Will Paid Family Leave Be There When You Need It?

3 years ago

The irony: In order to go to the White House for the "Champions of Change for Working Families" event today, I had to do some fancy scheduling with my husband. It happened smack at the hour of school pick-up.

"So if you go to work early, you can swing by and pick up the kids after school and bring them back to your office. And then I can drive out and grab them from your office and then go home to get our science fair stuff. And then if you make sandwiches and leave them on the counter, I can toss those to the kids..."

So many days are like that, so I was especially interested in hearing a continuation of the conversation that the President started with Lisa Stone and the SheKnows and BlogHer community at yesterday's town hall in North Carolina.

Champions of Change with Tina Tchen, the Executive Director of White House Council on Women and Girls

Today's event had two messages. It celebrated "Champions of Change," people who work to make the world a better place through their actions, and it spoke to the considerable work that still needs to be done in order to make life tenable for working families.

Speakers included Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett, U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, and Tina Tchen, the Executive Director of White House Council on Women and Girls, as well as two panels of Champions of Change, the honorees for their work in making life better for working families.

There is always a story that touches your heart the most, the one that makes the ideas coming from the panel concrete, and, for me, that was the story of David Deary, one of the Champions of Change.

His son, Caleb, was born with a rare brain malformation, and without warning, he and his wife were thrown into a situation where they had to choose between family and work. They needed to be there for their child, but they also needed to be at work.

Out of necessity came a long struggle to create change. He needed compassion from the workplace, so he worked towards getting compassion in the workplace for everyone.

Champions of Change

I think his story spoke to me because it reminded me of the time after the twins were born prematurely and they spent weeks in the NICU.

My maternity leave kicked in, enabling me to be with them at the hospital, but my husband depended on the compassion of his boss who understood how torn he was between wanting to be at the NICU and wanting to be at work. She allowed him to flex work around visits to the NICU.

By staying late, by working from the hospital cafeteria, and by temporarily delegating a few of his tasks to other workers, he was able to be where he needed to be. He didn't have to be a worker or a father. His boss enabled him to be a worker and a father through workplace flexibility and paid family leave.

The reality is that, at some point in our lives, everyone will have the unexpected happen. A child will be born with a disability. A parent will need extensive care. A worker will suddenly find themselves in ill health.

Someone will need you, and it behooves all of us to be compassionate to other workers so we, too, can turn around in the future and be there for the people who need us.

Valerie Jarrett started out the event by pointing out that the workplace needs to keep up with the times and meet the "values and needs of the 21st century American family."

Secretary Thomas Perez echoed that sentiment in his speech, imploring the workplace that we've moved away from the "Leave it to Beaver world of yesteryear."

Today's world is a different world. There are more women in the workforce, more single parents in the workforce, more two-worker families in the workforce. And that changes the way the worker interacts with the workplace.

President Obama

We need parents to be able to take a day off to care for a sick child at home rather than sending them to school. We need workers to be able to stay home so they don't serve, as one Champion of Change said, "a side of flu with your fries."

Plus, according to Fortune magazine, the cost of providing paid family leave is smaller than not providing paid family leave.

The event ended with President Obama addressing the small group, pointing out that "Change happens, not from the top down, but from the bottom up." He asked an important question in his speech:

Do we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well, or do we want an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everybody who willing to put it in?

Building a strong middle class benefits more than the middle class. And the way to build the middle class is to support us in our efforts to do the best job we can at work while still allowing us the time and space to be a family members when the need arises.

So speak your mind: do you think you have support at work to be able to be a worker and a family member instead of being a worker or a family member?

All images by Melissa Ford

Melissa writes Stirrup Queens and Lost and Found. Her novel about blogging is Life from Scratch.

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