I read an article earlier this week in the Chicago Tribune about single workers whining about doing more work while their colleagues with kids flit around the work place, shirking their responsibilities. It rubbed me the wrong way on a whole lot of levels. Read it for yourself and tell me what you think.
Back in the day, I was a single worker. Then I was a married worker without kids. Then I was a married worker with kids. I worked hard in every job I’ve ever had, regardless of my mothering status. In the days before kids, it was not uncommon for me to put in ten hour days while my colleagues left after eight. No one required me to put in the extra time. I did it because I fancied myself a perfectionist, an exemplary employee, better than my colleagues. Yes, I was a bit obnoxious. My guess is that I annoyed my colleagues. Maybe not, though, as they were older with kids. They probably couldn’t give a fig about the extra time I put in the office while they were home making dinner for their families.
At the height of my career, as my career was very important to me and a lot of my worth came from it, I worked and then looked for a lot of extras that would contribute to an impressive resume. And it wasn’t just about the resume; I honest to God loved what I did and I was good at it. In my head, I thought I was building equity for my own future, for that time when I, too, possibly would have kids and want or need to shift priorities for a bit.
Then I got a call one day at the office. My Mom had had what they thought was a stroke. She was in an ER in Biloxi, Mississippi and had had a brain hemorrage while sitting in front of a slot machine. My Dad had stayed back in their snow bird home in Alabama, as he didn’t care for casinos. He had not yet gotten to her in Biloxi when I was on the phone with my Mom. Her voice was slurred, thick. She kept saying, “Okay. Okay. Okay.” It scared the bejesus out of me.
That marked the beginning of the end of my self worth coming from a career. It wasn’t a stroke my Mom had, but a brain tumor that had bled out. It walked and talked like a stroke, though, as my Mom was paralyzed on her right side for the last eleven months of her life. As soon as she could travel to Chicago (oy, my Dad still complains about the cost of the medical plane) and be transferred to a hospital closer to their home, my priorities shifted and have never shifted back.
One by one, I opted out of extra responsibilities. No more speaking at conferences. No more prepping for panels. No more supervising social work students from U of C. As soon as the clock struck 4:30, my appointed end of day, I put my coat on, closed my office door, and walked to my car with the other gals. I drove south to my folks house, a small apartment just a couple of blocks from Northwestern and RIC that my Dad had rented to be next to the medical campus. I cooked and laundered and toileted and kept my folks company. Those priorities had shifted without me even realizing it.
Caring for a parent that you know will die is not like having children, but for me, if was my first opportunity at giving myself fully to another human. I was married at the time and deeply in love with my husband, but he could take care of himself. He didn’t need me to feed him or bathe him or dress him or change his soiled sheets. Caring for my Mom taught me that I was not the selfish gal I thought I was. Caring for my Mom allowed me to love in a completely different way. It was an honor and a privilege. After my Mom died, I had my own daughter a few months later. I was lucky enough to arrange a part-time schedule when I returned from maternity leave. I have lovely, intense memories of those days.
Yes, but what about the article, you ask. Enough about my profound caregiving experiences, you say. The article was little more than a big stick poking at an already stirred pot. Single workers hate parenting colleagues. Parenting colleagues are tired of the lazy ways of singles. Blah, blah, blah. Never the twain shall meet.
You know what? I am lucky to have a job. Each of us working today are lucky to have a paycheck. We don’t need annoying, overly provocative articles to make us feel we are in some way being cheated, esp. when the headline of said article is clearly negated by the text of the article, “Statistically, there isn’t a difference between parents and non-parents and the hours they work.” (Ellen Galinsky, Family and Work Institute)
You know what is statistically significant? The hours the employed spend working in relation to the hours the unemployed spend working. Yep, definitely significant. Also, the pay can be statistically significant between the employed and unemployed, too. Huh. Imagine that. Mortgages and groceries, not so different, regardless of employment status.
For me, I am happy to be working. I have single colleagues that, yes, work much later than I do. It doesn’t really phase me one bit these days. Pre-cancer and caregiving, a lot of things that seemed important, don’t seem too important to me anymore. I worry lots more about me now, than I worry about what my colleagues are doing. Occasionally, I can still get riled up about work issues, but for the most part, it’s not worth it.
My toddler has a much higher statistically significant chance of riling me up than single co-workers. Word.