The New York Post recently had an article on Meaghan Foye’s concept of Meternity – or as the headline suggests, maternity leave without the maternal bit.
Unsurprisingly, there has been quite a bit of indignant howling. I’ve been reading the comments with the morbid fascination of watching a traffic accident in slow motion. You didn’t just do that, I clutched my face in horror mingled with the kind of inappropriate mirth that bubbles over after a loud fart at a funeral. You didn’t just liken maternity leave to Eat Pray Love.
My first reaction was to laugh, because she has NO clue.
My second reaction was to giggle more nervously, because my inner voice sounded just like hers before I had Arddun.
But then I got home and after a couple glasses of Screwdrivers without the Vodka, I thought about Meaghan’s Maternity Leave without the Maternity and decided there were some tiny gems to mine after all.
For one thing, she reminded me very uncomfortably of my pre-baby self, and how I might have perceived working mothers no matter how fleeting my thoughts or judgments had been. I always strove to be a supportive manager and crossed all the Ts when it came to fair work practices, but I think a part of me sometimes wondered if I was being taken for a ride. If I was being played for a fool, precisely because I wasn’t a parent yet.
Meaghan’s characterisation of parents leaving for school pick-ups as a legitimate form of “getting out of work” drove home the other point about how society only places a value on labour when it is rewarded by money. As hackneyed as it sounds, child-raising IS a labour of love, because it sure doesn’t rake in cash. Parents don’t leave for school pick-ups to get out of work, any more than someone working two jobs who leaves on time to start punctually at the next gig. But again, the envy that Meaghan admits to is borne out of ignorance from lack of personal experience. And in many ways, that is more forgivable than some bosses I’ve heard of who begrudge working mothers even though they themselves are parents, and therefore ought to know better.
But the biggest nugget was her observation that many mothers come out of maternity leave surer about themselves and their priorities. They become better at self-advocacy and boundary-setting. They are finally able to “put themselves first”.
Her mistake was assuming that maternity leave afforded you time and space to think. I think that was the bit that finally made me laugh out loud, because I’ve never been busier. She’s seen the results and drawn the opposite conclusion — we are surer of ourselves now because the commodities of time and space are more precious and rare than ever. When you have tiny human beings suddenly crowd your mind, heart and soul, you understand hierarchy of needs very quickly and profoundly. My previous corporate jobs were not life and death – this one is. There is only one mother, me.
Until children, I didn’t know how to differentiate the Important from the Urgent. The Urgent was always Important, and everything could have been characterised as Urgent. I speak for myself, of course. This discernment is a life skill worth honing whether you’re a parent or not. But my real training came when I took on motherhood as a lifelong career, and even then I didn’t understand. It was only when I was working for six months on a project during my pregnancy with Atticus that I saw the difference in my time management.
And as for the ability to “put ourselves first”, it’s been a mixed bag for me. Meaghan was right, in that women are notoriously lousy at putting ourselves first. The self-advocacy she observes in new mothers “fresh” from maternity leave looks self-centred, but is really about forming a sustainable framework to pour ourselves out for others. It’s Mama Bear drawing the line and saying This is where I need to be for my household, and this is what I’m willing to give to you. And I will give you my all while I’m with you. But this is the line.
It’s not about carving out ashram time.
(Heh heh. Fresh from maternity leave. *ROFL*)
I will say this – part of the distillation process, part of understanding with ferocity what time and energy mean to me has crystallised some of my corporate goals. Money is important, insofar as it is needed to sustain my family. But meaning in the work I do and the opportunity cost of giving my life to things lesser than, when I could be spending that same time and energy instead with what are priceless to me… that has been the real revelation.
Probably the biggest redeeming ah-hah about the article was the realisation 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.
Meternity: when you get paid leave to run off, re-tune, replenish, and centre your life? Sounds wonderful. Nice work if you can get it, but I’m discovering that I don’t need a meternity to find me.