25 Jun 2004 Family-Friendly Far From Fair? Part III
I received a thoughtful e-mail tonight regarding the conversation Ally (at the Who Moved My Truth blog) and I have been having about family-friendly policies in the workplace and society. With permission, I am sharing it:
Hi. I’ve had the pleasure of “e-mail-meeting” Ally recently. Hi Amy. Just wanted to throw a childless male’s perspective into the ring.
Having read both sides, I can understand each point of view – but here’s my take anyway:
As far as businesses go, they can do what they need to do (within the law) to make a profit. I have no problem with that.
As far as the work place is concerned (especially when the government starts getting involveed), I feel that there should be a level playing field. There is not.
Amy said: If they do not hire and promote based on merit, a rival will.
Affirmative Action impedes hiring and promoting based on merit. At times it also impedes the firing of those who’ve earned it. Let’s assume that we don’t have to worry about that. Let’s look at my situation: I am a 31 year old male with no children. There are five people in my department counting the manager. The manager has children (actually, all the upper-level managers do) and comes in late and leaves early during the school year so he can deliver the kids to and pick them up from private school. I am the “valued” employee in the department… I run things when the manager is away. My salary is the same as everyone else in the department (not including the manager). I can’t be promoted above the manager and there is no position between he and I. I can’t get a substantial raise as compensation without creating a new position to justify it to the others (or so I’ve been told). I could quit and look for another job but I enjoy what I do and what I do is not an easy job to find. Besides, why should I look for another job? I’m not the person who’s asking his employer/employees to alter schedules, meetings, etc. because I have kids. I’m coming to work and I’m exceeding at what I do. Why shouldn’t he be moved to another position or be switched with me? So, because the manager has kids, I get to be vice-manager, work longer hours and shoulder the same responsibility as the manager with substantially less pay. Everything work related is scheduled around his kids’ schedule. On the other hand, when a last minute trip out of the country pops up, I’m usually the guy who gets to go b/c I’m single, childless and therefore more flexible. That can be a perk – depending on where I have to go.
You point out that a valuable employee will be seen as such and promoted thusly. Maybe, maybe not. If the one who promotes you benefits from you, that person isn’t going to promote you away, especially when you provide much support for her/his absence due to children. Also, odds are, the ones doing the promoting are older than the ladder climbers and probably have children. They don’t want to hear your complaints about their perks…I’ve had this discussion and it didn’t go well. They are also from a different generation and generally got married earlier and had kids earlier than my generation (which seems to be holding off on marriage and kids – generally)
My gripe is that too many parents want to have it both ways – they want the affluent lifestyle delivered by two incomes, they want kids, they want (or at least take) the perks given to them for having kids (both in the workplace and on the tax returns) AND they want to “spend quality time” with the kids. You can’t have it all.
Case in point: I have three close friends who are married with children. One guy (Keith) works 40 to 60 hours a week as a lineman for a power company (he actually does physical labor). He also does landscaping on his off days to earn extra money. His wife stays home with the kids. They decided that was the best way to raise the kids and that’s how they themselves were raised. They have a nice home in rural area, three vehicles and two children. Money is tight, but they aren’t “hurting” by any means. Keith doesn’t have much free time for his old friends b/c that free time is spent with the kids. My other friends have two kids each. They both complain to me that their wives want to quit their jobs and stay home with the kids. That’s great. But, the men nor the women in this situation want to alter their lifestyle. Both families live in $250k, five bedroom houses in a suburb west of Atlanta. Each family has two vehicles that are no older that two years or less than $35K in cost. If they moved to a one income situation, they would have around half the income they have now. Which means they would have to move farther out, get a smaller house and get modest vehicles. The wives won’t move away from their mothers, don’t want a smaller house and wouldn’t do without being up-to-snuff in the fashion du jour. The guys can’t give up the giant vehicles and the expensive hobbies they enjoy. The men spend their free time tournament fishing, going on hunting trips, going to the races, and drinking. The women go shopping every weekend and visit their respective mother – kids in tow (unless they’ve been pawned off on the husband who then sulks around the house drinking and bitching that the women are out spending all the money – which the men are just as guilty of).
I use this example, because I think the second scenario is indicative of most of today’s families and the first is indicative of the wealthy or of those who truly put their children first. My mother stayed home with the kids until the youngest was old enough for school. Then mom got a job teaching at the private school we went to until high school (at that time we were tossed to wolves in public school – HA!). Then s e got a job. We were far from wealthy. We were lower middle class kids living in the sticks on a single parent income (dad is a plane mechanic for Lockheed-Martin) for most of our childhood. And we survived.
One can argue that a two income family can better provide for the child’s college education. Maybe, maybe not. A spoiled brat, that is starving for parental affection and has a free ride through school generally makes for a poor student and a poor employee. On the other hand, some students work their way through school, shoulder huge debt and join the workforce with more character, real world ability and dedication – generally speaking. Of course, I’m biased b/c I’ve had a job since I was 14, I put myself through school and I bought a house when I was 29.
