By now I’m sure you’ve seen the scores of scathing responses to your NY Post article, “I Want All the Perks of a Maternity Leave—Without Having Kids.” A good percentage of my mom writer friends have had a heyday with it. I gotta tell ya, I feel them. You touched a nerve among the moms.
But I’m going to try to play the nice aunt here, and give you the benefit of the doubt. While I do think you need a reality check, I also know that there’s no way for you to get that reality check until you actually take a real maternity leave. There’s simply no way to understand what having a baby does to you physically, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, and every other “ally” you can think of until you have one.
You probably expected some pushback about the “meternity” idea, but I’m guessing you didn’t expect the level of vitriol being spewed at you. So I thought I’d respond to your post in sections to shed some specific light on why it created SUCH an uproar among parents.
I was 31 years old in 2009, and I loved my career. As an editor at a popular magazine, I got to work on big stories, attend cool events, and meet famous celebs all the time.
And yet, after 10 years of working in a job where I was always on deadline, I couldn’t help but feel envious when parents on staff left the office at 6 p.m. to tend to their children, while it was assumed co-workers without kids would stay behind to pick up the slack.
Okay, this is where you start down the slippery slope. Saying you were “envious” of parents who have to leave their jobs to take care of their children might be fine if you were envious because you wish you also had kids to go home to. But simply being envious of their leaving a full-time job at 6pm to go work at a different full-time job shows that you don’t fully understand the nature of being a parent.
“You know, I need a maternity leave!” I told one of my pregnant friends. She laughed, and we spent the afternoon plotting my escape from my 10-hour days, fake baby bump and all.
Of course, that didn’t happen. But the more I thought about it, the more I came to believe in the value of a “meternity” leave — which is, to me, a sabbatical-like break that allows women and, to a lesser degree, men to shift their focus to the part of their lives that doesn’t revolve around their jobs.
Mmmkay. I know you didn’t directly say that maternity leave is like a sabbatical, but that’s sort of how this reads. But, like I said, benefit of the doubt.
For women who follow a “traditional” path, this pause often naturally comes in your late 20s or early 30s, when a wedding, pregnancy and babies means that your personal life takes center stage. But for those who end up on the “other” path, that socially mandated time and space for self-reflection may never come.
Oh, now see, you did actually say it here. Pregnancy and babies equals “space and time for self-reflection”? I’m trying to swallow it, but the snarky and sarcastic responses to this notion keep coming up. Basically, sweetie, NO. Maternity leave is not like going on a spa retreat where you lie around all day and contemplate life. The nature of those first few months after having a baby is indescribable. Everything changes. EVERYTHING. But you barely have time to process all of those changes because you’re exhausted and overwhelmed and can barely figure out how to squeeze in a shower, much less self-realization exercises.
When I graduated from college in the early 2000s, I enjoyed the same unspoken expectation shared among my fellow Gen-Xers: If you poured your heart and soul into your career, you would eventually get to a director level and have the flexibility, paycheck and assistants beneath you to begin to create a work-life balance. Then the 2008 recession hit, and people were lucky to have jobs at all. Assistants and perks disappeared across industries, and I felt like the cultural expectation was that we should now be tethered to our desks and our smartphones.
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.
Okay, perhaps it could be argued that a grown friend needing some emotional support is a valid reason to leave the office at a reasonable hour, but it’s not the least bit comparable to parenting a child. The phrase “I need to go pick up my child” has far more gravitas because taking care of a child actually has far more gravitas than cheering up a girlfriend. Please tell me you see that.
And as I watched my friends take their real maternity leaves, I saw that spending three months detached from their desks made them much more sure of themselves. 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.
* burp * Excuse me. Having a hard time keeping that sarcasm down.
The most important phrase you wrote here is “from the outside.” The fact that your friends made major career changes after having kids isn’t necessarily a sign that they were more sure of themselves—in fact, it’s more likely a sign that their entire world had been turned upside down. They saw through a new lens not because they had a few weeks to reflect and find themselves, but because having a baby CHANGES EVERYTHING. It’s the addition of a baby that has given them a new lens, not the time away from work.
