On Friday, a notice came home from our son’s Grade 3 teacher. It read (in part), “I have also enclosed a class list. If your child chooses to hand out Valentine cards I am asking that everyone receives one and no one is left out.” When I asked our son if he wanted to hand out cards and pointed out that everyone needed to get one, he looked at me like I was some special kind of stupid. Of course he would give a card to everyone. That’s how it’s done. Duh.
Also on Friday, I got an upset phone call from the wife. It wasn’t the first of these calls but it was the last straw for me. She was upset because she’d just received yet another work email congratulating a fellow employee on the birth of their new child. She has also recently been asked to contribute to a shower gift for someone who is pregnant, to attend a party for one who just gave birth, and to “join all of us in congratulating” several sets of parents on their new additions. Before you get thinking that the wife has something against babies (although, let’s face it, they are kind of annoying) you should know that none of these emails were to congratulate our family. Not one. Not an email, not a party, not one of those cards that get sent around to everyone’s desk so they can sign it whether they know who the hell you are or not. Nothing. Yes, individual co-workers and friends offered heartfelt congrats, but no customary jovial announcement was sent out from management or beyond.
It’s not that we necessarily need their corporate endorsement of our family, it’s the glaring omission that hurts so much.
This is not some piddly or conservative company either. This is a large, international corporation that values its employees and treats them very well. It provides our same-sex marriage with the same benefits it provides their straight employees and enrolled our newly adopted kids in our extended health plan without batting either of HR’s eyes. So this is not company policy, this is just company ignorance. I have no doubt it was simply an oversight on the part of management as I know the team to be run by good, caring people. But would such an oversight have happened if one of us had given birth? Not a chance.
No, we didn’t bring our kids home from the hospital all wrapped up in receiving blankets Grandma knitted. But if you think we were any less thrilled / terrified / exhausted / hopeful / grateful than any other new parents, you’re mistaken. No, neither of us walked around with a big belly for nine months (shut up, you know what I mean) signaling our impending arrival. But if you don’t think we wanted to scream it from every rooftop and hug every person we met as soon as we found out that we got to adopt these two amazing kids, you’re mistaken. No, we can’t bring our kids to the office for you to pass around and hold on your laps and shake your keys at. Okay, wait, we can totally do that. But as they are 8 and 13 it’s going to be wicked awkward for all of us. And if you think this doesn’t feel like a punch in the gut, like our kids don’t count, like our family isn’t as important as others, like this momentous occasion that has changed our lives and our hearts immeasurably isn’t worth celebrating just because we didn’t give birth to our kids, well, you are nothing short of wrong.
I doubt there is a policy at the office that reads, “All managers must send out congratulatory emails to employees within 48 hours of any employee or employee’s spouse giving birth”. This isn’t corporate policy, this is corporate culture. And our culture period. We value procreation enormously and there’s something wrong with you if you don’t tear up and make at least some kind of squealing sound whenever someone informs you that they’re pregnant. I get it. Babies are amazing. They’re cute. If you find miniature versions of Winston Churchill cute. They smell good. Probably better than our kids. It’s fun to look at babies and say “She’s got your eyes!” and “Oh, look at those feet! He’s going to be tall like his daddy!” and “Phew! Good thing she doesn’t look like Martin from Accounting, hey? I was worried after what happened at the Christmas party!” And maybe it would be different if we had adopted a baby. Maybe that would have triggered the oversized greeting card buying instinct or inspired management to take thirty seconds out of their day to copy and paste a birth announcement email with the wife’s name plugged into it. But we adopted kids. Real live kids. Kids as real as everyone else’s real live kids. And they count.
So, next time someone in your office grows their family, be it through sexual intercourse, in vitro fertilization, surrogacy, adoption or any number of fancy new ways people make kids or families nowadays, congratulate them. As a company. If you’re a manager, it’s your responsibility to show that ALL of your employees’ families matter, not just the ones that make babies. If your manager doesn’t think to acknowledge your co-worker’s wonderful news, step up and mention it to your manager or send a message out yourself. If you’re not sure if it’s okay to share such news on your co-worker’s behalf, do what any adult would do in any other situation and ask them. A quick email / phone call / text message saying “Is it okay to share your news with the team? I’m so happy for you I want to tell everyone!” ought to do the trick. It’s not going to win you Employee of the Year, it’s just going to make sure you don’t look like a corporate jerk. You’re welcome.
In Grade 3, our son finds it unthinkable to leave anyone out. In Grade 3. Seems to me that with all of the corporate training and professional development and managerial coaching that goes on in the corporate world these days, someone in the wife’s office might have learned that somewhere along the way. Too bad head office didn’t think to send home a notice “asking that everyone receives one and no one is left out”.
When you don’t acknowledge adoptive families you send the message that we don’t count. And we do. Everybody does. Duh.