My husband and I are the primary caretakers of our elderly mothersJanuary 14, 2015
Dear President Obama:
I’m writing to express my deep gratitude for the time and attention you have put into securing women’s rights, from your first official act in signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 to your current concern with paid family leave.
Although I am the communications director of the Connecticut General Assembly’s Permanent Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW) – one of the few remaining women’s commissions established by President Kennedy under Eleanor Roosevelt’s tutelage – I am actually writing to you today as much as a private citizen who is, frankly, a “poster child” for why FMLI would be a boon to women and families everywhere.
My husband and I are the primary caretakers of our elderly mothers, both of whom are 94, and have a variety of physical and cognitive health issues you would expect for women that age. He and I spend many hours each week troubleshooting problems and attending to their healthcare needs.
I consider myself extremely fortunate: because my husband is retired, he has the freedom to be there in an emergency, to take his mother to the doctor, replace faulty hearing aid batteries, refill her medicine, etc. He often does the same for my mother, since I work almost an hour away from home. In addition, since I began working for the PCSW seven years ago, he has handled virtually all of our son’s medical appointments. Without him, I would have had to miss so much work that it, or my family, or I myself, would have suffered noticeably.
Although widely considered a “women’s issue,” paid family leave is actually a gender-neutral benefit. Before my husband retired, he was self-employed, and the time away from work to care for our mothers hurt his income considerably. But it was the right thing to do, so he did it. And while male caretakers are in the minority, a system of paid family leave would surely benefit them, as well as the women who are more likely to be in that role.
I would also like to make a point about taking care of ourselves. Study after study has shown that women tend to put others first when it comes to healthcare. We know this anecdotally; what mother worries about her lupus when her kid breaks an arm on the playground? And yet, preventive care is absolutely imperative for us to remain strong enough to care for others. As a person who has survived lymphoma and has come through more than a few autoimmune disorders, I can honestly tell you that were it not for the fact that Connecticut has paid sick days, which gave me the time to attend to my own health needs, I would have been useless to anyone else.
Additionally, (although it’s not a complaint), I have had to use most of my vacation and personal days caring for my mother, my mother-in-law, and, more recently, my brother, who eventually died of a brain tumor.
But in my own good fortune, I try to remain mindful of all the women my age who are not so fortunate: single mothers, women who work for minimum wage, women who dare not take time off from their jobs for fear of retribution, whether covert or explicit. As an executive level Connecticut General Assembly employee with ready access to elected officials, I am also mindful of all the women who, while they have the right as citizens, do not feel they have the influence or wherewithal to testify on legislation that would promote paid family leave.
So, I respectfully ask that you allow me to speak for them. If those of us who take hundreds of unremunerated hours off each year to take our mothers with dementia to the doctor, or to physical therapy after a fall, not to mention stay at home with our kids when they get the flu – if all of us had the means to pay into a plan that would provide a little financial cushion, all of our families would benefit. And, I would go so far as to say, from my personal experience, that we would make better workers, too.
President Obama, please continue your efforts to make paid family leave the law of the land. Virtually every progressive piece of public policy – from Social Security to FMLA (which got its start in Connecticut) – initially faced naysayers and obstructionists. But in the face of the opposition you will inevitably encounter, remember that women – from the most poorly paid to executives – will be able to care for their families and themselves safe in the knowledge they are not setting their economic security back irreparably.
And please know that the PCSW stands at the ready to help you any way we can.
cc: Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy