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If you had your druthers: what's the ideal amount of leave?

Here in Oregon, Activistas are working hard to build awareness and support around the paid family leave bill that our state legislators are considering right now.  How dreamy would that be?  Paid family leave?

Anyway, I write in the context of today's world.  I am expecting, and I am working on a plan to tell my office the "news".  Being a small nonprofit organization, our employee manual has very little to say on the subject of family leave.  It's basically your standard FMLA stuff, which is fine and dandy, but there may be some room for negotiation.  My organization has shown me in the past that they're willing to support me and my family to retain me.  With my first two pregnancies, I was ineligible for FMLA because I hadn't been in my job for the requisite 12 months/1250 hours.

Let's just say that it didn't matter whether the leave was paid or unpaid (obviously, this is SO hypothetical).  Let's just say that we were just gathering other mamas' and papas' perspectives on how much time they did and didn't take off to be with their newly born and adopted babies.  How much is enough?  Did you take enough time?  Would you have taken more?  Would you have taken less?  Would you aim for a year?  Would you opt to take less to maintain your career?  Would you take more to maximize your time with the new baby?  If you had your druthers, how much maternity/paternity leave would you take?

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Thank you for actually asking for my opinion on this, I tend to frequently offer it unasked.

I firmly believe that one year is the minumum decent new parent leave to have a healthy society. And I firmly believe that over a 50 year +/- working life, it has minimal impact to any organization or one's career. I actually think it improves the career, because you are not at work, exhausted, trying to rein in a sleep deprived brain, feeling disconnected from your child, pumping, taking off time for dr. appointments, sick child can't go to daycare, worried, depressed (but unable to admit it, because it would be bad for new mom reputation), etc. etc. Since there is now plenty of scientific support for breastfeeding for the first year, it should be one more reason to support that with policies. Hey, if there are mamas who love their career so much they don't want to take the time off, great, no problem, they get back to work and back to full wages. Or, if the mama is the primary wage earner, and the family can't afford for her to stay home with reduced pay, at least she can stay as long as the family is comfortable, or maybe Dad can find a second job or temp work.

Now that we are getting closer to national health care, so employers don't directly foot the bill for the benefits that are being paid over the family leave time, that should help the employer. A payroll tax is simple and perfect, and no one loses. There are so many ways to craft it so that there are limits to keep things appropriate. Not everyone has kids, but everyone was a kid. So your mom took it, and you didn't. Well, someone else's kid is paying your social security. And you can take it in some form to care for your mom when she needs it.

I saw very clearly the first few minutes that I held my son (hormones flying) that a relationship with your child is a continuum that starts at birth. That first year bonding was so clearly solidified in my brain as necessary for the rest of the life. We have so many problems because of kids being disconnected from parents, and now that I've been through the new parent experience, I'm not surprised. Many other countries have no problem acknowleding this, and have much more stable families and culture in general.

I took 10 weeks off, and ached for the whole year. I also had post partum depression that I had to battle the insurance company to get treated, lactation issues that I never got resolved because the insurance co was so vague about whether or not it would be covered, cried regularly at my desk, had a terrible time applying myself to my job because I was so exhausted from a non-sleeper, constantly sick to my stomach because the daycare providers were letting my son scream and scream and scream unattended every time I stopped in, and just in general quite horrified with the family values that our industrious country supports.

I'm trying to get pregnant, and previously thought that I would empty my brokerage account in order to take a leave of absence to extend parental leave to 6 months. I don't have that option anymore as it's not worth much. I'm so sad to have missed the once in a lifetime chance, that is really really different and crucial than the other years in a child's life.

It's hard to pin point what the minimum amount of time should be, but 12 weeks definitely isn't it! I personally would be fine with 6 months. After that I start itching for some routine order in my life, and an infant certainly isn't what provides that. I was fortunate enough to stay home with my first two, going back to work when my second was 10 months old. I will only be getting the standard 12 weeks (OFLA, since I don't yet qualify for FMLA) this time around, and I'm pretty nervous about that. Twelve weeks is only when you *start* to feel normal again, but you're certainly not back to normal. And that's just from the standpoint of my own health and well being, without even touching on having to leave my baby while still so new. Yes, 6 months would be perfect.

