It’s Mat Leave Monday! I’ve spent a lot of time researching maternity leave in the past few months. During that time, I’ve formed some opinions as to what ‘great’ maternity leave looks like. What features are helpful in getting families off to the best start possible. Here is what I think all maternity leave plans would look like in an ideal world:
Maternity leave should be administered and paid for by the government.
On the whole, countries where the employer pays for maternity benefits offer lower pay, or provide benefits for shorter time periods. After all, forcing an employer to pay a good wage over a long period may represent a significant hardship. The government, as the representative of society, holds a larger stake in getting families off to a good start. Also, because the government plan includes all employees in a whole country it has more funds at its disposal and can administer a more comprehensive system.
Maternity leave should last at least one full year.
The first year of a baby’s life is amazing, it’s the most rapid and critical development anyone experiences in their whole life. And during that time babies are very dependent on their primary caregivers. Breastfeeding and bonding are much easier if mothers and babies can be together. Separation is never easy, but it does become less difficult as children move into toddlerhood.
Adoptive parents should receive comparable leave.
A parent is a parent is a parent. A woman who has just given birth does face a physical recovery, I do not mean to minimize that at all. However, adoptive parents face unique struggles of their own. Their children may be older and may have emotional or physical challenges. They may have come from a different country or very different circumstances. While it might be reasonable to deny adoptive parents days off for prenatal care, it’s not reasonable to deny them leave, or to give them much shorter leaves than birth parents.
Fathers and partners should receive dedicated paid paternity leave, and have the option of sharing parental leave.
Dads matter. And just like moms they need time to bond with their new baby, and adjust to this dramatic life change. When fathers are eligible for dedicated, paid leave, they are far more likely to take it. Beyond that, allowing fathers to share leave provides families with greater flexibility. Parenting is a shared experience, after all, and leaves should be no different.
Maternity benefits should represent a significant portion of your normal wage, and should be paid throughout the whole leave.
If maternity benefits are much lower than your working wage, it is not practical for many mothers to take a full leave. They may be forced to choose between paying the mortgage or staying at home with their little one. I believe that offering 70% or more of an average weekly wage, with a high maximum, is the best way to ensure that families can take time with their new babies and not face hardships. Maternity leave should not be reserved for the affluent, or those who have lots of money in savings.
Employers should provide benefits coverage throughout maternity leave.
The last thing you need when you have a new baby is to lose your health coverage. The law here in my home province says that employers must continue your benefits coverage while you are on maternity leave. This isn’t true in every province in Canada, but I think it should be. I pay my premiums during leave just as I normally would, and they pay theirs. There are few times when your benefits plan is more important than when you have a new baby at home. Your coverage ought to continue while you are on leave.
Maternity leave should be available to part-time and casual employees, and the self-employed.
A lot of women work on part-time or casual schedules when they have young children. Many others are self-employed, work-at-home moms. In many countries these mothers do not qualify for leave because they don’t have the required minimum hours, or haven’t paid into the maternity leave plan. To prevent undue hardship minimum maternity leave requirements should be very low, and these mothers should be allowed to pay maternity premiums when they work so that they qualify for maternity leave when they need it. Their babies are no less important than the babies of mothers who work full-time for someone else.
Flexibility should be provided for during the return to work phase.
Returning to work after a baby is born is a huge transition for everyone. It is never easy. Many parents enjoy their work and are happy to return, but wish they didn’t need to work full-time right off the bat. There are countries that provide for a reduced work schedule while small children are at home. I believe this provides a good middle ground for a lot of families. It allows parents to work and earn money while easing the transition. It also allows parents to spend more time with their children during the critical early years if they so choose.
That’s my maternity leave manifesto. What about you? Is there anything you would add? Any points you disagree with? I’d love to hear what your ideal maternity plan would look like.