Friday, April 29, 2016

Maternity Leave - A Time for Self Reflection and Peace (NOT)

A great friend of mine and his wife shared some thoughts here on this article. And then I got all sorts of ragey. The comments on the post were more enraging than the article itself.

It is not that parents look forward to maternity leave in order to effect some significant change on their life and career path, but it happens to be a convenient segue. Where the author gets herself into trouble is naively comparing a soul-searching sabbatical to a 6 week period where you recover physically and emotionally from delivery and get to know this tiny person who has be left in your care. Does any parent go into it think any part is easy? No. But there is genuine physical healing happening, as well as genuine bonding and learning. While I had a happy and relatively easy baby, I still wouldn’t consider the time I took as “me time”. It wasn’t luxurious. I won’t go on about “woe-is-me” because that’s not productive either. But maternity leave serves a function. So much of a function that nearly every other country on this planet has a better-funded leave program to encourage new mothers and families to spend time with each other.

The comments of course hit both extremes. But the ones that inflamed me were those that compared adopting a puppy to adopting a child (oh if it were only that easy) and since so many families and children are left wanting the other, families should be grateful to have children at all, suck it all back together, and get back about the work day. For starters, life isn’t about work (children or not). And a smart employer will realize this and incentivize their employees to return and work on a balance after having a kid. Employers need families as much as families need employers.

The other comments that got me (and woe is me for fighting with the internet) is those that theorized that having children is selfish. That no one forced you to have children so if you can’t handle it, you brought it on yourself. I don’t even know where to begin. But to start (and in no order in particular) the desire to have kids is biological. And I won’t even get into the other side of the argument that NOT having kids is selfish – I know people taking that route and it is no more selfish than those having children. I won’t try to defend my child by saying I had her for the greater good of society (but obviously I did – YOU’RE WELCOME), but if everyone stopped having children, what would happen? Would all of the orphans in the world suddenly have families? Probably not. Would society slowly crumble and wither? Obviously. (Okay, so I roped in the drama - but as long as people continue to die, children will need to be born)

And then we reach the point regarding workplace dynamic. If you think for one moment that parents don’t feel the pressure or punishment for leaving early when little Timmy has a stomach ache, then you are absurdly mistaken. Some of the balance in a workplace is regarding entitlement. Should everyone put in the exact same number of hours? Maybe. But some people work more efficiently and some people spend just as much time bitching about picking up the slack for Glen last night because his daughter was sick. AGAIN. Can you believe it? Some of that is about team work and coming together for the success of the company to ensure that everyone gets a paycheck next month. But that’s the corporate side of me. The mom side of me wants everyone (parents and child-free alike) to get home at a reasonable hour to enjoy their life, raise their dependents (child, dog, or other).

So if you don’t have or want kids, but hate your job and want a break, then I suggest you save up your PTO (like moms do, because unlike the recently viral changes that select major employees have rolled out, MOST pregnant women do not get paid maternity leave – they rely on PTO and savings) and take a long vacation. Or sabbatical. But unless you’re recovering from major physical trauma as well, I think the analogy is hurtful to the progress of paid leave for *everyone*.