I have had so many thoughts about this assinine “Meternity” idea-slash-book (go ahead, google it. I’ll wait.) that came out ages and ages ago. I finally have a few minutes (FINALLY) to commit those thoughts to pixels.
Maternity (or parental) leave is not for mothers (or parents). It’s for babies.
It is not an employment benefit for parents, but a social benefit for children. Yes, some employers choose to add benefits for employees who fall under this case as a retention tactic, but they are not universally applied the way that parental leave payments are. This idea is further reinforced by the fact that in much of the developed world, the government is the final payer of parental leave, not the employers (whereas employers DO pay for other benefits).
So you, by virtue of having been born, have already received your entitlement of parental leave.
Of course the application of the benefits hasn’t caught up with modern life, what with non-traditional families and employment, but if you look at every update to the policy, it’s designed to help facilitate a healthy start to life of new citizens (hungry, homeless parents and inconsistent care being very bad for babies).
Yes, becoming a parent is very often a choice, but nobody does because it’s going to give you some time to relax. Seriously? What rock have you been living under that parenthood is portrayed in any way as equivalent to a trip to the goddamn spa? Yes, some people have easy babies and manage to take on all sorts of non-baby projects during the time away from work. But many end up swamped by the needs of their own unique little person.
I personally had one amazing maternity leave. The kind of leave that combines the inspiration of a parent’s newfound role in life with hours to while away during naps and early bedtimes and quiet, self-content playtimes. The kind of leave which creates the time and space to start a new business, or found a movement, or just spend the better part of a year navel-gazing and swanning around going for leisurely walks and experiencing the kind of self-inflicted boredom that sends someone screaming back to work when the leave is finally up (that last one was me, in case you didn’t guess).
Nearly five years later I found myself on maternity leave again. It was decidedly less rosy. This time around I found myself exhausted, with a miserable baby (we would later discover she has some very valid medical reasons for that misery), an older kid who’d turned into a high-needs child, the three of us basically trapped in the house, with the brief exception of the school run, because with their particular challenges, taking those two kids anywhere was a special kind of torture. There was no time to be “reflective.” I was too busy trying to weigh how long I was willing to listen to the screaming that came with putting the baby down, and what the five-year-old might break in a desperate bid for attention in the new-sibling adjustment period, with how badly I wanted to eat food that hadn’t been microwaved yet again.
It was decidedly NOT a break (as evidenced by the fact that this poor blog has lain dormant for so long). And that’s fine. Because the leave is not a benefit for parents. It’s a benefit for babies. Both my kids got the benefit of forming a secure attachment and experiencing consistency of care, all supported by the state. A social program to get those small people off to a good start, so they can hopefully grow up well and contribute to society themselves someday.
I don’t deserve a refund because my second maternity leave didn’t give me an adequate “break.” After all, it wasn’t for me. How would the MeTernity crowd feel if their “year of rejuvenation” left them more exhausted and overwhelmed than when they started?
Much like my annoyance with the Hipster Bone Broth trend (it’s soup stock, not fucking magic), this MeTernity nonsense has nothing to do with babies. You want a sabbatical? Go and take one! Fill your boots! That’s what you call a career-break for grown-ups. “Parental” leave? That one’s actually for the babies.
(Hi, I have missed blogging. No guarantees how long this will last, but for now it’s nice to be back!)