Paid Maternity Leave

Take a look at an interesting article published by GovExec :

What’s more interesting is the comments posted.

Are we THAT heartless of a society that we don’t want to take care of our mothers in the workplace? As a mother, I am greatly offended by the lack of support for policy proposals that would allow women more security in the workplace as they grow their families.

It seems some folks are caught up on the question of WHY women should be taken care of if they choose to have kids. Well, here’s my ten cents on the idea (coming from a fed govie perspective).

Yes, childbirth is a womens ONLY act. So by not allowing them financial and professional security is discriminatory.

Women traditionally have kids when they are younger in life–when they are at peak fertility and health. So someone new to the professional world will not have that many years of service or leave time on the books.

Don’t assume that majority of women will have kids and then exit the workplace as soon as their kids are born, leaving the employer with a void and deficit. Personally, I’m more eager to return to work and keep tabs at work during my maternity leave knowing that my office is counting on me.

Paid maternity leave doesn’t mean that you will be burdened somehow as a taxpayer. How can you say that money being used to support a woman who just had a child be burdensome? We are talking about a life here folks, two in fact (if not more). Not to mention have you read the headlines where your tax $ are being used on questionable TRAVEL funds? So you’re saying you’d rather question the $ being used on a woman who has had a child. Heartless.

There are plenty of avenues to take to provide paid maternity leave– disability insurance (which in its current form available to feds OUTSIDE the fed gov is inadequate); paid leave in exchange for a signed service agreement; etc.

Although I cannot quote any studies directly at this time, but there has been studies that show that women are more dedicated and hardworking in the workplace. By showing your support for a woman who is pregnant, don’t you think it will bring upon more productivity?

But all in all, I find it just plain discriminate to think that child-rearing women receive no financial assistance. Personally, I took the opportunity of FMLA last fall when my son was born— all 12 weeks. But I also worked from home, had to borrow leave (which was a VERY hard thing for me to do since I am an extremely independent person), spoke on a regular basis with my employer, and I returned to work on time to the day at exactly 12 weeks. Not only was I more productive because I had that break to tend to my child and MY SELF, but I could work because I knew my son was taken care of in day care, I could pump milk at work in a secure location, and he was somewhat old enough that I could trust another to watch him while I was at work.

So I ask of you, really think about what it is that you are saying when you complain about paid maternity leave.

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Nichole Henley

Oh, and another thing– when I was on maternity leave, I took a month of LWOP (leave without pay). But we also saved $$ before we had our son. Babies get sick, pregnant mothers get sick– and you can’t preplan those things. But we did plan on not celebrating christmas with the family or sharing gifts to make up for the lack of income. And we were okay with that. But it would’ve been nice not to have to worry about paying the electric bill or next month’s mortgage.

Spencer W. Clark

For an interesting contrast, there’s the recent NYT article on parental leave in Sweden and how it’s changed societal norms remarkably quickly by encouraging men to be more involved in their children’s lives. This is an excellent example of where government can be ahead of (and shape) the curve, rather than lagging far behind it as we are here.

My wife’s private sector Short-Term Disability covered only 5 weeks off (at 60% salary), but was at least better than nothing. And while paid leave is an issue, I’ve seen where some wonderful Federal managers have been very supportive in the degree to which they’re able:
-one friend at DOJ was able to take 6 months off last year following the birth of her first child
-a colleague of mine took 4 months off, and more recently has started a part-time schedule working four days a week, including one from home, which has been particularly helpful to her and her husband in managing child care (particularly given the very long commute that she has in).

Changes to the law to provide paid parental leave are certainly overdue, but managers should realize how much power they have to accommodate and assist working parents in other ways.

