This blogpost explores the issue of parental leave in America, which will be discussed at the 2016 Concordia Summit in partnership with the Seleni Institute.
Public-private partnerships are referred to as P3s. At Concordia, we believe that collaboration is the key to solving the world’s greatest challenges. “P-Cubed: Elevating the Power of Partnerships” is a series by Concordia providing insight into our programs and lessons learned about partnership building.
by Eliza Bell
The bonds that form between new parents and their newborn can shape an entire family’s future. New parents begin developing the deeply personal and impactful relationship they will hold with their child for the remainder of his or her life. The early stage of parenthood is characterized by frequent interaction to promote connection, attachment, and bonding. This phase is also characterized by physical exhaustion, high hormone levels, and stress as new parents and newborns adjust physically and emotionally to life after childbirth.
The initial phase after childbirth is a highly sensitive and critical part of a family’s life.
If you are a new parent in the United Kingdom you have thirty-nine weeks of paid leave to forge these important bonds. If you’re a new parent in Australia you are not quite as lucky with only eighteen weeks of paid leave. Though as a parent in Australia, you’re still more fortunate than your counterparts in Mexico, who have just twelve weeks of paid parental leave.
However, if you are a new parent in America, you are not guaranteed any paid parental leave at all. The first country to put a man on the moon, to put a cell phone in your hand, to put an airplane in the sky, and a light on the street currently stands as the only high-income country without a federal level mandate for paid parental leave. Every day new mothers and fathers, already nervous, exhausted, and vulnerable, must choose between physical support or financial stability.
In America, the importance of this incredibly sensitive period in a new family’s life must outweigh the cost of an office paycheck.
The only federal framework for parental leave in the United States dates back to 1993 with The Family and Medical Leave Law which covers “unpaid, job protected leave for specified families” (United States Department of Labor). This states that new mothers at companies larger than 50 people are eligible for 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave. This act excludes 40% of the population – the working mothers who are employed at companies with less than 50 employees. It further excludes the many women who cannot afford spending twelve weeks without pay.
A variety of arguments in favor of a reform to this social policy have been made, citing the physical health or economic benefits of paid parental leave. Paid parental leave increases chances of breastfeeding and physical recovery of both mother and child in life changing ways, however an argument for paid parental leave that is less cited, though equal in merit, is that mental health consequences can arise from shortened parental leave.
The ramifications of limited parental leave on the mental health of new mothers are detrimental.
Women with several months of maternity benefits with full wages were found to be 18% less likely to suffer from depression 30 years later. Mental health patterns for parents and child begin with childbirth and have far reaching consequences for decades.
The mental health of parents deserves much more weight and attention in discussions of parental leave policy. The mind is one of the body’s greatest resources, and yet it so often receives the least amount of care. A happy and healthy mind for mother and daughter, father and son, can have an incredible impact on a family’s life.
It is time to look at how America is prioritizing parental health and families.
That is why Concordia will be hosting a discussion on reforming parental leave at our 2016 Summit on September 19th and 20th, in partnership with the Seleni Institute. By sparking a conversation on parental leave and health, cross-sector leaders can identify ways forward that are both good for families and good for business. It begins when the family begins, and it begins with parental leave.