What’s Wrong With Us?

A tiny 8 week old baby started daycare in MADs room this week.  A fragile little boy who still has the translucent skin of a newborn and whose little squawks and squeaks makes my ovaries ache.  And in an instant my heart broke for his parents and my hate of US family leave policies started taking form.  This country has things SO SCREWD UP.

6 weeks.  That is all that 52% of working moms get off with their newborn.  24% only get 4 weeks.  And for 10% of mothers this time, as short as it is, is totally unpaid.  The other 90% get anywhere from 40-100% of their pay via disability – a coverage that they pay into from every other paycheck they receive.  Apparently if you live in the states you want to work for Johnson & Johnson, “The Family Company” where new moms with five years of job nets 26 paid weeks of maternity leave. (Source: Institute for Women’s Policy Research & Working Mother Media, Inc.)

Studies abound about the benefits to all involved – including the company – that comes from extended periods of leave.  Time away from work within the first year back goes down drastically. Long-term (6 months +) breastfeeding increases when leave is longer. Worker productivity is higher upon return when leave is 12 weeks minimum. Heck, the US government’s Department of Health and Human Services has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on ad campaigns to convince moms to exclusively breastfeed for at least six months – money that might be better spent allowing new moms to be WITH their infant those first six months.

Now – before you start crowing about how it’s not fair for those who choose not to have kids for women to get this time off, let me finish.  I’m not just talking about maternity leave here.  I’m talking about FAMILY leave.  FMLA  = Family Medical Leave Act and it can be used for more then just birthin’ babies.

For instance, an acquaintance of ours in Toledo just passed away after battling brain cancer for years.  He and his wife were some of the loveliest people you would ever know and they were the kind of couple that upon meeting them you just know they were meant to be together.  They loved each other fiercely.  They had no children by choice. As you can imagine with brain tumors he underwent years of surgery, illness, good days and bad.  In the end his wife had to return to work the day after his funeral because she had used up all of her FMLA time caring for him in the year before he died. They were together 20 some years and she had no time to grieve his passing.

Another friend just moved to be near her 80-year-old father and become his primary caregiver. She’s in her 40s and is facing a few health issues herself, including an upcoming surgery.  She is worried that if something happens to her dad that requires her to take time off work she would put her job in jeopardy.  She’s single, childless by choice and is worried that if something were to happen that FMLA won’t be enough to protect her only source of income.

I have a feeling that as the Baby Boomers continue to age and start leaning on their adult children – the very people that make up the bulk of working America – that things might slowly change.  If the Boomers and their children start pushing for change that would make up a huge majority of voters who could leverage some action.  Which is sad, because most everyone says that family should come first but we don’t do anything to make sure that it really does.

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