A new working mama recently wrote to Mindful Return with the following question:
Q: I’m going to lobby my representative in a few weeks to discuss the importance of maternal health and paid parental leave. He is a conservative libertarian who doesn’t support government intervention/regulations. What are strong arguments I can make? Any tips on lobbying for paid parental leave? Thank you!
Mindful Return’s answer?
First: You Rock, Mama, for Getting Your Voice in the Mix
First, good for you, mama for using your voice and working to have it be heard. Being a resident of the disenfranchised District of Columbia (our license plates declare “No Taxation without Representation!” for good reason), I’m envious that you have an elected official with a meaningful vote, to whom you can go lobby.
So keep that perspective in mind, regardless of how the meeting goes, or whether you wind up meeting with someone who will lend you a sympathetic ear. You rock, no matter how this meeting goes down. And don’t you forget that.
Second: Tell Your Personal Story
I’m not a lobbyist, but I’ve been the technical (Medicare) expert in enough Capitol Hill meetings here in D.C. to know that the heartstrings are where it’s at. You can cite all the statistics you want, but it’s the personal stuff that will make the most impact.
You’ll most likely be talking to a junior staffer (likely someone who doesn’t yet have kids). And you’ll want to be able to make the situation real for that person. This is the lobbying 101 stuff that doesn’t have anything to do with motherhood or paid leave.
If you’ve done any storytelling for your little one, you’ll be in the right frame of mind to do it during this meeting. Give some thought in advance to what makes your own story compelling, and how your rep’s involvement could have a direct impact on your own experiences.
Third: Meet Him Where He Is (and We Know This Guy’s a Libertarian)
It sounds like you might face some fundamental challenges in presenting your arguments, given his political stance. That said, here are a few thoughts on angles that might appeal to him:
- Libertarians’ general philosophy, of course, is that people should be free to contract as they wish, free of any third party interference. But the fact that children are involved here may change things for your representative. Most libertarians apparently accept that children deserve protection beyond normal adult rights. (For example, it should indeed be illegal to abuse or neglect them, it’s acknowledged that they can’t give meaningful consent, etc.) Libertarians also seem to reach a consensus that parents should be granted certain privileges that are necessary to care for their children. Children should, in fact, be rescued first in emergencies. And parents with children receive higher social benefit payments and pay less in taxes. Perhaps the argument that paid leave is an effective way to promote maternal mental health and is actually protective of the health and well-being of infants might resonate.
- Without getting on the “everyone else is doing it” bandwagon, there may be a gentle way to point out that even countries that skew libertarian (by some analyses, countries like New Zealand, Switzerland, Uruguay…) do provide for paid family leave.
- In U.S. states where paid leave has been adopted, conservatives who promised to overturn paid leave laws have stopped short of doing so.When Governor Jon Corzine signed the New Jersey paid leave bill into law and Chris Christie promised to overturn it, Christie never followed through. Why? Turns out businesses (many of which opposed the policy in the first place) were now convinced that paid leave actually improved productivity and employee retention, decreasing turnover costs.
- Laura Vanderkam, co-host of the Best of Both Worlds Podcast, also adds that “from what I have seen, the argument that works best on the libertarian right is that we pay older people not to work (Social Security), so it would be more socially beneficial to pay new parents not to work for a while. And it should come out of the same pot, so no huge new administration, and be revenue neutral (so raise retirement age). But people on the left hate that idea so it probably won’t happen.”
Maybe these arguments are persuasive. Maybe not. But either way, you’ll have given it a shot.
A Few More Arguments, for Those with Reps of Different Political Persuasions
To those of you with elected representatives with other political viewpoints, here are a few more arguments that might be compelling:
- Paid maternity leave has positive health outcomes for babies. It decreases the infant mortality rate, increases vaccination rates, and increases the likelihood and duration of breast feeding. (Check out this great Working Mother article for more findings on health benefits for babies.)
- Longer maternity leaves lower the rates of postpartum depression – and even depression later in a woman’s life.
- Paternity leave promotes more equal divisions of household labor and greater participation by fathers in caretaking.
- Businesses benefit, because paid leave helps with recruiting, retention, morale, and (yes, even) productivity.
- Society benefits, because it makes new parents less likely to need public assistance and food stamps.
- It encourages women not to drop out of the workforce and helps reduce the motherhood penalty.
- And yes, of course, as I’m sure you’ve heard, we’re the only developed country not doing it…
I’m sure that’s plenty of fodder for a quick meeting with a Hill staffer. Want to get more involved in paid leave advocacy? Check out these awesome organizations working to promote this cause, many of which have lobbying tool kids on paid leave:
- The Better Life Lab’s Report, Paid Family Leave: How Much Time is Enough?
- Zero to Three (Paid Leave Advocacy Toolkit)
- National Partnership for Women and Families
- A Better Balance
- Support Paid Leave
- The Paid Leave Project
If you need more help getting your head in a better place to return to work after maternity leave, join us for the next session of Mindful Return.
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave