Wednesday, February 8, 2023

USA Still World's Worst For Parental Leave

It's for the kids. Our children. 

I'm pretty sure you can't call yourself a politician or a policy education thought wonk leader if you don't invoke the children. And if you're a conservative, you must also invoke parents and parenthood as a sacred calling, to be revered and protected.

How do we know that this mostly a bunch of bovine byproduct?

Because the USA still has the world's worst parental leave policy.

Shut up, kid. You are not our problem.

I was reminded of this when a few folks noted the 30th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act. The Washington Post headline captures the moment well-- "Once revolutionary, still inadequate." Petula Dvorak gets right to it from the jump:

In most American states, it is illegal to separate a puppy from its mother before it’s 8 weeks old.

Also in most American states, the average working mom is separated from her baby 10 weeks after delivery.

Our nation is hostile to families. Look at your inbox, social media feed or the GoFundMe site to see just how cruel:

And then follows a parade of terrible pleas for GoFundMe and sick day bank help from new parents struggling with the demands of new parenthood.

It is everywhere, all the time, often in ways that typify how we think of the Miracle Of New Life as an unwelcome interruption to the Real Business of Life. At my old district, we instituted a sick day exchange, allowing teachers to give their sick days to other teachers. Administration was upset that so much of the exchanging involved female teachers staying home with their new infants. It had apparently never occurred to them that in a staff dominated by young women that A) maternity leave would be one of the major asks and B) that the crappy minimal unpaid leave offered by the district wasn't enough. 

But it's everywhere. Parental rights are super-duper important, but get the hell back to work ASAP and get that kid in some kind of Day Care (which isn't going to be subsidized because that's your problem, not anyone else's). 

If you want the facts, the US is worse than every other major nation, by a lot. The only major nation in the world with no paid parental leave. The only nations as bad as ours are a couple of tiny islands (and actually, I'm working from a 2014 report, so those others may have improved in the interim, leaving us alone at the bottom of the barrel).

It's nuts. It's doubly nuts that the while some employers step up, the teaching profession is toward the bottom of the barrel in the nation that is at the bottom of the barrel. Want to make sure your newborn gets a good start in life? That's great, but we're short subs and you've used up all your sick days now (because that's what sick days are for because we still treat pregnancy and birth like they are some damn disease) and we're short of subs, so get your ass in here. You know-- for the children. Just not your children. And heaven help you if your infant comes into the world with some health issues. Heaven will have to help you, because our government will not.

Bring the issue up, and you will inevitably hear the same thing--it would put undue stress and strain on business owners. Which tells us everything we need to know about the relative importance of business owners, mothers, and children. We can spend a literally inconceivable amount of money on "defense," but not on parental leave. Politicians even line up to support universal pre-school, because plenty of people smell a chance to make money supplying that need. But something like, say, a federal fund that pays for a decent-size parental leave for every new parent? Crickets, cause that's just crazy talk.

Yes, this gets me cranky. It's such a blindingly obvious piece of hypocrisy, a nation's leaders screaming "We like children as props and excuses to do things, but we'd rather not spend money to actually take care of them." Yes, paid parental leave is hard--so hard that EVERY OTHER COUNTRY IN THE WORLD HAS FIGURED OUT HOW TO DO IT!

Okay, I'm calm now. In a nation where we worked hard to say that "Hey, higher education is your own problem" and some of us are trying hard right now to convert K-12 to a "Hey, that's your own problem" system, it's no surprise that our reaction to small children is the same--"Hey, that's your problem." But the continuing attempts to pretend otherwise just make me tired.

It's no wonder we passed the anniversary of FMLA rather quietly. It's nothing to brag about, and our parental leave policy remains the shame of our nation.

And if you're a politician, I don't want to hear about how much you value children and family unless you can also tell me about how you have worked to get a paid parental leave policy in this country. 


  1. What timing. I am about to retire and have more sick days than teaching days left. I am talking with a mom who needs sick days because her maternity leave ran out, she ran through sick days, and now she has Covid and needs days. Sadly, I am only allowed to donate 10. So tough.

  2. My oldest will turn 30 in January. I was the first teacher at my high school to go on maternity leave after FMLA took effect. When I was arranging a sub, the site secretary said, “You can’t be out 12 weeks. You only get six!” I got to inform her about the new law and how I would, indeed, be gone 12 weeks. I had banked enough leave to have about half of it paid and was fortunate to be able to afford to take the rest unpaid. Now my daughter is expecting, and it’s hard to believe she’ll fall under the same still far too inadequate law that I did when she was born.