The Atlantic

Beyond Maternity Leave

For all the focus on parental leave as a barrier to women’s professional ascent, women’s real struggle with work-parenting balance grew—alongside their children—years after their maternity leave ended.

This is the fifth story in a seven-part series looking at women’s ambitions in the years following college.

It’s hard to run headlong into the issue of women and work without face-planting over the current state of paid parental leave in the United States. Article after article reports on the barely existent policies, punctuated with reports that range from depressing (only the U.S. and Papua New Guinea don’t mandate some paid time off) to tragic. So we anticipated hearing a lot of stories from our former classmates about how they’d struggled to return to work after abbreviated leaves, or left altogether because they couldn’t bring themselves to go back after such a short time with their newborn. But not one person said anything related to a lack of paid leave as a major factor in her decision to either leave the workforce or scale back her career.

This isn’t to say that paid parental leave wouldn’t be a boon to working families. We did have

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