Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

How Does Your Company Define Family? August 9, 2012

This post was originally published on 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.


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

  1. Elena Says:

    completely agree of course. And still….. i stumbled once again over the “family of two” thing.
    Being childless and single to boot doesn’t mean i exclusively want to spend my days working for the company either. Sure enough there’s no partner at home who might be sick or inviting me to the romantic dinner. It just means i need even more time for romantic dinners to find such a one. Or some of us have sick pets. Or some of us try to look for a meaning in life outside the company and without a partner, which is even more complicated and therefore needs time off.
    The comparisons could be stretched endlessly: I could whine that people get time of when they have a sick partner or pet, but i don’t get time off to look after elderly dad (At least not to the same extent). Or that couples get time off for wedding but i don’t for my godchild’s christening. Or that some people actually are accepted to take time off for a sick pet, but i don’t have one and I don’t get time off to go to a fiddle music workshop because that’s more interesting to me than keeping a dog/cat.
    And some of the arguments really goe for men, too. And here we enter into the realm of, why does mum get time off for the kid with the runny nose, but dad doesn’t…etc.

    It won’t be helpful constructing new small categories like the “family of two” or “childless vs parents” and then try to get the benefits of the one clearly defined category for the other, new, clearly defined category.
    It’s the entire logic of the working world we should question. Living means more than working and working should be part of a fulfilled life.

  2. Kathleen Guthrie Woods Says:

    Yes yes YES! Liz, you nailed it. Elena, you nailed it! A good friend (single, childfree) recently lost her job b/c she is the sole caretaker for her elderly mom who is suffering from dementia and was told she wasn’t focused enough on her work. Can you imagine the outcry (and lawsuits) if an employer said this to a young mother? Grrr…..

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