This week I welcomed a beautiful three-month-old baby girl into my daycare. Nothing compares to holding a tiny baby and gazing into his or her eyes. Whenever I look into a new baby’s face I am reminded of the hours I spent staring and mentally recording every expression, sound, and smell of my babies. But, there is another expression that is hard to forget. And that is the look of a Mommy leaving her baby behind as she heads back to work after her maternity leave is over. I always have a visceral reaction to that moment. I know that it doesn’t matter how much she wants or needs to go back to work, how much she trusts me, or if it is her first, second, or third child, the separation is always difficult. Some cry and others simply look into their baby’s eyes with a deep sadness.
In America, many women are forced to face this first heartbreaking goodbye too soon after giving birth. If you are among the very lucky and are financially able then perhaps you can take three to four months off after giving birth. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protects your job and your health insurance benefits for up to 12 weeks, but these weeks are unpaid. And if you work for a company with less than 50 employees, then FMLA doesn’t even apply and your job could be in jeopardy. Most companies do not offer a paid maternity or paternity leave. Often, parents have to save their vacation and sick leave and then survive off of short-term disability or simply go without pay for several weeks.
The women that make minimum wage or are paid per hour, often have to give up their jobs and face extreme economic hardship after having a baby, or make the tough decision to go back to work within a couple of weeks, perhaps before completely recovering from the birth itself.
According to a Harvard Study of 168 nations, America is only one of four countries, the others being Lesotho, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland, to not offer a paid leave following the birth of a child. Germany, Italy, France, and England provide 15 weeks of paid leave, but you can take more time without pay. Australia, which was one of the last industrialized countries to offer a parental leave policy, now offers 18 weeks of paid maternity leave following the birth of a child
I do not understand the stigma behind taking time to be with your new baby. Do companies actually think that a woman who gives birth and rushes prematurely to get back to her job is more productive than someone who takes those extra few weeks to heal and become emotionally ready to return to work? Interestingly, as pointed out on today’s MomsRising.com blog, the 100 Best Companies offer some sort of paid maternity compensation because they understand the importance of insuring that parents and new family members get off to a good start.
Why are we punishing individuals that place a priority on family? Since when does this value make a person unfit to excel at work? People who are happy and settled at home are usually productive in all aspects of their lives, including at a job. A father also deserves to spend some guilt- and consequence-free time with his new baby. The role of the father is extremely important and is changing in this country. So, why not progress our thinking when it comes to paternity leave.
I am not one of those people who think you have to be with your baby 24/7 in order to be a good parent. A woman should be able to have a career and a family. She should be able to provide for her family without having to count out how many precious days she can afford. I choose to be home with my children, but I also run a business and work extremely hard at being both a mom and a professional child care provider/early childhood educator. I love the children and babies entrusted to me, but I know that every day and week you can spend with your newborn matters. It only takes one tender and heartbreaking look to understand I’m right.