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Asking for Maternity Leave and Childcare — Not for Permission

Okay, I’m jumping back in the ring. When I wrote recently about feeling like a bad feminist for wanting to stay home with my newborn daughter, I didn’t expect quite the response I got. Elana, while I do take issue with some of what you have to say, you’re spot on that women should stop asking for permission. In my post, I was seeking approval — mostly my mother’s, who granted it (thank you, Sisterhood, for letting us work out our mother-daughter issues). And while I understand your point that men and women need to share the parenting load, I don’t think anybody — man or woman — will be free to be parents until we have some real societal change.

I spent the past year living in Germany where parents (note: parents, not mothers) are offered 14 months of paid leave to care for their children. The policy was actually created to encourage fathers to take time off. If only the mother stays home she is offered a mere year. There are even father centers — havens where men can go hang out with their babies and chat with other men about soccer, parenting, and other dad things.

The conversation in America around feminism and parental rights has sadly missed the mark. Does creating pumping stations at work so mothers can strap on a medical device to express their breast milk while slaving away at the office really signal a step forward for women?

Lastly, it’s true that it’s a privilege to be able to ask the question to-work-or-not-to-work?.Well, sort of. Now that I’ve started looking for work — the bottom line is that we need cash and I’m afraid of losing my career — I realize that there’s a real calculation to be made. With many of these jobs (fulltime jobs, mind you), I would be pulling in just enough to pay somebody else to care for my child with maybe a little bit leftover. So, going back to societal change, I refer to my mother’s post about the need for affordable chaildcare. Women and men won’t be able to make real choices until there are real options.

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