This past week, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer made news with
the announcement of extended leave benefits for parents following the birth of a child.
This move may come as good news to current "Yahoos," (the company’s name for its
employees), to family minded young professionals searching for work in the web portal industry, or to those who were perhaps put off by Yahoo's recent "no more
work from home" policy that created a small stir in the business world back in February. Mayer, who took over a struggling Yahoo while 5 months pregnant during the summer of 2012, has made several changes that appear to be geared toward more productivity and a collaborative spirit among workers. This one will no doubt appeal to families. The change in paid parental leave is getting press, but it is the same as
Facebook currently offers to employees, and less than that offered to new moms
by Google, which grants up to 22 weeks of paid leave. Non-birth parents (dads or partners) can take up to 7 weeks off at Google while Facebook offers 16 weeks of leave to all new parents, regardless of whether they are the one who gave birth to the baby.
So, a happy first Mother's Day this Sunday, and upcoming in June, a first Father's Day to all the employees of those companies who will able to take the time they need to spend with their new babies. It makes me wonder what would
happen if those families were to face the worst imaginable outcome. What sort of leave policy do any of these companies offer families who, instead of
celebrating the birth of a precious child, must mourn the death of that child?
I am absolutely not knocking the generosity of any of those companies, or any
other company that would allow such a policy. The U.S. overall is far, far
behind all other developed nations in any guaranteed maternity leave. Any U.S.
based company who would increase maternity and paternity leave gets a big
thumbs-up from me. Parents and babies should be together after the birth for as
long as possible. As the mother of two, I know the importance of being able to
spend every waking and sleeping moment with your newborn for as long as you both need to.
But also, as a bereaved mother, I know the pain of what it’s like to bury your beloved child. There is no other pain like it. This is not a comparing of grief, it is simply a fact. There is nothing else in the extensive range of human emotional experiences like the pain of living through the death of your child, at any age. It is simply not something that should happen to anyone. Sadly though, it does happen.
Because we live in such a death-denying society, death and in particular, the death of children, is not a popular topic. Yahoo might get press coverage for offering more than generally accepted (but non-mandated) three days of bereavement leave to parents (or any other grieving person), but I would be willing to bet it wouldn’t be nearly as widely covered by the media.
Imagine for a moment, going through the pain of labor and child birth, but instead of celebrating the birth of your new baby with family and friends, you are planning your baby's funeral. Imagine holding your first born child as he dies in your arms after 6 months of living with a brain tumor. Imagine hearing the news that your teen daughter was killed in a car accident last night.
Now try imagine going back to work three days after that.
The need for support and help following the death of a child is crucial. Bereaved parents need support. They need help. They need understanding. And they need time. Time to, at the very least, find some way to begin to attempt to function at some level approaching normality. Nothing is ever “normal” again after your child dies. But because life does, as they say, go on, we must find ways to cope.
I know what it's like to hold my child in my arms as he takes his last breath. I know what it is to try to function, to focus, to be "normal" after the death of a child. It isn't possible. As a society, as humans, we are very good at coming together after tragedy and helping our fellow humans. There is something very noble in us when everything is falling down around us. Our flaw is that it is so easy to forget as soon as something else catches our attention, when things calm down and it's time to get back to the routine of day in and day out. When sensationalism settles, or shock wears off, or the need for triage passes. But those at the center of the tragedy still must live their day to day realities. The parents of the 26 people--20 of them no older than seven--murdered at Sandy Hook will mourn their children's deaths for the rest of their lives. The parents of the 27 students gunned down at Virginia Tech will continue to grieve. The parents of the 12 students and one teacher killed at Columbine are still in pain.
Much of the focus since the Newtown tragedy has been on the issue of gun control and on how to make schools safer. These are no small things. But another thing we could also do would be to provide a way to support the suffering parents who are now and will always be struggling to find a way to cope with this new life without their children. What if bereaved parents were able to choose leave when their children die as well as when they are born?
There is no leave policy that could ever erase the pain of the death of a child. But having time to grieve, to mourn, to simply be, would be a gift that we could give that could make a difference for those parents and perhaps make things just a little easier while thier lives are a living nightmare.
Currently, there are bills in both the House of Representatives and in the Senate, to amend the current Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The
Parental Bereavement Act of 2013 would change nothing in the current law except allow parents of children who have died the option of using the up-to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per calendar year to have time to grieve. The FMLA uses no funds, costs employers nothing except the continued payment for insurance benefits, is applicable only to companies with over 50 employees and guarantees only that the employee will have their job when they return. This is very little to give in exchange for what a bereaved parent would have the opportunity to gain. Some space and time to grieve.
It is my fervent hope that our lawmakers will see that this is an opportunity to show American workers that they are supported, that our best quality as humans, to take care of those in need and in pain, can be extended to the workplace. Write to your Senators and Representatives, call them and let them know that you support the Farley-Kluger Initiative (H.R. 515 & S. 226).
To amend FMLA with the Parental Bereavement Act would be a true act of
compassion and care. It's time is now.
Visit the website to sign the petition.
Karla Helbert, LPC