Are Burned-Out Women Getting Pregnant To Escape Work?

pregnant women paid time offCrazy as it sounds to American mothers, in Great Britain women can take up to a year off work, partially paid, after having a baby.

Such generous benefits are designed to give moms and babies time to bond, but according to a new magazine survey (highlighted in the Daily Mail), they're having a side effect: Giving burned-out women an escape route. Of 2,000 British women surveyed, half said that they were considering having a baby to get a year off of work. This "shocking statistic," as the Daily Mail puts it, should be taken in context. After all, British media seem contractually bound to overplay all stories. The Daily Mail found two women who claimed that their jobs were stressful, and that may have played a part in their decision to start their families. One decided not to return to work, and one is weighing whether to return or not. So really, all we've learned is that some women decide to stay home with their kids.

But I was fascinated to read these new moms' comments and how the Daily Mail spun them in light of the larger conversation, this Mother's Day, over what constitutes work, and also how naive some people are about what living with small children entails. I think this stems, in part, from how we romanticize motherhood in a way that isn't healthy for anyone.


A Break From Teaching?

For instance, take this quote from Sarah, who started a family in part because she wanted a break from her teaching job:

"Some days the children would be running round the classroom, or even up and down the corridors, refusing to listen to the lesson I'd carefully planned and I felt I had no backup to deal with it.... On one occasion, I ran into the management office in tears, saying "I can't be in that classroom any more" because it had got so bad.... From the time I arrived at school at 8 a.m., it was nonstop teaching, prepping and supervising, with a 15-minute window to grab lunch....When the official school day ended at 3 p.m., inevitably there'd be meetings or children asking me for help with their course work, and I could never say no."


As a mother of three children under the age of 5, I read this comment and thought, "Oh, Sarah, talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face." You think running around the classroom is bad? My 4-year-old ran away from me at Disney World. My children frequently refuse to follow along with activities I've carefully planned, and you know what will also make you cry? Being up from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. with a baby who wants to play, not go back to sleep. But there's no management office to run to in that case.

As for that sentence noting that "from the time I arrived at school at 8 a.m, it was nonstop teaching, prepping and supervising," let's just note that being home with small children is much the same, except the day starts before 8 a.m. And it probably goes past 3 p.m., too, with "children asking me for help." You'll have a harder time saying no to your own kids than your school charges.

Or then there's this Daily Mail quote from Yuliana, who is on maternity leave from her job at Southbank University:


"I was working up to 10 hours a day, and while it was rewarding, it was also exhausting and isolating."



No Escape From Hard Work

You know what is also exhausting and isolating? Being home with small children. But again, the shifts are longer than 10 hours. As Professor Christine Edwards of Kingston University Business School told the Daily Mail, "Taking maternity leave as a short-term way out of a stressed working environment is daft.... What women should do is try to negotiate better working conditions with their line managers."

I agree. We have a tendency to romanticize motherhood in our society as being somehow magical and maximally fulfilling and fun. While it can be all three at transcendent moments, it's also a lot of work. Just as paid jobs can be amazing at times and are also difficult and stressful at other times. Life is hard work.

"Life is difficult," writes M. Scott Peck at the start of his bestselling self-help book, "The Road Less Traveled." Swapping one kind of work for another doesn't change that. The idea that we shouldn't have to work hard is part of the princess mindset that I complain about a lot. While I might enjoy the irony that the socially acceptable route out of work stress offered to modern women (staying home with small kids) is every bit as stressful as any job that doesn't involve jumping out of airplanes and into terrorist bunkers, the fact that Sarah and Yuliana both admit in the article that they were naive doesn't change this: Such naivete about child-rearing is probably widespread.

So here's my take: If you want to take time off to raise children, do that with your eyes open to the reality that you won't love every minute. Just as no one loves every minute of any other job. Children are their own little people, not some sort of ticket out of the grind. If you approach all your projects with that mindset -- that nothing is an escape from anything else -- you'll make wiser decisions in general.


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Laura Vanderkam

Laura Vanderkam

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Laura Vanderkam is the author of All the Money in the World: What the Happiest People Know About Getting and Spending (Portfolio, 2012), and 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think (Portfolio, 2010). She lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and three children, and blogs daily at www.lauravanderkam.com.

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May 15 2012 at 12:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
TingoHingo

Yeah OK man that makes a lot of sense dude. Wow.
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May 15 2012 at 9:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
bobtrain

Someone who thinks having children is just another kind of job probably shouldn't have any. Having them as an excuse for not working is even worse. What is wrong with just being a mother?

May 11 2012 at 9:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
DeBane's

This story is nuts...generous benefits? Women are not trying to get out of work because we have to pay the bills in partnership! This makes women in Britian sound like they are crazy. Let's be honest here no matter where we live both men and woman are put in situations where having a family and putting them first instead of work is becoming a sin. The pressures of work and bill paying prompted my family to have one child because it was the only way. I am glad for that, as one child is a blessing.

May 11 2012 at 8:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Heather

I'm getting sick of the over-hyped AOL headlines. So we're lured in with, "Are Burned-Out Women Getting Pregnant To Escape Work?" only to find out the answer is, "well, no...not really, no." Ridiculous.

May 11 2012 at 8:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
magus47

Dang!!! And all along I thought women got pregnat cause of sex.

May 11 2012 at 7:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Diane M

What a huge insult this is to teachers. I worked in business when I had a child and later became a teacher. I'd have 4 of my own children and still feel like I was on a vacation compared to the stress involved in being a teacher especially of young children. It's so obvious the author has no clue what a teaching job entails, and like many think that educators are simply their childrens babysitters. What a crappy article and hugely insulting to women and teachers. :b

May 11 2012 at 7:52 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Diane M's comment
smileydeesjays

I totally agree! Dealing with other peoples kids is a lot more stressful than dealing with your own because you teach your kids how you want them to behave at home and anywhere else, but with other peoples kids giving them a time out is like talking to the wall because they're let to run a muck at home. I was in charge of 17 kids all in head start in the 80's and had my kids in head start , first and 2nd grade, getting home was the only thing on my mind after trying to teach basics to other peoples young ones. It got to a point where I decided it was too much dealing with young ones that are not yours because of lack of discipline. I gave it up and stayed home with my own. I was lucky enough to have a husband that supported my choices.

May 11 2012 at 9:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
belldn3

I wouldn't put it pass them.

May 11 2012 at 7:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
martharoberts7

So........escape work for one year, have a full time job as a mother for the rest of your life? that....doesn't sound like a great plan. it's called vacation and sick leave, use THAT.

May 11 2012 at 7:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
lsulinebacker64

Women are getting pregnet as it says... But none are going strongest with LOVE... They'll have a baby to get out of their work not off LOVE... It's bad enough already...

May 11 2012 at 7:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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