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Thoughts as we approach Mother’s Day 2014

One of the great shocks of my life happened in 1993 when we arrived to teach in Hungary. The Russian soldiers were still patrolling the streets, even though Hungary was almost through the process of leaving the former U.S.S.R. Here we were in a “communist” country, they called it state socialism, and in terms of the cultural realities and expectations, it seemed more Christian than the USA that we had just left. For example, at noon on Saturday all commercial activity ceased so that there would be time for family and church activities for everyone who desired them. St. Nicholas Day and Christmas Day were separated by several weeks so that the gift giving (St. Nick’s Day) would not interfere with the religious celebrations. Children were highly valued and loved and so safe that parents would leave them in their strollers on the street outside of stores, knowing that strangers would entertain them and look after them…and they did! And especially stunning was the fact that mothers were given three years of government paid leave to be with their child during the most formative years of a child’s life. Stunning..right?

This is what really bothers me as we approach Mother’s Day – Newborns need maternal and paternal bonding, especially, perhaps, the kind of bonding only a mother can provide. Our great country, however, on this dimension has shown that it is not concerned with this huge social issue. Did you know that out of 178 countries in our world, the US is one of three that does not guarantee new mothers paid leave. The other two countries are Papua New Guinea and Swaziland in Africa. Recent statistics tell us that only 11% of private sector workers and 17% of public sector workers have access to paid leave through their employers. Only two states (California and New Jersey) offer six weeks of paid family leave,, but neither guarantees your job upon return.

And yes, there are 12 weeks of job-guaranteed leave because of the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, but it is unpaid and employers with fewer than 50 employees are exempt…and that eliminates a large percentage of workers. Just by way of comparison, Canada and Norway offer generous benefits that can be shared between the father and mother, France offers about four months, and even Mexico and Pakistan are among the nations that offer 12 weeks paid leave for mothersSo the next time you hear how family-centered our country is and how terrible some other countries are, remember that except for two other countries, they are all superior to us in treatment of new parents. Why do we let our government get away with this? We are a nation that is rich enough to have a military that is larger than the next 17 largest militaries in the world combined. Maybe it’s time to bring back the troops and take care of our own American families. Mahatma Gandhi said that “the measure of a nation is how it treats its animals.” While that may have some truth to it, a better gauge is how it treats its infants and new mothers. Why? Because is “Good for the People” and “Good for the Planet.”