Do childless deserve ‘me-ternity’ leave?

Here’s an idea from author Meghann Foye that has been causing some uproar online. Weary of seeing her co-workers take a nice chunk of time off for maternity leave, she decided we childless folks deserve something she’s calling “meternity” leave. She wrote about it in the New York Post in this article titled “I want all the perks of maternity leave–without having any kids.”

Foye also wrote a novel titled Meternity. In that novel, the main character pretends to be pregnant, so she can have all the perks that the pregnant women around her are having, along with the freedom of not having kids.

All of this has irritated some people. Check the counterpoint piece by Kyle Smith in the New York Post, “Parents should be worshipped by their childless co-workers.” That’s just one of many angry responses.

Should we demand our own “meternity” leave or should we worship the mommies? Doesn’t that description of childbirth make you at least a tiny bit glad you’ve never had to do it? Be honest. It’s something to think about as we slog through another Mother’s Day this weekend.

Okay, so parents in the right work situations get paid leave for childbirth. I think we can all agree they need the time off to deal with everything that has happened to their bodies and their lives and to give the baby a good start.

Do we childless deserve a similar break to get away from work and reboot our lives? Why? I could use a reboot about every two weeks, but no. I have to earn my vacations. If I were in academia, I could earn a sabbatical every so many years, but that has nothing to do with having babies.

For all the time I have studied childlessness, I have heard accusations that moms and dads slack off at work, leaving their childless co-workers to pick up the slack. Has that been your experience? Do parents seem to get extra privileges? Do non-parents deserve the same privileges? Have you found yourself staying late and resenting your co-worker who had to run home to take care of her kids?

Most of my jobs were at newspapers, which are quite different from other workplaces. Everybody works ridiculous hours and deals with overwhelming stress. I never saw the parents get any more privileges than the rest of us. They just shut up and did the best they could. Kids? What kids? But I can see how it would happen. Who cares about a deadline when your 6-year-old is waiting to be picked up after soccer practice?

Personally, I think everyone should be able to work their 40 hours and go home, that there’s nothing wrong with taking a real lunch break and going home at 5 or 6 to have dinner with the family—or the dog, if that’s what you have. When my time was up, I was ready to punch out. Bosses and co-workers didn’t like that. That’s one of many reasons I prefer to be self-employed.

I freelanced during most of the years when we had a live-in adolescent. He seemed to be proud to bring his friends through the house and point to me—“That’s my mom (or step-mom; it varied). She’s a writer.” And yes, there I was, writing.

But not everybody can work from home. Not everybody has a working spouse to help pay the bills. Not everybody has a kid who can make his own mac and cheese.

I’m a writer and a musician. I never wanted a full-time job in the first place. I’ve had them, lots of them, but I always felt like my real career was elsewhere, outside the job. You might say my own writing was my baby, the child I needed to take care of, had to get home to tend. It still is.

But I have had regular jobs in retail stores, doing secretarial work in Silicon Valley offices, setting type in a print shop, teaching, and many newspaper jobs where I was an editor, reporter, and/or photographer. People depended on me to be there as scheduled and to get my work done. What Foye is talking about is an extended paid vacation because she wants to go do something else for a while. Don’t we all? But it’s not the same thing as maternity leave. Is it?

Foye’s novel does sound like fun though.

We haven’t talked much here about childlessness in the workplace. Let’s get a discussion going. I really want to know what it’s like for you.


Mother’s Day is this Sunday. I’m tickled because I just got myself this Sunday off from my church job. Instead of listening to the priest drone on about the glories of motherhood, I can stay home and pretend it’s just another day. If you need to duck and cover, do it. Stay away from situations that are going to make you crazy, and stay away from Facebook. It will only make you feel bad. Do something fun for yourself. Take a meternity day.

20 thoughts on “Do childless deserve ‘me-ternity’ leave?

