Should Companies Offer Employees Time Off To Find Themselves?

Should Companies Offer Employees Time Off To Find Themselves?

The women of The Federalist discuss a new book, “Meternity,” that argues women should get extended time off paid work without having to give birth first.
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The women of The Federalist discuss a new book, “Meternity,” that argues women should get extended time off paid work without having to give birth first.

Want Time Off? Negotiate It

I don’t have problems with women negotiating with employers for their wants and needs. The message here is be valuable enough that they will bend over to keep you even if that means an extended break.

I do have problems with the government telling employers they have to do such and so. No one is entitled to anything, really. The employment market, like all markets, is supply and demand. Women should see that as empowering. Make a deal for what you want. Negotiate. Make it work. Like the men do.

This is the classic mommy wars debate, but life unfolds differently for different people. Some of us are lucky enough to get what we wanted and planned. Some of us have things hit us sideways. Most of us are a mix of the two.

Women get maternity leave because we literally cannot work for a while after having a baby. Except superwomen, and they don’t count. It’s like having intensive surgery. Sometimes it’s not like, it is intensive surgery. I took all six weeks of the typical maternity leave to be able to recover to any degree of functionality, caring for the baby aside. I just mean my body.

Employers often give the same kind of thing if you have, say, heart surgery. They give it because really there is no other choice. No one can work the day after heart surgery. The only option is to grant it, or to fire the person and hire someone new, which is a huge cost, the morality of it aside. Maternity leave is codified because it follows a regular pattern and is known in advance. Other needs don’t and might not be.

So while motherhood is valuable and wonderful, life unfolds differently for us all, and there are many ways to be selfish (including some mothers) and many ways to be unselfish and life-giving (including a great many childless women).

— Rebecca Cusey

If You Don’t Like Your Job, Change It

I wish this were satire, because it reveals so much about the plight of working mothers. Look at this quote, and realize the truth in it: “I couldn’t help but be envious when parents on staff left the office at 6 pm to tend to their children, while it was assumed workers without kids would stay behind to pick up the slack.”

I don’t understand this woman’s personal view that being able to leave work on time leads to freedom and joy for a working parent.

I watched this happen to my coworkers. It was a no-win situation. “Leaving others to pick up the slack” is indeed how many bosses and peers see it. So when women who are mothers have to leave on time to pick up their kids, or can’t go on a business trip on short notice, or can’t come in over the weekend to finish their big project, that affects their careers. The circumstances of motherhood hurt a woman’s performance appraisals and her leadership chances. The fact she can’t come in for a 5 a.m. meeting because daycare doesn’t open until 7 brands her as a non-team-player, and her pay and career prospects reflect those realities.

I can understand why a company would view not being able to put in extra hours negatively. I don’t understand this woman’s personal view that being able to leave work on time leads to freedom and joy for a working parent. Yes, if the author got off work at 6 p.m. she’d be listening to some cool jazz and sipping wine while she contemplated the peacefulness of life. Six weeks of “meternity” for her would be a “sabbatical” and a “space for self-reflection.”

For me, the newborn weeks were a haze of no sleep, post-partum depression, copious bleeding, cracked nipples, incontinence, and a daily freakout about what I had just gotten myself into. The only self-reflection I got was reflecting on whether my shirts would permanently have milk stains on them and if I’d ever shower again.

The only self-reflection I got was reflecting on whether my shirts would permanently have milk stains on them and if I’d ever shower again.

Author Meghann Foye argues the self-reflection point by saying, “One friend made the decision to leave her corporate career to create her own business; another decided to switch industries. From the outside, it seems like those few weeks of them shifting their focus to something other than their jobs gave them a whole new lens through which to see their lives.”

She’s so close to the truth.  A whole new lens. These women are changing their careers because they have kids and need more flexibility to accommodate motherhood. Good on them for finding ways to adjust to their new reality.

Hey, lady. If you’re unhappy with your job, then change it. You’re lucky. I’m lucky. A lot of mothers are not so lucky. They work grueling hours for minimal pay. Then they get Child Protective Services called on them because their kids are home alone because they can’t afford daycare and they don’t get to leave at 6 p.m. to take care of them. The only other person you’re responsible for, it seems, is your best friend, who “just got ghosted by her OkCupid date and needs a margarita.” I chose to quit my fulfilling yet demanding career to take care of my kids. You can quit yours to drink with your bestie. No one is stopping you.

— Jennifer Doverspike

Work Isn’t Life, Ladies

This is just the latest round of professional childless women assuming that they know all about motherhood because they are smart and educated. The professional world has sabbaticals in which people take temporary, long leaves to hone their skills or seek perspective. Maternity leave is nothing like a sabbatical, which Foye tacitly admits in mentioning that it would apply “to a lesser extent” to men. If it isn’t about physical recovery and intensive care needs of the very young, then why the men-women distinction? Why can’t childless men claim me time as often as childless women?

