By Father Casey
November is a great time to remember what you’re thankful for. Certainly, most of us would benefit from practicing gratitude more intentionally the other eleven months of the year, but there’s something subconscious that happens within me when the light changes, the temperatures drop, and the clocks fall back in November. My mind and my heart seem more inclined to gratitude.
This week I’ve been brimming with gratitude for the ability of children ages 5-11, including my younger daughter, to receive the COVID vaccine. I swear I could hear the sighs of relief and thanksgiving emanating from millions of parents all week. Melody and I made the choice to vaccinate our children, because we feel extremely confident in this marvel of modern science, that it will help protect our girls and those with whom they interact. We continue to see the vaccine as a medically-enhanced tool for loving our neighbors as ourselves. And anything that helps us show love for others is something to be grateful for.
There is a pattern to gratitude – it begets more of itself – so even as I thank God for the vaccine, I thank God for experiences that vaccination gives us confidence to enjoy. This weekend, my wife and older daughter traveled by airplane for the first time in 20 months. They are visiting Rhode Island, where Melody will preach at the wedding of a woman who was our daughters’ babysitter during our years there. As is often the case with people who regularly care for your children, Alyson became a virtual family member, so it brings us immense joy to participate in her wedding.
Thankfully (there’s the gratitude again!), we didn’t need to rely on Alyson’s help when our daughters were first born. We were the beneficiaries of paid parental leave, which allowed Melody to stay home with both girls for three months after they were born. Unlike many other families in our country, we didn’t have to weigh the pros and cons of her staying home. We didn’t have to consider whether she should leave her job or sacrifice her income. Paid parental leave was a standard benefit she received at her job.
And it wasn’t just Melody who was home, either. I also received a month of paid parental leave when each of the girls was born. I look back on those days, as exhausting as they were, I am filled with a level of gratitude that transcends description. For, as the overwhelming preponderance of science shows, our being there made enormous and enduring impacts of my daughters’ physical, social, and emotional health. The trajectory of their lives was measurably improved because of our presence, and we continue to enjoy the bonds of love that developed in those precious early days.
I’m grateful that paid parental leave is an automatic benefit of all full-time employees at Transfiguration. Women don’t have to negotiate for it. Men don’t have to make the case that they deserve it, either. We see it as a fundamental benefit akin to health care and paid sick leave. Parents should be able to stay home with their newborn or newly adopted children for a significant length of time, long enough to do the myriad good that scientists have observed, long enough to establish the bonds of love that can then grow over a lifetime.
I’m hopeful that our national leaders will figure out how to make paid parental leave available to all workers. It shouldn’t be limited to professionals in offices or those who can negotiate their employment agreements. It should be something we proudly and unreservedly give to all new parents out of a sense of shared humanity and an investment in our future. There are many issues about which faithful people can reasonably debate, but for the life of me, I can’t understand opposition to paid parental leave. It should be a basic and universal benefit, so that future generations born in our society will have the blessing of spending their first months in the arms of the people God has chosen to care for them.
Who knows, maybe by Thanksgiving we’ll be able to add paid parental leave for all to our list of things to be grateful for.