I would say a at least 9 months, preferably a year. My PPD didn't hit until pretty late... in part because I was trying to do too much on too little sleep.

A year would be great. I think at a year we mom's finally feel like we know what we are doing (at least half the time). At 12 weeks I was still a total mess and while I perosonally didn't have to go back to work, I can't even imagine trying to attempt it.

For me, I was itching to get back into some sort of adult realm within about three months, but know I couldn't have handled full-time, every day kind of work very well at all. I was lucky to be in graduate school, so I was able to take a reduced load of classes.

If I got pregnant now, I would love to have the first few months off and then have the option of part-time work for quite a long time...

This is about moms supporting each other through the bad decisions they have made.

a year.

Definitely a full year. Best for mom and baby both physically and emotionally (and for breastfeeding). And I think it benefits everyone for children to have a healthy beginning.

Year. I quit my job last spring in order to have a year off after the birth of my son. I had 16 weeks with my first child and I find that this past year was the time I needed to catch up with both my children. It has been truly profound to have the TIME to go at their pace, to simply be present for them. I will never have any regrets about the time I have taken to do this and feel that much more motivated to work hard to dig us out of our financial hole.

I was just thinking about how sad I was a year ago because I was returning to work at the end of March. I had 16 weeks off and went back to 21 hours a week. The first couple of weeks I was back I only worked 10 hours and I was able to see my baby during my lunch break for the first couple of months (he was with dad & we would drive to meet half way between home & work). The anticipation of leaving my baby to go back to work caused me a lot of stress and I can't imagine having to do it any earlier or for full time work - I would have had a break down. A year sounds nice, but I had to change care providers when my son was a year & it is a stressful age for that sort of change. It was easier for me to leave him at a year than it was at 16 weeks, but I think it was harder on him to be left. Maybe 6 months off would be ideal & then part time work only.

With my first pregnancy, I had only been at my job for 6 months and had to quit because they couldn't hold my position. 10 weeks after my daughter was born, they hired me back part time. With my 2nd pregnancy, I had a better position with the company that I really didn't want to lose. Even after talking to HR, I thought I was getting maternity leave only to find out after my leave started that I hadn't worked the 1250 hours (which if I had known was a requirement I would have worked more to make up). I was terminated and because of management changes it took a year to get back my position and I had to change locations. Ideally I would have liked 6 months paid leave but would have gladly taken my minimum 12 weeks unpaid just to not have to go through the stress of losing my position twice.

At least 6 months. I had to have a surgery during my leave of 3 months and I didn't feel I had enough time. I felt like I was still pulling myself back together and then I had to start work again.

I would have liked to breastfeed exclusively for longer. (still am, though she gets some formula at daycare due to supply issues.)

I took 11 weeks off, because that's how much paid time off I had - 6 weeks paid maternity leave plus vacation. Then my husband took about 8 weeks paid leave. Compared to most people (in the U.S.), we were lucky, but it wasn't enough time for me, particularly because of nursing/pumping issues. I'm hoping to take more next time, including unpaid leave (6 weeks OFLA pregnancy disability post-delivery + 12 weeks OFLA parental leave - see http://www.oregon.gov/BOLI/TA/TA_COL_101408_Pregnancy_and_Parental_Leave.pdf). I don't know, however, if I can afford to take that much unpaid time off. Any kind of partial paid leave option would make life much better; in an ideal world, at least 6 months. One of the issues with unpaid time off is making health insurance premium payments on top of not getting paid wages.

