I am a mom of three young kids. I worked full-time from home when my first two were born, but the company I worked for was small and fell below the regulations that legally required it to offer employees paid maternity leave. So, I pieced together an unofficial maternity leave using unused sick days and accumulated vacation days, with a couple of weeks of unpaid time off tacked onto the end.
I talked to my other working mom friends and listened to their experiences. The lucky few who had established careers received the standard 12 weeks’ time off to bond with their newborns. Compensation varied from full pay to a percentage of their typical salary. One mom, a skilled nurse, returned to work just 2 weeks after her second daughter was born due to missing a deadline when filing her leave paperwork.
With women now working alongside men in nearly every profession, childbirth seems to be viewed as just another medical situation, with participants expected (often by themselves) to resume paid work as soon as they are physically recovered. For modern women who want to stay home with their babies and simultaneously enjoy satisfying careers alongside their non-childbearing male co-workers, extended paid maternity leave seems to be the answer.
Extended paid leave is elitist
Many working moms clamor for the legal right to receive paid compensation while on maternity leave with the promise of returning to their positions at the end of their leave. But, this benefit does not seem to extend to mothers employed in low-paid, entry-level positions.
Pregnant women who work in the fast food industry or clean office buildings usually receive no paid maternity leave. Women who earned a degree and spent years building their careers are typically at the forefront of the push to extend maternity leave up to several months with a decent paycheck to boot.
But, women who work lower-paying jobs before having children are every bit as much of a mother as their career-building counterparts. A cafe waitress deserves to bond with her babies and nurture them as the primary caregiver just as much as a female CEO.
Bad for small businesses
Small businesses simply can’t afford to pay an employee to not work for any length of time beyond the standard sick days and accumulated vacation time.
Small businesses are often family-owned and are America’s main defense against becoming a nation totally dependent on big corporations and their enticing benefits. Supporting small businesses not only means buying handmade Christmas gifts on Etsy; it means developing and implementing a business climate in which Mom and Pop shops can flourish.
Implies that only paid work is valuable
Extended maternity leave implies that every working woman plans to return to work as a matter of course. Many moms choose to leave the paid workforce after their child is born because they believe it is important for them to provide daily care and character development for another human being.
Children do not cease to need the daily presence of a consistent caregiver after 6 weeks, 12 weeks, or one year. Children are a lifelong commitment, and by extending maternity leave further and sweetening the deal with a cash incentive, society is telling mothers that remaining in the workforce is the highest and best use of their time. This is not only false, it relegates stay-at-home-moms to a de facto position of childcare.
Moms are serving society as a whole when they step down from paid work and choose instead to personally raise their children. It’s time society stopped prioritizing paid work with trying to extend maternity leave benefits in order to convince mothers that relinquishing daily care of their children is the right thing to do.