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Maternity Leave or Vacation Time?: Study Shows that Women Without Children Also Want Leave

Maternity Leave or Vacation Time?: Study Shows that Women Without Children Also Want Leave

The Telegraph reported a few days ago that 74% of women in Britain feel that they have the right to the same six-month leave that new mothers are given, regardless of whether they actually have children.  No, I’m not joking.  Henry Wallop writes that “more than two-thirds in favor were actually mothers themselves.”

This propostion is incredibly problematic for a variety of reasons.  First of all, it’s insulting to imagine that maternity leave is something that all women deserve, by virtue of the fact that they are women – and is reverse sex discrimination, of a sort.  It also trivializes the fact that women who have just given birth actually need time off – and that it isn’t an arbitrary break that can be taken at any time.  Maternity leave is not some kind of vacation, and new mothers can’t take off and go backpacking, which is what Fiona Jennings, one of the women who took the survey, said that she was going to do with her time off. 

“At 37, I knew that I would benefit hugely from taking a period of time away,” Jennings said.  “My employers agreed to give me seven months off as an unpaid sabbatical. I leave for my round the world backpacking trip in three weeks.”  She talks about her choice not to have children as if she had somehow been cheated, through that choice, out of a vacation that would allow her to undertake thoughtful self-discovery, rather than a period of time given to new parents who need the time to tend to an infant.  The idea that the two are comparable is simply absurd.

I’m confused by why this survey was conducted at all, but it highlights some extremely disturbing views toward maternity leave generally.  First, the survey operated under the assumption that only women take time off after a child is born, which ideally is not what should happen – paternity leave should be offered as well.  Second, it highlights the fact that many people don’t think maternity leave is even necessary; Wallop quotes Nicole Pease, “one of Britain’s most senior businesswomen,” as telling a Parliament committee that she thinks “women have got too long maternity leave.”  This outlook will certainly not change if businesses are suddenly confronted with large numbers of women demanding paid leave, because maternity leave is offered to others.

The editor-in-chief of Red Magazine, who commissioned the survey, said: “I think a lot of women who have worked for their employer for ten, or 15 years look around at their colleagues taking maternity leave and feel some element of envy and think, ‘What would I do with that time away from the workplace?’.”  He added, somewhat defensively, “This isn’t a working mum versus working non-mums argument. Nobody thinks maternity leave is a holiday. Employers, especially now, need to incentivise their staff in imaginative ways and that could involve offering leave.”

But this demand for creativity on the part of employers really has nothing to do with maternity leave.  If businesses need to “incentivize” their staff in “imaginative” ways, they should do it separately, without involving maternity leave, which should not be seen as an “incentive” – it should be a given.  The fact that this survey was even conducted reveals enormous flaws in the way that we view maternity leave – as well as the fact that it’s supported by such large numbers of women, despite the fact that it completely trivializes the stress and physical recovery that maternity leave is designed to ease.  We should be lobbying for better maternity leave and extended paternity leave, rather than conflating them with vacation time. 

This one really needs discussion.  What do you think?

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46 comments

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6:12AM PST on Feb 25, 2011

All women need some rest.

12:42AM PST on Nov 29, 2010

Should employees be given more options for time off in general? YES! But it SHOULDN'T be considered "compensation" for not taking maternity leave! Maternity and paternity leave is CRUCIAL, a NECESSITY to actually raise and take care of a baby!!! People are just nuts...

6:56AM PDT on Oct 26, 2009

Susannah K.,

I'm curious what you think about the various amounts of time off offered in these different nations? From your viewpoint, what seems most appropriate for a woman's needs vs. is affordable for business/society? See chart at bottom of this article:

http://www.forbes.com/2009/05/04/maternity-leave-laws-forbes-woman-wellbeing-pregnancy.html

8:17PM PDT on Oct 25, 2009

This has got to be the most ridiculous, thoughtless, stupid thing I have ever heard! Oh my God! Maternity leave is NOT a vacation! Having a new baby is the most exhausting, demanding, taxing time any woman will ever go through. To compare this to a paid vacation completely trivializes what new mothers face.

