There’s been a lot of talk lately about men and women who don’t have children – or are still deciding whether to have them – feeling left out when co-workers take time off to take care of their kids. I can sympathize.
It’s incumbent upon parents to use their experiences to help co-workers and friends who need a different kind of “Family Leave,” especially if they want to take the time to ponder whether to ever have kids.
Below is a proposed two-week “Family Leave Policy for the Child-Free” that can help them figure out if they want to continue along their current path, or make changes. Just like regular family leave includes specific time for disability and then for bonding, this new kind of Non-Family Leave also includes specific suggestions on how to spend it.
Day 1: 24 hours to examine other people’s life choices
Spend the first day looking at the Facebook accounts of co-workers, relatives, and friends who have kids. Do they appear to be suffering more than you are, or less? How far back to you have to scroll to find vacation photos? Are they willing to post photos of themselves in a bathing suit? This day-long reality check may make you grateful that you’ve resisted societal pressures so far.
Days 2-3: 48 hours to come up with glib explanations you really don’t owe anyone
Let’s face it, we all deal with nosy questions about our life choices – whether we have “only” one kid, or three kids, or four, or we’re a single parent, or we’re raising kids in the city, or the country.
Since you’re going to get even more advice from Aunt Rita as you get older, make sure you’re armed and ready. Spend the first few hours of this time period making a list of terse labels for your current lifestyle, such as “Happily Heirless,” “Able to Get Decent Sleep,” “Able to Drive Where I Want Without Installing A Sixty-Pound Child Seat in My Fiat,” “Healthy,” “Well-Rested,” or “Able to Sneeze without Peeing.”
Days 3-9: Seven vacation days to spend on an island while drinking
This week should be a celebration of things you can do while you don’t have kids. Isn’t it fun to sing along with Eminem at karaoke instead of singing along to Disney radio?
On the last day of your journey, begin posting photos on social media to become the envy of your childful friends.
Day 10 (Last Day): 24 hours to experience what life would be like with children
This day is the most important part. Your itinerary is as follows:
Midnight-1 a.m.: Set your phone to sound an alert every single minute. Discover what it’s like to not be able to complete a coherent thought.
1 a.m.-3 a.m.: Search the internet for cribs that looks safe. Cross-check with consumer advocacy websites, magazines, and Aunt Rita. Order crib. Also order hammer. Spend hours putting your crib together, and then when it gets recalled an hour later, hit yourself on the head with the hammer.
3 a.m.-6 a.m.: Puppy simulation. Two puppies will be delivered to help simulate parenting for the next few hours. Spend the first three hours trying to get them to fall asleep. They’re asleep? Good! Now cut their nails and clean the house.
6 a.m.-8 a.m.: Spend the next two hours strapped to a chair watching “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” and “Caillou”. Try to figure out why/how someone stole the font and song from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and created a completely unrelated show. Scream.
8 a.m.-10 a.m.: You deserve a break! Interview nannies to watch puppies. Read scary nanny stories on internet. Give up on hiring a nanny. Instead, drop them off at day care. Read scary day care stories on internet. Bring puppies home and lock yourself inside.
10 a.m.-10:02 a.m.: Don’t spend any time on your looks. Trust me, dear. No one is looking.
10:02 a.m.-11 a.m.: Like to eat? Good! Head to a restaurant and take a break. Ask waiter if the food contains peanuts, tree nuts, coconut, nutmeg, butternut squash, milkweeds, milk, seeds, reeds, seaweed, “weed,” beets, beans, crab, shrimp, eggs, eggplant, eggnog, “soybean and/or canola oil,” wheat gluten, rye gluten, or barley. Realize the waiter is one of those smartasses who won’t write stuff down. Urge him to write it down for safety reasons. Re-explain the situation to two chefs and manager, who come out one by one looking confused. Cry.
11 a.m.-2 p.m.: Now, start the part of the day where you pretend to have school-aged children. First pretend they’re in Pre-K. Go to simulated teacher/parent meeting. Find out your kid has a learning disability. Call insurance, learn that only appropriate specialist in network is two hours away in Poughkeepsie, and has a three-year wait. Better start saving, Rockefeller! Realize your insurance may change by then anyway. Ball up your fists.
2 p.m.-4 p.m.: Pretend you have an elementary school kid. Buy backpack to hold water bottle, lunch cooler, science fair project, sports equipment, social studies project, change of clothes. Buy another two backpacks to hold permission slips, book fair orders, PTA fundraiser forms. Then buy one giant backpack for all three backpacks.
4 p.m.-8 p.m.: Pretend you have a teenager. Take two of the puppies. Stick car keys in their collars. Send them out the front door. Hope they come back in one piece, and not pregnant.
8 p.m.-11:30 p.m.: Time to pretend you have a college student! Spend three-and-a-half hours filling out page one of the FAFSA aid forms. Realize how little aid you’ll get. Go to bank, remove life savings, dump into river.
11:30 p.m.: The day is almost over! Get some sleep! It all starts again in 30 minutes.
Congratulations! You’ve officially finished your two weeks of Non-Family Leave a.k.a. Family Leave for the Child-Free. We have a feeling you’ll be a much more productive employee now. People in Europe receive 51 weeks each year of similar leave, which is why they’re so darn productive when they’re actually at work.
In fact, generous vacation policies are also the reason that the average Norwegian lives to be 106 years old. But then again, if you lived in Norway, why would you want to?