I spent some time after dinner tonight sitting at the dining table with both girls, "working." Pumpkin was doing a Scooby Doo Activity Book (made more amusing by the fact that she has not yet seen a Scooby Doo show- I strongly suspect she would consider them too scary). Petunia was doing pages from her "I Can Paste" book. I was cutting out things for Petunia to paste onto her workbook pages, answering questions from Pumpkin like "what is an imposter?" and occasionally typing a few words into this post.
It was great. I have a picture in my head of the future, with me and the girls sitting at the table. The girls working on their homework and me working on... whatever I want to be working on. They'll occasionally ask me a question, but for the most part we'll just all be sitting there on our own things. Reality probably won't match the lovely picture in my head, but tonight gave me a glimpse of how my work and parenting could combine in the future, and I liked it.
The comments about various people's maternity leave preferences on my last post really reinforce my opinion that a "one size fits all" policy is NOT the way to go. I didn't say it in that post, but I think my optimal leave would have been ~4 months completely off, followed by ~3 months of part time work. Or something like that.
I am very sympathetic to the effort to increase maternity leave in the US, and I would prefer a uniform 1 year leave over the ridiculously short leave we have now. But I am not at all convinced that a blanket "everyone gets X amount of time off" policy is the best way to go.
I am most definitely not a policy wonk, so I don't really know what the best thing would be. I wonder if extending the paid family medical leave we have in California (and some other states) might be the way to go- instead of the 5 months at whatever percentage of my salary I ended up getting, maybe it could be up to one year, paid at 80% salary (capped at some value). It could be funded by an insurance type scheme, similar to how current paid family leave or disability leave is funded: we all pay in, and anyone who meets one of the qualifying conditions could claim. Since the employee's salary would be paid by the insurance fund while he or she was out, the employer would have the money usually used to pay the employee's salary to pay for a temporary employee or contractors to fill in during leave.
I'd keep the ability to use the leave to "top up" pay if the employee goes part time, too- we used that to enable us to split the fourth month after each child was born, and found that to be a really great option.
I'd add something to encourage more men to take the leave. Maybe assign the leave by qualifying event, and give each household a set number of months that can be split among the family members, with a maximum for each family member? For instance: 18 months total, but no more than 12 months for one person. Or something like that.
This may not be popular, but I think there needs to be some financial cost to the employee for taking leave, if only to encourage people to think about how much leave the truly want, instead of just taking "the standard." That is why I'd have the insurance pay out at 80%- but maybe 90% with a lower cap would be more fair. I don't actually know what California's percentage is, because I hit the cap, the percentage was different for the 6-8 weeks considered disability vs. the other time that was FMLA, and I also had private disability insurance one of the two times... so it was confusing, and I never did the math. We paid a small but manageable financial price for the leave I took. I'd set up the scheme so that people at lower incomes face a smaller financial penalty than people at higher incomes.
The chances of such a scheme being enacted probably approach zero, given the current political climate. But if we don't think about what we'd really want, we might find we trade one seriously suboptimal situation for another.
Feel free to describe your ideal scheme in the comments. I encourage you to think about unintended consequences, though- as I said in the last post, there is some evidence of discrimination against women with "standard" long leaves, and I have also heard anecdotes about the difficulty of finding child care if you want a shorter leave than the "standard." The ideal scheme would minimize these two problems. I fully acknowledge that the scheme I described above may not do that, though, and may have other problems I haven't seen (feel free to speculate on those in the comments, too).
I mentioned in the last post that I was coming up for air since it was Pumpkin's last day of school and the End of Year Marathon of School Events was finally ending. But it was a short lived surfacing- I have an unusually busy schedule at work for the next 6 weeks or so- we are doing at least one "release"- either of a piece of software or a major system upgrade- every week. It should be... interesting. And we've got some things on the home calendar, too, not least of which is adjusting to doing the daily drop off/pick up for Pumpkin at a different location. So posting may be a little light for the next few weeks. Don't worry, though- I have lots of things I want to write about, so I'll be back at full strength as soon I can.