WTF OTD: Me-me-me-ternity leave

A schmaltz-free post on mothering for Mother’s Day! What Kind of Women Think Maternity Leave Is Paid Time Off? is Denise Huza’s response on xojane to an author interview that made a lot of women (not all of them mothers) pretty damn cranky:

Self-reflection. It was this joined two word phrase that really ticked me off. Ask any mother how much self-reflecting she did during her maternity leave and you will likely run into a few possible scenarios. You may recognize a look of confusion, or you will have the experience of someone laughing maniacally in your face. There is also the possibility that you’ll strike a nerve and bring on a waterfall of tears. Regardless, you probably won’t get a direct answer because maternity leave is not about self-reflection or building one’s self-confidence. Which is why the sentiment in Anna Davies article promoting Meghann Foye’s fictional novel Meternity is seriously offensive to me. 

But after sitting down and really thinking about it, my genuine problem with the article is this: Currently, new mothers are fighting for more time to stay at home with their newborns. We are woefully lacking in that department compared to other industrialized countries and children are suffering for it. After years of mothers getting little recognition for what they do, we are finally making headway. It’s no longer a secret that mothering is hard, thankless work. Foye’s argument for “me-ternity” (a term I hope I never have to type or read again) craps on that fight.

Society puts so much strain on mothers, and does so little to help them out. The idea of “Meternity” degrades even further the importance of a mother’s role. Having a child is a choice, yes. We all make choices, some choose not to have children and that is fine. Just because I had a kid doesn’t make me better than anyone else, or more deserving. BUT… it does mean I have the responsibility of raising non-assholes. Which believe it or not, starts right at the beginning with this thing called bonding. No one wants a bunch of Patrick Batemans running around, so lets just keep that in mind.

It’s totally understandable that anyone, at any stage of life, might want to take some me-time out for self-reflection away from the daily grind, although of course only a few of us work in fields which make allowances for doing so, with approved (maybe even paid) pathways – extended vacations, sabbaticals etc – that mean still having a position open to return to when enough self-reflection has been had to be getting on with. Even most people working in those fields have external responsibilities to their families and communities that curtail their opportunity to just get away “from it all” without requiring others to shoulder their loads. So enjoy your me-time if you can afford to take it. The world would be a happier place if more of us were able to do the same, so don’t waste it.

By comparison maternity leave, as Huza notes, feels more a battle of self-preservation than of self-reflection. None of those me-me-me-time options Foye so lovingly detailed involved working around the heavy obligations of meeting the daily needs of a totally dependent newborn while healing from major pre-natal bodily changes and simultaneously adjusting to significant post-natal bodily changes, including the little-discussed swinging hormonal shifts that literally change the ways our brains work. None of this is to say that motherhood is relentlessly unrewarding, nor that it can’t be a pathway (in retrospect mostly) to certain self-knowledge discoveries. It’s just that mothering a newborn is the polar opposite of me-time. It’s simply insulting to equate a period of liberating self-reflection with the already hideously undervalued responsibilities and sheer hard work of maternity leave.

Categories: gender & feminism, media, parenting, work and family


2 replies

  1. I’m not a mother, but I do have two children. Their mother took the full 6 weeks (!) maternity leave and I took 2 weeks, and we were pretty much 24/7 busy the whole time. (Then my mother came, and two weeks later, my mother-in-law came.) We were both pretty frazzled for the first 6 months or so. The mom’s idea of “me time” was getting to take a shower, mine was having a large enough block of time to throw some rice, lentils, and veggies into a large rice cooker and turn it on (don’t forget that last step!) so we’d have something to eat for the next few days.

    By the second one (same schedule), we at least knew what we had to remember (e.g., we now knew what Dessitin was and why you have to have some, and we’d figured out that for our kids, diaper wipes = instant diaper rash, etc.), but there wasn’t any more free time.

    I’m not sure what single mothers of newborns do. (You need the “whole village” on day zero, I think.)


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