I was casually listening to the radio while driving to work the other day when I heard a short story that caught my full attention (and almost made me spill my morning coffee!). The United States is now the only industrialized country in the world that doesn’t offer parents paid leave after they’ve had a baby.
That’s right, we’re now in the same company as Lesotho, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland. The rest of the world offers some degree of paid leave for parents. Under the Family Medical Leave Act, new parents here are guaranteed 12 weeks of unpaid leave, but that’s it.
I hadn’t really ever looked into the breakdown of countries offering paid leave for parents before, but when I saw it, I was pretty shocked. In countries like Sweden, parents split up to 13 months of paid parental leave. There, by law, even new dads get at least two months off to spend time with their families.
Paid parental leave, something we help our employees with here at Care.com, is so important for new parents. Having a baby changes everything. When a new bundle of joy arrives, you need to know that your job will still be there when you return to work and you have everything you need to provide for your family in the meantime.
Not having paid leave hurts families and women in particular. With two-thirds of women now the breadwinner or co-breadwinner in their household, that kind of lost income can really be devastating. It hits low-income families and single parents especially hard.
This story of Selena tells it all. She was a working mom, pregnant with her second child, and she and her husband had worked out a way for her to take two-and-a-half weeks off once the baby arrived. But when the baby was born six weeks early, she faced a difficult decision:
"After their son stabilized, Selena’s husband James came back down to her room. They had another difficult talk about finances and Selena’s leave from work. They couldn’t afford for her to take more time off than originally planned, but both wanted Selena to have the most time possible to bond with her son. With her son stable in the hospital, but not knowing how long until he could come home, the choice was between Selena taking time off when he was in the hospital or waiting to take time off when the baby was released from the hospital and could come home. ‘There was no way we could afford for me to take off more than we planned,’ recalls Selena.
They made a difficult decision: They decided it would be best if she waited to take time off until the baby came home. So after Selena had the baby on Thursday, she was released from the hospital Friday, and was back at her desk on Monday morning. ‘It was the hardest two and a half weeks of my life,’ she says recalling the ache of being away from her newborn son and the rigorous family schedule at that time.”
If we’re going to do a better job supporting working families, more companies need to step in and work to give new parents the help they need.
Have you had to face a situation like Selena’s? How did you arrange leave from work around the birth of a child?
Stories like these are so painful and too common, but hopefully we’ll be able to use them to create change so that our children won’t have to worry about things like paid parental leave.