The Return to Work After Parental Leave

Posted on January 8, 2019


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Bridget KozlowskiI know many of our ELGL’ers are parents and have been for some time now.  But here I am, figuring it out as I go — and asking all of us to advocate for the future of working parents in local government.

My son was born 3.5 weeks early at the end of this past August, and my life has been completely changed since. His unplanned early arrival meant I wasn’t able to leave work completely buttoned up as I had hoped; my hospital bag wasn’t even packed so that should tell you how my desk looked when I left work that Monday afternoon. But, Charlie Kozlowski joined the world Tuesday, August 28th — and my work badge went in a drawer where it would stay until December.

I was naïve going into parenting, as I assume most first-time parents are. I was a 31-year-old educated woman with a supportive partner and loving extended family. How hard could this be? What I learned quickly about babies is they don’t care how prepared you are or how hard you’re trying to get them to sleep or eat. They don’t even care if you’re crying too. They’re going to do what they want.

Over the course of the next few weeks I spent countless hours Googling the most absurd baby-related topics and hundreds of dollars Amazon Prime-ing every “miracle” baby sleep aid and self-help book to my house that I could find. Most purchases were made between the hours of 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. The haul included five different sleep sacks, six books, two noise machines and something called a Baby Shusher (which is a miracle machine, by the way).

My original vision of maternity leave was me, beaming with new-mom glow, working out regularly, lunching with friends and catching up on TV shows. Instead, it was more of me bumping into walls around my house, starring at a baby monitor praying for a nap and only interacting with UPS delivery guys and garbage men.

Luckily my maternal love was so strong that my little Benjamin Button-looking dude kept my dark circled eyes beaming with love. I was a groggy and emotional human burp rag, a shell of my former self. But I loved that little crying, wrinkly human raisin more than I could put into words and I was determined to be the best I could be for him.

All of this is to say, from September to November, I was completely tuned out of work and anything related to my career. I forgot who “working Bridget” was and didn’t even have time think about my former self. My life had completely changed, my body was recovering and I was barely hanging on to survive it all.

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If you haven’t seen comedian Ali Wong’s Netflix specials “Hard Knock Wife” and “Baby Cobra,” please add them to your list and watch ASAP (I laughed so hard I cried the first time I watched both back-to-back). There was even a moment early on in my son’s life where I thought I perhaps wouldn’t return to work – how could I possibly leave him?

But as the weeks of parental leave went on, I did find myself missing that part of my identity and also missing the joy I get out of working a job I love. So, I did choose to return to work.

As much as I was excited to trade in my leggings for pants with a waistband again — and treat myself to a venti cold brew on the way to work — I cried every morning the first few days back to the office.

It’s an emotional journey to leave your infant with anyone other than yourself, regardless of if you are making the choice or have no choice but to keep an income to support your family.

I am lucky that my husband works for a German company that offers him two full months paid as a father anytime in the first year of his child’s birth. Novel, isn’t it? So, our son is currently home with Dad until he starts daycare in February.

But yes, I am grateful I was able to take the 12 weeks allotted to me through FMLA and focus on my baby his first few weeks of life. I am proud that my employer, City of Sterling Heights, Michigan, had just passed a Parental Leave Policy in June (yay!) that made my first five weeks of that leave full pay.

After that, I was at 60% pay on Short Term Disability until I started full time again. It was rough being without my whole paycheck and still trying to run a functioning household while caring for an infant — but I’m lucky that my husband also works full time and we leaned on his salary those months.

I truly don’t understand how American workplaces can offer anything less than 12 weeks at home with your new baby — and hope this is just the beginning for my city and others to start re-thinking parental leave policies as a “benefit” and more of a requirement.

After having been through it, 12 weeks is the minimum amount I believe a parent should be offered to care for their helpless (and sleepless) newborn, acclimate to parenting and to physically recover from however their baby joined this world.

As a reminder, the U.S. is wildly behind the times in the realm of parental leave.

From CNN: “Employers in E.U. countries must offer a minimum paid maternity leave of 14 weeks uninterrupted. But several E.U. countries are far more generous, the report notes. For example, the United Kingdom offers 52 weeks, 39 of which are partially paid; Ireland offers 42 weeks, of which 26 are paid at a flat rate of 230 euros per week; and Italy offers 22 weeks, all of which are paid at 80% of earnings.”

Another CNN article released in 2018 states “New Zealand is expected to increase the paid leave entitlement to 22 weeks this year, which would move it higher up the rankings of the most generous policies in the developed world… Bulgaria came in first with just under 59 weeks of paid leave, while Estonia and Poland tied for 10th place at 20 weeks.”

It’s clear the U.S. has a long way to go. Private companies in America are starting to make changes, such as Adobe (26 weeks), Netflix (1 year), Microsoft (20 weeks), Facebook (16 weeks) and Apple (14 weeks).

Governing Magazine covered the hotly debated topic when the State of Arkansas implemented four weeks of paid maternity leave for state employees, highlighting that next generation local government employees are generally more interested in work-life balance and are attracted to employers that offer such.

Cities like “Austin, Texas; Boston; Hennepin County, Minn.; King County, Wash.; Minneapolis and Washington, D.C.; have all started to offer paid parental leave in the past several years. And within days of the Arkansas law’s passage, Seattle expanded its paid parental leave from four to 12 weeks for public workers.”

As I sit here at my desk, with my four-month old at home with my husband, I encourage all of you as leaders in ELGL to continue this conversation not only within in your organization but also at your statewide organizations and at a national level.

This holds true whether you’re 22 years old and fresh out of college or 62 years old with children grown and out of the house. This is on all of us.

As local government continues to struggle to attract its next generation of employees — and also stares down the impending silver tsunami — we have to make paid parental leave a priority for our employees, if anything simply to ensure a strong future for our organizations.

Without the security of pensions chaining staff to their employer, this is about creating a work environment that supports its employees through a tremendous life change, as a result, will most likely retain them in the long run. In the end, it’s truly a mutual benefit.


Today’s ELGL Buzz is by Bridget Kozlowski, the Community Relations Director for Sterling Heights, MI.

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