What Family Values? The Real Reason America is Falling Behind the Rest of the World

I stumbled across a frightening little list this morning. It’s a list of the only four countries in the world that don’t offer guaranteed paid maternity leave for mothers (based on a Harvard/McGill University study of 173 countries). You might expect to see Liberia, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland on the list. But…the United States? Of America? As I so often find myself asking these days – what’s wrong with us?

While we in the U.S. do have the legal right to up to 12 weeks of unpaid “family leave”– honestly, who can afford that? And the consequences go way beyond those 12 weeks. We know that women who don’t have paid leave are less likely to breastfeed their infants. And we know that the first few weeks of breastfeeding are the most critical to a child’s lifelong health.

Part of the dilemma is that we let ourselves get distracted from this critical issue. We allow misguided religious leaders and politicians to goad us into to fomenting and focusing almost exclusively on hot-button issues from abortion to gay marriage. Meanwhile, we leave women who DO choose life to struggle, and their children to suffer.

We rail against the threats of socialism and higher taxes, and turn our cameras on the hot air parade of all the reasons why we can’t have health care for all people. Meanwhile, other countries just quietly, efficiently, and democratically take care of all their people and wonder what our problem is.

Come on America! What happened to our pride, our sense of responsibility? We think we have to solve all the world’s problems when we aren’t even taking good care of ourselves. I think it’s time for a new definition of family values in this country:

New Family Values: People should take the best care of each other, no matter what the cost, simply because it’s the right, moral thing to do. Men and women of all races and sexual proclivities should be treated equally, with respect and nonviolence. Children should be nurtured, protected, and educated to care for others and the planet. The government should look out for its people and protect them, and require businesses to do the same. It’s simple, really.

When will we learn?

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14 Responses to What Family Values? The Real Reason America is Falling Behind the Rest of the World

  1. rivers July 22, 2009 at 11:01 am #

    Excellent points Maria! The family values group is missing the boat on so many of these important issues. Those of us who care for the earth need to take back the argument! Look at all the resistance on healthcare recently? Medicaire has a low overhead compared to Cigna and other insurance companies…yet people continue to be fooled by the propaganda and lobbying efforts of the health insurance industries. crazy.

  2. Meredith July 22, 2009 at 12:09 pm #

    I agree with you fully and feel this is our greatest problem in the U.S. We could tackle our health issues in the beginning by encouraging breastfeeding for longer periods and giving our mothers the opportunity to do so by allowing them extended maternity leave. Research has shown breastfeeding builds a stronger immune system and protects both mother and baby from serious diseases far beyond the actual time that breastfeeding takes place, less diabetes,hypertension,cancer and more. I also feel the bonding and closeness that develops within the family is our first line of defense against crime and violence. Please further your message to other avenues. I stand behind you with full support as I’m sure others do. We need a grassroots movement.

  3. Vanessa July 22, 2009 at 6:28 pm #

    Dig a little deeper and you might be concerned about natural vs caesarean statistics… elective caesareans, I hasten to add. Is America against motherhood in some form or another?

  4. Jacquelyne July 22, 2009 at 6:42 pm #

    I think that it has more to do with the food we are feeding our children and pregnant women and how we are chasing our tails on issues like cancer becasue of all of the bad food that we consume. If we are not so brain washed by the diary industry amongst others we would all be healthier and therefore we would not have the huge health care costs.

  5. debbie July 23, 2009 at 2:46 am #

    that’s true,,,really mother and child contact promotes bonding and creates a postitive nurturing environment,,it offers the child security avoiding rebellious attitude or which is what we call antisocial.It’s more on the attention and care which matters when child is in the critical period of his life.

  6. Chris July 23, 2009 at 12:45 pm #

    Maria states, “While we in the U.S. do have the legal right to up to 12 weeks of unpaid “family leave”– honestly, who can afford that? And the consequences go way beyond those 12 weeks. We know that women who don’t have paid leave are less likely to breastfeed their infants. And we know that the first few weeks of breastfeeding are the most critical to a child’s lifelong health.”

    Well, we were able to afford it, and not because we’re “rich.” I knew my “maternity leave” was unpaid. I planned for that. My husband and I developed a budget and planned for my lost income. Can everyone have that kind of self discipline? Obviously not. Also, not only did I breastfeed for the first few weeks, my son is now over a year old and still nursing every night before bed.

    Would paid leave have been nice? Sure. But who pays? Your employer? Well, they would have to balance that out with lower salaries and/or other lower benefits. The government? That translates into a higher tax burden. Paid maternity leave is not “free money.” Someone is paying for it in other ways.

