It’s About Time We Support Working Parents

by Sara Farrell Baker
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When we came home from the hospital with our first child, my husband took two and a half weeks of leave from his job. It felt like I was wheeled out of the OR after my c-section, blinked, and was suddenly waving goodbye from a rocking chair in our bedroom. I was barely healed from surgery, had little ability to use the stairs in our townhouse, and was terrified of my first day alone with our newborn.

That night, he came home to find me exactly where he left me. I had gotten up to change diapers, clean bottles, and to pee. And while I hadn’t previously thought I could be more tired after being thrown into the deep end of sleep deprivation, I somehow managed to level-up into outright exhaustion.

A couple years later, we had our second baby. My husband took six weeks this time. I was healed and adjusting at that point, but now there were two of them. While six weeks was leagues better than the previous two and a half weeks — and more than any of his colleagues ever took when they had a new baby — I was still not ready to be on my own for the majority of my waking hours. If you have had a baby, you know there are a lot of waking hours (many of them filled with crying).

Not only did I need my husband’s help, he also wanted more time at home with our new baby. That period of bonding is good for fathers as much as mothers and it’s shameful that we live in a society that doesn’t recognize and encourage that.

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires employers with at least 50 employees to provide 12 weeks per year of protected but unpaid leave to eligible employees (i.e, those who have worked for their employer for at least 12 months, at least 1,250 hours a year) with qualifying medical or family reasons — one of which is the birth or adoption of a child.

Established in 1993, the FMLA is outdated and barely worth the piece of paper it’s printed on. For one, it only covers about sixty percent of the private sector because of the “50 or more employees” stipulation. What’s more, only sixteen percent of those eligible took leave under FMLA in 2011. And one more time for the cheap seats—that shit is unpaid. It is not sick leave. It is bottom of the barrel for maternity leave. It just says that, for 12 weeks, your employer cannot fire you if you have an approved medical or family situation to deal with. And that is unacceptable.

Fortunately, some companies are stepping up to the plate and doing the right thing — for their employees and society — to go above and beyond what the law requires. For instance, employers like Workday, a tech company in California, offer childcare, 100 days of paid maternity leave and 60 days of paid paternity leave to employees. Patagonia, an outdoor clothing company, boasts a 100% retention rate of female employees returning to work after having a baby. This is almost entirely due to the company’s family-friendly benefits that include onsite, high-quality childcare and an extensive medical leave package. They even bus older children to the company after school so they can connect with their parents. How amazing is that!

Progressive companies that support working parents tend to have more equitable representation of women in high level and leadership positions because women don’t feel that they have to choose between career and family. Men enjoy more quality time with their children and the entire family benefits if neither parent has to choose between work and family.

The excuse that more workplaces can’t offer this because it’s a burden for the company is a load of crap. When Patagonia crunched the numbers to find out how much it was costing them to run and maintain their high-quality childcare facilities on-site, they found that it was a meager 0.005 percent of their total costs. More companies are becoming competitive with parental leave— especially tech companies— but it isn’t helping nearly as many Americans that need it in a time when childcare can cost more than your monthly mortgage payment.

Every developed country in the world has a better handle on supporting working parents than America does. For as much as I hear that the United States is “the greatest country in the world,” it sure seems like we aren’t anywhere close to having our shit together. If we give as much of a shit as we say we do about “family values,” why aren’t we doing more to support families? Especially when it is proven to be good for business?

We can do better. We need to do better. Will we do better? Probably not because this country is a garbage pile that treats “job creators” like gods and the people doing the actual jobs—the ones keeping businesses operating—like disposable seat warmers. Anyone daring to ask for something even close to what each and every other developed country on the planet provides for parents is shamed for expecting a handout and told they shouldn’t have had kids if they couldn’t afford them. Then in the next breath, Paul Ryan tells us to have more babies. What?!

I’m going to go scream into a pillow now. Maybe when I emerge, working parents will get the support we need and deserve.