The Maternity Leave Debate Isn’t Just About Money

I had my second child when my first was just shy of 20 months old. My maternity leave equated to hell on earth.

My daughter (an emotionally intelligent little thing) would taunt me when my son would nap. She would yell until he woke up and then demand my attention. I was exhausted both physically and mentally, watching the clock minute-by-minute in anticipation of my husband returning home from work. It was an excruciating six weeks.

For other moms, my situation may not have been so bad, and that’s okay. I understand that I love working. It doesn’t mean I love work more than my children, but I am a better mother when I have time daily to invest in my career.

It is for that reason that I think the maternity leave of Stacey Bendet – CEO and Creative Director of Alice and Olivia – is commendable. Back in November, Bendet made news for returning to work a mere days after a C-section. Her reasoning behind it? Balance.

Instead of going cold turkey with work and being a 24–7 mom following the birth of her daughter, she returned to the office with her daughter and worked half days before returning home. The schedule allowed her to maintain a pulse on what was going on at work while spending quality time with her newborn baby.

“I could have taken a month off, I could have taken two months off, but the thing is I would rather come in, work a little bit everyday, have the baby come here (to the office), breastfeed her here, and stay on top of everything than be like, ‘I am going to disappear and be mom for two months and then come in and be crazy in here until 10 o’clock every night catching up,” Bendet told Forbes back in November.

As a woman who thoroughly enjoys her career, her arrangement sounds heavenly. She got to keep the best of both worlds until her daughter was old enough to go to a daycare provider. Perfect.

There are other women, though, who work because they have to, not because they want to. For those women, Bendet’s arrangement probably sounds like torture, and they probably wish more companies were like those in the United States who boast lengthy paid maternity leave plans like Google and Yahoo. As of right now, the United States is just one of four countries in the world with no mandatory paid parental leave.

It’s an issue that has been raised recently with a number of advocators such as Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, and Amber Scorah, a mom whose infant son died on his first day of daycare. Mothers shouldn’t have to sacrifice work for family and vice versa. Paid parental leave – whether flexible like Bendet or a lengthy absence from work – should weave into our society without a second thought.

It’s a topic that is already making its way into the presidential race, whether it’s a debate of how to fund it or whether it’s a necessity at all.

I think we can learn a lot from Bendet. Her balanced approach not only proves that maternity leave doesn’t have to be a black-or-white issue, it normalizes the situation. Instead of ostracizing women for wanting to spend time with newborn children, employers should work with women to get the best of both worlds. After all, appreciated employees result in the best business.

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