Under-Prioritizing Families: American Exceptionalism at its Worst

FMLAI study American government, and I’ve spent years being told that America is exceptional in its politics, in its history, in its social, racial and intellectual diversity. But there’s another way that we’re exceptional, a way that we don’t learn about in school and that politicians don’t brag about for political capital.

There are 178 recognized countries in the world. 175 countries require employers to offer paid maternity leave to new mothers. The United States is one of the three exceptions, and the only first world country without a paid maternity leave law. (The other two countries are Swaziland and Papua New Guinea.)

Within the US, just two states offer paid family leave to men and women—New Jersey and California—but the statutes do not guarantee that employees who use their paid leave can’t be fired as a result.

Now, every state is required to follow the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), a piece of legislation that requires qualified employers to provide up to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave to workers who need to deal with medical and family issues.

Twenty years ago, the passage of FMLA was rightly considered a huge victory for former president Bill Clinton; but the victory should have been considered the first step, not the last, toward ensuring that no one is ever forced to choose between their careers and their family.

FMLA cannot be the last step because if you work for a company that employs fewer than 50 people, or you work part-time, or you’ve worked for a company for less than a year, or you need to take care of extended family or grandparents, your leave isn’t protected under the law. In fact, a staggering 40 percent of the workforce isn’t protected.

And stories reported by those that are covered indicate that the law is loosely enforced and often inattentive to the actual needs of employees: a new mother will take her three months of leave to care for a newborn, only to return to the workforce with a decreased salary, a demotion, or an office half the size of her old one. A mother put on bed rest prior to the birth of her child is fired for not returning to work when her leave is technically up but her child is only 12 days old. A man is fired for just requesting leave in order to care for his ailing, elderly parent. Another is fired for requesting time off to take his dying father to the hospital.

Where are our priorities?

After all, the Department of Labor, the administrative body responsible for overseeing FMLA, has stated that the law is intended “to balance the demands of the workplace with the needs of families,” but it sounds like the demands of the workplace, specifically the demands of employers, are being prioritized over families.

When the law was first under review, lobbyists for the business community demanded that any legally mandated leave be unpaid. Their reasoning? Monetary benefits, they said, would encourage employees to abuse the leave policies.  And of course, they also argued that paid leave would economically punish the employers while rewarding the employees.

But if the purpose of the law is, in fact, to help balance the demands of the workplace with the demands of families, is unpaid leave really enough?

The types of situations that warrant leave under the FMLA are all costly: a new baby, a close family member in the hospital, an employee’s own medical needs. Unpaid leave might guarantee that these people don’t lose their jobs as the result of a pregnancy or unforeseen medical issue, but it certainly doesn’t help cover the costs of supporting the very families they’ve taken time off for.

Let’s go back to maternity leave as an example, and let’s think of the average middle class American woman. 12 weeks of leave might give her enough leeway to prepare for a new baby, recover from delivery, and bond with the newborn. Maybe. But what if she’d previously provided 47% of her family’s income, as so many middle class women do? In all likelihood, that family is going to be severely impacted by three months with only half of the earnings it’s used to. Is that family’s needs really being met?

All of this isn’t to say that FMLA is a bad law. According to government estimates, 100 million workers have taken advantage of government-guaranteed family leave. The problem is that FMLA doesn’t go far enough, it doesn’t prioritize families. As a country, we’re not doing as much as we can to ensure that people who work hard every day are never asked to choose between putting food on the table or being with a sick loved one in the hospital.

We must put pressure on our politicians to reevaluate family leave laws. Call your congressmen. Write to your senators. Share your stories. Insist that your lawmakers listen to your stories, that they know how your family is impacted by a lack of useful family legislation. Tell them that this is an area of public policy where America can no longer stand to be exceptional. As Best for Babes co-founder Danielle Riggs puts it, “[Family and maternity leave] is very serious. This is not a woman’s issue; this is not a sideline issue. This is a front and center issue, a human rights issue.”

Lets stand up for our human rights, and for our families.

-Jean-Ann Kubler

Photo Credit: babasteve via photopin cc

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See The Rainbows?

rainbow

“See the Rainbows, Mama? Seeee??”

What is it that children have that always allows them to see the magic in the most seemingly ordinary things? Do they have special eyes that we slowly lose over time? Or is it merely that they have not yet become jaded as adults do, and are therefore just able to see things more clearly, more purely than we can?

My daughter constantly reminds me to “see the rainbows.” We have some beveled glass in our front door, and when the morning sun hits it just right, it casts prisms across our front hallway. I’ll never forget the day my daughter first really discovered this. She walked out front, squealed, pointed, drew in her breath, then yelled out, “See the Rainbows? See?” She came running into the kitchen, grabbed me by the hand and pulled me out. “See the Rainbows, Mama? See?” The joy and wonder on her face tugged on my heart. She continued to pull us out there all morning long. She would point to them, touch them, stick her toes in, try to sit on them, and sometimes just stand there holding my hand in wonder, saying, “See? See?” It was a perfect moment. A perfect, ordinary, normal, magical moment. A moment that I come back to again and again because it taught me something – It reminded me to always look for the magic in things. To let my daughter lead me in remembering what it’s like to have pure joy, hope, innocence, and magic. To be truly present in just one moment and to not let anything else cloud that.

