So, my postings have never been very controversial. I mean, talking about your baby and the silly, awesome, frustrating, cute, challenging things you encounter with him everyday doesn't exactly invite vigorous debate. And while I don't intend this post to be offensive in any way to anyone, I worry some could take it that way (or at least have strong opinions about it) and I am just going to go ahead and apologize now. Sorry!
So, I've been thinking a lot lately. Ryan is now 6 months and three weeks old. And the exponential faster rate at which he is learning new things these days just makes watching him grow sooooo much fun! And thus, I have been thinking a lot about maternity leave and the lack there of for many (most) women in the United States.
Why, you ask? Why does my son’s age and growing number of "new tricks" make me think about maternity leave? Well, I'll tell you!
Most women in the US don't get any truly paid maternity leave. Sure, we can use sick and vacation time to have a period of time off with our child during which we get paid. But we don't have any leave that is paid solely for the purpose of taking care of and bonding with a newborn. I remember when I was in Ireland a year and a half ago. I was about 6 weeks pregnant, and my husband and I were on the train talking with a woman who had a 7 month old. She was lamenting the fact that she had to return to work in a month after her 8 months of paid maternity leave! I was jealous, I was in awe, and I was wondering, "What the bleep is wrong with our country?!?!?!?!"
As I have been caring for Ryan, I have begun to wonder if there is a method to our country's madness...A manipulative method. Here in the US, we are allowed up to 12 weeks of leave to care for a family member (16 weeks in the District of Columbia, where I was grateful to be working at the time I had Ryan). This leave doesn't have to be paid. Simply, the law states that your position must be held for you during this time. In other words, they can't fire you or fill your position because you are caring for a family member. Thus, many women choose to take the full 12 weeks of maternity leave.
If I had gone back to work when I had originally planned to, I would have been going back when Ryan was 16 weeks old. He was adorable, and fun, and we were bonded, and connected, and all those great things. But nowhere near to the extent that we are now. He is such a little person now! He has strong opinions and finds ways of communicating them. When he wakes up startled, he yells "maaamamammamama!!!" I'm not sure if he's saying "Mama" but it sure sounds like it! He knows me and I know him in a way that we didn't when he was only 16 weeks old.
Going back to work when he was 16 weeks old would have been difficult. I wouldn't have liked it, and I am sure I would have cried. But I would have been able to do it without too much angst. Now, if I think about leaving him multiple days each week I truly cannot imagine doing it. I know he'd be ok if I did leave him. And I'd be ok too. But I don't want to do it and am so grateful that things have worked out in such a way that I don't have to.
But, this made me think. Is it just coincidence that our legally protected amount of "maternity leave" here in the U.S. conveniently ends before this magical time of amazing growth? If it ended later would more women choose to stay home, or request part-time work? I don't know the answer, but it sure made me wonder!