But the lack of a blanket policies that offer wage replacement during parental leave is at odds with what most Americans want—and say that they need. A recent study by Pew Research Center found that the majority of Americans support paid leave, with 69 percent of respondents saying that they returned to work more quickly than they would have liked because they could not afford to lose more wages. That might be why some new parents are now turning to baby registries and crowdfunding sites to help with their finances during parental leave.
That was the case for Alisa Taylor-Parisi, an expecting mother in Panama City Beach, Florida, who set up a cash maternity fund on the registry website Babylist. Taylor-Parisi works as a manufacturing engineer at the company Oceaneering. The company offers 12 weeks of leave, but only four of those weeks are paid—and the paid leave amounts to only 60 percent of her normal salary. “When you first think about it, it's no big deal. Then you do the math and that's a substantial part of your income to not be getting given that your expenses are going to increase with baby stuff,” said Taylor-Parisi.
Natalie Gordon, the founder and CEO of Babylist, says that the site has seen users asking for financial support for their maternity leave via the the “Enter Your Own” option field where, in addition to baby items, users can ask for funding for cash for fun experiences or staples, such as diapers. Over 200 leave funds have been created on the site since last May, with the average cash goal set to $2,000.
Soon-to-be parents asking for money instead of gifts isn’t new. But the practice of raising money specifically for parental leave has a different tone. Many women who started maternity funds spoke about the inadequate nature of paid leave in the U.S. Changes in public or company policy can feel far away, especially for expectant parents who have a more concrete deadline than politicians and HR offices. Establishing a maternity-leave fund to solicit help from family and friends is one market solution that feels immediate and tangible.
Kimberly McClellan, another user on Babylist, felt that being explicit about her ask for leave funding the request more comfortable. “The biggest worry was how to manage all the new expenses of a baby while I was off work and without pay,” said McClellan, a 36 year-old marketing specialist in Denton, Texas, in an email. “I thought it would be great to give people the option to just contribute money if they chose to, but I wanted to make it clear that any cash donated would be used for salary replacement while both me and my husband were off work to care for the baby. I felt like that would be a more understandable request than just for cash to be used for anything and everything.”
The trend of parents asking family and friends to forgo baby gifts in favor of money is in line with surveys that have found that Millennials increasingly prefer experiences over material things. Cash allows families to spend more time with their newborns, while other gifts will soon be outgrown. And yet the most popular baby registry platforms, Amazon and Toys"R"Us among them, still mostly offer only baby goods or gift cards. That may be why crowdfunding and cash registry sites are seeing more new parents take to their platforms for financial assistance during maternity leave.