Most Military Moms Just Got Expanded Benefits, But Here’s How Dads Got Screwed

Is this enough time for new fathers?

<a href="http://www.istockphoto.com/photo/woman-soldier-hugging-her-son-gm467271552-60981070?st=f2645f1">AleksandarNakic</a>/iShutterStock.com

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


The Pentagon is joining the ranks of major American employers who have boosted their paid maternity leave. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced on Thursday that military moms in all branches of the service will now get 12 paid weeks of maternity leave, meaning most new mothers will now have double the time off to care for newborns.

The Army—by far the largest branch of the military—and the Air Force previously gave mothers six weeks of maternity leave. New moms in the Navy and Marine Corps got 18 weeks of maternity leave following a policy change last July, and Carter vowed that mothers covered under those rules would get the leave they were promised.

He defended the unified policy as an appropriate balance between the needs of mothers and families and the requirement to have service members and their units prepared for deployments. “We are not Google, we are not Walmart; we are war fighters,” he said at a press briefing on Thursday.

Carter also cast the decision as a way to retain service members and compete with major private-sector companies.

“Women at peak ages for having a family leave the military at the highest rates,” he said, arguing that the new policy will “strengthen [the Pentagon’s] position in the battle for top-tier talent.”

While only 13 percent of American workers have paid family leave benefits, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families, a workplace equality advocacy group, many larger corporations and tech firms allow new mothers several months of family leave. Netflix announced this year that it would give up to a year of paid family leave to salaried employees, while Google’s 18 weeks of maternity leave is a more common figure. Carter called the military’s new 12-week policy “extremely generous” and among the “top tier of institutions nationwide.”

Military fathers didn’t fare as well. The Department of Defense will seek Congress’ permission to boost paid paternity leave only four days, from the current 10 days up to two weeks, Carter said. That puts fathers well behind their counterparts at many major companies like the ones Carter hopes to compete with, especially those in the tech industry. Google, for example, gives new fathers seven weeks of paternity leave, while Facebook offers more than double that amount.

Alex Johansen, a former Army sergeant whose wife gave birth to two children while he was serving, says that even four days can be a significant help for military fathers.

“Even with the policy in place, approvals for leave are required ahead of time and it can be difficult to time a birth,” he wrote to Mother Jones in an email. “An extra four days supports the variables of having a baby, such as early or prolonged labor and recovery times.”

But Army Staff Sergeant Sarah Stricklin, who gave birth to a new son this week, wants to see the military go further. “I think 14 days is a start, but a month would be better,” she wrote. “The military, which claims to understand the importance of families, should really look at other countries’ maternity/paternity leave policies and recognize how beneficial they are in so many ways.”

Carter also announced other family-friendly “Force of the Future” policy changes, including increased daycare hours, more flexibility for military families who want to stay for longer periods at a single base, and the creation of 3,600 “mothers’ rooms” on bases where mothers can safely breastfeed.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest