I recently wrote a piece and suggested that stay-at-home mothers and fathers should receive funding from the government during their leaves to raise children. I wanted to see how people would respond since most people don't have to worry or even think about this subject. Many people are lucky enough to be able to choose to stay at home, take time off, or rely on a partner for financial support, while others are not. My other intention was to see how people would respond to an idea that is already applied in other countries and is proving to be a successful and functioning system for the other nation's citizens. The responses were higher in number, and far beyond anything I imagined.
I knew that this would be a controversial topic that would attract both negative and positive feedback, but the sheer amount of neigh-sayers that commented, leaves me feeling responsible to clarify for those who didn't understand the greater issue surrounding this topic, and to educate others.
Two days a week I work for an agency that trains and places women in various blue-collar jobs. These women have been displaced in society and are unable to find employment themselves. They have suffered any of the following: They missed the opportunity for education, have experienced the loss of a spouse, have fallen behind with any skills that would allow them to acquire employment, experienced domestic violence, fallen into poverty, despite their partners working. The tragic list goes on and on. I initially couldn't understand how so many of these people had gotten themselves into such a difficult positions; but within a very short period of time, I understood that many people, no matter how hard they work, do not get the same opportunities as others. They don't get the best of choices. Others get no choice at all. Despite what many of us think or believe, having a choice is a great luxury.
In writing this piece I wanted to bring forth a theory that is already in place and working with great success for other countries. I wanted to see if the general population was able to take a holistic view of this issue and its biological, sociological, psychological and environmental influences. I also wanted to observe how many people out there would instinctually apply "critical thinking" to this topic by considering the idea, reflecting upon the subject matter, and MOST importantly seeing beyond the superficial level of the story and put themselves "in other people's shoes." Unfortunately many comments seemed to be knee-jerk reactions instead of pondered thoughts.
It is my professional obligation as a coach, social worker and future therapist to speak on behalf of, and advocate for others who go unheard for their entire lives. This world and country would be a much better place if others would begin to do the same. Not everyone has a partner that is employed. Not everyone has a partner. For those of you who said you relied on family, but never expected a check; not everyone has family. People leave. Relationships end. People die. Not everyone gets a 401k or a severance package for the work they do. If you aren't aware of that, then your detachment from the reality of the Unites States is sad and frightening.
Some people responded with the term "welfare" as a solution. The United States Welfare System, in its current state, has been failing for many years and continues to fail. The same goes for a successful-paid maternity or paternity leave because the United States hasn't had one. There is no set leave for parents after childbirth in the country. Some people get three months, while others only get eight weeks, and in certain circumstances, some parents do not get any at all. The majority of the population that only gets a minimal amount of leave is the same population that struggles to survive on one income, or are single parents.
Here are some more facts that one reader did ponder and state: The U.S. is only one of three countries in the world that doesn't offer paid maternity leave and faces negative consequences without statutory paid family leave. The other two countries are Papua New Guinea and Suriname. There are many other countries like Canada, Sweden, Holland and Britain that have paid maternity/paternity leave and have huge socio-economic and social benefits as a result. As mentioned by another reader: Countries that offer paid leave for parents have higher rates of people completing college educations, lower rates of unemployed, lower rates of crime, lower rates of divorce and higher rates of parents returning to work after child birth. It has also been said that adultery is less common amongst couples that both return to work after childbirth or raising a child.
Not to mention statistics recorded in other countries. In 2014, new parents in Rhode Island became eligible for paid maternity leave. This was only the third state, after California and New Jersey, where this right was granted. At the national level, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) guarantees workers 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a newborn, but the United States is still one of the only developed nations that does not provide paid parental leave.
Women, who have traditionally been the ones to take family leave, now hold more seats in Congress than ever before. But if the nearly 10-year debate over unpaid leave (finally passed in 1993) is any indication of the way things are going, it is safe to say that we are behind to say the least.
As in the fight for unpaid leave, states are taking the lead on paid leave, too. Washington passed a paid family leave law in 2008, (although its enactment has been delayed to 2015 because of budget constraints). New York and Massachusetts have bills pending in their state houses. Many citizens are completely unaware of these facts and I believe would think very differently if they had the information. For these reasons, I challenged people to look beyond themselves and their own lives. Very much like the act for Paid Maternity leave, they failed.
I don't blame them though. The media does not do enough to inform us of these issues. They spend more time entertaining viewers with stories of car accidents, viruses, local triumphs and other easy to relate to topics that captivate rather than stimulate. Isn't it slightly ironic that this nation is not only failing to support all of its citizens, but also continues to allow the media to keep them in the dark? It requires a very inquisitive mind to look beyond what is handed to us in the 5 o'clock news broadcast after a long day of work whether the work be paid or unpaid at home...
I can only hope that this discussion opens people's eyes and minds to circumstances that may not affect them directly, but affect our nation as a whole. I also hope that those who did not see the greater issue in the first piece will not react offensively, and instead will take the information given and use it to improve the world around them. It is easy to think for ourselves when we read or see something that is presented to us, but to go beyond our circumstances, to consider others unlike ourselves, and to want to stand up for others and make changes requires real assertiveness and strength. In closing, I can only hope that so many who are fearless in speaking up for themselves; will begin to speak up for others. Thank you all.