Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Unconnected and Probably Unrealistic Visions of Harmonious Blending of Work and Home Life

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.


  1. I would like to see 100% paid maternity leave up to 3 months, and then maybe at 50% (or some other percent) pay for another 3 months but still with benefits, and then unpaid (or 25% or some other smaller percent) beyond that. And I would like to see a FMLA guarantee that your job will be waiting for you extended up until at least 6 months postpartum.

  2. Anonymous8:42 PM

    The first policy change I would do is get rid of the term maternity leave all together in favor of parental leave. In my ideal, I would have it set up so both parents had leave at 100% pay for month 1. Both parents will benefit from having a peaceful month of baby bonding and the woman really needs a partner at home with her during month 1 because her body is still healing.

    After that, I'd like some version of the Scandinavian model to take families up through month 6, with a provision that enforces time to be split between both parents. I'm not sure how that adjusts for partnerless parents or how it would need to be written to have unmarried parents treated the same as married parents. But if we're in wave-magic-wand land, I'd have two parent families need to split time and partnerless parents be able to take up through month 6.

    After month 6, I'd go with France's model of state-sponsored, regulated, professionalized, and respected daycare with subsidies available for those who can't or choose to go a different route. If affordable, high quality daycare or subsidized one-on-one care is available, I don't believe anyone needs to be at home past month 6, so I don't see a need for state support of longer leaves. I think past that point, it's up to the individual to manage his/her situation to accommodate a longer leave if desired.

    The other thing I'd want to put into place is more public education campaigns and hospital support for sleep teaching. I think the biggest stress from a new baby is the sleep deprivation, and based on both anecdotal experience and light research, parents are very undereducated about how much control we have for shortening the length of sleep deprivation we have to face. There's a lot of misinformation about what sleep teaching consists of (i.e. that there are more options than suffer or leave your baby alone in a crib to cry for however long it takes and no matter how upset the baby gets). I was lucky that I have a friend who's a nanny who made a chance comment about a baby nurse that led me to learn of and hire an amazing sleep coach. With the sleep coach's help, my husband and I got our daughter on a regular nap and bedtime schedule that transformed our lives.

    Not directly related to parental leave, but I would also like better state support for family caretakers.

  3. I don't think any model that requires companies or insurance to pay for leave will ever work. IMO, it has to be a government program. I don't like policies with too many mandates - ie, it *has* to be a year, it *has* to be divided among partners, you *cannot* work during the leave period even part-time. I wanted to be with my baby until he was seven-eight months old. My partner was fully involved, but I wanted to be the one at home, and I should be able to do that. It could and should have the possibility of men sharing leave.

    My ideal policy would look like this: Up to 6 months fully paid by the gov't ('fully paid' = matching existing salary) per family to be split however the couple chooses (by month, I guess), and every month thereafter at 50%. Employers have the option to top those last six months up if they wish, and they can attach strings to it (ie, guarantees to return to work or face a penalty, part time work, etc). But no one should be required to take a certain amount of leave - hence the "up to" clause. flexibility is key to meeting many of the needs of most of families. Most families wouldn't be able to absorb the 50% pay loss, or would be ready to return to work at that point.

    But as @Miriam says, availability of affordable AND quality daycare is also an essential component of this. As I mentioned in my previous post, I've lived in places where daycare was affordable but of a very low quality and it was a hardship for local families.

    1. I was about to ask why you think an insurance-based scheme wouldn't work, but then realized that maybe we were saying the same thing by different names. The CA FMLA "insurance" is a state-administered program that employees and employers are required to pay into, much like workers comp/disability. It seems to work well. I don't think a voluntary insurance scheme will work, because it would be too easy to game the system and only start paying in when you thought you were close to needing it.

      I agree 100% that affordable quality day care is an important part of it. That is one area in which I really like the Scandinavian model of state-sponsored day care. But I suspect you could get a similar outcome with private suppliers, state oversight, and subsidies on a sliding scale based on income.

  4. Wow, a year a 90% or 80% would be kind of extreme! Here in Canada we have a year off, but about half of it is at 70% and then 55%. Of course you pay less income tax so the difference isn't that big but yeah, you need to plan for your 55% time.

  5. I left my home country 14+ years ago so I have no idea how things look there now, but it used to be that you get a full year paid after each kid and even 2 years (!) after the third kid (government wanting to boost reproduction at that time). That caused severe, and I mean SEVERE bias towards hiring women of childbearing age. I know a woman, my colleague's wife, who was employed and paid for 6 full years but essentially worked only 2 -- started working in early pregnancy, left for a year after kid 1, came back already pregnant again and worked for about 6 months before having kid 2, out for a year with kid 2, and after being back for about a year, she had kid #3 and was out for 2 years. This was all at full pay. People in her department (she was a lecturer, it's not a professorial position but it is permanent and has all benefits) were livid. How do you think they feel about hiring the next young woman who comes along?

    I know we should not be restricting the choices that people make in terms of how many kids they want to have and how far apart in age and all that, but I don't think yearlong leaves at full pay are the way to go. Paid parental leave should offer reasonable accommodation for people who are in the workforce and plan to remain in the workforce after the break; in that sense it's a good thing for companies too, who get to keep a valuable employee long term. But I also don't want to see policies that will just make it harder for women to get hired; however, the reality of the bias is that there may be 100 women who come back after maternity leave and 1 who uses it all and then quits, and people will still put up that 1 who quit as an example that women should not be hired in the first place.

    I would like to see reasonable parental leave at full pay, so that e.g. moms who are single parents (by choice or otherwise) can recover, then longer with decreasing support to incentivize going back to work. A lot of countries seem to have 100% paid leave last in the range of 3-4 months, I think that would not be unfeasible for most reasonably sized employers in the US.

  6. I wonder why a parental leave policy couldn't be funded out of social security. Raise the retirement age in order to make it cost neutral. I think a number of families would prefer to have paid time off at 33 than at 67.

    I work for myself so I've never actually taken a leave, per se. It was more a matter of working at about 10% capacity one week, then maybe 20% the next, 30% the next and so forth.

    1. Anonymous11:45 AM

      We already have to raise the retirement age to make Social Security cost-neutral. That isn't going over well among voters or politicians.

      And hoo boy, is that wrong on the paid time off at 67-- that's another example of privilege. Social Security isn't for the people who want to keep working into their 70s because they enjoy their jobs (and make enough money that SS doesn't replace that much)-- it's for people who really need to stop their jobs age 62-67 because their jobs are more physically taxing. (You know, the bottom 50-90%, aka, most people.) And DI/SSDI is not a good alternative because it is expensive to screen people.

  7. I'm not sure what my ideal would look like, but as a single mother, I'd love to have something more than the nine weeks full time plus two weeks part time that I was able to take. (I got five weeks of short term disability and had to use all accumulated and accrued vacation and sick time during my FMLA leave. That left me with no leave time left should I or my son get sick if I took the full three months, so I cut my three months short.)

    I think providing some kind of coverage for six months would be great--as another commenter said on the previous post, when babies start to sit up, they like and need more interaction. In an ideal world, I'd also like to provide people with more sick leave when they have small children. I can just see the firestorm that would start, but my biggest stressor in the past year or so that I've been back at work is the constant worry that I will run out of any and all kinds of leave. I have a son in daycare full time; I work in a public library. He gets sick a lot. I get sick a lot. Daycare, quite reasonably, cannot take him when he's sick. You see the difficulty.


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