  1. Mother’s Day. I used to quite enjoy this day. Until I went through my IVF journey in the last couple of years, it was a great excuse to go out for a nice lunch and celebrate with my mum and grandmother (deceased 18 months ago). I used to send a text message to my friends who were mothers too, to wish them a happy Mother’s Day and remind them how good a mother they are, as I know it can be a thankless job. At the time, I didn’t ever think that I may not ever be a mother (either by choice or circumstance), so that anxiety, awkwardness and sadness never really hit home. For the last two years, as I’ve had all the ups and (moreso) downs of IVF, I’ve really started to dread it. I’ve learnt to stay off social media, as that really gets me down. I try to also block it from my mind for most of the morning, leading up to the lunch with my mum and sister, as it can set the tears off. But once we hit lunch, I struggle. Not just because I sit there and look around the restaurant and see all the other mothers being celebrated. Or because if I happen to run into somebody who knows me/of me (through my husband’s business normally), I dread being asked the question “do you have kids” or being told, “Happy Mother’s Day” on the assumption that I do have kids. But I also dread the fact that my family feels awkward and sad for me. it’s written on their faces. And I also don’t know how to feel about my niece (6) and nephew (9) who always wish me a “happy Mother’s Day”. Last year. I asked them why they say it to me as I actually thought that it was their parents or my parents that set them up to it. But my nephew, the very talkative and honest soul, said it’s because I’m pretty much like a mum to him (and his sister), just not the real mum that he lives with. So it warms my heart and it makes me sad at the same time. Logically thinking, I should embrace it and let them love me in that way. But it’s hard to ignore the sadness that lies within. Does anyone have a similar experience or want to share their thoughts with me?


    • Hi Laura
      I come from the other side. I was extremely close to my mom’s sister who had no children – I truly thought of her as a second mom (I laughed because I would get the good and bad of having a second set of parents!) It was always really important to me that I celebrated “aunties day” and she was always included in our celebrations.
      She passed away five years ago and I regret never asking her why she was childless. As I struggle with this right now, I wish I could talk through my feelings with someone who understands.
      Anyway, I have very fond memories of time with her. She was part of all important childhood memories and I am so blessed that she was generous and so good to me and my sister. I urge you to embrace your time with nieces and nephews. Hopefully you have the relationship with your sibling that allows you to be part of their lives the same way my mother included her sister.


      • Thank you Meghan. I took your advice and embraced my niece and nephew today and made sure I focused on being the best aunty possible. Much love. x


  2. Hi Sue, yes, I have experience of working in an environment where a colleague (who also did not have children) and I were expected to pick up the slack for those who did have children – stay late at ‘out of hours’ functions, come in on weekends, etc. It built a lot of resentment. It was the idea that because we didn’t have children our ‘personal’ time was somehow less important…. I also became frustrated when colleague after colleague (it felt like) tripped in to my office to sign up for maternity leave, especially as it was colleagues around the same age as me at the time. I will admit that I went through a phase of complaining to my other ‘childfree’ colleague that I would also like 6 months ‘off’ and when was I going to get that!? (My experience is from the UK where 6-12 months maternity leave is quite common). Of course I realise that it’s not actually ‘time off’, as such, it just used to get to me, when I was going through my own slow realisation that I may not be a mother. In hindsight, there was more than one thing going on for me at the time – pain around not being in a position to have my own children (the ridiculous perception in our society that anyone who has a partner and starts a family ‘of their own’ is automatically dreamily happy) and simultaneously that I was overworked, exhausted and feeling trapped in my work situation.


  3. I’ve been in corporate America for around 25 years; never have I had to pick up the slack for my co-workers who were parents just because they were parents. The only thing that comes to mind is they get to take sick time for when their kid is sick, but if my husband is sick and needs me to drive him home from the doctor, then I have to burn precious vacation time rather than sick time.

    As far as meternity, it sounds abhorrently narcissistic. Who doesn’t want to take a few months off to do whatever they want? Honestly if it’s that big of a deal to a person, they need to take extended leave from work and just do it, but don’t blame “the system” if you don’t get your few months off. It’s on you to make it happen. The protocols are in place to do it regardless of whether it has to do with children or not.

    Sue, I’m happy for you that you got Sunday off. I hope you have a blessed day. Maybe you can take Annie (hope I got your dog’s name right) for a walk on the beach. Be sure and put your phone on silent in case they call you in at the last minute.

    Also, Sue I agree with you that reading the book ‘meternity’ sounds interesting. It’s interesting in the same way that a person chooses to be homeless (then writes about their experience) or (decades ago) the person who colored their skin black to live as an African American in southern US (just to publish a story on how black people are treated compared to white people) is interesting. It’s not interesting in the way that an entitled person whines about yet another perceived “injustice” in this world.


