The Necessity of Bonding Leave: "It's a Vital Part of Raising Children"

As the Coalition continues to organize for policy changes that expand equity and economic security for all working families, we are also collecting stories from parents and caregivers who benefitted (or could not benefit) from taking paid family leave (PFL) to bond with a new, adopted, or foster child, or to take care of a seriously ill family member.

Meet Michael Levy, who kindly shared his story about welcoming his son, Auden, into his family while working for a small business with less than 20 employees.

At the time I received PFL in the spring of 2015, I was living and working in San Francisco. My employer did not [offer] family leave benefits, but he did extend a six week period of time off while I collected the [State Disability Insurance (SDI)] benefits available from the state. 

The ability to collect [SDI benefits] was crucial in those first weeks of my son's life. 

Auden surprised us by coming into the world 5 weeks before his expected due date, and as a result we were required to stay in the hospital with him for a week until he could be safely released. During that time, we were on a schedule of feeding and napping every few hours, with very little sleep for ourselves. My wife was still recovering from childbirth and was wheelchair-bound for most of our stay. She needed help standing, moving around, and adjusting positioning for breastfeeding. I was also in charge of meals, dirty diapers, and nurse communication. Work was simply not an option during this time, and if we had any savings to speak of, we were running through it quickly. 

Once we went home, we needed to figure out how to do everything without a team of nurses helping us around the clock. Auden did not sleep well and had a difficult time taking to breastfeeding. My wife also developed post partum depression arising from these difficulties. My presence helped to ease the stress and burden. If I had to be at work during this time, I honestly do not know how we would have made it through--it was hard enough when I was there. 

I am also extremely grateful that I was able to be home during my son's first weeks of life. I was able to focus on him and his needs in a way that helped bond us and strengthened my confidence and abilities as a parent. 

Like most young people I know, we live paycheck to paycheck, so going without an income during that time would've been impossible--we would not have been able to pay rent or bills. Paid family leave made it possible for me to be there when my family needed me most. Six weeks went by in the blink of an eye; I'm amazed that some families only get to take two weeks. I've heard of fathers that aren't able to take time off at all. I think it would be an unfortunate mistake to deprive any family of the benefits of that time that we were able to share together, the long term benefits of which have been studied and reported on.  

At the same time, I know that there are Scandinavian countries that allow up to 18 months off, concurrently or at any time in a child's life, to be enjoyed with the family. I know California and the rest of the country are not anywhere near ready to institute a system like that, but it seems to me that the benefits are too great to ignore. I am grateful for what I received, and also hopeful that we can push for greater latitude in this area in the future.

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