Don't Play The Child Card With Me

23/03/2017 19:02 | Updated 24 March 2017

Pets at Home recently announced that they'd give a day of 'peternity leave' to help people settle in their new pets. This makes a move in the right direction: it acknowledges that there can be good reasons for leniency at work beyond those to do with children.

Parenting is hard. Every moment of your time is swallowed up by the little person whose existence depends on you. That's why (at least for the moment), I've exercised my right to reproductive liberty by choosing not to become a parent. My time is too full of other things: things I enjoy and things I want to achieve. So, why should I have to suffer as a result of other people's reproductive choices?

Most pregnancies in the developed world are planned: people know what they are letting themselves in for, and decide to go for it anyway because of the 'joys of parenthood'. As a nation, we place high value on reproductive liberty: most of us agree that contraception should be freely available, and most would view it as oppressive if the government were to make policies that incentivised having only one child. But what we seem to have forgotten is that with freedom, comes responsibility. People need to be held individually responsible for the decisions that they make about whether to have children.

But this isn't how the status quo is operating. Instead, the burdens of parenthood are seen as a collective responsibility. I, as a childless person, must make sacrifices to compensate parents for the difficulties that they are enduring. You see this in the special weight that child-related reasons carry when decisions are being made. Attending a child's nativity play is viewed as a better reason for an afternoon off than spending time with a friend who is feeling low.

A lot of the time, using the Child Card is perfectly legitimate. Having children disproportionately burdens women, and is a major factor in maintaining the gender pay gap (women in the UK earn around 18% less than men). It's absolutely right that more needs to happen at the level of workplace policy to make it feasible for parents to continue to progress their careers after having children. I'm happy with the Child Card being played as an argument for flexible working hours and part-time positions. But these options should be available for non-parents in difficult circumstances too.

The Child Card is often being abused, being used in situations where gender equality arguments simply aren't relevant, or where the excuse isn't about meeting the child's needs. Recently a group of us (all women) were deciding on a date for a meeting. We'd already established that this needed to be on a day when the mother had childcare. That's fine. But even after this, the mother still had greater bargaining power and chose the date, justified by how difficult her life had become - as if the lives of the rest of us were a breeze, and that this terrible burden had involuntarily been imposed on her. This is like expecting to be waited on hand and foot through a hangover. If your friends and colleagues are nice, they'll go easy on you. But you don't deserve this special treatment.

You might protest that parents are performing a service to society by bringing up children, and so non-parents have a collective responsibility to make parents' lives easier. According to parent Kyle Smith, "Non-parents should fetch us lattes daily and offer to do light housekeeping", since "Parents make the critically necessary sacrifice without which society would collapse".

It's true, society would collapse if there were no more children - but that doesn't mean we need reproduction to continue at the current rate, contributing to overcrowding schools and hospitals. Instead, perhaps the rewards should be for those of us overcoming our reproductive urges and putting less strain on public services. And if we're concerned with rewarding people for good deeds to society, let's give people time off for charity and community work.

In any case, I don't know any parents who decided to have children as a sacrifice for the greater good of society. They did it because it's something that they wanted to do for themselves. Why get rewarded for something you were going to do anyway?

Don't get me wrong: Often it's okay to play the Child Card. But don't abuse it. Don't think that because life is so difficult for you as a parent, non-parents are obliged to make your life easier. I'll let you decide the date and place we meet. I won't comment on you turning up an hour late. But it's because I'm being nice, not because I owe it to you.