We hear almost constantly in this country about how terrible our parental leave is. That is mostly because it is. There is no guarantee for any time paid and a measly three months unpaid guaranteed through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). These are not good numbers.
But if you think this is just a women's issue, think again. Maternity leave is bad enough, but the options for fathers? Are pretty much abysmal. Finally -- thank God! -- someone is fighting back. Ariel Ayanna, an attorney in Boston, says he was fired soon after he dared to do the unthinkable as a young associate in a law firm -- use the FMLA to help his mentally ill wife after giving birth to the family's second child.
He claims he was harassed for doing women's work and that other associates at his firm bragged about how little time they spent with their own families.
Joan C. Williams, founding director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California's Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco and co-founder of the Project on Attorney Retention, told the American Bar Association Journal that she wasn't surprised:
I've been waiting for this case for five years -- [it was] clearly coming. If you talk to young people in law firms, they don't take parental leave, it's not done .... [Often] men are sent ... very clear unspoken messages that they are not to do this.
Sick. Truly, truly sick. My own husband took two weeks, the full "paternity leave" offered by his company, and when I tell people this, they often look shocked, revealing that their own husbands took one or two days, but had to use vacation time.
How are we ever supposed to change anybody's mind about fathers' roles when we can't even get any workplace to understand that home/work balance isn't a "woman's issue" alone? For all of us women who want our husbands to be equal partners and who want a life that includes both parents, not just one parent who works crazy hours to support the other one, then we should also care about this case.
It takes two people to make a baby, and in an ideal world, both people would raise that child together, equally. We women are not automatically better parents just because we have breasts. The notion that we are isn't helpful to anyone, least of all our children.
We owe it to them to do better. I hope this case opens some doors.
Did your husband take leave?