Today marks my 2 year “blogiversary”. I thought I would “celebrate” by posting something a little different- but still related to being a working mom. I started this post over a year ago, long before my current pregnancy. I’m interested to hear feedback and/or discussion regarding this topic, although I know it can be sensitive, especially in our current political climate. So, for those that partake- enjoy, it’s my opinion and only supported by articles and blogs I’ve read online. Don’t expect it to be a thesis….
I don’t typically post controversial stuff on my blog. Well, unless you consider me working and having kids controversial, but then why read a working mom blog in the first place? Either way, I’ve noticed a topic that has popped up in the news on several occasions. No, I’m not talking about political candidate rhetoric. I’m referring to paid time off for the birth or adoption of a child. Now, I cannot speak about adoption because I’ve never gone through that process. However, aside from the fact that the baby comes from someone else’s uterus, you still have the emotional roller coaster, extreme lifestyle change and the “getting to know you” phase of a new person to take care of. So, it still applies. But, I’ll save that topic for people that have the experience to speak from that perspective. And for my male readers- I’ll cover my thoughts on paternity leave, just be patient, I’ll get to it.
If you look at the recent companies that have changed their policies regarding leave, the bulk of them are tech or “trendy” companies. They are looking to attract and keep, good talent. When talking with people, especially those that live outside of the US, most are appalled by our current leave policy- or lack of policy- in most cases. I’ve heard conversations on both sides of this- and have read the many comments on some of these articles which include valid arguments on both sides, along with ignorant, troll-like responses. So, because I can only speak about what I know, here are my thoughts on paid leave for parents.
I was fortunate enough to work for companies where I qualified for FMLA (12 weeks of leave with job protection) and that paid me for 6 weeks at 66% of my salary. Now, don’t get me wrong, I say that I was fortunate because a lot of people I’ve read about worked places where they had far less time, were not under FMLA, and did not receive any pay. That is unfortunate. I often think about the idea that when you have an employee who gets the flu, you send them home. You don’t risk them spreading the virus to others which can cause a huge decrease in productivity when you have several people out. I get it, getting pregnant is not contagious. But, attitude and morale are- and maybe more so. If your employee comes back to work depressed, stressed, and tired, that does not help anyone. If the employee is worth keeping, it’s worth offering perks that keep them there.
I do consider myself lucky. I could have not gotten paid, and I don’t know about you, but coming out of college with student loans does not lend a lot of flexibility to “saving up”. Not to mention all of the new “grown up” things that were then added. Plus, how in the world do you know how much to save? I mean, you can save enough for your medical costs (assuming you have a perfect, no issue birth) and then several months of money to cover living expenses (again, assuming that nothing goes wrong while you’re off). But even then, it would have taken hubs and I, on our meager salaries starting out, years to save the amount of money to cover the medical costs (roughly $5-8K for Elijah which was the most normal birth we had) and the household expenses for 3-6 months. Yes I know, it’s our fault we took out student loans, had a car payment, mortgage, utilities, food, etc. We could not have afforded to have any more time off unpaid. I only took the paid 6 weeks off to not affect our budget any more than it already had been. I was also lucky enough to not have any lingering health issues so returning at 6 weeks, although still too early in my opinion, was more doable than having to go back any earlier.
So, there is the financial side of this argument. Sure I suppose you can prepare for that technically. But what you cannot prepare for is the physical side of the process. Forget about the pregnancy itself, morning sickness, fatigue, and any other ailments pregnant women often experience. Let’s talk about the actual delivery. A good delivery would allow a woman to go into the hospital, labor for a short period of time and then pop out the baby. No IV needed, no drugs, no stitches and minimal bleeding. But, let’s be real. How often does that happen? Going by the number of women that I’ve known who have had babies, deliveries seldom go that way. Think about it, you are pushing a baby- typically the size of a small watermelon (if you’re lucky), through a part of the body that is substantially smaller than that. There is bound to be some scrambling of things happening there. The body goes through extreme pain and contortion (it feels like that anyway) in order to get the baby out. If not naturally, you end up with an incision in your lower abdomen. So, stitches in your abdomen or in your lady parts, either way, not fun.
Hearing all of that fun, messy stuff, can we talk about the fact that it is really only a woman who can have the baby? I’ve heard the argument that it’s not a company’s responsibility to provide paid leave for their employees, it’s a privilege. That’s correct, it is a privilege. However, why wouldn’t a business offer paid time off for employees. Let’s think about this. We have to assume that the employee having the baby is a good employee- otherwise why are they still employed there? Not to mention, the only employee that can physically give birth, is a woman. So for those that argue that if you can’t afford the time off, then don’t have a baby: that would limit a LOT of women to having babies when they’re young before entering the workforce (again assuming there are no financial challenges- see my remark about student loans), waiting until they retire (hello biological clock) or heck, why not just stay home and not work? It seems a little sexist considering women are the only ones that can actually perform the process of birthing. Again- adoption aside for this particular argument. I even heard comments along the lines of “that’s why women shouldn’t work”, but I’ll save those for another forum. I’m not interested in entertaining thoughts from the 1950’s at this moment in time.
Having said all of this, I’m not saying it only applies to women. It should be the same for men as well. What better support system than to have your other half there to help you when you’re exhausted, sore, emotional, etc.? Besides, it really wouldn’t be fair to say that only women can get this benefit. Yes, they go through the bulk of the process (remember my watermelon example) but men should be allowed to also have that bonding time with the newest family member. There is value in having full participation from all parents involved.
What could the down sides be? Your worker, who again I assume is a good worker as they are still employed, will come back re-energized and ready to contribute? The partner of that worker comes back knowing they were able to be there for some irreplaceable moments with their newest family member? This has been a very hot topic with a LOT of opinions, I get that. But I do also recognize our society is changing in a big way. People are yearning for more of a balance in their life. They want a rewarding career but also are seeing the value of having a family and not waiting until they are in their 40’s. I also understand that there are some businesses that cannot afford to provide this type of benefit. Maybe it’s time to look at other examples across the globe to see what works or doesn’t work. I’m writing about this not because I’ve been through this 3 times, and am about to go through this again. But because I hurt for those that are having children without any resources, or want children, and cannot because we as the leading country in the world, cannot put ourselves in others shoes and show understanding or empathy for people in situations different than ours. We can do better than that, if even making an effort to discuss in a civilized manner. It has to start somewhere.