Today is National Working Parents’ Day! It is a day to honor parents who work to provide for their families. I have been lucky enough to stay home with my kids since I became a mother, but as I prepared for this post, the challenges of working parents were so evident.
At first, I imagined doing a post on the current legislation supporting working parents, especially new parents. Maternity and paternity leave came to mind. I didn’t want to compare our parental leave mandates in the U.S. to other nations. To me, that’s like comparing my family to yours – we are us and you are you. We all have different needs and ways to thriving. But, I was interested in the research done on what’s the ideal length of parental leave in terms of mother and baby health. What’s the sweet spot for optimal family happiness and health? I bet you in the end, this sweet spot is good for business, too!
It seems the answer is 6-12 months! At this point, moms and babies are ready. Mothers who have this length of leave or close to it experience less Postpartum Depression and Anxiety, improved emotional health, higher breastfeeding success, and relational stability with their partners. Babies have reduced rates of SIDS and increased chance of well-baby care with a pediatrician. Without the early distraction of work, parents also report being able to exercise high sensitivity and responsiveness to their infants (see here and here). These benefits extend for decades. And it all seems pretty intuitive, right?
It’s too bad, then, that the current federal mandate is 6 weeks of unpaid leave. The general thought seems to be that improving this issue would be good for businesses, too. Paid leaves that are too long or too short discourage women from returning to work. When companies provide sufficient time off, they boost employee morale and retention and positively impact business productivity. “This is really what economists call a human capital investment. You invest in this, you will end up picking up the benefits of this policy even years later,” says Mauricio Avendano, associate professor of social science, health, and medicine at King’s College, London.
It’s clear that reaching the sweet spot of parental leave duration is an unfortunate rarity for us. Let’s hope this will improve and in the meantime: Kudos, serious kudos, to you working parents! The burdens you bear are immense. The fact that you do the impossible on a daily basis for the good of your family is incredible. There’s a reason you have a national day all your own.