  4. I don’t get the vitriol being thrown at this writer. I agree with her. Americans are overworked regardless of parental or marital status. No one said maternity leave was a picnic, but you choose to have kids. It’s not a disease or illness, which makes maternity seem like a picnic. If I were at childbearing age, I would plan for kids, as not to be an imposition.
    What’s so horrible about wanting wanting a sabbatical that doesn’t include giving birth? I think it would make for a better work place. These negative comments tell me most of America still thinks a woman’s only worth is reproduction. I wonder whether the ones who throw this vitriol at her realize their own kids could be childless or decide not to have kids.


  5. Silver and A., thank you for these comments. I agree with both of you, which makes me seem pretty wishy-washy. Sometimes a body needs time off, whether for childcare or for other things, but you have to go through the channels provided in the workplace. I took almost a month off when my father broke his hip. I didn’t get paid and my budget took a major hit, but I didn’t lose my job either. We all have real life stuff to deal with.


  6. To be nice, my sister-in-law wished me a happy Mother’s Day in honor of my dogs. I was proud that I was brave to tell her that I do not in fact equate my dogs with children so “no need to go there.” She seemed a bit uncomfortable so I softened it with a kind comment. I know she didn’t mean to be hurtful (and was in fact attempting the opposite). Still rubbed me the wrong way. Especially after she told all of us that her own dog swallowed medication and they weren’t going to worry about checking him out. She cares so little about her dog that she left it alone in a crate while they went to a cookout. But then tried to pretend my dogs were as important as children? Long day but it’s over now!


    • Yep. I got a card in the mail from a good friend. It was actually a doggy-mothers day card. I flung it on the table.. So irritated when mothers think others having dogs is the same things. Twelve more minutes and this day will be done….


      • Uggg, I feel for you Candy. How sucky to open a card from a friend thinking that it’s going to be a nice surprise greeting, only to have it be an insult. Seriously, a normal card that said, “I hope you’re okay on Mothers Day. You are a valuable woman” would have been wayyy nicer.

        I’m posting again today because I just found out that my terrible SIL (the one I’ve posted about numerous times–Sue might remember) is pregnant with her sixth child. My very kind mother-in-law left me a gentle voice mail about it so I’ve been stewing about this on my own. I’ve been a mess for the last hour. I’m just SO ANGRY. And I’m jealous. I’m angry that this terrible person who rejected myself and my husband (and has kept her kids away from us in several ways) now gets to have another child. Another child that she will poison with her messed-up religious crap. Another member of our family who will never know how much DH and I love them. Another person who will be taught to reject us. It’s just not fair. I’ve never really felt that way before. Most of the time I think, “oh I still have time”. Or “we’ve made peace with our life”. I feel mostly good. But today I feel like shit. I don’t want to suck it up and be happy for these people. I don’t want to “trust God”. I want to know why things are the way they are. I’ve played by the rules. I’ve done more than most. I want my reward – NOW.

        After a few deep breaths I have to say that I know there is a plan and a purpose for everything. I do have faith. And this anger I’m feeling now WILL pass. Maybe it will spur me onto something great. But for the moment I’m glad to have a secret place to vent, as it will allow me to be cool and collected in public.


      • Anon S, I know how you feel. I was there Saturday night sobbing and saying the same kind of stuff. My SIL was hosting a baby shower for her third grandchild–and I was not invited. I just got to see all the happy photos online. It killed me. I know God has a reason why I’m a family of one while others have a roomful of people, but it’s hard. The anger does pass. I feel much better today, but I get it. I’m glad you can let loose here.


  7. It’s nice to know I’m not alone. It’s also nice to not be judged for saying the things I want to say. That stinks about not being invited to the baby shower. It really does. Facebook is sometimes terrible with things like that.

    I find myself being excluded more often lately. Example: a handful of kids in the family are going to the organized t-ball game (of course DH and I wouldn’t know about this because we don’t have kids enrolled in t-ball.). The t-ball game ends and they grab some dinner at someone’s house. That turns into drinks by the campfire and a whole night of fun and laughter. It’s a natural progression to the evening and they aren’t thinking to invite anyone else. That’s fine. Except we’re never a part of the beginning of this whole progression. We’re not excluded – just not in the loop. The people in our family now have inside jokes, plans for the summer (kid centered). They are making memories with each other all the time and we get to witness their relationships growing when we attend the “official” family functions. Clearly we have to do or say something if we want things to change. And we eventually will. But in the meantime . . . .


