Belfast Telegraph

Perhaps if we rethink the length of maternity leave, less people would consider taking a 'meternity' break

By Lindy McDowell

In a fairly spectacular step up from the concept of "me time" an author is now arguing for a full-on "meternity" break. You read that right. Meternity not maternity. American writer Meghann Foye is a bit peeved that while working mothers are able to avail of generous maternity leave, their female colleagues who don't have children are denied the same luxury.

Meghann is of the opinion that after the initial period when the working mother gets over the birth, bonds with the baby and sorts out the new family routine, the maternity break also allows her to refuel and concentrate on "the important things in life".

She argues that a similar scheme of meternity leave rolled out to all female workers - "and to a lesser extent, men" - whether or not they have children, would allow them to take stock and "re-examine their goals in order to birth a life that works for them".

Okay, so that last bit does sound a wee bit American psycho-babble.

But is Meghann not on to something when she makes the observation that her friends on real maternity leave found "shifting their focus to something other than their jobs gave them a whole new lens through which to see their lives"?

And could you really blame her as a woman without children if she didn't occasionally feel a bit envious of the paid breaks afforded working mothers? And that she might want one for herself?

The writer has already faced a predictable backlash in the US over her revolutionary idea (she's just published a novel called Meternity, about a woman who fakes a pregnancy to get some time off work. I imagine a few other working women will have toyed with the idea themselves.)

The mommy lobby there (and, indeed, here) is powerful, vocal and brooks no challenge from anyone who dares to suggest that maybe it's time to consider someone other than mother.

In fairness, though, many, many other women will have some sympathy for Meghann. Including some of us who do have children and have had the breaks.

I've said this before - I'm all for working mothers being able to avail of adequate maternity leave and of employers showing flexibility and common sense in their approach to all working parents.

But there has to be a bit of balance. Define "adequate" maternity leave? Three months? Six months? A year? Longer? To me it would be very much at the bottom end of that scale. Obviously there are times when the health of the baby or the mother or other family circumstances would make it difficult for an earlier return to work. But in general terms? A few months should be more than enough.

Personally - and okay, hands-up, bad mother - in my case, a few weeks in and I couldn't get back to work soon enough.

Give everybody meternity leave, Meghann? Half of us would die from boredom ...

And anyway, how would employers be expected to afford this additional leave system given the seemingly unstoppable demand for more and more maternity, paternity and now even grandparenty leave?

The sad irony is that there has been a malign knock-on effect of increasing generous maternity leave provision. There is evidence that small businesses in particular are now loathe to appoint young women of child-bearing age.

In other words provision that was intended to help working women is actually acting against them.

Maybe it's time to rethink the whole system.

Not least because there are other workers, female as well as male - and who could blame them? - who genuinely feel unfairly treated by leave legislation that leaves them out entirely.

They never get the breaks. But others are off from here to meternity.

I'm uplifted to see the dandelions spring up

I don't know about it being a good year for the roses. But there's plenty of signs around the grass verges of urban Belfast that 2016 has been an exceptional year for the dandelions.

In some places the central reservation is a river of yellow. It's a spectacular sight.

True, when the blossom dies back, dandelions look, in every sense, a bit seedy. But right now they're proving an unexpected delight. What happens when those seeds disperse though?

Gardeners, I expect, aren't quite as uplifted by the sight as I am.

Picture this, election without lots of posters

Election Day is almost upon us. Oh, the heady excitement of it all. I used to get excited by elections. But safe to say that in the past, elections used to be more exciting.

Maybe we should be grateful they're now humdrum.

Maybe that counts as progress.

Further progress I think would be some sort of ruling on election posters. Especially those candidates who have multiple posters of themselves on the same lamppost.

Can we agree on one man, one lamppost?

Belfast Telegraph

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