Politics & Policy

Paid Family Leave Is a Balm for Our Anxiety

Senator Marco Rubio speaks at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, March 14, 2018. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
It’s a rare consensus opportunity.

It’s no breaking news that Americans are divided and on edge. You see it in headlines, on social media, and probably even in your very own family or circle of friends. Trust in institutions — from government to the church — is low. News tends to be dark. Communication, if you can call it that, is hostile. It’s hard to escape for long the anxiety that seems omnipresent in our country today.

And yet, below the surface of the anger and outrage, there are American families going to work and trying their best. At a time when we so obviously need a renewal of trust, responsibility, love, and courage — the virtuous life — our families are where we sow seeds of peace and faith in the enduring things and hope that there are possibilities in life, and that they can have meaning. Family flourishing is quite simply one of the most critical priorities we face as Americans today.

From our own experiences and the lives of so many we know and love, most of us know how arduous it is to try to balance family and work life. Work should never be the enemy of family life. Government policies should allow for freedom for families wherever possible — which is why paid family leave really ought to be one of our primary rallying cries to lawmakers.

Not only is the need urgent, but there’s a rare opportunity percolating on the issue: It’s a consensus issue, as much as anything ever will be. A somewhat unheard-of 96 percent of mothers and 85 percent of fathers support paid family leave, according to Pew. New York Democratic senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Florida Republican senator Marco Rubio, and Ivanka Trump on behalf of the White House all agree on its necessity — just not on how to achieve it. Americans need to insist that Washington work together on a plan. Children need the bonding time with their mothers, mothers deserve time to be mothers without financial pressure to get back to the workplace immediately. Families need breathing room at this critical time in life.

The Center for Public Justice recently issued a helpful report, Time to Flourish: Protecting Families’ Time to Work and Care, emphasizing that “enabling family time yields abundant benefits. When people are empowered to fulfill their caregiving responsibilities, all of society flourishes. . . . Protecting and enabling family time at crucial moments — whether birth, adoption, illness or death — is one essential way to uphold the enduring value of the family.”

Conservatives are currently debating the wisdom of Rubio’s plan, which lets parents choose to borrow from their own Social Security. While some on the right oppose the funding mechanism, that it’s even stirring a policy discussion is progress. Other conservatives argue that updating the social safety net could make room for wiser government spending that gives mothers and children in particular better outcomes. The Gillibrand plan applies more broadly to family caretaking needs and is funded by payroll taxes, which, of course, raises worries about its dissuading employers from hiring women of childbearing age. Be not afraid to argue it all out and be open to creative collaboration while doing so.

The bottom line is that families need policies that will help them thrive, not just survive. Those of us religious conservatives who have been active in the pro-life movement should be unhesitant about insisting on a results-oriented debate. That’s doesn’t take away from our fundamental human-rights concerns for the right to life. It enhances them. We need to step up our game in nourishing a culture that makes healthy family life more plausible for more Americans.

Our post-midterm election with the divide it leaves in Washington could be an opportunity for American families faced with tough financial decisions that impact loved ones at their most vulnerable times of life. The very soul of America needs just this kind of prioritization. A robust conversation about healthy paid-family-leave policies could be the most practical of balms to American families, who are so frequently stretched to the limits and burning with uncertainty. Washington needs to help lighten their overburdensome loads so they can do some of their most important work as the incubator of all the virtues we need for a reawakening of hope.

Kathryn Jean Lopez, senior fellow at the National Review Institute, where she directs the Center for Religion, Civil Society, and Culture, is editor-at-large of National Review. Kelly M. Rosati is a child advocate who was a longtime vice president of Focus on the Family.

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