Family supportive policies offer, among other things, paid leave to employees that need time to take care of a newborn baby, a foster or adopted child, a sick family member, or to tend to their own extended illness. The United States is one of the only industrialized countries in the world that does not have a federal paid family leave policy. However, conversations about adopting such a policy are prevalent among prominent figures, such as Ivanka Trump, Melinda Gates, and Kirsten Gillibrand. Despite the absence of federal legislation, family supportive policies, provided by larger employers, are available to many socio-economically advantaged employees. Major companies like Google, Amazon, Ikea, and Starbucks have voluntarily adopted and implemented their own family supportive policies. Religious organizations have taken similar actions, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and approximately 100 Jewish organizations under the Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community (AWP).
For many single millennials, it is difficult to see how family supportive policies might provide a direct benefit in the near future; this requires a paradigm shift. The health of our communities and nation as a whole directly impact us. In a public justice framework, our government has a responsibility to make room for both individuals and civil society institutions, such as families, businesses, and nonprofit organizations, to flourish. We live in an extremely interconnected world in which the health of each institution impacts the others. The health of families, the marketplace, and our communities are all intricately dependent on one another. According to the Center for Public Justice’s Guideline on Family, “Healthy families help nurture future citizens, prepare future employers and employees, decrease public costs resulting from fragmented families, and build up strong social and cultural capital.”
Our country is not particularly attuned to this collective mindset, especially not millennials. Rather, the American paradigm is wrought with individualism. Instead of thinking about how our personal decisions impact our communities, we think only about how they affect us as individuals and possibly our immediate surroundings. This individualistic mindset manifests itself in how we vote, what policies we advocate for, where we live, and how we spend our money. It even shapes how we define what ‘rights’ we are entitled to. However, an individualistic mindset does little to foster holistic flourishing for a community.
In his book Pluralism and Religious Freedom: Faith-Based Organizations in a Democratic Society, Dr. Stephen Monsma writes, “We are not just atomistic individuals, but rather we are integrated in groups. We live our lives in communities: in families, in neighborhoods, in faith communities. If the rights of these groups are not protected, in a way, our own individual rights are not protected.” While Monsma makes a compelling argument for a community driven mindset, many millennials resonate with the converse argument that author Meghann Foye makes in her book, Meternity. Foye states that she wants “all the perks of maternity--without having any kids.” While Foye’s claim does not explicitly stand against family supportive policies, it does exhibit our commonly held individualistic mindset. This attitude diminishes the importance of and need for parents to have a secure space to adequately care for their families - the very families that determine the health of our nation.
In an article written for the New York Post, Foye claims that maternity leave is a type of “sabbatical break that allows women, and to a lesser degree men, to shift their focus to the part of their lives that doesn’t revolve around their jobs.” Foye is suggesting that ‘meternity’ leave is essentially the same as maternity leave. However, maternity leave is not a vacation or a sabbatical. Giving birth to, adopting, or fostering a child is an enormous investment of time, resources, and care for another human being. It requires a constant and deep commitment to loving, caring for, and protecting someone other than yourself. This does not necessarily negate Foye’s argument for the importance of self-care, as it is essential to care for oneself in order to be an effective caregiver. However, downplaying maternity leave and purporting entitlement is not the way to support our co-workers and our society, or to achieve a healthy work-life balance for yourself. Rather, it strengthens our individualistic tendencies and contributes to an apathy towards the common good, which negatively impacts others, particularly new parents and their children.
How should those of us who are unmarried, single, or not planning on starting a family anytime soon respond to the issue of paid family leave? As Christians, we have a sacred calling to love and care for our neighbors; family supportive policies help us achieve this. Advocating for family supportive policies can benefit those who may need them sometime in the future, and can ensure their provision for those who can benefit from them now. Paid family leave helps mothers and fathers to flourish as caregivers. It gives children the care they need to succeed developmentally. It strengthens families, as parents live out the multiple roles that they were created for and children grow into well-functioning and positively contributing members of society. Advocating for family supportive policies is a way for Christian citizens to care for and love our neighbors, whether they are next door or states away.
-Julia Metcalf is a second year student at Princeton Theological Seminary and calls Tulsa, Oklahoma home.