When my first child was born I fully expected to go back to work — but I couldn’t afford to.
I’m not alone — a new report from the White House Council of Economic Advisers shows that moms who get a paid maternity leave are more likely to go back into the workforce.
Giving birth requires a recovery period
Like any major health condition, it takes time to recover from giving birth and even more time to adjust to having a newborn. Most developed nations have a government-mandated paid maternity leave, but the U.S. does not.
In fact, our policies regarding new parents are downright Draconian compared to countries like Norway, which offers between 36 and 46 weeks at either 100 or 80 percent of the parent’s salary, respectively.
Child care breaks the budget for many families
I had a very good maternity leave — four weeks at my full salary and four more at 50 percent — which is much better than many American moms get. But when those eight weeks were up it was time to leave my daughter in the hands of someone else.
However, it was too expensive. Once I factored in the cost for day care, it made more financial sense to quit my job. Not to mention that I was still exhausted from the sleepless nights that come with new babies. Also, I gave birth via C-section, and the recovery from surgery was rough. I was nowhere near ready to go back to the office.
I quit my job. Yes, I was home with my little one, but the cut in our income was not an easy blow to absorb. I didn’t start working again until my daughter was 3 years old, leaving a big gap in my resume and making it hard to fit myself back into the corporate world I’d left behind.
I am lucky I’ve been able to cobble together a career that lets me work from home now. I’m able to avoid child care costs for the most part but it’s a tricky balance. Summers are difficult with the kids underfoot and school holidays are the same.
Why is the U.S. so reluctant to help parents?
The U.S. is so far behind so many other nations when it comes to policies regarding families and parenting. Data shows that, along with a paid maternity leave, moms who are able to afford child care are more likely to return to the workforce, and our lack of support for working moms who aren’t as wealthy leads to a decline in women participating in the labor force.
Considering our uniquely American work ethic, it’s strange that our government doesn’t seize on an opportunity to increase productivity by adopting policies similar to those of our European friends. Yes, it takes funding. Even more than that, it requires the recognition that bringing a new life into the world is a job unto itself.