Every Parent Deserves the Right to Paid Parental Leave

Kayla Tehero, Staff Writer

Having a baby is perhaps one of the most challenging life experiences. Pregnancy, childbirth, and raising a baby all take a lot of time, dedication, and adaptation. But despite its challenges, many working parents are not even given the opportunity to take time off work to care for their newborn. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2018 that only 16 percent of workers in the United States have any access to paid parental leave. And while even many birthing mothers struggle to receive paid and/or long enough maternity leave, fathers as well as non-childbearing mothers often struggle to obtain any leave at all. On top of the pressures of navigating the new world of parenting, these families must juggle a demanding career they cannot put on hold for even a week. Parental leave is not a luxury; it is a necessity. American workplaces need to provide expecting families with the opportunity to care for their new baby, because parental leave has extremely positive effects for families, and even benefits business.

Firstly, allowing both parents the opportunity to raise their newborn creates lasting, positive change in family relationship dynamics. During the infancy stage, sometimes called the critical period, babies begin to mature and develop attachments to loved ones that remain constant throughout their lives. Spending more time with the mother during this important period will make children identify her as more of a source of comfort as well as authority figure than their other parent. But if both parents are given the chance to take time off and spend time with their child as they develop, children can build healthy, balanced relationships with both parents. The New York Times reported on a study in which “Dr. Petts and Dr. Knoester found that… children whose fathers took at least two weeks of paternity leave after they were born reported feeling closer to their fathers than children with fathers who did not take leave.” The study also found improvements in partner relationships. The New York Times said, “Sociologists found that even relatively short periods of paternity leave caused couples’ divorce risk to drop and to remain significantly lower for as many as six years to come.” This is because when both parents are at home caring for the baby, the division of childrearing and household duties is more equally divided, decreasing feelings of tension and resentment over the division of work.

This brings up another crucial benefit of guaranteeing parental leave to both parents: it combats gender inequality at home and in the workplace. Not only does it set a habit of dividing household work more equally; it also levels the playing field for women in the workplace. Part of the reason why businesses often choose to hire a man rather than a woman is because men are less likely to require paternity leave. When a woman becomes pregnant and must take time off work to deliver the baby, she is considered an expense rather than an asset for the company. If our society normalized paternity leave, it would give women the opportunity to be equally respected in the workplace.

Providing general parental leave would also remove barriers for LGBTQ parents as well as adoptive parents and parents using surrogacy. The current system for maternity leave is focused on heterosexual relationships and primary caregivers, and only prioritizes maternity leave for mothers who are giving birth to the baby. If parental leave was a guarantee for both parents, it would ensure that couples who cannot or choose not to give birth to the baby themselves have an equal right to take care of their child.

Some people worry about the negative impacts that leave could have on business. It is true that it can be a difficult workplace change when a crucial member of the team is gone for an extended amount of time. But providing this care benefits businesses in the long run because it shows their employees that the company cares about them and their needs. When companies develop a reputation as a good workplace environment that respects people’s personal needs and work-life balance, it improves the company’s employment rates and business in general.

The familial benefits of granting both maternity leave and paternity leave are clear, and it even supports the growth of businesses as well. If we care about the development of the future of our country and its society as a whole, the first step starts with raising children right, and giving both parents the opportunity to be present in their child’s life. Paternal leave is not an excuse to slack off on work and it’s not a paid vacation. It is a necessity.