I got engaged in 2001 while working for a private employer. As soon as the women in the office saw the ring on my finger, not only did the questions about my upcoming nuptials come fast and furious, I was warned more than a few times if I planned on having children while working there, I could kiss my job security goodbye.
My maternity leave would consist of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which protects your job if you have worked for your employer for at least a year and put in a minimum of 1,250 hours during that year. Your company must also have 50 or more employees who live within 75 miles.
Not much has changed in the last 16 years, unfortunately, so let’s just cut to the chase here: U.S. maternity leave, or lack there of, is twaddle cock.
A lot of families can’t afford to take 12 weeks off of work without pay, and they certainly can’t afford to lose their job altogether, which forces the mother to rush back to work long before she and her new baby are ready. Not surprisingly, rushing back to a full-time job after birthing a child can cause a whole lot of stress to her mind, body, and the rest of her family.
The U.S. is one of just three countries left on this earth that does not offer any kind of maternity leave. The other two? Papua New Guinea and Oman. And only 12% of Americans have access to paid parental leave through their employers (paid maternity leave is considered an employee benefit). It’s a disgrace all around, but it particularly hurts low-income families.
Meanwhile, our neighbors to the north can choose to take maternity leave for 18 months while being paid 33% of their average weekly earnings. Or they can take one year off and still receive 55% of their weekly earnings.
Canadian mothers and their partners are able to take time off to heal and get used to their new life, then return to work once they are settled into their new role as a parents. Can you imagine?
We are doing it all wrong, folks. American families have no idea what it would be like to have a baby, spend a year with their child, and have peace of mind knowing their job is waiting for them and there is still money coming in while they adjust to being a parent. Even the measly six weeks afforded by the FMLA (if a woman qualifies under it) is insufficient. According to a study done by Dr. Julie Wray, of Salford University in England, the six weeks most women take to recover from giving birth or adopting a child is not nearly enough time to be ready, physically or emotionally. One year is more like it.
You know how she came to this conclusion? She took the time to speak with the actual women who had the actual babies, because who knows better than the person who had the baby? After interviewing mothers at several different stages after giving birth, her findings tell us what we already know: We can not expect women to be ready to return to work or “bounce back” after only a few weeks. No shit, say mothers everywhere.
There is a reason other countries give mothers and fathers more time to adjust to life after adopting a child or giving birth. They encounter fewer complications, are in a better place mentally, and don’t have to add the burden of losing their job to all the other stresses of their growing their family.
And when they do return to work, they are better prepared to tackle the job at hand, and in turn, perform better at work. It’s about time we get on board with the rest of the world and offer American families the time and care they need to get back on their feet (literally) before returning to their job.
The proof is in the statistics, and it’s about time America caught up.