Paid parental leave from a student’s perspective

Agnes Cho

The dynamics of the transculturally common unit of family have proven to be complex—an intricate choreography of preset needs and roles to be fulfilled. A family anticipating the arrival of a new child experiences a need for the nurturer, the protector and the provider. However, the traditional designations of the “nurturer” and “provider” roles to women and men, respectively, have evolved. Family dynamics have increased in complexity as society began exerting growing influence on life inside the home, changing and challenging the way caregivers must reconcile their professional responsibilities with their domestic ones, particularly in households with mothers and fathers who both have careers. 

The University has recently taken steps to help employees maintain this balance by expanding the parental leave policy, which will be implemented on the first day of the fall 2016 semester. Among the highlights of the University’s new policy are the availability of leave to birth mothers, birth fathers and adoptive parents, the increase of paid leave for faculty from six weeks to one semester (15 weeks) and the increase of paid leave for staff from six weeks to eight weeks. 

I celebrate this change happily and applaud our university for furthering a family-oriented environment. However, I do believe that this new policy has not yet come to full fruition, as there is still much to consider beyond the efforts that have been made. We must now ensure that this new policy honors its tenets. 

One step we must take is to actively foster a social atmosphere conducive to the encouragement of paternity leave, which remains a silently controversial issue. Continuously educating our campus on the sound rationale behind paternity leave can bring about the only true environment our new policy can thrive in—one without judgment or any remnants of outdated conventions relating to gender roles in parenting. 

In my efforts to share the science behind the need to remove any aspect of faux pas in paternity leave, I spoke with an expert in family dynamics. Dr. Linda Copel, professor in the College of Nursing, states that “The loss or lack of the emotional and physical presence of fathers, often is demonstrated in a concept called father hunger…commonly associated with eating disorders and other types of addiction… There is a strong connection between the disruption of early father-child attachment and the experience of father hunger. Parental leave can be one proactive strategy to use in decreasing the experience of father-hunger.” 

Dr. Carol Weingarten, course leader in Nursing Care of Women and Childbearing Families, also shares her informed perspective: “Did people survive in the past? Survive and thrive are different. Without paid parental leave, mothers and fathers simply could not afford to take needed time. Performance at work and family relationships were at risk, too. Fathers had to return to work responsibilities at the same time that they were needed at home. The needs that come with the transition to parenting make paid parental leave important for health.” 

Six weeks mark the end of normal postpartum— eight weeks in more serious birth cases—but considering that at eight months, most infants still cannot sleep through the night, one semester of parental leave is perfectly justifiable for faculty, who must transition successfully into parenting, achieve stability between work and home, and prevent hindering students’ learning by being only partially present during the course of a semester. 

The issue is that there is a clear disparity in the consideration of faculty, who benefit from one semester of paid parental leave and of staff who only receive eight weeks. Should the University not offer additional staff support that communicates understanding during this important time of familial growth? My solution regarding this disparity is twofold: extend the paid time off for staff and provide an alternative method of support. 

An idea worthy of consideration is a babysitting center for staff on campus. To draw from my own experience, nursing students are periodically sent newsletters for babysitting opportunities from families near the area. Aside from informing the general nursing-student body of these opportunities, the College of Nursing does not directly facilitate babysitting arrangements, neither providing transportation to the families’ homes nor being involved in contact between either parties. This program would be similar, with the exception of providing a location on campus for children of staff to be babysat by hired students. The University would not be responsible for the children’s food or supplies—it would simply provide a center in which the independently arranged babysitting would take place. At the University’s discretion, this program can also be a work-study opportunity, as many students would be readily available due to the convenience of location. Although this opportunity would be open to all students, staff may also find it appealing that nearly all upperclassmen nursing students, in particular, have undergone background checks, FBI fingerprinting and CPR/AED certification and would prove to be valuable temporary caretakers of their children. Hired students, under the supervision of a professional, would work in shifts, documenting meals, naps and cleanups to ensure that the children are receiving proper attention. Staff members looking to save money on nannies can work, assured that their children are being taken care of responsibly and conveniently. 

As Dr. Julie Klein, associate professor of Philosophy, well states, “We have yet to see the details of the policy – and, as everyone knows, the devil really can be in the details—but the news so far is promising… I am concerned that staff employees receive only eight weeks of paid parental leave. Any increase is good, but I’d like to see the University go further in addressing the needs of staff. Having children shouldn’t be a career obstacle or an economic hardship.”

So, I ask all Villanovans to actively engage in this matter. Think about your family and what may have made things easier. Think about your future family and what you might appreciate. And do not forget to think about our Villanovan family members, especially the ones starting families of their own.