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Fammily Friendly for Whose Family

Do workers without children reap the same rewards as do their colleagues who are parents? Equal work for equal pay has long been the American mantra, but are parents more equal? The childfree say it is dangerous to promote one lifestyle and set of personal choices above others. Granting special privileges to those that reproduce creates unprivilege and subtle social pressure for those that don’t. Parenting is a choice. With that choice comes responsibilities. In the last decade, as parents have struggled to balance responsibilities at home and at work, they have simultaneously raised the bar politically and in the workplace.

During the 106th Congress, dozens of bills were introduced to increase the child tax credit, award stay-at-home parent grants to return to school, and expand the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act. Childless adults have had enough. They feel they have become second-class citizens in the eyes of their government and their employers. They say family-friendly policies that have become the norm, place an unfair burden on childfree workers and don’t consider their families or lifestyles. Is it fair to give tax credits to parents regardless of income?

Should the childfree be expected to work extra hours because they don’t have children? Should employee benefit plans reward fertility rather than longevity or merit? The childfree see a world of colleagues who are stressed out because they’ve chosen to believe the lie–you can have it all. (Burkett 55) You can have children, careers, and excel at both. They say we’ve taken a step backward to the days when married men made more than women doing the same work because they had families to support.

They’ve watched as children invade places sacred to adults such as R-rated movies and the workplace itself, Belkin 32) employers create benefit packages that are full of maternity leave, pregnancy coverage, and other child-friendly perks that mean parents effectively earn more than non parents for doing the same job. They’ve grown tired of parents who play the kiddie card and exempt themselves from overtime, travel, weekend, and holiday duty as well as employers who expect non parents to take up the slack.

They watch as parents get away with things like bringing children to work, coming in late because of day-care issues, or working at home to save on child care. The childfree are mad and they’re not taking it anymore. For a starter, they reject the term childless. Childless has a connotation of loss or regret. Childfree implies satisfaction and deliberate choice. To be childfree means giving thought to not having children as opposed to the contemplation most parents give to having them. Belkin 33)

While in the past adult workers without children may have grumbled privately about the benefits afforded their coworkers with children for fear of being called child haters, they have recently begun to organize. Two groups in particular, the Childfree Network and No Kidding! and have emerged to give voice to what may turn out to be a political/social movement to protect the rights of adults without children. (Burkett 45) The Childfree Network is a four-year-old organization with a mailing list of 5,000 people and regional chapters in 33 cities.

It focuses on several issues–political and social. First and foremost is respect for the decision to be childfree. People are childfree for many reasons, but whether it is by choice or circumstance, it is a lifestyle that deserves as much respect as any other lifestyle choice. No one goes up to the mother of an infant and says *Just wait, you’ll change your mind, yet choosing to remain childfree will definitely cause people to see you as odd. Society places pressure on people to have children against their better judgement.

The childfree point to the number of abused and neglected children as evidence that without societal pressure to reproduce, more people would realize that they don’t want children. Another issue the organization is tackling is that some workplaces actually are child-friendly, not family-friendly. In these companies, benefits are structured with more opportunities for parents, and less flexibility for non parents. The childfree point to the fact that some employers expect childless employees to fill in when parents take time off for their children, yet they do not receive the same consideration when they require time off.

In other organizations employees are volunteered to work holidays or to take undesirable business trips. Take Joyce Purnick of The New York Times is an example. Purnick rose through the ranks to become the first woman to run the Times’ largest news division. Within just a few weeks of in her new position, she managed to enrage female reporters with young children. Purnick had the gall to assign those who had not worked a holiday during the prior two years to work over the long July fourth weekend.

It seems Purnick’s predecessor had exempted the mommies from having to work long holiday weekends. (Burkett 53. ) When the mommies complained, they did so as women alleging that the offense was against their gender, but gender is only a relevant issue if you concede woman and mother are synonymous. Motherhood as political correctness? How did we get here? In another example of parental preference at the Times, reporter Jan Hoffman adopted a baby. She asked for and was granted maternity leave and was permitted to extend that leave beyond the federally mandated twelve weeks.

However, when Linda Lee, another Times employee, requested unpaid time off to write a book, the request was denied. It seems to the childfree a moral decision has been made for them–there is no more valuable pursuit than family and children. Another trend Childfree points to is for Washington to turn every issue into a family issue. Gun control used be about reducing crime; now it is about protecting children and mothers marching on Washington. The fight against smoking used to be about lung cancer; now it is about Joe Camel and kids.

