Posts Tagged ‘ paternity leave ’

Is Paid Family Leave the Path to the White House?

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

Hillary Clinton Paid Family LeaveCould support for paid family leave be the centerpiece of a Hillary Clinton presidential campaign in 2016? In The Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky argues for just that, saying that Clinton should make “paid family leave a—no; the!—central plank” of her presumed run for the presidency. Tomasky is just offering advice and not reporting that this is actually under consideration, but his argument is persuasive that this issue is a winner.

I can’t agree more. Let’s look at the facts of the situation and then the politics of it:

The fact of the matter is that the United States is last among developed countries—final, end of the list—in legally mandating paid leave, with a grand total of zero weeks. Not a single day of paid family leave is guaranteed by law to new parents. Instead, the Family and Medical Leave Act, signed into law by none other than Pres. Bill Clinton, guarantees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for workers in companies covered by the law. Between the lack of any pay during that period, the measly three-month length, and the relatively high number of companies not covered by the law, this not exactly a generous policy.

Elsewhere in the world, however, Tomasky reports, workers are entitled to large chunks of paid time off to focus on their children: “In France, it’s 100 percent for 16 weeks. Mon dieu, you say, that’s France. But in Germany, which even American conservatives respect a little more in economic terms, it’s 100 percent pay for 14 weeks, and 65 percent for an astonishing 12 to 14 months.”

Our neighbors to the north and south also put us to shame in this department: Canadian moms get 15 weeks of leave at 55% of their pay, plus the couple get an additional 35 weeks at the same pay rate to split between them however they see fit. In Mexico, moms get 12 weeks at 100% of pay. There’s no reason for U.S. parents to be without any paid leave.  (Andrew Sullivan of The Dish posted a sobering chart illustrating just how behind we are.)

Then there’s the politics. Paid family leave has long been a dream of political liberals and a nightmare to business interests, who would be forced to pay employee’s salaries during periods when they are not working. But, as Tomasky points out, the idea of paid leave enjoys wide support among the public, and it’s hard to see women, even those with conservative, pro-business political leanings, opposing it. They and their families stand to benefit greatly from it. “A survey commissioned in 2012 by a pro-leave group found that respondents supported the idea by 63 to 29 percent,” Tomasky writes. “Democrats were of course strongly in favor (85-10), but independents were at a still quite favorable 54-34, and even Republicans weren’t against it—they were evenly split at 47-48.”

For Clinton, who usually plays her politics safely, it would be a bold stance that would at once show her independence—by hewing to the left and taking a risky stance contrary to her usual centrist leanings—while also remaining absolutely true to her pro-family, pro-woman concerns she’s focused on throughout her public career. In short, it’s an issue that is bound to be immensely popular, despite vocal and well-funded detractors.

I would add to Tomasky’s analysis that rallying support for paid family leave has the potential to attract religious conservatives for whom the health and strength of the family is paramount. It’s hard to imagine a policy that would do more for families than one that allows more parents to spend more time with their new babies (or ailing family members) without worrying about losing their income. Too many parents now have to make a choice between spending that crucial time with their newborns or paying the bills, because they cannot do both without paid leave. Family-values conservatives joining liberals and women from across the political spectrum would comprise an impressively powerful coalition to advance this cause.

In addition, it’s important to remember that paid family leave is not just beneficial to women. Men would also be covered by paid paternity-leave policies, allowing them to spend the time being fathers and bonding with their children that they otherwise could not afford to. And the real winners here, of course, are the children who would have more time with their parents at home.

Lastly, I’d argue that the idea should not be confined to a Hillary Clinton candidacy or pigeonholed as her thing, lest it end up buried in partisan combat (which, of course, it might anyway). It is a policy whose time has long past come and I’d invite–expect–any candidate from any party who claims to be pro-family to take up the cause.

Plus: Use our stay-at-home calculator to find out if you can afford to give up your job and stay home with your kids full time.

Work-Life Balance in America
Work-Life Balance in America
Work-Life Balance in America

Image of Hillary Clinton via Shutterstock.

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Stroller Man’s View From Paternity Leave

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

Paternity Leave BabyI am just back from five weeks of paternity leave, and now that I’ve hung up my weekday dad jeans, I thought I’d offer some reflections on my experience as a temporary stay-at-home dad with that little cutie you see in the picture (and her two bigger sisters). I started my leave when my wife returned to work after her own maternity leave, so it was a period of transition and new routines for all of us, which we’re dealing with again now that I am back at work.

