Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Child Labor

I have a coworker that keeps bringing her kid to work. I find it really annoying, but I'm not sure how to address it. I can't believe our boss hasn't said anything, because sometimes it is very distracting. 

I bet this was one of those times when you were sure I was going to agree with you and go on a rant about self-indulgent parents. Prepare to be disappointed.

I want to be clear that I have not lost any of my disdain for parents who believe the world should rearrange to fit their needs and the needs of their children. Kids and parents need to learn to play nice with others. More importantly, they both need to learn that polite society requires both manners and witty conversation, which rarely involve bodily functions or superlatives.

That said, I think it is easy to swing the pendulum too far and demand that parents (and kids) live in a completely different society from non-parents. The lack of tolerance for kids in the workplace is a prime example. Don't get me wrong. I don't want to bring my kids to my job. That's my time to remember that I wasn't always overweight, tired and immersed in shows that teach "sharing and caring." I also don't like other people's kids. They have all the stickiness of my kids, without the mitigating benefit of being morally obligated to take care of me in my old age. However, it's not like I find kids more annoying than most of the older people I deal with on a daily basis. Given the choice between hearing a kid interrupt a presentation and listening to some sidebar conversation about horrible life choices made over the weekend, I find no noticeable advantage for the adult-child over the real child.

I also think that if we integrate kids into society earlier, we will have more time to mold them into self-depreciating, thoughtful adults, rather than self-absorbed, entitled narcissists. That means we may have to tolerate their mistakes, but the alternative is to have a generation that grew up playing DS during dinner and is incapable of holding a conversation for more that 15 seconds. Sure, mom and dad got to talk about their day without interruption, but Jr. has no idea what an engineer does, despite mom's 30 year career, and yawns with frustrated boredom when forced to listen to someone else talk.

Kids are part of our life experience, just like being old, being sick and being in love: three phases of life that are just as annoying to other people as children. I know that as Americans we have this firmly held belief that life and work should never mix, but assuming we aren't making fireworks for 8 hours a day, I think we can relax and acknowledge that a little family distraction can occasionally make us more productive by reminding us why, exactly, we are putting up with this job. This isn't limited to kids. Some of us may have parents that need our help, or spouses, or friends or pets. We have outside lives. Let's stop this pseudo-Victorian denial.

In your specific case, the fact that your boss knows and is tolerating this dastardly disregard for workplace norms indicates that something else is going on to which you are not privy. Even if you completely disagree with my theory that the majority of people have priorities, such as children, that are unrelated to work but may occasionally rear their ugly heads between 9am-5pm, I would advise you to keep your concerns to yourself until it becomes more clear what is happening. No sense being the ogre that storms in to the boss's office, demanding an explanation for the special treatment, only to be told that your coworker's husband just died saving a box of puppies for orphans. Try coping a little while longer. Depending on the situation, you may be able to limit the distraction by using headphones or by remembering that you didn't spring, fully grown, from your parent's head like Athena, so at some point, someone had to tolerate your youthful impertinence, too.

Since I feel like this topic can't be addressed without some feminist rantings, I'm just going to throw in as a final note that the strict segregation of work and family detrimentally affects women more than men. As primary caregivers, we are asked to hide our family responsibilities much more than our male coworkers. Ask yourself whether you would be more forgiving (or even complimentary) of a man who brought his children to work. Taken to the extreme, women are asked to choose between being cooped up with our kids all day in "child-friendly" environments like play grounds and Wal-mart, or dropping our kids off with someone else and pretending they don't exist anymore. If you feel like your leaning towards supporting the first option, remember that women who are isolated from social connections tend to resort to blogging.

What are your thoughts on doing holiday shopping online? Is is a time-saver?

Sure. The shopping gets done in record time and you feel this wonderful euphoria while the rest of the world stresses...but then you have to wait for the shipping. How is it going to get here by the 23rd if it hasn't shipped yet, Amazon?! Hmm?

Next year, I'm shopping local.

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