Are Women Without Children Expected To Work Harder?

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by Elle on June 18, 2012

I read this Huffington Post article and thought it was fantastic… go ahead and read it, I’ll wait right here.

It reminded me of my own life-changing experience  in my late 20’s. I loved my job at the time and it showed because I was one of the top sales people every month.

At the time, my boss just had her first child and took 8 months off, coming into the office once every two weeks for an hour to show face. As her most senior employee, she left me to manage her business while she was away. I handled her clients, the bills, and the rest of the team, all while juggling the needs of own clients.

Needless to say, those 8 months were exhausting and I welcomed her return.

Except, not much changed when she came back.  She decided that a three-day week was best for her since she had a child now.  I still found myself working close to midnight most days and my weekends were peppered with a few hours at the office.

When I told her that this was not sustainable, she was offended.

How dare I complain when she had a screaming newborn to attend to at home. That she in fact, continued to work well into the night taking care of her son after her nanny was off. That getting interrupted sleep was no joke … “and you’re complaining about working a few extra hours?”

In that very moment, I made the decision to start my own business

She’d just created her competitor.

Just a few weeks later, before I could put my business plan into action,  I was devastated to learn that  my 54-year-old mother was terminally ill. I didn’t even have to think about it, I took a leave of absence to care for her – my family comes first.

My boss reluctantly agreed but called me every single week to remind me that I was neglecting my work and that her business was suffering as a result.

Is your mom better yet?”  was how her weekly calls started. It took every bit of restraint not to yell that terminally ill patients don’t get better… along with a few colorful words. I didn’t call her once during her 8 months off to ask her if her newborn was able to take care of himself yet. I respected her time with her son and gave her the space she needed.

Call me naive, but it shocked me that this double standard was coming from another woman.

What happened to sisterhood?

I believe that as women, we all feel the unrealistic demands society has put on us. We’re expected to be exceptional caretakers of our families and still kick ass in the workplace.  As a woman, I’ll take the chance to make another woman’s life easier and expect the same back.

I may not have been a mother, but I still had responsibilities…

And my responsibilities did not revolve around her business.

That experience made me realize that women who do not have children are expected to work harder and longer than women who do. If they speak up about it, it’s seen as whining.  Of course, mothers in the workplace also face  unrealistic demands, which I’m not minimizing.  A single, childless woman is not expected to have much of a life. That her work IS her life and she’s a slacker when she tries to create a work/life balance.

Whatever would she need to balance if she doesn’t have a husband and children at home?

One of the reasons I chose to be self-employed was because I wanted to create balance in my life. I didn’t want to have to work myself to the bone or face the consequences of being told I’m impacting someone’s business negatively.

I’m desperately trying to become a mother and had I still been working at that job, there is no way I would be able to take time off for IVF treatments or anything else that comes with infertility without getting dirty looks or reminders that I’m a slacker.

What’s your take – are single women without children expected to work harder?

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