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22 July 2012

Geeking Out on Mothering

Grad students in social work, law, public health, public policy: do I have the thesis topic for YOU!?

Comparison shopping - who gets more value for their tax dollar in each of a few nations, specifically, in the US, Pakistan, South Africa, Mexico, Spain, France, Venezuela, and - just for variety - Norway?

In the US, most of us get just two "benefits" when having a child: 1) the Feds guarantee that we will have a job to go back to if we are out of work for no more than 12 weeks. 2) Short-term "disability pay" will give you a weekly lump sum for 6 to 8 weeks of the time you're home recovering from giving birth or having a Cesarian section birth. Let's look at that again - this is not pay to stay home with your child, caring for an infant. This is time to be home repairing your body before you are well enough to get back to the grindstone.

If you're like me, you were even required to have your saved sick days paid out to you during those first 6 to 8 weeks and if you were like me, for that time, YOU didn't collect the disability pay; your employer did. (P.S. That meant I returned to work with NO sick days for the next 7 months though I had an infant, now at daycare, who proceeded to get sick twice a month, minimum, though he received a diet of nothing but breast milk until 7 months old.) What about saved vacation days? Yep, I elected to use those too (really, what choice did I have?), and who collected my disability pay then? Mmmm hmmm, my employer. After the vacation pay ran out, and only then, did I start to get my measly disability pay (NY state; $170/ week). I started an ING account to save money from the day I knew I was pregnant knowing I wanted well more than 12 weeks at home. I made my way up to 18 weeks. Whooo hooo!

If we lived in Venezuela that 18 weeks would have been guaranteed by my nation, and fully paid.

Not as vacation pay or sick pay - as maternity pay. As the social support for caring for a newborn infant who is completely dependent on myself and my husband for survival - and yes, moreso me: I've got the milk.

I have to ask: Just what value do we place on our children if our society neglects to support mothers and fathers with giving their children the best start in life? I think almost any society can be judged by how it treats its elders and its youth. We routinely corral them into centers at the edges of society paying their caretakers barely a living wage (average is somewhere between $7 and $14 per hour). I truly wonder how many of our problems in America come from a collective unconscious acceptance of devaluing anyone we deem vulnerable or weak: anyone who doesn't contribute to the GDP. And I think this attitude pervades various spheres.

Were we more available to raise our children, more available as whole families, more natural in how we spent our time together (because time didn't come at such a premium) would our children learn a more empathetic respect for life, for other people, for living things? Would they be less likely to torment bus monitors, kids with autism, or the only Mexican kid on the playground? Would we treat each other more as members of a community - a larger family, a village? and less like competitors? Would we create a society less likely to bet against our nation's homeowners? Less likely to disallow some citizens from marrying or adopting children? Less likely to frack our water into poison?

So, which comes first - the embryo or the mother? I don't know. But, I do know that when I smile, it makes me feel happier, when I hold my sister's hand even though I'm mad at her I feel more compassion for her, when I turn on happy music it gets me out of a funk. If we take any first step in moving toward a more empathetic, caring society, won't others follow? And if you're going to start somewhere, name a better place to start than at home with our newborns. If our mind's can't lead us there, let us follow our bodies. They may know more.

If you want to support the American movement to change the treatment of families on issues like maternity leave take a look at A Better Balance.


  1. You've raised some truly relevant and tough questions here and I look forward to reading more of your posts soon. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. Thank you for sharing your important thoughts. I just read a related article from The Atlantic, "Why Women Still Can't Have It All". The author writes, "As a daughter of Charlottesville, Virginia, the home of Thomas Jefferson and the university he founded, I grew up with the Declaration of Independence in my blood. Last I checked, he did not declare American independence in the name of life, liberty, and professional success. Let us rediscover the pursuit of happiness, and let us start at home." Yes, Anne-Marie Slaughter. Yes, Mariah!

  3. Thank you both for your comments! Yes, memechoux, I've wanted to respond to that article, but I'll have to do it peicemeal because it covers SO much!!

    Thanks for reading, folks!