Sure, the ‘MEternity’ Leave Idea Seems Idiotic… But I Can’t Really Blame its Author

Meghann Foye has been getting a lot of attention for her NY Post piece about wanting her own ‘maternity’ leave without having any kids… called a “MEternity leave.” Granted, this is probably just a publicity grab for her new book, which I have no opinion on as I haven’t read it, but this piece alone is getting quite the reaction from parents, who are largely outraged at her insinuations that parental leave is an opportunity to obtain lifestyle flexibility, time for self-reflection, and a renewed sense of self-confidence if you’re burnt out at your workplace.

“Ha. HA. HAH!,” yelled, in unison, all parents who read this ignorant, unicorn pipe dream.

There have been some hilarious and cathartic responses written to Foye’s piece, like this one at Scary Mommy and this one over at Yackler Magazine. Both of these take Foye’s proposed ideas down with wit and acuity. Read them!

I can’t, though, in all honesty, attack Foye myself. Because deep down, I know I was not devoid of similar thoughts about maternity leave… BEFORE I had kids. And I know I’m not the only one who had wildly inaccurate, ridiculous, idiotic notions about what maternity leave would afford me as a new parent: My sister planned to use hers to learn to make the perfect hollandaise sauce. My mother-in-law thought she could learn a new instrument while on her first leave. Pretty much every parent I’ve ever talked to about this nods their head in knowing understanding, thinking sheepishly about the ludicrous to-do lists we had for ourselves pre-birth: the books we would read, the exercise routines we would implement, the dishes we would cook, the home projects we would tackle. All the things we would finally have time for. Again: Ha. HA. HAH!

Even the smallest of to-do lists, the most minor of goals, can be simply unachievable when your life revolves around caring for a new child. I even had other mothers who TOLD me these things weren’t realistic, who gave me the gift of their experience and wisdom, and I THOUGHT I listened… oh, I thought I was very clever, thought I was beating the system by giving myself “small” and “reasonable” goals to achieve while on leave. All together now: HAH!

So complete naivety about maternity leave, such as Foye demonstrates, may be warranted, even if none of the conclusions it brings us to are. Parenting has been, at least for me, completely unlike what I expected, and completely unlike anything I could have imagined. I don’t think it would have been possible for me to understand this without going through it, to really internalize the fact that no, society was not giving me a “year off” in reward for the amazing feat of producing a new life (after all, this is actually a pretty common feat among women)… rather, they were giving me a year dedicated to doing a different kind of work because it is a full-time job that someone has to do – which in some ways, proved to be more draining, more all-encompassing, and more difficult to me personally than any job from which I could be “burnt out.”

So my beef with Foye can’t be that she doesn’t understand maternity leave – how can I judge her for that, when I didn’t get it before I went through it myself? But then maybe, just maybe, she shouldn’t be writing about it as if she does.

 

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