People without kids need to back off — maternity leave is for moms

Apr 28, 2016 at 1:00 p.m. ET
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Meghann Foye was jealous of her co-workers going on maternity leave, but it wasn't coming from a maternal place. It wasn't the baby she craved, but the time off — or, as she calls it, "socially mandated time and space for self-reflection."

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Have we been getting it wrong this whole time? Maternity leave — if we're lucky enough to get it — isn't time away from work to do another, much harder, job. It's a vacation! So says 38-year-old Foye, who has written a whole novel about the issue, Meternity.

We don't like to split people into two camps ("us" being the parents, "them" being those who don't have kids), but in this case, there's absolutely no way this book could have been written by a mom.

Foye's theory is that every woman deserves mandated "me time," and we don't have an issue with the basic premise. Of course everybody (men included, because they are people too) need time away from work to relax, de-stress and do whatever makes them feel fulfilled and happy. Unfortunately most people don't work for companies with such forward-thinking terms.

But Foye isn't talking in general terms; she's talking about the difference between a working mom and a working woman who doesn't have kids. Indisputably there's a big difference between the two. One balances work and children, while the other balances work and whatever other interests, commitments and obligations she has in her life. Foye wants all women to be entitled to a "sabbatical-like break that allows [them] to shift their focus to the part of their lives that doesn't revolve around their jobs."

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Once we've stopped trying to take on board the idea that maternity leave could ever be classed as "me time," we need to point out that Foye is speaking on behalf of only one type of woman: a well-educated, financially secure woman who probably has various career options and can take time off without pay. A woman who, like Foye, is able to take a "meternity" from work to "find herself." Most women — whether or not they're moms — don't have that luxury.

Before women who don't have kids start asking for maternity leave, how about we focus on the fact that U.S. maternity leave policies are woefully inadequate? In fact, it's one of only three countries in the world (alongside Oman and Papua New Guinea) that doesn't guarantee paid maternity leave. The closest thing we have is the Family and Medical Leave Act, which became law in 1993 and allows qualified employees to take 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for specific family and medical reasons. Having a baby or caring for an adopted child falls under this category. Paid parental leave policies remain up to individual employers, and only 5 percent of low-wage earners receive any paid maternity leave.

Sorry, but until all moms get maternity leave, nobody else has the right to demand it.

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Before you go, check out our slideshow below:

lunchbox napkin art
Image: Daily Napkins