While both men and women would benefit from a “meternity” leave after a decade or so in the workforce, the concept is one that would be especially advantageous for women. Burnout syndrome is well-documented in both sexes, but recent research suggests that women may experience it at greater rates; researchers postulate that it’s because women (moms and non-moms alike) feel overloaded by the roles they have to take on at work and at home.
Honestly, I get what you’re saying here. And I agree with you that people do need to take time for real rest and self-reflection, and workplaces could be better at encouraging employees to take that time. However, I’d argue that moms are much more likely to suffer burnout than non-moms. Not a judgment, just a logical conclusion.
Bottom line: Women are bad at putting ourselves first. But when you have a child, you learn how to self-advocate to put the needs of your family first. A well-crafted “meternity” can give you the same skills — and taking one shouldn’t disqualify you from taking maternity leave later.
Hmmm, see, you lost me again. Putting the needs of your family first is not equivalent to self-advocacy. Advocating for your family is a whole new aspect of life, separate and apart from any kind of self-care, that comes along with the whole pregnancies and babies thing. In fact, many moms don’t self-advocate because they are always putting their family first. All of the things you describe about career—the pressures, the burnout, being tethered to your job—those are all true of the job of parenting as well. But there is no option for vacation or “meternity” leave from motherhood.
As for me, I did eventually give notice at my job and take a “meternity” of my own. I may not have been changing diapers, but I grappled with self-doubt for the year and a half that I spent away from the corporate world. And I grieved the loss of my dad, who had just died after a long illness. But a “meternity” done right should be challenging. It should be about digging into your whole life and emerging from it more confident in who you are.
I’m sincerely sorry about the loss of your dad. And your description of a “meternity” sounds great—it just shouldn’t be compared to a “maternity” leave because it sounds nothing like what maternity leave is like. You don’t dig into your whole life during maternity leave. You get a whole new pile of earth poured over you and you have to figure out how to dig your way out. Then you have to figure out how to manage that whole new mound of earth, while tending the plot you already have. There’s no chance to dig into your whole life, because your whole life isn’t even recognizable anymore. It’s wonderful and terrifying and life-altering and so much more than changing diapers.
And frankly, if you somehow emerge from maternity leave appearing more confident, it’s probably just the delirium of sleep-deprivation. That stuff is no joke.
It also gave me the opportunity to help someone achieve their “meternity” dreams — even if that person was a fictional character. My first novel, “Meternity,” was just released, and is about a woman who fakes a pregnancy and discovers some hard truths about what it’s really like to “have it all.”
Ah. Now I’m wondering how much of this article is truly how you feel, and how much of it is purposeful naiveté in order to stir up buzz about your book. Good move, sister. I’m almost curious enough to read it just to find out.
Ultimately, what I learned from my own “meternity” leave is that any pressure I felt to stay late at the office wasn’t coming from the parents on staff. It was coming from myself. Coming back to a new position, I realized I didn’t need an “excuse” to leave on time. And that’s what I would love the take-away for my book to be: Work-life balance is tough for everyone, and it happens most when parents and nonparents support and don’t judge each other.
Work-life balance is tough for everyone. But work-life balance is significantly tougher for parents. There is no arguing this point. It is absolute fact and a mountain I am willing to die on.
I want kids in the future, and I might still take a traditional maternity leave. I might not. But either way, I’m happy my “meternity” taught me to live on my own terms and advocate what works for me.
Good for you. Truly. I’m glad you figured out a little work-life balance and to advocate for yourself. Just keep in mind that if you do have kids in the future, you’re going to have to do that all over again. And I’m 100% sure that when you do, you’ll find that the only commonality between your maternity leave and your “meternity” leave is the eight letters they share.
Best of luck,
Annie, Mother of Three