It may seem un-patriotic to post this the day after the Fourth of July, but it's because I really do love so much about this country that I feel compelled to share my thoughts on our parental leave policies. This is one of the world's greatest nations but we should be further along than we are on many levels. I am really, really sick of the dumpster fire that is the state of affairs in Washington at the moment but that’s actually beside the point. What I’m angry about right now is the absolute garbage that is the law around parental leave in this country - a problem that is hardly new but is obviously in sharp focus for me right now.
When Daisy was born, my then-employer offered 12 weeks paid maternity leave which seemed like an immense luxury until she ended up in the NICU for 8 of those 12 weeks. There was no flexibility to go back to work for part of the time she was in the hospital so I could re-allocate some of my time off for her transition to being at home. My husband had two weeks’ paid paternity leave. So, basically, we spent all of our parental leave in the car shuttling between the hospital and home then I got her settled in at home by myself before immediately going back to work.
With Ella, my employer offered 6 weeks paid maternity leave to me as I’d only been with the company just under six months when she was born. Nick’s employer offered ZERO paternity leave because he’d been with the company just 2 weeks shy of a year (ugh). They allowed him to “work from home” for a week following Ella’s arrival. The second we left the operating room, he was on the phone and spent the entire time we were in the hospital on his computer fielding emails and taking conference calls. When we got home, he wasn’t able to accompany me to a single appointment because he was working around the clock. Almost every night he has been up at 2 in the morning trying to catch up on email in between Ella’s night feedings.
… The really sad part in all of this is that our stories aren’t even the worst I’ve heard. I have friends who have had no access to any parental leave at all. It just isn’t right and it needs to change.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a joke, requiring 12 weeks of unpaid leave annually for new mothers. All this means is that your employer can’t legally fire you while you’re caring for your newborn or newly-adopted baby. That's it. It doesn’t mean you’ll get a salary (or even a small portion of one) or benefits. This measly twelve weeks is one of the smallest leave allocations in the industrialized world. We rank 20th out of the 21 highest-income countries in the world and we’re the only member of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that hasn’t pushed legislation for corporations to extend paid maternity leave to employees.
Just a few countries that offer paid maternity leave include Mexico (12 weeks), United Kingdom (40 weeks), India (26 weeks), Chile (6 weeks before birth, 12 weeks after), Canada (1 year), and China (14 weeks). In Slovenia fathers have 12 weeks of 100% paid paternity leave. In Sweden 480 days of 80% paid paternity leave weeks. In Norway 49 weeks of 100% paid paternity leave weeks or 59 weeks of 80% paid paternity leave. Finnish fathers have 11 partial paid leave weeks.
Interestingly, you don’t see many news stories about things like mass school shootings in places like Norway or the United Kingdom. Could it have something to do with the fact that children in those places are healthier both physically and mentally because of the early connection to their parents? Maybe not but it certainly isn’t hurting them.
Some might argue that this is not an issue for the government but rather for the employer. Unfortunately (as history shows time and time again), when the federal government doesn’t hold corporations to certain high standards, they will push the envelope to get away with as much as possible. In this case, more than 40% of medium-to-large companies do not offer maternity leave at all - because they don’t have to.
My biggest gripes with all of this are that:
A) We know for a fact that longer parental leave provides more opportunity for engagement with the child early on which leads to a stronger bond both biologically and emotionally thus improving the child’s cognitive and mental health outcomes. Why would we not do everything we can to equip our future generations with as much love and support as possible to become the best human beings they can be? Is this not the best investment in our country that we could make?
B) We also know that pregnancy and childbirth take a massive toll on the parent carrying the child. Childbirth is physically painful and requires a significant recovery whether you’ve delivered vaginally or via cesarean. One in seven women will experience postpartum depression, anxiety or psychosis. It takes weeks to heal the physical wounds of carrying a child and months to recover hormonally and adjust emotionally - sometimes even longer. Figuring out how to breastfeed and getting into a healthy sleep pattern take weeks and sometimes months too. We know all of this, now, as a society, but we have failed to alter our standards to reflect what we know.
C) If the above two points are too soft for the crusty corporate types (although I can't imagine there are many reading this blog ;), there’s a strong business case for extended paid family leave too. Employees who are given an appropriate amount of time off are more likely to stay with their employer, work harder for that employer and be more productive when they return to work. Healthier, happier employees are always better for a company’s bottom line - and they’re cheaper to keep on the payroll, too.
… With all of this in mind, WE HAVE TO DO BETTER. And all of us have a responsibility to fight harder to fix this part of our massively broken system. If you're as heated as I am, join me in taking action. Here are some things you can to to affect change:
Want Paid Maternity Leave In The United States? 6 Ways To Push Congress To Change The Laws - Bustle
How to Improve Your Company’s Parental Leave Like These Women at the Times - Fairy God Boss
Five Ways to Advocate for Paid Parental Leave Because Its Time to Really Put Families First - Romper
How to Fight for Paternity Leave When Your Company Doesn’t Offer It - Fatherly
Get Involved with:
The National Partnership for Women & Families
A Better Balance
Paid Leave US (PL+US)
Let's stay angry and keep fighting the good fight - even if change doesn't come soon, we can shape the future for our children and our children's children! Do it for these two: