Oh, baby

Should men have the option of paid paternity leave?

By Sarah Sidlow

So, you had a baby. Congratulations! When are you coming back to work?

Well, if you’re a mother, your workplace may offer maternity leave (also called family leave, family medical leave, pregnancy leave). The terms of maternity leave may vary depending on your employer—some women are fortunate enough to have fully paid leave for up to 12 weeks. That time is protected by the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which requires covered employers to provide employees with job-protected and unpaid leave for qualified medical and family reasons.

In spite of the FMLA, many believe America to be one of the worst countries when it comes to maternity leave, because unlike women in virtually all other developed countries in the world, working Americans are not guaranteed maternity leave benefit payments from the federal government. (As it happens, America rarely scores highly in conversations of work-life balance.)

So what about the dads?

Let us turn our attention to Switzerland. Recently Swiss petitioners collected enough signatures to launch a nationwide referendum that would ensure at least 20 days of paid paternity leave. (The current standard is a whopping one day of excused absence for new fathers.)

The integral group behind this measure wants to model paternity leave benefits on the Swiss maternity leave standard of 14 weeks to new mothers at 80 percent of their salaries.

Around the world, there is strong support for the idea of new fathers having the time to spend those first few weeks with their babies—thanks science! For starters, those first moments are important for male brains to switch into father overdrive. Oxytocin, a hormone released during pregnancy and labor triggers caregiving instincts in moms naturally. But recent studies have indicated that fathers need to hear their infants’ cries before they go into full dad mode.

And then there are the benefits for mothers, who have been shown to be less likely to succumb to post-partum depression when their partner is home during the initial baby stages. Bonus: hello happier marriage!

Back in America, new dads are also covered under FMLA, but new dads barely take any time off after the birth of a child, according to a study of working fathers by the Center for Work and Family at Boston College. Three quarters of men who don’t receive paternity leave take off work for a week or less after the birth of a child, and 16 percent are unable to take any days off.

But it seems that even when paternity leave is on the table, most men are hesitant to take it. Many cite unspoken job pressures that include the stigma of taking max time off after a baby they didn’t physically give birth to.

Another big concern is finances: depending on the mother’s maternity leave plan, she may be making at most only a portion of her salary, assuming she was working before she had the baby. Newsflash: babies are also super expensive—so even if there exists the emotional payout for fathers to stay home, many believe it fails to outweigh the financial strain it may incur.

And then there are people who just don’t think it’s necessary. Here’s how one writer for The Federalist put it: “as God and biology would have it, only moms incubate and birth babies. Thus, only moms physically recover from birth and (often) nurse that baby for nourishment, so maternity leave is for women.”

Reach Dayton City Paper forum moderator Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com.

Oh Dad, poor Dad

The boss won’t pay you and it makes me sad

By Tim Walker

Can I hear a shout-out for all the proud new dads out there? Fresh from the birthing suite, cigars in hand, these young men are rushing right back to work because—well, baby needs a new pair of shoes and someone’s got to pay these bills, don’t they?

Let’s face it. Paid paternity, and maternity, leave needs to become the status quo in this country, and the sooner, the better for you fellows, for your wives, and most of all for this nation’s children. In January 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released a report which stated that an American middle class married couple with two children could expect to spend a total of $233,610 to raise one of those children through the age of 17, assuming the child was born in 2015. This averages out to between $12,350 to $14,000 per year and, as it stops at age 17, obviously does not include any college tuition costs. I think they lowballed the amount by a few hundred thousand, personally—take my kids to Wal-Mart sometime, and you’ll understand.

Because children, little bundles of terror and joy that they are, can be many things, and a drain on the family finances is certainly one of them. Our progeny, mini-me’s as we call them—my youngest are basically two bits of noise covered in dirt—can be a major drain on your energy level, and a big headache for your employer. When an expecting mother is working, in this great nation, it is standard procedure for her to take a few weeks of unpaid time off after she gives birth—I don’t think I’m out of line by saying 6 weeks is the generally accepted length of this so-called “maternity leave”. But Dad? Well, Pop, for the most part, you’re simply out of luck in these United States.

Efforts to ensure all workers, male and female, get some paid time off for parenting and other family care obligations have been few and far between, although there have been a handful of legislative efforts to dictate what should be offered. To date, four states—California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and New York—have passed guaranteed paid family leave laws. And cities like New York, Portland, and San Francisco, have adopted their own paid parental leave policies. The movement to ensure paid family leave for fathers as well as mothers seems to be gaining support in other countries, as well. In August, the Associated Press reported that petitioners in Switzerland had successfully collected enough signatures to launch a nationwide referendum that would grant new fathers at least 20 days of paid paternity leave. Switzerland already has a maternity leave system that grants 14 weeks to new mothers at 80% of their salaries, paid with funds from payroll taxes.

While the U.S. remains the ONLY wealthy industrialized country that does not guarantee at least a few weeks of paid leave to care for a new or adopted child, an ill family member, or to address an individual’s own serious health condition, both Republicans and Democrats have made moves to change all that—with dueling options, of course. In its 2018 budget, the Trump administration included a national paid leave plan for parents after the birth or adoption of a child, a rare call for a new entitlement program from the administration, and one not yet endorsed by GOP leaders.

