Support For Working Families Tops Americans’ Wish List This Holiday Season
by Sarah Chamberlain
Ronald Reagan said the holiday season is when we “celebrate not as individuals or a nation, but as a human family.” Indeed, much of what makes this the favorite time of year is the emphasis on spending time together as a family, offering “good tidings to you and your kin,” recognizing that there is “no place like home for the holidays”, and even traveling “over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house.” Despite complaints about the traffic, crowded stores, and commercialization, the entire nation can still pause, pray and play. Stores, offices, and factories close to allow us to spend time together as a family. And from this time together, wonderful, lifelong memories are born.
Many wish we could extend that family time to last longer.
When families take time for a regular meal their children grow up with more confidence, fewer behavior problems, and improved parent child relationships. Parents with long work commutes and an intense schedule often miss a child’s after school events and countless teachable moments in a child’s development. On the other hand, children of highly involved fathers tend to have improved performance on cognitive tests and children of moms who were at home in the first year of life had improved scores on school readiness and cognitive development. The positive childhood experiences from those early years also inoculate children from the impact of stressful negative events in childhood. Strong family bonds build the resilience which gives a child hope, better social problem solving, and helps them self-regulate through stressful times.
To get these benefits, parents need to spend time with children. They need to be home during critical periods in their child’s development. I know quality child care also can build confidence and intellect, and I recognize many parents must work a great deal to make ends meet and should never feel like they are doing a disservice to their child. However, the benefits of family time in early years of childhood to both society and the family unit are quite clear, and we should do all we can to support that time. Families who struggle to pay the bills need that support even more than others. This need also extends to families supporting an elderly or disabled member.
In the past, employers and policy makers were hesitant to offer paid parental leave because they believed it cost too much to pay someone who is not at work. Family leave has actually become a valuable magnet for employee retention and recruitment. It reduces turnover, reduces costs in new employee training, and increases workforce experience. Further, 21st century work options like telecommuting and webinar training help maintain the skills of workers on family leave.
The federal government has finally recognized the value of the family through the inclusion of up to twelve weeks of paid parental leave for the 2.1 million federal employees in the National Defense Authorization Act just passed by Congress.