    • Your previous comment about the sixth child brought up a memory for me I hadn’t thought of in a long while. When my husband was married to his first wife, they agreed to have just one child, and Rick had a vasectomy. His wife had to sign a document stating she was in agreement with it. Less then a year later, she is cheating on Rick and leaves him. Years later, we are all standing on a soccer field after the son’s game and the ex’s friend accidentally lets the cat out of the bag that she is now pregnant with her third child. I was speechless. I am one that is good about keeping my composure until I can be alone, then it was a major meltdown, I just couldn’t believe it. I had to deal with her having her second and now a third????????? I always look back on those moments and wonder why the hell I didn’t leave. I was still young and could have had a baby. But I know real life doesn’t always work out like it does in the movies where everyone lives happily ever after, and I have had an amazing marriage that I am thankful for, so I think I just need to let it go…. But I am finding myself right now wanting to go out into the other room and tell my husband how resentful I am of him denying me children.


      • That is tough. To see the first wife moving on and enjoying family life in a way you desire. Luckily, you are able to recognize your awesome marriage. And hopefully his first son is a comfort to you.

        DH and I used to never talk about children. Our marriage was too messy and then it got really messy. Now that things are great (and they ARE really amazing) we talk about kids in an abstract sense. We’re starting to feel the regret of not having children when everyone else did, which makes us talk of still trying or adoption. Of course we’re still in debt and don’t have the proper sort of living arrangement that would suit a child. So any plans we make still require goals that will still take a few years. Just seems impossible.

        Why is it SO easy for some?! In my situation (the ones with the sixth baby) the couple seems very unhappy. They sink themselves into the church in order to stay united. Honorable effort, I suppose, but there is a lot of fear and unhappiness in their home. Still, they welcome a new child with excited, renewed hope and these children really do seem like the glue that is needed for their marriage. As those six children grow up and have families of their own, they will have happy, bustling, busy holidays and lives. DH and I will not have that. We will have to hope that we will be invited somewhere. Or we will become those people who spend holidays serving food at a soup kitchen – surrounded by strangers.

        The part about the sixth child that hurts is that they used to share their life with us. Their children loved us and we were always included. Now, for insane reasons (in part due to their increasingly super religious life), we are pointedly excluded and we feel that loss greatly. I was okay not having a daughter because I expected that I’d get to go prom dress shopping with their girls. Maybe even wedding dress shopping. I’d throw them a shower or treat them special somehow. Not having a son was okay because I could go to their sons’ ballgames. Or cub scout events or something. But all that is over. I won’t get to go to Lego Land or The American Girl Store. I won’t know their friends or whisper with their mother about first dates and teenage things. This 6th child is another person who will be taught to exclude us. My sadness about their new baby is less about jealousy and more about the loss of what I used to have with that family. Like so many women on this blog, I find myself saying, “It’s not fair!”


      • Your comment about hoping my husband’s son was a comfort to me made me laugh out loud. He is 35 years old and it is him that has taught me that having children is not the answer to life’s problems. He is a self centered drug user who can’t keep a job. And when we needed him most (my husband is ill), he left us because although we needed his help, we still expected him to be drug- and booze-free while living in our home. So he chose to move 3,000 miles away. So as much as we without children think that those little bundles of joy will bring a life time of happiness, I have learned otherwise. Children grow up and choose who they want to be, even when taught from a young age that drugs and alcohol are bad choices.


  8. Yes, I’ll admit I’ve been envious of colleagues & their maternity leaves. That said, I do recognize that maternity leave is not a vacation and there are legitimate reasons why mothers should and do take mat leave. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us couldn’t use an occasional leave of absence at the same level of pay as mat leave. One of my girlfriends worked for a Canadian provincial government, and she was able to defer part of her salary from every paycheque (which she barely noticed was missing after a while), and then take a fully paid six-month sabbatical every few years. She extended her mat leave that way once, and another time, she spent the summer driving across Canada and camping out with her two daughters. I would LOVE to have been able to do something similar!!


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