In Europe, most of the countries offer well over twelve months of parental leave, often fully or partly paid. As this sounds attractive for the parent, it has consequences for the life course. For mothers it leads to a “motherhood penalty”: the life-long income drops significantly. Men are less affected, mainly because they take parental leave for a few weeks or not at all.
Negative consequences in the economic field for the parents need not be necessarily so. Parental leave can be seen as training for the job and therefor an advantage for the working place. I am thinking of the managerial skills that are trained. Parents have suddenly to be able to re-organize their lives.
They have to learn to be flexible, orient their needs to the needs of the newborn. Being a parent means permanent changing situations as children grow up, consequently a permanent adoption to change. As mothers are –it seems to me: worldwide – the main providers of care, they are especially trained.
It starts from the very beginning: parents will be occupied by identifying and fulfilling the needs of the newborn. They also have to set limits. Toddlers have to be looked at when starting to crawl and walk. Later on, parents will take their children to the kindergarten and to school, accompany them to a football match or to gymnastics and music classes. When their children feel nearly grown up—but are not— parents might receive a phone call in the early hours of the morning to fetch them from a disco.
The distance between the family home and the school or the playground, between work and the post office or supermarket and their opening hours, drop off and pick up times, all of these, structure the day, requiring parents to develop strategies for overcoming such space and time constraints.
To balance school requirements with leisure activities and family life asks for coordinating fathers, mothers, and siblings, not to speak of relatives and friends, considering their personal interests. Going out for dinner, attending a performance in the theater, just meeting friends and sit together – all of this needs management.
Parental leave should be considered by the employer as an investment in further education. The return can hardly be overestimated. Parental leave trains management skills. Parents increase their social competence. They also contribute to stability within the job, as parents might be less inclined to change the firm.
Just calculate: what would the costs for the employer to train employees in those skills be, parents gain quite naturally through caring for the family and the children? What would one-year leave for further education in social competencies and management tasks cost if it has to be paid by the firm?
There cannot be a rationale to oppose parental leave, for mothers and fathers, from the economic side.