First, your crotch is ripped apart by a watermelon sized object exiting it. Second, if you breast feed, your breasts swell up like balloons, then leak copiously if you even think about the baby. Third, massive sleep deprivation. Fourth, piles of laundry and messes everywhere. Fifth, if you have older children, you have to continue caring for them while caring for a brand new, fragile infant.

To compare this to a paid vacation is an insult. It is stupid! Maternity leave is not a privilege, it is a necessity. it is not something that all women are entitled to because they are women. It is the time required to heal physically, bond with your baby, and adjust to the massive new demands on your life.

5:30PM PDT on Oct 21, 2009

I've already commented 2x, and have just waken up to the fact that I really need to do more homework on this topic. It seemed so simple to formulate an opinion based on reading the above Care2 article. Then I found a very interesting article from Forbes comparing maternity leave in different countries. I'm seeking to learn the political/social thinking these countries have behind all the paid leave (better society? encourage more births? up the younger population to balance with the older?) - and if the countries providing so much paid leave will be able to continue to afford such generous plans as time goes on? There's definitely lots more reading to be done. It would be great to know what others find on this topic as well.

Here's the Forbes article for anyone interested:
http://www.forbes.com/2009/05/04/maternity-leave-laws-forbes-woman-wellbeing-pregnancy.html

5:01PM PDT on Oct 21, 2009

"if you choose to use it to recover from giving birth"

WHAT??!! If you CHOOSE? How is this a choice? The body goes through a lot of stress giving birth. There are stitches to heal, cramping as your uterus goes back to normal size, bleeding, swelling, pain. Not to mention a newborn baby that needs to be fed every 2 to 3 hours around the clock. How does one "choose" NOT to recover?

3:40PM PDT on Oct 21, 2009

I don't see this as an issue about weather or not a mother (or even a father) should get time off after the birth of a child. I definitely think there should be allowances for that. I see it more of an issue of discrimination against those of us who choose not to bring more bodies onto the planet. We often get left with a larger share of the workload, fewer tax breaks and end up covering for those who are always leaving to "pick up their kids" IMHO, it was YOUR choice to have a child, why do the rest of us have to pay for it? I don't hate kids, I just think that EVERYONE should get the opportunity for a break, if you choose to use it to recover from giving birth, that's your prerogative. Perhaps instead of looking at having a child as a right, you should look at it as a privilege.

6:16AM PDT on Oct 21, 2009

How rediculous !
Maternity leave is in my opinion essential for the Mother of a new born child ...
the all important bonding takes place and this will determine the type of relationship Mother and child have in the future in my view....
More important than non-mothers would be an extended leave for Fathers of the newborn child ! so he can bond better too,
which might even stop the amount of new Fathers being tempted to stray because they feel left out !
In an ideal World the Mother should be at home with the child at least until school age,
I insisted ( we both agreed )my wife was home with both of ours, which were 3 years apart,
whilst I worked all the hours possible, and a damned fine job she made of it too !!!
If parents are not prepared to make such sacrifices for their children, should they really be having kids ???

9:56PM PDT on Oct 20, 2009

(Last sentence of my post that got cut off):

Seems fairer to workers and employers.

9:52PM PDT on Oct 20, 2009

Here's a quote from the linked article (which I finally read):

"Statutory maternity leave has become increasingly generous over the last decade. Mothers are now entitled to a full year off work with 39 weeks of paid leave."

Now I see why other women (and should be men too!) are upset at this. That's a very long time of paid leave and overall leave. Originally, paid maternity leave was established to cover women because essentially they were disabled for a time after their pregnancy. Somewhere along the line it was expanded to be more of a plan to support parenting in general - thus men getting time off as well. The lengthy amount of time off for new Mothers sounds like Britain is worried that there won't be enough younger generation (outside of immigration) to fund future social programs - especially to cover the old. it's a fact that certain segments of population throughout the globe are producing fewer and fewer children. This strikes some fear in certain countries where they had better get some more babies born to fund the aging population and fill the workforce. Interesting issue and it could be coming to the USA. I heard NJ has some plans brewing to expand maternity benefits.

What do I think? Make paid maternity leave correspond with whatever length of time the woman is considered "disabled" by her doctor. Offer unpaid leave for any further time wanted off and offer unpaid leave to employees without children as well. Seems fairer to workers and emplo

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