What we value in our society is really demonstrated most by how we treat our children. And by extension, the support and encouragement we give to expectant parents is most indicative of how much or little we value the new life they’re bringing into our world. Though some may say our planet is overpopulated and might even promote the idea of discouraging human procreation altogether, it is really an inevitable consequence of sex, and necessary to our continuation. And, when it comes down to it, there really is no denying this most basic of human desires. We can make efforts to curb large populations through sexual education and by encouraging the use of birth control, but there really is no way to stop the innate need that we all have to keep our genetic material in the gene pool.
The United States is just incredibly negligent in terms of how we care for our children, as a whole. Not to say that most American children are worse off than kids who live in other developed countries around the world, but they are however at a disadvantage in one respect right from the start. While new parents in places like Great Britain, Australia, and even in neighboring (and still developing) Mexico enjoy several weeks paid maternity leave, there are however no such requirements in America. Some countries also have provisions in place to allow paternity leave for fathers whose partners have birthed a child and also give generous leave even to adoptive parents. But for most workers in the U.S. there is nothing of the sort, and whatever time new parents might get to take off after the birth of a child is pretty much up to their employer.
Many are familiar with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which gives certain workers employment protections and allowances for extended leave above and beyond what their employers may offer. Even so, there is no mandate for paid time off for new parents and even with FMLA, and only employers with 50 or more employees are required to follow these guidelines. Most of the time workers have to use up vacation days and accrued personal time for their leave as well, and don’t just simply get 8-12 weeks of paid time off. So, if a new mother needs to take leave for longer than what her paid time off can cover, she simply has to go without any pay until she’s either ready to go back to work, or must return out of financial necessity.
The idea of guaranteed paid leave has been an issue of debate in American politics this year, especially as the Presidential election continues to develop. Both democratic frontrunners, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have each been discussing their plans for establishing paid leave plans for workers who need to take time off for childbirth, caring for relatives, or to recover themselves from an illness or other medical condition. Such a plan would bring the U.S. more in line with other developed countries where these types of programs have existed for some time now. It’s incredible that we’ve taken so long to institute such measures, being that we pride ourselves on our global leadership abilities.
If we don’t take better care of up and coming generations by allowing parents the time to bond with their babies without feeling pressured to get back to work, where will our families be when the children are then placed in day care soon after? It’s only a few short years before children start school after that, and if parents don’t have time to form loving, trusting relationships right from the start, there may never be hope for those bonds to develop. There is a sort of detachment that is caused by separating parents from their children for the sake of career or financial stability, and those first moments, days, and weeks with a newborn are so critical for their development and attachment.
There are a set of principles related to this idea of setting aside time to bond, to nurture, and form a loving relationship with our offspring, and that is called attachment parenting. It is a lifelong discipline, but it starts during pregnancy and really intensifies at birth, but never has to end as we grow and learn together with our children. Starting a family is most definitely a life-altering experience, and can even change the entire trajectory of one’s life. But if we allow ourselves to be present with our children right from the start and take the time to ease into parenthood, it will not only benefit our families, but also our local communities and our entire planet. Whatever work obligations or financial pressures can be set aside for the more important task of bonding and loving our children.