Something broke my heart a little last night. My boss darted into my elevator at the end of the normal workday with me. Because this is so odd, him leaving at 5:30 when the rest of the office clears, I made a note of it. “Wow, leaving at a decent hour today! Good for you!” I said to him. He looked at me with a half smile, then said in a defeated, deflated voice, “yeah, it’s my son’s birthday and I’ve got to be home early." He spoke as if his son’s birthday was this horrible inconvenience, keeping him from his work. This wasn’t the first time he spoke of his family like this. He came in late one day last week because his daughter fell ill at school and it was “his turn” to pick her up, and he grumped about the mess it had made his day all day long.
My last boss was like this as well. They both took vacation weeks not during the week their kids and schoolteacher wives were home on winter break, but the week before or after. They complained about family tasks, preferring to stay at work for all hours. I often thought that if one of the lobby sofas were a convertible that my old boss would choose to sleep at the office rather than at home with his wife. Both men hung drawings from and photos of their kids in a manner that smacked more of obligation than love. I was shocked to find out my current boss’s son turned 14 yesterday; the photo in his office is of a little-league playing boy of 9 years, tops.
And then I compare this to the problems a friend is having with her workaholic husband, distant and disinterested in the family, working 70-hour workweeks because he feels obligated. And, granted, he’s in the process of building his own business, but even when he IS at home he’s checked out and picks fights, never appreciating a thing his stay-at-home wife does, sometimes coming home so late he’ll go days without seeing his two young boys. He doesn’t spend time with his family; he does time with his family and it breaks my heart to see what she goes through.
And then there’s the flip-side to this. In my decade of professional experience, I’ve never had a superior who has put their family first. Family folk seem to come in two extremes: either work or family is viewed as a necessary evil. Those who appear to view family as an unfortunate obligation (usually men) make their way up the ranks while those who work to pay the bills and have little other motivation never seem to get ahead.
I will be the first person to label myself as a workaholic. I think my addictive tendencies inherited from my father manifested in my work instead of drink. But while I’ll be the first to volunteer to stay late when there’s a big deadline looming, I also strive to work as few hours as possible to get my work done. Since my career is a major factor in my decision to remain childfree, I often wonder what I would do in a similar situation to my current and former supervisors.
It's no secret that my husband wanted kids when we met, and during those conversations when I was inclined to consent, figuring by the time it came up in our lives I might be okay with it, I told him that if I had kids with him that he would be the primary caregiver. (Eventually, obviously, I came clean with him and told him how I really felt.) I've always known, since before the day almost 8 years ago when my mom said "you're more of a career girl, aren't you?", that if I didn't want to reevaluate my career goals a kid would make things incredibly difficult.
I knew before I had spent much time at all in the type of office where I'd spend my career, before I saw the coldness of the successful parents or the stunted careers of the good parents. Even aside from my lack of maternal desire, I've known that a career and a child wouldn't mix. As Oprah has said, she didn't feel that she could do both as well as she'd feel comfortable with. That sums up my thoughts pretty accurately.