Nichole Henley

Completely agree!! I think men should share the roles, however in my experience those three months were crucial for my son and I. Trying to get a handle on breastfeeding, bonding, healing, etc– those primarily concern women and take time. And I think we need to better educate our managers/supervisors on what options are available to them and how to “manage” pregnancies and new mothers in the workplace. What flexibilities exist? And not all pregancies or mothers are the same. Some want to take FULL advantage of their time off and not think about work– AND THAT’S OKAY. And some mothers want to return to work after 6 weeks.

AJ Malik

Our capitalistic, workaholic, male-driven work culture has traditionally treated
maternity leave almost as a sickness, a liability and burden, rather than as a
personal milestone event. The Europeans, on the other hand, get it. They
comprehend the impact of a new addition to a family, and therefore, provide
generous support to the parents of newborns, not only because it is the right
thing to do, but to give newborns, future citizens of the country, a nurturing
head start for the good of the order.

Tammie Shipe

I just recently had a baby, and was very fortunate that I have a flexible workplace and was able to save some leave – I have had government jobs for 14 years. I had a lot of complications in my pregnancy and was on bed rest for 10 weeks – my employer let me telecommute as much as I could during this time. My baby was born 10 weeks early and I was able to work from her room in the NICU as I was available (she was there for 39 days) – this let me save my leave for when she came home. I was home until she was almost 4 months old. I did end up borrowing 8 hours of leave since I had family in town the last week I stayed home. Baby is doing great – I haven’t been able to save much leave since her birth since most is spent on follow-up appts and on the two little colds she has had. I very blessed the way things worked out. My supervisor was VERY supportive during the entire process (told me, being a parent is my most important job) – also found a private location for me to pump when I did return to work.
My husband is also a fed employee – he didn’t have as much leave and ended up borrowing a couple weeks for this time.

Nichole Henley

@AJ- Yes! They do! It’s shameful to think that our culture doesn’t support each other as we should. I find it so hard to articulate my discussions with folks who do not want to support maternity/paternity leave because of the surge of emotions I feel. To me it’s a basic bill of rights. You have the right to bear arms but not the right to have a child in the workplace?

@Tammie– I’m so happy to hear your daughter is doing well!! We can’t predict when things like that will occur. I often hear the complaint that parents should “plan” for kids. Really? Just as much as adult children “plan” for their elderly parents when they become completely dependent? There are some life events that you cannot plan out completely.

Arvind Nigam

There is one more “unacceptable” situation w.r.t workplace culture. IMHO, men too need a break from organizational pressures. There was a research in Britain about the vapid lifestyle of men over a lifetime and a significant number of men suffering in the same male-dominated space itself.

The very situation of a man like me writing such a comment over here makes me feel a kind of pressure of the society. You know what I mean?


Peter Sperry

There are two asspects to this issue; organizational and individuals.

Organizations need to determine the value of their employees and develop incentive/compensation policies (including family) leave that attract and retain the best and brightest. Policies that fail to support family life will inevitably discourage many potential contributors from seeking employment with the organization and drive existing employees to seek employment elsewhere.

Individuals need to concentrate on being enough of a value add to the organization to justify the incentive/compensation programs they would like to recieve. Attitudes focused on “what does my employer OWE me” will often be answered with “not as much as you think.”

The goal is for organizations to attract the type of people whose contributions are missed when they are gone and valued when they return. Individuals should strive to be that type of employee.

My father, who was a very wise administrator used to say that if you couldn’t leave for 3 weeks without problems developing, you weren’t doing your job properly and if you could leave for 3 months without problems arising, you probably weren’t needed in the first place. Personally, I’ve worked with entirely too many people who could take 18 months of family leave without having an impact on the organization and whose return would be greeted with sighs rather than cheers.

Nichole Henley

I completely agree Peter. There are responsibilities on both the organization/supervisors and the employee. From my experiences I have seen very FEW women in the federal government (contractor, military or civilian) who have children and of those few they are very proactive at staying engaged while on leave and returning earlier if not right on time after their FMLA ends. I haven’t seen anyone as of yet who has requested and received more than the allowed 12 weeks. Stereotyping all women by saying we abuse the leave we have and leave the employer high and dry is inaccurate. I’m curious to see how we got to this point of debating the value of maternity leave and the value of women with children in the workplace–because that’s exactly what the impression is.

