At the tail end of a pretty stressful week at work, I picked up a call that I really should have let go to voicemail. It was a colleague – let’s call her Chelsea – at another university, wondering if I might be available to act as a panel speaker for a last-minute student event she was throwing that Saturday. Luckily, it coincided with my volunteer work at an animal shelter and I didn’t have to scramble for some bogus excuse. Chelsea then asked if my newly-married co-worker Evelyn might be available. I said I wasn’t sure of her weekend schedule on such short notice, and that’s when she dropped this little gem into the conversation about my boss:
“I’d really love to have Nancy there, but I know she’s got a toddler at home and I feel bad asking someone with kids to give up part of their weekend for work, so I thought I’d at least try you and Evelyn.”
Did that really just happen? Stunned, I gave a polite laugh and said I understood as she went on to complain about missing her own daughter’s soccer game for the event. But you know what? I don’t understand. I don’t understand at all how not having children of your own somehow makes your free time less valuable, open to being taken advantage of.
I don’t think Chelsea said what she said because she’s insensitive to those without children. The truth, I think, is a little more unsettling: that Chelsea saw me and Evelyn as those who didn’t have kids YET. Who would someday join the ranks of the protected, but needed to pay our dues now while we’re childless. Perhaps an okay system for those who DO go on to have kids and later reap the benefits, but what about those who choose not to? Or worse, those who desperately want to, but can’t?
The universal assumption that everyone will go on to become a parent can be a dangerous one for those of us who won’t, for whatever reason. It can mean, at times, that we’re paying into a system that’s distributing unequal rewards. And some of that is just life: unfair by nature, and often unchangeable. But it doesn’t do us much good to just come home and complain to our spouses or cats (or glass of wine) about it. I’m sure we’ve all done enough of that. Which is just one of the many reasons I’m glad there are sites like Life Without Baby that allow us to share our stories and connect with one another. The further along we can get in the conversation, the more likely we are to take it from the digital world out into the real world – with our friends, our family, our co-workers – and hopefully, someday, springboard towards real change in understanding that everyone’s life has equal value, regardless of how many tax dependents you claim. [Speaking of, does anyone know if the aforementioned cats count as dependents in the eyes of the IRS?]
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 MaybeBabyMaybeNot.com.