What Needs to Happen for Americans to Find Work-Life Balance

Studies show that fewer Americans want to become parents today than 20 years ago. The lack of support that the US offers its working parents, compared to the rest of the world, is definitely a factor. We’ll take a look at what America needs to do for its workforce to make holding down a career and a having family more realistic and less burdensome.

maternity and paternity leave

(Photo Credit: Beverly & Pack/Flickr)

It’s no longer the norm for families to have a working father and a stay-at-home mom, as was the case decades ago. Many households in the US rely on dual incomes to stay afloat, causing parents to work exceedingly hard at their 9-to-5s, often compromising their family life due to the demands of their careers. Additionally, women are more likely to give up their careers to become stay-at-home-moms (SAHM) because, on average, they earn less than men, thus making their incomes easier to forfeit.

The harsh reality is that the US doesn’t equip its working parents (or even its hopeful parents) with the necessary support needed to balance a career and a family. The future of America is in the hands and minds of our younger generations, and this nation has some really troubling times ahead.

More and more children are being raised by someone other than their parents, or by overworked and overstressed parents who are forced to split their time between their careers and their families. That’s simply not right, no matter how you look at it. As the Huffington Post illustrates in their infographic comparing paid parental leave internationally, “the US joins Lesotho, Swaziland, and Papua New Guinea as the only countries that do not mandate paid maternity leave,” with most countries offering “at least three months of paid leave for new mothers, and many [giving] fathers benefits, too.” The UK tops the charts with 280 days of 90 percent salary for new moms and dads, and most countries offer 100+ days off with full paid leave. 

You would think that a superpower like the US would offer superpower benefits to its citizens to promote a healthy and prosperous country. However, there are several gaps in “the system” that need fixing before work-life balance can become a reality for Americans. In his article for Harvard Business Review, Stew Friedman proposes these seven policy changes below that he believes would help close the gaps for working parents across the country and take some of the burden off of their shoulders. 

1. Provide World-Class Child Care

2. Make Family Leave Universally Available

3. Revise the Education Calendar

4. Support Portable Health Care

5. Relieve Students of Burdensome Debt

6. Display a Variety of Role Models and Career Paths

7. Require Public Service

To read Friedman’s full HBR article, click here.

The fight for paid parental leave after the birth of a child is more about the parents bonding with their newborns than it is about money. It’s vital that new moms and dads are provided the space and time to bond with their children because, as the National Scientific Council Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University found, “All aspects of adult human capital, from workforce skills to cooperative and lawful behavior, build on capacities that are developed during childhood, beginning at birth,” according to a Working Mother article. Moreover, Carol Evans, president of Working Mother Media, points out that, “Our ability to compete in the global marketplace depends upon the energy, intelligence, and commitment our mothers and fathers bring to the workplace every day — qualities that are built on a strong family foundation.” Offering sufficient parental leave is not only vital to the success of working parents worldwide, but it’s also a vital aspect of our success as a country, as a whole.

Google has adopted a more attractive maternity leave for its employees, lengthening the time off for new moms “to five months from three and changed it from partial pay to full pay,” with attrition rates decreasing by 50 percent, according to a New York Times article. If more American companies offer parental leave packages that are comparable to the rest of the world, then maybe this nation wouldn’t be so overstressed, undereducated, and unfulfilled. 

Tell Us What You Think

How would having a fully paid maternity leave affect your view on having a child? Share your thoughts on Twitter or in the comments section below.