It Shouldn't Take Becoming a Parent to Have Empathy For Parents

Meghan McCain recently gave birth to her first child and, because of delivery complications, has come out in support of paid maternity leave. And while it's great that she's now advocating for these benefits, it's clear more needs to be done to educate people about the real struggles of new parenthood.

An image of Meghan McCain.
Photo: Getty Images

Meghan McCain, 36, conservative co-host of The View, recently returned to work after welcoming her first child and shared something she now feels strongly about: All women should have access to paid maternity leave just like she did.

Following an emergency C-section and postpartum preeclampsia with her daughter Liberty Sage, McCain wound up taking more than the six weeks of maternity leave that she had planned.

"The whole time I was thinking what a privilege it is to have this kind of maternity leave," she said. "And then, as I thought about it, the more angry I got that there were women in the rest of America that didn't have the same kind of luxury I had working here at The View."

McCain even called the lack of standardized, paid maternity leave a "dark spot" in America, especially for other conservatives like her who typically fight for family values. She urged the other women on The View to use their voices to ask "why the women of America don't get the kind of maternity leave that Meghan McCain got."

She's right, of course. But it took becoming a mother herself to speak out like this. In a way, I get it. Experiencing childbirth or the postpartum period or parenthood in general makes you attuned to certain realities, including the fact that parental leave is crucial—and should be afforded to all parents. Healing after delivering a baby is no joke. Sleepless night after sleepless night with a newborn is draining. Learning what each coo and cry mean is part of the early bonding process, and it can also be a stressful time. But even before I became a parent myself and experienced all of those things I fully recognized the necessity of standardized parental leave and support for parents. I didn't need to be a parent to do that, but of course, becoming a mom has helped me to understand the need in a deeper way.

Here's the truth: "The U.S. has the most family-hostile public policy of any country in the western industrialized world," Caitlyn Collins, Ph.D., an assistant professor of sociology at Washington University in St. Louis and author of Making Motherhood Work: How Women Manage Careers and Caregiving, previously told Many parents don't get 12 paid weeks of leave. Some parents—especially those in the LGBTQ community and adoptive parents—don't have the reassurance that they'll be able to pay their bills while also bonding with their new baby. It becomes an either-or situation, and finances usually win out to force a new parent back to work sooner than they'd like.

"The U.S. has the most family-hostile public policy of any country in the western industrialized world."

And while it's great that McCain is using her platform to speak out against the lack of federally-mandated maternity leave in the U.S., the fact that she's only doing so after experiencing a prolonged postnatal recovery herself points out a bigger issue. So many people don't show empathy for parents until they're parents themselves. Even then, there's a group of people who, because they're not personally affected—ahem, those that are financially well off and, of course, many men—don't bother themselves with issues that would impact the larger public.

This is not just a woman's issue or a parent's issue; it's a human issue. That's why it's so important for every person to understand the fact that maternity leave is so crucial—and that there should be a federally-mandated paid period for all new parents to take. It's also critical for more men to step up to the parenting plate and also take their own parental leave, especially those in more executive roles, to help set a good example.

So, Meghan McCain, congrats on being a new mom and thank you for using your voice to help spread the message, but please also use it to urge every other person you know—whether or not they are a parent—to get on board sooner rather than later, too.

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