Paid Paternity Leave Might Be The Key To Flexible Schedules And Real Work-Life Balance

shutterstock_145382449As I navigate my way in and out of various professional environments, I see very well what works and what doesn’t work in the plight of a working mom.  I have also experienced the difference in working for a company that can and does support a flexible schedule.  Every single day I sit down at my desk I truly hope that by the time my daughter is a mother (if that’s her choice), things will be even better and she won’t have to struggle with the obstacles I face as a working mother. Sweden and its paid paternity leave policy makes me think it’s possible.

Business Insider recently reprinted an excerpt from Katrina Alcorn’s Maxed Out: American Moms On The Brink that explains how paternity leave was fundamental in equalizing things at home and work.

Can I just say how AWESOME Business Insider is for including this story?  At first I thought, “why would Business Insider reprint an except from a book about working mothers — in fact a book that some people have accused of being whiny and entitled?”  Oh right, because it highlights the dramatic effects of paid paternity leave – targeted right at their audience.

Alcorn uses the Swedish model as one the U.S. should strive for.

In 1995, in what turned out to be a bureaucratic stroke of genius, the Swedish government created financial incentives for men to take paternity leave. If the father didn’t take time off, the family lost one month of subsidies. Suddenly it was like Who cares if they call me a “velvet dad”? I’m not giving up free money!

Soon it became the norm for dads to take off a month, two months, even longer. Men got a taste of what it was like to be the primary parent. They became more confident in their role at home, assuming those responsibilities traditionally left to the moms, such as clipping the children’s fingernails. Dads started craving more time with their kids. Today, eight in ten fathers in Sweden now take a third of the total thirteen months of leave.

As a side note, does this happen in everyone’s house?  My husband is an extremely involved father, yet he has never — not once! — cut either of our children’s fingernails.  What is that all about?  I thought it was just my life.

As everyone got used to the idea that dads would take time off, the culture at work began to change, with flextime becoming more common. The pay gap between men and women started to close. One study showed a mother’s future earnings increased about 7 percent for every month the father took off.

The past 18 years have seen substantial shifts in gender equality in Sweden.  Think about it, if it no longer becomes common that only the woman takes time off — if it is truly just as common that men will too — there’s no longer a reason to value a man’s career over a woman’s, who employers assume will spend some time out of the game.  You know who else benefits from this?  Anyone who wants more flexibility to pursue a semblance of a life outside of work.  It’s a win-win-win.

If only we could make it happen.  Alcorn worries about the price of entry.

We scoff at comparisons with Sweden, presumably preferring the company of places like Papua New Guinea and Swaziland, which are among the few countries that do not provide some type of national paid parental leave. And the last few decades of “family values” have done nothing to create economic stability for families.

Still, a system like this gives me so much hope.  If it could be as easy has paid paternity leave where the men actually suffer an economic loss if they don’t take it to step in the right direction — oh I dare to dream.

(photo: Kateryna Iemets/Shutterstock)

You can reach this post's author, Carinn Jade, on twitter.
Share This Post:
    • Andrea

      Well, it *could* have an unintended effect: companies are going to start not hiring people that are in child bearing years. Yes, i DO realize that for mean that’s like between the ages 20 and 50 (pretty much all working life), but I can see employers judging whether he/she will be having children soon, and leaning more towards those that, say, already have 2 or 3 children and seem to be done. Or something like that.

      Now don’t get me wrong. I think maternity leave in this country is SHAMEFUL. It is outright criminal. And adding paternity leave could go a looooooooooong way towards gender equality in the workplace. However, I think perhaps we should focus on flexibility and work/life balance for EVERYONE, not just parents. Just my opinion (and I am a mom and yes I did work after kids for a corporate giant and an asshole child-free boss who made me come back at 4 weeks – yes, he couldn’t do it legally, but the pressure was there and I was young and I needed the job and I caved)

      • rrlo

        I would hope that companies would invest in men and women (even of child bearing age) based on merit and experience rather than the possibility they may have a child. It’s not correct to assume that there are unlimited number of qualified candidates for every job – so this type of discrimination ultimately will benefit no one – and I hope companies have enough foresight to get that.

