Writer, coach, and postpartum specialist Allison Chawla offers her perspective on the surprisingly controversial topic of paid parental leave in the US, having experienced it from multiple angles.
In a recent article on the Huffington Post, I asked why mothers in the US are expected to raise the future of our nation without any financial compensation.
After all, infant brain development depends in part on receiving love and having their needs met in the first few months of life. Multiple studies show that a child’s self-esteem, ability to trust, and ability to have healthy relationships as adults are all developed in the first year of life as they’re nurtured by their mother or caretakers.
You can’t put a price on something as essential as that.
In writing that piece, I wanted to highlight a practice that’s already working with great success for other countries. I knew that this would be a controversial topic; I expected both negative and positive feedback.
Unfortunately, many comments seemed to be knee-jerk reactions instead of pondered thoughts. They were higher in number, and far beyond anything I imagined:
“What a joke. Everyone with their hand out for money from the tax payer. I suppose if heaven forbid their child passes away, they would want unemployment because they now do not have any job to do.”
“I’d like to point out that the Nazis paid mothers to stay home and have children. Are you saying you want a government like that?”
“In the U.S. you would see some women pumping out babies like guppies.”
“Sorry, you lost me at ‘all mothers matter.'”
[dropcap size=big]S[/dropcap]ome background: two days a week I work for an agency that trains and places women in various blue-collar jobs. These women have been displaced in society and are unable to find employment themselves.
They’ve missed the opportunity for education, they have lost spouses, have fallen behind with any skills that would allow them to acquire employment, experienced domestic violence, and fallen into poverty, often despite their partners working. The tragic list goes on and on.
Initially, I couldn’t understand how so many of these people had gotten themselves into such a difficult positions. But within a very short period, I understood that many people, no matter how hard they work, don’t get the same opportunities as others.
They don’t get the best of choices. Others get no choice at all. And despite what many of us think or believe, having a choice is a great luxury.
Not everyone has a partner that’s employed. Not everyone has a partner. People leave. Relationships end. People die. Not everyone gets a 401k or a severance package for the work they do.
The United States Welfare System, in its current state, has been failing for many years. It continues to fail. The same goes for a successful paid maternity or paternity leave program – because the United States hasn’t had one.
Just 5% of US companies offer fully paid maternity leave. There is no set leave for parents after childbirth in the US. Some people get three months while others only get eight weeks, and in certain circumstances, some parents do not get any at all.
[stag_icon icon=”external-link” url=”” size=”14px” new_window=”no”] Read “The Great Divide in Workplace Benefits” in the New York Times by Claire Cain Miller.
The majority of the population that gets a minimal amount of leave is the same population that struggles to survive on one income or are single parents.
The U.S. is only one of three countries in the world that doesn’t offer paid maternity leave.
The other two countries are Papua New Guinea and Suriname.
There are many other countries like Canada, Sweden, Holland and Britain that have paid maternity/paternity leave and measurable, positive socio-economic and social outcomes as a result.
Countries that offer paid leave for parents have higher rates of people completing college educations, lower rates of unemployed, lower rates of crime, lower rates of divorce and higher rates of parents returning to work after childbirth.
Anne-Marie Slaughter’s essay “A Toxic Work World” in the New York Times meticulously details how the lack of societal support for raising kids or caring for elders in the US forces huge numbers of talented, driven men and women to abandon careers to take care of family.
States are taking the lead on paid leave.
Washington passed a paid family leave law in 2008, (although its enactment has been delayed to 2015 because of budget constraints).
In 2014, new parents in Rhode Island became eligible for paid maternity leave. This was only the third state, after California and New Jersey, where this right was granted. New York and Massachusetts have bills pending in their state houses.
At the national level, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) guarantees workers 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a newborn, but the United States is still one of the only developed nations that does not provide paid parental leave.
Women, who have traditionally been the ones to take family leave, now hold more seats in Congress than ever before. But if the nearly 10-year debate over unpaid leave (finally passed in 1993) is any indication of the way things are going, it is safe to say that we are behind to say the least.
Many citizens are completely unaware of these facts and I believe would think very differently if they had the information.
I don’t blame them, though. Paid parental leave isn’t an issue talked about on TV, or consistently on the radio or in many print publications.
Where it is being discussed it’s also being argued (complete with name calling, based on my experience of talking about it.) I can only hope that so many who are fearless in speaking up for themselves will begin to speak up for others.
It’s time to open our eyes and minds to circumstances that may not affect us directly, but affect our nation as a whole.
Thank you all.