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The Downside of Unlimited Maternity Leave

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Netflix, which already allows its employees unlimited vacation and sick days, announced on Tuesday that it will offer unlimited leave for new moms and dads during the first year after a child's birth or adoption.

This is a progressive concept in America, which is so backward in paid maternity leave policies that it's hard to believe we are actually a developed country. Millions of new mothers go unpaid after childbirth and are either forced into debt or forced back to work before it's healthy for her or the baby.

And that's just the mothers.

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An editorial in Slate offers an interesting perspective. L.V. Anderson writes that Netflix's policy will have the unintended consequences of parents taking less time off, which often happens with unlimited vacation policies. "Parental resentment" may cause even more stress than having a well-defined leave would.

"If that new mom down the hall came back full-time after only six weeks of leave, will you look like a slacker if you take four months and ramp back up with a three-day-a-week schedule?" Anderson writes. "I don't want to be vulnerable to judgment and resentment because of my choices about maternity leave—I'd much rather know exactly how much paid time off I (and all my colleagues) are entitled to."

When the judgment starts flying as to how you raise your baby, well goodness, doesn't there just come a time when you just have to plug your ears and stop listening to everyone else's opinions?

I understand this concern, and in fact, she's probably right. America is just not that far along yet. However, this sort of thinking only perpetuates the problem. It gives in to the judgment of others by participating in the fear of what they think.

We've seen it, we've heard about it, we've read about it countless times. The judgment of parents is a no-win situation. Go to work, you're neglectful. Stay home, you're not contributing. Have a baby and stay home too long, you're letting your colleagues down. Have a baby and come back to work too fast, you're a bad mother. Fathers don't need as much time as mothers, after all—their bodies don't need to recover. Yet don't stay home enough and he's not a family man.

Netflix has said its staff is entitled to this benefit, so people of Netflix, seize the day!

And that's just for having the baby. When the judgment starts flying as to how you raise your baby ... well, goodness, doesn't there just come a time when you just have to plug your ears and stop listening to everyone else's opinions?

Are the companies the enemies? Or are we?

Now, I don't know Netflix. It could be it offers employees unlimited benefits only to secretly undermine them by denying promotions when they take those benefits. It could be they offer employees unlimited benefits, because they know the staff will feel enough fear and guilt to work harder than it would than if it had defined benefits.

But, if a company is priding itself by leading the way on its progressive workplace policies and announcing them publicly, I would hope it has the good sense to back them up. Someone has to start the change. If Netflix wants to step up, more power to it. Changing the view of parental leave in this country certainly isn't going to happen overnight, but piece by piece, Netflix by Netflix, staff by staff.

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Netflix has said its staff is entitled to this benefit, so people of Netflix, seize the day! Create a culture whereby you ditch the fear and guilt and judgment from your colleagues and say, "I'm taking 6 months, because my company says I can." If people don't like a liberal parental leave policy, there are plenty of other places to work in America who will gladly not pay them, and judge them accordingly.

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