Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

How Does Your Company Define Family? May 3, 2012

By Maybe Lady Liz

In my B.B. life (Before Blog), I worked in Human Resources for a Fortune 500 company. Part of my job was communicating our benefits package to employees, prospective employees, and surveys like the Top 100 Companies to Work For. The magic words to get ourselves on that Top 100 list and snag potential new hires? Family friendly.

Sounds nice, huh? Brings to mind things like flex time, telecommuting, and additional days off. And these are all true. For parents. Flex time means you can leave early to pick your kids up from school. Telecommuting means it’s not a problem for you to work from home when your child has a runny nose. And additional days off means two days off each year for employees to attend their child’s school-related activities.

Of course, there’s nothing in the fine print that says these benefits are exclusive to parents. But try asking your boss to stay home because your husband has a sore throat, or to leave early for a romantic dinner out and compare that to the reaction a mom receives when she asks to come in late to attend her kid’s award ceremony. Parents who take time off for these activities are revered for their family values – and typically aren’t expected to make it up. Those without kids who try to access the same perks are dubbed lazy and irresponsible, despite the fact they spend much of their time covering the workload for (some, not all) missing-in-action parents.

So why do they call these benefits family friendly when they don’t encompass all types of families? The nice snappy sound of alliteration? People do love alliteration. But no, I think it’s that people don’t really associate the word family with a childless/free couple. With 20% of women aged 45 not having kids, isn’t it time we re-evaluate the definition of that word and start structuring our benefits programs accordingly?

Most of us work pretty hard at some pretty stressful jobs. Those of us with only one or two weeks of vacation could really use an additional day off now and then to feel like our jobs haven’t completely consumed our lives. Parents take that opportunity on a regular basis, to say nothing of the six weeks – several months mothers take off for the birth of each child. Childfree/less women have a special challenge to ensure they find meaning in their lives through something other than the built-in mission of motherhood. Some find it through their careers, but for those who don’t, shouldn’t they be afforded the same rights as parents to pursue the things most meaningful to them?

It’s not all bad news – there are some progressive companies out there offering ala carte benefits options to employees that ensure single or childfree/less employees get an equal slice of the benefits pie, and aren’t stuck subsidizing the cost of other people’s children’s insurance. But I imagine we’re still a long ways away from the Fortune 500 shifting their views on the definition of a real family.

Maybe Lady Liz is blogging her way through the decision of whether to create her own Cheerio-encrusted ankle-biters, or remain Childfree. You can follow her through the ups and downs at Maybe Baby, Maybe Not.

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19 Responses to “How Does Your Company Define Family?”

  1. Kate B Says:

    I’m heavily involved in dealing with benefits where I work. I think we generally do a good job of not discriminating in favor of families. It’s a very flexible workplace – but then we are a government, which makes it a little easier. I am surprised though, considering some of the stuff one union president comes up with, that no one has ever asked to even out the benefits received. Clearly someone with a family gets a greater dollar value benefit package than a single person does or a two-person family does. I would love to see us offer a true cafeteria benefit plan, where employees are giving a dollar amount to spend on benefits, from medical and dental to paid time off, and they get to choose what combination works best for them.

  2. As a single childless woman I have long been annoyed with the term ‘family friendly’ policies or workplace. It’s just another kick in the guts, not only do I miss out on having a family, but I miss out on work benefits associated with that as well. It’s wrong on so many levels. I’m much more in favour of ‘work life balance’ policies or another non-discriminatory term. I really think people need to start being more outspoken about this. The problem is that when you’re in that minority group, it just sounds like sour grapes. I feel the same issue about working part time – I have no desire to work full time again. If I had a child it would automatically be accepted, but as I’m childless it’s damn hard to find a part time gig when most of them are saved for mothers returning to work after maternity leave. Why is their desire to spend more time with their child(ren) considered more important than my desire to do whatever it is I wish to do rather than work 5 days a week until I retire?