We’ve been convinced that our worth lies not just what we do but what we get paid to do.

While others here and elsewhere rip her ignorance to shreds, I also wonder why we must keep relearning the lesson that work isn’t life. That’s really what this comes down to. We’ve been convinced that our worth lies not just what we do but what we get paid to do. Women have been under this delusion since the ’60s, when Betty Friedan wrote that society pays for what it values, and therefore motherhood and housewifery were obviously worthless endeavors.

Work became our worth and motherhood became unintelligent drudgery. Smart girls were discouraged from even thinking about momdom until we were ready, financially and professionally, to have a baby. (Because that’s what matters in motherhood, money to buy stuff and an accommodating career.) Motherhood’s emotional force and its physical toil spring upon us, as if it isn’t knowledge so old it appears in the first chapters of Genesis.

Hence women who earnestly equate early motherhood with a freebie sabbatical. The “meternity” front-woman can at least comfort herself that she is not alone in her ignorance. It is built into our assumptions about who modern women are.

— Leslie Loftis

Maternity Leave Is Medical Leave

On the one hand, this is a silly concept because maternity leave is medical leave. During the first couple weeks post-childbirth, I was mainly moving from couch to bed with my cluster-feeding infant, sleeping less than five hours a night. I definitely shouldn’t have been operating a car, let alone commuting into work every day.

Once things got a little easier, I was able to walk around the block and get five to six hours of sleep a night. Near the end of my maternity leave, my baby girl got sick with a respiratory virus and we were in the hospital for three days. It most definitely wasn’t a vacation. It wasn’t “me time.” It was about taking care of my baby girl, and recovering post-birth.

It most definitely wasn’t a vacation. It wasn’t ‘me time.’ It was about taking care of my baby girl, and recovering post-birth.

It’s true that I’m tons happier post-maternity leave, but that’s because I’ve undergone a huge life shift, one in which “me” and my needs are on the back-burner, and taking care of my daughter’s needs is paramount. I believe it’s this shift off myself that has actually made me happier. “Meternity” would be the opposite of an actual maternity leave in that sense.

At the same time, I can understand that, as we extend the amount of paid maternity leave mothers get, other employees might get jealous. What if, instead of six weeks of leave (or something similar), the mom in your office gets 22 weeks of paid leave, or even more? That’s not a medical leave, necessarily. The mom has recovered physically by then.

At that point, leave is enabling a mom to return to work when her child is older, and both are feeling a little more independent. It’s so she won’t have to pump every hour, or drop her baby (not yet sitting up or eating solids) off at daycare constantly. I can understand why, from an employer’s perspective, a mom is going to be a better employee after she’s spent those vital first few months with her child, and is less distracted.

But I can also understand why, at that point, a childless employee might begin to feel frustrated. Perhaps it would be advisable for a company with that sort of maternity policy to also offer generous vacation time to employees, or something similar. But all of this is optional. It doesn’t change the fact that basic maternity leave, covering the first few weeks after a woman gives birth, is a medical necessity, and one that no woman should necessarily feel jealous of.

—Gracy Olmstead

It Would Be A Good Idea If She Didn’t Condemn Mothers

I realize this is an unpopular opinion but I actually think Foye might be right—or, at least, she might have the right idea. The concept of some time off to “find yourself” or recover from an intense work schedule seems incendiary, but only if you deliberately put it in competition with maternity leave, which isn’t by any means a vacation from reality.

We all need time off. If an employer is willing to work with an employee to accomplish that, that should be within their rights.

In this country, we put a lot of stress on working as much as possible. We judge people’s productivity on how much they “do,” how busy they are and how little time they have to enjoy the little things in life. We compete to see how long we can go between vacations, or how few things we can outsource on the domestic front. We shame women who want to stay home with their children and see them grow up, we cut people off at two weeks’ vacation, and we judge other professions, namely educators, on their “three months off” in the summer.

Who wouldn’t want a nice three-month Sabbatical once in a while?

What bothers me about the concept here is that it pits people who have children against people who don’t, and goes out of its way to portray people who have children as somehow selfish. That’s silly and totally unhelpful, not to mention exploitative of people’s feelings (and assumptive of people’s private situations).

Instead, we should look at the concept of a “me-ternity,” not as something you take in competition with another co-worker’s three months “off” to keep a baby alive, and as something we might consider as a blanket policy. We all, with kids or without, have difficult moments in our life. We all need time off. If an employer is willing to work with an employee to accomplish that, that should be within their rights. That doesn’t just apply to people without kids. I can name plenty of friends with children who would love three months off, say, in the summer, to spend time with their families (or take an extended vacation without them).

Sure, there are few things in this world as difficult as getting a child through the first few months of life. But that shouldn’t mean we ignore the very real problem at the heart of wanting a “me-ternity” to begin with.

— Emily Zanotti

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