Working mom Rachael Larsen is illustrating just how lacking paid parental leave is in the United States. After going on maternity leave for 12 weeks, Rachael wasn't ready to return back to work full-time, but she didn't have a choice.
"It took me four years to have the courage to share this photo. Even now, it's hard to look at," she wrote in a poignant LinkedIn post. "The shame around raising a family and working full-time is real. I took this on my first day back to work after my second daughter was born. I wasn't ready. My daughter wasn't ready. She wasn't sleeping and was extremely fussy. I woke up five times the night before to feed her. I was exhausted. As a majority income source for our family, I was forced to suck it up, put on a smile, and get back to work."
And Rachael makes a valid point. According to the Organisation For Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), OECD countries provide mothers with a minimum of 14 weeks of paid leave. The average is actually 18 weeks paid leave, and the majority of these nations provide payments that replace more than 50 percent of previous earnings, with 13 countries providing full compensation to mothers throughout the duration of their leave. Meanwhile, parents in the US aren't entitled to any paid leave on a national basis.
"As a majority income source for our family, I was forced to suck it up, put on a smile, and get back to work."
Currently, American parents can only qualify for 12 weeks of parental leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act if they: "(1) work for a covered employer, (2) work 1,250 hours during the 12 months prior to the start of leave, (3) work at a location where 50 or more employees work at that location or within 75 miles of it, and (4) have worked for the employer for 12 months," per the Department of Labor's website, which notes that the 12 months of work don't necessarily have to be in consecutive order.
After acknowledging that she's "extremely privileged" for having a job she loved with a great company, receiving some partial pay during her 12-week maternity leave, and having a trusted, affordable daycare where she could send her child, Rachael still didn't feel ready to return to work.
"We need to do more to support parents and families," said Rachael. "It may have taken me four years after I knew I'd never have another baby to share this photo. But, I'm glad that I have the courage to speak my truth now."