I may not have been changing diapers, but I grappled with self-doubt.- Meghann Foye
Thursday, April 28, 2016
A great example of the self absorbed "me" mentality. Turn the world upside down so I don't feel bad!
I want all the perks of maternity leave — without having any kids
Meghann Foye, 38, was jealous of co-workers clocking out for maternity leave, and decided she needed a break of her own. Here, the author of the novel “Meternity” (Mira, out now), tells The Post’s Anna Davies why she believes every woman deserves mandated “me time.”
I was 31 years old in 2009, and I loved my career. As an editor at a popular magazine, I got to work on big stories, attend cool events, and meet famous celebs all the time.
And yet, after 10 years of working in a job where I was always on deadline, I couldn’t help but feel envious when parents on staff left the office at 6 p.m. to tend to their children, while it was assumed co-workers without kids would stay behind to pick up the slack.
“You know, I need a maternity leave!” I told one of my pregnant friends. She laughed, and we spent the afternoon plotting my escape from my 10-hour days, fake baby bump and all.
Of course, that didn’t happen. But the more I thought about it, the more I came to believe in the value of a “meternity” leave — which is, to me, a sabbatical-like break that allows women and, to a lesser degree, men to shift their focus to the part of their lives that doesn’t revolve around their jobs.
For women who follow a “traditional” path, this pause often naturally comes in your late 20s or early 30s, when a wedding, pregnancy and babies means that your personal life takes center stage. But for those who end up on the “other” path, that socially mandated time and space for self-reflection may never come.
When I graduated from college in the early 2000s, I enjoyed the same unspoken expectation shared among my fellow Gen-Xers: If you poured your heart and soul into your career, you would eventually get to a director level and have the flexibility, paycheck and assistants beneath you to begin to create a work-life balance. Then the 2008 recession hit, and people were lucky to have jobs at all. Assistants and perks disappeared across industries, and I felt like the cultural expectation was that we should now be tethered to our desks and our smartphones.
It seemed that parenthood was the only path that provided a modicum of flexibility. There’s something about saying “I need to go pick up my child” as a reason to leave the office on time that has far more gravitas than, say, “My best friend just got ghosted by her OkCupid date and needs a margarita” — but both sides are valid.
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.
While both men and women would benefit from a “meternity” leave after a decade or so in the workforce, the concept is one that would be especially advantageous for women. Burnout syndrome is well-documented in both sexes, but recent research suggests that women may experience it at greater rates; researchers postulate that it’s because women (moms and non-moms alike) feel overloaded by the roles they have to take on at work and at home.
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.
As for me, I did eventually give notice at my job and take a “meternity” of my own. I may not have been changing diapers, but I grappled with self-doubt for the year and a half that I spent away from the corporate world. And I grieved the loss of my dad, who had just died after a long illness. 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.
It also gave me the opportunity to help someone achieve their “meternity” dreams — even if that person was a fictional character. My first novel, “Meternity,” was just released, and is about a woman who fakes a pregnancy and discovers some hard truths about what it’s really like to “have it all.”
Ultimately, what I learned from my own “meternity” leave is that any pressure I felt to stay late at the office wasn’t coming from the parents on staff. It was coming from myself. Coming back to a new position, I realized I didn’t need an “excuse” to leave on time. And that’s what I would love the take-away for my book to be: Work-life balance is tough for everyone, and it happens most when parents and nonparents support and don’t judge each other.
I want kids in the future, and I might still take a traditional maternity leave. I might not. But either way, I’m happy my “meternity” taught me to live on my own terms and advocate what works for me.