Overworking Single, Childless Women: The Burden of Not Having a Family

At least once a week I read an article or overhear a conversation about the difficulty women have balancing work and home. Especially since Sheryl Sandberg urged women to Lean In and take on more responsibilities, the professional world is overrun with rebuttals, critiques, and demands for corporate restructuring to better accommodate the overwhelming demands of the working mother.

Great. I’m with it.women vs women

But where are the conversations about the women who’ve chosen not to get married or have children? Where is the outrage on behalf of the women who are expected to work longer hours, attend evening and weekend events, and be ‘flexible’ in their work schedule because they don’t have ‘pressing obligations’ outside of work?

In 4 days I was twice reminded that I do not have a partner or children. I was reminded of this after having to tell colleagues that I require at least 2 day notice when scheduling meetings. In other words, you cannot ask for a meeting 20 hours before the proposed meeting day and time. I have a schedule. And I’ve scheduled my workload such that I have specific afternoons dedicated to meetings and specific days where I have the option of not going into the office.

When I mentioned this request for earlier notice, the response was ‘Oh! Well I figured you’d be in the office, but I guess you could be getting things settled with your new house…’

First off, leaving that sentence dangling does not prompt me to tell you what I’m doing when I’m not in my office. You are not entitled to my personal life, nor are you positioned to oversee my work schedule. Second, is my new house the only acceptable reason in your eyes for me to not be working in the office? What of other aspects of my life?  Third, even if I was planning to be in my office, I could have a host of other things scheduled for that time slot. And no, I am not rearranging other meetings or tasks to accommodate your last minute request.

It is amazing that my colleagues find it perfectly acceptable and not at all unprofessional to leave work or completely miss work for the following: impromptu long weekend, breakfast/lunch with partner, reading to their child’s class, meeting with their child’s teacher, taking their child to the doctor, taking their child on College visits, taking their child to meet with a college counselor, staying home with their child because they have a snow day/holiday/teacher workday, taking child to school/picking child up from school.(what happened to baby sitters? The school schedule is released at the beginning of the school year. You knew there would be a teacher workday and winter break and spring break. You also know what time school starts and ends every day) While I recognize that children get sick and schools close, these things don’t happen every 8 business days. There are some who invoke one of these reasons at least once every two weeks (and sometimes multiple days in a row), thus making it standard practice, not an exception or outlier or odd occurrence.  And when things just happen (because they do), everyone should be able to meet the obligations of life outside of work—not just those whose obligations involve children.

No one EVER challenges these emails (often sent the morning of), but I am passively critiqued for working from home, for being out of the office to conduct research at schools, or basically, for not keeping my schedule open in the off chance they want to meet with me. I mean, what else could I be doing…since I don’t have kids? Not having a spouse or children does not mean I don’t have a personal life.

I am sick of it. My choice to structure my life the way I want is just that—MY CHOICE. If I choose to work from home/a coffee shop/Santa’s workshop, it should not matter. I am exceeding my job expectations even though you can’t see me working. But more importantly, the absence of immediate family does not necessitate the presence of more work. While I certainly believe in equity, the expectations of my work should not be higher than those who’ve made different life choices. My choices will not be subjugated to yours. Just as you should not have to struggle to find a work-home balance, I should not have to struggle to balance my job responsibilities in the context of yours.

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5 comments on “Overworking Single, Childless Women: The Burden of Not Having a Family

  1. All of this. For nearly a decade now, I’ve been trying to promote saying “work-life”, instead of “work-family” balance, because we all would like to have lives that co-exist with our work-selves. What does it matter what we’re doing outside of the office. Three years ago I became a mom, and I have not changed my opinion. Thank you.

  2. Thank you so much for this. It sums up SO MUCH!

  3. Within the context of having a salaried job with a single PTO (paid time off) pool for everything: It is my opinion that an individual can use their PTO for whatever reason they want without judgement. Everyone’s time is basically equal. It is of course necessary to give sufficient notice for planned absences, but if someone wants to spend two hours of PTO to go have dinner with their spouse? Shrug.

    • In academia, faculty don’t have PTO, nor do we get overtime for working weekend or evening events. I was referring to people leaving in the workday for multiple hours to do personal things while being ‘on the clock’. (we don’t actually clock in and out)

      • Also, the point of the post is to emphasize that even in the situation you describe, someone using their PTO to have a 2 hour lunch with their spouse is more ‘acceptable’ than someone using that PTO to do things unrelated to family. The issue here is that people are unequally being judged for their personal choices.

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