  3. Pamela Says:

    How about just “life friendly” policies. That covers all of us…

  4. How about just “life friendly” policies. That covers all of us…

  5. Quasi-Momma Says:

    All in all, as much as companies tout their employees’ value, there is a general distrust that policies will be abused. So “family” – however it is defined – becomes the parameter in which to reign it in. It all depends on who you work for.

    I don’t take offense to the “family-friendly” term if the treatment is fair.

    I’ve experienced both sides of the spectrum. I’ve work for a small family-owned company that gave me flack for leaving for emergencies that involved my stepkid (like stepmoms aren’t part of family?) AND worse, for guilt for taking time off during a miscarriages.

    Then again, when my first husband decided he didn’t want to try for kids, I had a boss who completely understood and insistent a take a long weekend to process it.

    It’s a fine balance.

  6. Maria Says:

    I love this article because it is one of my pet peeves. I am an attorney and when I was in private practice, there was not only a double standard applied to men and women, but an even worse double standard applied to men with kids and women with kids. If men don’t have children, it’s perfectly ok to take time off or not make your hours (typically bill 2000 hours per year) if you are out playing golf or at a strip club if it “might” lead to new business. If you are men with kids, it’s ok to do the same activities plus leave early to see your kids in a play or go to parents night at school. For women, if you want to make partner, whether you have kids or not, you need to show your face in the office 10 hours per day every day, even on weekends, and exceed your hours otherwise you are not committed to the practice law. If you leave early for any reason, you are perceived as not committed and, if you have kids, you are generally not considered reliable and won’t ever be considered for partner. I never had kids, worked all the time, picked up the slack for men that were not there, developed a book of business and still did not make partner. Most women open their own offices because it’s the only way to gain control over their career and their personal life. I now work in house in a quasi-govt office where I work with a lot of older women and they not only respect each other’s need to take time for personal stuff, but actually tell me to do it for myself. My work ethic from being in private practice for 12 years is so ingrained that I don’t think to take time off unless someone tells me ok. For example, this past week was such hell my boss (female) told me yesterday to take today and tomorrow off so I did. I’m grateful I found such a great place to work but I know it’s highly unusual and I agree that employers need to change their perspective of family otherwise single people and the child free get dumped on and it’s perceived as entirely acceptable.

    • loribeth Says:

      So true, Maria. I have heard women grumble about how the (male) managers regularly take an afternoon off to go golfing with a client, because that’s “business.” I know a lot of women who have no real interest in golf but have taken it up for that reason. I am sure that if they took a female client to the spa for pedicure, it wouldn’t be looked on as favourably. :p

  7. loribeth Says:

    Fortunately, my company (one of the largest in Canada) has never been big on the “family friendly” label — we tend to talk about “flexible work options” and “work-life balance.” We moved to a “flexbenefits” system about 10-15 years ago, where everyone gets a basic level of benefits & then you’re allotted a certain number of dollars (based on your salary & whether or not you smoke) to pay for whatever else you want. People with kids were up in arms because they wound up paying so much more for what had once been “free” or heavily subsidized and given to each employee without regard for family size. I felt badly for them, knowing we have a lot of single moms working in our branches, but at the same time, I felt it was a much fairer system all round.

    I did an article for the staff magazine 15 years ago, when we were first introducing “alternative work arrangements.” One of the people I interviewed was a woman who did not have children. She was on a compressed work schedule — still worked a standard 40-hour week, but worked a longer day four days a week, & then took a day off. She said she used that time to go to afternoon matinees at the theatre and work a novel — but she made the point that the reason why she or anyone else wants a flexible schedule (including whether you have kids) shouldn’t be a factor in approving such an arrangement — what matters is how you plan to get the work done. “My time is valuable, too,” she said. This was right around the time we began ttc & I fully expected to have a family at that point, but her words made complete sense & have stuck with me.

    I don’t think a lot of people have really considered that point of view, though — mainly because they have families, and don’t have to — everything is obviously about the kids and their needs and being a parent. I do think that parents/moms generally get more sympathy/slack when they need to leave early or take an extra day to stay home with a sick child than I would.

