Have you heard of Meternity (Me-ternity) leave? You probably will in the coming weeks. It is a concept thought up by Meghann Foye in a new book with the same title. Simply, she seems to believe that having a maternity leave provides a nice break from that corporate grind so that women can focus on themselves and return to work more confident.
Dear Ms. Foye, let me tell you what really happens.
Maternity leave is not a break where women get to focus on themselves. It is a time in life when they actually focus on anything but themselves.
Physically, trying to balance the needs of a new, tiny human and finding time to simply shower is actually a struggle. And you need that shower because more than likely, you will get peed on.
You forget to eat. You are more sleep deprived than you have ever been. You live on coffee. If you’re breastfeeding you may end up restricting your diet by cutting out certain food groups that babies’ stomachs are sensitive to (sometimes coffee included!). Your body is jacked up and you are certainly not able to find the time to exercise within those early weeks.
Emotionally, those first few months are a rollercoaster ride. You’re stressed because you believe you are doing “it” wrong. You are worried you’re going to mess up this parenting thing. Your hormones may be making you a little crazy. You cry, a lot, sometimes without even understanding the reason. If you have more than one child, you have guilt because you have to spend more time with the baby and feel as if you are neglecting the other child. You have anxiety being away from the baby because everyone seems too inadequate to care for them. If you’re like me, a parent after a loss, you might have extremely debilitating anxiety that your child is somehow going to die.
If you need to go back to work, you stress about child care – the caregiver or daycare itself and the cost of it. If you decide to stay home you worry about money, not having enough to make ends meet or not having enough to save. My mom friends and I have discussed these two things many, many times – usually between tears and dreams of winning the lottery.
You think we are more confident after we come back to work? Let me tell you something. After experiencing it first hand, and talking with other mothers who have gone through it, what you are seeing is a combination of adrenaline, stress from worrying about our children that we have now left to come back to employers like yourself (that see our maternity leave as vacation) and coffee. Usually, lots of coffee. We discuss it over text messaging or phone conversations in the car because the time where we actually get to see our friends is reduced. I actually have to plan time to see my good friends several weeks (sometimes months) in advance if we actually want to make it happen.
In an article in the New York Post yesterday you state, “It seemed that parenthood was the only path that provided a modicum of flexibility. There’s something about saying “I need to go pick up my child” as a reason to leave the office on time that has far more gravitas than, say, “My best friend just got ghosted by her OkCupid date and needs a margarita — but both sides are valid.”
Both sides may be valid, but they are not equal. My child’s daycare closing for the day, or me not being home to feed them can/will actually cause long-term emotional damage. Your best friend will get over it once she is halfway through that margarita.
Don’t hold mothers (or fathers) accountable because you can’t balance your own life without children. That’s on you. Women are bad at putting themselves first as you suggest, but you will never have more time than you do as a single person.
Spending three months “detached from our desks” doesn’t make us “more sure” of ourselves. You state that, “One friend made the decision to leave her corporate career to create her own business; another decided to switch industries. From the outside, it seemed like those few weeks of them shifting their focus to something other than their jobs gave them a whole new lens through which to see their lives.” This isn’t confidence. This is taking a risk to find more balance in life so that you can actually spend time with those children who need and love you versus being attached to a job where you are often not fully appreciated anyways. If anything, when you have a child, you still feel this pull to be connected and work, and then you just feel like you are never fully able to be in one place because you are always worrying about the other.
Also, because you aren’t a parent yet, you may not know that the Unitized States is the only industrialized nation without paid paternity leave. The U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act protects a parent’s job for up to 12 weeks, but does not include any paid time off for mothers (or fathers). Many times, mothers and fathers have to take this leave unpaid. Some return to work after just six short weeks because many employers require them to take their short-term disability as maternity leave to be paid at all (usually at a reduced rate) and won’t pay them beyond that time.
Let’s have the real discussion here. The United States work/life balance system is out of whack. Vacation policies and parental leave policies are far behind the rest of the world. U.S. employees are more tethered to their cell phones and email systems because as a culture, the U.S. has become obsessed with “living to work” and employer expectations are that you must always be “on”. This isn’t something meternity leave will solve and it definitely isn’t something maternity leave lets you get away from. Once you return to work, the same pressures are there, but you also have the added pressure that someone is waiting for you at home – someone who is too small to even move without your assistance.
I will admit and agree that the United States is worlds behind where it should be when it comes to employees’ mental and emotional health (extended leave for the death of a parent or a child included), but don’t undermine what maternity leave is for a cheap, misunderstood shot to whine about what you see as an injustice against people who don’t have children. Advocating that you deserve some sort of sabbatical isn’t out of line, but comparing it to maternity leave is.
Photo credit: Jazi Photo