by Siobhan Carrol, W:RUN Contributor
Yahoo’s newly minted CEO delivered on her newest project last week- a baby boy. All are reportedly doing well and I hope Ms. Mayer is enjoying some time with her new family.
When Mayer was first appointed CEO a few months ago she famously stated that she would be taking a few weeks of maternity leave and working throughout. Cue the judgment, moral outrage, and unwanted opinions of the internets. Commentary ran the gamut from those who thought she had no idea what she was in for, to those who thought she had a responsibility to the rest of us to set a precedent and take a full leave, to those who simply shrugged and said it was her choice. These are broad generalizations I’m making, but the fact is that there is no national maternity leave policy to guide (and protect) a new working mother’s rights in the US, which leaves us open to all sorts of judgment and interpretation about our dedication and capabilities as workers and as mothers.
The Family Medical Leave Act is a federal law that allows for up to 12 weeks unpaid leave to deal with a medical condition, childbirth, adoption, or to care for a sick family member. It protects your job during that timeframe so you return to the same or similar job function upon your return to work. This sounds great, right? Now raise your hand if you can afford to be out of work for 12 weeks without being paid. Yeah, that’s what I thought.
Most companies cover this by providing short term disability insurance, which generally covers 6 weeks of leave at 80% of pay, but can vary depending on what your employer chooses. This is helpful, but still leaves you at 40% of pay over 3 months, while you are confronting costs like diapers, formula, and breast feeding supplies and the mortgage.
I also bristle at the notion of being labeled “disabled” after having a baby. Having a newborn to take care of and heal from delivering isn’t a disability- it is the goddamn circle of life. Giving a new family time to settle in and adjust isn’t a vacation- it is good parenting and part of the social fabric. I wasn’t broken, I didn’t need a handicapped hang-tag, I just needed time. For the record, so did my husband and his two weeks of paternity leave were a joke. The amount of coffee he consumed during weeks three through eight were roughly equivalent to the exports of Sumatra.
All this is to say that Marissa Mayer is a stand-in for all of our issues as a country and a culture when it comes to maternity leave. We have no specific maternity leave policy as a country- FMLA covers all medical issues, which is great, but which undermines the unique experience of having a child. Establishing breast feeding, acclimating siblings to a new baby, understanding any health issues the mother or child might have- these are fundamental building blocks of life, not gravy on the mashed potatoes of time away from the office.
Perhaps if we had a national comprehensive, specific maternity/paternity leave plan that was meant to benefit new families rather than their employers, one individual’s choices wouldn’t induce so much hand-wringing for the rest of us. We’d all like to be Marissa Mayer and have a whole buffet of work/life balance options to choose from, but I’m willing to accept a standard menu that actually reflects the reality of today’s American family.
Note: I apologize for the food analogies. I’m hungry.