Don't all workers want a life?

Dip into "Baby Boon," the Elinor Burkett book reviewed in the Monitor March 2, and you'll learn that a revolution is brewing.

Child-free workers, be they single or dual-income-no-kids types, have had it.

They're tired, she reports, of filling in for those of us who take parental leave, shave an hour in the morning to see a child's class play, leave early for a teacher conference, or take an unexpected vacation day because of a child's illness. It doesn't matter if we make up the time elsewhere or use vacation days.

The bottom line: We're causing havoc and burdening our fellow workers.

She's not alone in her view. Rebecca Raether of Madison, Wisc., wrote in response to the Monitor's review that childless individuals would like some of the benefits that she says American society "lavishes" on parents.

So parents are sitting on a gold throne, raking in tax credits and special dispensations from employers?

It's a squabble that can reach highly sophisticated levels.

Most parents are unlikely to view their child tax credit as putting much of a dent in what they shell out for the privilege of raising Junior. It'd be news to them that others don't benefit equally from other accommodations - like mortgages. And for every day someone has to help out at work because a colleague is at home with a child, working parents could point to co-workers who take time out to help elderly relatives.

Why can't we all cut each other some slack?

The workplace needs to work, to be sure. And I'm not talking about being a martyr to someone who truly abuses co-workers' goodwill. But it would be a shame to unravel the progress made in recognizing that employees have lives that reach beyond what they do in the interests of the bottom line.

Businesses have faced enormous adjustments in recent decades as women have moved en masse into full-time jobs.

At first, women tried to blend in by pretending they had no concerns - day or night - other than the firm's welfare.

A brief period of enlightenment followed: The Family and Medical Leave Act made it easier to take a leave without fear of losing one's job, corporations tinkered with better maternity/paternity leaves, and flextime became a buzzword.

A certain chic even developed around occasionally accommodating family schedules, making way for babies, and giving the nod to casual clothes at work.

That flowering, however, was short-lived. Now, we're back in an era where 24/7 is king, where it's noted with pride that e-mail memos are sent at 2 a.m.

Most workplaces are not in any danger of winning awards for family-friendliness. A lot of employees, in fact, feel guilty for having a dog, let alone a child.

TV assures us that glamour is found in working nonstop - just tune in to "West Wing" and "Sports Night" to see what I mean. Women as well as men seem to have forgotten that they fought the company-man model - or that a corporate offer to have couriers do their errands and chauffeur the kids is not the same as having a life.

So it's easy to see why flextime centered on kids would stick in some people's craw. But I don't think kids are really the issue. Nor is having parents clear out their desks and go home the answer.

Yes, it can be tiresome to listen to endless recitations of the achievements of co-workers' children.

And it may grate to sense that parents label nonparents as less good or moral or grown-up than a - by definition - more-selfless and busier mom or dad.

And, too, companies should make sure that accommodations for personal needs apply to all workers, and that social events don't favor one group consistently over another.

But lots of people, for one reason or another, feel overloaded.

So maybe we all need to have a chat about helping each other to balance our lives - even if that means pinch-hitting for someone from time to time. Children aren't going to go away - and neither is the growing number of elderly adults.

It's easy to attack parents - even though many of them were on the vanguard of that drive for recognition that now benefits more than just the parental crowd.

But target them, and you'll quickly undermine the fact that our connections to others are, in the end, a blessing - and ones we should be loath to compromise or lose.

*Amelia Newcomb, a mother of two, is the editor of the Monitor's Learning section.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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