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Yes, Childfree People Should Care About Family Leave

This probably has been a hard week for childfree people. San Francisco just approved six weeks of fully paid parental leave, coming on the heels of New York City’s law requiring up to 12 weeks of partially paid time off for new parents and California Gov. Jerry Brown boosting paid-family leave benefits.

Well, hey, wonderful, you may be thinking with a tad of sarcasm. I don’t have kids, by choice or chance, or I never want to have kids — why should I applaud policies that promote people who have kids when we end up covering for them when little Liam or Emma gets sick or is in a play or has a parent-teacher conference?

It’s a burden

Childfree people, whether single or partnered, don’t like the extra burden often placed on them because of other people’s parental duties. It’s “newest form of workplace discrimination,” according to Marie Claire.

Just look at what Amanda Marcotte writes in her Slate article, “Family-friendly workplaces are great, unless you don’t have kids:”

At their offices and workspaces, the demand from parents for time off means single women without kids are routinely pressured into working late, scheduling vacations for off-seasons, and otherwise picking up the slack that the work/life balance leaves undone by their colleagues.”

And that makes things feel very unequal, as Laura Carroll, author of several books on childfree living, writes in Fortune:

When it comes to work-life balance, the “life” part has often been synonymous with personal time related to parenting. Workplace culture has regarded caring for one’s children as the most valued personal time outside work. Typically, what non-parents do with their personal time has been viewed as not as ‘important’ as parent time. There’s also the common assumption that with no kids, people must have a lot of free personal time, and the work-life balance does not really apply to them.

I get it. Really, I do. But the workplace is no friend to working mothers. In fact, as Claire Cain Miller writes in the New York Times, “employers rate fathers as the most desirable employees, followed by childless women, childless men and finally mothers. They also hold mothers to harsher performance standards and are less lenient when they are late.”

Thankfully, some of the new parental leave measures extend to everyone who needs to take time off to caregive, even to care for a seriously ill family member. While you may not have experienced that yet, trust me, you will — if not for a parent then perhaps for a partner or a sibling. Especially if — sadly — you’re a woman, because caregiving is overwhelmingly female, and thus underpaid and undervalued.

And if you think you’re being penalized because of working mothers, just wait until your co-workers’ parents start aging. Liz O’Donnell addressed this beautifully in the Atlantic recently.

There are currently 44 million unpaid eldercare providers in the United States according to the U.S. Census Bureau and the majority are women. And yet there are very few support programs, formal or informal, in place to support these family caregivers, many of whom are struggling at work and at home. Working daughters often find they need to switch to a less demanding job, take time off, or quit work altogether in order to make time for their caregiving duties.

Just look what you have to look forward to!

Let’s just call it family leave

O’Donnell believes the conversation shouldn’t be limited to the need for maternity leave or parental leave, but family leave and other accommodations “that will enable workers to care for their aging parents without their lives falling apart.”

I agree — we have a long way to go to helping those with kids or those who were once kids themselves, and who have parents. But, what about the bigger picture? What about not seeing this as something parents need — what about thinking about it from what children need?

Well, people who have kids should be prepared and financially able to care for those kids before they have them, you may be thinking.

You’re not necessarily wrong to think that way. But, what are we actually talking about when we talk about children? They are the future. They are the people who may flip our burgers before going on to make Academy-Award-winning documentaries or write best sellers or discover a cure for an illness that’s long eluded us or entertain us with the next must-see Netflix series or teach the next generation or develop new technologies that will make our lives better or perhaps even be our caregiver when we’re old. Today’s children are tomorrow’s society, and yes, childfree people should care about that because it will impact everyone’s life with kids or without — in one way or another and most likely in many ways.

This is not to say it’s OK for workplaces to discriminate against the childfree. Discrimination in any form is never OK. But caregiving the most vulnerable among us matters. “The measure of a society’s health is how well it takes care of the youngest generation,” the late psychologist and author of All Kids Are Our Kids Peter L. Benson said.

If you think of it that way, wouldn’t we, parents or not, want to make sure that all kids are taken care of so they can reach their potential? Which means we should be more empathetic to their parents. You know, a “it takes a village” kind of thing. I wonder what your parents desperately needed while they were raising you as a child. Why don’t you ask them?

Want to learn how to create a marriage based on your values and goals, with kids or without? Order The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels on Amazon, and follow TNID on Twitter and Facebook. Originally published at

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Award-winning journalist, coauthor of “The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels,” mom, changing the narrative about older women

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