America’s Lack of Value for Families

Paternity Leave and the Missing Component of “Family Values”

In a 2013 article in The Atlantic, Brad Wilcox the Director of the National Marriage Project is quoted as saying “Family values terminology is so closely connected to the 1980s and Jerry Falwell-esque way of framing it — it’s an immediate turn-off” for many liberals. Elsewhere it’s easy to find evidence (here and here) that the Republican Party and those on the Right believe they are THE party of family values. However, I would argue that both camps fail to fully address, or address at all, a key component that should be at the heart of the family value debate and would strengthen families, guaranteed paid parental leave.

While the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) grants up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to mothers and fathers in some workplaces, by early 2014 only California, Rhode Island, and New Jersey guarantee 4 to 6 weeks of paid leave. Some companies, such as tech giants Google, Facebook, and Yahoo, have gone above and beyond providing as much as 17 weeks of paid leave, few other U.S. companies have made that investment in their workers. All that being said, it is even more shocking to find out that since 2010, the United States is the ONLY industrialized nation in the world that does not mandate paid maternity leave for mothers. In this the U.S. joins the non-industrial nations of Lesotho, Swaziland and Papua New Guinea as the only countries in the world who do not guarantee mothers paid leave. So, the United States lags behind just about every other nation in this regard and additionally falls behind the U.K., the Netherlands, France, and even Brazil and Australia in failing to provide paid paternity leave.

Recently, much of the debate has surrounded the later issue of paternity leave. And the issue of fatherhood itself is a major component of the scholarly literature within Masculinity Studies. (See articles, book chapters, etc. here, here, here, and here.) In a Special Report (The Daddy Wars: A debate about paternity leave) The Atlantic magazine found that not only did it give “fathers a chance to be involved parents from the very beginning.” But that overall the “results [were] good for men, women, and children—and for society.” Just this month (June 2015), Richard Branson, the multi-billionaire founder of Virgin Group, announced that male employees of Virgin Management would be eligible for paternity leave at full pay for up to a year. This is in addition to generous maternity leave already in place.

In my own experience as a new father, I must admit that I’ve been very lucky. Both my wife and baby were healthy and thus their hospital stays were minimal. Even though my wife is a doctor, the fact that she is essentially employed by the state of Texas meant that she had to use her own sick leave to take the 12 weeks provided by the FMLA. (Texas doesn’t provide paid maternity leave.) Yet again, we were lucky; she had enough sick leave available. In the 21st century childbirth should not be treated as a sickness or a “medical” event, but as a natural state of life that we celebrate and reward, rather than punishing women who make this choice. At the time my wife went back to work my academic semester came to an end. And this summer I’m able to spend 15 weeks with our daughter, however this is unpaid leave as my contract (like most other academics) is only for 9 months. Nevertheless, once again we were fortunate. The time that my wife and I spent with our daughter was amazing, but if we weren’t both financially able or had the proper time-off it wouldn’t have happened. It is sad reality that in the United States all parents cannot experience this pivotal period of bonding.

It’s time to press Congress to act. Here is an article by Josephine Yurcaba Want Paid Maternity Leave In The United States? 6 Ways To Push Congress To Change The Laws and here is a video from John Oliver’s show Last Week Tonight on Paid Family Leave, they will make you think and make you laugh.

And finally a few things I’ve learned during my first 9 months as a father

10. Sleep is for after my daughter grows up.

9. When starting to change a diaper, snaps on onesies or pajamas… BEST INVENTION EVER

8. When trying to dress after a diaper change, snaps on onesies or pajamas… WORST INVENTION EVER

7. Waking up my little girls is a fabulous way to start the day.

6. I thought I knew what I was getting myself into… Well, I was wrong…

5. My day is complete when my baby girl falls asleep in my arms.

4. You can pick your friends, you can pick your nose, but don’t pick your friends nose… BUT it’s OK to pick your baby’s nose.

3. Everyone who said, “You don’t understand until you have your own… they were right…”

2. I will never have this opportunity again and I must soak up every minute I can.

1. My love for my little girl grows daily.

~ILB

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