Joey White

I’m not exactly sure why you’re so incredulous about this article. Paid maternity leave just doesn’t happen in the U.S. and paternity leave is virtually non-existant (I have only 3 or 4 friends who have it). I took a week of PTO when my 4-month-old twins were born. Sure, it would have been great to have a few months or a year, but going back to what Peter said, if my employer could do without me for that long, I’d have doubts about how valuable I really am to them.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, my wife quit her job when we had the kids and doesn’t plan to go back to work for at least a few years. She also didn’t enjoy her job that much to begin with so it wasn’t a huge personal loss. We also planned for this, starting a few years before the kids came, by whittling ourselves down to living off of just my income so we didn’t feel the loss of her income that we would have otherwise. I think that’s the biggest reason this is such a problem for many other people. They’re either single mothers or they’re a couple whose living expenses are maxed out on both incomes. Yes, she will probably be a couple of years behind when re-entering the workforce compared with others her age, but that’s the choice she wanted to make.

I say that just to acknowledge that my situation is probably a far cry from others’ and I’m aware of how that likely impacts my view of the issue.

It ultimately comes down to what we believe is important as a society (is paid parenthood leave important and if so, how much is necessary?) and how much we believe our government should legislate to force our employers to comply with those standards. Right now leaves above and beyond FMLA are decided by each employer individually. I don’t see a reason to change that through more legislation, but it’s clear that others do.

Good discussion!

Nichole Henley

It’s no the article that has me going, it’s the comments.

Twins and only a week off? God bless your wife!!! That is REALLY impressive. I only have one son and that was challenging.

Paid maternity leave is just one way of supporting women in the workplace with kids. Not all women are the same. Some would prefer to stay at home, which is fine. But there are plenty of others that do not. And yes, as a society we do need to decide. Are we deciding that women should be in the home and forfeit their careers if they have children, are we deciding that we don’t really care too much about the next generation and how they view their parents or society or how they grow up (but we care sooo much about recycling), or do we care about supporting each other despite our sex, child preference, lifestyle, etc.

And I have to point out that not everyone starts out in life the same way. We all come from various financial backgrounds, education, lifestyles, etc which have a major influence on our careers, income, and spending habits. So because one family can make it, should we expect everyone to? Or should we broaden our perspective on how to educate America on financial literacy? equal pay in the workforce? healthcare for everyone?

Joey White

Well, my sister was living with us for about a month so she wasn’t completely alone! And if we’d just had one she may have continued working but daycare costs with 2 made working for her almost pointless.

True, not all women are the same. I think what’s difficult is we all have different values with which we’re approaching the subject. There are a number of couples I know who feel pretty strongly that one parent should be at home and I think some of them would apply that way of thinking to all families as being the ideal route. With some friends it’s the husband who stays home, with more it’s the wife, and they all have very different reasons. Recycling is a great example because it’s something virtually everyone has rallied around, but parenting and family priorities vary so much from one family to the next that we don’t seem to have been able to find common ground.

A lot of this probably does go back to financial literacy. I’m dumbfounded at how many people don’t understand how to manage their finances, or, as is often the case, don’t learn until the damage is done. I was blessed in that my parents drilled it into me from the time I picked up my first penny, but many aren’t so lucky.

Margaret Sarro

I have to admit I am surprised that so many people are AGAINST providing any paid maternity leave. To me it is almost a no-brainer! I understand how some might think that it is unfair, but I challenge them to think a little bigger. America is built upon its people and all people start out as babies. It is so very very important to give them a wonderful welcome into this world and a start that promotes both their social and physical well being. By the government not providing paid maternity leave (for mothers, fathers or parents of adopted babies) it implies that our next generation and the people that are caring for them are not important.