The experience was, not surprisingly, as much—or more—about my older kids as it was about the baby. And that was just fine with me. It was amazing to spend the extra, relaxed time with my older kids, and I did still have plenty of bonding time with Sophia, the baby. Being able to pick up or drop off my older ones at school, or cook dinner with them, or just be around for the late-afternoon homework-dinner-bath mania was important and memorable to me, as I hope it was to them. As my leave neared an end and my 7-year-old asked if I could teach our babysitter some of the recipes we cooked for dinners, I knew it had had an impact. Same with my 3-year-old, who regularly asks in the mornings, heart-breakingly, whether we’re staying home with her, even as she sees us getting dressed and ready to leave for work.

Still, I realized I do not aspire to full-time SAHD status. While I do wish I could have more time at home with my kids and spend more of their waking hours with them, I am not the guy who would become a full-time dad if I won the lottery tomorrow. I cherish the balance in my life between home and work, kid activities and professional pursuits. Needless to say, it’s a personal choice and I mean no judgment on those who choose otherwise—quite the contrary, I love hearing about the choices so many men have made to be SAHDs—but it’s important to know what is right for you.

I was (happily) shocked at how many dads I saw out and about. I don’t remember feeling the same way the last time I took a paternity leave like this, seven years ago. My memory from then is of feeling like the only dad around during weekday work hours. Not this time: Dads—and grandpas—were present with their kids/grandkids everywhere. It was great to see and made me feel like less of an outlier.

You can’t be partly on leave and partly working. Like being “half pregnant,” it just isn’t possible. For the first half of my leave, I did a decent job of staying away from email and really unplugging, at least when I was with my kids. But when my team here at work experienced upheaval, I found myself drawn back in and wanting to be back at the office to help, and truly felt torn between work and home. It led to the more-than-a-little absurd afternoon when I dropped my oldest at gymnastics and drove on the highway for the sole purpose of getting the two younger kids to fall asleep—at which point I pulled over and called into a meeting. In the middle of the call, my 3-year-old woke up, noisily, understandably demanding to know what we were doing and when we were going home.

Life happens whether you’re on leave or not. Duh, no surprise there, but I still found myself extra resentful when my basement flooded and I needed to spend several of my precious paternity-leave days dealing with the fallout. Not that I expected all bliss and sunshine, but really? A flood? Of course, the stay-at-home parent inevitably also must take the lead on shopping, cooking, waiting home for the repairman, and all things homemaking, regardless of the fact that my leave was intended to be about spending quality time with the kids. When it came to day-to-day tasks, I was more than happy to do them, and still got plenty of great moments with the little ones. But at times, like when I was sloshing through my flooded basement, my focus had to be elsewhere temporarily.

People seem to assume I took leave for my wife, to ease her return to work. Several people made comments to this effect. But while helping her was a nice benefit, it takes a very mom-centric worldview to make the assumption that that was my primary motivation. I took this time to bond with my baby, and to prolong the time that she spends full-time with a parent before our nanny became her primary caregiver during workdays. I took the time to be a full-time parent for a short period and spend more time than I otherwise could with my older girls. I took it so that I could have some time when they, my daughters, were the center of my day. Yes, it helped my wife and put her mind at ease, but she would have been fine without my taking leave, and this was not among the top reasons I took the time off.

I am Stoller Man. Yes, it’s true: I earned a new nickname (and a new beard, but that’s a different story). Perhaps it’s my new superhero identity. It came from a moment of absent-mindedness, when I stopped at the bakery with Sophia asleep in her stroller, and in my haste to get out before she woke up, forgot my order on the counter after paying for it. I returned to find this note:

Paternity-leave-note

All in all, I feel like paternity leave accomplished what I wanted from it. Despite the intrusions I mentioned above, I was able to focus for this period on spending quality time with my three children in a (mostly) relaxed environment where they were my main concerns. Not to imply that it was all peace and bliss–I do have three children, after all, and we had our share of tantrums, yelling, fights, and frustration. But I wasn’t seeking some fairy-tale existence: The point was that I was there. And, of course, happy as I am to be back at work, I miss the girls during the day. When it comes to work-life balance, finding that happy medium remains an elusive goal.

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How to Pick the Perfect Stroller for Your Baby
How to Pick the Perfect Stroller for Your Baby
How to Pick the Perfect Stroller for Your Baby

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Why Does Our Country Make It So Hard to Be a Working Mom?

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

Whenever a conversation turns to the Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows new mothers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave after the birth of a child, I always think about a friend who gave birth to both of her sons here in the United States.

Had she delivered in her native Ireland, she would’ve gotten paid for 26 weeks, plus 16 more unpaid.

If she’d had her babies when she’d been living in London, she would’ve gotten up to 52 weeks off, up to 39 of them at least partially paid.

