Women Share Their Ideal Maternity Leave

We’re bringing you articles about maternity leave all week — covering everything from current policies (or lack thereof) to personal stories and solutions that may be crazy enough to work. #matleaveweek


When we asked you what your ideal maternity leave looks like, you responded. We heard from mothers, moms-to-be, and people who were years away from parenthood. Women who had excellent maternity leaves told us why they worked, and mothers who were shafted told us what they wanted. More than just paid leave, you stressed the importance of flexibility, and that no singular, rigid policy fits all families.

maternity leave
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Here are 25 ideal parental leave scenarios from DailyWorth readers:

1. Learn From Other Countries
I'm due with my first in November, and it's insane that this falls under disability pay. I'm not disabled; I’m creating a new citizen from scratch. Leave should be its own category, and it should be a mix of employer and government sponsored.

The United States is the only industrialized nation without paid maternity leave, so ANYTHING WOULD BE BETTER. In a perfect world, maternity leave would more closely match what you get in Finland or Japan, along the lines of:

  • Free universal access to birth classes and care of your choice
  • Free government-sponsored layette box, so every kid starts from the same point
  • Free midwife and prenatal and postnatal doula care
  • Free pre-k
  • Fully paid parental leave for up to a year (two years would be great, with a mixed-benefits package so families can work out what's best for them)

This should apply to adoptions, as well as to freelancers and the unemployed. The U.S. should also have paid leave for grief — people who lose a pregnancy or young children don't have protected time off. My friend's twins died in her arms at birth, and her husband was expected to be back at work four days later.


2. Paid Leave and Flex Time
One year paid leave followed by three months of a flexible schedule, whether it's part-time or full-time where three days are in the office and the other two days are work-from-home to ease the transition.


3. Paternity and Maternity Leave Broken Up However We Want
If I could have anything I wanted, it would be six months fully paid for me AND my husband that we could break up however we wanted, starting a month before the birth of our child. Then I'd ramp back up slowly, working from home a few days a week. Once we're both back to work, I'd want our workplaces to provide or at least partially subsidize child care.


4. Childcare Allowance
I want to see:

  • 20 weeks of paid maternity leave (four weeks before due date and 16 weeks when baby is born)
  • Four weeks of paid paternity leave (one week before due date and three weeks after baby is born)
  • An allowance for child care provided by employer ($200 per week)


5. Do It Like the Swedes
Having worked in London for three years, I am quite aware of the generous parental leave policies most advanced countries offer. I would be happy to take 56 weeks of paid leave at 80 percent of my salary as they do in Sweden, but I will be lucky to get 13 weeks.


6. Paid Leave Over the Course of My Child’s Life
I'd like to see a year of paid leave that can be taken as needed over a period of time (a few years). More realistically, I'd like to see six months of paid leave that can be taken over the course of the child's life without question.

I think if I could do it all again, I would take the first six to eight weeks completely off, return part-time for 20 hours a week for a few months, and still have leave banked that I can use to be off with the children. For example, I would have liked to have been able to be off the first month they went to kindergarten. Others may want to have time in high school, or to manage doctors’ appointments for a child with an illness, etc. The point is the flexibility. I would want the policy to fit my needs at the time I had them.


7. Paid Leave Plus Part-Time Work
Fourteen weeks paid and then work part-time (from home one or two days a week, or mornings/afternoons). And six weeks paid paternity leave for my husband (which, luckily, we had, and helped make my maternity leave dreamy!).


8. Bring in a Temp
In a perfect world, from the perspective of someone who has not yet been there, I feel like 16 weeks completely off from work with pay for myself followed with another two to four weeks of part-time work would be ideal. I would also wish for my husband to have at least four weeks completely off from his job as well.

In this perfect scenario, I would envision a temporary replacement for my position so that I would not have to feel any worry, guilt, or concern that my team was having to work harder or more in my absence. This way I feel I could be completely focused on my new role as mother.


9. Work From Home or Cover My Day Care
I am 33 weeks pregnant, so this is something that has been on my mind very much lately and I love the question. My ideal maternity leave would be nine months paid and then either the option to work from home or have on-site day care at my office.


10. Staggered Leave for One Year
I'd like a year paid leave split between two parents (so, six months each), with the ability to stagger it over the course of the year. So maybe it'd be three months completely out of the office, then two months working part-time, then another month off, and then the rest slowly working my way back into working full-time at a reduced salary until I built back up to regular hours.


11. Slowly On-Ramp
I was home full-time for a year after my first. Never again. For my second, I'd happily go back to work after three months if I could slowly on-ramp — part time for a couple months, ideally. And YES to paid paternity leave.


12. Ongoing Flexibility
I'd like 14 weeks paid leave (ideally my husband would have at least two weeks paid leave as well), followed by 14 weeks part-time paid work (say, half-days). Then I'd like to go back to work with the understanding that at times I need flexibility because I am a mother.


13. Paid Leave and Respite Days for Adoptive/Foster Parents
As someone who does not have children, I would love to see more expansive and flexible parental leave. I’m considering someday becoming a foster and/or adoptive parent, so I would love to work for a company that supports these equally important approaches to parenting and that provides paid leave and flexible "respite" days even for those who foster or adopt older children.

The number of court dates, social worker visits, and other responsibilities of these diverse families is severely underestimated and underappreciated, and paid parental leave for parents, no matter what their biological connection to their children, would be a great first step toward addressing the needs of all families.


