Ok, so I’m guilty of being an asshole on occasion…but in my defense, I don’t really intend to be.
When I start running my mouth about things that I’m completely certain of, I bulldoze right through until the very end. I don’t really have the time or patience to consider an alternative perspective. Not because I’m in any way above it, but more because I have a toddler and a job and house and ZERO time. I had to explain to a woman at Paper Source yesterday that the “casual use of washi tape” in my daily life wasn’t really a priority, since I barely have time to wash my hair.
That being said, when it comes to something as important, subjective and emotional as motherhood, I have to remember to take a beat. Not only is it the right thing to do, but because I might also learn a thing or two.
Recently, I found myself in the center of a heated debate about maternity leave with two close friends. Both women are in male-dominated, high stress occupations; and both are bad asses with huge hearts. One hasn’t yet had a baby, and the other had two in an 18-month-period. As a self-employed woman, I don’t really know the struggles of maternity leave. I have one friend, a teacher, who was being forced to return after eight weeks or risk losing her family’s insurance, another who returned after six weeks and was ultimately fired for requiring time to pump (yes, that’s illegal and it still 100% happened) … and then I have another friend who lives overseas and had to ask to return to work after ten months because her leave was so long and she was ready to get back. Everyone else’s experience seemed to fall somewhere in between these extremes.
Back to this debate…the context of the conversation we had isn’t as important as the reflection of it. In some part, that’s due to the fact that we enjoyed enjoyed a few bottles of wine over a six-hour diner, and in other part because we all made really valid points.
The world isn’t so black and white, there are at least 50 shades of gray (that I know of). The occupational landscape is so wide and diverse that different employers have different needs, just as different employees offer different skillsets and serve different purposes. In an ideal world, all women would get two years off with in-home childcare, a personal chef and an on-site masseuse. But that’s just not going to happen, and the fact is, when women take time away from their job, there is an impact (small or large) on the employer / company. On the other hand, asking an employee to return from maternity leave after 12 weeks has an impact (small or large) on herself, her child and her family. Like the saying goes, “life is a give and take.”
Large dotcom companies in Northern California can afford to take that hit, and places like Netflix offer both parents up to one-year, unlimited paid leave, while a smaller family run company may not be able afford to offer anything more than what’s required without risking their business.
The question then comes down to this: who’s needs are most important in the situation? A business could be someone’s (or many someones!) livelihood and a baby is A BABY. And that, my friends, is the slippery slope…and blanket legal requirements can’t accommodate or allow for those sorts of judgment calls.
But we can. When it comes to having honest conversations with one another, we have to be truly open to differing points of view. If we don’t, we all lose.
Whether its maternity leave, breast versus bottle, sleep training, etc., we HAVE to respect one another’s opinions and beliefs. When it comes to our children and our families, I’m pretty sure I could find a reasonable argument to back-up just about any parenting philosophy or belief.
The goal isn’t to persuade everyone else to believe in what I’m doing or to adopt my position; I’m not asking you to rally around me and abandon what you value. Real learning comes from respecting differing beliefs and opening myself up to truly understanding them.
My number one priority is my family. And I’m pretty damn sure that your number one priority is YOURS. We’re all just doing the best we can.
So while it’s easy to be a dick and brush off someone who doesn’t agree with what you believe or brushes off what you feel is important… let’s leave the shit-slinging to the politicians…
Instead, let’s all just make a pact to respect one another and maybe learn a thing or two.
And when it comes to the great maternity leave debate, the answer is this: there’s really no good answer. We can hope that companies will do their very best to extend to their employees a maternity package that makes both economic and moral sense. And in turn, we can hope that employees will make the moral choice to not abuse generous packages.
I can also hope that Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc starts pouring from my kitchen faucet and that my daughter will be a well-behaved young woman when she gets to high school…but I live in the real world.
So until then, let’s have a little more patience, a little more respect and, ultimately, a lot more wine.
Share your thoughts in the comments!