I agree with those who have said 1 year. I went back to work at 10 weeks for 32 hours a week, and had the privilege of leaving my infant with his very caring Grandma at our home. Considering today's FMLA policies, this is actually a decent scenario, but trust me, it was extremely difficult. I suffered from post-partum and was always trying to stuff how I felt while at work. Some days were a nice break from parenting, but 32 hours was still a lot of time away. Pumping went well for the first month, but then my supply steadily declined forcing us to have to transition to formula gradually during months 4 - 7.
I would have been willing to go back to work at something more like 15 hours a week if there had been some kind of supplemental income to help us get through that time. I think it would have been a good balance for us, and helped me to cope and breastfeed for a longer period of time.

Definitely, we all deserve a year; mamas, babies, siblings, and daddies. Rhetorically: Why shouldn't we pay into a fund to allow this, if that's what workers want? Why torment ourselves and our newborns?

I'm not understanding c's comment above. What bad decisions that moms have made? To have a child, or to work because they need to make a living?

I think the point is, at this time in our history, people are realizing that the two don't have to be mutually exclusive.
(I know one family who felt that the two were incompatible, that moms should not work. They are in the middle of foreclosure and bankruptcy, and couch surfing at various relatives; they have 2 small children.)

At least six months per parent. When my son was born I took a little over three months and my husband took 12 weeks so my son didn't start day-care until he was 6 months old. It would have been even better if my husband and I both could have taken six months so my son could have been home a year.

I think a year for one or six months each for BOTH parents (if there are two) would be a good starting place. Families could choose to take the leave simultaneously, or back-to-back, depending on their needs.

I went back part-time at 16 weeks. Don't regret it, but six months would have been ideal for me -- the first couple months were rough to be away from my son, and I felt like half the time I was at work, I was pumping milk. Part time was wonderful, though, since I could be home with my son for a good amount of the week, but still have had the adult interaction and benefits (both financial and intellectual) of an outside job I love. My husband stretched his paternity leave out over six months, so he took 4 weeks at the outset, then a day a week for the following five months. It was a lucky situation for us, based on good employers, but six months would have been even better.

I went back only two days/week 4 months after my first and 5 months after my second. I don't know that I can really identify what is an ideal time because I was able to negotiate mine as I went along based on what I needed. I had a FANTASTIC supervisor at the time. I know I couldn't have gone back sooner, that's for sure.

Without opening a can or worms though, it's hard to think like an employer and how a long (6-12 mos) leave would really work in the workplace. And how we as women would really be taken seriously when we're of child-bearing age and the idea that we would be out of the workforce for a year at a time, likely more than once. I don't think we should ignore the fact that good maternity leave is necessary, but I'm not sure how to balance it with those factors. I'd love to hear more thoughts on this.

mom22 - I agree that this needs to be looked at from an employer standpoint as well as a parenting one, and the possible repercussions it could have on how women are viewed in the workforce. It takes a lot of time and money to train an employee, and to have to replace them temporarily takes even more resources in terms of additional training, increased work loads on other employees, etc. And while it is illegal to discriminate against women in the work place, employers would still be discouraged from hiring women for crucial positions that required a high level of training and expertise because of the likelihood of having them leave for long stretches of time. I don't think that requiring employers to hold a position open for longer is the solution. I think the answer would have to do with more financial support to let women actually quit their jobs for as long as they feel they need, and then a culture that accepts this and provides greater ease to enter and exit the workforce. I decided to quit my full time job after I had my first baby, knowing full well the financial hit our household would take. I only went back to work full time 2.5 years later because there were no part time jobs available in my industry that wouldn't relegate me to menial office work. It was really disappointing to see how health care organizations in Portland are most definitely NOT family friendly places to work, in terms of enabling a good work/family balance.

I've been thinking on this a little more, and like what you have to say, Katy, about making the possibility of leaving work more accessible to people. If we're talking about the idea of an extended unpaid leave, we're talking about people who have put some thought into financing this and aren't bound by the dollar to return so quickly. I would love to see more done in this area, tax breaks for one-income families, family allowances, etc, to support this. Seems to me that's the best way to allow women to take the time they need, no matter how long it is, and still keep families afloat. If you're talking about a paid leave, then my earlier thoughts of how this would really work out in the workforce apply.