I think the federal government should LEAD the charge and set an example for the private sector by providing paid maternity leave. Just because it may not be the “norm” right now doesn’t mean that it can’t be. We create our own realities and wouldn’t it be better to live someplace where people valued the next generation? We fight for our rights, our beliefs, our way of life…why not fight for our children? Are we really that self-centered that we cannot see the greater good that would come from this?

And no, this shouldn’t just be something that is “free”. The government needs to ensure that they are getting value out of this (besides the “greater good” that I mentioned above), but I think it is possible to come up with a solution that would be beneficial even to the diehards that think work is the only thing we are here for. If you choose to take paid maternity leave then you should be required to stay in the federal government for a certain amount, otherwise if you chose to leave you would need to pay the federal government back. The goal being to create a great place to work and to GET GOOD WORK DONE. To get that done we need to keep our most important resources – the people. And we need to make sure we have good people ready to take over for us when it’s time to kick back and retire. ๐Ÿ™‚

Joey White

I don’t think most people are against paid maternity leave in concept. I know I’d love to see it implemented. But people are also keenly aware of our government’s financial situation right now. We have a massive pile of debt and an enormous deficit. Adding costs anywhere is a pretty tough sell, particularly when so many people are being forced to cut back in so many areas.

I think we also have to consider that half of Americans are employed by small businesses and they probably don’t relate to a scenario where an employee is able to leave for more than a week or two while an organization continues running smoothly.

According to the 2000 census, 48% of kids younger than 2 and 25% of kids between the ages of 3 and 6 were cared for solely by their parent. While I imagine some of these families would prefer to have both spouses working, it’s also fair to say that a significant portion of the population has decided it’s better for their kids to have a parent at home with them rather than going to daycare. I wonder how many of these people would be sympathetic to the plight of those who are trying to prioritize their career while raising children. In their world, it’s career or children but not both.

As a new dad and the spouse in my family who’s continued working, I’m still trying to resolve the work/family life balance. I don’t know how it will all shake out but I think there’s a limit to the time, travel, and energy I would be willing to put into a position that I wouldn’t have considered to the same extent before.

Nichole Henley

Amen Margaret! Thanks for those good words and reminder!

I get what you’re saying Joey about our current financial climate. But my question would be this: WHAT did we spend our money on in the past that actually got us here?????? I can tell you one thing, it wasn’t on parental leave!

This is a request for change. Change of how we view each other, how we spend $ in the US, how we value our families (with or without children), how we support one another, etc. We have to start somewhere. And if as a result of having a family you have new limits in the workplace, ok- that’s fine. As an employer, we should be accomodating and as an employee, you need to know what expectations there are of you too. But there’s got to be balance and there’s got to be a start.

Joey White

“WHAT did we spend our money on in the past that actually got us here??????”

Good question. I think there are 300+ million people who’d love to know where it all went! ๐Ÿ™‚

Gregory Butera

In response to a comment below, some companies in the private sector actually do provide paid maternity leave. I know of one law firm that pays for 3 months for a mom employee, one for a dad employee (not sure if it applies for adoption vs. birth in the same amounts, but does cover some paid leave for adoption). Of course, the legal world makes you pay for that in many other ways the rest of the time, but that is a nice perk!

Margaret Sarro

My comment about being surprised that so many people were against it came from reading the comments from the link Nichole provided. I’d like to think that the majority of people are not against at least the concept.

And I hear you on the recession and not having any money, but you know what? We spend way too much money on other stupid things (redundant/stove piped systems, cumbersome/unneeded processes that suck up resources, new microwaves that burn my food when the old ones worked just fine…). So really we DO have money in the government, we just have to work harder to get it. Frankly part of me loves the fact that the government is short on money. It really highlights our problem areas and makes it harder to keep shoving them under the rug. Then again the other part of me that has to work to fix the problems we find (my main focus at work is IT Governance) wishes I had some people to help me out!