If My Five-Year-Old Gets It, Why Don’t Lawmakers?
Being a working parent is hard. Just last week, my son was in tears as I left at dawn for an overnight trip. He asked when I’d be back and handed me a “treasure” to remind me of him on my trip. Every day is a race to see how much I can accomplish at work and at home, and how quickly – while still trying to be in the moment, pay attention to details and savor life’s successes. A snow day, a sick day or just a day where things don’t go according to schedule throws things off kilter. My husband and I are constantly having the “who’s coming home first tonight” conversation, juggling meaningful and productive work lives against a strong desire to be home for dinner with our sweet boy.
And yet… We are so fortunate. We have good jobs that offer fair wages and benefits. When our son was born, we each took paid family leave so we could spend time together as a family and so, even after my husband went back to work, my son and I could spend his first four months together. We have employers who understand that kids get sick, that preventive medical care is important even if it means missing work, that parent-teacher conferences are critical to our son’s development. We have jobs that allow us flexibility to work when and where we need to when family or personal demands necessitate deviating from a typical workday schedule.
I left a law firm to come to the National Partnership for Women & Families more than four years ago to work every day toward a future where all workplaces are fair and family friendly. A future in which access to paid sick days and paid family and medical leave are not a luxury of one’s job and the beneficence of their employers, but are available to everyone.
We are making progress toward that future. We celebrated the 21st anniversary of the FMLA last week, and I am optimistic that we are headed toward a more family friendly America. Seven cities and one state now have paid sick days laws, which are helping build support for the federal Healthy Families Act. Three states have family leave insurance funds, and I am incredibly proud to be helping to build support for the just-proposed federal Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act. Overall, 24 million people in private-sector jobs in America now have a legally protected right to paid sick days or access to paid family and medical leave.
These victories – plus overwhelming public support and strong empirical economic and health data – helped lead President Obama to make a historic call in this year’s State of the Union to bring an end to the “Mad Men” era by putting in place national fair pay, paid leave and pregnancy accommodation policies that allow women (and men) to succeed so that America can succeed.
Change is coming, and at the end of the day, I am proud to go home to my son and tell him what I do and why I do it. Even at five years old, he understands that all kids should be able to live in families where a sick day is an inconvenience rather than a gateway to unemployment and insecurity. And he asks whether someday he can “work for paid sick days” too.
Vicki Shabo is director of work and family programs at the National Partnership for Women & Families, the organization that drafted and led the nine-year fight to pass the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). By day (and some nights and weekends), she fights to make America more family friendly by advocating for paid sick days, paid family and medical leave, FMLA expansion, fair pay and an end to pregnancy discrimination. At all times, she is the proud mother of a charming kindergartener and the wife of a climate change policy wonk.