During BlogHer 2010, I attended some wonderful sessions. One that stood out for me as a parent, though, was titled “Screw Work/Life Balance, We Need Work/Life POLICY!” The session moderators Morra Aarons-Mele and Stephanie Wilchfort guided us through a discussion of how businesses in the United States currently treat workers with family issues and how we can improve the situation.
I’ll admit that I walked into the session half expecting the focus to be solely about moms. A pretty fair assumption given that 90% of the BlogHer audience is women. I was pleasantly surprised when someone mentioned that dads need time off from work to take care of family matters as well. I even contributed my own viewpoints as the Dad in the Room.
Overall, it was a productive session and I figured that I would share some of my insights from it.
First of all, I went into the session thinking of this being a mom/dad issue. It isn’t. Whether or not you have a child, might have a parent who is still alive. If that parent gets sick and needs your attention, you might have to make a tough choice. Do you leave your job (thus putting your family’s livelihood at stake) to take care of your ill parent? Or do you stay at your job and not help out when your parent needs you the most? It’s an awful decision to have to make and yet people are forced to make this decision each and every day. Some companies are supportive, but the only law that would cover this, FMLA, is woefully inadequate.
Secondly, the United States has fallen way behind other countries in Work/Life policies. One attendee commented on how she had her first child in Italy. She submitted the past 3 years’ worth of her income tax statements to a government office and was given 5 months of paid leave. (If she wanted to stay out a few months longer, it would be reduced to 80% and then be reduced further the longer she stayed out.)
Years passed and she moved to the US. When she got pregnant again, she gathered up her income tax statements and asked where to send them to. She was in for a rude awakening when she found out that she would get 12 weeks of unpaid leave time. Instead of 5 months paid, she would get 3 months without pay.
I found this out too when my first son was born. At the time, I was our sole source of income. I took a week off to help my wife get acclimated. I would have liked to take more, but I was running low on vacation days. If I ran out then I would need to go unpaid and we couldn’t afford to not have any income. Not with a new baby in the house!
Finally, I realized that the reason this state of affairs continues is due to momentum and ignorance. Momentum because workers in the US are used to it and don’t realize that the situation could be better. Ignorance because people think that a) this is a “mommy” issue and doesn’t affect them (proven wrong, see above) and b) because people think companies would lose money if they instituted fair work/life balance rules. This last point is incorrect as well. Cali Williams Yost was at the session promised to upload some studies, and she did.
What can we do? First of all, stop by the BlogHer website and read the LiveBlog of the session. Also read some of Cali’s posted information. Next, contact your representatives and tell them that we need policy changes to improve the work/life balance in the US to help us catch up to the rest of the world. When you do this, be sure to stress that this isn’t just a mom or dad issue but that it affects elder care and others too. Perhaps, together, we can improve the situation for everyone so that workers won’t need to choose between their family or their livelihood.