If you have eyes and/or ears and a television and/or a computer, you know that a hot topic as of late is paternity leave and how the US is falling behind the rest of the world in this category. People are proposing that businesses should implement guaranteed leave regardless of what the government requires, and some companies, like Intel, are following suit. As the article states,
In addition to helping finance new moms’ 13-week maternity leave, Intel made headlines this month when it promised an additional eight weeks of paid “bonding” time for all new parents, mothers and fathers alike.
You read that right- MOTHERS AND FATHERS ALIKE.
So I, like many of you, have been left wondering, what is the value of paternity leave? And now I have an answer.
There is no value to paternity leave.
It is absolutely invaluable, and what happens in this time at home with your newborn cannot be measured in terms of money.
I have been at home with Meghaan and our baby since the day she was born. In fact, I have technically been away from work since before Lela was even born.
I am a high school math teacher. You’re probably thinking “what a sexy profession”, and you are so correct. There is nothing more glamorous than standing in front of a group of freshmen at 7:30 in the morning and announcing, “good news, guys; today we are going to learn how to find the distance between an island and a yacht, assuming that the yacht is moving in a specific direction with constant velocity.”
EYES GO CROSSED, KIDS GET BACK TO THEIR PREVIOUS CONVERSATIONS, I WEEP QUIETLY IN THE CORNER
HOW CAN THEY NOT LIKE THIS? IT IS SO RELEVANT TO THE INTERESTS OF A TEENAGER!
OK, maybe teaching math isn’t sexy. But it is a blast. I get to be around 150 young men and women a day. And they are great kids, and I have never laughed so hard as I do when the kids are accidentally funny. They don’t know it, but they are damned funny.
They inspire me, and I have learned a lot about the teenage psyche, and I will use these lessons as I become the father of a teenager.
I left school early on the Friday before winter break because Meg was already in the hospital with my mother, and she was about to be induced.
I had joked that I wanted Lela to be born right when winter break started. The birthing gods apparently heard me. I was at the hospital before 2:00, the time that school normally ends. We had our baby less than 24 hours later.
Since then, I have not been back to work. I have not worked in six weeks and one day.
What did I do while at home?
Not much, really.
- I took pictures.
- I wrote for my blog.
- I watched Jimmy Fallon every night.
- I drank beer.
- I relearned how to play guitar.
That’s about it. Oh, I guess there were a few other things.
- I drove them anywhere they needed to go.
- I cooked every meal Meghaan ate, other than those brought by friends and family (thanks guys!)
- Her water was always full.
- I changed about 200 diapers.
- Meghaan showered a couple times, so I held my baby.
- I bonded with my newborn daughter and my wife.
Meghaan hasn’t explicitly told me this, but I will say it myself- I don’t know how she would have done this without me.
Parenting is not easy. Not with both parents, and especially not with only one parent. But that’s what happens far too often in our country. Most men are back to work in under two weeks, and the majority of fathers I have spoken with were back to work within five days of their child’s birth.
We are not putting value on how important this time is, to both the parents and the newborn.
My leave was not “paid”, mind you. It was covered by my sick leave, which means I will not miss my paycheck for January.
But this is still not paid leave. It was not paid for by my employer. It was covered by sick time that I have earned over the course of my 8-year career in the district. If I had taken more sick days over the years (I take very few, because planning for a sub is more work than just teaching with a cold), I would have been on my own. I would have to choose between my family and paying my bills.
That is not right. Nobody should have to make that decision. And in a surprisingly high number of developed nations, no family will ever have to.
Here is just one of dozens of charts and infographics that show how we match up with other countries in several categories, namely maternity and paternity leave. This particular image comes via Maya Dusenbery at Feministing.com, and comes along with the following quote:
The US is just one of three countries with no guaranteed paid maternity leave, and of 34 developed countries, one of two that doesn’t ensure men can take paternity leave. Only 11 percent of Americans in the private sector have access to some sort of paid family leave. Most other wealthy countries also have things like paid sick days–a benefit that 41 million people in this country lack–and affordable child care. Just imagine!
Read that a few more times, just to let it sink in.
Now take a look at this and see how it sits with you.
I don’t think I need to tell you what I think, but I will anyway because I can’t hold it back.
This is ridiculous and we should be ashamed.
What do we value as a country? I sincerely want to know. I do not know what we value as a nation. But through my experience as a teacher, I can tell you that a good portion of Americans do not value public education or the people who dedicate their sanity to keeping it afloat as others do their best to sink it.
And now I am acutely aware that we are not supporting new parents as they learn to work in the most valuable profession we have- parenting.
Without granting both mothers AND fathers paid leave, we are setting families up for a rougher road than they deserve. Let’s make this easy on parents, so that they can learn to be good parents.
Plus, if I was not at home with my baby girl, I would not have been able to have a diaper changing happy party, which left her squealing with joy and blowing milk bubbles from the corner of her mouth.