Editor's note: The following blog post is a response to the Huffington Post blogger Regan Long's "A Working Mother's Plea to the President."
I was truly moved by your anguish about leaving your new baby home so you could return to your teaching job, and while your letter was directed to President Obama and not me, I wanted to respond.
I have three kids myself. Mine are a little older -- the oldest just went away to college -- so they need me a little less than yours need you. I know the guilt you feel, though. And I can tell you that your children won't blame you for going out to earn a living and keep a roof over their heads.
I agree with you -- we don't do nearly enough in this country to help working families balance all the competing demands on their time. It's as shocking to me as it is to you that we're the only industrialized country without paid family leave. I was just in Germany where I met a young American working for an IT company there -- he doesn't want to return to the U.S. because he and his wife have started a family and they need the paid leave.
I've talked to a lot of families like yours facing difficult choices. Just a few weeks ago, I sat down for lunch with two families who wrote to me about the emotional and physical stress of having to go back to work before they are ready. How can we tell someone to take a huge financial hit unless they go back to work only a few weeks after an emergency C-section? The financial strain doesn't get easier as a child gets a little older -- as the president recently pointed out, day care can cost more than tuition at a public university.
So much has changed in recent decades -- the influx of women into the workforce, modernizing gender roles, new family structures -- it makes no sense that our laws haven't kept up with social and economic change. In the second decade of the 21st century, why are we still living by Leave it to Beaver rules?
You shouldn't have to win the boss lottery in order to have a little bit of flexibility at work. Raising and supporting a family isn't just a financial obligation. What's important isn't just being able to put food on the dinner table -- we want you to be at the dinner table, too. The most important family value of all is time with your family.
From a policymaking perspective, we're slowly making progress on this issue. So far, Rhode Island, New Jersey, California and several cities have passed paid leave laws. And earlier this month, Massachusetts passed a state paid leave referendum. So did the cities of Trenton and Montclair, New Jersey. With compelling voices like yours speaking up, Regan, we can push to make paid family leave the law of the land.
Thank you for sharing your story. And all the best to you and your family.
U.S. Secretary of Labor