parent opinion

'I've asked to work part-time. But apparently work-life balance is only allowed if you have kids.'

I’ve asked several bosses throughout my working life if I could reduce my hours from five days a week to four. The reaction has become unfortunately predictable, and after chatting with several childless friends, it seems to be a common one across many fields. It goes something along the lines of:

"But you don’t have kids, right? So why would you want to work part-time?"

I try to keep a cool head and find a polite way to respond when faced with these kinds of questions, translating my thoughts ("Because there are other things some women might want to do with their time than procreate!") into something more professionally appropriate.

Watch: The things people who don't want kids always hear. Post continues below. 


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The idea seems like a difficult thing for some people to accept, even in this day and age. That some people over 30 may find fulfilment, joy and life satisfaction outside of producing offspring, is still not a mainstream concept.

These are the reasons some people choose to have kids, right? Because they want to. But if someone doesn’t want to, or can’t have kids, they must surely only want to work. They’re the only two acceptable options, and it drives me a little crazy. 

If I was working in my dream job, or pursuing a career I loved, then sure, I’d potentially want to work at it full time. But like many people, I’m not. 

I work my job to make a living, and that’s okay. I don’t hate it, and I realise I'm privileged to have it, but it’s not my life’s only passion. And since I’m lucky enough for my husband and I to be able to sustain ourselves without the financial responsibilities of children, I don’t need to work full time to make ends meet.  

I’m in a position where I can afford to take time to enjoy the things in life I love, and I don’t want that rare opportunity to go to waste. But finding an employer who is okay with that is not always an easy task.

I guess from an employer’s point of view, I could be seen as being difficult. 

Progressive employers these days will proudly advertise their attempts to provide "work-life balance", but in my experience, this roughly translates to "you can leave early on the days you need to pick up your kids from school", or "you can have days off when you can't access childcare". Which I entirely support, don't get me wrong – parents need to look after their kids. 

But us childless folk don't seem to fit into the "work-life balance" agenda, because we're not raising young humans. Which makes me feel like any other life we want to have outside of work is a less valid, or completely invalid, choice.  

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I’m a big believer in the "work to live, don’t live to work" mantra. 

Several trials in different countries have successfully shown employees perform better when working shorter working weeks – whether they have kids or not. 

When Microsoft Japan trialled a four-day work week, productivity jumped by 40 per cent, on top of employees reporting being happier overall. 

France has reduced the standard working week to 35 hours, Sweden has tested six-hour workdays, and individual companies in New Zealand, Ireland and the UK have chosen to adopt four-day working weeks. 

All have seen improvements in staff satisfaction, in areas of mental and physical health, as well as employees showing greater focus and motivation while at work.  

Listen to Mamamia Out Loud, Mamamia’s podcast with what women are talking about this week. Post continues below.

There are theories that the 40-hour work week is, in a way, designed to keep us tired and time-poor. That it makes us more desperate to grasp at quick, easy gratification – and more willing to spend our hard-earned money to get it. 

We buy entertainment and indulgence to relieve the void of life-satisfaction that free time can bring, then feel the need to work more to financially maintain the habit. This cycle becomes the societal norm, keeping us busy, tired, and spending. 

I, for one, would rather prioritise having more time over more money, above what is needed to comfortably live. I feel happier and healthier when I have more time, and if that’s not the goal in life, I don’t know what is. 

Whether people choose to have children or not should not be the only deciding factor when it comes to pursuing work-life balance – or personal happiness.

Do you think work-life balance only applies to people with kids? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Feature Image: Supplied.