Maternity Leave In The U.S. Is A Joke

I recently read an article by Maria Guido, the Senior News Editor for Scary Mommy about her views on new mom’s and their careers.  It was titled, “New Moms Have To Be Superhuman If They Want To Keep Their Careers, And It’s Bullsh*t“.  It speaks of a viral post from artist Hein Koh who was working while tandem breastfeeding her newborn twins.  In it, she speaks of how having kids doesn’t have to slow down your career as a woman.  Guido points out that Koh is pretty badass for multi-tasking like that but then goes on to point out that her statement doesn’t help women’s situations.

Koh and Guido both make very good points.  Having children doesn’t have to signal the end of a woman’s career but women also shouldn’t have to “do it all” in order to keep their careers intact.  When I gave birth to my daughter I was answering phone calls from my job to assist with questions about my workload that needed to be taken over upon my absence.  I helped out because I wanted to but also because a small part of me felt like I had to.  There I was, just hours after giving birth and I was on the phone with my job!

Shortly before my return to my job I was asked if I would mind giving up the branch that had been mine for six years and transferring to another location.  What choice did I have but to accept?  Financially we needed me to have this job to return to and I feared if I didn’t accept not only would I not be able to advance my career but could potentially lose my job.  Too often these are the decisions new mothers are faced with and to make matters worse, the U.S.’s weak FMLA laws barely allow women time to heal before their forced to leave their baby with a stranger and thrown back into the workforce.  Guido points out that The U.S. is the only industrialized nation without paid maternity leave.  Why is that, productivity.  Instead, women are faced with the decision, have a family or have a career?  One will inevitably suffer for the other because we can’t do it all no matter how hard we try.

There are some people out there, too often other women and mothers, who place judgment on women who choose to have a family and then dare to voice their dissatisfaction with a broken system.  Instead, we bully each other and make each other feel like shit when what we should be doing is working together to change the system.  Many women love their careers and pride themselves on the hard work they put in to get where they are, those same women often want families and are left wondering how they can possibly have both.  Not every woman wants to give up their career after starting a family.  In other cases, families are faced with the decision about whether it is financially possible to return to work because of insane child care costs.  The problem isn’t that mother’s want to “have it all”, it’s that they’re forced to make tough decisions based on fear and finances.

As a powerful industrialized country, there is no reason that the U.S. does not live up to the same maternity leave standards as its counterparts such as the UK, Australia, and Canada.  Why then is the U.S. not there, productivity.  We are a nation obsessed with productivity and, in this case, it comes at the potential cost of women’s careers.  As mothers we are faced with the difficult decision, save our careers at the expense of our family or give up our career to have a family.  I’m not saying that it’s not possible to have a successful career and a happy and fulfilled family but it sure as hell isn’t easy and in the end, something does suffer, most of the time it’s the woman because she becomes stretched too thin.

Guido points out that women have to be Superhuman in order to keep their careers and have a family.  She’s right, that is bullsh*t.  We are stretching ourselves too thin because we are driven by our fear of losing the careers we love or need all in the name of “having it all”.  Women like Koh aren’t Superhuman, they’re just new moms trying desperately to find that balance between career and family and inevitably they will get burnt out from the pressure.  Until things change drastically in how the U.S. views working mothers we will continue to struggle and sacrifice.  That’s bullsh*t.

Do you believe that it has to be one or the other?  What were your experiences as a new mom when faced with the decision to return to work or not?


20 thoughts on “Maternity Leave In The U.S. Is A Joke”

  1. its like society is punishing a women for wanting to be a mother, and wanting to have a career or an education, in doing so, these women are making a positive contribution to society, while being a wonderful mother.

  2. No. No, no, no. You do not have to choose. But you have to be strong and creative and decide what you value at what point in your life journey and fight hard for those things. Here’s what I mean…for me, flexibility was the thing I wanted most. I wanted to be able to ebb and flow my work presence (not my work product) to better meet the needs of my family. I fought hard for that, and when I got a little concession…I exceeded the agreements (completed projects prior to deadlines, made sure the work product was top notch, etc). Initially, you may have to concede things (forgo a raise, or some benefits) but what I found is that as I continued to prove I could do it, I became more and more valuable. I ended up starting a consulting firm after a few years of juggling on “their terms” and now only contract to work on my terms.

