Parental Leave: Why is it so important?

(From Healthy Families:)

In December of 2010 the University of British Columbia and the University of Toronto released a study suggesting that there was little evidence that offering Canadian families a full year of parental leave has improved early childhood development. Additionally the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) has released a study that found that working didn’t lower the quality of parenting overall. So why is parental leave so important?

The National Bureau of Economic Research’s study which was led by Pinka Chatterji, Sara Markowitz and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn found that women with 3-month-old infants who worked full time reported feeling greater rates of depression, stress, poor health and overall family stress than mothers who were able to stay home. At the six months mark they found that an increase of 10 weekly work hours was associated with a 3% to 7% jump on the depression score.

It is well documented that mothers experiencing depression and stress have a negative impact on their families’ overall wellness and on the health and cognitive development of their children. “Numerous studies show that clinical depression in mothers as well as self-reported depressive symptoms, anxiety, and psychological distress, are important risk factors for adverse emotional and cognitive outcomes in their children, particularly during the first few years of life,” wrote the authors.

So while extended parental leave may not have a profound effect on motor skills, temperament, and how quickly infants sit up and walk, it does have an effect on the mental health of mothers and in turn on the family as a unit. Parental leave is a time entirely devoted to transitioning to the parental role. The transition isn’t easy, but having enough time to settle into the new role as a parent seems to be key in encouraging healthy families