New Mother Has to Go Back to Work Too Soon

Dear Mr. Dad: My husband and I just had a baby two months ago. I’ve been off work under the Family Leave Act until now and would like to take the remaining 4 or 5 weeks. But, unfortunately, we really need my salary to make ends meet. The prospect of leaving my baby (my husband needs to work full-time too) is making me miserable. I’m feeling like a terrible mother and I have no idea what I can do to feel better about this situation.

A: You may find this hard to believe (I certainly did), but the United States is one of only a handful of countries in the world without a paid family leave policy. Combine that with a tough economy and the social pressure many new moms feel to go back to work, and it’s no wonder that the average maternity leave is only 10 weeks. It’s even harder to believe (but true), that about 16 percent of new mothers taken between one and four weeks of leave, and a third don’t take leave at all, rushing back to work as soon as they’re physically able. That’s according to the latest data from HRSA (the Health Resources and Services Administration, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).

I’m sure some of those new moms are happy to be working again, but I’m betting that a lot more are, like you, miserable, beating themselves up for being bad mothers, and wishing they could quit their job. You’re not in an easy spot, but here are a few ideas that should help:

Talk—and listen. A lot of couples in your situation tiptoe around the elephant in the room: money (or the lack of it). You and your husband have to buck that trend and start talking about finding a reasonable (and fiscally responsible) way of making sure that everyone’s needs are met, or that they’re at least taken into consideration. That means listening to each other carefully and respectfully and acknowledging the pressures that each of you face.

Get your childcare situation in order. Fear that the baby won’t be adequately cared for is what many new mothers—and fathers—find most unsettling about going back to work. Since you need your husband’s income as well as your own, make finding a trusted childcare provider a top priority.

Relieve some of the pressure. Most couples, regardless of how enlightened and egalitarian they want to be, end up slipping into “traditional” roles after becoming parents. And because women put so much pressure on themselves to be good mothers, you may try to do more around the house than you can handle. Don’t. If your husband can’t take on any more, you can either hire someone to help out (which, given your financial issues, doesn’t sound very realistic) or learn to relax your standards. Does the house really need to be immaculate? Also, be sure to schedule some couple time or “me” time. A few hours alone with your husband—even if it’s just renting a video and snuggling up on the couch—will really help.

Spend more time with the baby. Since you and your husband will be working, you’re both going to miss your baby and you’re both going to want to spend time with him from the moment you walk in the door. Negotiate first dibs with your husband—especially if you’re still nursing: your breasts may be ready to explode by the time you get home and you’ll need the baby to do what babies do

Inflexible Flexibility: What Happens When Dad Gets on the Mommy Track

Dear Mr. Dad: My wife is due with our first in about four months, so I though now would be a good time to talk to my employer about taking time off under the Family Leave Act and possibly making some more permanent changes to my schedule so I can be a more hands-on dad. I mentioned this to a friend who used to work with me, and he warned me to be very careful. He said that after he took paternity leave, he was passed over for a promotion and got a smaller bonus. He eventually quit. I find that hard to believe, but he insists it’s true. Are companies really allowed to do that?

A: Theoretically, no. Under the Federal version of Family and Medical Leave Act, your job is protected and your employer isn’t allowed to penalize you in any way. (Some states have their own Family Leave programs and the rules may be different, so I encourage you to look into both very carefully.) Unfortunately, there’s sometimes a big disconnect between what companies are allowed to do what they actually do. And even if the company itself does everything exactly by the book, individuals within the company—meaning your managers and coworkers—can always find a way to skirt the law.
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Family Leave Act, Almost All Grown Up…

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 20 years since the Family and Medical Leave Act (usually referred to as the Family Leave Act) was born.  And what’s almost as hard to believe is that it’s incredibly underused. According to a new report, only 16% of eligible workers actually took leave to care for a sick relative or to care for a new child. [Read more…]

Top States for New Dads in the Workforce

A new state-by-state analysis released for Father’s Day shows how little the nation supports and protects employed fathers when a new child arrives. The special report, Dads Expect Better: Top States for New Dads, includes an analysis of state laws and regulations governing paid leave and workplace rights for new fathers in the United States. It finds that only 14 states and the District of Columbia are doing anything at all to help new dads who work in the private sector.

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