At Mom2Mom Global, we’re more than just breastfeeding support for US military families serving around the world. We are military spouses and servicemembers, and we know, firsthand, the unique challenges military families face when they have a new baby. Some of the biggest challenges stem from the fact that not all military servicemembers are given adequate paid family leave when a new baby arrives.
Recently, the Department of Defense introduced a new universal standard of 12 weeks paid maternity leave for the birth parent. As one military spouse wrote, “Our family would have two incomes and I'd still be serving the military if we’d had 12 weeks paid family leave. I couldn't fathom leaving my baby as soon as they expected me to.”
We applaud this initial change, but it doesn’t go far enough in addressing the need for military families to have time together when a new member arrives by birth, adoption, or foster care. At the time this change was announced, the Navy and Marine Corps had offered 18 weeks of maternity leave, and the Air Force was planning to follow suit. Rather than bringing the entire military up to the highest standards at the time of adoption, the DOD instead forced the Navy and Marine Corps to lower their maternity leave to 12 weeks—a step backward, particularly for servicewomen who can immediately be separated from their families once they return to work.
Under the current regulations, male, married servicemembers are eligible for 10 days of paternity leave, but this is at the discretion of their command. This means that the command can withhold this leave. Unmarried parents and female married non-birth parents are not entitled to any family leave at all. Currently, servicemembers are eligible for up to three weeks of family leave when a child is adopted, but if both parents are serving in the Armed Forces, then only one of them can take leave. In cases where families must travel to adopt their child, the entire three weeks may be taken up waiting on court paperwork, leaving no time for parents to bond with their new child or support each other and help other children adjust to the transition. No family leave is authorized when a child is placed in foster care with a servicemember’s family. The current regulations are particularly murky when it comes to family leave for the non-birth parent in same-sex couples, in which case a child born may or may not be adopted by the non-birth parent, and the non-birth parent may not be male.
Why is it so important to give ALL military servicemembers paid family leave? It’s the right thing for all parents in any career field, but military families often welcome new children under stressful circumstances. Permanent Changes of Station (“moves”) are frequent, and it is common for a new child to arrive during a move when a family does not have a home, their things, or their vehicles with them. The postpartum period is a vulnerable time for a new baby and a new mother, and she is still at risk for medical complications. Most people know that deployments last anywhere from 6-12 months and separate servicemembers from their families. All service branches defer female servicemembers from deploying for at least 6 months after giving birth, but none defer non-birth servicemembers. One thing that is not clear in Rep. Duckworth’s proposal is whether the 12 weeks of family leave would also apply to a deployed non-birth parent. But many people don’t realize how many other ways families are separated by military service. Unaccompanied tours, when the servicemember is sent somewhere without family, are typically 12 months. Temporary duty assignments can last anywhere from 2 to 179 days. Training exercises, either in the field or in the classroom, are a key part of advancing a military career, and they can last anywhere from a few days to several months. Breastfeeding servicemembers remain eligible for temporary duty and training assignments, and non-birth parents must remain wherever they are ordered to be.
Military families know that separation from our servicemember is a part of our lifestyle. Our military force is on duty 24 hours a day, and our servicemembers never stop serving. Because of these frequent separations, the time we do have together is extremely precious. Allowing servicemembers the time off to meet their children and care for their families during that special, fragile time strengthens families overall, and makes us more resilient during the times of separation.
Our military servicemembers deserve the chance to care for and bond with their new children. That’s why Mom2Mom Global is proud to partner with the USBC’s Parents' Month campaign and raise awareness about Rep. Tammy Duckworth’s Military Parental Leave Modernization Act.