And if she’d given birth while living in South Africa, where she and her husband are raising their family now, she would’ve been given at least 16 weeks off, though not necessarily paid. Even if she’d wanted to go back after four or five weeks, as so many moms in our country must, it wouldn’t have been easy. South African law states that “Workers may not go back to work within 6 weeks after the birth unless their doctor or midwife say it is safe.”

My point is, our leave policy is seriously lacking. The countries I listed above aren’t even as generous as it gets (countries like Croatia and Denmark give new moms a full 52 weeks of paid leave), but they illustrate how far we fall short.

This is just one of the many flaws outlined in a comprehensive Huffington Post piece addressing all of the reasons it’s tricky for moms to work outside the home. The post is based on a recent Pew report which found that the percentage of moms of kids under age 18 who would prefer to work full-time outside the home jumped from 20 percent in 2007 to 32 percent in 2012. It’s fascinating, isn’t it, to think that of every three stay-at-home moms you know, at least one would rather be working outside the home, if only it were easier to pull off?

And yet this echoes what we found when we surveyed mothers last year for our story on the so-called Mommy Wars. Of the moms who stay at home, 60 percent said they would get a job if there were more options for part-time work or quality and affordable day care.

The HuffPo piece cites research from Child Care Aware America which found that in 31 states, daycare is more expensive than in-state tuition and fees at public colleges. The cost has doubled in the last few decades, and for some families, child care costs can account for nearly 40 percent of their income.

But it’s not like families who use full-time babysitters, or who have their school-age children in before-care or after-care, have it easy by comparison. Every working parent knows the panic that arises when your child wakes up sick in the middle of the night–the simultaneous “I feel so badly that you’re sick” and “Holy crap, I have to go to work tomorrow.” Our society simply hasn’t embraced the concept of a flex work environment. Sure, lots of us (myself included) have understanding bosses, but that’s just great luck. It’s nothing we’re entitled to. And if we’re a middle- or low-wage earner, research shows we’re far less likely to experience that kind of goodwill, and far more likely to feel real repercussions if we stay home from work with a sick child, or duck out for a teacher conference. How is that okay?

There are so many more obstacles in our way, including how tough it can be to breastfeed at work and even how our culture views stay-at-home dads (less than, somehow). When I start to feel it’s all hopeless, I remember organizations like MomsRising (“where moms and the people who love them go to change the world”). Among the issues this inspiring group takes on are flex schedules and maternity and paternity leave (don’t even get me started on our pathetic paternity leave policies and how they stack up against other countries’). It’s a great site to visit if you, like me, wonder if there’s anything we can really do to change the sad state of affairs for working parents. You’ll quickly see that yes, there are actions we can take. We just have to carve out the time.

Image: Work or family symbol via Shutterstock.

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Child Care: How to Find Quality Child Care
Child Care: How to Find Quality Child Care
Child Care: How to Find Quality Child Care

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From Here to Paternity (Leave)

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

As I write this, the executive editor of parents.com is taking five weeks off to care for his kids and ease his wife’s transition back to work (a decision he admitted he grappled with). This comes on the heels of New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy receiving heavy criticism from sports commentators earlier this month for taking full advantage of his three-day paternity leave (yes, you read that right) to be with his wife following the birth of their first child. And just a few months after The Atlantic made the case that paternity leave is actually more beneficial for women, since it boosts men’s participation in household tasks and baby care and thus improves moms’ quality of life and economic opportunities.

That may be true. But it also misses the point. Yes, dads staying home in the early days after a baby’s arrival can ease the burden on new moms. But the real reason it’s worth the potential sacrifices—financial and, potentially, in worker perception—is that it makes new fathers feel more connected to the idea of being a parent and all it represents. When my son was born, my company only offered a week of paid leave, and I foolishly thought that would be sufficient time to spend at home with my wife and child. I was wrong. Although I did my best to share the duties, I can’t lie: It was a huge challenge trying to handle 3 a.m. feedings and still be able to function in the office the next morning. My wife ended up handling far more of the caregiving load, and, in retrospect, I know it was a difficult and at times isolating period for her that I could have made better.

I resolved not to make the same mistake the second time around. Granted, as an editor at Parents I had an easier time making the request than I might have in some places. Even so, I found the fortitude to ask for six weeks leave, and my request was granted. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It enabled me to share in the feeding and changing and cleaning more willingly and evenly (even if it never quite got to the 50-50 ideal). It eased our adjustment to the increased demands of raising two kids at once. It helped me connect with my beautiful newborn daughter in a special way that, years later, I believe has still made a difference in our relationship. Equally important, it allowed us to make for a smooth transition to big sibling for my son, who had enjoyed a five-year run as an only child.

