I am 32 years old, and I have two little girls. One is 12 and I have a new baby who is six and a half months. My husband is an elementary school teacher and I’m working on a campaign right now. When my husband and I planned to start having children (my oldest daughter is from my first marriage) I was working a job that didn’t really offer any benefits. Shortly after my 1st trimester I ended up separating from that employer and now work for someone who believes that families need a lot of support to make it work. I have a maternity package that let me stay home for three months after my daughter was born. Because my husband is an educator, which is a female dominated profession, he got three paid months of leave as well. We are the incredibly rare couple who both got time to stay home and bond with our baby.
Staying home for those three months has been such a game changer. Friends joked that I would go crazy at home alone with a baby, but having that time with my family was precious. To be able to reinforce to my eldest daughter that this was such a great opportunity for us to bond and to set an example of taking time out as a family to be together, to be able to be home with my youngest daughter, with my husband, to see my husband in this daddy superhero role, changed my experience completely. It was a tremendous gift not just to our children but to our relationship.
With my firstborn I was working a job that paid a very low base salary, maybe only two dollars above the minimum wage at the time, plus commission. When I was pregnant I really had to hustle to plan around my employer. I would schedule appointments for when I was travelling or outside of the office anyway to try not to inconvenience anyone. My employer didn’t stop calling me when I was home on maternity leave, and I felt there was an unspoken demand that I return to work quickly, and that’s when the fear started creeping in that if I didn’t fall in line and come back when they wanted me to that the reception I would get when I did start working again would be frosty. I wasn’t convinced that my position would be protected.
I was only able to be home with my first daughter for four and a half weeks, which any mother will tell you was no time at all. The baby was still very, very needy. My then-husband worked late, inconsistent hours, and he and I struggled a lot. We fought because we were both so tired; there was some misogynistic behavior from him and a struggle with assumed gender roles for us both. We didn’t have balance or a shared vision for how we would parent. He sometimes called me at work because the baby wouldn’t stop crying and told me I needed to come home. I would have to negotiate for time out of the office — “If I go home early, I’ll come in early tomorrow.” We had to rely on family and friends a lot. At a certain point I started making arrangements for her to spend more time with family, or I would drop her off at a friend’s house for the day, which invited questions about my marriage and why my husband wasn’t taking care of her. Everything felt like a fight.
This experience has been completely different. I was able to try some new things in terms of being a mother that I knew existed but that I didn’t think could be real for me: nursing, cloth diapering, being fully present, being able to spend time with family who came to visit and meet the new baby instead of thanking them for coming and running out the door. It opened my eyes up to how much possibility exists for families if policies like the ones I have now were extended broadly.
With this pregnancy I feel like the mom I wish I could have been then because so much of that tension is relieved not just for me but for my partner. I really value what this paid time off has been able to do for our relationship. Sometimes I would run out to the store and my husband would text me “I don’t know how single mothers or fathers do this.” No matter how much support you have, this is hard. It’s really hard.
This really isn’t, and has never been, just about money. This conversation is so central to how people interact in their homes and how people interact in communities. When you see other countries providing a year off for new parents or a guaranteed income for people at home with family, it’s hard to understand why we don’t have that here. For a country that professes to be the land of opportunity it feels like our values are not reflected at all in our policies. I am so glad to see the issues of paid family leave, affordable child care, and equal pay taking root with the electorate. The time is right for this. Ultimately, these issues impact everyone: parents, not-parents, day care providers, educators. It touches people who have kids, who don’t have kids, who don’t even like them. We’re all in this. What is good for families is good for the economy. I see it in my own experience — and in everyone else’s too.
#RPoA #paidleave #childcare #equalpay