Among the hot-button issues that presidential candidates are being asked to weigh in on this election cycle is the matter of paid family leave. It seems unbelievable, but the U.S. is the only industrialized nation that doesn't offer paid leave for new parents, and hey, it would be really, really nice if our next president could get on that. Part of the problem is that many people call paid leave "maternity leave," as if it's just for mothers. But that's very untrue, and treating it as such only makes it seem as though it's "unnecessary" for everyone. There are so many reasons paid family leave is for fathers, too.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders co-sponsored a bill to guarantee 12 weeks of paid leave. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wants rich people to foot the bill for paid leave. On the other side of the aisle, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz says that while he thinks paid leave is "wonderful," he disagrees that "the federal government should be in the business of mandating" it. Surprisingly, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is kinda-sorta in favor of paid leave, saying that he'd offer a tax credit incentive for employers who voluntarily offer it (not good enough). When Ohio Gov. John Kasich was asked about paid leave, he mumbled something about it being bad for women, and implied that they should either work from home or quit their jobs after procreating. Professional Important Business Dude Donald Trump absolutely refuses to touch the subject with a 10-foot pole, probably because if he admitted that he was — in any way — in favor of paid leave, some enterprising reporter would ask him why he doesn't provide it for his own employees.
Paid leave is most often regarded as a women's issue, and of course, it is; women are the ones who are actually giving birth to babies, and having to go back to work the next day is a bunch of bullsh*t. And, thanks to the pay gap, straight women often make less than their male partners, so if someone has to take time off, it often makes more financial sense for the woman to do so. Then, of course, we have the deeply ingrained patriarchal notion that a mother is the primary parent, while daddy's only responsibilities are to pay the bills and occasionally toss a ball around with the kid.
But paid leave isn't just a women's issue. Newsflash, fathers are also parents, and they also need to take leave from work sometimes. Here are just a few examples:
Sometimes the mother isn't the default parent not because of progressive thinking, but because she doesn't exist. Gay men can adopt or have biological children via a surrogate, as can single men of any orientation. While they don't have to deal with labor, episiotomies, or c-sections (lucky!), that's not the only reason parents need time off after bringing a new baby home. That kid's going to want to be fed every few hours, and not everyone can afford a night nanny.
I know for a fact that there are single parents who raised their kids alone from day one with no help, but I have no earthly idea how they managed it. The first couple of months of a baby's life are freakin' exhausting, and without my husband's help during that time, I probably would have wandered into traffic with my son due to sleep deprivation. If both mom and dad take time off to care for a new baby, mom only has to get up half the night, not the whole night. And maybe, just maybe, she can even have a nap or a shower. Hey, we can dream, right?
Here's a wild idea: what if there are dads out there who actually love their children and enjoy spending time with them? Sure, taking care of a new baby is a chore, but it's also enjoyable, because you're getting to know this new member of your family, and they're probably pretty cute, too.
Maybe mom had an uncomplicated birth and recovered quickly. Maybe the child is adopted, so she doesn't need to recover at all. Maybe she has a really important job, or simply one that's really important to her. Maybe she's just not that into babies, and is looking forward to when the kid does more than poop and sleep. Many day care facilities have a minimum age requirement, so even if mom is ready to go back to work after a few weeks, there may be no other option but for dad to take care of the baby for a few more.
OK, fine, you probably shouldn't be taking paid leave for a new puppy, but that's a cuter image than a father pacing in a hospital waiting room while his child undergoes surgery, or sitting by the bed of his elderly mother as she takes her last breaths. Paid family leave doesn't just mean maternity or paternity leave. It means time off when your spouse or children are facing a serious medical issue. It can also apply to people whose loved ones are facing military deployment. There are lots of reasons why an employee might need paid time off from work, and giving birth is only one of them.