About halfway through the summer of 2015 I discovered it – a large, scaly callous. And once discovered, I was bewildered. How do you even achieve a callous on your ankle bone? It wasn’t until two weeks later that I realized what had happened.
I woke up with our baby one morning and we began our normal routine – the same routine we’d had for the past few months. We sat cross-legged on the rug and played before I did my morning exercises. As I went to rise, I leaned in and felt my ankle scrape the rug.
At the time I was coming to the end of three months of paid parental leave. Being your typical desk jockey, I wasn’t accustomed to this much sandal-wearing, floor-sitting or child-lifting, and all of the cross-legged sitting had taken its toll on the old ankle bone.
In total I had taken four months of paid (60% or so) leave. My wife had taken 10 months. This is parental leave in Germany. Fourteen paid months in total between us. Along with state mandated protection for the mother’s job (or an equivalent post) for up to two more years of leave unpaid. Not to mention the special eight weeks of ‘Mutterschutz’ for the mother before and after birth.
I’ve had a lot of trouble writing this post in a constructive way.
Being back in the US, I feel spoiled when I hear friends’ stories of trying to stitch together four weeks of paid/unpaid leave so they can spend time with their newborn child. And it’s true, in the US only 13 percent of people have access to paid parental leave of any sort.
And then I feel bad for feeling bad because I know a kid can grow up fine and dandy without their parents having had generous leave. And then I find myself opening this blog draft over and over again and not wanting to talk about it. But it’s true.
Having state mandated leave makes that possible. And most times I mention this to another parent here in the US, there’s a sigh of resignation, a ‘well, that could never happen here’ look. So I’ve stopped talking about it mostly.
I don’t understand the lack of political will to change things. Or the belief that we cannot make things better for normal people. There seems to be a feeling that we dare not ask too much from our employers or the market. That government mandated parental leave would be an assault on liberty.
But the whole free market is an illusion anyway. To have a functioning society, we agree upon certain rules that we put in place to make sure most people are able to eke out a decent living so that our society continues. The market functions within the rules we agree on. So it’s not a matter of being able to do it or not. We set the stage for the game, we create the rules.
I know that going from zero to 14 months may be too much to ask. But it’s a shame that the politicians who pay lip service to being pro-life and assiduously tout their family values find it absolutely impossible to offer a morsel of consideration for parents (like Paul Ryan who said he needed a guarantee of family time if he took the Speaker of the House role while voting against parental leave for normal folks).
Not to mention that the new kids on the block are going to be taking care of our us when we’re old, filing down the callouses on our ankles, and paying for our retirement, so it’s in our best interest to make sure we’re there for them.
Either way, sorry I subjected you to this, dear blog friend. I’ll be quiet on how cool parental leave is. For those wanting a more insightful piece, there’s a comprehensive rundown at NPR on why Americans hate mandated paid leave – parental or otherwise – here.