It is a shame in 2016 that the United States remains the only industrialized country that does not offer mothers any paid maternal leave. None. Nothing. You get 12 weeks of “Hey, we will hold your job for you!”. If, mind you, the company has more than 50 employees, and you’ve worked enough hours in the last year.
Work for a mom and pop place? Too bad, they don’t have to hold your job. Moved jobs in the last few months? Sorry, out of luck. Did your mom get sick earlier in the year, so you used up some of your FMLA time? So sad.
I am going to say that again: In the United States, your employer doesn’t have to hold your job after you give birth unless you meet specific criteria.
I struggle to wrap my head around a country that prides itself on being the best, the smartest, the fastest, the richest, and yet can’t provide mothers with a few weeks off after a major medical event (which it is, regardless of whether it’s a home birth or a c-section or somewhere in between).
The Argument Against Parental Leave
The comments pile up fast online, where armchair philosophers wax poetic.
“I am all for family, but I just don’t think it is fair that a company should have to pay for you having a kid. It isn’t their fault!”
“What about small businesses? They can’t afford that! You are going to put people out of work and force small businesses to close down! That is just unAmerican!”
“But I don’t intend to have kids, why should I have to pay for someone else’s?”
Here is the thing: Most models of paid parental leave are not paid by the company, they are paid through payroll deductions. So, we pay for it ourselves. Or, if you don’t have kids, you pay for someone else’s.
If you don’t have kids and think you are getting screwed, just remember that you also pay for schools your non-existent kids don’t use, fire trucks you might only use once in your life (or, if you are lucky, never), and paychecks for military personnel to fight wars you may or may not agree with.
But, What About Dads?
What I see missing from the conversation about maternal leave is paternal leave. Some women argue that because they didn’t give birth, dads don’t need time off. Or, since they are breastfeeding there isn’t much for the dad to do. Some moms are ready for their husbands to go back to work and leave them be.
Not providing paternal leave for dads is a huge disservice to fathers (who aren’t the bumbling idiots society will have you believe they are).
In a (totally scientific) poll of the moms in our Sorta Crunchy Facebook group, it turns out that most fathers didn’t get any paid leave time at all, and for those who did, the average was around two weeks. Keep in mind that this is paid leave, which is entirely paid for by the employer, not government funded or required.
The Department of Labor supports these numbers – while 9 out of 10 fathers take some paternity leave, 70% take two weeks or less.
Why Paternity Leave Matters
Paternity leave matters for families, for work-life balance, for children, and for the fathers themselves. Being involved in caring for their child from the beginning gives fathers the confidence to care for their children, which carries on throughout their lives. Data shows that parental leave for fathers matters, for a variety of other reasons as well:
- Mothers are more likely to stay in the work force.
- Fathers who take leave live longer.
- It increases retention rates for businesses.
- Kids are healthier.
This is about more than just balancing diaper changes and dish washing.
Paternity Leave Matters for Women, Too
Why do I think this conversation should be attached to the conversation for maternity leave? Yes, I absolutely believe that mothers should get paid time off from work to care for and bond with their child (and breastfeed, if they so choose). It sucks that we don’t, although it has become a talking point for the 2016 election, (but only for married women by some counts).
The benefits of paternity leave extend farther than child bonding. (And reducing gender specific roles in the home.) It is actually GOOD FOR WOMEN. Women are more likely to return to week, they are supported during breastfeeding, they are healthier, they even earn more money in their lifetime.
It is time to include fathers in the conversation about parental leave, because it benefits us all.