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What is More Important to You – Work or Family?

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Teach kids about money

Happy Friday friends! I apologize for being MIA the past week or so. The kids and I have been pretty sick, so much so that it feels like the Frugal Rules home turned into a sick ward over the past few weeks. Hopefully the worst is behind us and we can move on with life.

Anyway, I know the title of the post is a bit on the ridiculous end but I was inspired by reading Is it REALLY Okay to Take Paternity Leave by Andrew over at Living Rich Cheaply. At issue in his article was the mini uproar caused by baseball player Daniel Murphy of the New York Mets who took three days off after the birth of his child which included missing several ball games at the beginning of this season. This, essentially, kicked off a number of talking heads ridiculing Mr. Murphy for taking the time off and missing the games that he did. At risk of redoing Andrew’s post, which you really should read if you haven’t, a lot of it boiled down to the fact that Mr. Murphy gets paid quite handsomely to play a game and that his priorities should be baseball first and everything else second.

Sadly, this isn’t the only time something like this has happened. I remember back to the early 90’s when Houston Oilers Offensive Guard David Williams was fined $120,000 (equivalent of one game check) for leaving town to be with his wife as she gave birth. To make matters worse, he was threatened with suspension from the team because of this “callous” act of wanting to be there with his wife as she gave birth. Beyond Mr. Williams, this has happened numerous times in my lifetime and generally goes back to “being a man” and there for the team as opposed as there for your family.

Speaking personally, this was what was told to me during Mrs. Frugal Rules’ last pregnancy while I was in the brokerage industry. I was told that I couldn’t leave work until my wife was actually in the hospital and that if she went into labor while I was on the job, then oh well, she would find a way to the hospital somehow. I’ll let you take a guess as to how close that was to me quitting my job and taking the plunge into self-employment. 🙂

I realize the time you as a parent take off at the birth of a child is entirely personal and should be based on your situation, wants and needs, but for me the decision is clear as can be – you take time to be with your partner and soon to be child. I know the argument of look at how much the athlete is being paid is thrown out there and his/her “responsibility” to their team and I have one thing to say…”Blah. Blah. Blah.”

Tell me, when your life is nearing its end, which do you think you’ll look back and cherish more – being with your child and experiencing those first few moments and days and just simply watching them and forming that bond, or scoring one more touchdown or getting one more strikeout? In my opinion, the answer is quite simple. I know that to some, this attitude might make me less of a man. That may be true, but if the definition of a man is someone who is not there with his family to experience those precious moments in life then I’m happy to be considered less of a man.

What Company Do We Keep?

I know that was a bit more opinionated that I normally am, but it’s important to me. After reading Andrew’s post, I went to do a little research on paternity leave, and really family leave altogether. Not surprisingly, we here in the States fare pretty poorly when it comes to paid maternity/paternity leave. We do have the FMLA option which provides for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave that you can take after the birth of a child. Going that route allows you, in most cases, protection of your job so you can have it when you come back to work.

The problem with this leave is that it’s unpaid, leaving families scrambling to cover those lost wages for when the mother or father are out. I realize they could’ve saved prior, and saving/planning ahead is something I heartily endorse, though that is a different topic altogether. That said, how do other countries fare in terms of paid parental leave? They do quite well in fact, and it’s not really surprising. In a recent Pew Research Study, the U.S. is the only country out of 37 other countries (mostly European or Asian in nature) studied that doesn’t offer some sort of paid maternal leave. The ranges vary, and often is thanks to government support, but mothers get some level of pay after giving birth to a child. I’m not usually for more government intervention, but it tells you something when our friends put such a high value on family.

Unfortunately, it goes from bad to laughable when you speak of some sort of paternal leave, paid or not. Take a look at a few of the countries (62 in fact) that require by law fathers get some sort of paternal leave:

  • Russia – the bastion of human rights
  • Rwanda
  • Cambodia
  • Colombia
  • Many other very pro U.S. countries (sarcasm not dripping from that at all 😉 )

What does this tell you when countries that aren’t always the most upstanding when it comes to rights require by law for fathers to take time off to be with their newborn children? In my opinion, it shows very directly where our priority is put, and not very surprising at that, work is held in higher regard than spending time with your family. Again, going back to my previous statement, at the end of your life will you be thankful because you spent that extra hour at work, or spending it with your child…or someone else you love for that matter?

