paid leave

This is your baby's brain on money. (A stealthy, scientific case for paid parental leave.)

Debate the politics of paid leave all you want (I'll happily join in, as long as it's not at my Thanksgiving table), but hard scientific data? You can't argue with that. Meet one brilliant mom who's uncovering facts that could move the needle on major public policies for American parents.

Kim Noble, MD, PhD, is one of my working mom heroes. She’s mom to two (completely adorable) girls, ages 2 and 4. She’s also a pediatrician and a neuroscientist (see: all of those hard-earned letters after her name). But more than that, the work she does, studying poverty and early childhood development, has the potential to make massive change for families on a federal policy level...and to impact your own next parental leave. 

I asked Kim to fill us all in on her latest research at her Neurocognition, Early Experience, and Development (N.E.E.D.) Lab at Columbia University’s Teachers College. After a successful preliminary pilot, she and her collaborators are about 75% funded for an unprecedented national study that could provide the first-ever causal evidence of the impact of poverty reduction on babies’ and toddlers’ cognitive, emotional, and brain development—all by doing something really simple: giving brand-new moms a little extra cash. If all goes as planned, it will launch next summer.

Can you give me the layman’s—or maybe I should say laymom’s, sorry—description of your research?

We are recruiting 1,000 low-income moms nationally, in the hospitals when they give birth. Half will receive a large monthly income supplement ($333 a month), and half will receive a nominal amount ($20 a month), for the first three years of their children’s lives. They leave the hospital with a debit card that’s already activated, and then it’ll automatically reload monthly, and they can spend the money however they wish. We’re not shoehorning families into a specific kind of intervention. We’re giving the parents the money and making it unconditional.

Where are you recruiting?

We will be in four sites around the country: New York, New Orleans, Omaha, and Minneapolis, places with different costs of living but also different levels of social services. New York, for example, has a high cost of living and but the social services that moms qualify for tends to be pretty generous.

Dr. Noble with her own two girls, Lucy and Sophie

Dr. Noble with her own two girls, Lucy and Sophie

Do you imagine that the impact on kids will be due simply to the moms’ having more resources? Or is it more subtle than that? Perhaps they’ll be freed up to work less, have more time to bond and play?

You hit the nail on the head. We think that there are two main, measurable pathways through which the extra income is going to work: One is what we are calling the “investment pathway,” the idea that with more material resources, moms are going to be able to buy more books and toys, take more trips to the museum, afford better childcare and better housing in better neighborhoods. The other pathway is what we are calling the “reduced family stress pathway,” the idea that if moms are less worried about keeping the lights on or paying the rent, less in need of taking on that third job, that they’re going to be able to spend more time with their kids and be less stressed out when they’re doing it.

What does it mean for a new mom to worry just a bit less about money?

Well, we know that whenever someone is strained or stressed, they have less of what we call cognitive bandwidth, fewer mental resources to devote to everyday decision making. And that kind or strain can take the form of economic strain, or time strain.

How does that alleviating that strain impact the baby?

Moms are better able to manage the day-to-day pull of family life. Making sure they get their child to their well-baby checks or make that dentist appointment, better able to make family routines, reduce family chaos, which we know are all important for anchoring children’s development.

I wonder if some of the women in the trial might experience career growth during these three years.

It’s possible that their income will grow. It’s possible that it will simply stay steady instead of fluctuating. It’s also possible that the supplemental income will allow them to secure more career-building prospects, as opposed to patching together odd jobs.

What kind of leap can we make from your research to the potential impact of paid parental leave, if any?

That’s absolutely one of the things that we think there might be implications for in changing public policies. It was important to pick a dollar amount that could be feasibly informative to policy makers. The difference between those two amounts [$333/month vs. the control group of $20/month] is about equal to the earned income tax credit and other policy relevant social services that low-income moms may receive. If we know that increasing a mom’s income allows her to take more time away from the labor force shortly after having a baby and she’s therefore able to spend more time with that child in a warm and nurturing manner, we think that’s going to have cascading positive impacts on the children’s cognitive brain development.

I love that word, “cascading.”

It’s a waterfall effect. Once it starts, you can’t stop it.

And it adds up, it pools, into something that only grows. Kind of like the potential impact of your research.

We hope so. We really want to make a difference.

Want to learn more, or donate to this research? Email Kim at

Chelsea Clinton opens up about motherhood, daughterhood, and needing to pee

SHE'S WITH HER: Chelsea Clinton says she's "deeply biased" toward her mom.

SHE'S WITH HER: Chelsea Clinton says she's "deeply biased" toward her mom.