Easter is often viewed by Christians as a time of rebirth and new hope. Even if you are not religious, Easter is synonymous with Spring, and Spring is most certainly a time of new life. We begin to see the plants peek their heads out through the seemingly dead ground. The birds appear once again. Sunshine feels like a long-lost friend, warm upon our face. Hope is in the air. It’s easier to be positive in the Spring. The extra light and signs of new life prove to us that summer is on its way and we are filled with fun thoughts of good things to come. If only for a brief moment, we are once again able to feel the “magic” in the air.

We need to try to remember that there is always magic in the world. Sometimes it feels like all the magic is gone. We’re often so caught in the horrible stories on the news, the stresses of work and family life, the weather, the commute, our everyday worries and anxieties and routines, that we forget to take a moment and just enjoy, well, the moment itself. There are still so many wonderful things in this world to cherish. There’s still hope for us to reach our dreams, to stretch to our true potential. There is always a reason somewhere to smile, to laugh, to enjoy one quiet breath. Somewhere deep inside of all of us is that ability to still “see the rainbows.” We may sometimes have to look a little harder to see the magic in the world, but it is still there.

This Spring, let’s hold onto that feeling of hope and rebirth, find that childlike corner of our heart (no matter how small it may have become) and try to stay positive. Live life from one joy to the next and always find a way to see the rainbows. They might sometimes be behind a cloud, but they are still always there!

Photo Credit: Nature’s Images via photopin cc

This article was originally published at Silverpen Productions, LLC. 

Psycho Mom

retro momSome days I feel completely psycho. I feel like I’m failing at whatever I do. If I were to take a step back and look at my life from the outside, I’d see that in reality, I’m really quite successful. I have a great job (or 2 or 3), I’m healthy, I have a beautiful family, and a kid that I just adore to no end who seems to think I’m pretty cool too. But the problem is, I live in my life and whether if I actually am or not, I feel like I’m failing at everything.

How does that happen? How does a happy, successful person suddenly start to feel like a complete psycho?

I’ll tell you how – I became a mom. That and the fact that society has created ridiculous expectations for ourselves. Back in the day, moms were expected to just be a mom. Little Suzy Homemaker – take care of the house, take care of the kids. But now, moms can have it all – family, house, career, kids.

And kids these days? They don’t just run outside to play in the yard all day. Now they have classes, and sports, and dance, and clubs, and play groups, and music lessons, and the list goes on and on. Being a stay-at-home mom is a full-time job in itself with lots of overtime hours. How do you even just keep up with your kids?

Then there’s the pressure to have it all – kids and career. So now you have this great job, which is full-time job #2. When you are at work, you’re thinking about what you should be doing with your kids. When you’re with your kids, you’re thinking about all the work you didn’t finish at your job. Not to mention you can’t really take your kids to all these groups and activities because there are just so many hours in the day.  But you will anyway because “that’s what good moms do.”

And housework? What’s that?!? You’re just happy when dinner gets on the table at a reasonable hour…

Women today can have it all. But at what price?

We put so much pressure on ourselves to be the best at everything, just because we can. Get the promotion at work, look fabulous every day, have the house spotless, the kids perfect, the hubby happy, workout, do yoga, meditate, don’t forget to treat yourself to the spa every now and then. Yeah, right. How often does all that really happen? Without a nanny and obscene amounts of money anyway… Society makes us believe that it always happens – or should happen. But in real life, these moms just feel psycho.

I know I do. I’m Miss Multi-tasker all the time, but I never think I am doing them well enough. I feel guilty being at work, because I “should” be home with my kid and doing things with her. I feel guilty if I’m just home because I “should” be showing my daughter that women can have a career too and I should be setting an example of a strong, independent woman. I need to pay the bills, but I feel like I’m not around enough to do ample activities to help “expand her development” and “socialization.” At the same time, it seems like we don’t just “not do anything” enough either. We should have more hang-at-home time to chill out and have quality time together. I feel like I can’t even stay on top of the laundry. I think my husband is getting the short end of the stick. I feel guilty if I dare to take a little bit of time just for me to do one workout or go get my hair cut. Some days, I feel completely psycho – have I mentioned that??

Let’s face it, anyone who says they do all these things and it’s not a problem is a big, fat liar. Back in the day, “it took a village” to raise a child. It still does, but we often no longer have that option. And that’s okay. This is what life is like now. We have to just remember that we can’t do it all. Nor should we. The most important things a child needs is shelter, food, a few clothes, support, and love. Lots and lots of love. Now, that’s “doable”. The rest is just gravy.

Having the internet and everything else at our fingertips can be a great resource, but sometimes it’s our biggest downfall. We are constantly barraged by all the “should be” images and that’s a major contributor to the psycho mom feeling. Maybe sometimes we need to just click it off. Remember we are human. We are only 1 woman with only 24 hours in the day. Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate what “doing it all” really means to us since it’s probably something a little different for each person. It’s always good to work towards a goal. As long as we remember that we are who we are (forget about the “should be”), and as long as we have a hefty source of love, we are 3/4 of the way there. No psycho mom needed.