Merrill Gay is the Executive Director of the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance (CECA)

Why do you support paid family leave?

As an advocate of early childhood issues I know the importance of the earliest years in a child’s life.  Establishing a strong bond between parents and their baby is critically important.  I find it inconceivable that we recognize that puppies shouldn’t be taken from their mothers before 8 weeks and yet one out of four working mothers have to return to work with in 2 week of giving birth.  There is so much good that comes out of parents having that time to bond with their baby and yet the absence of paid family makes taking that time off almost impossible.  The evidence is very clear that when mothers have paid time off they are far more likely to sustain breast feeding which supports the baby’s immune system and reduces the likelihood of obesity.  There is also research that shows that patterns of caregiving develop in those first weeks of a baby’s life.  When fathers have time off to bond with their baby, they end up taking a much greater role in caring for their child.

How did you become aware of paid family leave?

I hadn’t really thought about it until my daughter was born two months premature while we were on a weekend trip to New Hampshire.  She was in neonatal intensive care up there for two weeks.  I used up all my vacation time before we could even bring her back to CT.  Fortunately my wife worked at one of the few places that provided paid leave and she was able to stay home her for a couple of months.  It was only then that I started to hear from people about how lucky we were that she could take paid leave.

Why is this issue important to you?

Now that I’m older and just went through the experience of my 82 year old mother falling and breaking her shoulder, I can see that I may need time off to take care of her if she has another fall or a serious illness.

What do you wish all people knew about paid family leave?

I wish people knew how far behind the rest of the world we are in this county when it comes to family friendly policies like paid leave, vacation time and healthcare.

What was the most impactful story you heard from the community about paid family leave?

There are two stories that come to mind.  The first was from a mother who emigrated from one of the Caribbean islands.  She was just stunned that in a developed country like the US that there wasn’t a system of paid maternity leave like there was back home.  The second story is from a friend whose daughter is working in Germany and about to start a family.  Her dad asked, “So when are you moving back home?”  Her response was, “Dad I think we’re going to stay here.  It’s just so much better in terms of paid time off for parents and childcare.”

How will paid family leave change Connecticut?

I see two ways that paid family leave will help Connecticut.  Infant toddler care is the most expensive and least available type of child care.  If we had a system that gave both moms and dads up to 12 weeks of paid leave, they could stagger some of that time off and take a big dent out to the need for out of home infant care as well as making it more possible for parents to really bond with their baby.  The other way that paid family leave would help is that Connecticut is aging.  A larger and larger portion of the state’s population consists of senior citizens.  To the extent that families have the flexibility to provide some of the care that their older relatives need, the less that falls to incredibly expensive nursing homes.

“Interviews with Our Champions” is a series by the Campaign featuring advocates leading the push for paid family and medical leave here in Connecticut. Know a Champion we should highlight? Contact