The Entitled Working Mother’s Christmas Lament

For some reason I’ve been getting accounts of a lot of overseas ethics controversies of late, like the German hospital patient who shut off her roommate’s oxygen machine because it was “too noisy.” The source of this ethics quiz is the UK, where a frustrated mother argues on a parenting site that it was selfish for a childless colleague to compete with her for a day off on Christmas, because she was a mother.

“Ok I feel terrible about this,” the indignant mom wrote in a thread on UK-based parenting site Mumsnet, as she explained that their manager told the two women to work out their conflict themselves, and let him know their solution.

“I have asked her to withdraw her request as she and her husband who have no kids normally go to her husband’s parents on Christmas Day, but they also go every week so it’s not like they never see them…I, on the other hand, have a four-year-old autistic son,” she complained. Then she noted that since the work shift was  between 7 and 10 Christmas morning, her rival “and her husband could still be at his parents for lunchtime whereas because I am a single mama and the nurseries are closed I have no one to watch my son. Yes, I could pay someone but it would be extremely expensive. I do feel bad asking her to do this but if she won’t then I’m going to have no choice but to leave my job.”

In various publications around the world as well as Mumsnet, the mother is being widely mocked. A New York Post commenter wrote,

Some women really do think this way. On one job, mothers were allowed carte blanche for kids’ doctor appointments and sports events. I tried to get time off once a week to volunteer for a related agency (90 minutes tops) and was told “that’s too much.” I was also expected to cover for these mothers. More than once the request began, “Since it’s Christmas and you don’t have a family” — I was married, didn’t that count?

Yes, one could classify this as a “Think of the children!” episode. What it really is, however, is an example of incompetent, lazy, cowardly and irresponsible management. True, the mother undermines her position with dubious arguments that boil down to “what’s important to me is more important than what’s important to you.” A lot of people would be moved to dig in their metaphorical heels and refuse to accommodate anyone who made such an argument. In a dispute like this, both parties are biased, and it’s one of the strongest biases of all: the bias towards one’s own self-interest.

It is the manager’s job to decide who gets the day off, and to take the heat for it, whatever it is. He could decide the issue by who asked for the day off first. The manager could rule that whoever got the day off would owe the other employee two of her paid vacations days. The manager could flip a coin, or, if he had a death wish, actually take the position that Christmas Day at home was more crucial to the mother than the childless woman. Whatever the decision turned out to be, it would be better than leaving the two employees to fight it out among themselves. That guarantees conflict on the staff and maybe a workplace grudge that will have negative consequences later on.

Management is hard. Incompetent managers cause more trouble, disruption, injustice, inefficiency and expense than can ever be calculated, and not just in the White House.


Pointer: Steve-O-in NJ

15 thoughts on “The Entitled Working Mother’s Christmas Lament

  1. As a former manager who faced a similar situation I agree it’s the manager’s responsibility to resolve the issue. Here’s how I did it in the 1970s when (years before I moved to the DMV and met Jack Marshall) I ran a rock ‘n roll radio station.

    Broadcasters are among the people who need to keep their operations going during holidays. Somebody’s got to be behind the mic when people test out the new audio gear under their trees by listening to a radio station; winter weather is sometimes an issue as well, even when most people are already “over the river and through the woods” to their destinations. Programming would be largely recorded but the FCC, understandably, required a human being at the controls of the transmitter in those days.

    The last resort would have been requiring on-air people to work, but my station never had any problem filling the airslots by asking staff to volunteer a couple of hours and “share the load”. That was despite not offering extra pay for working Christmas Day. Being young, single and childless, I always worked both a Christmas Eve and Christmas morning shift so the announcers with kids could spend that time with them. Scheduling was very casual and bore little resemblance to regular working hours; “Jim will come in at noon, Mary takes over at three pm, etc.” And our Jewish disc jockey told me, “I can work whatever hours you want on Christmas Day but I need to be off for Yom Kippur.”

    “You’ve got a deal, Joey”.

      • BUT, if it does reach an impasse, the manager has the duty to solve it. Or, in the alternative, you could put a policy in place that prevents impasses from occurring. Maybe it goes by date of request, in which case if you snooze you lose. Maybe it goes by seniority, meaning the younger person is just going to have to pay his/her dues until someone junior is hired.

