And Resources to Help You Do It
There’s a growing call-to-action for the U.S. to meet the global standard of paid parental leave. While this movement is long overdue for all parents, it’s important that families formed through “non-traditional” means like adoption, fostering and surrogacy be included in the discussion, too.
Only 17% of Americans receive paid parental leave. And a new child is costly, regardless of how he or she is welcomed into your family, so risking the loss of health insurance or accepting unpaid leave may not be an option — but affordable childcare might not be, either.
Even if you’re in that lucky 17%, there are others who are not. If you’re an adoptive parent, your child’s birth mother could be expected to go back to work in two weeks, or she could even lose her job. If you know someone who has formed a family through “non-traditional” paths, like through fostering, adoption or surrogacy, they may not be as protected as you in their workplace, even though they need time to bond with their child just as much as any new parent.
A parent is a parent, no matter what. It’s important that all families advocate for one another. Better family leave for everyone benefits the company, the parents and most importantly, children. Fortunately, lawmakers are aware that Americans are struggling — and now is the time to remind them that this includes lots of different families.
So, as you advocate for better parental benefits, don’t forget these four important things:
1. Talk about Equal Family Leave for Both Parents
There are still workplaces that offer separate lengths of time for new mothers versus fathers. At one point, the idea was probably to give women additional time to recover from childbirth. Not all mothers give birth, but they still need that time to adjust to their new parenting role. There are several more reasons why this outdated model is harmful, besides the obvious adoption and surrogacy exclusions.
For one: Both parents need time to bond with a new child, regardless of how that child came into their family. Both parents play an equally important role in a child’s life, and viewing mothers as a primary caregiver is an antiquated notion.
Another important reason: What about families with two dads? Single-father families? Families where one or more parent is non-binary or gender non-conforming?
There are even some good arguments for mandating equal parental leave for both parents. Even when the same amount of leave is available for new fathers, they rarely take the full amount of time, worrying they’d be seen as weak, or as if they don’t care about their job if they don’t return quickly enough. Women, on the other hand, are more socially expected by their employers to take the full amount of time available. It’s a complicated issue for both employers and employees.
However, access to (and encouragement to use) equal leave for all parents welcoming a new child is a simple must! Make sure that’s clear in your workplace’s policies, and, if it’s not, that you are clear when you advocate for it.
2. Ask for Job Protection for Parents Who Don’t Qualify for FMLA Benefits
Not all employees are covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and if they take time off to be with their new child, they could lose their insurance or job. In many workplaces, there’s often an unspoken rule of what’s actually expected from an employee when taking time off work as a new parent, especially if you didn’t give birth — like adoptive parents, particularly fathers.
For example, a lot of parents who receive the sudden call about an adoption placement are met with raised eyebrows when they ask their employer for even just a few weeks off. Employers often expect them to get back to work sooner than other parents because they’re not physically recovering from childbirth, but they don’t understand that adopted children need lots of time to bond, that ICPC involves a wait and that other unknowns are unavoidable. All parents need and should receive equal time off.
As a result of those unspoken expectations, some employees (especially adoptive parents) may face subtle backlash from employers later on, even if they do have legal job protection.
More job safety measures are needed for everyone taking parental leave but especially for employees who aren’t currently protected by FMLA.
3. Vote for Candidates Who Support the Issue
Do your research, and vote for representatives who have been proven to support paid family leave. Call or write your current representatives and explain why this issue is important to you and your family. Knowing state laws on parental leave may help you bolster your case to those representatives, as well as to your own employer.
Donating to candidates who support paid family leave and donating to organizations that are working for family benefits (for all types of families) can also go a long way. Here are a few good options for organizations to partner with and donate to.
Even raising the issue on a smaller scale and working your way up is an important start. There are a lot of families who need these benefits badly — connect with them locally, in your workplace or online, to start campaigning together for your collective needs.
4. Speak to Employers
This can be daunting, but it’s the most direct way to advocate for you and for all families. Hopefully, your employer has great parental leave and offers benefits for adoption, IVF and more. Not sure about your workplace policies? Talk to your HR representative and ask — gather a list of questions to ask, and make sure you ask about how they support families created through adoption and surrogacy, not just for “traditional” families.
What are they missing? How do they compare to other companies? Even if there aren’t currently any parents who have been affected by gaps in their family leave or benefit policies, there might someday be hopeful parents who are affected, and this is your chance to advocate for them!
Create a list of proposed improvements for family benefits in your workplace based on your research. Come up with a list of why those improvements would benefit the company (draw new hires, keep current employees and build loyalty, reduce turnover, etc.). Ask your coworkers if they’d support your request — have them look over your proposal and sign it, or write brief statements about why they’d benefit from these improvements. Prepare for some negotiations with your employer when you present your proposal, and have your research at the ready when they ask about your sources.
Even if your employer isn’t receptive to all of your requests, you’ll have taken an important stance. Encourage others to do the same in their own workplace, and show them how.
Advocating for adoption benefits and across-the-board parental leave means being vocal in your support of all families and taking action when appropriate. Including birth parents, adoptive parents, foster parents and all types of parents in this national goal of improved family leave is necessary for a fair and universally beneficial model. Families support other families!