It’s Time to Talk About Parental Leave

With all the things going on the our country right now it’s easy to forget that there were things we were fighting for before Trump took office. You know, accountability within the police force, taking big money out of politics, equal pay for women. You know, silly things like that.

It’s fair that these fights fell somewhat to the wayside in light of recent events. I mean, it’s hard to think about asking for more rights and protections when we’re busy fighting back against the systematic dismantling of rights we thought were already fairly set in stone. Like, I get it, guys.

Luckily, though, there are organizations in place whose entire purpose is to fight for those things that the rest of us can’t quite devote the time to at the moment… You know, since we’re busy hoping that our families can get back into the country and that our healthcare won’t be taken away from us (which is a fun example because it works for both the ACA and the “defund Planned Parenthood” issues).

Despite being a fairly politically active person who cares deeply about issues of injustice within our legal system, there is one issue to which I’d never given too much thought: Parental leave. But, recently it’s come to my attention that solving the issue of paid parental leave and affordable childcare could solve a lot of our other problems and is a perfect example of the disconnect between Americans and those who represent us.

This revelation was thanks to a new PSA from the National Partnership for Women and Families that used absurdist comedy to illuminate the profound absurdity of America’s lack of guaranteed paid parental leave. Watch below so we’re on the same page moving forward…

Okay, great!

Here’s why this PSA works so well: it says a ton without saying very much at all. Of course, in the real world “Lauren” can’t actually decide when the baby will come. Life is unpredictable enough as it is and pregnancy is just one more variable. Under our current system, we expect a family to be able to, in just nine months, sort out how to live for three months with a greatly reduced income—all while taking care of a newborn. It’s a completely unreasonable expectation especially considering that most American families are living paycheck to paycheck.

Equally unreasonable is asking a mother to go back to work immediately after giving birth as numerous studies have shown. Not only is it good for a baby to have their mother around in their first months of life, but it’s good for the mother and employers as well. Studies have shown that mothers who get a longer, paid leave period after giving birth are less depressed. They’ve shown that there are economic benefits to families and the workforce while the alleged negative affects on businesses are almost non-existent in reality. They’ve also shown that babies are happier and healthier when their parents are there for them in early life (shocker, I know).

The absurdist quality of the video also points out the most upsetting fact about all of it—that the powers that be just don’t seem to care about this fairly universal hardship. Sure, not everyone becomes a parent, but more Americans do have kids at some point in their lives than don’t (an assertion that is actually becoming less true by the year, probably because of the refusal to revaluate the needs of working Americans…).

Newborn Baby in Hospital
CREDIT: Credit: Malykalexa/Shutterstock

The somber, sarcastic question (“What’s a better option? America having a national paid leave program?”) on which the video ends hits home the apathy of employers and politicians to the plight of the average American worker who is trying to balance family life and making ends meet. At the end of it all, the message is that most people in the position to change the laws aren’t because they don’t care, or more accurately have never really thought about it.

The general perception is that the fight for paid parental leave is a “women are whining again” issue. They think that people want “preferential treatment” or “handouts” or that we should just go back to staying home, but what that kind of thinking misses is that the fight for parental leave is a fundamentally socioeconomic issue. Changing our policies on paid parental leave wouldn’t just help women—far from it.

It would help everyone. It would change the way American families of all kinds approach economic, personal, and professional decisions, but most importantly it would likely change our way of life. If was can get laws regarding guaranteed paid maternity leave it would help shift economic responsibility off of the spouse that didn’t give birth and which might shift childrearing responsibilities to be more equal as well. More importantly, if we can get paid parental leave (regardless of gender), it’s even more likely that the work of raising the children will be more equal, financial responsibility will be more equal, and families will be better off.

But here’s the thing, the kinds of people who are in charge of the government right now don’t want us to move forward. They don’t want these things to change. The reason that Trump and his administration are pushing back against the social progress of the Obama years (which was admittedly imperfect at times) is because they’re worried that their way of life is fading away. Empowering women and traditionally economically disadvantaged groups, and breaking down the traditional familial gender roles would challenge their sense of the “proper” order of the world. If these things start changing, the grip that this particular brand of old, white, men have on our world might be put in jeopardy.

At the end of the day, the powers that be don’t want paid parental leave because they’re scared of change and they’re scared that making our lives better might make theirs worse. Apparently that’s the world that we live in.