I have a mean aunt who lives on the west coast.

I’m not sure she would call herself mean, but she’s an elderly woman who is angry with me because I’m basically a worthless family member. And, you know, she’s right. When it comes to my family of origin, I don’t do much for the people who love me.

(Turns out that familial love is subjective, and, often, a one-way street.)

Anyway, about a decade ago, my aunt was infuriated with me. She sent me an email that said, “You’re nothing but a childless liberal.”

She meant — you’re selfish.

But my mind went elsewhere. I thought, wow, that liberal word is wrong because I’m actually very conservative when it comes to keeping government out of my private life. I understood that it wasn’t the moment to debate politics, so I let her call me a childless liberal and haven’t communicated with her since.

(Families, man! The only thing that manages drama is an email filter that bypasses your inbox and sends shit like that to the garbage!)

But, being a childless liberal, I’ve come to realize that she was right. For years, I lacked empathy for people who struggled with work-life balance issues. I helped my mother through several illnesses while working full-time in HR, but I always did it with a chip on my shoulder. And while I’m all about work-life balance for myself on a beach in Bermuda, I haven’t always been sensitive to individuals who have kids by choice.

“Of course it’s hard. What did you expect?”

(I’ve learned that you don’t say that kind of stuff to parents who seemed surprised when their kids are sick in the middle of the workweek. You just nod your head in sympathy and go wash your hands so you don’t catch norovirus.)

Now, in my 40s, I’m having my version of work-life balance issues. The husband and I both travel for work. I have an elderly cat. I don’t have any family in town, and I have to rely on housesitters and paid help to manage my life when I travel.

It almost always works, but when it doesn’t, things come to a halt. This week? I had to reconfigure my schedule because life wasn’t smooth. And you know what? Nobody died. It’s stressful and I’m missing out on a lot of fun, but I’m going to survive.

The people in my social circles are listening to me complain about this week’s work-life drama and saying, “Hey, aren’t you that childless liberal who doesn’t really pay attention to work-life issues?”

And I’m saying, “No, I’m the small government Democrat who thinks you shouldn’t have a bunch of kids and complain about the price of daycare. But I’m going to keep those opinions to myself because someone has to raise our future doctors and science geniuses. I’m glad it’s you.”

But it sucks when work-life balance issues get in the way of work. Or life. Or both.

Maybe the conversation isn’t about work-life balance or priorities. Maybe it’s about compassion and community. You help me out, I’ll help you out. No judging. No expectations. That kind of vibe. There are places in the world where that happens, right? Scandanavia? Small towns in Iowa?

We’d be happier human beings if more of us — childless liberals, exhausted parents, crabby aunties — dropped our emotional armor and asked for help. Which is why I decided to stay home a few days, this week, instead of trying to make HR Tech happen.

I miss you guys. I’m coming later in the week. And I hope to see you at my session on Thursday.


  1. Great post. I’m also a childless liberal (though I’m only 30, but I plan to stay childless) with one middle-aged cat (8), and finding friends and family to take care of her when I’m away (which isn’t often, luckily) hasn’t been bad so far but I know there’ll probably be a day when I need to pay someone.

    I often have the same reaction to parents when they’re complaining about how hard parenting is. “Yeah, no shit, Sherlock.” 😉

  2. Good for you Laurie. HR Tech will survive without you (or me) being there this year, and it will be there for us next year — if we care at all too go.

    I’m happy you decided to take care of your life instead of going. I think you’ll find you didn’t miss all that much anyway …

  3. “you shouldn’t have a bunch of kids and complain about the price of daycare.”

    Really? How many kids do you think is appropriate? I’d love to know. You don’t want government in your uterus, but you’ve sure got thoughts on what women should do with theirs!

    • Bah, I don’t really have an opinion. In fact, I later write that I largely keep my mouth shut. Someone has to have kids. Good for other people. I don’t know what I can do about the price of daycare. Want me to chip in more? Pay more in taxes for local and charter schools? Advocate for better work-life balance programs? Because I’m doing all of that …

      … in fact, who else bakes this political shit into her consulting service and keynote speeches?

      Me. And I don’t often get asked back.

      Anyway, the broader point of the post — we all have challenges in life and we should drop the emotional armor and ask for help — is from my heart. Have seven kids, fine, and I’ll have four cats. And my work-life balance issues are frustrating, this week, but I’m getting through it.

      Thanks for your note. <3

  4. The best thing about being a working mom/parent is that by the time said kids are in kindergarten, their immune system is on super overdrive. Speaking for myself and my “run of the mill” kids, I don’t have to miss much work at all “because of the kids.” I don’t think about the comparison at all between me and colleagues without kids. I have co workers that are out on random days for the kids, the cable guy, whatever. I kind of wonder if everyone is keeping score a little too closely. It all “comes out in the wash.”

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