Ben Saufley

Engineering Leader

Parental Leave

graph of git contributions with gap for parental leave

I posted this on LinkedIn in November and am posting it here, backdated, as I’m updating my website, because I think it’s important.

In August, my wife gave birth to our first child. She’s the best. We’re so happy. It’s been a long journey. This isn’t a post about the years it took to get there, but the weeks since.

I’ve always been in favor of supportive family policies like parental leave (with equal time off for each parent—otherwise an implicit care/labor dynamic is established). I’m lucky to work for a company that gave me more paid leave than most US companies, too, and I’m very grateful.

But this experience really hammered home how much the US system is failing its people. The best we have right now, federally, is protection for twelve weeks unpaid? Do you know how expensive a baby is? Do you know how much work it is?

And never mind the moral obligation (this is a wealthy country; we should be providing a solid foundation for new lives and a supportive environment for the people shepherding them); simply from a capitalist “productivity” standpoint, it’s a disaster: I know that every parent’s experience is different—and I want to be clear that I’m not judging anyone who truly of free will chooses to return to work on their own timeline—but I can’t imagine most parents back at work after one week or even six are thriving, either as employees or as humans.

It’s hard to be doing your best work when you’re more tired than you’ve ever been in your life. It’s hard doing your best work when every new day presents a new challenge, a new “this works but this doesn’t”. It’s hard to focus on anything but survival, even setting aside all the bonding and “cherishing each moment” we’re all so hard-pressed to do.

And then there’s all the concerns of whom this new child becomes: whether we’re thinking compassionately or coldly and practically, not providing the time and resources to establish a solid foundation for our children is only going to hurt all of us in the future. There are myriad studies about how important those first months of development are for all later success. By not providing for new parents and new children, we are only creating a poorer future for all of us.

While we were expecting, we learned about the “18-month gestation”—the idea that essentially, because of biological constraints, humans’ “normal” gestation continues another 9 months after birth. So even 3 months of leave ends up with another half a year of “gestation.” 6 months of trying to balance this new life with all the pressures of the old; 6 months of a baby still learning how to live, without their parents having adequate time and resources to guide that journey.

12 weeks is only a start, and if it’s unpaid it’s an option that really isn’t an option. It’s truly unfathomable that a country this wealthy (and in which the idea of “protecting life” is, let’s say … a hot-button issue), we consistently refuse to provide for new parents. I’m thankful that I work for a company that has given me time and space to focus on my new role as dad, but it shouldn’t be something only provided to a lucky few.