All is not Lost – Look to California

Having lived in SoCal for several years, I know California gets its share of knocks. Some are warranted but many are definitely not. That said, this is a case in point where our federal government needs to look at what California has done – over ten years ago at that! In 2002 California signed in to law Paid Family Leave. The law allows for someone to take six weeks off, at partial pay, to bond with a newborn child or care for a seriously ill family member or partner. In 2013 this was expanded to apply to grandparents, grandchildren, siblings and in-laws. This is covered through a small tax contribution per paycheck to provide for such time. Thankfully, New Jersey and Rhode Island have signed similar laws into place providing for such time to care for needs like this.

I know we take pride in our work here in the States. I fully support taking pride in your work as it goes back to being a person of your word, in my opinion. However, that should not be done excessively at the expense of your family. Life is only so long and I’d much rather have the memories of time spent with family and friends as opposed to slaving away to make a few extra bucks.

 

Why do you think our work/life balance is so out of whack here in the States? Do you think a professional athlete owes all they have to a team at the expense of missing the birth of a child? If you’re a parent, how much time off did you take after the birth of your child(ren)?

 

Photo courtesy of: Nicole S

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I'm the founder of Frugal Rules, a Dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry. I'm passionate about helping people learn from my mistakes so that they can enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. I'm also a freelance writer, and regularly contribute to GoBankingRates, Investopedia, Lending Tree and more. If you're wanting to learn how to monetize your blog, check out my blog coaching services to see how I can help you take your site to the next level.

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43 Comments

  • The answer is simple: The ALMIGHTY DOLLAR. Somewhere along the line America got the idea that money matters more than people, and it’s turned this place into a sad state, IMHO. John, thank you so much for writing this. Rick took a full week (of his minimal vacation time) off when we had each of our babies, so that he could be with us and yet still get paid for it. He doesn’t regret it for a moment and is SO glad he did so. And I can’t tell ya what a help it was to me, both physically and emotionally, to have him there. Making family a priority over work does wonders for the makings of a happy family, that’s for sure.

    • John says:

      It’s definitely hard to argue against that Laurie. That’s awesome he was able to be there for the births of all your children, for a number of reasons, but especially to be there with you during that precious time.

  • I think part of the pro athlete thing is that they are making so much money for playing a freaking game that people have expectations that the game and the team is their #1 priority. I think that’s a whole other issue (athlete pay) and that leaving for your child being born should be completely acceptable. I’m sorry to hear about the brokerage industry and definitely makes me think twice before ever going down that path, but I suppose there are MANY companies/industries that have a similar view.

    • John says:

      I agree DC. I love sports, especially football, but so many put it at a level that can’t be touched. At the end of the day it’s just a game and while they need to do their job their priority is not to “us” but to their families. There are many out there that hold to the same values as I saw, but hopefully that’ll change in time.

  • I don’t care what my job is when my wife and I have kids, I’m taking all the time I am legally afforded to take to be there. If the company doesn’t like it, then I’ll find another one to work for. I think it’s a joke that the father can’t be there for the birth of their child. At the end of the day, my family is #1 because I know they will be there for me and I for them. You can’t say that with a job, no matter how secure you feel in it.

    • John says:

      That’s my thought exactly Jon. It’s basically what I told my employer and thankfully I was on my way out anyway – they just didn’t know it yet. 🙂

  • Family is so important to me. I’m not a big Josh Beckett fan but a lot of Boston commentators got all over him because he said the birth of his kid was more important than baseball. My wife and I are planning for children and unfortunately we do not have employers that will pay for maternity leave. Another bucket for our savings goals.

