Is paid parental leave pro-family?

paternity leave parental leave
Father reading a book on the sofa with his baby daughter sleeping on his lap on the sofa. |

Paid parental leave, at least according to recent polling, is not a particularly partisan or controversial issue with Democrats, Republicans, or Independents. However, it is also not among voters’ highest priorities, being eclipsed by the economy, COVID, and inflation. Yet, with former President Trump’s support, approximately two million federal workers now have 12 weeks paid family leave.

President Biden’s “Build Back Better” legislation, in all its unprecedented spending on expanded and new federal government programs, currently includes four weeks parental maternity leave, down from the original proposed twelve weeks.

Unfortunately for the prospects of parental leave, according to an October 2021 CBS/YouGov poll, only 36 percent of Americans think the “Build Back Better” omnibus legislation would help them and their families (33 percent felt it would hurt their families and 31 percent felt “it would have no effect at all”).

Supporters of parental leave should urge legislators to abandon the one-vote-covers-all ‘reconciliation” process and go back to “regular order” where separate parental leave legislation could be proposed and adopted. “Regular order” (the old-fashioned way of doing things with committee hearings in the House and Senate) produces bipartisan legislation that has a far better chance of receiving the votes necessary to become law.

Why is parental leave legislation so important? I believe if you consider yourself to be “pro-family,” you should support some form of government-subsidized, maternity parental leave.

Supporting such legislation would be one tangible way to rebut those who criticize pro-life advocates of being “pro-life from conception to birth,” but not thereafter.

Just so there is no misconception (pardon the pun), I am unalterably opposed to the “Build Back Better” omnibus legislation, which is indeed Exhibit A that the American people thought they were electing in the moderate Joe Biden, and what they were actually getting, like a lump of coal in their Christmas stockings, was Bernie Sanders.

I believe the reconciliation process is a perversion of the intent of the true legislative model, no matter which party employs it, and it should be abandoned.

However, I do support paid parental leave because I believe it is pro-child and pro-family. I can think of no higher legislative priority than investing in the health and emotional well-being of our children and their parents — mothers and fathers.

In the interest of full disclosure, my views on this issue are heavily influenced by my personal experience. I was an “involved” father (my children are now 47, 44, and 42, respectively). I say “involved” by the measuring standard of my father, who was very “traditional” in his parental role. I don’t think he ever bathed or changed either my younger brother or me unless my mother was medically incapacitated (as in confined to bed).

I, on the other hand, by personal choice, was very involved, bathing and feeding my children when they were very young nearly as often as their mother did, and I was blessed by it and it was my father’s misfortune that he made the choice he did.

I was very fortunate that when my oldest child was born, I was still a Ph.D. student, so I was home a great deal and able to help my wife (who was in the hospital eight days after my daughter’s birth and on bedrest for three weeks after that). I don’t know how we would have coped had I not been available to do the heavy lifting.

Looking back on it, some of the happiest and most emotionally fulfilling episodes in my life were bringing my daughter to her mother to be nursed in the middle of the night, fixing my wife hot chocolate, and then changing my daughter and putting her back into her bed for the rest of her night’s sleep.

I realize I am a very fortunate man to be able to say, “Looking back on my life, there are very few major things I would do differently.” However, one thing I would do differently is I would take parental leave when my younger two children were born and stay home to spend as much time with them in the early weeks of their lives as I did with their older sister.

There is a “bonding” that takes place when you are there around the clock that is different than when you are not there. I love all three of my children unconditionally and unreservedly, but there is a special bond with the one I was with 24/7 those first few months.

I am sharing my story for two reasons. First, I believe we should have government-subsidized parental leave and it should be for fathers as well as for mothers.

Second, I want to alert new and expectant fathers to the opportunity for that special bonding that takes place when you are there 24/7. I wish someone had shared this truth with me as a young father.

I believe we should support paid parental leave for mothers and fathers. If we do this as a country, we will all benefit greatly and strengthen our families in invisible, yet vitally important ways.

Dr. Richard Land, BA (Princeton, magna cum laude); D.Phil. (Oxford); Th.M (New Orleans Seminary). Dr. Land served as President of Southern Evangelical Seminary from July 2013 until July 2021. Upon his retirement, he was honored as President Emeritus and he continues to serve as an Adjunct Professor of Theology & Ethics. Dr. Land previously served as President of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (1988-2013) where he was also honored as President Emeritus upon his retirement. Dr. Land has also served as an Executive Editor and columnist for The Christian Post since 2011.

Dr. Land explores many timely and critical topics in his daily radio feature, “Bringing Every Thought Captive,” and in his weekly column for CP.

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