Kids are far too important to our future to pretend that going to their piano recital, taking them to and from school and ensuring that they’ve done their homework is “quality time.” (What happened to kids riding the bus? Does anyone ride the bus anymore? There’s a good place for life lessons – the school bus – a.k.a. 30 minutes of shear hell) Kids are pawned off on the school as long as the school has no disciplinary authority. It’s disgusting how many times my boss huffs off to his kids school to demand that detention be forgone b/c he believes his child’s version over that of the teacher. WTF?? What happened to going to school, respecting the teachers and keeping your trap shut lest daddy dearest get hold of that fanny?
Amy said: The children your co-workers are spending a small fortune in cash, sacrifices and sweat equity to raise will someday pay your generation’s Social Security benefits. Your co-workers won’t get a cent more in benefits than you will despite having paid to raise the kids who will make the benefits possible. That’s not fair either.
They chose to raise the kids and they got their benefits (workplace, taxes, etc.) many years before the childless will get theirs (with the exception of a perfectly quiet house). Also, you assume that everyone will benefit from SS. There are many people who do not pay into (and will not collect) SS. I’m one of those people. I opted into a retirement program that allows me to use that SS money for my retirement. I won’t collect SS but I never planned to rely on it, so I have two retirement plans (a 401K in addition to my retirement plan through work). My opinion is that anyone relying on SS is either in a dense fog of confusion or is a commie at heart (the commie part is a joke).
If one wants children, fine. Take the time and make the effort and raise a smart, respectful, courteous, educated child. A child that will lead this country when we are all old and senile. When I’m in the presence of this child I’ll be sure to set a good example, to be polite and courteous, to watch my mouth, etc. But do not pretend to raise a child and demand perks and flex-time in order to be a conspicuous consumer and part-time parent. Do not flood my future with mealy-mouthed adult-kids who expect everyone to give them something for nothing. I didn’t chose to make that sacrifice and that sacrifice shouldn’t be forced on me in the workplace or when I retire. In fact, it is a sacrifice if done well. That’s my BIG problem. It seems to me that most parents do not view child raising as a sacrifice – a sacrifice of time, a sacrifice of money, a sacrifice of opportunity, etc. One is either doing all that can be done to raise a kid in a nurturing environment or one is not. Am I being idealistic? Yes. But parents get equally idealistic concerning their children on topics other than this. It’s all or nothing. It’s either the “kids”…think of the kids, think of their future, don’t burden them with our debt, ad nauseam…or it’s not, it’s about us and now. If we all agree to be idealistic about the kids in every aspect of their up-bringing, then I’m on board. But if we’re picking and choosing, keep me out of it.
As far as my tax dollars go, I don’t have a problem with my property taxes going to the schools. I would like to receive a progress report from each school in my county that discloses percentage wise the scores earned for each quarter/semester broken down by school grade. I would also like to see Truancy officers at the mall and I would like to see parents held accountable if their kids skip school or become an on-going distraction to other children (read undisciplined brat).
I’ll leave the child subsidy tax thing alone also.
I don’t lose any sleep over this issue and I enjoy jousting with parents over it but I don’t buy into me owing anyone anything because some else has kids. That can become a two way street…I disapprove of how many of my friends (parents in general) raise their kids, but I keep my nose out of it. When I go to work, I’d rather you keep your kids out of it. But, I’m a hard-ass…just ask my 4 year old nephew.
So there you have it, for what it’s worth, the thoughts and ramblings of a southern, straight, childless, single man in these fast, new times.
and to you both, a good Friday,
1) Regarding your present workplace situation: to me it does not sound like you are getting a fair shake, but only you can decide if the things you like about the job outweigh the things that aren’t fair. The notion that you can’t be promoted because there is no job between you and your boss sounds like a dubious excuse on your boss’s part to me. One could be created. Or they could give you a bonus. But I know so little about your workplace that I really should not say more.
2) I agree with you about affirmative action. Yet another reason why it — in its present de facto quota form, especially — should go.
3) I agree that folks can’t have it all, at least, not at the same time.
4) My kids are too young for piano recitals, but, frankly, I’d consider attending a kid’s piano recital to be “quality time.” That is, if I believed in the concept. In my experience, kids want a parent’s time at constant intervals. Say, every ten seconds.
5) I’d like to know how you managed to opt-out of making Social Security contributions. Agree with you on the need to save so one does not rely on it — but many millions of people rely on it anyway. Given the chance, I’d overhaul the system.
In conclusion, I’ll repeat I theme I hope has come through my earlier posts. When quality employees — the ones bosses don’t want to lose — demand change, over time, they will tend to get it. If not at one firm, then at another. But in the meantime, I agree that inequalities exist. It is up to all of us to encourage flexible workplace policies and get beyond the notion — so encouraged, at times, by government and labor unions — that employees aren’t individuals.