Hours before Hillary’s historic speech last night, I was invited to HRC campaign HQ in Brooklyn for a small roundtable with Chelsea Clinton to talk about her mom’s focus on issues for working parents. The timing felt...well, it felt ripe, and not just because Chelsea is about to give birth to her second child. Everyone in the room assumed that Hillary was about to clinch New Jersey (and probably California), and that these were the issues the campaign wanted front and center.

Chelsea—who speaks in complete paragraphs but is remarkably unguarded and real—is the vice chair of the Clinton Foundation and very much a working mom herself. It’ll be fascinating to see the family choices she makes as her mom’s campaign gets busier. As you read these snippets from our conversation, imagine a baby punctuating many of these sentences with gurgles and coos. “Junior,” the son of one of the attendees, was a very welcome presence in the room. Chelsea is as poised and studied and careful as she speaks as you might imagine, but seeing Junior sitting with his mom made her gesture at her own empty lap: “I miss my daughter’s weight on me right now,” she told us. And when the afternoon wrapped up, she apologized for dashing out with this: “I’m running to the bathroom! I don’t think the biology of being pregnant is something we should be weirded out by!”

Here are my favorite thoughts Chelsea shared:



“I didn't know that I could care any more intensely about politics until I became a parent and found that I could and that did really surprise me....I just hope that someday my children—my 21-month-old daughter Charlotte and her future little sister or little brother, who's not going to arrive today, but soon, will feel as much pride toward me as I feel for my mom.”


“I never felt like she was making trade-offs between quality and quantity of time. And was just so grateful that she did set the bar so high for me….On those rare occasions that she missed a family dinner or was traveling on the weekend, she talked to me about why she was having to be gone. She always treated me seriously and made me feel included in her work. I say this sometimes, and people laugh, but it's true: I knew what Legal Aid was when I went to kindergarten because if she was gone, it was often because of her Legal Aid work. I try to adopt that in my own life. So when I'm on the campaign trail and have to go off for a few days, I tell my daughter.....even though she doesn't really understand yet...I'll take out a map and say, I'm going to California. I'm going to New Jersey. She can now say, ‘New Jersey!’ I want my children to grow up feeling equally included and empowered and supported.”


“My earliest political memories come from 1986. I was six years old. My dad was running for reelection as governor of Arkansas against Frank White [who] represented the worst of Arkansas' past. He was an active segregationist. He wanted to overturn Brown versus the Board of Education 30 years after the fact. He was an active misogynist.

And although he was running against my dad, he spent a lot of time attacking my mom....saying...she spends all this time working on behalf of other people's families. She must neglect her own family. She's clearly not putting her husband first….And, oh, her poor daughter! She must be really neglected. Now thankfully, I knew that was crazy….I knew that as my parents’ only child I got the first and last word on my mom as a mom.

And thankfully, too, my parents created that as a teachable moment. We would have these mock debates around the dinner table...about issues I said I cared I didn't want to have Sloppy Joes twice a week at Booker Elementary school for lunch. And I wanted us to recycle.

And then we would have debates where someone would play Frank White. And those would start off seriously but quickly devolve into kind of the personal attacks because whomever was charged with playing Frank White had to actually play Frank White. But what my parents tried to teach me was that the first type of debate is what you hope politics is: when you're talking about things that might seem small but that can make a big difference. And the second, unfortunately, is too often what politics is.”


“It’s partly because of her own story with me. When she got pregnant with me in 1979, she realized that her law firm had no maternity leave policy. No one who had ever worked there and then become a mother had ever come back to work full time….So she wrote her firm's maternity leave policy. This was pretty radical back in 1980, and it would be radical in 2016. She gave all new mothers—both lawyers and support staff—four months of paid time off. So this is very much an issue she's been working on on a policy level but also literally on a personal level my whole life, by definition….We've come a long way but have a long way to go. I know it's very much part of what she sees as the unfinished business of standing up for women and families.

[Also, solving poverty] starts with parental leave, to support parents when they become parents and to support children when they are born. Even though this doesn’t fit on a bumper sticker, looking at the things my mom has said about parental leave, early childhood education, affordable housing, support programs for parents and children, and finishing the work of the affordable care act, all hopefully ladders up.”


“My mom’s intensive[ly] focus[ed] on tax credits instead of just the expectation of employers bearing the burden [of paying for parental leave and other family-oriented benefits]. You see this in the childcare policy: Getting to a reality where no one is spending more than 10% of their income on childcare. That, almost by definition, has to be done by tax credits.

Historically, Republicans have been more likely to support tax credits that reward people for their work than impose corporations’ additional payment for life choices that we make. We can’t afford to wait six years [when she hopes Democrats might win back the House] to make progress on these issues. [So], thinking about how to be both effective and smart is just really important.”


