family ideas

Caregiver’s Leave

This past week I spent a few days helping take care of my grandson in case my daughter had a reaction to her COVID shot. (She didn’t. Yay!)

You know what? Taking care of a newborn is a TON of work. Which shouldn’t be a surprise having gone through the experience three times myself, but as Daughter and I have discussed several times, there’s a sense of amnesia that sets in regarding the work involved in the newborn phase. Lack of sleep probably contributes to this, but also the fact that in the grand scheme of things, the phase doesn’t last that long. It’s only considered to be the first 2-3 months of a person’s life.

When I’ve helped out with Grandbaby, it has taken three adults to care for him and the household, making sure he is fed and settled into sleep, keeping bottles and regular dishes washed, making meals, taking care of the dog, doing laundry, and giving each other brief breaks. I’m not sure how Daughter and Son-in-Law are managing all of this when I’m not there, but I am amazed at their patience and fortitude.

They both have the good fortune of having jobs that allow them time off to take care of the baby, but all too soon they will have to return to work. When I had our first child, Eldest Son, I had him straight out of college, so I wasn’t in the workforce yet. It’s a good thing I wasn’t. He was allergic to all formulas we could find at the time (no formulas really available for babies with allergies) and he cried almost continuously for his first three months of life until we could find something that worked. (We discovered that Dr. Benjamin Spock’s homemade formula using evaporated milk and rice syrup cooked on the stove worked for Eldest Son, finding out later that the act of cooking it broke down the milk so that it was more digestable.)

Daughter was born 15 months after Eldest Son. Daughter thinks we were crazy to have them so close together, and it kinda was, though my mom had me 11 months after my older brother and my younger brother was born 11 months after me, so at least I gave myself a few more months to recover. Ha!

During this time, Hubby was working full-time and we were getting loads of help from his parents, so I could remain not working and concentrate on taking care of the babies. I did take a very part-time job at the local Ben Franklin for maybe a month or two, but when I realized that after daycare expenses I was making 10-cents an hour, I gave that up because it wasn’t worth it. When the kids were a little older, I worked part-time for the local tourism bureau. After about a year there, I became pregnant with Young Son Number Two and had morning sickness so bad that I quit. (Part-time job, no benefits.) I didn’t work again until Young Son was 16 months old and then, once again, only very part-time. I continued working part-time while the children were in elementary and middle school, trying to keep a balance between raising the kids and working. This certainly hampered my overall earning potential, though not continously paying for childcare offset some of this and I wouldn’t have traded the time with my kids for the money.

It is no secret that American society is not supportive of parents or other caregivers. Ideally, we’re all supposed to work, work, work, giving our all to our jobs until we die, just another “resource” to be used up and discarded. Those of us fortunate enough to get vacation time are often begrudgingly allowed to take it only to be met with an onslaught of extra work once we return. It’s almost as though the country doesn’t want us to have children.

In Sweden, on the other hand, parents are given up to 480 days of paid parental leave per child. (This article explains the ins and outs of the system.) The leave allows for parents to spend some time together with their baby and to allow them to work out who will be home during the rest of the time. Parents in the United States would do well by such a system, giving them more time to bond with their babies without the stress of immediately returning to work or finding childcare. (We have a childcare shortage in many parts of the country, making it difficult for both parents to work full-time.)

It’s a pie-in-the-sky dream, to be sure, but I’m gonna push this a bit further. I think we also need caregiver’s leave that would allow other family members to take time off, say 30-60 days, to assist with childcare during a baby’s first year of life. This would spread some of the effort of taking care of a baby across several people, rather than expecting parents to do everything. Caregiver’s leave would also be handy for those of us who have to assist in taking care of relatives who become severely ill.

Our society is really set up to work against family life, with work taking precedence over caring for others, health, or even basic bodily functions (see Amazon’s penchant for not allowing employees time for bathroom breaks). We need to push for paid parental leave across employers as a start, but if we want to give families a better opportunity to support each other, we also need to consider caregiver’s leave. Caring for babies and small children takes more energy than most parents can provide.

Thoughtful comments welcome.