I wanted to write this letter yesterday when I first became aware of your me-ternity proposal. I’m on MATernity leave at the moment with a 5 week old baby (and a 16 month old toddler and a 9 year old) so I guess the reason I didn’t manage to is because I’ve gotten lazy.
I mean between all the lounging about, resting, recharging, taking time to refocus etc and just general well-deserved ‘me’ time I really ought to have found the time to bang out a letter.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME????!!!!!
I’ll tell you who deserves a me-ternity break, the mums who have just finished their maternity leave!!
I’m on maternity leave with a newborn and a toddler and I don’t have time to wash or even eat some days and that is not an exaggeration. The only ‘me’ time I get is when I’m sleeping and even that is strictly limited since I am disturbed every couple hours. When I say ‘disturbed’, I mean fully awoken to feed the baby, soothe the baby, attempt to resettle the baby. This routine can take 1-2 hours. At most I’ve had 3 hours uninterrupted sleep since his arrival. Some nights I am woken every 45 minutes. The really bad nights I just don’t sleep.
To read that you’re jealous of working mums who get to dash out of the office promptly at the end of the day using the ‘excuse’ they need to collect their kids is mind-boggling. Maybe I’m jealous that you get to go for casual drinks after work ON A WHIM (ok, there’s no maybe, I am jealous). You then get to saunter home, pondering what you fancy for dinner, before settling down to do whatever the frick you want. Working Mums have to run to childcare, often quite literally as they can be charged a £1 a minute for every minute they’re late, to scoop up their tired, irritable kids who they’ve been separated from all day (oh the overwhelming guilt), rush home, prepare a dinner, make sure their homework is done, give them a bath, make sure their teeth are brushed (can be a battle in itself), then put them to bed with a story and whatever else they demand, before getting stuck into ‘Operation Clean Up’ which includes washing up, putting crap away (aka a million noisy plastic toys), washing clothes, preparing everything they need for the following day, for school, for clubs etc. Next up is dealing with the daily life admin which increases tenfold with each kid you have. Then maybe some time before midnight, if they’re lucky, they might try and throw some dinner together for themselves. Or just go to bed with a bowl of cereal. Standard.
Yes you might work later in the office but at least you do get to clock off at some point and then your time is all yours. A mum’s work never ends. She’s on call 24/7 365 days a year. In any case if you work late it’s because you choose to, because you have the luxury of choice. A working mum doesn’t have that choice.
So when they return to work all empowered and confident it’s because they know there’s no shit they can’t handle.
Which leads me nicely to my next point… You say that women return from maternity leave more confident and self-assured and you attribute that to the fact they’ve had time off to focus on themselves etc. I’ll tell you why women come back from maternity leave feeling confident! Because they just survived the most difficult period of their entire life! A women who has grown and birthed a small human and then spent many months caring and nurturing this same small human, tending to all their needs on little to no sleep, can do ANYTHING. Mums are freaking superwomen. So when they return to work all empowered and confident it’s because they now know there’s no shit they can’t handle. They do not return sure of themselves because they’ve had a break and a bit of RnR.
And when it comes to those that don’t return to their careers but do something else entirely once their maternity leave is up, it’s often because THEY HAD NO CHOICE. They didn’t spend their maternity leave recharging and refocusing nor were they afforded the time to think up some great new career plan. The grim reality is that for many women returning to work and paying for childcare is simply not an affordable option. Or not an option that pays. The results of a recent study published in The Sunday Times showed that women with 2 kids would need to earn a salary of £40,000 just to break even on the childcare. A woman making £60,000 a year, would be left with just £36 a day after paying tax and childcare. You’d have to be pretty damn dedicated to return to your job and work for free, or work to pay the childcare bill. Unless you really wanted that job, it seems a pretty pointless exercise. That’s why so many women change careers after having a baby and start up their own businesses, because they are forced to. They need to make some cash so they have to think creatively even though they’ve had no sleep and no time to themselves whatsoever. They still manage to do this. They learn to juggle like they’ve never juggled before. They become masters of spinning plates. The women I know are launching businesses on broken sleep whilst bouncing babies on their hips.
Mums are the most capable people on the planet so when they return to work, it’s a doddle in comparison to parenting.
So if you want time to refocus and consider changing career, how about you use all that time you have to yourself every evening and weekend, because you already have more me-time than any new parent will ever have.
And if you still really want to experience the ‘break’ that is maternity leave, so you don’t feel as if you’re missing out, then take a sabbatical and go work as a childminder for 6 months. 7 days a week. All day and all night. With no lunch breaks. And then try doing it for free! That’s right, many mums on maternity leave don’t get paid at all or they get some small token amount in the form of statutory maternity pay. See how much fun you have doing that!
I’ll tell you what will happen, you’ll be desperate to get back to work! Where you get your own desk and nobody climbs on you, a lunch break (WHAT A LUXURY!!!), actual food to eat and the chance to drink hot cups of tea, where you can go to the toilet ON YOUR OWN and nobody throws up on you or in your hair. Best of all you don’t even have to clean up anyone’s faeces.
When I first went to work in an office after having my son I thought I’d hit jackpot. That 1 hour lunch break was the first ‘me time’ I’d had since he was born. A whole hour to do as wished. I could just go and sit somewhere quiet and be alone with my own thoughts. It was such a novelty. To be honest it being in the office felt a little getting a break from the real work.
That’s my final point! You’re jealous of colleagues waltzing off on maternity leave on what you perceive to be a ‘break’ from work, but YOU GET ANNUAL LEAVE! Know any new mums who get a holiday or even a weekend off? You’ve got to be joking. Most are tethered to their new baby around the clock. If a new mum is feeling burnt out, they’ve just got to dig even deeper. Usually there’s no option to do anything but. The mat leave gig is 7 days a week, day and night and there is no holiday. It’s relentless. Not exactly a job description to be envious of.
But of course Motherhood is also very wonderful and fulfilling and life affirming. In writing this letter I am not trying to deny that motherhood can bring much joy. Indeed some days of my maternity leave are the greatest days of my life but alas some are also my very worst. That’s the thing about motherhood that you don’t understand until you’ve lived it; it’s a rollercoaster of a journey with massive highs and equally enormous lows. But whatever it is, on any given day, it’s bloody hard work. So I get that you might want a family and feel jealous of your colleagues who do have kids and I’m sorry for that, but comparing maternity leave to something of a vacation is absolutely mental. If only to give you a heads-up in case you do ever have any kids of your own, I want you to know you will never have any more ‘me time’ than you do right now. So make the most of it. In fact, thinking about it, you know really needs a me-ternity break….!! Working Mums!
So yes I whole-heartedly support the idea of me-ternity! It’s a brilliant concept. All new Mums should get one once they’ve finished their maternity leave, before returning to work. Because they are the ones that don’t get any me-time at all and the ones, sleep deprived and hard-working, that probably need and deserve it most of all.
With warmest wishes,
Working Mum to 3 boys, currently on Maternity Leave.