“Work is shifting dramatically around the world, so I don’t know that anyone has figured it out….There’s lots of information out of Japan about trying to get women back in the work force. It’s not working. There’s lots of research now it cultural, are the incentives insufficient, are the options insufficient? Even in places where there are lots of efforts with lots of political support, they’re not always working….The real question is: How do we recognize that we ourselves will be part of an experiment, and how do we get comfortable paying attention to what’s happening around the world so that we see what’s working, and, candidly, what’s not.”

The "H Wall" where visitors post their hopes for Hillary's vision and goals.

The "H Wall" where visitors post their hopes for Hillary's vision and goals.

My contribution!

My contribution!

What about when Mommy cries? (What about when it's AT WORK?)

Photo via  Flickr  user raruschel (Raissa Ruschel)

Photo via Flickr user raruschel (Raissa Ruschel)

A funny thing happens when you return to work before you feel like you're on solid ground, emotionally: You get emotional at work. I go into this in a lot more detail in my book, but I'll sum it up here: The 700+ women I surveyed said that they felt "back to normal" emotionally right around six months after giving birth, on average. You know where I'm going with this. By then, maternity leave was a distant speck in the rear view mirror.

It's the worst! The last thing you want to look like at work is a mess (and really, you're not a mess...think about all of the executive functioning skills it took just to get out of the house). And yet, there you are, crying at the office Keurig.

What helps (besides longer, paid maternity leave)? The experts I interviewed offered up wonderful ideas for self-care plans, little escape hatches for when you need to get your shit together, and fast. But, as you know, I'm also a fan of bringing your whole self to work and displaying some of those vulnerabilities. Can that include tears? If part of the point of The Fifth Trimester is showing your coworkers that they can get through this transition too (and still succeed at work), is it acceptable to cry?

"I'm by no means an advocate of being a leaky, sobby, out-of-control employee," Anne Kreamer, author of It's Always Personal: Navigating Emotions in the New Workplace told the audience of female lawyers at a lunch hosted by Law & Reorder that I attended this week. "But if you shed an occasional tear, it's okay." I hung on her every word—as a longtime big-media executive and mother of two, Kreamer knows her stuff—and learned these three things about crying at work:

1) Women cry differently than men do: "Women's tear ducts are anatomically different than men's," Kreamer told us. The result: Women have a higher volume of tears, and those tears are more likely to fall down their cheeks and be visible. So this is not a matter of women being hysterical and men being withholders. It's just how we're built.

2) Some crying requires managing up: "If you're facing a significant stressor," says Kreamer—and I will pause here to note that returning from maternity leave counts—"it's actually incumbent on you to mention that to your employer. Be clear and get ahead of it."

3) Crying actually does make you feel better: Cue that old song from Free to Be You and Me (which really holds up, by the way). "No one wants to cry at work, but you can take it as a helpful signal that you need to sit down and figure out what's really going on," says Kreamer. "Women report crying at work most often because they feel angry, not sad, and that can be a catalyst for hormone release in the body." Huh. I flipped to the index of Kreamer's (excellent, really recommend it) book to learn more. She writes: "Crying stimulates the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps us feel better—and that also reduces prolactin production, which eventually helps curb the flow of tears, resetting our emotional equilibrium."

So cry! Like every other little bit of The Fifth Trimester, it's temporary and surmountable. I leave you with this gem.

The strange backstory behind the military's new paid parental leave policies

"Daddy's Uniform" via  flikr user Patrick Malone

"Daddy's Uniform" via flikr user Patrick Malone

Last month, I wrote gleefully here about how the military had expanded maternity leave to 12 weeks for women in all branches (a boon for most—but a cutback for the Navy and Marines, which had previously approved 18 weeks). Men would receive 10 days of paternity leave. Not equitable, but an improvement, nonetheless.

Well, the architect of that modernization, acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, Brad Carson, has resigned under pressure from lawmakers after what the Military Times called his "disastrous" confirmation hearing. (There, Sen. John McCain called Carson's efforts around personnel reform, "an outrageous waste of time and resources." Various reports note that McCain was mostly peeved that Carson had overstepped his boundaries before being officially confirmed. But, still, man.) Carson's last day is April 8.

That's a loss, it seems, but Carson's vision will live on, allowing thousands of military families to humanely transition into parenthood. He even helped pass a provision to help service members freeze their eggs and sperm in case of injuries during combat. And his proposals for longer paternity leave (14 days instead of 10), longer hours for military daycares, and expanded access to mothers' lactation rooms (imagine!) are still on the table.

