Following her maternity leave, Meghan McCain returned this week to co-host The View. In her first day back on the job she called for national mandate for paid maternity leave, and for this she was roundly – and shockingly – attacked.
As a working mother of four and passionate advocate for paid family leave, I found this response appalling. These critics fail to see that there is boldness in her proposal, importance to her advocacy, and that shaming is not only wrong, but deeply damaging to the worthy cause they claim to advocate for.
Meghan’s personal experience with maternal health issues has inspired her passion. To some, that seems to be her greatest sin. For example, politics writer Laura Bassett attacked her on Twitter writing: “I’ve never been pregnant, and I recognize the need for maternity leave. Why is an entire party unable to form political views based on empathy without having to be directly, personally affected by the policy?” Laura is of course right that we need more people to understand these issues, but she is wrong – ridiculously wrong – to criticize someone for speaking from their own personal experience. The attack is simply absurd. Did she attack Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit, when he became an advocate for paid paternity leave following the birth of his first child with Serena Williams, who also suffered maternal health issues? Should Jimmy Kimmel be shamed by healthcare advocates for not using his platform until his own son had heart surgery, which inspired his advocacy and motivation?
The attacks also center around her policy proposal not being good enough. It is not perfect, but she did not say she knows everything. Moreover, she is rightly aware that getting anything done this Congress will require compromise, so great cannot be the enemy of good, especially with so many families struggling to balance work and life.
Meghan is just starting her journey on this issue, alongside her viewers and many Americans. As she, and they, learn more— if we don’t shame them into disinterest— we will likely learn both the reasons and political opportunities for paid maternity, paternity, family caregiving and medical leave. Some experts think they all require one comprehensive policy solution, and some think we should tackle one or two first. Either way, calling for a new mandate is bold for a Republican or a Democrat.
More than 25 years ago, Congress passed the only family leave mandate, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which provides unpaid leave for workers (essentially job protection should you need to be out for up to 12 weeks’ time). The mandate covers maternity, paternity, family caregiving and medical leave but has not been updated with time. Nearly 40% of workers today do not qualify for FMLA (many low-income workers, new mothers and fathers who need it most), thus making it challenging for many families to care for their loved ones while maintaining financial security. As many states have shown in their own paid leave laws, FMLA modernization is important to ensure workers can even take the financial benefit. It’s noteworthy that even some of Congress’s most progressive paid leave proposals do not include a mandate.
Today, the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor and Statistics notes as many as 79 percent of Americans do not have a defined paid family leave benefit. Some research estimates that as many as one in four American mothers return to work within 10-14 days of giving birth, while their body is still healing, they are barely sleeping, and they have yet to fully bond with their baby. Infant mortality and maternal mortality decrease when moms and dads have protected time off to care for their vulnerable newborn and each other. When a dad is present for the birth and first few days of his child’s life, his body releases Oxytocin, the love hormone, and he falls more in love with his child and his partner–increasing the chances of him staying involved in the child’s life over time, which studies show dramatically improves child development outcomes. Lastly, when a mother has access to paid family leave, she is 40 percent less likely to use government assistance programs.
There is strong bipartisan support across America for a national paid family leave program, and with good reason. Most people do not have paid family leave, but when they do, it has been shown to dramatically improve the health and well-being of the parents, caregivers, children, and society. We need to modernize our leave policies to fit today’s economic and cultural realities.
Progress on paid family leave policy requires more engagement by Republicans and more compromise by Democrats. We need Meghan McCain, and others, to help on both fronts.
I applaud you, Meghan. Do not be deterred by the petty Twitter attacks. Welcome to the fight!
Adrienne Schweer is a fellow working on paid family leave at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a think tank in Washington, DC.
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