Did you know? The United States is the only industrialized country in the world without a mandate for paid parental leave.
In the U.S., we get approximately 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave, with most employers offering no paternity leave. Take at look at this infographic for a comparison of the U.S. to other countries. Many other countries have paid paternity and maternity leave, and most have an even longer than 12 weeks paid maternity leave.
We’re at a disadvantage in the United States because we have put an extreme amount of value in “success”, which puts an inordinate amount of pressure on families who feel like they have to make a choice between having a family or having a career.
Why is this detrimental?
This is a social and economic issue. Socially, we American mothers are desperate to be supported in our decisions because we are forced to make such a critical choice about being home with our young babies or keeping our jobs. The discussions are heated and angry because we are angry. The Human Rights Watch 90-page report on this topic indicated that lack of parental leave has contributed to postpartum and post-adoption depression, as well as other health problems that have resulted from mothers giving up breastfeeding before they had desired to do so. Many of the parents who were followed for the study ended up taking unpaid leave, going into debt, and seeking public assistance. This makes maternity and paternity leave an economic issue.
What can we do?
Call your congressman or start a movement at your workplace. Google saw a 50% decrease in new mom attrition when they implemented a 5-month parental leave policy. Hiring is costly; remind your employer of this, and get your co-workers on board. While a government mandate would bring us up to par with other industrialized nations, we can also demand it at the employer level — let’s make this the norm for employment.
We should hold ourselves to a higher standard and demand paid maternal and paternal leave for all people who have made the decision to work and expand their family. It is not only important for the well-being of the individuals, but also the future of our economic well-being in the US.