It’s hard not to worry. We’re in the midst of a world health crisis and my full-term+ daughter is on the NYC subway heading to her Manhattan elementary school to finalize plans for remote teaching. She is healthy. So is the baby. Thank God. But she’s “out there” mingling with people who might be very sick. As an ultra protective new-mom-to-be, she knows it isn’t a good idea to be in public right now, but she’s required to report to school and plan remote lessons for her fourth-graders. She cares deeply about her students’ education, but she’s also worried about draining her sick leave; like other mothers in her situation, she zealously hoards her sick days so she has more time to be with her baby post-delivery.
Let me be blunt: America’s attitude toward new babies and their parents sucks. There is NO WAY mamas, like my daughter, should put themselves in harm’s way because they need to bank sick leave. But American women are put in that no-win situation every day–Coronavirus19 or not.
Now this is sick. Sick! New parents ought to be able to spend as much time as they need to in order to connect with their little ones; they shouldn’t be stressed out about the inevitablity of handing their babies off to strangers, to institutions, because they can’t afford to live. This isn’t right!
My teacher-daughter is one of America’s “lucky” ones. At least she has sick leave plus six weeks of maternity leave. But two or three months isn’t enough time. You carry a baby for nine months, then transfer your infant to a stranger for eight-plus hours, return home–exhausted–and, in the case of my daughter and other teachers, patchwork-in grading and lesson planning.
Come on America! We CAN do better for new parents.
I am such a fan of Finland and what this Scandinavian nation did post World War II. Collectively, the Finns decided to re-think their war-battered society and asked, What kind of nation, what kind of people do we want to be? Their answers led to a complete overhaul of their government and social systems–from re-structuring public education and housing to prioritizing a new-found respect toward the elderly and the young. The Finns examined their weaknesses and vulnerabilities–honestly. They focused on shared values and created systems that fostered mental and physical health for every member of society. In Finland, no one is discarded; every human being has extraordinary worth and value–starting in the womb. Unlike the United States, Finland offers enviable maternity leave, and provides financial incentives for parents wish to stay home with their young children.
And don’t get me started on Finland’s impressive education system. They got it right, that’s all I can say.
And so can we.
Right now, we are in a war against an enemy we didn’t realize was coming. But like Finland, we have an opportunity to re-think our society and ask, “What do we want?” and “How can we make America truly better–for all?”
As we sit at home reassessing our lives, let’s be inspired to use this time to develop a renewed, healthier nation. We can FaceTime, Zoom or Skype innovative Think Tank solutions. We can seize control of the remote and Change the Channel.
A new life will soon be born into America’s family: My granddaughter. Your grandson. Your niece, cousin, a neighbor’s firstborn or third child. In the center of this daunting, billowing pandemic storm, are our children. I dare anyone to look into their eyes and say, “This is it. We can’t do any better.”
It’s time to put down the swords and re-evaluate who we are and what we want to be.