Is it okay to be killed if you’re over 21, but to keep a child from getting hurt the whole world must be turned upside down? Framing policies in terms of children is a trend Childfree finds disturbing. (NYT, p. 62) Any claims on the taxpayers’ purse must be examined on its own merits. So far, it has been taken for granted that people who have children have a right to dip into the public purse for their education and healthcare. But on what sense of logic is this based? When politicians shifted the tax burden from families (parents with children) there’s never any talk of who it’s shifted to.

There are many choices that adults make. One choice might be to parent a child. Another choice might be to have a career. Time and money limit the choices we make, or at least they should. For the government funds the one choice over another, is to say it one choice is more valuable than another. Read how Joel Slemrod and Jon Bakija authors of Taxing Ourselves, explain it: Having children is largely a voluntary choice, and may even be viewed as a matter of personal consumption preference from the point of view of the parents.

Some adults prefer to save up and spend their money for a round-the-world trip, while others prefer the job of children with the attendant costs of food, diapers, Nintendo, and possible college. Is it fair to reward adults who prefer to have children, at the expense of adults who prefer other ways of spending their money? (Burkett 74) Parents argue that they are giving the gift of life. To say ‘having a child is the moral equivalent of buying a boat, therefore, the parent is completely responsible for that child, is an insult to the sanctity of human life.

But the childfree say this statement is meaningless. A gift is something you give to someone. It is also something that can be refused. How many of us remember being asked? Besides, overpopulation is more of a problem than underpopulation. Selfishness is a term often hurled about by both sides. Parents say the childfree simply want to lead a hedonistic lifestyle. The childfree don’t want to consider anyone’s needs but there own. They are immature in the sense that they refuse to put anyone else first.

The childfree have heard it all before. They argue that people rarely have children out of an obligation to humanity. They want a baby to coo over, a genetic link to the future, or simply didn’t use birth control. Somehow working families has become a code phrase for parents. Because you have no children, you have no family , and it may be perceived that you have no life and therefore can be imposed upon by your employer, coworker, even the tax system.

While Childfree is tackling the political inequalities the childfree face, No Kidding! s concerned with the social aspects. Five years ago there were two chapters, today there are 47. The first No Kidding! chapter was formed by Jerry Steinberg, a French teacher from Vancouver, BC. Steinberg got tired of coming in second to his friends with children. Inevitably, conversations turned to their spouses and especially their children. He wanted to spend time with adults whose lives did not revolve around their children, who were not interrupted 30 times in a phone conversation, and had the time and money to be spontaneous.

When he went looking for a support group, he found that there were groups for single mothers, single fathers, parents with terrible toddlers and with troubled teenagers, but none for folks who don’t have children, so he created one. No Kidding keeps track of places friendly to the childfree–restaurants, neighborhoods, pools, etc. While discrimination against people with children is illegal, many childfree search out places where they don’t have to deal with the noise and disruptions that come with small children.

There are clues to look for avoid homes with good school districts, live on a main road (parents usually avoid places where kids can play in traffic), look in gay neighborhoods, As a society we have to recognize and respect the needs of everyone. We must reconceive personal identity, separate parenthood from identity. Those who don’t have children are not career-crazed or sad, barren spinster types. Neither stereotype acknowledges that people, even those who have longed to be parents, can have rich and balanced lives without children.

The childfree have weighed the pros and cons and discovered the opportunities are great, that a spare room can become a music room instead of a nursery, that instead of a college fund money can be used for travel. Compromise is possible. For a starter, how about ending subsidies for parents earning $60,000 a year or more? Capping the deduction based on need makes sense. And it also makes sense to increase the dependent deduction rather than add a per-child tax credit, that way tax payers who support family members but don=t have children could take advantage of it. (Batista 1)

Corporate attitudes need to change and companies must see the big picture. What’s sad is that, in the rush to embrace ”family values,” corporations seem to imply that some families are more valuable than others. Benefit programs need to be evaluated to find inequities. Rather than a bevy of child- friendly programs why not have a smorgasbord of benefits that are applicable to both groups? If on-site childcare is a perk, allow the childfree to donate that slot to a relative or someone in the community. (Chat 10) In other words, realize a family just doesn’t mean kids.

But even if you have no family, everyone has a life outside the office. It demands time and effort, whether to raise kids, write a book, or take your dog to the vet. Recognizing those needs pays off in commitment and productivity. There are choices to make and potential parents must ask themselves which they want more, a larger income or a relationship with their children. The government cannot subsidize reduced parental investment in children. Parents alone bear the responsibility of their children unless they fall into povery. It doesn’t take a village to raise a child, it takes a responsible parent.

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