Lots of days here on the T5T blog, I'll write quippy lists or share my own kids' cute artwork about breastfeeding. But let's not forget the more serious stories, and the allies we've got in the Fifth Trimester, too—the people who stick their necks out to make more sensible policies around new working parenthood, sometimes even risking their careers. Mr. Carson, thank you.

This is what it looks like when a high-powered, awesome Swedish mom goes back to work

Screen Shot 2016-04-03 at 11.20.22 AM.png

(After six months—six months!—of maternity leave.)

Last week, Swedish Centre Party leader Annie Lööf and her maternity leave fill-in, a very game Anders W. Jonsson, released this awesome "Now. She. Is. Back." video spoof. You don't need to have been a childhood fan of the Muppets' Swedish Chef (like me) to translate the message here:

  • Maternity leave is normal.
  • Women come back to work capable and prepared and healthy.
  • So emotionally healthy, in fact, that they can make fun of themselves...
  • ...And the men are 100% on board, too. 

    As Lööf told The Local Sweden, in reality, she had "full confidence in Jonsson," whom she called "an eminent substitute." And she didn't hesitate to take her six months. "It was not a difficult choice, that these six months were going to be a time at home for me and [baby] Ester. Meanwhile, of course, I did not leave the political work behind; rather I carefully followed developments."

    Now that is how it's done! (Video below.)

Coolest parental leave policy yet: The double dip

When it comes to ketchup or hummus in our house, the rule is very firm: NO double-dipping. Especially when there's strep and flu going around (it's been a germy week chez Brody). But that's exactly the brilliant tactic that an Austral-asian company has just come up with for parental leave. My Food Bag, which is similar in concept to Blue Apron here in the U.S. (scheduled deliveries of pre-measured ingredients for at-home meals), will expand upon the New Zealand government's 18 paid weeks in a really cool way: New moms and dads will be allotted an extra 18 weeks—if they want to take them at any point in their child's first two years of life. Should they choose to forgo the additional leave, they will be paid 160% of their salary for that time. How smart is that? (And how loyalty inducing is that?) Because the message sent to employees is three-fold:

1) We get it. You really might need this time. And we don't want you feeling pressure to come back to work before you're ready. And:
2) Your work is so valuable to us that we will pay you significantly more for it. But:
3) This is, essentially, temporary combat pay, to acknowledge that your working right now is a detriment to other parts of your life.

My Food Bag's co-founders, both 30 years old and both pregnant, declined to tell The New Zealand Herald, which reported on the new policy, how much it would end up costing, saying only, "The costs will be significant, but nothing in comparison to the rewards."

Paid grandparental leave is now a real thing

Grandma and Grandpa and baby me

Grandma and Grandpa and baby me

Not here in the U.S., obviously. We have to get our heads on straight about maternity and paternity leave first. But Santander, a financial firm with 20,000 employees in the U.K. just announced it's offering grandparents paid leave following the birth of a grandchild.

Now, hang on. Because if you're like me, your thought process is going something like this: "Hmm...well, I think that's great. Could be helpful for new parents, and sure, Grandma and Gramps want to bond with the baby too. But, wait a minute. If every family has 2.2 children, then each grandparent has 4.84 grandkids. Let's call that 5 grandkids, at 16 paid weeks per, and how is this going to work?"

Here's how: The grandparents don't get their own separate leave. They're entitled to share a portion of the parent's leave (as is the co-parent). Which is amazing news for single moms, or single dads, or families in which both parents can't be away from work at the same time. There are countless circumstances in which this arrangement could be helpful—as usual, the most helpful thing for new families is having choices. 

Coincidentally, on the same day this week that Santander's policy was announced, my cousin, a school teacher in North Carolina, who is a dad to adorable twin baby boys, posted on Facebook thanking his mother for saving the day. Aunt Peggy—awesome, intrepid Aunt Peggy—was on the road from Ohio, headed down to help out my cousin and his wife so they wouldn't have to miss work; one of their boys had a fever that prevented him from going to daycare. Aunt Peggy is retired, which is why she could pull this off. But imagine if working grandparents could step in like this without worrying about career repercussions. 

Grandparental leave may sound like an extravagance, but really, it's an acknowledgment that dual income families are now the norm—and that people are working well into their golden years. This next generation leave isn't cushy. It's just an extension of the other cultural realities of our time.

Would you spend $2.19 a week to guarantee paid parental leave?

Photo courtesy of Pond's End Productions

Photo courtesy of Pond's End Productions

That's exactly 0.2% of the average American annual salary of $57,000. And that's how much it would cost to fund paid parental leave for all parents for 12 weeks following the birth or adoption of a baby. Seriously, two bucks. That's what Rep. Rose DeLauro (D — Conn.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D — N.Y.) proposed as part of their FAMILY Act—so far, to no avail. In the meantime, private companies are doing their best to stay competitive by offering their own versions of paid leave.