  8. Paula Knight Says:

    Great post. I live the UK. Our government rhetoric often contains the words ‘hard-working families’ in ref to the policies they intend to support the ‘families’. ‘Family’ always means children – and the wide use of it in such contexts makes it normative and therefore dismissive to other types of family.

  9. Claire Says:

    I have worked with kids and without – and I agree with Maria above that, esp as a woman in a professional field it can be difficult. But – on the whole I disagree because – in ref to the post by Maybe Baby you can’t compare the needs of a child to that of an adult. Or you can – but the fact that we put children’s needs as More important is what is so right. I’m pretty sure (make that positive) that if a parent asked “to stay home because your husband has a sore throat, or to leave early for a romantic dinner out” the answer would equally be no. Parents – are simply other adults with small, vulnerable people that they are responsible for. And most will be dealing with daily stresses and struggles – sore throat? romantic night out? I’m pretty sure they are more likely to be sick more often (kids are a great carrier of germs – not to mention the lack of sleep) and romantic dinner? Unlikely for most. Two whole days to attend a school function is hardly excessive. It’s a pity when the vulnerable in society (esp children) are seen as a burden simply for having the gall to get sick or have a role in a school play – or exist really. To the author of this piece – Did your parents see you in school plays and events? Did they pick you up from school and play an active role in your life? I’m not sure why other children should go without this, or have to balance it with a romantic night out for you (ever hear of the weekend?)

    Also if family really means children – then No adults are benefting – so what’s the problem. Kids Should benefit from child-friendly government & work polices. This is the hallmark of a fully evolved society. It’s not as if the parents with kids are enjoying some extra holiday time if they have flex time to attend to an issue for their child. To the poster above, parents with a sick child Should get more sympathy – it’s sympathy for the child and an understanding the worry of a sick child. It’s not a love fest for the parent.

    Also, there is a recession, most families and couples with or without kids are struggling. Most people have to work. With kids just makes it harder – yet the author of this piece begrudges a healthy society which centres around familes and children – which it should. I’m sure anyone on this blog will have/or be benefiting from the support of a close/happy/healthy family. This is not something that just appears – a strong family is Made. Through hard work, parents being there for their kids when they leave school, taking an interest in their lives and attending events. It’s Good that companies are becoming more flexible and invested in society. And universal healthcare would be good too. Why knock things that, for the most part, help everyone – simply because in the moment you don’t seemingly benefit? I worked in an office environment more before I had kids – and I never begrudged parents having to, at times, prioritise their kids. I assumed when I had kids I would also benefit and if I didn’t that it was a small price to pay to be part of a healthy society (as it happens I work, but not in an office now – so I never benefited nor have I ever had maternity leave -but I don’t begrudge others).

    Regardless if someone has kids or not – we still depend on a sustainable birthrate. Parents that bring up happy, healthy adults (the kind that take an active role in their life – and attend the school play for example). The economy, society is dependent upon children being born and to be a part of this world we all live in and depend upon.

    • Maria Says:

      You suggest that people with children are entitled to take more time off because it is for the “good health” of society. I think a healthy society would require respect, compassion, and love for all people regardless of their circumstance and whether they have children or not. If people are not treated equally, isn’t that a symptom of an unhealthy society? All people have issues in their personal life. The point of this article was that people with children who have personal issues tend to be given more flexibility at work to address them as compared to people without children who may have other personal issues. Since you have children, I can understand why you may not be able to see the point of view of the writer of this article. However, this website is dedicated as a support system for people without children.

    • Julie Says:

      I think you missed the point of this post. She was simply talking about the fact that family-friendly policies seem to be one in the same with kid friendly policies and that even though people don’t have kids they can still be a family and have family commitments.

