Paid Parental Leave: Is Having a Baby a Luxury?

How much time did you take off when your kids were born?

For me, it was four weeks. Two weeks paid by my employer and another two weeks that was comprised of every possible vacation/sick day I had. By American standards, that’s not too bad. By most other standards, though, it is.

First, those paid weeks that I took are not guaranteed to me under any federal law. According to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), new moms may take up to 12 weeks off, but that time is unpaid. Employers are not mandated to pay for any maternity leave, they simply have to allow new moms to take it. While I appreciate the FMLA, I don’t think it goes far enough. For most families, a 12-week unpaid leave is a luxury they can’t easily afford.

Compare this with our neighbors to the north and the south. Canadians enjoy a notoriously generous parental leave policy, receiving an entire year at 55% of their salary. Mexicans are guaranteed a lesser 12 weeks off but at a full 100% pay. And, should you venture to Europe, you’d find that many countries there offer a year — or more! — for new parents to care for their children.

As both a mother and a professional, the American parental leave laws are near and dear to my heart. By having such stringent policies, we are, in effect, forcing women to choose between spending critical months with their babies and furthering their careers. For many, financial considerations don’t even allow women to choose — it’s work or you can’t pay the bills.

I think the FMLA could use an overhaul. Thankfully, so do a lot of other people as well. If you’re interested in getting involved in this and other issues affecting families, check out Mom’s Rising, an advocacy group working to build a more family-friendly America.