I was coming up on the end of my first trimester, when I first saw it: A maternity t-shirt emblazoned across the front with the words Mom Hustle. All caps of course.
When I saw this shirt, I had been throwing up for weeks. Not just in the morning or the evening. But basically any time I ate something that tasted strange or smelled something with a scent that was off. Which is to say all the time.
I was also up to my eyeballs in worry as we awaited the results of yet another screening. It wasn’t that I thought something was off with my pregnancy; it was the fact that all anyone seemed to want to do was quote high risk statistics to this advanced maternal age mom.
The moment I saw that shirt, I knew exactly what my maternity leave would not look like. In case the intermittent silence on the blog hasn’t clued you in, I thought I’d share exactly why I’m not hustling like a mother on this leave.
Tired Like a Mother
I’m coming off the most grueling school year of my life. Everyone is: teachers, parents, kids. It’s the one thing everyone agrees on. The 20-21 school year was flipping exhausting. With that as my foundation, I’ve now layered on full-time toddler life and newborn life.
I’m not looking to come out of this leave as a mompreneur who made a pivot into a four, five, or six figure business. Those headlines are sexy, and I’ll probably always click on the articles. But the truth is that isn’t an ambition that I share.
The countless feedings and painful pumping sessions feel like job enough. If you’re into unpaid labor with no option to clock out. Ever.
Never mind the fact that babies and toddlers just don’t keep. There are newborn snuggles to have and toddler hands to hold. And so many teeny tiny diapers to change. Seriously, how can one small human poop this much?
Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the System
Of course, this isn’t just about hustle porn and the people who buy into it. That Mom Hustle maternity shirt is symptomatic of something much greater: The fact that this might be the very worst place in the world to actually take any kind of parental leave. The United States makes it so incredibly difficult to qualify for a leave, never mind trying to afford unpaid time off if you’re approved.
The very system through which we are supposed to sustain new life and allow our traumatized bodies to recover isn’t set up to allow either of those things. Not really. Maybe not at all.
And then there’s the most American antidote I can think of. Rather than identify a problem and fix it, we just hustle through it. By necessity and also by way of this hustle porn that seeps into every crevice of society.
Imagine how different maternity (and paternity!) leaves would go if our society encouraged people to rest like a mother, instead of hustling like one.
Unplanning My Leave
I didn’t bother with a formal birth plan (one day, I’ll tell you about The Epidural That Didn’t), and I certainly am not going to make a maternity leave plan. It’s not that I think my leave is in God’s hands so much as I do believe it’s in the PB&J-encrusted hands and adorable infant fingers of my children. And well…sometimes it feels like they are trying to single-handedly burn Rome–or our family room–to the ground, salt the earth, and start anew. And in other moments, I can’t believe how incredibly helpful my toddler is and how incredibly adorable my newborn is.
Sanity and sleep are both fleeting in the first weeks of a maternity leave. Perhaps all throughout motherhood in general. Trying to make concrete plans and set goals feels like unnecessary pressure. Not to mention a big waste of time.
So rather than try to envision and attract The Ideal Maternity Leave, I’m interested in two main things: enjoying time with my family and making some time for myself. Writing is one of the outlets that allows me to feel most like myself, so I cherish the chance to continue that. I’m happily still squeezing in some freelancing, but I’m saying no to anything with a hard and fast deadline. I’ll blog when I can and when I want.
And teaching? I’ve declined every single summer meeting related to teaching. I uninstalled Zoom from my work computer, and most heroically, I let my work computer battery die and refuse to charge it until I’m getting paid to do so.
The Best Maternity Leave Advice
But in the mean time, I’m going to live out the best maternity leave advice I was ever given. In the middle of my first leave, our pediatrician looked at me and said, “Love your baby, and if you must do more than that, pick a plant. Water it. Keep it alive. That’s good enough.”
So if you need me these next few short weeks, I’ll be on the blog from time to time. I’ll likely be on Twitter in the wee hours of the morning. And I’ll be soaking up every second I can with my family and trying really hard to keep the petunias out front alive.
So Tell Me…How do you feel about hustle culture? Have you ever given into pressure to hustle when you didn’t really want to?
Penny! Articles like this are why I read your blog. Hustle culture is impossible. And doing little things like being fully present with your children is almost like an act of revolution (but so good for everyone involved). Congratulations on letting your work computer battery die. I’m proud of you!
I had big plans for my first maternity leave. None of those things happened.
Then for some reason I thought I’d get stuff done during my second maternity leave. Of course I didn’t!
Our limited leave time should be about recovery from childbirth/surgery and bonding with your baby, not building a business or getting to some epic goal.
I hope your leave is extremely snuggly and relaxing!
Get it, mama!!
We have been putting too much focus on creating side hustles. Whatever happen to taking the time to rest and relax? Life isn’t just about money.
revanche @ a gai shan life
I absolutely bought into that nonsense with my first maternity leave and I felt like garbage for failing to start the business that would free me from my 9-5. Going into my second leave I refused to try, because hello pandemic pregnancy and just survival, but also because it just plain didn’t make sense. I planned for the money part and then I completely disconnected. I won’t say I didn’t wish I hadn’t succeeded in creating a new life for us in which I didn’t have to go back to the job but I had already created a new tiny infant life so that’s going to be good enough for a while.
“Geriatric” mothers enjoying their second children FTW!
David @ Filled With Money
Hustle culture definitely has too toxic. It’s like every single waking moment of our lives, we have to be working. What? Why can’t I just take a month off and literally do nothing?
Great plan 🙂
I love the brutal honesty and vulnerability of this post! I wish our society place a greater emphasis on the family unit than it did on side hustles and making money.
Congratulations! Enjoy that time with your little ones and making family memories that you wouldn’t be able to make if your were always hustling. And don’t feel bad giving people the stink-eye if they ask how your “vacation” was when you get back to work… I didn’t.
Oh, that “vacation” phrase absolutely makes my blood boil!
Done by Forty
Congratulations again and thank you for this post. Mrs. Done by Forty and I have been talking about a lot of these issues: about how she’s one of the lucky ones to get 12 weeks of maternity leave, and we’re supposed to feel so grateful for it. But then we see what almost every other country in the world does, and there’s that perspective.
“And then there’s the most American antidote I can think of. Rather than identify a problem and fix it, we just hustle through it. By necessity and also by way of this hustle porn that seeps into every crevice of society.
Imagine how different maternity (and paternity!) leaves would go if our society encouraged people to rest like a mother, instead of hustling like one.”
Too much hustling and not enough rest and relaxation for most people.
You know I agree with this! 😉
Yes yes yes! Your post resonated so much with me! I have a baby and a toddler as well and after 8 months of maternity leave, I’m slowly starting to think about going back to work (part-time). I deliberately made no plans for my leave and I am glad I didn’t.
Looking after a baby and a toddler is so much more work than just looking after a newborn (although the first time around you learn how babies work, so it’s not easier, just different). I allowed myself to rest, go for long walks, sit in the sun, cuddle, leave the house messy, and just enjoy this precious time. I also feel that the hustle culture is taking over and it’s not a good thing.
One of my colleagues had their baby in February and was back at work full-time by April (I’m in Australia, so this is quite uncommon). I met her at a birthday party the other week and she looked at me like I’m a lazy slob.
A lot of traditional cultures look after mothers a lot better than we do in the western world, allow them to rest and slowly transition back to the real world. It took me a good 6 months to properly recover from giving birth the second time and I’m so glad I was able to take the time off without hustling or even thinking about work. I’ve created deep bonds with both my kids and that’s all that counts.