Parental presence: A compromised human right

free images com - Sona PsotovaA little more than half of all babies in the United States — 53% — are born into families that income-qualify for WIC, a federal supplemental nutrition program that serves low-income pregnant, postpartum and breastfeeding women and their children from birth to age 5 in the United States.

Think about that for a second: Half of all U.S. babies are born into low-income families, the population segment least likely to be able to take parental leave of any type — paid or unpaid — after the birth of a baby.

We like to think that the U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) covers all families so that even if a couple does not get paid maternity and paternity leave, they can at least take off some time from work without losing their jobs. This isn’t remotely true.

Unless you work for an employer with more than 50 employees within 75 miles of the company, you are not even guaranteed leave under FMLA after the birth of your baby — even unpaid. (There are some state laws that do guarantee maternity and paternity leave, usually unpaid, for companies with fewer employees, but there is nothing consistent from state to state.)  That means that millions of moms, if they are not employed by large companies, risk losing their jobs if they stay home for the medically recommended 6 to 8 weeks following childbirth.

I’ve known moms who’ve been forced by their circumstances to go back to work at 1 week postpartum, or even sooner.

This is a tragedy of human rights in itself, but what does this do to the mother-baby bond?

Bonding time with a newborn in the early months isn’t just a “nice thing” to have or for a mom to get to do if she’s privileged enough. That mother-baby bond — whether secure, shaky or absent — has a significant impact on the trajectory of that child’s life…not only through childhood and in school, but who that child will grow up to be, what socioeconomic status he or she will have, and how he or she will be as a parent, employee and fellow member of society. Just think of what the future may hold for any of those 53% of U.S. babies born to mothers who are not even guaranteed time off from their jobs for even a week after childbirth — let alone the minimally acceptable 6 weeks that is still woefully short of what research shows to be the key bonding time during the newborn months.

Privilege shouldn’t have anything to do with parental leave — paid or unpaid. Because presence, or lack thereof, can have such great influence on the future of each baby born, parental leave is a human right that should be granted to every mother and father, and parental presence is a human right for every newborn baby.

So first the United States needs to work on guaranteeing that all parents have access to at least parental leave after the birth of a baby. But a very close second is to ensure that all parental leave is paid.

Right now, only 12% of U.S. workers in the private sector have access to paid family leave, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. This means that for the millions of moms whose jobs are protected under FMLA, they still likely cannot take off work for the 6 weeks to 3 months allowed because they cannot afford to do so. Their parental leave is not unprotected as is the case with many low-income parents whose jobs aren’t even covered by the FMLA, but it is still under-protected in that they cannot enjoy their full rights and their bonds with their infants may still suffer.

apm logoOur goal at Attachment Parenting International (API) is to keep the discussion on parental leave moving forward, while supporting mothers and fathers no matter whether they have access to paid or unpaid parental leave or even no leave. We were able to generate great momentum during our Attachment Parenting Month in October 2015 with activities centered on the theme of “Parental Presence: Birthing Families, Strengthening Societies.”

Leave-Presence cover - smallIn the latest issue of The Attached Family, we provide a recap of these AP Month editorial pieces as well as a few new articles, with features on:

We hope that this issue of The Attached Family will inspire you to find ways to balance your child’s attachment needs with your family’s financial needs, as well as to join in the national and international discussion on parental leave as a human right to be guaranteed to all families — no matter their employer size or personal financial resources.

donate buttonHelp API continue being able to offer The Attached Family free of charge as an online magazine to families around the world. API is a nonprofit organization and depends on your tax-deductible donations. Even $5 goes a long ways!

 

*Top photo source: FreeImages.com/Soňa Psotová

How do we define success in a career-driven society, once we become parents?

According to Oxford Dictionaries, “success” is defined as “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.” Synonyms include: “favorable outcome” and “triumph.” The antonym is “failure.”

Success looks different for each person — just as every person on this planet is unique in their likes and dislikes, what they find uplifting or oppressive. To be more precise, perhaps we should be defining “success” as a feeling, a sense of fulfillment or accomplishment.

Perhaps a better question would be: What in your life fulfills you? What has given your life meaning?

me and NathanIf you’re like me, that answer changed drastically once you became a parent.

