Unpatterned Mama

Stitching Life Together One Piece at a TIme

parenthood

What would you do with one year of paid parental leave?

motherhood, parenthood, life changesLindsyComment

What would you do with one year of paid parental leave?

Netflix made the news recently for its progressive decision to allow employees to have one year of flexible time off for the first year after having or adopting a child. And it would be paid time off.

In other countries, this is standard practice. Chile grants eighteen weeks paid, or thirty-five weeks if you live in Norway. But here in the United States, where we’re supposed to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and do everything ourselves, we have no form of paid maternity leave, even. Forget paternity leave. Out of 184 developed nations, only we and Papua New Guinea have no paid maternity leave. Check out this chart from Bloomberg to see how other nations stack up against the U.S. in providing paid time off. Read the whole article here.

So what would I have done with one year of time off after having my son? First of all, I probably would not have returned to work after twelve weeks. I’m not sure who came up with the twelve-week benchmark, but that person had obviously never given birth, nor cared for a crying infant in the middle of the night for weeks on end. At twelve weeks postpartum, I had just barely figured out how to make myself presentable and get my son ready to go out the door. Granted, my maternity leave was during the coldest winter in recorded Chicago history, so we hadn’t gotten out much.

It’s hard to say what exactly would have happened, but observing the situation from the viewpoint, this is what I would consider a great plan:

 

  1. Stay at home until at least 16 weeks postpartum - maybe 20.

  2. Return to work on a part-time schedule - as in, four-hour shifts instead of eight-hour shifts.

  3. When baby is about nine months old, return to full-time shifts. (Nine months is when I remember things becoming noticeably easier and I started to think, “I can do this!”

  4. Enjoy the fact that all of the times I needed to miss work - for his viruses, sick calls, many ear infections, and all the times I caught something from him - will not be taken out of my sick or vacation time. They will be part of the flexible “year off.” This is a big one. I calculated that  i took about ten sick days after returning to work, but before my son turned one year old. This is just what happens when your child goes to day care. After missing only three days due to illness in my six years on the job, I ended up spending an entire week out with an upper respiratory infection, and I also somehow got two ear infections. The last time I’d had one, I’m sure I was only a baby myself. (Of course, having to take sick days would not irk me so much if they didn't mean my pot of days for a future maternity leave was dwindling.)

Again, this is all speculation. Maybe if I had eased back into work, rather than diving right into the deep end, it would have been even more difficult to go back to a full-time schedule. I doubt it, though. It is an exhausting time, full of worries and learning and making mistakes. Many would agree that having a child is the biggest life adjustment you will ever make. So is taking time to readjust the rest of your life fair and reasonable? I think so.

So, what would you do with a flexible year off after having a child? I’d love to hear what you think!

The Great Second Child Debate

motherhood, parenthood, familyLindsyComment
The Great Second Child Debate

I have heard a lot of parents voice this thought, and you probably have, too.

Should we even have a second child?

After all, we’ve started sleeping all night again! We can leave the house without an hour of prep time for feeding, blowouts, and three outfit changes. I’m done with pumping/bottles/baby food/diapers. I have my body back.

We said these things, even though we’ve always planned on two.  It also somehow seemed significant that we had such a good baby. How could we have another baby and come away unscathed? Surely the next child will not be nearly so easy, and then it will be Game Over.

Plus, it won't be like doing it all over again. It will be like doing all over again, with a toddler underfoot. My father-in-law likes to say that two kids aren’t twice the work, they’re triple. Furthermore, how could we take this special time of babyhood away from Hunter, starving him of attention? He’s still so little, how could we do this?

Of course, if you told us to wait until he was older, we would say we don't want the children to be spaced far apart. This was our conundrum. So. Onward we go, to the research.

Research is my thing. I’m an infoholic, and gathering all the research makes me feel calm, informed, and productive. When we were just considering trying to have a baby, I read books of essays about having kids, not having kids, not sure if one would have kids, etc. It didn’t really matter; I knew I wanted to have kids. Somehow, though, it made me feel less chicken about the whole thing.