        I am also thinking of more extreme examples – what if companies stopped hiring male, middle-aged, over weight, smokers because they are higher risk for diseases. Or if companies discriminated against workers with aging parents under their care.

        At the end of the day, we all of us will go through periods in our life where we would need compassion, support and understanding from our companies. That’s part of being human. Parental leave is just one of the most common types of leave.

        And I agree with you that the conversation should be about work/life balance and flexibility for everyone – not just parents. New parents require specific type of provisions – but it will be different from those recovering from cancer or taking some time off due to other reasons.
        Also, I assumed in the US parental leave was 3 months – does it only apply to the mother? If so, that’s really discriminatory. I am really surprised by that.

      • CMJ

        There is no mandatory paid leave – maternity or paternity – in the United States. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) applies to both men and women but it just ensures your job is safe at the end of three months, you do not actually get paid unless you company has some sort of policy.

        Certain companies may have specific policies but the majority of Americans get do not get paid leave when they have a baby. That is the true tragedy here.

      • EX

        I am not an expert but this is my understanding of the US law: Parental leave in the US falls under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This federal law mandates that employers must allow their employees 12 weeks of leave for certain qualifying events (family illness, complications due to pregnancy, care of a newborn). There is no mandate that any of this leave be paid – it just means you can’t lose your job/benefits for taking the time off. Theoretically it does not just apply to mothers (for example a single man adopting a child would take FMLA time) but in households with a biological mother and father the mother generally needs time to recover physically from the pregnancy so she would use the leave time. I do believe that you could each take 12 weeks consecutively but most couples where both parents work couldn’t afford 6 months on one salary. Some companies do pay something (usually 6 weeks) or allow you to use your accrued sick leave or vacation time. Oh and FMLA only applies to companies that employ more than 50 people and you have to have worked for that company for 12 months.

      • Andrea

        There is ZERO mandatory paid leave in the US, not for women and certainly not for men. Federal law mandates that employers of more than 50 people offer what they call FMLA. Which means anyone can take up to 12 weeks (unpaid) off for some given conditions (one of them being having/adopting a baby, but it could also be because you have a sick child, or aging parents, or whatever).

        Some really generous companies (in their minds) pay for 6 weeks of maternity leave (if you are lucky).
        Like is said, it is criminal.

      • Emmali Lucia

        Any coincidence that FMLA also stands for “Fuck My Life, Asshole” ?

      • Andrea

        Pretty much. And to think it was considered SUCH a coup when it passed (not too long ago mind you)

      • staferny

        If the unintended effect you’re mentioning were to happen, there would be zero women working in Canada between the ages of 18 to 40+. We receive 15 weeks maternity leave and 37 weeks parental leave, with guaranteed job security when you return to work (as long as you were there 12 months prior to going on leave). A lot of companies are actually offering a mat leave top up as a means to attract and retain quality employees, as most people of child bearing age are also the most sought after employees. Also, there is no way to find out if someone that you are interviewing is going to have kids/has kids as any questions about marital/family/religious status are illegal to ask.
        I completely agree on the work/life balance for everyone though. One of my cousins hated her job, so she decided to have a baby at 22 (by herself) so she could take a year long “vacation” from work. Maybe if there was something in place so that the childfree could get away she wouldn’t turn into a baby factory every time she decides she’s sick of working. But she has way more issues that this, so it may be a bad example.

      • Andrea

        I was just theorizing. I hope that wouldn’t be the case. My view is certainly colored by the fact that my corporate experience sucked balls when I was pregnant and had a baby.

      • staferny

        I’m sorry that your experience sucked. After spending 40 weeks growing a baby a parent should get to spend as much time as possible enjoying what they created and not feeling forced to go back to work.

      • ChillMama

        My corporate experience when I was pregnant sucked too. In fact, I left and got hired at another job while I was pregnant partly because of that reason.

      • ChillMama

        Do you not have anti-discrimination laws to protect against that? You definitely should.
        Also, your experience was awful!! So sorry that happened.

      • Andrea

        Of course there are laws. But the bottom line is that you cannot force anyone to hire you. Employers will choose to hire whoever they want and they don’t have to tell you why. As long as they don’t specifically state that they decided to hire a guy because they won’t have to pay him maternity leave, they are free and clear. And they don’t usually say anything regarding their hiring decision.

      • ChillMama

        Oh, I get that. However, in countries where they DO have decent paid maternity (and parental) leaves, people of child-bearing age are hired aplenty. So either their anti-discrimination laws are more effective, or there is some kind of paradigm shift.

      • Emmali Lucia

        You know how pathetic the anti-discrimination laws are in this country?

        As it stands you could get fired for any reason, the company does not have to give you a reason to fire you, and if they fire you for a reason that’s illegal, trust me, they won’t give you that reason. They’ll make up some bullshit about “Your work performance was very low.” Or “You just didn’t mesh with the rest of the workers.”

      • Ptownsteveschick

        My sister works for a hiring agency. They have clients who straight up tell them “I only want a non-smoker, I want someone young, I want someone attractive etc.” Then she has to try her best to not break the law, while making her client happy at the same time. People are gross.

      • http://www.twitter.com/ohladyjayne allisonjayne

        I was just going to say the same thing staferny said, basically. Canada has what basically amounts to 1 year paid parental leave – you get something around 55% of your wage (up to a maximum), and many employers offer a top-up as well. The 15 weeks maternity leave is only for the birthing parent, but the rest of it can be taken by either parent. From everything I have read, this has had a positive effect on our economy/etc.

        I do agree that flexibility and work/life balance are an issue for everyone though. I remember reading articles about the debates about this. There has to be some understanding though that children require care…I remember reading an article from someone who doesn’t have kids, complaining about how she got stuck doing any work (attending meetings, events, etc) that happened outside of regular hours because her coworkers with kids couldn’t. Or things like holidays – people with kids getting first dibs on taking the days around Christmas off. Which is unfair, for sure, but on the other hand, if someone literally doesn’t have childcare, what else can they actually do? Our daycare is closed for almost two weeks in December…if my office wasn’t also closed, I don’t know what we would do.

    • CMJ

      I think the United States should have Federally mandated paid maternity AND paternity leave . As it stands now, we have neither.

      • Tinyfaeri

        But you can take 12 whole weeks of unpaid time off! Bills? What are those?

        Sarcasm aside, I agree, paid maternity and paternity leave is a good investment all around.

      • EX

        Can you imagine if each parent could take 12 weeks paid? Baby could stay home with mom or dad for almost 6 months without putting the parents in the poor house. That would be so awesome.

      • Andrea

        But…but..ENTITLEMENT!!!!!!!

        (you know those comments are coming)

    • SA

      It is just funny how “family values” is used as an argument against gay marriage, but the same people don’t fight so vigorously for something that would ACTUALLY benefit and strengthen family values. The brainwashing in this country is ridiculous.

      • Emmali Lucia

        Don’t even get me started on the “Patriotic brain washing”

        Like the amazing George Carlin said: “The reason they call it the American Dream is because you have to be asleep to believe it.”

    • EX

      Although I know that there are men who would get behind this idea, when I think about getting paid maternity leave or nationalized child care (as we discussed in the comments of a recent article) I think we simply have to elect more women into positions of power in this country.

    • ChillMama

      I actually think the supposed reasoning behind why men don’t get paid parental leave (in many countries) needs to be brought into the open. Is it because men are less important than women in raising children? Do men not need to bond? Will they not be doing the primary childcare?

      In my opinion, all of these are very troubling for women in the workforce. It presumes that even when a male and female colleague both have children, the male colleague will be more valued because he will be less involved in the raising of his children. That is such an unfair attitude for both genders.

      • Andrea

        It wasn’t THAT long ago that bosses, when faced with a workforce reduction, would fire the single (or even married) woman with no kids and keep the family man because “he has a family to support”. Regardless of merit.

        And, honestly, I think that still happens now, even if they don’t admit it.

    • Edify

      When I read about the conditions you face in the US surrounding parental leave, I really feel for you. In Oz, we have a government paid 18 weeks of parental leave at minimum wage (at $662/week, I think that’s quite large compared to your minimum wage too). The leave can be taken by either parent and we now also have partner pay where the 2nd parent can claim 2 weeks at minimum wage during the 1st 6 months to be home with the baby and support the primary carer. Note, neither leave is gender specific and you can split the parental leave between parents.
      On top of that, I work for a company that offers me 4 months paid leave at my full time wage or I can take 8 months at half pay. I’m entitled to be away for up to 2 years total per child and still have a job to return to.
      This time around, I also accrued Long Service Leave for having completed 10 years of service with my company. This means I get a further 3 months of leave which I can take at half pay. So all up, this birth I’ve been able to take 14 months at half pay as well as received around $10,000 from the government. And it might surprise those that rally against paid parental leave but neither the country nor my company are going broke supporting this and when I return, my company gets to retain my experience and the government is still taking a nice hefty piece of my pay in tax.

      Mommyish, it would interesting to hear more about the conditions your readers in other countries experience, both in leave and pay conditions as well as care upon return to work.

      • Alicia

        I live in Australia as well and I’m so glad to have the maternity leave privileges that we do, I get 18 weeks at full pay from my work or 36 at half pay, and like you can add long service leave to that as well, plus normal recreation leave of which I get 6 weeks a year. I can also add the Government leave scheme to that as well so can easily get a year off with pay, makes it easier to start a family knowing I have that security, and my job waiting for me.

        When I was younger I wanted to live in the US but being older now and knowing what I’d miss out on in terms of my job perks totally puts me off ever leaving this country.

        I’d be interested in hearing what other countries have as well.

    • Yves

      I love the idea but I think first we need to work on getting federally mandated MATERNITY leave first. About to give birth over there and freaking out about how I will pay my bills!

      • Yves

        over *here

    • Janok Place

      We live in Canada, and there is (I believe) 12 months available to a mother and 10 months available to the father. You can take either, or, or divide it. Seeing as I’m self employed it wasn’t an option for me. Now, all you get is federal employment insurance unless your particular place of work has an incentive plan. My husbands employers did not have any benefits for parents so he strictly received Employment Insurance which was less then half his original salary, but he DID take it.

      Now he’s in the real hot seat. He just took 9 months of vacation. Clearly he has no motivation or interest in his job. His “privelages” as a senior staff have been revoked. He is now treated as a new grad, but still carrying more responsibilities and accomplishing more then his peers. He’s busting his ass in over time and getting zero recognition. Yup, equality has a long way to go.

      Hey and his medical coverage at work doesn’t cover birth control either! Ha! But don’t reproduce, that’s not productive.

    • darras

      Here in Norway you can either take 9 months at 100% of your previous salary, or 1 year at 80%. The only real stipulations on it are that the mother MUST take 12 weeks off around the time of the birth and the father MUST take 12 weeks. You can divide the rest of it however you like.

      With the birth of my son in July my husband and I chose to go for a whole year, with him taking his 12 weeks off in the form of every friday off work until November 2014. This means I get paid 4 days out of every 5 by the government 80% of my previous salary to be home with my baby until the end of July 2014. Pretty nice!

      I never did understand why America forces parents back into work so early. It’s disgusting the way that American people are treated. I hope that one day the US gets its backside into gear in terms of healthcare and the right to parental leave.

    • Pingback: California Paid Parental Leave Policies Help Achieve Work-Life Balance()