Eater’s Amanda Kludt published a painfully necessary investigation into the role maternity leave—and the frequent lack thereof—plays in keeping women from joining or staying in the restaurant business.
The article is definitely worth your time: Escaping the Restaurant Industry’s Motherhood Trap
While many of the subjects’ accounts are maddening to read, they’re not much of a shock to me after reading some of the responses to my mental health survey earlier this month.
Postpartum issues compounded the already overwhelming tasks of one new business owner, and put her health at risk:
“I had an incredibly hard time after my second child was born. My business was still relatively new, I had been working 60+ hour weeks up to my due date, and I was really naive how difficult it would be to care for an infant and another young child, and maintain a small business. Postpartum hit me like a truck and my staff was not as prepared as I had hoped to deal with me absent, so I had to go back to work two weeks after my son was born. That meant no sleep, which made my body shut down and not be able to breastfeed.
I developed a tic and a drinking habit that only perpetuated my inability to get any rest. I couldn’t share any of this with my staff who were all in their early twenties and not able to understand my situation. It was a very dark and stressful time that took a year to recover from.”
And this chef de partie struggles with balance, when the platform is uneven to begin with:
“While I am not dealing with intense mental issues now. The toll the being part of the industry is a daily struggle for me. I constantly feel plagued by guilt and helplessness. I am a married woman, a mother, and currently hold a position as chef de partie. I love all these things but they could not be more polarizing.
My family life prevent me from working hours like a man, available 50+ hours a week. My job prevents me from being a normal ‘mom,’ my hours create an unwanted role reversal in my marriage. I feel like an oxymoron and generally find no one who is like me or understands my situation.”
This is just a small sample of the stories that are coming in, but highly representative of the issue(s) at hand. While food culture idealizes the archetype of the mother and grandmother for their culinary inspiration (you can rarely flip open a food mag or cookbook without reading at least one chef’s rapturous, hazy-edged account of learning to cook at Nonna’s knee), the industry levies punishment on women who actually want to inhabit that role, and do it well.
Motherhood doesn’t make a woman any less skilled, rigorous and efficient a worker, and the challenge might even hone those qualities. So why is it met with such hostility? Why are the women who choose to do both made to bend until they break?
I’m keeping the chefs whose words I quoted above anonymous, but I hope they and other women (and men, who want to be good fathers) who see these stories know that they’re not alone. Even if they feel they have to keep their mouths shut.