Tuesday, October 18, 2011

It's a Man's Man's Man's Excuse

I recently finished "I Don't Know How She Does It" by Allison Pearson, about an investment banker trying to juggle motherhood with a busy career. I spent most of the book thinking to myself, "YES! YES! That's EXACTLY how it is!" It actually made me feel better about myself as a working mother because at least I'm not jetting to Milan every weekend.

One of my YES moments when reading the book was when the protagonist was late for work because her nanny didn't show up on time, but she felt like she should use "a man's excuse" instead. Men aren't late because of sick kids or tardy nannies--men are late because of traffic or car trouble. And male bosses respect a man's excuse more than a woman's excuse.

Lately I've been forced to use the "sick kid" excuse a lot and I always hate it. I haven't used it as an excuse to not do work or not show up, but to explain why I'm being extremely efficient, skipping lunch, avoiding small talk, and postponing a few things till the next day. It's embarrassing for me and makes me feel unreliable. Especially when sick kid isn't miraculously better in one day and eventually requires a doctor's visit, then second kid gets sick right after. That's nearly two weeks of having to mumble excuses about sick kids.

It makes me feel like I'm seen as unreliable. It makes me feel like I'm being labeled as "that woman who's always leaving early because her kids are sick." It certainly doesn't make me feel like I'm going to get a raise or promotion any time soon.

But what else can I do?


  1. People probably are viewing you that way. :-P

    I worry that this will be a problem for my husband when I start residency, since HE will be the one who has to take care of the sick kid when that happens. I wonder if a "woman's" excuse supplied by a man is taken more or less seriously than if it's supplied by a woman. What is the hierarchy of excuses?

    Is it:
    1. Man supplying man excuse
    2. Woman supplying man excuse
    3. Man supplying woman excuse
    4. Woman supplying woman excuse

    Wishing your household improved health, Fizzy.

  2. OMDG: My husband has already taken far more work liberties for the kids than I have (two sick days in the last two weeks to my none), yet he doesn't seem to be stressing about it at all.

  3. I feel you 100%. I'd rather say I'm sick than that my kid is. Oddly, my husband seems to have no problem at all using them as an excuse.

  4. great post. hang in there. i think it make men look good say they have to do something for a sick kid, in the eyes of most women, and some men. and i think men, in general, care less what other people think of them.

  5. You know, I felt exactly the same when I was working as a Chartered Accountant for a Big 4 firm. While I could *maybe* use the sick kid excuse once in a blue moon, my husband did 99% of the sick days because it just wasn't a big deal. One week my son had a fever that lasted for 3 days - and his daycare has a policy of being fever free for 24 hours - and my husband had no qualms/guilt/worry about taking those days. He did work from home though.

    I, on the other hand would totally stress out. Probably because I've had experiences in the past of being told to "find someone else" to take care of my son when he was sick (and had to make a frantic call to my sister and ask her to skip class) or even told by a manager when I got a call from the daycare about my son vomiting to "wait and see if your husband can get him" (seriously).

  6. Wow, same here! Take home message - Lets just be renegades and stop caring, like our husbands!! We know that we go over and above what would be considered normal to try to make up for being out. Caring so much just gives the power to those who want to think less of us for legitimately having to take care of a sick kid. Also, I think the hierarchy might be: 1. Man giving woman excuse - I think guys get sensitivity points all around for the "woman" excuse.

  7. Cutter -- It probably depends on the husband's boss, but I think you're probably right.

    Re: not caring so much what others think,


  8. It is difficult for women physiciancs because when we do not show up for work you have to reschedule 20 angry patients who do not care about reasons we are abscent, or have someone see 20 hospital patients. Our husbunds are to the contrary able to work from home while they are with sick kid. Thus its easier for non-medical spouses to take time off and not be looked at as a slacker. My husbund will still do "his job" at a later time, yet me - have to rely on emergency coverage, and nobody wants to do someone else's job on top of their own. This guilt comes form the nature of the job and knowing how everybody feels about you when you are not there. In one of my early jobs receptionist told me she is not canceling ALL those patients again, even though I take time off to care for kids when my husbund is out of town, otherwise he covers 99% of family needs. This month my colleague Ivy grad quit her job all together due to tardy nanny, and constant job/family juggling.

  9. There's also a scene in the book where everyone is at a meeting and a man says he needs to leave early to see his kid in a play or something, and everyone applauds him for being a good father. Another YES moment.

  10. My son had one sick day last year - he used to be out all the time for URI-induced asthma (I hired people to take care of him/take him to the doctor - except I took a vacation day on the day he had his adenoids out) - so we have come quite far. I still have an giant orange spot on the rug from desperately hiring a teenage boy who, according to Jack, said that you don't need to clean orange soda off of a rug.

    They get older, they don't get sick as much. It gets better, is what I'm trying to say. Orange spots and all. Hang in there! Yes, I agree with above, your reaction/stress level around having to tell your boss will color the impression and recollection of the interaction by both of you. Try to be a duck - let the water roll off. Just smile sheepishly and shrug. Your lasting impression is your other contributions to your job.

  11. Welcome to the club Fizzy.
    My boss cleary stated "it's not reliable" last winter, when I had to leave work early because the daycare called to tell me my daughter had fever (btw, she was 11 months old, and it was the first time she was sick).
    I am only given sub-project, nothing mind challenging, or promising to advance me in my career.
    It's unfair, but it is a sad reality.
    We are women, that's a minus, and if we dare being mothers, that's another BIG minus.

  12. Are men able to use any excuse they want because more of them are "bosses"? Or is it because they expect to be taken seriously, and are? Or is it because there (still) is a double standard in the U.S. when it comes to women, no matter your profession?
    Personal note: My husband never missed a day of work due to a sick child because he had the ultimate solution--A stay-at-home wife...(now turned working woman and playing career catch-up)


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