    Maria mentions how critical the first few weeks of breastfeeding is to a baby’s physical development. That is very true. But what also is critical to a child’s lifelong development is solid care from a consistent caregiver for the first several years of life. (Do I dare say “Stay at home mom?”) I didn’t just plan on taking the usual three months unpaid maternity leave. We planned for more like three years. Tough on the pocket book? Possibly. (But after factoring in cost of child care, not as tough as you might think.) But the benefits to my child far out weigh any perceived benefits of more money in the bank. Planning. It’s tough to do, but so worth it.

  7. Maria (farm country kitchen) July 23, 2009 at 7:58 pm #

    There are lots of mom’s — rich and poor — who don’t have the luxury of being a stay at home mom. I am one of them — not for financial reasons, as many mom’s are — but for family responsibility reasons. I am an owner of a family business (3rd generation) and I am lucky to have that responsibility, but it can’t wait for the kids to grow up. (and as a business owner I am more than HAPPY to pay for my employees to stay home for maternity leave). I am a firm believer in the constant caregiver theory — and have had the same babysitter for all my children for 27 years! We all love Gigi!

  8. Claude July 24, 2009 at 4:08 am #

    Hi All..The american public has been hoodwinked into thinking that our food system is great..it is if you compare it to parts of the world
    that are struggling. But sustainable agriculture is possible. We need to educate the american public. I worked at home while my children were growing up and although it was a crazy, crazy time I would not have traded it for anything in the world. We ate alot of pb & j..but we were able to spend time and have connections that other families do not. They don’t know what they are missing. I am a preschool teacher. I ran a sucessful daycare from my home for 15 years. I have seen first hand how new mothers struggle with leaving their precious newborn with someone…crying all the way to work.
    I wish that there was a 6 mo paid system like in Switzerland. Mom’s
    get paid time off with their newborns. (we all know it is NOT a vacation..lol) Such a gift!

  9. Hillary July 24, 2009 at 10:38 am #

    These conversations so often wind up with judgements being made about particular people’s choices. “Well, I stayed home,” “Well, I couldn’t.” “Well, I pumped,” “Well, I couldn’t.” and on and on.

    This is because without paid maternity leave, most families have to make Solomon-like decisions when we are preparing to start our families. I’m with Maria on this one.

  10. Phillip Nance July 25, 2009 at 4:31 pm #

    What Maria describes is truly saddening. That the most powerful and economicaly rich society in the world won’t even look after its less affluent citizens. She’s right – 40 t0 50 million Americans without helath care is simply unacceptable in today’s world.

    It seems to me that many US citizens have lost the perspective that Maria so aptly describes. Too many Americans are still living in the wild wild west of the late 1980’s; total independance; have gun, will shoot to kill; I don’t need anyone! This seems to be a mirage too many people follow. BE Successful! Be Better than your neighbour! is another attitude that leads to the problem of major disparity across the nation.

    Canadians have these traits too but they don’t dominate our lives. Balance is more important. We’re NOT prepared to abandon those who are less fortuneate, unable to cope and so on. When one looks into the dysfunctional family, or individual, one finds real reasons why they’ve been left behind. We, collectively, support community activities based on national and regional funding to help out. We haven’t been successful as successful as we would like but we’re doing our best. These are exceedingly complex issues that need comprehensive responses.

    About health care. I suspect the 40 or 50 million US citizens that don’t have ‘health care’ fall into the ‘left behind’ group we refer to as poverty. There seems to be an American ‘directive': everybody for him/her self’ that refuses to acknowledge some people just can’t.

    I believe, and actively support as best I can, that everyone needs to be independant. It’s societies job to ensure all people have as much education as they can absorb, as much training as they can handle and as much councel as they’re prepared to accept. Again, most can but some can’t.

    It is not a baby’s choice to be born with a predisposition for a serious disease that could force one into banqruptcy if one could actually get medical care. It is not a child’s option to be born into a dysfunctional family. It is not an adolescent’s wish to be raised in a delinquent neighbourhood. But the US system ignors this and says, by its actions, “It’s YOUR fault! Get off the couch and get to work!”

    Pretty simplistic thinking.

    Tha’t why Canada covers everyone with health care. I take my Health (credit) card to any doctor of my choice or that of my family doctor. I take it to any laoratorty for any tests required and to any diagnostic facilities such as CT scan, MRI, Pet scan, etc. I take it to any hospital for any and all kinds of surgery. I don’t get a statment at the end of the month because there is NO charge to me.

