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April 29 2016

Me-Ternity Leave is Just a Matter of Time

Patrice J. Lee

If you’re a woman rising in your career, but never plan to take time off to have kids or raise a family, is it fair that you don’t get to use the federally-mandated paid maternity leave from your employer?

One woman thinks so and is prescribing “me-ternity leave instead. What is “me-ternity”?

 In a new book, Meghann Foye, the editor of a magazine explains why women (and men to a lesser degree) such as Foye need a sabbatical-like break from their jobs for time to pursue non-job related experiences in their lives. Instead of spending twelve weeks bonding with a cooing bundle of joy, I presume workers on “me-ternity” leave could volunteer with a nonprofit, travel overseas, or start their own business.

Foye watched her fellow co-workers who went on maternity leave gain a greater sense of themselves and what they were able to accomplish:

And as I watched my friends take their real maternity leaves, I saw that spending three months detached from their desks made them much more sure of themselves. One friend made the decision to leave her corporate career to create her own business; another decided to switch industries. From the outside, it seemed 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.

Bottom line: Women are bad at putting ourselves first. But when you have a child, you learn how to self-advocate to put the needs of your family first. A well-crafted “meternity” can give you the same skills — and taking one shouldn’t disqualify you from taking maternity leave later.

.... But a “meternity” done right should be challenging. It should be about digging into your whole life and emerging from it more confident in who you are.

In a counterpoint, Kyle Smith aims to set Foye straight that maternity leave is not a vacation or time for finding yourself, but time to recovery from painful delivery and more.

Having a child is a physically and psychologically overwhelming, nerve-shattering, exhausting experience.

... Even examined under the cold forensic light of economics, we parents don’t just deserve a little work break (though mommies are far, far more deserving than daddies). Non-parents should fetch us lattes daily and offer to do light housekeeping, preferably while doing some “Downton Abbey” groveling and calling us “Madam” or “M’lord” — though I personally would prefer “Your Excellency.”

You want some “me-ternity” leave without the hassle of giving birth? Fine, come baby-sit my two little Napoleons for six months. You’ll be begging your boss to let you come back to the office — after about six days.

Ouch.

At first blush, Foye’s idea sounds wacky and like whining from her harboring resentment over those who leave on time and early for family obligations.

However, she raises a salient point that gets lost in the discussion about mandating family leave in the workplace: not everyone wants it or needs it. Is it fair to create a new benefit, with all the costs of the benefit, that only goes to a certain group? Is leave a matter that should be mandated by government or negotiated by individuals and their employers?   

In Working for Women, we suggest getting government out of the negotiating room between workers and employers and allowing women or men to negotiate what’s best for them.

If people need or want time of for ma-ternity or me-ternity, we propose policymakers make it easier for people to set up their own Personal Care Accounts (PCA) with pre-tax dollars.

Employers could also be able to contribute to these accounts as a mechanism for providing paid leave benefits. Imagine saving tax-free up to the equivalent of 12 weeks of pay, capped at a maximum of $5,000, each year. That would go along way to ensuring that workers can have the paid time off they need.  

We recognize that personal time is important and we need to ensure there are options, but broad solutions such as mandated paid leave like other policies often end up making the workplace less flexible.

IIndependent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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