Before I became a mother, I would have identified myself as a career woman. I was a journalist who worked 50-plus hours a week, never missing the opportunity to take on the next big story. I was eager to climb the career ladder, with aspirations to manage my own news organization someday. I lived for praise from my editor and readers, and I was constantly on the lookout for a better-paying, more prestigious position. Like many young professionals, I was in a hurry to “prove” myself and would define success in how much readers admired my writing and how many possessions I could accumulate, how many friends I had, how many social gatherings I attended and how many vacations I took at Boutique hotel zermatt.

Then I became pregnant with my daughter Rachel, and I began to feel a tug in my heart. As I planned my maternity leave, I still thought that my life wouldn’t change nearly as much as it did. I thought that I would take off a few weeks from work, then put her in daycare and go back to my journalism job. The only difference is, I thought, perhaps I’d cap my hours at 40 per week and limit any overtime.

Rachel was born 10 weeks early due to a placental abruption. As I lay on the hospital bed, hooked up to an IV of magnesium sulfate so potent that I had to be on oxygen during the treatment, watching my baby’s heart rate bounce up and down on the monitor beside my bed, wondering what would happen to her, I had a thought: that what had defined success for me, up to that moment, doesn’t nearly measure up to what it means to be a mother. And what my daughter needed, and still needs 9 years later along with her 8-year-old sister and 4-year-old brother, is a mother who is devoted to her role as a parent more than to her career.

Three months later, after my paid maternity leave, I asked to meet with my editor and told him that it was critical to me that I be allowed to work from home. It is true that my premature daughter was still dealing with major health problems, but the bigger reason for my request was because I felt that neither she nor I were ready emotionally for separation. He declined, and totally unlike my people-pleaser nature, I quit that day. I decided to do freelance-writing from home.

100_0607It has worked out well. I don’t make the paycheck I did before I had children, but between my husband and myself, we make enough money — and save enough through our financial management — to live comfortably. I am happy with my choice to balance my children’s attachment needs and my family values with our financial needs and my career path, and know that as my youngest child grows beyond the critical early childhood years when attachment needs are strongest, I can always choose to go back to working outside the home.

I no longer live for my editors’ and readers’ praises. I live for time spent with my children. I don’t care about accumulating possessions, but rather memories with my family. The social gatherings that matter most to me are playing or cuddling with my kids. And instead of looking to the next rung on the career ladder, I focus on how to have a stronger, more secure attachment with each of my children and my husband.

I know that not everyone can, or wishes to, quit their jobs to stay home with their children, but I urge everyone to be mindful of how they can best balance their child’s attachment needs with their career aspirations and financial obligations. If you choose to continue working outside the home, understand that Attachment Parenting can be crucial for dual-income families. Preparing for parenting, Breastfeeding, Warm and sensitive responsiveness, Nurturing touch, Cosleeping, Positive discipline, Consistent and loving care, and Striving for balance in family and personal life — API’s Eight Principles of Parenting — provides a road map for establishing and maintaining secure parent-child attachment for all parents, but parents with limited daily time with their children report that Attachment Parenting is especially necessary to keep their close family bonds. The research fully supports this.

APM 2015 logoWe at Attachment Parenting International (API) hope that you found inspiration to take parental leave from working seriously. The importance of parental presence didn’t end as the calendar flipped from October to November, and we invite you to continue exploring this topic all year long and into 2016. Parental leave is a topic just getting started in the United States, and national discussions are sure to pick up in the next few years. Feel free to refer back to API’s Research Paper for AP Month 2015 for talking points on “Parental Presence: Birthing Families, Strengthening Society.”

How API supports parents with — and without — access to parental leave

artyuenspEditor’s note: Thank you for helping Attachment Parenting International (API) observe Attachment Parenting Month 2015 in October as we explored the theme, “Parental Presence: Birthing Families, Strengthening Society.” API Leader and API’s KnowledgeBase Coordinator Artimesia Yuen has compiled a research paper to help you continue discussions in your families and communities on the importance of parental leave following the birth of a baby and the incredible value of maximizing parental presence in early childhood.

APM 2015 logoAPI advocates knowledge and practices that value and maximize parental leave, recognizing parental presence with a child fosters early secure attachment and benefits families, businesses and societies.

Parental leave is an issue that touches the majority of adults around the world as parents are commonly employed outside of the home. Many countries have implemented national policies that prioritize and value the unique and irretrievable impact that parents have in the early years of their child’s development. The collective international policies represent a global consensus that the United States has not yet considered on a national level.

