Why Your Company's Parental Leave Policy Should Include Adoption...

I had become a mother overnight when eleven-month-old Hridi came into my life. Yes, I am a mother through adoption. My motherhood experiences are by and large similar to any other mother; such as sleepless nights, caring for a sick child or managing tantrums and soothing the child during crisis or having those occasional baby blues. Despite all these similarities, there is a huge difference and it’s a no-brainer to guess what it is, ‘we did not birth our baby’. So, being a full-time working professional, when I decided to adopt and understood that sooner or later a baby will come into my life, I started worrying about the most basic thing which would be the least of concerns for any working biological mother and that was maternity leaves.

I had applied for adoption through CARA (Central Adoption Resource Authority) in the year 2019. The anxiety of leaves had set inside my head as soon as our application was approved by CARA and we were put on a waitlist for PAPs or prospective adoptive parents. Any parent applying for adoption has to wait for at least three to four years for their first referral. The good part of this long wait time was that I had a few more years ahead of me to sort things out and find the right place to work where the company would understand the needs of an adoptive mother.

During that time, I was working at a startup where no leave policy existed for adoptive parents because no one before me had asked for it. When the HR team started working on it, they found a policy defined by the Labour Law that said:

‘A woman who legally adopts a child below the age of three months or a commissioning mother shall be entitled to maternity benefits for a period of twelve weeks from the date the child is handed over to the adopting mother or the commissioning mother, as the case may be.

I was a tad bit disappointed and explained in a long email how important it was for adoptive parents to be eligible for equal benefits that birth parents get. 

Children from institutions face trauma and abandonment very early in their life. It takes time, effort and energy for both the parents and the child to establish trust in their relationship. I will be honest here, the HR folks in that tiny startup were very cordial and listened patiently to all my concerns. However, they were sceptical to bring in a big policy change without bringing it up to the Board. They promised me they will do their best to put it across the board but they mentioned that they need some time to build a strong case to advocate for a policy change that goes beyond the law defined by the Ministry of Labour and Employment. 

I had no doubt that the HR team would do their best but I was restless to find a solution. So, when months passed and I did not hear anything positive from the HR team, I started looking for another job where an inclusive adoption policy would already exist. I would not have to struggle to get leaves when I bring my child home.

After attending a few interviews, I got an offer from Syncron Software India Pvt Ltd. The only question I had during the HR round was, “how many days of leave will I get when I bring my baby home?’ To this, the HR head of the company Samson James said something that I will always remember. He said, “adoption or birth we do not care. We support all employees becoming parents with equal benefits.” This statement gave me a lot of assurance that I am going to join a truly inclusive organisation and I readily accepted the offer.

The bizarre “below 3 months” clause

The leaves provided to mothers at birth are for mother’s recuperation and child care. In case of adoption, although the recovery of the mother is not applicable, there still are many complicated steps and processes to be accomplished within a limited timeframe. Such as, the adoption committee meeting, health checks, police verification and home visit report done by local social agencies. It is followed by a DM hearing where prospective parents need to present their case before the District Magistrate to issue the final adoption order for the child. 

There is also a huge effort required by prospective parents to win the trust of the new member of the family. Unlike children who join the families by birth, adoptive children need more time to adjust to the new environment. If a child is of one year of age or older, they would have started recognising their caregivers at the institutions. No matter how comfortable a family life is, these children will have an initial separation anxiety from their known environment to a new one. In such scenarios, they need more warmth and presence of one or both parents. We have to acknowledge that adoptive children come from places of trauma. They need assurance, care, warmth and time from parents to help them cope in their new life. 

Adoptive parents encounter many unique challenges in their new role which is often brushed under the carpet. All adoptive parents wait for a long time before getting matched with their child, so they do have ample time to research and prepare themselves but the irony is, when the long wait is finally over, most of them feel that they are not yet equipped to handle the little one. They need a little more time to settle down and a lot of support from people around them. It’s a mixture of opposites that most adoptive parents feel when their child comes home. On one hand they are elated to become parents but on the other hand there is a lot of guilt for not being able to provide breast milk, for missing out on their child’s nutrition during their early days at the institute and of course to return to work within 4-6 weeks if their employer has limited leave allocated for adoption. 

What can we do better?

During my parental journey, I did a lot of research on companies providing equal benefits and leave support to employees. Just like Syncron software even Adobe Systems provides 26 weeks of maternity leave for adoptive mothers, same as they provide biological parents. InMobi went another step up in obliterating the concept of maternity leaves and in turn provides parental leaves which entails even men to avail a 26 month of paid leave to nurture their child.

Although companies are opening their minds and hearts to families formed in various ways and providing gender neutral parental leaves to their employees, there still exist many large organisations that fail adoptive parents by formulating constricted policies with an age limit of child or a bare minimum one month provided for child care to adoptive parents.

Here are a few things organisations can do to make the workplace more inclusive for adoptive parents:

  • If an employee expresses that s/he is a prospective adoptive parent, first try to understand how far they are from their referral, so that business continuity can be planned effectively. Often, it is uncertain on when exactly we would receive a referral but all prospective parents would have a rough idea on a tentative timeline based on their seniority on the system.
  • Adoptive parents need time with their children to gain trust from the child and establish a bond. The leave that they should be entitled to should be at par with biological maternity/ paternity policies. 
  • Adoption leaves should be applicable to male employees too. Just like any male employee is entitled to paternity leaves, the same should be offered to adoptive parents. In fact, adoptive fathers should be looked at with a different perspective. There are many instances where the applicants are single fathers. In such cases, they play the role of the father as well as the mother and they should be provided more support and days off. I like how some companies are now doing away with the concept of maternity and paternity leaves and instead providing child-care/ parental leave to all their employees if they are primary care-givers.
  • Counselling and therapy should be made available for adoptive parents. Pre-adoption counselling is a must for all adoptive parents and it would be a great move by companies if they can facilitate something similar or have a reimbursement policy if anyone wants to avail of it. 
  • Have more adoptive parents speak about their experience through organised learning sessions so that other employees contemplating adoption have peer support and understand that the company values their choices no matter how different they are from the mainstream. Also, it would remove the social stigma that exists around adoption and help normalise it.

In conclusion, the journey of adoptive parenthood is one filled with unique challenges and the need for inclusive workplace policies and support systems. By recognising the diverse paths to parenthood and implementing policies that reflect the evolving nature of family structures, organisations can foster an environment of empathy, understanding and equity. It is imperative for employers to heed the call for inclusivity, not only to attract and retain diverse talent but also to uphold principles of fairness and compassion. Through collective action and ongoing dialogue, we can work towards a future where all parents, regardless of how their families are formed, feel valued, supported, and empowered in the workplace and beyond.

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