First off, let me start this by stating that I know for many of you living outside of Canada the idea that I got paid about 50% of my regular salary for 8 months to be home with my newborn with the knowledge that my job was protected is enviable. Next make sure you have swallowed any liquids so you don’t spit them at the screen in disbelief with what you are about to read, because seriously, I can only imagine what mothers in countries without good maternity policies are thinking when they hear that someone said to me:
“I’m sorry you had to come back to work early from your maternity leave.”
I technically could have stayed off until my son turned 1, so yes, I did come back to work “early” if you think 8 months is early. However, in Canada, we are lucky enough to be able to split our leave with our partner so my husband is enjoying 4 months off with baby C.
So to recap, someone actually apologized, offered me empathy, and lamented that I only got to have 8 months at home with my son.
To be honest, when she started the sentence I thought maybe it was going to go something along the lines of, “I’m sorry your Grandfather died last year, I didn’t realize it at the time” Or “I’m sorry to bother you but can you order more supplies.”
Since I have no qualms or guilt about our decision to split parental leave, I pointedly looked at her and said,
“Why are you apologizing to me? I wanted to come back to work.”
Well after split second look of confusion on her face it apparently dawned on her the completely off-base assumptions she had made about my feelings towards work. She backtracked; laughed it off because she had 14 months off and felt it wasn’t enough…and of course, doesn’t every mother feel this way?
Where am I going with this? Well, this seemingly innocuous discussion got me thinking about the nature of staying home vs working. Despite all the advancements in women’s rights and the normalization of mother’s working and having jobs beyond pumping out babies and taking care of the house, there is still this underlying assumption many people make that women who return to work are giving up something and really would rather be home as much as they can. The thought that if I didn’t have bills to pay then I wouldn’t work is especially common.
As much as I love my son, I love solving problems beyond, “How do I get this stain out of this shirt?” I need to work.
I think that it’s about time that we shift the narrative. Instead of apologizing to me for “giving up” leave to my husband, how about we recognize we actually do have a very generous maternity/parental leave policy in Canada and that sharing parenting with the father of my son seems to me to be perfectly natural.
Women tell me they wouldn’t trust their husbands at home all day taking care of an 8 month old. Personally, if I didn’t trust my husband to be able to raise a child, I would not have made a child with him.
My husband is lauded for being progressive for staying home. Things he does are praised like he just discovered a new element.
“Wow, it’s so great that you are staying home.”
“It’s so wonderful that you can clean a toilet”
“Oh would you look at that, he can get baby to sleep.”
Whereas I am pitied and judged because I had to come back to work.
“I can’t believe she gave up 4 months that she could have been with her son.”
“Doesn’t she miss him all day? How can her brain possibly think about anything other than a baby?”
“How could she possibly find her work to be more fulfilling than a diaper full of poop?”
At the end of the day, I wish people would realize we are not trying to make any particular statement on gender equality or the traditional gender roles within a household.
We are really just two people raising our son together.