Carroll Conley

Recently I invited Abby McCloskey, founder and principal of McCloskey Policy LLC, to join me on Faith Matters in Maine to discuss the importance of paid family leave for new parents. This is a topic that I had never discussed in the 12 years I’ve been hosting the program, so it was a real pleasure to have this discussion with Abby on an issue that is wrongly a bit taboo in conservative circles.

It seems that there has long been a cynicism and lack of motivation regarding the paid family leave issue, which is a real barrier to American families and runs counter to what we, as people of faith, say we believe. As Christians, we understand the importance of emphasizing families and the family unit, so why is it that conservatives have struggled to embrace policies that support them?

Psalm 127: 3-5 says, “Children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; they shall not be ashamed, but shall speak with their enemies in the gate.”

Genesis, the very first book of the Bible, tells us to be fruitful and multiply. The Bible is abundantly clear — in order to live a happy and fulfilling life, and to serve the Lord, it is important to create families and communities that serve Him, but so many societal and economic pressures today make starting and growing a family increasingly difficult.

For example, did you know that fewer than one-in-four American workers have access to paid family leave, and that as a result, nearly one-in-four mothers are forced to return to work just two weeks following childbirth? Additionally, 40% of workers are forced to take leave without pay (this statistic increases to 80% for low-income families), and 40% of workers do not have the security to know that their job will still be there following their maternity/paternity leave.

We can, and we must, do better to support the health and well-being of family units in this country. It fits squarely within our values, and it is something that I feel we have been called to do.

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While this has been framed as a binary choice, where the options are to do nothing or to create a large, stifling program like what President Biden attempted in his failed Build Back Better agenda, there is middle ground and it’s time that we make finding workable paid family leave solutions, at least for new parents, a top priority.

It should be a priority for American babies to spend the first few weeks of their life in the loving embrace of their mother and father, regardless of the parent’s occupation or wage level. We know that quality time during this critical stage results in better health and well-being outcomes, and that paid medical leave following the birth or adoption of a child alleviates a lot of stress and financial hardship for the parents. Statistically speaking, mothers are 40% less likely to have to rely on food stamps to feed their families if paid medical leave is provided, and they are more likely to return to the workforce to their same jobs and income levels following their time at home.

Without leave, mothers face an impossible decision — have a child at the risk of careers and financial security, or forgo having children, at least for a time, to advance a career to a point where leave may be provided.

Given these factors, it is not surprising that the ideal size of American families is shrinking, and that couples are waiting longer than ever before to start having children. Our country’s lack of safety net in this regard has disincentivized young families and family units, which is the exact opposite of what we, as Christians, know to be important.

From record inflation rates to the high costs of child care, there are so many factors that work against the family unit that seem so out of reach. But there is something that I feel that we, as conservatives and Christians, can control.

Let’s come to the table now to find responsible paid family leave solutions that support families during their most vulnerable stage — during and immediately following childbirth. The solution is out there, but we must be willing to change the narrative on this important issue.

Carroll Conley is executive director of the Augusta-based Christian Civic League of Maine.


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