“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” Nelson Mandela
Late this afternoon a car pulls in the drive, a woman leaps out with a package, my husband steps from the garage to take it. He sees she has a small child strapped in the backseat. She sees him seeing, says with a shrug, “No daycare, no other choice.”
When he tells me, my first response is guilt. We try (not always successfully) to order directly from companies, organizations, and makers rather than the Monolith Named After A Rainforest River. But still, that means delivery. Which brought this mother out today. This is how she earns enough to feed her family in a country that has zero assured benefits for parents.
I think about the choices our system (more specifically, our system of rapacious capitalism) forces parents to make right now.
Human babies need to be held and nurtured on their own schedules. The importance of secure attachment to parents/caregivers cannot be understated. As Bethany Saltman writes in The Cut, secure attachment in the first year has been shown to be:
“…more important than temperament, IQ, social class, and parenting style to a person’s development. A boom in attachment research now links adult attachment insecurity with a host of problems, from sleep disturbances, depression, and anxiety to a decreased concern with moral injustice…
Beyond all the research linking secure attachments to everything good, attachment is connected to something so profound it’s hard to describe. The literature calls it ‘mentalization:’ UCLA psychiatrist Dan Siegel refers to it as ‘mindsight.’ Basically, it’s the experience of knowing you have a mind and that everyone else has one, too. Then it’s one small step to see that others have feelings, too.”
Twenty-five percent of new mothers in the U.S. return to work only two weeks after giving birth. Less than 10 percent of fathers have any paid leave available through their employers at all, although few fathers with this option take more than a week off due to concerns their employers will view them as less committed to the job. Research shows parental leave results in long-standing benefits for children and their parents. For example, each week of paid leave reduces the risk of postpartum depression for mothers. It also statistically reduces infant mortality. Fathers who take at least two weeks of paternity leave are more likely to be more involved in parenting, stay married, and have children who feel close to their fathers over the next ten years. Sweden assures parents 56 weeks, Estonia 84 weeks with up to 166 weeks at lower pay, Japan 52 weeks or more, the U.S., zero.
Today I also read a tweet by Siyanda Mohutsiwa, who grew up in Botswana quite naturally helping out women and their newborns for weeks at a time. She writes,
One of western modernity’s greatest cruelties is the fact that couples are expected to raise newborns alone. I’ll never understand it and it really is an impossible thing… What I’m trying to say is this is not normal. Humans have been giving birth for millennia and nobody was expected to do it alone. It’s not normal to expect someone/a couple to raise an infant alone.
I don’t know who’s to blame. Obviously capitalism and its insistence that you can replace the functions of the extended family/community with products, gadgets, and sheer willpower. The lie that everything is a competition, and that “good mothers” don’t need help.
Humans are herd animals because we need lots of help. It’s not just because we’re social and it’s fun to banter and joke. It’s because we literally need help to make it through this life cycle called being human…
When I lived in a European city, I used to hear my neighbor sobbing alone with her baby. I thought to myself, if this is “civilization” then I don’t want any part of it.
I wish I could have said to that delivery woman as I’ve said many times to friends, “Leave your kids here for the rest of your shift. It’s no problem at all –my house is full of books and toys and healthy food and comfy places to relax, come on back when you’re done working,” but of course, I couldn’t. We’re instructed nonstop to trust no one. Entire segments of the media have their viewers/listeners convinced they can’t even walk into a coffee shop without high power weaponry slung on their hips.
I used to carry extra board books, snacks, and toys in the diaper bag I continually toted. That’s because I encountered parents everywhere who were stuck in store lines or at the clinic who hadn’t found the time or mental energy or money to throw some child amusements into their bags. I’d hand something to the parent saying, “I have an extra, I don’t need it back” while their newly happy baby was gumming wooden keys or their no-longer-screaming toddler was carefully turning the thick pages of Rainbow Fish.
The box delivered today was heavy with cat food. I’m glad our cats have supplies on hand but can’t help but think how much I’d rather that mother’s child was running around, reading, and playing instead of being than stuck immobile in a car seat out of a system-created necessity for his mom to work all day delivering things so much less essential than mothering.
I’m sure she did everything possible to make the best of it. They probably sang together, listened to kids’ audiobooks, looked out the windows at cows and horses in our rural township. But still, this package of cat food weighs heavily here. It’s a fraction of the weight of injustice, but I can barely carry it while thinking of the people who bear greater weight every day.
A man crosses the street in rain,
stepping gently, looking two times north and south,
because his son is asleep on his shoulder.
No car must splash him.
No car drive too near to his shadow.
This man carries the world’s most sensitive cargo
but he’s not marked.
Nowhere does his jacket say FRAGILE,
HANDLE WITH CARE.
His ear fills up with breathing.
He hears the hum of a boy’s dream
deep inside him.
We’re not going to be able
to live in this world
if we’re not willing to do what he’s doing
with one another.
The road will only be wide.
The rain will never stop falling.