    Keep your dream alive…you can make it happen!!

    • Thanks! I agree that you have to choose what’s more important but I also don’t believe that a working mom has to work twice as hard to prove that she can have both. Men certainly don’t have to do so. I believe in fighting for what means the most to you but it shouldn’t have to come at the cost of things like a raise or benefits because that still comes down to a woman having to choose one or the other, at least in my mind. Love your insight @savingshards!

  3. Women in Canada used to get 6 months maternity leave. Then the government found out children do better if their mom is home with them for a year; so they changed it to a year. I do admire Canada as a country. We don’t always get things right, but the government seems to care about our children.

    I stayed home with my children and that kept us pretty poor. It was a huge struggle, but I’m glad I did it. However, I never did have a career I loved. That must be a hard choice to make for a mom and a dad. I finally had to work to pay for clothes for the kids so I did janitor work at night. They got themselves off to school in the morning. Later, I got babysitting jobs. The extra money helped give the kids things they wanted and needed.

    Life is so expensive it seems both parents have to work to survive. It is really too bad. I don’t know what you can do about maternity leave in the States except write your representatives. Maybe if Clinton wins, she will listen and try to do something. I hope things get better.

    • That’s amazing, and it seems like the U.S. is the only industrialized country that doesn’t recognize that importance. It’s sad really. My 10 year career was built out of financial necessity and not so much a love for it and my return to work, after being a SAHM for a year was out of financial necessity as well. What new career path and where I worked was strongly dictated by money and whether it would make sense for me to go back to work due to child care costs. We struggled when I didn’t work but we would have struggled more if I had chosen a job further away from home and before my daughter started school. It’s tough to raise a family and poorly developed laws and regulations don’t help the matter. thanks BelleUnruh!

  4. I’m not a mum but I don’t understand the US attitude to workers and the right to spend time outside the office. Every other industrialised nation that I know affords their employees at least 20 days annual leave. It seems that no rights relating to maternity is merely an extension of a perverse working culture geared towards employee dissatisfaction and unhappiness.

    • I completely agree. In the U.S. it’s unheard of to have a job that affords it’s employees ample time off and for those companies that do, they’re celebrated because they are outside the norm. The overall working culture in the U.S. is very much flawed and punishes most employees for daring to want to take time for themselves and Heaven forbid for their families.

  5. Yes, I think it has to be one or the other. Not every woman has the ability to work from home and she should be allowed to bond with her new baby without fear of her career suffering if she chooses to take uninterrupted time off. First time mothers experience different things and I had post partum. There’s no way I could have worked and kept my baby who was also suffering from colic.

  6. For us it was economics. Daycare $9,000 – $10,000 where we were living at that time (now can be up to $15,000), plus commuting expenses, plus general work expenses, plus moving up a tax bracket if I worked did not leave us enough to even make it worthwhile unless I wanted to do it just for me. In the end I chose to stay home. It was my choice. Thankfully, I don’t have to look for work now but if I did I know I would be penalized for the time I was away and would need to look into a new career.

  7. I live in Canada. When my son was born it was 6 months paid leave. By the time my daughter was born it was one year. My son was in daycare, I worked outside the home. After the year was up, I stayed home, ran my own company, I started networking groups to help woman in business and volunteered to keep my skills up.

    When it came time to get back on the career ladder – I found that I was unable to find a rung in a corporation. I found positions with start ups and small companies, but Corporations wouldn’t look at me anymore.

    When I went on job interviews the interviewers told me what they thought about my choice to stay home with my children, even though I was actively building my skills. One interviewer told me the company hired the man over me because I had kids. Other interviewers told me that I sounded like a busy mom when I described what I was doing during the years I chose to stay home or asked me why in the world I would stay home.

    In my novels about 40 Something women, I write about women who have to make choices between work, family, and the results of trying to do it all.

  8. ha! it reminds me of something! I live in the UK but I am from Italy and in both Countries I knew somebody that went in maternity leave and found a very different situation for themselves when back at work. Very sad indeed!


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