Childfree in the workplace - you can’t win.

I'm in my late 20s and I'm childfree by choice. I've known since I was a little girl I never wanted to have kids. I'm at a weird crossroads in my life where I'm with a committed partner and people who don't know me at my partner's job are expecting us to have children. People in my workplace are dancing around the subject and some of the other comments they have made heavily imply that this is the next step for me in my life. It feels like everyone is holding their breath around me and I'm somehow not being taken seriously because of the *risk* of *potentially* having a child.

I'm so tired. My partner is being treated differently because of this. Because he is the only member of senior leadership without a young child he can work long nights and come in on weekends, and always be on call to answer emails and hop on calls. He has no work/life balance and it's so frustrating. Just because we don't have a child doesn't mean our [free]time is less valuable.

I used to work in retail and the reason I left is because I would see my partner one day a week and we would have to spend that time doing chores together. I was sacrificing all of my relationships for work. I REALLY value my freetime because of this. I was getting my masters and working two jobs until a year ago and I spent almost no time with my partner or my friends. When I finally had a week off from school and my partner decided he didn't want to come into work on the weekend to spend my very little freetime together, he always got attitude from his boss (that also diminished the hard work I was putting in). I absolutely know that if it was about "family time," it would be a completely different story.

I don't know what to do. Maybe it's just a season of life I have to wait out. I just wish everyone would stop treating women like their one goal in life was to have children and we could stop dancing around the conversations about what women want. People, not just women, can want more than one thing at a time and regardless of their gender have the capacity to work for their wants and goals, whether that's having a child, training three beautiful dogs, rock climbing, sewing, baking, hiking, or getting out of bed in the morning. People are multifaceted. Women are multifaceted. Can we start treating them like that?

