By now it is well-known that the United States lags behind the rest of the developed world in terms of paid parental leave. It’s not simply that the U.S. offers a lesser policy. It’s that the nation offers no policy—as in zero uniform plan of guaranteed paid parental leave on a federal level.
Yes, there are parental leave options available to new working parents, such as private disability insurance benefits, unpaid FMLA leave, and the paid leave offered by a handful of states. However, these options still leave many families without adequate benefits following the birth of a child.
Ensuring that working families receive adequate parental leave is important for both mothers and fathers, and, according to academic research, it is important for children as well.
In National Review, Abby M. McCloskey addresses this idea and discusses recent research on the interaction of parental involvement and early childhood development.
According to the article, research suggests “at least six months to a year of parents being present with their children is what’s best from a childhood-development standpoint.” McCloskey acknowledges that this ideal goes beyond the leave currently offered and also goes “beyond the duration of paid-leave proposals on either side of the political aisle.”
As such, this information places concerned parents in between the proverbial rock and a hard place, providing them with knowledge of a problem, but no real solution.
As McCloskey notes, this can be a difficult topic to address since many working parents feel on edge regarding their choices and the “difficult realities” regarding work, parental leave, and infant care.
I know that when I returned to work from maternity leave with my first child three years ago, the absolute last thing I would have wanted to hear was that my absence from his days could adversely affect his development. That would have been an immense fear realized, a burning insecurity affirmed.
However, McCloskey’s piece also acknowledges that paid parental leave on its own “does not guarantee that a parent will spend that time being present and invested with children.” Nor does it “solve other significant work-family challenges” faced by working parents today.
Thus, the topic and the research are fraught with contradictions for American parents.
Rather than going on the defense, however, we should accept what the rest of the world already seems to understand: that the earliest months and years of a child’s life are a crucial time for development during which he or she greatly benefits from the presence of loving, involved parental figures.
We should push for parental leave reform because it is good for parents and because it is good for children. Because it is good for families. Because it is good for society. Because we are an advanced nation that should lead in this area rather than lag.
Until a better policy is realized, however, working parents shouldn’t despair. Rather, we should continue to persevere knowing we have made the best decisions for our families within the framework we’ve been provided.
Candace is a practicing attorney, working parents advocate, freelance writer, and proud mom. Her legal practice focuses on workers’ rights. She can be found writing about law, motherhood, and more on her blog as The Mom at Law.