Many people in the labor force will become parents in the coming years. Of non-parents age 18-49 surveyed in 2021, 55% reported being “very” or “somewhat” likely to have children someday.¹ Giving birth or welcoming a new child is one of the most monumental experiences in a person’s life. And it can be exciting, scary, wonderful, and overwhelming all at once.
For many new moms and dads, using family and medical leave during this time can take the worry of work off their overflowing plates. But why stop at that when other benefits of parental leave can be enjoyed, as well?
What is the purpose of parental leave?
This type of leave of absence is vital to parents welcoming a new biological, adopted, or foster child. It gives families the opportunity to spend quality time together, bond, and better acclimate to inevitable schedule and routine changes.
Uncompensated family leave is covered for many by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and includes job protection. But the U.S. has no national paid leave policy. Granted, unpaid leave is helpful during this time of change. And a thoughtful company parental leave policy can compensate in other valuable ways. But paid family leave (PFL) goes further. It can ease the angst about time off as new parents need not worry about losing pay. In terms of FMLA vs. PFL, many employers try to find a balance that honors both their budget and their employees’ sense of work-life balance.
How do employees benefit from taking parental leave?
Parental leave benefits vary by organization. Some companies offer generous paid maternity leave, some offer paid paternity leave. Others may not provide any paid leave but give their employees job-protected leave and other helpful perks.
Whatever the policy, various benefits abound for new parents who make the most of parental leave during these life-changing events. Here’s a look at some of the most impactful benefits of parental leave.
Early bonding between parent and child is easier when a parent is present the majority of the time. Family dynamics change with each new addition. Leave from work gives the working parent(s) ample opportunity to care for and bond with a new child.
Physical benefits of parental leave
There are physical advantages to taking unpaid or paid parental leave. Mothers who’ve given birth have time to heal before returning to work. Parents can pursue the proper sleep they might not otherwise get due to work demands. They also have more time for shopping for healthy foods, exercising, cooking nutritious meals, and family medical appointments. In addition, being able to tend to their own physical health enables parents to better tend to their families’ needs.
Mental health benefits
Maintaining mental well-being is crucial when a family adds a new child. Time off for parental leave can alleviate the stress of juggling the demands of a job with those of a growing family. It affords parents more time to relax and establish a stable and effective routine for the new child.
Leaving a new child in childcare can be traumatic for both parents and their children. Being able to stay with the child instead can minimize the emotional turmoil and promote a more sound emotional state for all.
Not all companies can afford to offer paid time off for maternity or paternity leave. But for those who can, a paid leave program helps support the financial security of employees on leave. Some U.S. states even have state-run paid family leave programs.
New parents on some extent of paid parental time off can continue to count on some measure of income. Hence, family budgets stretched by a new addition need not bear the stretch marks.
Parental time off lets parents and children spend more time with family members, friends, and members of their communities. This helps introduce the new child to others in their life and can prevent parents from feeling isolated and alone. A newly adopted child may be old enough to benefit socially and emotionally from making new friends in peers, neighbors, and relatives.
Both biological and adoptive parents will experience a change in family schedules, dynamics, and demands. A paid family leave program, or even one with non-monetary perks, can help promote a stronger sense of work-life balance. This can enable parents and kids to readjust and nurture an increasingly positive and cohesive family unit.
Potential disadvantages of taking parental leave
While there are numerous benefits to taking parental leave, there can also be downsides to this time away from work. Disadvantages may include:
- Financial burden. This is especially true for low-income families and those without access to a paid leave policy. If time is taken without pay, the lack of income can weigh heavily on the family’s finances.
- Stressful preparation before they leave. An employer may demand the parent work overtime in advance to set the company up to manage while they’re gone. For a mother-to-be, this aspect of preparing for maternity leave can cause undue stress, affecting maternal health.
- Difficulty finding a fill-in. If there isn’t someone at work to cover the absent employee’s tasks, they may feel pressure to return to work sooner than they’d intended.
- Using time off they may need later. If parents use sick leave as parental leave, they could set themselves up for not enough paid leave available later. Parents using FMLA benefits could run out of time, too.
- Extended time off could make transitioning back to work difficult. Parents who get used to being home with their new child sometimes struggle upon return from parental leave. This transition could cause them stress, worry, and separation anxiety.
While there are potential downsides to taking parental leave, it seems the vast majority of people still think the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.
Parental leave offers plenty of valuable benefits to families, from physical and mental benefits to social and emotional ones. Employers who offer a paid family leave policy encourage greater relationship stability and employee morale. If you’re considering offering or taking parental leave, plan it well and understand your options.
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