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Parental leave does NOT equal "time off"

“People think new moms go on some kind of sexy vacation” during maternity leave, but that is very far from the case. Let’s just be clear.


It’s actually wall-to-wall unpaid labor, even if you’re still getting your paycheck.


Even if you’re fortunate enough to have a partnership that feels like a team. It’s exhausting, not restful.


Some people (ahem, employers) think the three months of leave that only some birthing people get in the United States, paid or not, is enough. Not anybody I’ve spoken to!


Never forget that other countries prioritize the health of parents enough to invest in their year, or more, of time off. Never forget that the health of parents contributes directly to the health and wellness of babies during the absolutely crucial first years of life.


Do we have permission to imagine what incredible impacts a generation or two of securely attached, healthy children would have on our entire world?


Take a second to imagine a world where everyone enjoys the benefits of secure attachment. Securely attached people:

-innovate,

-collaborate,

-empathize,

-take perspective,

-set boundaries,

-are enjoyable company,

-can metabolize a wide range of emotions, and

-are comfortable with intimacy.


That’s a world I’d like to live in.


In the world we’re actually in, people leave jobs they’ve invested time and gained valuable experience in because they were the assumed childcare worker while their partner continued their career.


A couple things are devastating about this: one, the wasted education and development of the sacrificing parent, and the wasting of their offerings to the world; two, the imbalance created everywhere while the working partner is largely absent! I don’t need to explain why that’s not ideal for babies.


When parents leave jobs to prioritize fatherhood or motherhood, that decision often seems like a no-brainer after taking even a quick glance at the cost of childcare. You’d be working just for the time to be away from your child, not because you’d get to keep any of the income, when you look at some of the price points for daycare and the sad wages we’re earning (no judgment to anyone who selects this arrangement, because… I get it.)


In listening to fellow breastfeeding breadwinners, I’ve found there is a significant range and disparity in the amount of time off that birthing people get to take. Hardly any partners get time off, too. It shocks me that it’s legal and normative for some people to barely have six weeks off after giving birth, and some employers offer absolutely no paid time, while the business makes plenty of profit. A very fortunate few take more than three months. Talk about neglect of an entire human demographic, and nearly absolute disregard for the non-birthing new parent, whose mental health and stress levels just took on new risks.


It seems at this point that I’m arguing two sides. People shouldn’t have to leave jobs, and people should get leave from jobs! That’s because I am. People should stay employed and provided-for, if they wish, while they go through the life-changing transition of becoming a parent and caring for an infant. They should not be threatened with career or position loss, AND it should be normative for people to take as much time as they need.


I want to live in a world where self-employed people have a safety net if they have a business that doesn’t have the savings set aside for a months-long leave, with no other support. Obviously it’s best practice to build funds into business accounts that would cover events like these, but not all self-employed people happen to be there when parenthood arrives. Is this one of the many ways self-employment is subtly discouraged in our culture, even though being self-made is such a central value? Are we noticing that business-ownership is not an even playing field for birthing and breastfeeding people? Some American dream that is...


I would have also enjoyed being literate enough in finances and insurance practices to know that short-term disability insurance might cover my income for a maternity leave, and that you have to have it prior to becoming pregnant. Is that true? Someone please help me out. There is likely a systemic reason why this information isn’t clear to me by the age of 35. Much like the surprise I experienced upon becoming a business-owner in the first place: “Why didn’t I ever realistically envision this for myself?” Hmm…


I’ve talked to birthing people who had (and didn’t have) access to leave from across the range of time-spans, from zero to six weeks to six months. The reality is, none of them are enough, and very few individuals got to choose their quantity of time off.


Here and now, people go back to work in order to keep their needed income, and often to keep their career moving along, and sometimes because they actually like working and need the adult time to feel sane and keep their identity to be a healthy presence for their child.


Sometimes it’s a mental health sacrifice to be away from work we love. Our occupations count for a lot in our wellness, and can serve as an antidepressant (when it’s not burning people out left and right!). Talk about a complex issue to try to solve with one-size-fits-all solutions.


What this tells me is that a single solution like lengthier parental leave would not serve all people.

What about options that actually produce equity? For example, more funded leave OR subsidized childcare?

What about graduated work-from-home accommodations and low-to-no interest loans for putting small businesses on hold?

Guaranteed hire-backs for parents who want to forego income for indefinite time away from a job?

What other options could be possible in a nation with innovative childcare and parental support offerings?


We really could have a robust array of diverse accommodations for parents of all kinds. A first step is entertaining the idea that our desires could actually be met, after taking the risk to imagine them in the first place. Making them happen, well that’s another story.



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