Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 24 September 2014

It's small-minded to begrudge parents perks at the office

Family matters: parents need time with their children

The British Chambers of Commerce are worried about employers who feel under pressure from working parents who want to take school holidays off. The real issue, we hear, is the growing resentment among child-free staff regarding parents' 'assumed priority'.

I spent most of my twenties living in London without children. I worked in an office, the BBC in fact, which was rather generous when it came to parents' needs. With a few exceptions (waking up the day after a ten-Tequila dance-on-the-table night; three-hour phone calls studying the melancholy navel of an artistic, misunderstood boyfriend; that time I was persuaded to wear dungarees), I'd describe my life then as a ball.

I did what I liked when I wanted. I could jaunt off for the weekend, or suddenly change my plans and head out to the pub. I could go on holiday whenever I chose. I didn't have to consult four people's diaries before booking tickets for the cinema.

Impromptu whims could be indulged on the spot. I spent my money mainly on myself and my own requirements. I bought the food I liked, ate in the restaurants I chose, stayed out as late and as often as I liked, watched what I wanted on TV, and adorned my flat with beautiful breakables. I listened to Leonard Cohen, uninterrupted and at full volume, in the car.

In short, I was free. And when I listened to my colleagues who were parents, awkwardly umming and aahing on the phone when a music publicist offered them free tickets to Glastonbury, I felt nothing but sympathy. All of my twentysomething friends did. How humdrum their lives looked; how hampered they were by their little families.

We felt so sorry for them that when it came to half-term, and their requests for leave were approved before ours, we all gracefully, generously, pityingly demurred. Their lives weren't their own, the poor, enslaved souls. They even had to use up precious time off to suit their kids' school breaks, when prices were doubled and the weather was often rotten. And when they did go away, it probably involved a mobile home in a fricking holiday camp!

It never entered my mind to take offence at the little chink of kindness my employer showed the women and men – usually women – who were gallantly bringing up the next generation, the kids who would hopefully pay my pension one day. And though my feelings on parenthood have become somewhat brighter, I still wonder at the mentality of those who begrudge the acknowledgement of the unavoidable commitments of working parents.

This kind of 'Why Should I?' mindset strikes me as as just another reason for small-minded, self-fixated misanthropes to resent their neighbours, another petty little whine against our fellow men, to be seized upon by those who are at their most animated when complaining about how much they hate people who talk on their phones on the bus. My first thought upon meeting such creatures is always the same: Wind your neck in. Or stick it out further so I can wring it.

'Why should I give up my seat to someone who selfishly chose to be pregnant?' 'Why should I have any sympathy for anyone who works less hours than I do?' 'Why should I pay taxes that might help child refugees in countries thousands of miles away?' It's become the mantra of the bitter, the angry and the disappointed. And we pay far too much heed.

Oh, and by the way, my younger self; having kids has turned out to be kind of amazing. Just you wait.

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