriching experience, why on earth would anyone choose not to have them? That simply defies human nature.
Spurdon ends his article with a gem:
“[B]eing child-free does not mean that you don’t have to cope with their bad behavior in public, or that you won’t have your ears assaulted by some whining brat when dining out with friends … Having children is – or should be – a conscious choice. It is something that should be planned for, like a holiday. Well, you save up for a holiday, so why should you not save up to have children? Then again, why bother to save for something everyone else is expected to pay for – particularly the child-free folk you work with.”