Only very recently, a few U.S. city and state governments have offered forms of parental leave. The media has been tracking high-profile businesses that have been initiating their own parental leave policies. While the U.S. Federal government offers its own employee benefits, there is not yet a national policy providing these benefits to all U.S. parents.

Momentum is growing for parental leave in the United States, and we have the benefit of a wealth of examples and longitudinal research provided by initiatives in other countries. All of this experience and research, including of U.S. economic research, complements the findings of decades of attachment research.

The U.S. workplace culture, and that of many other countries, is such that even parents and decision makers who recognize the benefits of parental leave may still experience one or more of these pervasive cultural barriers or responses:

* Businesses offering or contemplating offering parental leave may experience real or perceived fears of:

  • Loss from temporary slow down or loss of valuable employees, skills and functions
  • Competitive disadvantage
  • Higher costs, lost opportunities and lost profitability.

* Employees taking or contemplating taking parental leave may experience real or perceived fears of:

  • Outright job loss
  • Inability to afford unpaid leave or severe financial difficulty
  • Inability to tolerate potential lower status and/or pay
  • Reduced earnings trajectory over time — i.e., work-cultural stigma.

Additional factors that can present barriers to parental leave may include:

  1. Societal and cultural norms do not support and sometimes undermine leave.
  2. Loss and risk aversion are well-known cognitive heuristics impact leave decisions.
  3. Our nation and economy differ in significant cultural, political, economic and philosophical ways from other advanced nations that offer generous leave. The translation of other successes is not always clear for U.S. business and policy decision makers.
  4. Time frames and incentives may be mismatched if leave decisions produce “fuzzy,” long-run results when policy makers and businesses seek clear impact over shorter time horizons.

Moving beyond these self-reinforcing fears will require more parents, employers and governments step up to “be the change.” These pioneers and would-be pioneers require support and a broad groundswell of advocacy to stand behind them and propose the policies that all U.S. families deserve.

For more than 20 years, Attachment Parenting International has been working to spread the knowledge that early secure attachment and consistent and loving care are vital to infant development and well-being. API not only brings this research to families, communities and professionals, but has also developed API’s Eight Principles of Parenting and accredited networks of local, personal support that helps sustain healthy parenting and care practices.

API’s Role in Parental Leave

  • Promoting the benefits of parental presence, attachment and parenting particularly after birth and in the early, formative years.
  • Continued work toward raising up the socially important, economically valuable role of the parents in child mental health and development.
  • Continued direct parent support around choices that favor healthy, close parent-child relationships.
  • Support parental goals toward long-run workplace change that benefit parents, children and family well-being as critical to societal success.

Support for parents who do not have access to parental leave:

API’s Eight Principles of Parenting provide support for parents in a number of ways to help provide healthy parent-child relationships, especially when parent-child time is limited. These supports might include the following practices:

  • Feed with love and respect — API supports parents in establishing and maintaining breastfeeding, pumping and evening reunions that support these practices in feeding and closeness as well as rest for the parents.
  • Use nurturing touch — API supports parents in healthy and affectionate touching, holding, cuddling and even carrying their young children in soft carriers as a way to regularly reconnect after being apart.
  • Ensure safe sleep physically and emotionally — API supports parents in healthy and safe ways to satisfy both the parent needs for required rest and their young child’s needs for closeness and reconnection after being apart. Safety is paramount.
  • Provide consistent, loving care — API supports parents in considerations for providing a healthy caregiving experience for their young children.
  • Strive for balance in personal and family life — API supports parents in considering the multiple ways parents can maintain and restore personal and family equilibrium through the many changes of childhood. Parents are supported in any general emotional experience that may result from being apart from their children sooner, earlier or more than desired.

