San Francisco just became the first US city to mandate 6 weeks full paid parental leave. Yay! But wait, have you seen a 6 week old? In their 6th week babies are right in the middle of their 4th trimester. They are still very dependent on their caretakers and prefer to be with them all-of-the-time! While this is a step in the right direction, allow me to explain why paid parental leave should be much longer based on my own experience as a working mother.
With both of my children I stayed off from work for about four months. With both of my children my family suffered financially as a result of me staying out past the six weeks that were paid. My husband and I were in a situation where we were paying all these expenses for an entire new human being and then had to figure out how to pay for childcare which at the time seemed impossible (to read more about my feelings in regards to preschool and childcare costs click here). All this is happening mind you, while my hormones were still trying to figure shit out, I was more exhausted than I had ever been, boobs were leaky and then there was the impending separation anxiety. Somehow I overcame all of this because, well, I had no choice really and took my ass back to work only to find that my check at the end of the month was a fifth of what it usually was because they had finally got around to deducting money from the time I was out. Five months passed before my checks were back to normal again.
I share this not to attract pity and be all like, “woe is me”. I’m sharing this because my husband and I earn a middle income wage and struggled financially from our family leaves. How are lower income families suppose to survive? What are single parents suppose to do? According to The Guardian, “The US is the only developed country that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity or parental leave to workers.” Why come America? Sweden offers 480 days! Every other “developed” country offers at least 12 weeks. That means on average the US offers half the paid leave that other “developed” countries do. This is unacceptable. Our families and children deserve more.
I find it funny that with all of the issues swirling around in our country from educating marginalized communities to anxiety and depression there has not been much attention brought to this fundamental solution of allowing families to be at home with their children during the most developmentally rich time of their lives. It leads me to believe that either our leaders are just incompetently negligent when it comes to the needs of working families, our legislators haven’t evolved from the times where households were led by a single breadwinner or there is not much interest in dismantling systems that perpetuate classism and racism and limit upward mobility. Actually maybe it is all of the above and while there are a million issues that we need to organize and put energy towards, I believe it would benefit us to use the momentum sparked by New York and San Francisco’s mandated full paid parental leave and demand more mandated time and money to care for our babies. I know it’s cliche` but they are our future.