    I get instant attention for any serious problem. If it’s a simple non- rush thing, I might have to wait for awhile. No Canadian I know complains about this inconvenience except those who are complainers.

    The cost to the Canadian economy is 40% less than the health care cost to the United States. We live an average of two years longer and most of us describe ourselves as “I’m in good health”. If viewers want more information about how Canadian’s feel about their health care system, log onto the internet: thestar.com/letters

  11. Cheri July 27, 2009 at 1:06 pm #

    Paid maternity leave, and universal health care are dear to my heart. In the 1940’s women were told that nursing was not modern and it was discouraged. Fortunately the one thing my mother did for me was nurse me and my syblings so that I considered it natural. I nursed four children, two of which were twins. I was a single mother working in the steel mill when the 2nd was born. He was allergic to milk, I had to watch my diet and only had 6 weeks leave. I nursed and pumped for 30 months. Not all people are as determined as I was. One woman I worked with said that nursing was a dirty nasty habit. I said if my child was supposed to drink cow milk he would have 4 legs and a tail. I was fortunate with the twins, I was married again and could afford to take more time.

    I resent someone insinuating that all you have to do is plan to take three years off. Two people working minium wage jobs cannot do that. Some people have been spoiled from birth, they have education and opportunity. It takes a village to have community and we are all responsible to help one another to understand, and learn to live responsibly. To date there is still no truly safe birth control, at 35 I had my tubes tied because I cannot take the pill and the condom combined with foam, failed with the twins.

    The twins turn 23 this year, they lose the health insurance with their dad. They were premies and were a bit behind so they still have two years of college ahead. We can’t afford insurance for them and the jobs they can work don’t provide it either. We pray they stay healthy.

    We as a nation must decide what we want to do with our wealth. We can use it to take care of our people or we can use it to try to dominate the world. Personally I would rather pay for my neighbor on welfare than bomb Afghanistan. I would rather spend money on finding sustainable energy than try to control the oil in the world. But then I am just an old woman, white trash with a brain. What could I possibly know?

  12. Amanda July 29, 2009 at 12:26 am #

    Wise words, Cheri. Thank you.

  13. DONNA FROM DELAWARE August 18, 2009 at 10:49 am #

    GREED, GREED, GREED! You are correct Maria. I have travelled this wide world, which isn’t so wide anymore, and practically every nation takes care of it’s citizens health care problems except us. Change is scary for people, but change we need, and fast. Let’s stop listenting to the scare tactics of certain politicians and law-makers. We certainly are not going to have health care for everyone without putting something into to it. I think that is what we are afraid of. You can’t have something for nothing people! You get back what you put into. We need to stop whining in this country like 2 year olds, and get busy trying to help ourselves out of this mess. Things don’t stay the same always. You have to change with the times and if that means doing something that takes you completely out of your comfort zone, so be it! I am willing to pay more taxes in order for my family members, friends and acquaintances to have healthcare when they need it. I am not selfish. Children need caring for. If we left it up to the powers that be on Capital Hill, we will all be dead in 100 years and they and theirs will have to repopulate the country. They don’t care about us as a nation. They have, so they don’t worry about us and ours who may not have. When are we going to learn? People in other countries don’t understand why we cannot get it together, a big, rich country like this. We know what is best for others in other countries, but when it comes to US, we are totally inept. It’s sad.

  14. Donna in Delaware August 23, 2009 at 6:17 am #

    I lived in Canada for 4 years. My husband and I got care and at most times, immediate care. We had a family practitioner and he took care of most of our health and medical needs. When we needed a specialist or special care, we went and got it with no problems. We weren’t even billed sometimes. We were not citizens, only
    residents, and received better care than here in the U.S. We we in a car accident and our insurance company did a wonderful job in helping my husband with medical expenses, home health care including occuaptional therapy, and paid everything for him and even paid me for helping to take care of him. Unheard of here in the U.S.! We are still in disbelief over this, and get this, when we left Canada, (since we were in the process of moving at the time) the insurance company gave us a lump sum check to cover his continued care here in the U.S. GO FIGURE! We didn’t have one day’s problem with the insurance company or health care. I got a bone scan done when we lived in Florida a few years ago and it cost me US$400.00. I got the same bone scan done in Canada and it cost CD$145.00. WAKE UP AMERICA! I miss living in Canada for many reasons, even though I love my country, we have a lot of catching up to do with the rest of the industrialized world.

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