Why we need paid family leave in the U.S.
June 9, 2016
June 9, 2016
When you have a newborn baby, your home life descends into temporary chaos. There’s crying and messes and strange liquids everywhere, plus doctor appointments, grocery store runs, and endless laundry. And that’s not all: new moms need lots of support and ample time to recover.
But since Americans keep prioritizing EXTREME PRODUCTIVITY and individualism over everything else, most working parents don’t have time to get their lives in order. We’re expected to get back to the grind right away.
Don’t like it? Too bad. Stick that baby in a daycare, choke down a few painkillers, slap on a fake smile, and numb your way through the whole mess. You’ll see the kid on the weekends. It’s the American way!
Truth be told…the American way is fucked. This is what really happens when you go back to work so soon:
I know these things from experience. I had no parental leave when my daughter was born 7 years ago. I took a couple weeks of vacation and went back to work, leaving my wife alone with an especially feisty newborn. We slogged through it, but we suffered the fallout for a long time after that.
And I still had it relatively easy! At least I had some paid vacation time to use, and we could afford to have my wife stay home. Lower income families don’t have those options. If you’re earning hourly wages and living paycheck to paycheck, think you’ll skip getting paid when you suddenly have another person to care for?
These days, I’m so fortunate to work for a forward-thinking company with a generous parental leave policy. When my son was born in April, I was given 6 weeks of paid time off—a rare benefit for a father in the U.S.
Having that time allowed me to relax and focus entirely on my family. Being dad was my full-time job when it was needed most. I could do all the laundry, calm the crying, and help my wife get rest.
I missed about a month of work, and everything kept on running without me. We put a couple of my projects on hold. It was fine.
My job paid me my usual salary, but even more than that, they gave me a priceless gift: dedicated time with my new son. That experience endeared me to the company more than just about anything else they could do. In return, I came back to work feeling enthusiastic instead of worn out and stressed.
Now, of course paid leave is wonderful for an employee, but how about for a business? Why should a company pay workers not to work? It’s already expensive to pay for health insurance and other employee benefits.
That’s a fair argument, but forcing zombified employees back to work doesn’t make their problems magically go away. It just causes extra stress and burnout. That results in higher turnover. And turnover is even more expensive! Research shows many businesses save money overall with a paid family leave policy due to reduced turnover rates.
Whether a national solution for parental leave in the U.S. involves a cultural shift, government action, private sector changes, or some combination of all three, I hope I’ve helped shine a little light on the truth.
If you’re an American worker, look for jobs that have supportive family policies. (They’re hard to find right now, but they do exist.)
It’s worth the effort. You won’t remember yet another month you spent at work, but you’ll never forget the beginning of your child’s life.
And if you care about this issue like I do, keep talking about it! Call your representatives. Talk to your boss. Let’s help change it for everyone and make this post obsolete.
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