There's lots of talk about companies that offer paid parental leave, companies that should offer paid parental leave, and companies that don't offer paid parental leave.
Back in the day, when I took maternity leave and my husband supplemented it with a combination of vacation time and some unpaid time off which we considered his paternity leave, most parental leave was unpaid (although there was some partially paid time-off provided in the form of disability leave for six weeks following the birth of a baby). Given that both my husband and I were earning above-average incomes, this meant that we lost a fair amount of income during our leaves and that we were able to financially plan for it and easily weather it. But make no mistake, we did have to plan for it.
Fast forward 28 years, and I'm finding all the talk about the need for paid parental leave interesting. I agree it is a great benefit and believe it is most valuable for those with lower incomes. Interestingly, it seems like the companies who are most often offering paid parental leave right now are also the companies who pay their employees well. So theoretically, these employees could probably afford to take parental leave with or without the benefit (assuming they manage their finances well and their employers would welcome them back at the end). Or maybe it's fortunate that these companies are leading the way, and the benefit will be available to all, or at least more, after the positive affects are recognized.
Recently, my husband and I were in an airport preparing to return home after a fun trip to New York City. As we sat at the gate, eating some expensive airport sandwiches, we watched others who were sitting in a high-end bar nearby, enjoying even more expensive food and drinks. One group of young people sat at one of those high tables and each of them had a "wine flight" in front of them. I asked my husband, "Why are we (the retired and financially secure couple) sitting here eating sandwiches while the young people are enjoying wine flights?!" I couldn't help but think about all of the stuff I'd have guessed they will need more than a flight of wine in the near future; things like the ability to take some unpaid time off after the birth of a child.
Now I'm old enough to know that it's possible that those young adults are making lots more money than I ever did, they could have been born into wealth so they'll never have to think about budgeting, or they may be the best savers in the world who've already saved enough money for four parental leaves, as well as the college educations that will be expected on the other end of that financial journey. In the big scheme of things, wine flights aren't going to make or break too many budgets for people who can already afford to travel by air.
But still, parental leaves, which we highly recommend, should not be out of reach for many couples. Thinking ahead, and budgeting appropriately, can enable many couples to make them a reality.
And interestingly, I'm here to report that down the road, parents may not even miss the income lost during parental leaves. But old habits are hard to break, and young people who plan and budget so that they can take parental leaves may someday find themselves at the airport eating sandwiches at the gate ... instead of enjoying wine flights in a high-end bar.