Grab some popcorn and get yourself settled. The mommysphere is up in arms thanks to Meghann Foye’s New York Post article “I want all the perks of maternity leave – without having any kids.”
Faye is a thirty-eight year old self-proclaimed workaholic who just released her debut novel Meternity about a woman who fakes a pregnancy so she can take a much needed break. Faye explains her premise:
“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.”
From a distance it seems like a brilliant publicity plot. Taking into consideration that Faye is a magazine editor, chances are she may know a bit about garnering media attention. Sadly though, she missed her chance at a mea culpa and redeeming herself to the good graces of American mommies when she canceled an appearance on Good Morning America, and bungled her interview on UK’s This Morning. And given the current real-life struggle that American parents have with even getting paid maternity leave, this whole approach seems inappropriate, self-centred and daft.
Because maternity leave is anything but relaxing. Chances are, maternity leave entails a woman’s body being ripped apart (either their lady gardens or their bellies) and overloaded with hormones while having to cater to a helpless, tiny human who demands constant attention, love and care. Even if a woman had one of those magical births with the baby arriving on a bed of roses at the end of a rainbow with unicorns, fairies and pixies, the first few weeks of a baby’s life is anything but restful. If you ever see a new mom who exudes rest, it probably means that someone else is helping her with the baby.
Dig a little deeper and this isn’t about maternity leave, another dimension to the mommy wars, or even about children. It’s really about work-life balance.
All of this went largely unnoticed in the Netherlands. I suspect that it’s a moot point here because going Dutch at work translates to: not working all the time. On any given weekday, especially on sunny days, you’ll see Dutch people on the terrace enjoying life. It took me a long time to understand and appreciate the Dutch penchant for not working.
The Dutch prioritize a good work-life balance by being the part-time champions of the world; 26.8% of men and 76.6% of women work less than 36 hours a week. Self-deprecating humour aside, the Dutch have discovered that having a life outside of work allows them to be even more productive at work and more content with life in general. And apparently, the Dutch remain competitive in the global economy.
Dutch women in particular love to work part-time, whether or not they have kids. Childless Dutch women have no qualms about working only for three to four days to make time to work on some personal hobby like photography, gardening, or just hanging out with friends for brunch.
It’s even perfectly acceptable for moms to send their children to daycare as a sort of mental health break. While some may consider it a lackadaisical approach to a career or parenting, Dutch women understand the importance of self-care. Like the airplane analogy of putting one’s face-mask on first in the case of an emergency, Dutch moms have internalised the importance of making time for themselves. And though this may sound selfish, they and their children are much happier because of it.
Rather than aspiring to be stylish like the French or trendily sophisticated like the Scandinavians, perhaps Americans should set their sights on the Dutch. Faye and anyone else advocating a “meternity” leave should seriously consider moving to the Netherlands. Though Foye may have brilliantly coined the term meternity, the Dutch have been doing it all along.
photo of Rina Mae Acosta with her baby by Elma Coetzee