Leave at Home
When she was halfway through her second pregnancy, an American friend of mine decided with her husband to rent out their family home and move to a small rental apartment so that she could quit her job and afford to stay home with her two small kids. Paying for daycare for the two girls alone would have wiped out two-thirds of her paycheck, on top of coming home exhausted each evening and dealing with the extra stress of entrusting someone else with the baby. Plus, after using up all of her entitled vacation and sick days (to extend her time with her newborn), she had no more time left to use for days when her kids would inevitably need to stay home due to illness. Sadly, this is too often the story of American dual-income families today, but still no one has had the courage to do something about it. Certain employees of well-known prestigious businesses like Google, Netflix, or Apple are lucky to have landed a private parental leave deal with their companies, but this is the exception, not the rule.
European countries, on the other hand, are well-known for their extensive paid leave options. Sweden, for example, offers 56 weeks of paid leave (at 80% of one’s normal salary) and the option for another thirteen weeks of leave, paid at a flat rate. But few people are aware of how progressive the conditions for maternity leave are in Turkey, which shares similar periods of paid leave with countries such as Brazil, Australia, China, and Spain (between 14 and 25 months). These conditions are continuing to improve in Turkey, allowing women to more comfortably embrace their children as well as their careers.
Currently, the Turkish social security ministry ensures working women a total of sixteen weeks paid maternity leave, eight weeks before birth and eight weeks after (longer for multiple births). This is in line with the International Labor Organization standards, which state that at least fourteen weeks should be guaranteed for paid maternity leave given the needs of a family with a newborn. Sometimes, what a working mother may choose to do is opt to work through five weeks of prenatal leave (which must be doctor-approved and documented) and tack on those five weeks to the postnatal time off, resulting in a solid three months with the new arrival before heading back to work. Fathers too, are now entitled to five days of paid paternity leave through legal changes made to labor laws in 2015.
Once a mother returns to work, another support system called “breast-feeding” leave comes into play. This allows a new mother to leave 1.5 hours early each day (or in the middle of the day if she works close enough) to return home to nurse her baby. If permission is granted by the employer, this time may also be used as taking off one day per week until the baby turns one year old, or in lump sum, adding an extra 45 days or so to paid leave.
However, if a family decides that it is still best for the mother to remain at home with the baby beyond the paid leave period, many institutions also offer an additional six months of optional unpaid leave, which guarantees the woman’s position at her workplace while giving her nearly a year at home with her child. There are currently parliamentary discussions about extending unpaid leave up to 24 months for government officials, and offering part-time options for mothers to better balance their lives at home and the workplace.
After returning to work
Once a mother returns to work, new changes of course emerge for the growing family. There are three main options for people to choose from. Some families are lucky to have a family member to come watch the baby. Others, however, must hire a nanny to come to their home or they take their child to daycare until the child is eligible for kindergarten at 5 years old – both of which can put a serious dent in the family budget. The government is working to support families with working mothers, to allow them to remain at their jobs without handing over their entire paycheck to a sitter or preschool.
For those who choose to hire a nanny to come to their home, the Turkish Ministry of Labor and Social Security (the budget is supported partially by EU funding) has initiated a “Childcare at Home” project, which will extend families a subsidy for legally hiring a nanny, as long as the nanny’s social security benefits are covered by the family. This not only encourages mothers to hire legal childcare workers, but also will benefit professional caretakers whose labor has traditionally been “under the table”. Through this program, the child care sector is being formalized and legitimized for the benefit of families as well as professional caretakers.
Once the child is old enough to attend preschool, generally around 24 months, families may choose to send their young children to a childcare program external to the family home. To encourage socialization of the child and at-home moms to return to the workplace, the government has created a subsidy. Through this program, the government helps foot the bill, no strings attached, for private daycare programs, which can get quite pricey. The 2015-16 academic year granted 230,000 students a preschool subsidy. This number is likely to increase in the future.