There are some aspects of life that can’t be seen on the media. For instance, until recently, it was hard to find a TV show dealing with the lives of the elderly. Thanks to the Netflix original show Grace and Frankie, and the Korean drama aired on TvN Dear My Friends, I can now name a few. Becoming a senior citizen is something everyone will eventually go through, but it is ironic that the media hardly pays attention to it, and that we do not know what it is like to be one.
How about so-called ‘urgent family issues’? That is one of the most common excuses for why someone does not show up at an event. However, when the urgent family issues become something real and long-term, say a family member suddenly having a serious disease, or expecting a new family member (like a baby) when you’re unprepared for it, do we know how to handle it? Most of us can imagine what it would be like. We have heard stories of ‘Her mother got cancer,’ or ‘He’s raising the baby by himself,’ so we do have a grasp on how hard it would be. But coming up with a tangible tactic to go through these crises is something else.
Maybe these topics are hardly talked about because those in the media industry do not really know how to handle it either. Imagine yourself having a baby. You are not married. Your friend explains your situations in the following way: the product of a bottle of drink and a five-year-old condom is your baby. Some of you might find the line quite familiar. Yes, this example is from the beloved sitcom, Friends. I am a huge fan of this show, but can’t embrace all aspects of the show. One of them is the unrealistic, romanticized depiction of raising a baby. The mother is on maternity leave, and only the fun parts of having a baby, like trying to make it laugh by singing a silly song, are shown. Even the frustrating situations, like putting a baby to sleep, is captured with a sense of humor.
While this light, and delightful tone is the nature of sitcoms let’s also take a look at this real-life memoir from a New York Times article in January 2018.
In the article with the newspaper, Ms. Limongi Gabriele says that she is familiar with what unpaid leave feels like. When her daughter, Sofia, was born in March of last year, she and her husband dipped into their savings and charged necessities like groceries to a credit card so she could stretch her time off work to almost four months.
“I’m glad I had the opportunity to spend time with my baby,” Ms. Limongi Gabriele said, but the financial instability “kind of had me freaked out.”
Ms. Limongi Gabriele, a 35-year-old woman who works as an assistant at New York University, suffered major financial instability during her unpaid maternity leave despite her seemingly stable job. The interview was conducted because she became one of the first beneficiaries of the New York City’s new paid Family Leave policy. Effective this year under the Family Leave policy, NYC residents can get a paid leave when they have a baby, have a family member that needs care, or have a family member leaving home to serve in the military.
The policy is funded by employee payrolls, 0.126% of the weekly wage and capped at an annual maximum of $85.56. With a wide coverage range, this policy serves as a meaningful step forward in a country without any nationwide guaranteed paid maternity leave. In Korea’s case, each parent is granted with a year of maternity leave per child, with some restrictions such as not allowing both parents to take the leave simultaneously. But faced with employers not being okay with their employees going on a maternity leave, ‘maternity leave rejection’ is one of the most commonly search keywords related to maternity leave on Korea’s biggest search engine ‘Naver’.
This is the bare reality we face. Motherhood can’t be all sweet. Nor is fatherhood all sweet, either. We naturally absorb many things from the media, and are greatly influenced by it. The tendency to sugar coat the crises of our lives makes the shows attractive, but let’s not be fooled by it. Let’s be critical about how things are portrayed. As we all know, no one is Rachel.