The research began with Babycenter, because they are usually the first search result for anything baby-related. The “expert” advice to have another baby before your first is two or after they are four was useless to me. My casual observations of families (and as a children’s librarian, these are many) have shown me that almost no one does this. Most people seem to go somewhere between 2 and 3 years apart, and that was kind of what I was feeling myself.

On I went, to The Alpha Parent. This was more helpful, sharing the pros and cons (yes!) of spacing your children 1, 2, 3, or 4+ years apart. What I learned from this was that it doesn’t really matter how the children are spaced. There will be positives and negatives with any spacing; you just have to choose which ones matter to you most.

Finally, I found a book called Twice Blessed by Joan Leonard. This one was interesting. In the first chapter it lists common reasons for wanting a second, explores the issues of timing and birth order, and then delves into age spacing. This is where I got the two best pieces of information about when:

This obvious yet insightful bit of advice gleaned from many parents of adult children: “Think about when you and your husband are emotionally and financially best ready to have another child. It will be better for you, your marriage and your children.” (p. 10)
This beautiful nugget of data: “Parents with closely spaced children wished that they had spaced them farther apart, and parents of spaced children wished they’d spaced them closer.” (p.10, cited from the book The Second Child: Family Transitions and Adjustment by Robert B. Stewart. I am planning to find this study because no parameters or percentages were cited. Context is key! I’ll update you with what i learn.)

In conclusion: it doesn’t matter how they are spaced, as long as you, the parent, are comfortable with the spacing. And you will later wish you had tried for the opposite, anyway.

Tried is the imperative word here, because let’s face it, we really don’t have that much influence on when (or if) the second child will be born.

                                             Age spacing: the closer, the better? Shown here with my brother, circa 1987.

                                            Age spacing: the closer, the better? Shown here with my brother, circa 1987.

Despite the lack of control, it is something I obsess over. Since Hunter was about six weeks old, I’ve been thinking about when we would try for baby number two. Not because I was ready; I just wanted to be prepared. About once a month, I would ask Stephen, when do you think? Every time, he would say, I don’t want to talk about it. Hmmm, okay. I would remove all barriers: If we had plenty of resources - time, money, help - what would the ideal child spacing be? He would say, Doesn’t matter, because we don’t have all those things.

So I began to think it would be later. Perhaps Fall 2015. This was my opinion.

December 2014: Having a conversation about...something. The context of this conversation is now forgotten. All I know is that out of the blue, Stephen said, “We should start trying right now.” Um, whaaaaat??? He went on to say that he didn’t want Hunter to spaced as far apart as he and his brothers (three years) because it always felt like they were never in similar stages of life. Well, thankyousir, for answering the question I’ve been asking for a year.

So I took some time to think about this, and to be honest, I felt the same as he did. My brother and I are eighteen months apart. This was great for us, although I suspect it was not so great for my mom. However, life was beginning to get easier, I was feeling more capable, and we felt that letting nature take its course was the easiest way to make a non-decisive decision.

Since then, it’s been a lot easier to wrap my brain around the idea of having two. It also seems that the longer I’ve been a parent, the more I realize that it’s not worth all the analytics. For instance, you get used to the roller coaster of child development. Every month or two, life takes another turn and you learn to adjust your routine, your technique, your opinion. This kind of hard-core adaptability training makes planning and research and what-ifs seem pretty inconsequential.

I’ve also begun to let go of the other (unfounded) fears: that Hunter will be robbed of his babyhood, his alone time with us, and that since he is so easy/good/wonderful that there is no chance we will be so lucky a second time. Remember what I said above, about the roller coaster? It turns out that Hunter is not always so easy/good/amazing, especially not right now as he is embracing toddlerhood. Screeching, stubborn, into everything. So maybe it will all balance out.

As it stands, we are letting things happen naturally. We don’t want to put it off, and yet there are times when I wouldn’t be disappointed if it took a little longer. For example, if it happened after our vacation, so I could enjoy the wineries and breweries and the hot tub. Or if it happened after my cousin’s wedding, which happens to be at a winery. (Are you seeing a pattern here?) Of course, there is never a perfect time, and we know that - that’s why we’re just giving it a go.

However it shakes out, it was meant to be.