A friend’s post on facebook prompted this ramble. She asked what help could be given to parents of young children to make life easier. Well, that’s a paraphrase but it gets to the meat of what I want to discuss.
One glaring, painful problem in America is lack of TIME OFF. The United States is failing at giving people personal, recuperative time in general. LOOK! And it is even worse when a child is born or adopted. There is both physical and mental necessity for BOTH parents to have some time off and not fear retribution from employers. A mother is wired to be with her infant and vice versa, particularly for the first six months. This is not to discount the role of the father, as the child benefits from his presence as well, but in a different way. Sweden has pretty amazing system in place: AWESOME
This leave helps promote breastfeeding which benefits the baby and the mother. By not having the pressure to immediately return to work, there is a space for the mother and baby to learn each other and get into a rhythm with nursing before a bottle HAS TO be introduced. The financial hardship the U.S. system creates for employed mothers is unhealthy. There are a lot of ways that affects parental health which I won’t fully delve into now. The ability for the father to bond with the baby and assist the mother is priceless.
Another benefit to parental leave is SLEEP FLEXIBILITY. I can’t even count the number of families I have counseled on sleep deprivation and mental health over the last several years. Babies are almost always active at night as that is when mom is usually calm. Mom’s movements lull baby during the day. So, many babies are born with a schedule opposite to that of parents. Having a set schedule, like going to work, makes getting sleep much, much harder. I teach my clients to live on a 24 hour clock in the beginning as opposed to a day/night cycle that is more common. This is optimal for the health of the family, especially the first six weeks. Freedom to adapt to the baby’s rapidly changing schedule in the first weeks of life is far too rare in the U.S. and it is EXTREMELY rare for both parents to have this time. If one parent resumes a day/night schedule for work and the other is still caring for the infant on a 24 clock, it puts strain on the relationship.
Breastfeeding support in the workplace and education of the general population is another great way to help. Understanding the importance of breastfeeding and the multiple benefits for mother and child (not just infants) will help ease pressure on mothers. Having support is crucial for breastfeeding success. From when a mother returns to work until the child is one, she is supposed to be given access to a clean, private space for pumping that IS NOT a bathroom. This is not the case in many instances. Some mothers and some employers aren’t aware of this. In other cases it can be circumvented either by loophole or what comes down to stress management. Mothers will end up giving up pumping to avoid the enormous stress created by pumping in a hostile environment. Some workplaces have programs that allow infants on site from return of maternity leave until 6 months to help facilitate breast feeding. While not possible in all environments, it does allow a healthier transition back to the workforce for both mother and baby. We need more of those options.
Parenting resources and support groups should be available and publicized. Gentle parenting, child development and psychology, and mental health programs can help parents find ways to find their own way with their individual circumstances. A lot of what makes the first few years of parenting so hard is not knowing where to go for answers. Daily stresses in the adult world affect the way we parent our children and can create vicious cycles of destructive behavior.
The current culture in the United States has compartmentalized knowledge and severed connections that used to flow freely in close communities with strong family centers. Families used to have multiple generations around to help when a new baby came and then continued involvement throughout parenting that child. The safety created in that situation in addition to the narrative passed down by way interaction is lost to most. Many people live far away from their families and do not discuss or model behaviors of birth and parenting for future generations.
We need to slowwwwwww dowwwwwwwwn and appreciate the changes that happen to families when a child is born. Yes, you childless folks too. It improves the overall health of the community by supporting the parents. This, in turn, creates happier, healthier children which also benefits us all.
For brevity, I made lots of references to parents and breastfeeding. I need to note that not all mothers can or choose to breastfeed. I pass no judgement on that here. I also know that not all babies are born to couples. Those single parents and their babies need even more support to be healthy. More support, less judgement, better outlooks all around!
PS: I am sure I will have more to add, but at least this is a start!