The burden of the working mother

I love sharing with you all the silliness that happens with my girls. I try to keep things as light as possible in this column space and in my household, but a certain subject has been heavy on my heart lately and I just feel the need to put it out in the universe.  

From the pages I follow on social media and discussions I have day to day, it seems there is always an ongoing debate about whether it is harder being a stay-at-home mother or a working mother. I am sure if you are a mom yourself, you have filled the role of both at some point in your parenthood journey.  

I have done both and they are honestly both hard in very different ways, but what is weighing on me currently are the ladies that have no choice but to return to work. Maybe they are living paycheck to paycheck. My heart is hurting for the women who are exhausted beyond measure because their 6-week-old baby is nowhere near sleeping throughout the night, but she must go back to work now. My heart hurts for the women who want the career and the family, but they do not have the support possibly at home or at work to make her dreams a reality. 

I feel like this burden could be made a lot less substantial, if these women had access to a paid family leave program, which is hard to come by in the United States. The push for change and improvements in what was (and still is) considered normal standards in the workforce began a little over 100 years ago.  

In 1919 women traveled from across the globe by ship to meet at Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Women from Japan, India, Argentina, France and the United States, some of which were pregnant or carrying their children across oceans, joined forces to discuss world-wide issues. 

This group formed the organization known as The International Congress of Working Women. They challenged policies and government officials, discussing topics ranging from equal pay to breastfeeding breaks during the workday and paid maternity leave.  

After days’ worth of deliberation, they presented the delegates of the International Labor Organization their demands and a clause was adopted. A clause providing expecting mothers with benefits equal to minimum wage in their individual districts for 6 weeks before and 6 weeks after childbirth. In less than a century 37 of the 38 countries that make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, adopted this concept based on the demands made by these women. 

The U.S. is number 38 on that list and to this day still does not have a nationwide mandate offering paid maternity leave. The country where this idea was formed and made into a reality, one of the richest countries in the entire world, still lags when it comes to making this provision for working mothers. 

While some improvements have been made, many women in the workforce today are still facing the same problems these women were struggling with in 1919. This group of brave and determined women brought these issues to the forefront over 100 years ago, so why are we still hearing the same arguments being made in Washington today? 

According to the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employees are entitled to take up to 12 weeks of protected, unpaid leave for pregnancy, childbirth, or parenting. While it is up to an individual state or employer, this is the standard across most of the United States. Most women (and men) must use their sick leave, vacation or paid time off hours in order to receive pay during this time away from work.  

It takes at least 6-8 weeks for most women to even fully recover physically after having a child, and several more weeks or months before she may start getting a regular amount of sleep. This postpartum period can be an overwhelming time, but it is also a crucial bonding time for both mom and baby.  

The American Academy of Pediatrics has made their opinion on the matter public and has urged Congress to enact laws in the country that will allow women to have access to 12 weeks of paid maternity leave for many reasons. Among some of these reasons are decrease of maternal depression, mother-infant bonding, increase of childhood checkups and immunizations, increases in the chances of a mother successfully breastfeeding which in turn reduces the risk of many health problems. 

In a country where over 50 percent of households include two working parents, both of which must work to make ends meet, unpaid leave is not an option. Not having this choice can cause many hardships. They either must make the decision to leave their newborn child before they are mentally and/or physically ready, to return to work or they make the choice to stay at home and struggle to get by financially. Both options leave a mother, father and their child to suffer.  

The benefits of offering paid leave in other countries has proven to have many positive mental and physical advantages for the family and economy. Hopefully it does not take the United States another 100 years before they can establish a paid family leave program, which seems to be an issue that most of all voters, no matter the gender, age, or race, can get behind.  

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