“Modern Family” Society with “Leave It To Beaver” Policies

Mark Sagor


leave-it-to-beaver-familyWard Cleaver was an exemplary Dad, calm and wise and always available to talk with his kids and guide them. His wife June was an iconic nurturing at-home Mom. The Cleavers made a great team and their children adored and respected them.

The men of Ward’s era were not expected to be present for their children’s births and did not ask for paternity leave.  The fictional Cleaver family showed no evidence of stress from work-life conflicts. (Does anyone even know exactly what Ward did for a living?).

Six decades later, in the “Modern Family” era there are many more options and variations regarding parental roles. More choices for parents means more decisions, juggling and potential for conflict with each other and with the expectations of the workplace.

Try to imagine 21st century Phil Dunphy or Mitchell Pritchett (two of the fathers “Modern Family”) approaching Ward Cleaver’s mid-20th century employer for paternity leave. Depending who you work for you might not have to exercise your imagination very much becaus our labor laws, and many employers’ family policies, have not kept pace with with the way employees are living now.

modern family

That’s what Thomas Peretz (US Department of Labor Secretary) was talking about a few weeks ago at the first White House Conference on Working Dads when he said that: “We live in a “Modern Family” society but our policies are stuck in “Leave It To Beaver” mentality.

Think he is exaggerating?

Not when you consider the fact that the only countries in the world without any paid parental leave are Lesotho, Swaziland, Papua New Guinea and the United States.

It’s mind-boggling that we are on this list.

U.S. employers have not have not picked up the slack either. Only 15% of them offer paid paternity leave. One of the consequences of this family policy anachronism is “the number of men reporting work/family conflicts has risen from 35% in 1977 to 60% in 2008.”

At the White House Conference on Working Dads, Jason Furman (Chairman of the Presidents Council of Economic Advisors) said that framing the discussion of family benefits as a competition between the needs of employees and shareholders is a stale paradigm leading to a false choice. He pointed to employers like Costco and Ace Hardware who are making progressive family policies part of their employee engagement strategy.

Mr. Furman reminds us that when California mandated paid parental leave 10 years ago the business community vigorously fought the initiative. Contrary to the dire predictions of opponents, the policy has turned out to be overwhelmingly popular and 90% of employers say it has had a positive effect or no effect on their companies.

The issue of paternity leave briefly became a headline in the sports pages in April when Daniel Murphy, the New York Mets second baseman, missed 3 games to be at his son’s delivery. This was followed by a  media dust-up when a couple of broadcasters (both former professional players) criticized Murphy for letting down his team.

Mr. Murphy’s decision to put his responsibilities as a dad above his employer’s needs drew public attention to the issue of paternity leave which is usually a very private matter. Not every man will want to make the same choice but, as a society, don’t we want this to be a decision determined by what is best for the individual family?

As the newest spokesman for paternity leave was rounding the media bases he said: Long after I’m no longer good enough to be a baseball player, I’ll still be a dad.”

I think that is a Hall of Fame sentiment.