    • John says:

      I remember hearing about that and it’s a joke. Athletes don’t owe us their lives, that belongs to their families. Unfortunately many firms don’t, though hopefully that’ll change sometime soon.

  • Nobody ever looks back at the end of their life and says “I wished I’d worked more.” In those moments, they regret things like missed family opportunities, lost dreams, and lack of helping others. I applaud what Daniel Murphy did. Baseball is a 162 game season, every season. The birth of a child comes once. Incidentally, I’ve heard some of those who criticized him are starting to walk back their statements.

    • Derek @ MoneyAhoy says:

      Brian,

      Excellent point – I couldn’t agree more. I’ve never met anyone that wishes they worked more when they look back on things. Family is what matters most at the end of the day!

    • John says:

      Definitely agreed Brian. It’s those family moments that count and not another hour in the office. I had heard that about Boomer Esiason, but not the others. I’d argue they’re only doing it because they know what they said sounds bad, but only they know what they feel.

  • kathryn says:

    No offence, but I am glad I am Canadian.
    When I had my babies, we had 2 weeks unpaid, and 15 weeks paid leave. It wasn’t full pay, about 60%.
    The employer didn’t pay us, but it is an insurance employees and employers paid into.It also covered lay off and sickness. Now parental leave is around 52 weeks, which the father can share, up to 6 months, if the mother returns to work early.

    • John says:

      None taken at all Kathryn. 🙂 I believe we have many things we could learn from our northern neighbors. 🙂

      That’s awesome you have that as an option and that it also extends to the partner. I know it’s not full pay, but I’d much rather have 60% than nothing at all.

  • First of all, I LOVE that picture!! Second, I am so glad that you bring this up again, because I feel as though my comment on Andrew’s blog may have come out too harsh. As working parents, we all have difficult choices, but some of us have jobs that make it harder to make the choice between work and family. And the fact is, we know it before we have the family, so we have to operate on that knowledge. My dad is a pediatric surgeon and he was never around when I was younger. I know he has regrets, but he chose a demanding job and had to balance that. As his child, I understand. He never missed the big stuff and I always knew he loved me. My hubby is a high school teacher. We really hoped that I would have our child in the summer so he could spend lots of time with him, but he was born in February. My husband took three days off to be with us and then went back to work. It was difficult for him, but he also felt an obligation to his children that he teachers. We had 9 months to prepare for it and we were fine. He ended up spending the entire summer watching my son to “make up for it.” I left a 90+ hour a week investment banking job that I knew would keep me away from my family more than I wanted. We all have choices in how we balance our work and our family and for those who choose jobs that are more demanding, they have to realize that their family is going to end up taking a back seat, but they knowingly chose a job like that. At the end of the day, we all have to make personal balance choices that are not always easy.

    • John says:

      Thanks Shannon, they’re a pretty silly group of kiddos! I completely agree that it’s a personal decision and that you need to do what works best for your family. That said, I think this is a big part of the problem – we shouldn’t have to be forced to make that decision. We should be allowed to have that time with our family members and not feel like our job is “owed” something of us in times where our families needs us. I believe that’s a huge part of our problem here in the States – we place such a priority on work at the expense of our families.

  • Grayson Bell says:

    This argument irritated me right when I heard it. I am a father and I will take some damn leave to be with my wife and new child. Luckily for me, I don’t have to deal with idiots running a company. My employer is very respectful toward parents and they give you the time you need. These people are in the old school thought process that the man doesn’t need to be there. I disagree with that completely. My family comes first and I would be there no matter what.

    • John says:

      I was the same way Grayson, it pissed me off, especially with the experience with my previous employer. We need to get out of this crazy belief that our employer is owed everything, because we both know when push comes to shove they won’t do the same for us.

  • Maternity leave sucks in the U.S. too. No one is required to offer any paid leave for maternity in the U.S., but my old employer gave me six weeks at half-pay. I ended up taking off ten, and it cost us a fortune.

