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Work-Life Conflict Doesn’t Stop After Maternity Leave

Jessica Grose


Here’s a math problem: You have two working parents and two children, one of whom has a seemingly endless configuration of end-of-the-school-year special activities. On Monday there is a theater performance at 2:15 p.m. On Tuesday there’s a class breakfast at 8:30 a.m. On Wednesday someone has to run to the 24-hour pharmacy for hair spray at 11 p.m. because they forgot that crazy hair day is Thursday and there wasn’t enough “crazy” in their house. On Friday there’s field day and honestly who knows how long that will take.

How do these parents Jenga their schedules to both please their children and keep their jobs?

Bonus question: What are they supposed to do with their children for the summer that won’t cost a million dollars and end weeks before school starts?

We talk a lot about the policy energy and public enthusiasm for paid family leave in the United States — a benefit that is essential for the health and functioning of parents. But there is a dearth of discussion about the lack of policy fixes at both the state and corporate levels for parents after the immediate postpartum period.

A handful of states provide paid leave at the state level, and almost every week comes news of a Fortune 500 company expanding or introducing access to the benefit for new parents — the retailer Target and the salad chain Sweetgreen are two recent examples.

While on paper many versions of paid leave policies are meant to cover caretakers of all varieties, they are almost always discussed as a benefit for biological mothers to recover from childbirth and spend time with a newborn.

Increasingly, fathers of newborns are also part of the discussion. But work-life conflict does not end when your child is 3 months old (or a year old if your company is extraordinarily generous or you live in Canada).

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The school day ends at least two hours before most people’s work days, creating what The Atlantic referred to last year as a “child care crisis.” And summer is another crisis, especially for low-income and hourly workers, many of whom have little say over their work schedules.

About 12.8 percent of children under 18 have special health needs, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, and doctors’ appointments are almost always during the workday.

There’s evidence that the burden of this ongoing time crunch is borne mostly by mothers. According to the Pew Research Center, 42 percent of mothers said they have reduced their work hours because of care-taking responsibilities, compared with 28 percent of fathers, while 39 percent of mothers said they have taken “a significant amount of time” off from work because of caretaking, compared with 24 percent of fathers.

Read More on NYT

    Parental Leave
    Gender Equity/Diversity

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