There is no question in my mind that paid paternity leave needs to be endorsed by all of our elected officials, and embraced by the nation’s business community as well. Fathers are every bit as necessary as mothers when it comes to raising kids, and families should not be forced to suffer financially when either a child or a new mother needs a father’s extra helping hand at home. Child-rearing was once considered women’s work, I admit, but attitudes have changed with the times, and it is no longer considered demeaning or embarrassing for a man to be equally involved with being at home and taking care of the kids.

In March of 2017, a Pew Research study was released which showed that 82 percent of Americans surveyed thought mothers should have paid maternity leave, and 69 percent felt fathers should have paid paternity leave. Respondents who favored paid maternity and paternity leave say moms should receive between 8 and 9 weeks, while dads should have between 4 and 5 weeks. The report also showed that fathers take an average of one week off work following the birth or adoption of a child, while new mothers take 11, and more than half of those who took leave said they took less than they needed or wanted to.

Paid paternity leave is an idea whose time has arrived in Switzerland, it appears, and one hopes someday in the United States as well.

Tim Walker, 52, is a writer, DJ, and chili cook. He lives with his wife and their two children in Northridge, and you can read more of his work at StretchYourBrains.com. Reach him at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com.

A lesson in biology

Men simply do not give birth

By Missy Mae Walters

While in high school, I took a class called Human Biology and was taught about one of the fundamental concepts that stands out as it relates to this article: men are not biologically enabled to bear children. When this does change, maybe we can discuss policy measures focused on mandated paternity leave for fathers.

Facts are facts. No matter how many physical procedures a man can pay for to alter his body, there are no transplants (that I know of) where a man could be physically adjusted enough to have a uterus, produce eggs, and carry a child.

The issue of paternity leave, no, not maternity leave, is being pushed harder than ever. Does no one else see something odd about this?

It is true, a man and woman make the baby, but the months leading up to birth are all on the mother. So while there is so much that needs to be done to resolve the poor quality of maternity leave for our mothers, this is being made into a man’s issue. Women once again are being left behind.

Paternity leave is the time a father takes off work following the birth of a child. The leave is rarely paid, as is the case for maternity leave. Currently, there are a few progressive companies offering new dads paid time off, ranging from a few days to a few weeks. California was the first state to offer paid family leave. Many countries around the world differ, but are similar to the United State on paternity leave not being readily available.

According to a recent study by Ohio State University published in the American Journal of Public Health, the number of men taking paternity leave more than tripled during the evaluated study period of 1994 to 2015, increasing from 5,800 to 22,000 a month. Now, that’s only a drop in the bucket when you see that 273,000 women steadily have taken maternity leave over the same period. There were no upward or downward trends for women as was for men.

Of those 273,000 women taking maternity leave from their jobs, less than 48 percent were paid for their absence in 2015. Of the ones who were paid, the majority were paid as a result of accrued comp, vacation, and/or sick time. Looking at these statistics, it’s sad to think of how much further we have to go.

Moms should be the focus in receiving and being encouraged to take leave after giving birth because it’s simple biology. The whole purpose of leave following the birth of a child is for recovery. Women, not men, are the ones requiring the R&R.

In case the supporters of paternity leave need a biology lesson, some might not have a clear understanding of the before and after scenarios of why women are so deserving of time off from their work following the birth of their child, and how it’s just not the same for men.

During the nine months of gestation leading up to the birth, there are several changes to a woman’s body occurring. Women first and foremost gain weight as they support a growing child. Many men might claim gaining “baby weight” as they delight in the same cravings as the mother, but that is self-inflicted. Women also have increased, and sometimes unbearable, pain resulting from the mounting pressure on their back as the baby grows larger. Then there are also the hormones. Estrogen levels rapidly increase during the first trimester, which is what causes all that nausea. Moving along into the second trimester, those hormones provide for milk duct development, which enlarge the breasts.

All hormones combined, often create a feeling during and after pregnancy of women feeling “up and down” and “all over the place”. While this might make many fathers at one point or another feel as if they are suffering from emotional pain as well, they will never be comparable.

Now for the big day. The day of delivery can be anything but blissful. Pushing an average of an eight-pound baby out of that area the size of an orange, will make one feel sore. That pain is extended if there’s any tearing. Some women after childbirth even have a hard time walking as a result of tearing. This pain can last for days or even weeks. Any trouble walking after childbirth guys?

Men, on the other hand, leading up to the big day, do not necessarily prepare the same way and neither do they want to. Women accept all these physical and emotional changes but desperately need the time necessary to recover and create not only the full spectrum of stability for themselves, but also for their child.

While I do feel bad for the dads gaining “baby weight” and those who have to suffer from the revenge of the female hormone, I certainly do not think it’s enough to justify mandated paternity leave.

The only situation I could see men being afforded the option of paternity leave, is if there were complications in the birth and the mother was unable to take care of the baby herself.

When men can start having a bun in the oven for nine months, begin to crave pickles and ice cream, have morning sickness, cry for no reason, and physically go through the experience of childbirth, then we’ll have a conversation about paternity leave.

Missy Mae Walters serves as the senior associate of campaigns and public affairs at JSN & Associates. Walters served as the regional political director for the Trump for President Campaign in Ohio and is a former executive director of the Montgomery County Republican Party. Reach her at MissyMaeWalters@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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