    Anyway, something is wrong with us in this country. We always to put work first. I think that’s crazy. My old employer literally thought that work should come before family or anything else. Needless to say, I’m glad I’m not there anymore. All I owed them was to work while I was there- not my life.

    • John says:

      I agree Holly, it’s a crock! At least you got half pay, but sucks it ended up costing you so much.

      I could not agree more. Work is important, no doubt, but it should not be held to the esteem that we do here in the States. We have much to learn from other countries about this, or we just might go move to Europe. 🙂

  • E.M. says:

    I think it’s ridiculous how some people let work consume them. Family comes first for me and always will. It’s very disappointing to see how our policies pale in comparison to other countries. I had a coworker who moved here from Germany who was appalled by the amount of time given off.

    • John says:

      I agree E.M., it’s ridiculous indeed. Having been to Germany numerous times myself, I bet they were appalled…it’s part of the reason why I want to move there. 🙂

  • Hmm, maybe I should move to California. I was recently informed by my employer that when we adopt a child, I will not be eligible for maternity leave because I will not actually be the one giving birth to the child. Apparently in order to qualify for maternity leave at my present employer you have to be “disabled.” And if I were to give birth I would apparently be very disabled but because we are adopting no one will consider me to be disabled enough to get any maternity leave. I did not ask, but I am sure there is no such thing as paternity leave either. As was the case for you, the whole thing has definitely caused me to step back and see my present employer in a new light.

    • John says:

      I’m so sorry to hear that Dee, that is an absolute crock! I believe the California law covers adoption, though I wouldn’t swear to it. If I were you, I’d be looking for some creative ways to get that time off. 😉

  • Thanks for mentioning my post! It definitely hit a nerve when I heard the comments made from the guys on sports radio. I read about Williams on the Oilers. Check out this quote: “This is like World War II, when guys were going to war and something would come up but they had to go,” Bob Young, the Oilers’ offensive-line coach, was quoted as saying just after the game Sunday. Later, he added: “My wife told me she was having a baby and I said, ‘Honey, I’ve got to go play a football game.’ David just went blank. He let the guys down, and he let hundreds of thousands of fans down.”
    And more recently, Mike Florio also criticized Charles TIllman for considering taking a game off. (he later apologized). Glad you got out of an industry that does not value family much. If my employer had the same policy your former company had that I couldn’t be there unless my wife was in the hospital, I would have missed the whole thing…since the hospital sent us back twice and we ended up having an unintended home birth! Though it was a Sunday so I wouldn’t have been at work. Great post and enjoy the weekend with your family!

    • John says:

      Not a problem Andrew! I’ve read that quote before from Young and it just pisses me off to no end. How ridiculous is that…comparing a football game to WW II and then saying he let him team and fans down. If fans and teammates are upset because a man went to be with his wife and experience the birth of their child, then they can just deal with it.

      I know, I had asked my boss about that very possibility and they said so what – your responsibility is here. I’m sorry, but no job is worth it.

  • I would not mind paying an extra tax like Canadians do that covers some pay for an extended maternity leave. Our daughter was born on spring break, so Jim had that week off, but I had complications and had to have another major surgery so was in the hospital for the whole week. Then I came home, we had one day and he went back to work while I could still barely get out of bed. Luckily our Moms were able to come help out for a few weeks. I still went back to work at 6 weeks because the business could not afford for me not to be there. It’s certainly something parents need to consider before starting a business that can’t run without you physically there. Our whole attitude in the US is just plain wrong and that is probably why so many things are screwed up as far as family values and involvement in our kid’s lives.

    • John says:

      I wouldn’t either Kim. I hate taxes, but I would be fully behind something like that. I’m glad you had both Moms there so they could help out with Jim having to go back to work. I agree, our values are definitely messed up where this is concerned.

  • Joe says:

    Yeah, it’s nuts. I took 8 weeks off when our kid was born and I loved it. One of my co worker gave birth and went back to work in 3-4 days. That’s just crazy. There will always be more work. I guess work is more important to some people than other.

    • John says:

      Good for you Joe! I agree, it is nuts as there will always be work to do and would argue most employers will only get rid of you when it makes sense for them. I guess, for us, it’s good we work for ourselves now. 🙂

  • Jacob says:

    Wholeheartedly with you on this one. No job will ever be more important than my family. Ever. And if they try to assume that position in my priorities, well, a resignation letter is easy to write 😉

    At will employment is just that, at will. Now, athletes do have contracts and such, but FMLA is federal, and there are no exclusions. Sure, don’t pay him for the games missed, but it’s just a (very high paying) job, nothing special. I don’t see why they are held to some exceptional standard that we ourselves would never be held to.

    • John says:

      Completely agreed Jacob. As one who had to write that resignation letter in the past, it was quite easy and one that was very happy to write. 🙂

      Great point on the at will employment. We all know that the employer will do what’s in their best interest, so why can’t we as employees?

  • We definitely have our priorities out of whack sometimes. I get that athletes are paid a lot, but it’s the birth of a child for god’s sake! My producer is notorious for missing out on his family’s life. That’s why he is on his third marriage (and they are in counseling) and his oldest son is having major anxiety problems (ok not ENTIRELY his fault). But he works round the clock, and even when he is there in the house he isn’t “available.” Its just a train wreck to watch.

  • Hey John and thanks for a wonderfully insightful post!

    Personally, I think we need to start a “less of a man” club because really, what kind of man would NOT be with his wife and soon-to-be new born baby!

    Laurie’s comment above was spot on…the dollar dictates a persons behavior and it’s quite telling when someone chooses a buck or two over their family.

    I realize some men may not be in a situation to “fight back” as it were. That in itself should be the catalyst for self-employment!

    At least here in Canada we have paid leave for both parents, as it should be in my opinion!

    Thanks again John for a thoughtful post and take care. All the best.

    Lyle

    • John says:

      Thanks for the kind words Lyle! I would have no problem starting a “less of a ma” club. 😉

      I agree that it does largely come down to money and we have much to learn from our neighbors to the North. 🙂

  • Andrew’s post was great and it makes me sad to see how as a country – we seem to value work over family when we look at our maternity/paternity and vacation benefits. My family is definitely more important to me. I have been fortunate when I was in Corporate that my boss understood that I put my head down and plowed through 10+hours of work in 8 hours so I could be home at 6, making dinner with my girls. I love what I do and absolutely want to do right by clients, but my family comes first.

    By the way – love the pic. Every time I see it makes me smile and your kids look so much like you. 🙂

    • John says:

      It saddens me as well Shannon. Work has its place, but shouldn’t take priority over family and the time you should have with it. Glad to hear that past bosses have been understanding as that is not something we can always take for granted.

      Thanks, I do as well. 🙂 Yes, they definitely take after me in the genes department. 🙂

  • new gal says:

    Work is work; and personal time is mine. If I need time off, I should not have to have a “qualifying” event according to someone else’s value system (e.g., no bereavement leave because Relative A is not on “close relative” definition list). If it is a priority to me, I will plan and save for it. The government is not a super steward with what they already take; I am not keen on giving them anymore…

  • That is ridiculous you have to rush back to work straight after your kid is born. In France you get 3 months that you can extend to 6 or even 12 with almost full pay. I would definitely quit my job if there was some pressure to be back asap.

    • John says:

      I agree Pauline! We have much to learn in this area from our European friends. I’d be happy with even half pay, something has to be better than what we DON”T have now.

  • debt debs says:

    I cannot believe what your work said to you about her having to get to the hospital by herself!!!

    I’m so happy we have a better paternity leave her in Canada. Hmmm….I wonder if it has to do with whether a country wants to grow it’s population base, as to how much they have incentives / tax laws etc. to support families?

    • John says:

      I know, it’s sad but true. I wanted to shake my boss silly, but was the last nail in the coffin for me there anyway as I was pretty much ready to quit anyway.

      That’s an interesting question. Whatever it is, we have much to learn from our northern neighbors. 🙂

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