When Valerie Jarrett took to LinkedIn to announce that President Obama would sign a presidential memorandum giving federal employees at least six weeks of paid sick leave when a new child arrives, everybody thought the same thing: “Valerie Jarrett’s on LinkedIn?”
After people got past that, the general online response was even more juvenile, to wit: If people want to have kids, we, the taxpayers, shouldn’t have to pay for their time off.
Look, I know parents can be annoying, always acting as if some non-accomplishment — “he grew another hair!” — is the equivalent of inventing the next Uber.
But, quite apart from the fact that the future of the species depends and, barring some spooky cloning breakthroughs, will always depend on people making new people inside their bodies, the truth is that family leave is not a vacation.
Do not worry, child-free federal workers, that your parenting co-workers will be off having a nonstop party with their newborns in those six paid weeks of leave while you are at your day job. I assure you, they are working.
If it helps, think of family leave not as a vacation, but as a job swap. The new parents are swapping the jobs they know for shift work in an excrement-making factory with a co-worker who cannot communicate except by weeping or kicking. Plus, the shift never ends. And the chances of promotion are zero.
Meanwhile, we the workers who remain in our day jobs, are getting paid to have real conversations with people who know where their thumbs are. It’s not even a close call on who has the better deal.
This attitude — looking after completely helpless newborn=vacay — may be why the U.S. is the only Western country that has no federally mandated maternity leave. New Guinea doesn’t have any either; neither does Libya. So, the U.S. is rolling with a cool crowd.
Moreover, what’s the alternative? Having a co-worker return to his or her job right from the delivery room or as soon as he or she needs money? Do we really want that?
New parents are undergoing a huge emotional shift. It doesn’t always make them the best colleagues. They’re a bit like teenagers when they fall in love for the first time crossed with bros after they discover Crossfit: preoccupied. We probably want to give them a bit of cooling off time, almost like a quarantine except it’s a “parentine” (see what I did there?), so they can regain their senses.
Yes, parents choose to have children. But they’re doing it for all of us, like jury duty, or being the designated driver, or talking to the sad sack in the corner at the party so he doesn’t kick us all out of his apartment; they’re taking one for the team. So we should make sure the exercise doesn’t make them completely broke within the first month and a half. After all, if nobody had kids, who would invent the next Uber?
*I’m a parent. I have no time. But I’d like to keep up with parenting news. Sign me up for Belinda’s newsletter!