    • … And our Jewish disc jockey told me, “I can work whatever hours you want on Christmas Day but I need to be off for Yom Kippur.”

      A Jewish friend of mine once told me that her Jewish employer gave Jewish employees both Jewish holidays and other holidays off. Of course, in the old days Jewish sweatshops reversed that and used Jewish holidays to lock in exploited Jewish employees who couldn’t get an exception for themselves anywhere else – in the old days.

      • Joey worked for me as an on-air disc jockey for three years. (I left the station, not him.) He always got the Jewish holidays off without needing to take vacation time. And we always had a running joke about his work over Christmas.

  2. Yeah, as I was reading this, I was like… “Oof, that’s not great management.” and then when I realized that the shift was only three hours long I was like, “Oof, why are they even open?”

    As an aside, I think the weight we put on certain blocks of time is incredibly stunting. About half my family works in healthcare of one stripe or another, and it’s rare to actually have a block of time where everyone is actually free. We do it, it’s like herding kittens sometimes, but we do it. It’s just usually not actually on Christmas Day. We do Christmas a day or two before, a day or two later, whatever works. In theory, what’s important is that you get the whole family together to eat a meal, open presents and bitch about Trudeau (your mileage may vary on that last one). Getting into public tiffs with coworkers because you might have to work on December 25th comes off to me as insufferably petty and childish. Figure it out.

  3. The useless manager aside, I do hope the co-worker offers to take the 3 hours. Having been married to an LEO, I and our children spent many a holiday alone (family was 1100 miles away.). However, my LEO ex is also Jewish and he ALWAYS offered to work the Christmas holiday so that another family could be together. Why is it so hard for people to do the decent thing in the Christmas spirit?

    • I agree. As a childless man whose disinterest in children often shades into active dislike, even I would step up and offer to take the shift. Christmas mornings are for little kids, and they have a finite number of them that they’ll really enjoy with that unbridled enthusiasm that comes with still believing in magic and goodness and airborne cervids. If you can have only rule to live by, “don’t be a dick to kids on Christmas” seems like it should be an easy one to stick to.

      • I wouldn’t. I work too hard to give up the one day everyone is supposed to get. Of course I’m also the longest serving attorney in this office who is not management, so I get pretty much first crack at any time off and if someone were to be asked to cover a suck-o assignment I’d probably be the last one who would get asked. Sometimes you’re allowed to be a little selfish, and one of those times is when you’ve earned it.

        • Well sure: there’s a choice to be made. You can be empathetic, or you can take what you believe you’ve earned with no thought to what the joy and kindness of your sacrifice may mean to someone else; a sacrifice of three whole hours. There are always choices to be made, Steve. You do you.

          And I like you. I do.

          • Or you can just take what you are entitled to and not lose any sleep over it. It’s kind of academic, though, since we attorneys are not expected to cover the holidays. Eh, with respect, I don’t usually buy that kind of talk about thinking about what I do might do for someone else. Too often those I do favors for have not reciprocated when I need a favor, and I have had too many experiences where someone has pushed being helpful as really just a way of getting me to do something for nothing. People can only walk all over you if you let them. I’m not by nature selfish, but I have found that, unless you stand up for you, no one else will, and it’s dangerous to be known as the easygoing guy who will do whatever is asked of him. Of course it might be easier if people would display some gratitude, wouldn’t take advantage, and would understand that sometimes the answer is going to be “no” and respect that. Favors are a two-way street, I think.

        • You’re always “allowed to be a little selfish”. What makes human society almost tolerable, and has become increasingly uncommon, is when people allow themselves to be a little generous.

          • And everyone would agree it’s always a little easier when someone else “allows himself to be a little generous,” just like “it’s more blessed to give than to receive,” when someone else is the one doing the giving. I know I sound cynical, but you ARE entitled to work your side of the street. You’re also entitled to take home the money you earn, say no to requests to go above and beyond, turn down invitations you don’t want to attend, refuse to listen to other peoples’ problems, and occasionally eat the cake buy the fancy item, and take the trip. Life is short enough as it is. It’s too short to spend it catering to the unappreciative, and there’s no guarantee there’s a better place waiting on the other side.

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