My mom adventures in Fort Collins


Read an essay, have a thought: Paid maternity leave

I’m instituting a new category called, “Read an essay, have a thought.” I feel it’s fairly self-explanatory. It’s prompted in part by all those links people post on facebook that I want to talk about, but I feel like a 1000 word comment might be a bit much.

There is this fabulous essay on the Moms in Maine website written by a woman named Michelle. It’s a thoughtful and eye-opening response to the Time Magazine cover. (Yep, the same cover that I talked about here.) Michelle’s thoughts are this: Who the eff cares? What you should be worried about is the fact that the US is the only developed country to not have paid maternity leave as law.

This essay brings up a bunch of different thoughts for me. Namely, my decision to quit my job would have been different. If I could have the benefit of staying home with my baby for 50 weeks at 55% of my salary (as Canada does), I would have absolutely hands-down taken the leave and came back to work nearly a year later with a smile on my face.

How do I know? Well, because that’s basically what I did, only 7 weeks after my first child was born. But I was one of the lucky ones, because my awesome employer allowed me to bring my daughter to work with me. And that’s what we did at least 2 days a week for the first 6 months that I returned from work. (I was afraid I wouldn’t get any work done at all if I kept her with me all day every day–as I said earlier, she didn’t nap all that well.)

This was my set-up in July of 2007: Pack-n-play and bouncy seat in the office

It’s interesting though, because returning to work when your baby is 7weeks old is challenging. But the next year-and-a-half of being a working mom was so much more challenging. I think that if I had been afforded 50 weeks of leave (or possibly even 12 weeks of leave, which my awesome employer did not have to offer me because they didn’t have to abide by FMLA), my life would have been so different. Maybe I’m just seeing everything through rose-colored glasses, but I feel like I barely knew what was going on, who my baby was, what her needs were, and I had to drop her off some place new with strangers, and then get myself over to work. Would a few more weeks of the parenting gig without the pressure of the daycare schlepp have made the difference? I’d like to think it would have.

But as it was, I was afforded a “private” lactation area (my office with a curtain).Time afforded to pump was a given. Storage of my expressed milk went in the fridge, and no one ever said a word about it. I was given a great deal of flexibility from my employer, including being able to work from home occasionally when my daughter was sick and she couldn’t go to daycare. I was allowed to bring my daughter to work functions and all of my colleagues were supportive of this. To be fair, I worked for a child advocacy organization, so it was very appropriate of them–not every company can do that. My first few months of working are filled with wonderful memories of my co-workers holding Scout, helping me, offering me wisdom, and cheering us both on.

And yet, I still quit my job.

So, Michelle, I would like to add something to your fabulous essay. Not only do American families need paid maternity leave (and paid paternity leave, while you’re at it), but American families need high-quality, affordable daycare.

As I said, I would have happily taken more leave after the birth of my first child. I think that would have made us a more stable family, and given us a little more time to emerge from the transition of becoming a family of three. As it was, we did a lot of racing around, and that first few months especially felt like a whirlwind. Would it have felt that way even if I wasn’t working? Sure. But would it have been a bit less stressful? Absolutely. Less balls to juggle means, well, an easier time juggling.

But the biggest issue for my family, one that my husband and I knew from the get-go, was that the cost of daycare for one kid was manageable, but the cost of daycare for two kids was unreasonable. I paid $900/month for high-quality daycare. This was actually $100-200 less than what some of my friends paid. I used a daycare center, not an in-home daycare provider, and the director of the facility was an RN. This place had a lot of space, toys, outdoor recreation, sleeping areas with dim lights, and most importantly a qualified staff with low turnover. It was a check I wrote willingly. In my opinion, daycare is not where you want to save a buck. I’ll sacrifice many things to save money, but my personal philosophy is, “Do not be cheap when it comes to doctors, dentists and child care providers.” But with two kids in daycare, after subracting $1800 a month from my take-home pay, my average hourly wage at that point is $3.75/hour. Add to this quandary the fact that part-time daycare is so difficult to come by (especially for a newborn), and the part-time employment offered to me by my employer as a happy-medium was actually not as good an option as it sounds.

Though the choice to become a stay-at-home-mom wasn’t entirely dictated by finances  (you can read more about that here), it was heavily influenced by it. I had a great job, with supportive colleagues, but it still wasn’t a great situation. I think if I had been given the opportunity to stay home longer with my baby, I would have. If there had been government subsidies in place to assist with the cost of daycare, I could have justified working. And I would have jumped at the chance to work part-time. As it was, I felt like my time with my daughter was limited and–if we chose to have another child–I’d be working to pay for daycare.

It’s my dream that my daughters, if they choose to have children of their own, won’t have to make a choice about their employment the way that I did.

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