This article is the first in a two-part series about how parental leave policies are beneficial to both parents and companies. Part two will run next Sunday.
Only 1 in 4 Americans receive any kind of leave, according to an article by Forbes. For people working for companies with 50 or more employees, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 allows them to take 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave; however, this doesn’t necessarily work for parents working part-time or hourly jobs when they depend on weekly or bi-weekly paychecks.
As for paid leave, according to another Forbes article, the U.S. is the only industrialized nation without a paid parental leave policy — and only 14% of civilian workers have access to any amount of paid parental leave.
Regardless of its family-friendly image, Utah ranks low when it comes to supporting working parents, particularly mothers. Although it’s not in the bottom 10, Utah only ranks No. 38 in the line up for best states for working mothers. According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, in 59% of Utah families, all parents work; 45.5% of workers cannot earn a single paid sick day; and only 35.8% are both eligible and able to afford taking unpaid leave through FMLA.
From a purely physical aspect, maternity leave is the most important kind of parental leave that can be offered, allowing an absolute minimum of six weeks for physical recovery. However, 25% of women in the U.S. return to work just two weeks after giving birth in order to make ends meet.
Besides the physical aspect, it’s important for women to have maternity leave because of their mental health. Lyndsey Proctor, a licensed clinical social worker who owns Serenity Recovery and Wellness, a clinic specializing in maternal mental health, said postpartum depression is the most common complication of childbirth, and often the most missed diagnosis. Postpartum depression can last up to two years after giving birth, but most moms may not realize they are suffering with postpartum depression — at least not right away.
“There’s a lot of misunderstanding, that maybe (moms are) experiencing ‘the baby blues,’ and the baby blues is really something that should lift after four weeks and it’s not a mental health issue,” Proctor said. “It really is kind of a hormonal shift and so often I think they (moms) get that message that, ‘Oh this is normal, this is the baby blues,’ and it’s not.”
The mental and emotional benefits of having time to spend with their newborn baby extend to fathers as well. For starters, Proctor said, a crucial piece of a mother’s recovery is feeling supported.
“If they don’t feel supported and don’t feel like they have someone that they can lean on and rely on, they get worse,” Proctor said. “When a mom is struggling and the husband is not there and he is back at work, I think it can exasperate the issue that is going on because ... they don’t feel like they have anyone to lean on.”
Baby bonding time for dads is important as well, and often dads miss out if they have to go back to work too soon. Having time to be at home can also strengthen the relationship between spouses, and perhaps most importantly, result in a more equal division of childcare after both parents return to work. Often women naturally assume the role of caregiver, even if they have other responsibilities, such as a career. If a mother has more parental leave than a father, more often than not she will continue to bear the brunt of childcare even though both parents work.
“It’s really easy to fall back into traditional ideas of, oh, the woman does this, the man does this. And I think this (extended maternal and paternal leave) gives them the opportunity to really be a team and build each other and kind of grow together in this moment of being together and figuring this out together,” Proctor said.
Orem resident Shala Herrera recently gave birth to her fifth child, and for the first time her husband Brandon had paternal leave. Not only was he a great help with their other children, but she said having him around also helped reduce her postpartum depression and anxiety.
“It helped to have one be able to run kids to school while the other stayed with the younger ones, or dishes and laundry are definitely easier when they can be split between two,” Shala Herrera said. “And he didn’t have to worry about being overly sleep deprived for work so he could help more at nights so we could both get sleep and take turns with the baby.”
Shala Herrera thinks having their dad around also helped their other children adjust to the new baby.
“I wasn’t able to give them as much attention because I was busy feeding the baby, etc. all the time,” she said. “So it helped to have him be able to play with them and take them places so they had an easier time adjusting and didn’t feel as neglected with all of the attention going to the baby.”
Brandon Herrera recently started working with Goldman-Sachs Bank, and while their paternal leave policy wasn’t the main deciding factor for him, he said it played heavily into his decision. He echoes Shala Herrera’s sentiments about the benefits of being able to spend a month at home with his family and the new baby.
“It was great, first off, so I could be there for my wife and kids, but also just kind of being able to immerse myself for a month in their day-to-day routine, and reconnect with them,” Brandon Herrera said. “We’re doing our best to balance our work and our life, (but) things fall through the cracks. So it was good to ... reconnect with them a little bit again, and kind of strengthen those relationships and remind ourselves why we’re doing what we’re doing every day.”
Having that time off, Brandon Herrera said, also makes him feel like he’s a better employee.
“When I went back (to work), I was able to actually be at work, as opposed to other times where I was just so tired,” he said. “I couldn’t focus or give 100%.”
It’s also affected how he feels about Goldman-Sachs and whether he wants to work there long term. Because the company gave him a month of paid leave, Brandon Herrera said he feels more motivated to work hard, as if to prove to the company they made a good investment in him.
“The fact that they put my family first makes me more interested in putting them as a higher priority in my mind,” he said. “For most of us, we’re working to provide for our families. We don’t have families because we need an excuse to work.”