14. Four Months Then Four Weeks at Reduced Pay
As a working mother of an almost-three-year-old, I have a lot to say on this topic. My ideal situation would be 16 weeks off — 100 percent paid and 100 percent off the clock. (I was asked several times to log on and do several tasks during my eight weeks off.) Then four weeks off at reduced pay. Finally, work part-time/from home for four weeks for a total of six months to learn how to be a parent and adjust to this new life.


15. Six Months Partial Pay
At least six months at partial pay — ideally a year. If I had that, I would still be working.


16. Keeping My Vacation Time Separate
I recently had a son and was able to take 12 weeks off work — it was the perfect amount of time away. I got six weeks short-term medical leave (STML) and then I had to use three weeks of my vacation time and three weeks unpaid. I would love to have the full 12 weeks paid and still have vacation time to use. Five days paid time off is not enough for a normal person, let alone a new mom. I'm going to be so burned out by December, when we FINALLY get to go on vacation.


17. Half Weeks When I Go Back
Ideal leave would be six months off for new mothers — at full pay — with a slow transition back to work. This would include part-time hours or half a week for the first two to three months back.


18. Last Month Should Be Flex
I'd like six months paid with the option to jump back in at the end of that period, or utilize that last month as a flex month with limited hours over two months to on-ramp gradually. An employee could decide how to handle it based on their individual needs and the demands of their job.

I love my career and my company and I'm very fortunate in that my company does allow me to work from home whenever I choose. However, our maternity leave is terrible: six weeks short-term disability and six additional weeks unpaid for FMLA.

My husband owns his own business — he was home with us for the first week after our daughter's birth and has flexibility. That said, I would have loved it if he could’ve taken two weeks or a month to be with us so we could bond as a family.


19. Six Months Off and Six Months Part-Time
I actually had a pretty sweet gig at my last job that I don't think was very typical. I had six weeks fully paid short-time disability, and then another six weeks (30 days) of sick time that I had accrued in the seven years I worked there. After that, I used about 30 accrued vacation days to work two to three days a week for a few months, building up the number of days a week as I eased back into the groove. It was awesome.

My dream scenario would be something similar to what I had — if it’s a dream, hell, why not ask for six months off and six months part-time? But I would be really happy just to get what I had before. I am thinking about having my second kid soon, and am nervous since my new job doesn't have nearly as good a situation (60 percent salary for 13 weeks).

As a working mother, I think what is almost more important than paid leave during those first crazy months is a longer term solution to balance "it all" with a more sustainable, well-paid, useful-to-the-employer part-time position. What stands out to me as the hardest part of that sentence is the "useful to your employer." If everyone else is working five full days and the work still goes on, how do you create meaningful, value-add positions that are done only half the time? My dream scenario would be to work part-time while not sacrificing too much of my salary.


20. Help Me Pay for a Great Nanny and Work From Home When Needed
I was ready to go back to work at three months, but my son was too young for day care. Here's my ideal: six weeks off, six weeks work from home with a nanny 10 hours a week, three months work from home with nanny supplemental subsidy, six months part-time home and work 50/50, with nanny supplemental subsidy.

Bottom line: Help me pay for a great nanny and work from home as much as I think I need to and you'll get a fully present employee very happy to come to the office whenever needed. Make me send my kid to day care at three months and I'll spend half the day worrying and hate life.


21. Some for Me, Some for Him
Six to nine months full pay! Oh, with a month or two of paternity leave for my husband!


22. Part-Time for 10 Weeks
I am a young lawyer and expectant mom. My ideal maternity leave would be nine weeks leave, which would allow the mother to use up to three weeks before the baby arrived if she wanted. If not, the mother could use that time post-baby — with full pay. After those nine weeks, the mother will return to work on a part-time basis for 10 weeks, with full pay. This would allow the mom’s body to continue to rest, get back into the swing of work, and continue the building of the bond between child and parent.

Paternity leave will be given to the father at full pay for six weeks and more if something should happen to the mother.


23. Paid Leave Through State Programs
I had my first child almost a year ago. My maternity leave was pretty good because I live in California, which has partially paid maternity leave through the state disability programs (75 percent of pay up to a cap for three months).

If I had to do it over again and could have any arrangement I wanted, I would do six months paid leave with another six months part-time at full pay. Having the paid leave through the state is a good arrangement because it takes the burden off the employer. I have certainly paid plenty of money into the disability programs over the years, so I don't feel bad about using the benefits at all.


24. Greetings From the Pumping Room
I write this as I sit in the "pumping" room at work, extremely passionate about this topic. My ideal dream leave policy is somewhat in line with the Vodafone policy. I would want 24 weeks of leave (similar to the U.K.) and full pay for a 30-hour workweek when I return.  

I have had a really tough time returning to the workforce and, contrary to popular belief, it does NOT get easier as time goes by. You just adapt with a lot of frustration and anxiety. I returned after five months (12 weeks paid, two weeks of vacation, and the rest unpaid). Beyond maternity leave, there needs to be a "third" way — beyond opting out entirely or going back way too early — for women, and the U.S. is extremely behind.


25. Think Outside FMLA
I am really proud to say that I work at a university that had a visionary general counsel who crafted a maternity/paternity leave policy for all staff eight years ago. Currently the university provides six weeks of paid maternity leave to each birth mother, then three weeks of paid paternity leave for a father, birth mother, and adoptive parents, so nine weeks paid leave total. Then we have the option of taking up to 15 weeks unpaid leave (called Child Care Leave). We can substitute accrued sick or vacation time for any or all of the 15 [weeks of] unpaid leave. The caveat is that all these leaves run concurrently with FMLA. The downside to that is that if a parent suffers a major issue with childbirth or sickness, he/she will run out the clock on their FMLA and burn through all their accrued leave time. But compared to some places, ours is wonderful.


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