Support for parents who have access to parental leave:

API’s Eight Principles of Parenting provide support for parents in a number of ways to help provide healthy parent-child relationships in situations where parent-child time must transition, even when it’s maximized. These supports might include the following practices:

  • Feed with love and respect — API supports parents in establishing and maintaining a variety of strategies in response to changing parent and child needs around breastfeeding, pumping, feeding over time and the relationship with feeding and parent-child reunions.
  • Use nurturing touch — API supports parents in healthy and affectionate touching, holding, cuddling and even carrying their young children in soft carriers as a normative way to be together as well as a way to satisfy reconnection needs after being apart.
  • Ensure safe sleep physically and emotionally — API supports parents in healthy and safe ways to satisfy both the parent needs for required rest and their young child’s needs for closeness and reconnection after being apart. Safety is paramount.
  • Provide consistent, loving care — API supports parents in considerations for providing a healthy caregiving experience for their young children and support for transitions to non-parental care.
  • Strive for balance in personal and family life — API supports parents in considering the multiple ways parents can maintain and restore personal and family equilibrium through the many changes of childhood and the parent work status. Parents are supported in any general emotional experience that may result from being apart from their children sooner, earlier or more than desired. Parents are supported in any general emotions around the differences in the pace of life and competencies that may exist between career and 24/7 parenting.

Interested in learning more? Read API’s AP Month 2015 Research Paper in full, including results from selected research studies.

Daily Tip: What is the most important thing?

Daily Tips logo“Family is the most important thing in the world.” ~ Princess Diana

 

Kathryn Abbott Family

API Leader Kathryn Abbott, API’s Leader Connections editor

Send us a photo of how you are celebrating this year’s AP Month theme: “Parental Presence: Birthing Families, Strengthening Society.” Read here for complete guidelines.

Attachment Parenting International thanks Lamaze International, DONA, Dr. Peter Haiman, Linda Folden Palmer, DC and Arm’s Reach Co-Sleeper for being our AP Month 2015 Sponsors!

Daily Tip: Share your heart

Daily Tips logoA baby who shares games with caregivers will share their hearts with others.

 

john bowlby with richard bowlby

John Bowlby, the father of Attachment Theory, whose ground-breaking research set the foundation for Attachment Parenting, playing with his son, (Sir) Richard Bowlby (Bt), who now serves on Attachment Parenting International‘s Advisory Board and lectures worldwide about his father’s work

Send us a photo of how you are celebrating this year’s AP Month theme: “Parental Presence: Birthing Families, Strengthening Society.” Read here for complete guidelines.

Attachment Parenting International thanks Lamaze International, DONA, Dr. Peter Haiman, Linda Folden Palmer, DC and Arm’s Reach Co-Sleeper for being our AP Month 2015 Sponsors!

Daily Tip: What are your basic needs?

Daily Tips logoOf course, every human community is not perfect. But when you provide young children with their basic needs, they are less aggressive and self-centered.

 

Candice Garrison

API Leader Candice Garrison and family

Send us a photo of how you are celebrating this year’s AP Month theme: “Parental Presence: Birthing Families, Strengthening Society.” Read here for complete guidelines.

Attachment Parenting International thanks Lamaze International, DONA, Dr. Peter Haiman, Linda Folden Palmer, DC and Arm’s Reach Co-Sleeper for being our AP Month 2015 Sponsors!

Daily Tip: Presence matters most in early childhood

Daily Tips logoThe effect of non-parental childcare is insignificant compared to the influence that parental presence has on early child development. And the effect of parental presence is more noticeable on early child development than in later years. The more presence by a parent, especially by the mother, in early childhood — the greater the influence on her child.

tina mcrorie

API Leader Tina McRorie with family. Read her story of how prioritizing the attachment needs of her sons shaped her career.

Enjoying these photos? Submit one of your family to be included with the AP Month 2015 celebration. Read here for complete guidelines.

Attachment Parenting International thanks Lamaze International, DONA, Dr. Peter Haiman, Linda Folden Palmer, DC and Arm’s Reach Co-Sleeper for being our AP Month 2015 Sponsors!

Daily Tip: Parental presence increases the child’s self-esteem

Daily Tips logoThe importance of self-confidence cannot be understated. Self-esteem is widely considered to be one of the most, if not the single most, important characteristic of an individual’s well-being. Maximum parental presence in a baby’s first year of life is especially beneficial to social-emotional skill development that leads to a healthy self-esteem.

megan bellAPI Leader Megan Bell with family. Read her story of how she balances her singing career with the attachment needs of her daughter.

Enjoying these photos? Submit one of your family to be included with the AP Month 2015 celebration. Read here for complete guidelines.

Attachment Parenting International thanks Lamaze International, DONA, Dr. Peter Haiman, Linda Folden Palmer, DC and Arm’s Reach Co-Sleeper for being our AP Month 2015 Sponsors!

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