Time to Care: Planning for Family

This article is part of Time to Care, a collaborative story series from Families Valued and Shared Justice, both initiatives of the Center for Public Justice.

By Chelsea Langston Bombino and Amanda

Conversations about paid family leave have taken hold in American politics. Members of both conservative and liberal political leanings are setting forth proposals in Congress, and the President of the United States has discussed paid family leave as a policy priority for the country. Political advocacy is one way for citizens to push this conversation forward. Another way to champion paid family leave is in the workplace. As Amanda and her husband prepare to grow their family, Amanda shares her experience of advocating for paid family leave in her workplace and how its implementation will impact her growing family.

How do you navigate family caregiving responsibilities with the responsibilities of your job?

I am a clinical dietician at a community hospital. It is a 150 bed facility, and there are four other dieticians on staff. I am in charge of the inpatient medical oncology floor, outpatient oncology units and the behavioral health units. My hours are pretty stable, although I do have to work one weekend a month, and I don’t have to bring my work home with me. I arrive at work around 7 in the morning and I get home around 3:30 in the afternoon. That schedule helps me to be present as a mom. My husband, a software engineer, spends mornings with our daughter. He gets her up in the morning, dresses her and takes her to daycare. Because he works in the tech field his day starts later than mine. My job allows me to balance my family life and work, but my responsibilities as a parent prevent me from pursuing certain opportunities at work. There have been positions I am qualified for—that I had a chance to get—for which I choose not to apply because I don’t want to take my work home with me.

What has been your experience working in the field of healthcare? What type of support is generally available to healthcare workers and their families?

When I had my daughter two years ago, there was no paid parental leave. I had to use disability leave which only provides 60% of your pay for six weeks. Then I had to use my paid time off (PTO) to cover the rest. We had the ability to prepare for our daughter and we put away income  to supplement the income we’d lose when I stayed home after birth. It was important to both of us that I was home with our daughter for 12-weeks. Not everyone has the ability to plan like we could.

As of January of this year, the hospital company I work for changed their parental leave policy. There are now two weeks of paid parental leave for men and women. This is a good start, but not as much as families need.

I was actually on our hospital system employee engagement committee when we first attempted to implement paid family leave. We scored low in the category of company care and, during the brainstorming process on the committee, I spoke up and argued that we needed paid parental leave. I thought providing access to that benefit would help us score higher. The group of people on the committee–mostly women in their 50s and high corporate employees—were not receptive. They didn’t see the need. Despite this, there was already another team at the hospital thinking about paid parental leave, and the policy has since been implemented. Two weeks is not great and it’s not enough, but it is something, and we are the first of the healthcare facilities in the area to offer this type of benefit.

How does paid parental leave make a difference in terms of your current family?

This will make a difference in terms of the timing and spacing of our future children. Now that my employer has this benefit, I want to stay with my employer rather than take a job with another hospital system. Before we had this benefit, I always thought to keep my PTO as high as possible in the back of my mind for when my husband and I decide to plan for another child. Once you find out you are pregnant, you only have seven or eight months to accrue more leave, and it’s impossible to build it up very high in that time period. I have fairly good PTO benefits, but with the realities of caregiving I can never have the perfect maximum amount saved. Doctors appointments and scheduling conflicts arise, and I have to take time off.

It is important that healthcare providers show concern for the health of their own employees

Even though two weeks isn’t much, two weeks of paid leave will make a huge difference in our budgeting as we plan to expand our family. My husband and I are actively trying to get pregnant right now, and I still feel like I can live my life and plan for periods of rest. I have scheduled two weeks of vacation, one in June and one in September, and I am able to attend to my current family needs while planning for my future family needs. Without that paid time, I would feel like I couldn’t use any PTO, even if it meant giving up opportunities to rest and connect with my husband and two-year-old daughter.

Do you see this type of conversation—about valuing time with family—recurring in Christian circles of people our age?

When I was serving on my workplace’s employee engagement committee, I said, “I am a millennial. Paid parental leave is the type of benefit that will keep millennials working here. With this type of benefit, our hospital system is going to save money in the long run by increasing retention. Currently, we are experiencing a shortage of nurses. We need to do whatever we can to attract new nurses and keep them. This type of benefit will definitely help.”

While the mission of healthcare providers is to uphold the health of the community in general, it is also important that they show concern for the health of their own employees. Paid parental leave is one way to show care for employees—and not just for mothers, but fathers as well.  Giving a father two weeks off to bond with his child is very important. To me, that makes a statement that we really care about families. My husband is a software engineer, and he was working for a small employer that did not have parental leave or good PTO benefits when we had our daughter. He was only able to take off one week after our child was born. To break that down even more, she was born on a Monday, we went home on Wednesday and then four days later he went back to work. We didn’t even have a whole week home together as a family. It was very stressful for our family. He didn’t have the opportunity to truly bond with our daughter after birth. We had other circumstances in our lives happening simultaneously during his week off that kept him distracted; his parents were here from another country and he was trying to make sure they were happy and comfortable. Overall, there was a lot of stress in our lives the first couple of weeks in our daughter’s life, and his work situation was part of that stress.

My husband’s company was bought out by a very large Fortune 500 Company. Now, he has access to 10 weeks of paid paternity leave. We are really looking forward to using that with our next child. He also received a big jump in pay, but I was honestly more excited about the paternity leave.

Amanda lives in Pittsburgh in the neighborhood of Edgewood with her husband and daughter. She works as a dietitian at a community hospital and is actively involved in a local church.

Chelsea Langston Bombino is the Director of the Sacred Sector, an initiative of the Center for Public Justice. Sacred Sector is a learning community for faith-based organizations and emerging leaders within the faith-based nonprofit sector to integrate and fully embody their sacred missions in every area of organizational life. If you are interested in learning more, please contact Sacred Sector Program Coordinator Virginia Creasy at virginia.creasy@cpjustice.org.

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