Grandparenthood – as any grandparent will tell you – is a wonderful thing. After a hiatus, babies and children are back in your life and you can enjoy them with a little less tension than you had when raising your own children.
In June, my daughter gave birth to a delightful baby boy in Italy where she lives with her husband. So I will be celebrating my first “grandparents day” this weekend. Although it is difficult to be so far away from this adorable baby, as a co-founder of A Better Balance, a legal advocacy organization devoted to changing American policies to enable parents to care for their children without sacrificing their economic security, I’ve been thinking a lot about the contrast between my daughter’s experience of caring for this new child and the experience of American moms – and dads.
In Italy, mothers are allowed 11 months off from work in total, 3 months at full pay to be taken prior to the birth of their child, alleviating stress and helping to lead to an uncomplicated and healthy birth. Once the baby is born, she is able to take 3 months off with full pay – and another 5 months with partial pay. This has been precious time for my daughter – enabling the establishment of nursing and strong bonding with her new baby as well as ensuring full recovery from childbirth. She was able to focus on her number one priority in these months – caring for and nurturing this new life – without worrying about paying the rent or having enough money for food. When she returns to work, she will be entitled to take 2 hours off each day until her baby is a year old to ease the burden of finding child care and encouraging the continuation of breast feeding.
The kind of leave my daughter got in Italy is a pipe dream for American parents. My organization fought for more than a decade to enact a paid family leave program in New York State. We are very proud that in April, Governor Cuomo signed the most far-reaching paid family leave law in the country for the benefit of all New Yorkers. New York joins only three other states (California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island) in offering any paid time off at all when there is a new child in the family. (The only Federal guarantee is the Family and Medical Leave Act which allows some workers 12 weeks of unpaid leave when a new child is born or there is a seriously ill family member who needs care but leaves out about 40 percent of the private workforce.) When fully phased in, the New York law will give each parent 12 weeks of job protected paid leave to care for a new child or a seriously ill family member. The 12 weeks per parent is in addition to New York’s temporary disability insurance program, which provides some income support for disability related to pregnancy and childbirth. While less than my daughter’s access to leave both in time offered and percentage of salary supplied, the law nevertheless provides a substantial benefit to new parents, one which is not available in such an extensive form anywhere else in the U.S.
My organization also has worked hard to ensure that laws we are drafting on paid sick time and paid family leave around the country include expansive definitions of family including adult children, grandparents, and grandchildren. On this grandparents day, it’s important to remember that family care relationships are not limited to spouses, minor children, and parents. For many, more extended blood relationships are the most important in their lives. And for many others, families of choice are their true families. Recognizing broad family definitions is critically important for any law making it easier to provide care to loved ones.
It’s time for the United States to step up and recognize that we have an obligation as a society to support new parents and all families in the broadest sense of the word, making it possible to support and care for the ones we love without having to worry about our financial security. Strong paid family leave protections should not be limited to New York State, and American families should not have to envy Europeans when it’s time to start a family. A Better Balance will continue to fight for access to paid family leave for all American families. I hope all grandparents will join us!