It saddens me that more fathers don’t get to enjoy a similar opportunity. Only three states—California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island—offer paid family and medical leave. A mere fifteen percent of U.S. firms provide some paid leave for new fathers. And while a Boston College study revealed that 85 percent of new fathers take some time off after the birth of a child, for the vast majority it amounts to a week or less. Of those who took time, 92 percent of respondents found being at home with their new baby to be a positive experience, and more than three-quarters said they would liked to have taken longer.

I’m sure Daniel Murphy would agree. Perhaps he’ll have better luck timing the birth of his second child to baseball’s off-season. Or maybe, more hopefully, it will become broadly acceptable for dads to take a longer leave without feeling judged negatively by their bosses, colleagues, the media, or anyone else. California has seen a rise in bonding leaves among new dads, from 18.7 percent to 31.3 percent during the past seven years. Even so, that means two out of three new dads is missing out on a magical, and irretrievable, experience.

Playing With Baby: Baby Toys
Playing With Baby: Baby Toys
Playing With Baby: Baby Toys

Young father having fun with his little baby via Shutterstock

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Even Baseball Players Take Paternity Leave

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

The New York Mets are—and I say this with all the love and frustration of a lifelong fan—a woeful team that even the most optimistic among us expect to have a lousy year. So, of all the players on the team, why is second baseman Daniel Murphy taking heat from sports commentators? Because he missed the first two games of the new season, taking a paternity leave to be there for the birth of his son.

Yes, you read that right. Two games. To be at the birth of his son. And here’s what that oh-so-lengthy absence left some well-known sports-radio personalities saying, according to the New York Daily News:

“Assuming the birth went well, the wife is fine, the baby is fine, 24 hours and then you get your ass back to your team and you play baseball.”

And from another: “One day [off] I understand. And in the old days they didn’t do that. But one day, go see the baby be born and come back. You’re a Major League Baseball player. You can hire a nurse to take care of the baby if your wife needs help.”

For dads, how long to take off after baby’s birth can be a tough call. Despite the fact that the Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees up to 12 unpaid weeks of leave for men and women alike, not many fathers take more than a few days off when their little one arrives. There’s pressure from employers to contend with, and the self-imposed pressure (real or imagined) of wanting to be seen in the best light at work, not to mention cultural forces about men’s roles to content with. And, of course, unpaid leave is an economic pressure for nearly everyone and an impossibility for many—major-league ballplayers excluded.

To slam Murphy’s two-game leave as treasonous is absurd. Here’s what he had to say to ESPN about the brouhaha, referring to his wife and his desire to be there for her:

“It’s going to be tough for her to get up to New York for a month. I can only speak from my experience — a father seeing his wife – she was completely finished. I mean, she was done. She had surgery and she was wiped. Having me there helped a lot, and vice versa, to take some of the load off…. It felt, for us, like the right decision to make.”

While he was away, I am sure Murphy was thinking of his team often and even missing them, just as he will be thinking of his newborn back home as he dedicates himself to his team for the remainder of the season. Finding the right work-life balance is no easier for a multimillionaire baseball player than it is for you and me, and we all feel torn between our commitments to our families, our jobs, and ourselves.

I struggled with these issues as well. Taking two weeks off when each of my daughters was born was a no-brainer. But now, as my wife heads back to work after her own five-month maternity leave, I am on the threshold of a longer paternity leave—five weeks, starting Monday. Making the decision to take the time off involved a lot of intense discussions with my wife and internal soul-searching about what is most important to me and how I want to spend and remember this time in my life. Stepping back, even for a few weeks, from a job that is busy and that means a lot to me, is scary, and it remains something that is never easy.

Far from criticizing Murphy’s leave, we should be celebrating it. The more of us who take time to be with our families, the better it is—for ourselves, our kids, and our wives or partners. And the more men who take paternity leave, the better it will be for all new fathers, because over time, it will become normal and expected, not something to criticize or even remark on. Especially seeing athletes do it, those most manly of professionals, will hopefully encourage others to do the same. Yes, there are occasionally things that are more important than supporting the team. Instead of criticizing, let’s look to a future in which taking time to be with our kids is the norm, not the exception, and in which a mere two days is laughably short.

See you in May. Until then, I’m off daddying.

Murphy and his wife named their newborn Noah. Try our Baby Name Finder to discover the perfect name for your newest addition!

Baby Names: How to Pick a Great Name
Baby Names: How to Pick a Great Name
Baby Names: How to Pick a Great Name

Image: New York Mets Daniel Murphy and wife Victoria Tori Ahern attend the Aces, Inc. All Star party at Marquee on July 14, 2013 in New York City via Shutterstock.

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