The Horror Of The “Me-ternity Leave”
Local woman fights for her right to parental leave, whether she is a parent or not
The New York Post is so good at trolling us, the easily outraged feminist denizens of the Internets. Check out the beginning of this piece titled, “I want all the perks of maternity leave — without having any kids.” It’s an instant classic of the genre.
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.
Hahahaha oh my god, I’m already reaching for the electric drills to use on my eyes, and those are just the first three sentences.
The narrator, Meghann Foye, speaks wistfully about workers whose “personal life takes center stage” around age 30 and says, “for those who end up on the ‘other’ path [i.e., the one that doesn’t include pregnancy], that socially mandated time and space for self-reflection may never come.”
Time and space for self-reflection. That’s what she thinks a maternity leave is. And wait, there’s more.
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.
Of course “I have to go pick up my child” has more gravitas than “I want to take my friend out for drinks.” It should. One of these reasons for leaving is about caring for a small human being who literally, legally, cannot yet care for himself. The other is about happy hour.
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.
“From the outside, it seemed,” she says. This woman is supposed to be a journalist, and it doesn’t occur to her to ask her friends whether her assumptions are within a football field of accurate? Odds are that her friends who are new moms aren’t beatifically self-actualized versions of themselves; they’re unhygienic and stressed-out, and they’re starting their own businesses or switching industries in desperate search of jobs that either pay better and offer benefits, because kids are expensive, or offer more flexible schedules, because kids are exhausting.
Foye seems to have crash-landed on Earth from Planet Clueless. Helpfully, some writers are elucidating what maternity leave is actually like. TL;DR: it’s not fun. There’s hardly any thinking involved, let alone profound, meaningful self-reflection.
+ Pick at least one random, irrational fight with your spouse per day. Hormonal imbalance-inspired topics may include: I can tell you think I’m fat now, why do I have to wash all the bottles, and you have a work dinner again?!
+ If you would like to attempt to go get a manicure or go to the gym, pay a babysitter $20 to hang out at your apartment for the hour and a half it takes you door-to-door. Or put a 10-pound bowling ball in a jogging stroller and head to the park. Built-in resistance training: a seeming perk of parenthood that somehow never leads to increased muscle tone.
+ If you would like to read something, put on a Baby Bjorn, insert 10-pound bowling ball, bounce vigorously. Read away.
Last year, Belinda Luscombe at Time made a similar point:
think of family leave not as a vacation, but as a job swap. The new parents are swapping the jobs they know for shift work in an excrement-making factory with a co-worker who cannot communicate except by weeping or kicking. Plus, the shift never ends. And the chances of promotion are zero.
Meanwhile, we the workers who remain in our day jobs, are getting paid to have real conversations with people who know where their thumbs are.
Still — deep breath — I’m not here to fight yet another battle in the Mommy Wars. We shouldn’t be training our weapons on each other. We should be aiming up, like real revolutionaries. Our enemies are the bosses who keep us squabbling over scraps like junkyard dogs, who give us so few perks that we must jealously guard each one.
No one outside of the White House or Wall Street should have to work ten-hour stretches day after day, week after week. Everyone should get the opportunity to take paid leave to take care of vital family responsibilities. There should be room for parents and non-parents alike to take sabbaticals and come back, rested and refreshed and ready to be better workers.
These conversations shouldn’t be set up as a contest, or worse, a cat fight. We have common cause: we want to have jobs and lives outside of those jobs. We should band together for the benefit of all.
And please, let’s never use the odious phrase “me-ternity leave” again. Though if we must, let us make it clear that, however tone-deaf and entitled it sounds, at least the term was not coined by a Millennial.
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