Why maternity leave is not a luxury nor a vacation
by Colleen Crivello
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Admittedly, before I had my daughter, the concept of maternity leave made sense to me abstractly,although was not particularly personally relevant or something that I spent a great deal of time thinking about. And truthfully even after I had her, I didn’t give it much thought as I was self-employed and just assumed that maternity leave was simply out of my wheelhouse.
However, a few years later, after having watched most of my friends take almost nonexistent maternity leaves my perspective has drastically changed. Mainly in total and utter disbelief that a) maternity leave is the bare minimum and even that’s hardly available not to mention the glaring issue that ultimately solely delegates child-rearing to women and b) that the U.S. remains one of the last countries on earth without some form of paid leave for new mothers or fathers for that matter. Oh sorry,us and Papa New Guinea – props to America! How can it be that we’re a global leader and yet so off-base on this issue?
While I fully understand that this varies for everyone, I’d say for most, staying home with a newborn certainly tests your abilities – both mentally and physically for a good while. Not to venture into banality but when you’re sleeping in two to three hour shifts/up half the night with a crying baby the whole of it has the potential to make you feel as though you might lose the plot entirely let alone be a rockstar at work. Bottomline, it can be a challenging time and even isolating for some in a way that’s almost impossible to understand unless you’ve gone through.
Here’s the rub, 47% of the workforce is comprised of women and of that number, more woman than ever are becoming the primary earners for their families. And yet our society is structured in such a way that makes balancing work and motherhood extremely challenging to the point where often women feel they need to choose – which has a led to a whole host of startups that include WERK and THE SECOND-SHIFT for women to manage more flexible careers. But again, this suggests that it’s ultimately a “women’s issue” rather than a family issue. Shockingly, 23% of new working mothers are back on the job within two weeks of giving birth—two weeks(!) Say what?? If you’ve had a c-section you very well might have a hard time walking let alone be a productive member of the work force – the numbers are even worse for paternity leave.
The good news:
Companies like Netflix, Google, Facebook and Patagonia are paving the way not only for maternity leave but paternity as well.
In contrast to Trump’s administration recently siting that maternity leave if available at all would be “for married birth mothers only”, lawmakers are goaling for a national policy of twelve weeks leave.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has taken the lead, proposing a national plan called the FAMILY Act. It works like an insurance program, and for the cost of a cup of coffee a week, workers would have access to family leave in the form of twelve weeks at 66% wage replacement – not full but certainly better then nothing.
The silver lining of virtually every other country being ahead of us? The ability to evaluate what works and what doesn’t work in order to innovate. For example, five states—California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington, and New York—have passed their own versions of a social insurance plan for paid family leave. More states are following suit.
The conversation is growing and even smaller businesses that can’t afford to offer full maternity leave are offering flexible schedules and the ability working from home as alternatives.
If you’re faced with taking a leave, talk to your company about ways that you can work together on flexible schedules, etc. to potentially make taking a leave viable for both you and the business.
Bottomline, parental leave is not a luxury nor solely a women’s issue and rather needs to be addressed as such with changes and flexibility that reflect the reality of child-bearing and rearing.