We need paid parental leave

By Shana Saddler

While on maternity leave, I heard from a number of my colleagues with well wishes and congratulations: “I am so happy for you!” and “I am so proud of you.” However, the one that stood out most in the very forefront of my mind ended with the words, “I will see you in six weeks.”

SIX WEEKS! That is when it dawns on me – I only have six weeks with my new baby boy? But I am in pain. I had pregnancy complications. I was admitted to the hospital for the last three weeks of my pregnancy. I need time to bond with my child. Where will this extra bonding time come from?

Who can I trust with my newborn child, to watch over him, to protect him, to pick him up when he is crying, to feed him without delay, to hug him and hold him close to their bosom the way his mother does it when I return in less than two months?

I look out the window, nursing my newborn and thinking of all I must do to prepare my return to the classroom. I have given over 20 years to many students in different capacities. I’ve listened, counseled, mentored, and touched lives in ways that can’t be described, but for my own son I get six weeks.

Many less experienced teachers can cobble together even less paid leave from sick days, often choosing unpaid leaves and returning to work with a depleted sick bank. I think of mothers elsewhere. How do other countries support citizens during this delicate and precious phase of life?

The United Kingdom gives mothers 39 weeks, Greece 43 weeks. Our neighbor to the north, Canada–15 weeks. France gives mothers from six weeks before birth to 10 weeks after birth. In fact, the U.S. is the only high-income country in the world without such a policy.

Research shows paid parental leave benefits short- and long-term health of families and children, while improving employee satisfaction and retention. Yet we as a country operate like the Ford assembly line: a well-oiled machine with no breaks, no pauses; expediency is the top priority.

With no policy at the federal level, states have begun to make needed change happen. Last year, Minnesota joined 12 other states that have adopted paid family medical leave programs, which operate similar to unemployment or workers’ compensation insurance.

Minnesota’s program will guarantee up to 12 weeks of leave for covered employees to care for a newborn or seriously ill family member and receive a portion of their weekly pay, starting in 2026, with contributions split equally between employer and employee.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has pushed for a similar program in Michigan. In 2020 she extended a 12-week family medical leave program for all state employees, and last year bills were introduced in the state House and Senate to create a 15-week program statewide.

However, the proposals have not passed here, despite polls that show a huge majority of Michiganders from across the political spectrum – 86% – support the idea, just as 80% of all Americans do.

As my precious baby boy now sleeps in my arms and I look at him ever so lovingly, I am reminded of the Why I pondered many years ago.

For me and for many other educators holiday and summer breaks tilted the scale in favor of a career in teaching, hands down. Why? I always knew I wanted to be a mom and teaching provided the perfect schedule, where I would be at home with my child or children.

That is when reality comes back into view. Six weeks–six weeks–six weeks. It is time for Michigan to revamp its policies.

Shana Saddler is a veteran Farmington Hills teacher. For comments or questions, reach her at shana.saddler@fpsk12.net.

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