Last week, the internet blew up over an interview author and editor Meghann Foye gave the New York Post with the catchy headline: “I Want All The Perks Of Maternity Leave — Without The Kids.” She argued that women are bad at self-advocating in the workplace, but mothers learn that skill in order to put their families first. I wasn’t really surprised there was an uproar surrounding Foye’s new book, Meternity, but it did leave me wondering why there is such a huge divide between single women and working moms.
I first found a copy of Meternity on the giveaway table at Refinery29. I rolled my eyes as I read the back cover: A struggling NYC magazine editor fakes a pregnancy to get promoted to the “mommy track.” Like Trump and his “woman card,” I was confused by the idea that the “mommy track” was a good thing. And did anyone really believe that maternity leave was a chance for “me” time?
I didn’t really think about Meternity again until I got an email from a coworker introducing me to Foye, who was interested in writing about her experience for Refinery29. My jaw clenched at the very idea, in part because I firmly believe in the importance of paid family leave — for men and women — and I couldn’t help but feel like this book trivialized the struggle. On the other hand, I knew Foye's ideas would be controversial, so I swallowed my anger and hopped on the phone to talk with her about the story.
I hung up feeling very differently about "meternity" leave. When Foye came up with the idea, she was struggling with some really rough stuff at home, including helping to manage the care for her ailing father, who had long suffered with a chronic illness. He died shortly before she took time off, and she spent part of her sabbatical dealing with her grief. Foye was burnt out, and as a single woman, she watched as one after another of her close friends paired off and procreated, just as society encourages women to do. I thought her story would resonate with many of our readers who are in the same position. There seem to be countless articles about the struggles working mothers face, but should they be the only ones who get attention?
The thing is, everyone has her own shit to deal with, and no one wins in this battle of "who has the worst work-life balance?" We’re all losing. But somehow, instead of joining together and fighting for better corporate policies, single women and working mothers are battling against each other in the most ridiculous and petty fight of all time.
I’m five months pregnant with my first child, and I worry daily how this new baby is going to change the way I work. I worry about not being as creative. I worry about losing focus. I worry about juggling everything. And I worry that I will lose my empathy for my childless coworkers. That seems silly, right? But I remember a time in my 20s when my boss played the kid card so he could leave on time — and stuck me with a huge pile of work on a Friday night. I missed my best friend’s birthday party, and it seemed grossly unfair that he considered his personal life more important than mine. I might not have had a baby at home, but I did have friends who needed my attention. I don’t ever want to become that boss.
Sure, that’s a trivial example, but it’s the little slights that add up and up and up and leave people feeling bitter and under-appreciated. And this leaves single women feeling like working moms have it better. Which is kind of insane.
At the end of the day, we need to have empathy for our coworkers, whether they’re single, married, parents, or childless. We need supportive paid family leave policies that everyone — mothers and fathers, wives, husbands, sisters, daughters, sons, and brothers — can access, because at some point, everyone needs to take a step back from their career to take care of their personal problems. We need supportive bosses who recognize that we are whole people who have lives and loves and priorities outside of work. And we need to give each other a break.
I like to think that we’re going to get there, but some days, I’m not so sure. And when the internet explodes into yet another finger-pointing war of "who has it worse," we take 10 steps back. Instead of getting caught up in one of those circular arguments, step away from the click-bait and focus on the people around you. Because it’s these real-life connections — and women supporting women — that will make more of a difference than a thousand articles on the topic.