At first glance, this seems like something that would get Meghann Foye, author of the book Meternity, attacked with rotten tomatoes while on stage. In a way, that’s what did happen, but the projectiles were virtual. Even though there is a good point buried within the fictional story, the vitriolic response to it reflects some strong opinions against it.
Putting aside the typical rush to judgment that social media posters are quick to exhibit, the initial message Meghann Foye conveys is somewhat controversial. There’s a saying that says “you don’t know what you don’t know,” which is how non-parents could be described by those with children.
By her own admission in an article in the New York Post, Foye does not have children. But during her career, she says she felt “jealous of parents who left the office to pick up their kids” which, while honest, is also being labeled “baffling” and “ridiculous” (some of the online comments in response to her article).
Was she also jealous that those parents had to rush to get to the day care by closing so as not to pay a fee? Was she jealous that they weren’t leaving work to go home and relax, but had anything from dirty diapers to making dinner for picky eaters, to bathing cranky kids, to homework, to bedtime, ahead of them?
Was she also jealous of the times when those same parents had to leave work in the middle of the day, in the middle of prepping for a giant presentation, because they got a call that their child had a 103º fever and was projectile vomiting like Regan in The Exorcist?
Foye says her concept of maternity leave was, in essence, one of stepping back and taking a break. “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.”
First, who gets three months of maternity leave. Ever. Second, the only choice after a human being comes out of you after nine months is to learn how to take care of it and keep it alive, while your body and hormones—which have been seriously out of whack for those nine months—recover and heal, or have an emotional/physical breakdown. Although those things can happen in conjunction with each other. Which is probably why people seem more sure of themselves once they go back to work…because they’ve gone to the brink and back and survived.
Foremost, this novel is a work of fiction. Fiction allows us to spread our imagination wings and write and read about what isn’t as if it might be. However, fiction allows us to touch on real-world topics and deal with them in a “what if” manner. It is true women feel this way, not necessarily the jealous part, but the overworked part. One underlying message Foye touches on is that “Women are bad at putting ourselves first.” This could very reasonably stretch to all Americans, but we’ll stick with women for this article.
Foye admitted that after graduating from college, she went the “expected” route and focused on her career first. She enjoyed what she was doing, but still felt “jealous” of others who got to leave on time. What she misses (as others have missed, also) is that those are choices. You can choose to work on your career and you can choose to work on family. You can also choose to leave work on time. Not all people leaving at six were going to pick up kids. Some made the choice to do their work during working hours and then go home.
That then spills over into the American culture of working yourself to death for some reward, whether it’s lots of money, the corner corporate office with windows, prestige, whatever your particular goal is. But those are all choices.
Are there times when some choices are very difficult and unpopular with the boss? Yes. But, kids get sick. And employees get sick. And nothing ticks off other employees than the one who thinks he or she is indispensable who brings the incubating bubonic plague with them to work one day instead of staying home to actually be sick and recover.
Meghann Foye was scheduled to be on Good Morning America yesterday but pulled out because of all the backlash over her article. Comparing her “meternity” idea to true maternity leave is like comparing the proverbial apples to oranges. “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.” But her idea of “meternity” is not new…it’s called a sabbatical, and it is available to employees.
If people had fully read the article all the way to the end, it shows Foye did learn a lesson. “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.”
Regardless of whether or not Foye could have come up with another term for it, the concept of “meternity” is a good one: taking time for oneself. However it is referred to, the book has now gotten a lot of attention and this will almost certainly bring some good topics of conversation to the forefront.
[Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images]