ASSIGNMENT 13: Family Leave

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU)- Do parents get enough time to spend with their children after they're born?

Many parents in the Chippewa Valley say no, it's not enough.

The United States is actually one of the only nations that offers the least amount of time for parental leave when a child is born causing many parents to feel that their time is cut too short and can't afford to stop working.

Experts say the time spent with a child after their born is crucial to a child's overall development, so why do we as a nation offer the least amount of time for maternity leave?

And not to mention, the majority are unpaid.

“I don't think people in Wisconsin have enough time, women or men,” said mother Nicole Schlieve of Eau Claire.

“I was in the military at the time I had my children, and in the military you only get 6 weeks of maternity leave and then you are back to work,” said Melissa Clyde of Eau Claire, mother of two. “I think anywhere between 3-6 months is a good start and that way you can have that bonding time with your children and make sure they are completely weened before you have to go back to work.”

Time really is of the essence when you’re having children, especially for parents dealing with all the new tasks and sleep schedules of having a child.

But the bigger question is: how do you get enough time to meet the needs of your child and taking leave of work without pay?

“The 12 weeks of leave that we have here has been in place since the early 90's and it really hasn't changed since then,” said Ruder Ware Attorney Bryan Symes.

But those 12 unpaid weeks are only for large employers. Symes says companies with less than 50 employees, don't really have guided regulations, but most typically offer six weeks of unpaid maternity leave.

“It’s really hard to be missing one person, if you have a small team we have 16 employees here,” said Maria Bamonti, the General Manager for Just Local Food in Eau Claire.

Just Local Food says their standard policy meets those six weeks, but they actually encourage their employees to take more.

“Everybody understands that situations come up in life, so we're all willing to pitch in for one another,” Bamonti added.

But how do you make ends meet?

Family Living Educator with the Eau Claire County UW-Extension, Brook Berg says she can't stress enough the importance of parents being with their kids as much as possible in those first years, but not to let it cause financial distress, the main reason many parents can't really afford that extra time with their newborns.

“It’s really difficult, I mean, I think we think about child development and mental health, but we have to think about a families basic needs too and we don't want families to be without an income, so that they can’t pay for their housing or food or things like that,” Berg said. “So it really does become a huge challenge.”

In the first three years of a child's life, it's critical for brain development as children develop nearly 700 new neurons per second. So being able to be with their parent, their most important teacher in life, is really important for growth.

“My advice is to take as much as you can,” Berg said. “I know it can be really difficult the financial aspect of it. We know that if mothers get maternity leave, the chances that they have post-partum depression decreases; we know that if fathers are able to take that paternity leave that they have an increased bonding and research shows that they are more involved in their child’s life from there on out.”

But having those teachers around isn't that easy, especially for dads. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 7 out of 10 fathers taking parental leave only took ten days or less.

Mark Schlieve of Eau Claire, a father, said he used his own paid time off, or PTO, which was about two weeks.

As vacation and sick days start disappearing for parents of newborns, utilizing as much paid time as possible, Symes says more companies are beginning to offer paid leave with tightening job markets.

“Companies are looking at enhanced parental leave as a mechanism to attract and retain talent, and certainly appeal to millennials who have generally been less willing to compromise in connection with family.”

So when will it actually happen?

Just recently in April, the City of San Francisco became the first in the United States to enact a paid parental leave ordinance.

“We would have to take the hit to kind of catch up in terms of finances because I think it would be difficult to start something like this where we’re able to pay moms or dads to stay home with their infants, but I think in the long term the benefits of that much outweigh the costs,” Berg said.

“I think it’s something that businesses in the Chippewa Valley have to take a hard look at because nationally I definitely see this as a trend that will be continuing,” Symes added. “Again generationally, the new employees are looking for this type of leave and if it’s not available they may move on to another employer that's willing to offer it. Over the next year or two, I would expect that we would see similar legislation [of paid parental leave] in other large metropolitan areas, how long that will take to get to the Chippewa Valley remains to be seen.”

To find out more about resources available for parents of newborns in our area, click on the link to the right.

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