      I don’t have kids, but I did take care of my grandmother for the last 3 years of her life. It would have been really helpful if I had been able to utilize some type of benefit from my employer, like occasionally working from home or using flex time. As it was they didn’t seem to have any compassion for the fact that my 90 year old grandmother who was no longer able to bath, dress, or feed herself (like a 100 pound baby) needed me there to care for her when the care giver that came while I was at work wasn’t available for some reason.

      I realize that being a parent is a big job (one that all of us reading this blog would love to have) and I truly admire all that most parents sacrifice for their children. However, just because we don’t have children doesn’t mean we aren’t meaningful members of society and valuable employees at our places of work. The benefits that would help out childless couples wouldn’t take anything away from people who work and have kids. My husband and I are currently getting screwed on health insurance because they don’t have an option for just two people of the policy. They either offer individual policies or family policies at both our places of employment. Both the companies and us would save a lot of money if they offered self plus one.

      • Maria Says:

        Hi Julie – I totally agree. I live in NJ which allows you to take family leave for a sick child and a sick direct family member, e.g. spouse, parent, sibling. So at least there is some fairness when people are very sick. It’s all the other time off for children when they are not sick that is allowed with a wink and a nod that bothers me.

    • At the risk of echoing Maria and Julie’s comments, I just want to emphasize that my point wasn’t that parents shouldn’t take off for these things. I think parents should be active and attend school plays and take care of them when they’re sick, etc. But non-parents should be afforded the same rights. For those of us who don’t have kids, our spouse, extended family and pets are our “babies”, and our outside interests like furthering our education or writing or volunteering become increasingly important to us. My point is simply that companies need to recognize that family health should also include the mental health of non-parents and allow them to spend time with the things they value most in life, just as parents are afforded additional time to spend with their kids. THAT is what will make for a healthy and balanced society, not providing unequal rights based on parental status.

      • Elena Says:

        exactly. Women shouldn’t defend each others right to be the eternal caregiver IN ADDITION to working – wether caring for children or for extended family or the pet. We should defend EVERYBODYs right to a private life which has real quality, not just the few hours driving home from the job, eating a microwave dinner, sleep, and back to work again.
        I am lucky to work flexible time and tomorrow I am going to take the afternoon off because I will spend the rest of the day with my fiddle and play a small gig in the evening. So there.

  10. IrisD Says:

    I no longer like the term “family values” or “family friendly” because it doesn’t imply what family means to me, it implies nuclear family (as in your own spouse and kids if you are an adult), which we don’t all have. For me family has always meant siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, in addition to just “mom, dad and kids”. I agree with Claire above, that we all benefit when kids are raised in a loving, supportive family. As a former teacher, I can vouch to that threefold, and I want kids to be happy. What I do not agree with is the implied notion that only children count, or that your life counts more if you have children. After my friends had kids, their focus on their kids (which I can fully appreciate, they’re good moms and that is very important) somehow also made them somewhat oblivious to non-parents. If a cop was killed, it became “how could they kill someone’s daddy?” If my husband didn’t take care of his health it was not as important as their husband not taking care of their health because they had a child and mine didn’t. My husband is important to me, and to his family, to his siblings, his parents and the rest of his extended family. The cop that might not have had kids, perhaps had a wife who loved him, or was the only child of aging parents, or had a sibling that counted on him for all matter of things. Yes, I agree that children in many cases (not all, aging and ill parents, disabled spouse or sibling, etc.) are more vulnerable, but do we really have to make it sound as if the lives of the childless (who may be people who through their profession or simply caring are important to someone else) are less important? This is one of those things that really irks me.

  11. Angela Says:

    At my company, health insurance for me and my husband is $12.54 MORE than for an employee+children, which is always three or more ’round here. That’s per paycheck, so WEEKLY. Now, the rate for a Family is $16.65 more than what I pay, which makes sense. Why the hell do my husband and I, TWO people, pay more than an employee+children?? Basically, what it turns out to be is people who are married – employee+spouse and Family – are subsidizing single mothers.

  12. […] This post was originally published on May 3, 2012. […]


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