In Italy, in the '80's, a woman was given 18 months paid leave. Of course, women in the workplace where given so little respect (1/3 the income of men). But mothers, on the other hand, were honored before princes and presidents.
The Common Market has had a huge impact on southern Italy. I wonder how it has affected all of that.

In Europe women are often allowed a year with pay and Men 6 months with pay. I think this would be great. But I think in our society 6 months is hopeful. I think at least 1/2 should be full pay and the other partial at least....

I also think that the minimum paid family leave should be one year. That is what Canadian moms get. I'm a Canadian living here in Portland, and sometimes I fantasize about moving back there to have child number two! But unfortunately, my work makes it difficult for me to move back.

Through a cosmic confluence of factors that I will be unable to reproduce, I was able to take a year leave from my work. My daughter is eight months old now, and I am very grateful that I have this time to be with her, especially given her health complications.

She has had a severe case of eczema and infection, and so we have had a lot of doctor visits. Her health profile also makes her a prime candidate for someone with a lot of food allergies. She is exclusively breastfed right now because we want to introduce solids to her as slowly as possible.

I know that if I had to return to work earlier, her eczema would have been a lot worse. The severity of her eczema requires constant monitoring. Plus, if I wasn't able to breastfeed and had to rely on formula, that would have also exacerbated her condition.

I don't know how I would have managed it if I had to return to work right after the twelve weeks provided by FMLA. Her eczema didn't materialize till she was three months old, and it would have hit just as I would have had to return to work.

I wish we as a society can stop thinking about the costs of paid leave simply in terms of dollar amounts and instead start thinking about the social, economic and public health costs that we incur by not having paid family leave. We can't afford not to have paid family leave.

With our first, I took 5 months of unpaid leave, and my husband took 4 months of unpaid leave after me.

With our second, I took 9 weeks of unpaid leave, and my husband took 6 weeks of unpaid leave after me. When I took the job, I was already 7 months pregnant (and my employers didn't know). When I told them I would need family leave just two months after I started, they said they needed me back on a certain date when the work load would pick up again. I was not protected under FMLA (because I hadn't been employed for 6 mos or 1250hrs or whatever the threshold is). I was afraid to negotiate because I didn't have a job and we needed my income.

Obviously, 9 weeks is too short. I hated that I felt like I short-changed my baby. With my first daughter, though, I did feel like my 5 months and 1 week was just right. Maybe it could've been 6 months and felt like the right amount of time. There were days during my leave when I really wanted to reinvigorate my career and talk shop with colleagues and read policy-wonkish stuff. I missed working. So, 6 months may be my own ideal timeline.

This time around, in light of my pay reduction and my husband's pay freeze (and fear of furloughs on both sides), I have decided to take 4 months off, about half will be unpaid. It is a hard topic to broach with an employer; no matter how excited managers may be for a growing family, they will still be thinking of how to cover the work during my leave in the back of their minds.

I think that 1-2 years would be ideal. Actually, I think that politically, this is a great time to recognize the benefits of offering new parents leave. With the unemployment rate being so high, why don't we route some $$ to new parents who want to take time off and give these unemployed people, who WANT to work, at least a shot at a PT job?

That would be ideal!

Stephanie

To address the issue of discrimination against women in the workplace, how about equal leave opportunities for both parents, not just the birth mother. Either 6 months per parent . . . or possibly a total of 12 months between both parents with the division of that time up to the parents themselves.

I think that this is such a personal individual decision. By the comments posted above, I am clearly in the minority in being ready and excited to return to work slightly before my child was three months old. I also was in a financial position to have a full time nanny come into our home and make my life easy, which is a luxury most women do not have. Is it fair to expect businesses to pay for one year of maternity leave in an economic climate where many businesses are losing money?

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