The latest and greatest is Etsy, which announced yesterday that it will offer all new moms and dads 26 weeks of paid parental leave, to be taken over the first two years of a baby's life—along with lots of new support programs. That is awesome, obviously, and part of a trend of one-upmanship among tech companies that I'm happy to cheer on. But here's what's especially cool: Fred Wilson, a venture capitalist at USV, who sits on the board of Etsy, gave his blog readers a glimpse at the thinking behind the new policy. It was fueled, Wilson writes, by the need to stay competitive in recruiting and retention (no surprise there), but also because, he explains:

"Etsy is a marketplace where creative entrepreneurs, many of whom are women, can create a more fulfilling and flexible way to support their families. An important goal of this policy change was to align the internal company values with the marketplace values."

Makes a ton of sense. But Fred, wisely, also points out that Etsy is able to make this change because it's a large company, with the scale to support these policies. He writes:

"It's easier to do this sort of thing when you have a workforce in the thousands or tens of thousands than when you have a team of four people working from a co-working space."

Or how about a team of one, like the lovely Etsy vendors I buy from when I need a sweet, unique baby gift, or "homemade" Phineas and Ferb Halloween costumes (homemade by some other far-more-fabulously skilled mom than me)? What about those individual entrepreneurs? Where is their leave—paid or unpaid? Non-existant. Which brings me back to two dollars. Because I would happily spend that, many times over, if it meant we could catapult the U.S. into the present and in line with the rest of the civilized world.

Would you crowdfund your maternity leave?

It's come to this. Photo by Ryan McGuire

It's come to this. Photo by Ryan McGuire

Because apparently now that's a thing, according to this excellent BuzzFeed story. Couples and moms-to-be are using sites like GoFundMe and CrowdRise to raise the money they need in order to take unpaid time away from work. (Quick reminder that here in the U.S., FMLA requires companies with more than 50 employees to hold your job for 12 weeks of family leave—but it's up to individual workplaces to determine how much of that time, if any, is paid.)

Leave it to a pregnant, nesting, hyper-goal-driven woman to get things done, right?

The 100 women I interviewed for my book were all over the place in terms of time off—and I have to be honest, I worked hard to ignore my own biases and be open minded. You want to take 12 weeks? Okay. You want to take one week? Also fine. You want to take six months? Fantastic. All good. But the verb in all of those sentences contains the word "want." That implies a choice. The availability of options. It's the women I talked to who took far less leave than they wanted (or frankly, needed, physically and emotionally) that made me so convinced that this FAMILY Act for paid leave needs to happen, and fast. The waitress whose husband lost his job, who was back in her uniform in a week. The small business owner who was placating clients from the NICU. These women are scrappy as hell. But they shouldn't have to be. 

Three of the nearly 1300 maternity leave appeals on GoFundMe.

Three of the nearly 1300 maternity leave appeals on GoFundMe.

So as much as I absolutely hate—hate—to see women and families panhandling, I hope the trend gets a whole lot of attention. I hope it's an embarrassment to this great country that has such a rich history of bootstrap pulling, of people doing everything they can to succeed and move up to give their kids a better life. Because a better life means having choices, not being so up against a wall that you're reduced to only one option: begging. 

How Bethesda might get the whole U.S. paid parental leave

photo by Benji Aird

photo by Benji Aird

Back in September, the United States Department of Labor's Women's Bureau issued $1.55M in grants to eight regions around America to study the viability of local paid family leave programs. The goal? To research, "how paid leave programs can be developed and implemented across the country." Which is awesome. I'm going to be watching those eight regions and reporting back here on how it's all going. 

One of those communities is Montgomery County, Maryland, where, last month, district 16 Del. Ariana Kelly brought a bill forward that looks very, very similar to the federally proposed FAMILY Act: Funded by a payroll tax (to avoid a burden on businesses), the plan would create a state-run insurance fund to give workers 12 weeks off of work, at two-thirds pay, to care for a family member. At the hearing for the bill on Tuesday, Kelly appealed not just to desperate mothers and fathers—but also to the local businesses that she knows her district's economy depends on: "I'm not just a family person. I'm an employer," Kelly said. "I've been both the pregnant employee who needs paid maternity leave and the employer who does not know how she's going to pay for that."

Stay tuned. This goes to committee next week, and Kelly says she plans to reveal some of the findings of the Department of Labor study. And yes, that's a bloggy T5T cliffhanger.