Mommy Money: What?! No Paid Leave???

I found it. The one political issue that could quite possible turn me into an American citizen: federally mandating paid maternity leave.

Call me naïve, blind, dumb or whatever, but it never occurred to me that millions of new parents were taking unpaid one, two, three month (or more) leaves. In the years I’ve worked, only one woman has gotten pregnant and taken maternity leave so I never gave it much thought. But in researching this week’s newsletter about parenthood and young professionals, my jaw dropped when I read that companies in the U.S. aren’t required to give new parents paid time off — just three months of unpaid leave (if they have more than 50 employees). This puts America in the minority with Lesotho, Australia, Swaziland and Papua Guinea for countries that don’t offer any type of paid leave for new parents.

Of course, many companies decide on their own to offer varying degrees of paid leave for new parents (dads and adoptions too), benefits and even “phase-in” programs for moms returning to the workforce. And I know the argument against giving paid maternity leave (thanks to Miss Jennifer Kushell!): a high percentage of mothers leave the workforce after having children, often leaving companies stranded. Why should they have to pay for maternity leave if the woman winds up quitting anyways? True, very true, but I just can’t reconcile how the lack of such a policy seems to devalue family and having children. As if having children isn’t a big enough expense, concern or decision, there’s an even bigger financial picture to consider. Money more important than family? Commerce before kids? It’s no wonder so many women have to make the choice between having a career and having children.

Having just visited my sister and her 2-month-old daughter, I’ve seen how exhausting newborns are and I can’t imagine my sister going back to work for at least one month. Thankfully, she has a very flexible, understanding line of work. I am not at all political so bear with me, but I can’t see why something can’t be worked out similar to how some companies pay for an employee’s MBA and then requires them to work for a certain amount of time after. I’m disheartened knowing that new moms aren’t getting at least a portion of their salary for the first three months, which is a really difficult time. The last thing they should be doing is leaving a newborn with hired help just so they can race back to work… and perform poorly on the job because they were up all night with the baby.