This reads as more of a partner problem. I doubt that your partner would be spending more time with you if you had children. He sounds like the kind of person who would just come up with other justifications for why he'd need to be in the office all the time. It sounds like he doesn't know his self-worth and has never learned to create boundaries at work, which the other members of senior leadership learned to do a long time ago. "Getting attitude from your boss" is the standard reaction when pushing back, and he shouldn't be complaining to you about that. If anything, he should be telling his boss that he's been "getting attitude from his wife" and is worried about his marriage/relationship so needs to work fewer weekends.If he's in an industry where it's normal to work around the clock, this might never change unless he gets into therapy or has a rude awakening (such as getting laid off).It seems like you didn't notice him being a workaholic as much while you were busy getting your masters and also being a workaholic, but it's no longer a lifestyle that you want. (Also acknowledge that it sounds like you are the one who changed, whereas everything has been status quo for your partner, so in a sense it's unreasonable for you to expect him to suddenly change and prioritize free time outside of work without having a direct discussion about it.)The way people are treating you expecting you to suddenly become pregnant is also frustrating, but it sounds like that's a bit of a red herring and isn't what's actually bothering you the most here.
You bring up a lot of really great points, especially about boundaries in the workplace, but I think I may have not described my frustrations accurately upon reading my post again. My partner spends plenty of free time with me and if he has to work extra, it’s always an “us” discussion. We are both workaholics and we like it like that, but always with consent. My complaint is not about him, but on behalf of him. He is treated differently because of his lack of children. There is no second guessing to pick up the phone to call him when it’s off hours. He’s given extra flack when setting boundaries or denying extra work to spend time with me because the narrative is that “if you don’t have kids, what could you possibly need free time for?”My issue is that employers don’t seem to be ready to have conversations that don’t align with their own values and make assumptions about their employees’ capacity based on outdated societal norms. I’m discovering this to be unfortunately true in both my traditional, buttoned-up, jeans-on-Fridays workplace, and his unbuttoned, no HR, 20-person family-owned business.
Got it, sorry for making incorrect assumptions. I do know exactly what you mean and typically find myself on the same side of it as you and your partner do, although since I'm also single at the moment it's usually more a flavor of pity (coupled with the same concept that I'm more available to work than those with families).I remember another issue would arise frequently where some Jewish coworkers were Sabbath observant, which would piss off all of the non-Sabbath observant employees who would be the ones on call on Saturdays and Friday nights. I even had a friend who was a lawyer who would purposely exaggerate her religiousness in order to avoid working on Saturdays (I thought it was a smart thing for her to do).There aren't any easy answers, but I still think it's like any negotiation where you have to advocate for your own side because everyone else is going to advocate for their position, and in this case your partner is in the minority so no one else is arguing his side with him. It might sound crazy to say, but maybe your partner needs to start having conversations with his coworkers about his decision to be childfree, à la Seth Rogen, and positioning it that he's growing resentful about "paying his dues" towards something he'll never reap rewards for.Obviously he can also be less vocal and just be slightly delayed with answering emails or calls on weekends, always with good excuses ("so sorry, I was in a movie theater for 4 hours and didn't see this until Steve already replied").Finally, even though your cultures and company sizes are really different, the words "traditional" and "family-owned" are somewhat synonymous. Maybe it's a good time to explore less conventional employers and vote with your feet.
Well said.
Hi - Mid-40's and childfree by choice here. Other people won't maintain your boundaries, you have to do that for yourselves regardless of whether you have children or not. I didn't entertain speculation or coversation about my home/family life, it's just not anyone's business. We live in a patriarchal so unfortunately there's the lingering expectation all women should want kids. There's also truth to "people will treat you the way you let them", which is something that took me awhile to learn. Do you, maintain your own boundaries, and ignore your nosey colleagues.
Agreed. Honestly I think it’s often best to just not share so much info and details of your personal life at work cause unfortunately some people will use it against you. I’ve definitely noticed stigma sometimes where childfree and younger workers are expected to pick up the slack at work and held to a higher standard in some ways. Not to say parents have it easy though, cause working and being a parent is really difficult to balance and I certainly don’t envy that, but yeah, it also shouldn’t be on others to pick up the slack.
❤️❤️❤️ Thank you so much for posting thisI am 35, married (10 years!) and I've always been a "fencesitter" / I'm childfree by a combination of choice and some circumstances out of my controlI remember when I was in my late 20's how awful it felt to be alienated by parents in my workplace; in leadership meetings, people would make comparisons to raising their children, saying "you all know how it is, just like wrangling the kids..." and forget I was the only person in the room without that experiencePeople at work would say the most forward things, like "when you have your own littles.." or "don't wait!" or "it's the only way to have love and meaning in your life!" and I'd always struggle with how much I should explain; what if my colleagues didn't take me seriously because of my family status? I observed: Dads would get promoted, paid MORE and celebrated if they left the office early for kid pickup or a Lacrosse match; Moms would get demoted and pushed out of their jobs when they couldn't be available on short-notice; was I being cut off from promotions as an assumed potential maternity-leave flight risk?Even without my own kids, I *also* have family caregiving responsibilities; I take care of my husband, my grandmother, my niece, and am the emergency sitter / carpool driver for friends with kidsI've been learning to set better boundaries, but also to be grateful for the little perks of my experience; I really can fly out to any location on short-notice with less coordination; I don't have to pursue a role with a higher salary so I can budget for daycare; I can take super-big risks with my career if I wantYea, I may never know the Extreme Focus and Productivity Boost that comes from knowing you have to get your work done in the two hours before the bath-time routine... but I can also block off time on my calendar for my own needs without feeling guiltyAll this to say—I'm so sorry you're experiencing this. It doesn't actually get easier anytime soon. But, you're definitely not alone. We are absolutely multi-faceted and our time is our own. ❤️❤️❤️
I’m curious, why do you care about their opinions? It’s your life, none of their business. If you are facing discrimination because of this then that is serious and could potentially involve taking legal action or maybe just finding a better workplace. I think those kinds of people don’t have a life or are miserable, nobody who is happy is going around judging, being nosey and getting into other people’s personal life decisions.
I haven’t seen anyone say this so I’ll say it: just lie. Parents lie about their kids needs all the time to get out of things. You and your partner can do the same. Many people I’ve worked with lie about family obligations even if they don’t have kids. People like to see that others are family oriented even if child free. It’s unfortunate but necessary sometimes.
Hey, I so hear you.I am a parent but I was just at an event yesterday and everyone was talking about their kids--but not everyone there was a parent. The sense that parenting is the default path a woman should take can be really alienating.While I agree that defending one's boundaries are important, I also like to go for the path of ease when possible. It's a lot easier to say you can't attend something because you have something else going on.I can't work late because I have an event I need to be at at 6 tonight.That event can be your dinner with your partner but no one needs to know that!Saying "it's a thing" makes it feel like it's more of a solid commitment.And it maybe can inspire you two to do more 'things.' Take a trip away. Go to a swing dancing lesson.You dont have to... YOU are a thing. But it's a slight linguistic hack that makes it feel easier to set a boundary.