I just watched—again—Stephen Colbert’s on-air tribute to his mom, Lorna Tuck Colbert, who died at age 92, and I realize why I love it so much. It’s not only because he expresses a kindred grief about losing parents who lived full, long lives. It’s because what he did is so rare in television, certainly, and in most workplaces, definitely. Aside from a thoughtful, “I’m sorry about your mom” that kind colleagues offer after a death like this, there’s little else discussed. And there’s little acknowledgement of how a parent’s death, no matter how old she is, no matter how old you are, knocks the stuffing out of you for awhile.
It’s not quite a year yet, but as I blog on a cold winter morning with a sweet black-brown Lab mix dog cuddling by my side, I am remembering the very special January day that Bailey joined our family. After years of willing and praying a dog into our lives, Bridget’s dream of bringing a puppy home came true in a big, fun way a year ago this month.
The day we arrived at the Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter in East Hanover, NJ with hope of adopting a Lab/Spaniel mix puppy was the same day The Today Show arrived to film a segment on pet adoption. The stars aligned, Bridget and our family were featured, and we were able to take home the pup Bridget lovingly picked out long before the cameras started rolling. It was a good day, and it’s been a great year. We all love Bailey.
There are lots of reasons I’m proud of my oft-maligned state, New Jersey. Beautiful beaches. Green hills. Gritty cities. More people per square inch to get to know. Here’s another: we may become the third state in the country after California and Washington to provide paid family leave for employees who need to take time off from work to care for a family member.
Do you remember the nasty SUV accident NJ Governor Jon Corzine survived? (He wasn’t wearing a seatbelt while his state trooper driver was speeding to Don Imus’ mea culpa meeting with the Rutgers’ University women’s basketball team that he racially denigrated on air.) During his long recovery, Corzine learned a few things, including this as his children and companion left work to be by his side 24/7:
“All of us had the (financial) capacity to be able to do that,” he told the Star-Ledger. “Not everybody does.”
You’ve got that right, Gov.
Paid family leave is not just for new parents. It’s for anyone who gets a call on a Tuesday that her 85-year-old mom has had a stroke a three-hour flight away. It’s for the employee who needs to stop and help a terminally ill family member but can’t afford to forgo the pay to do it. And, yes, women are the ones who would take advantage of it most—80 percent of the claims for paid leave in California, the only state to offer it, are taken by women.
Since the employer-funded system was put into play in July 2004, it has not been abused, and it hasn’t devastated small businesses as opponents argued. Under the law, workers can receive about 55 percent of their wages capped at $882 a week for up to six weeks while caring for a seriously ill parent, child, spouse or domestic partner, or while bonding with a new child. One-third of the requests have been related to surgery, 18 percent to cancer, and 10 percent for circulatory-related diseases.
New Jersey‘s law also would require workers to use vacation time before taking family leave, and it would limit payments to a max of $502 a week for up to 10 weeks. Like the California program, it would be paid for through employee payroll deductions ($1 a week each.) I don’t get how anyone can argue against a program funded by employees to meet the needs of employees at difficult moments in their lives. Moments most of us will find ourselves facing at some point during our professional lives.
Passage of the law is not a given, with biz groups lobbying hard against it. We’ll see if Jersey comes through on this one. Don’t you think it’s time more states tried an employee-funded approach? Exactly what is there to lose?
Corzine says his crash focused him on issue [The Star-Ledger/NJ.com]
Friends of mine just shared some great news. After years of yearning for a child, they got word they have been chosen to adopt a baby boy in January. They are praying it all happens as expected, and making plans to take time off of work to bond with and care for their newborn.
The mom works at a company with generous benefits, save one: paid leave for adoptive parents. Thankfully, the law allows that she can take unpaid family leave, and she will. But it will be a financial burden as they start their family. The good news is, more companies add benefits for adoptive parents every year. Some offer paid leave. Others also offer to pay part of the adoption expenses. Aside from helping employees through a big financial change in their lives, these benefits acknowledge that adoptive families are just as important as biological families in our society, and that adoptive parents need the same time to bond with and care for babies and older children that birth parents do.
The New York Times reports that the number of companies offering adoption benefits is on the rise, from small nonprofits to Fortune 500 members. Reporter Lynette Clemetson notes that a 2006 survey of 1,000 companies by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption found that 44 percent of respondents offered paid adoption leave, up from 38 percent in 2000. Get this: 83 percent offered some financial assistance for adoptions, up from 70 percent in 2000.
Of course, it’s important to note that companies that respond to surveys like these are more likely to offer a bevy of benefits. And that paid maternity leave is not a given in the United States. A Families and Work Institute study in 2005 found that 66 percent of companies with 1,000 employees or more offer some kind of pay during maternity leave.
Still, even with all the pressures facing American companies today, ignoring the needs of employees who are adoptive parents remains a short-term strategy. Helping an employee at this pivotal point in her life can help foster an even more loyal and productive employee upon return, and give at least one member of the future workforce a start in life every child deserves. Simply, it is the right thing to do.
LINK: Breaking the Biology Barrier [New York Times]
Sigh. Remember that feeling of final exams being over, another school year coming to a close, and what seemed an endless summer opening up? For the life of me, I can’t. My kids love this time of year, and I love it for them. But awhile ago I realized June is not a winding-down time of the year for moms. It’s one big to-do list, and some years the June list is long.
When my kids were little, there seemed to be an end-of-the-year celebration involving parents a few times a week every June. Field Day. Concerts. Picnics. All good fun, and I wouldn’t have missed them, but they sure make getting a full day’s work done a challenge.
This year, I’ve got an 8th grader graduating, so there are many events and parties. Add them to my list of summer camp sign-ups, babysitter schedules, and trip planning. I love that their schedule changes shape, slows, and shifts to a more fun, relaxing rhythm for them. But I’m really just trading one schedule for another—one that often makes getting through my work week a new kind of challenge.
That said, sure as peonies and roses bloom in June, I know that in two months I’ll be lamenting the end of another summer, and the start of another school year that moves my summer-loving kids closer to adulthood.
I spent a few hours away from my blogging post one morning this week at my fourth grader’s elementary school, and it was time well spent. Every year, our school librarian hosts a “Battle of the Books” to inspire kids to team up and read 15 really good books between them, then answer questions that tax their memories about plot, characters, and descriptions from the books.
This friendly competition was almost shut down by our district’s administrators a few years ago because they argued “the research shows” that remembering small details about books is not a good test of reading comprehension. Probably true. But I could care less. It’s one of the best things to happen during the school year because it inspires lots of kids to read at least five really good books at home that they might otherwise never have read. If one 10-year-old reads one book she wouldn’t have picked up with no “battle” ahead, then the program is a success in my book.
There’s another reason why it’s hard to argue with Battle of the Books: Kids split lots of their learning and fun time between screens these days — smartboards, computer screens, TV screens, iPods, and portable video games all vie for their attention. It’s nice to see a pile of books draw their eyes down to the written page every once in awhile.