How does a country show what it values? Is it based off of where the money is spent, what politicians discuss before ever-present cameras, or simply by what its citizens say the country values?
I’m beginning to realize just why the stereotype of the chained-to-her-desk American persists.
Because I’m beginning to reflect on maternity leave.
Here in Venezuela women get seven months of paid maternity leave.
It’s a number I’m still having trouble wrapping my mind around even as I hear of people who work at the school but are not currently present because they’re out on maternity leave…still.
Back home you get 0 paid days, 12 weeks if you’re lucky. Since I work in a female-dominated profession, and two of my friends had children within the past three years, I’ve been able to see what women go through first-hand when trying to balance a career with a family.
One: The balancing act wouldn’t be as stressful if a woman didn’t have to start counting her sick days the moment she decided to have a child. Giving birth should not be equated with being sick (although there sometimes is a very strong overlap), but I’ve known a woman who didn’t take a sick day for years because she knew one day she would have a baby.
And she needed those days.
When I was explaining the American parental leave system to a Venezuelan co-worker he asked me if that played a role in the U.S.’s low birth rate.
I paused, never really thinking about the connection between the two. I mean, I talked about issues such as these until I was blue in the face in college, but it hit me at that moment that if I could get seven months paid maternity leave I probably would be more open to the number of children I would be willing to have.
“I think it does,” I responded.
Over the years, I have gotten used to seeing women sneak off somewhere to try to pump at work. One day two different women pumped in the room where I was grading papers. “Do you mind?” they had asked, each at different times. I didn’t. Space was at a premium at my school, and it was the only free room at the moment. So while I graded, they pumped.
Currently, I couldn’t imagine having to go through that once, let alone two, three, or four times.
It shouldn’t have to be like that. I take care, and educate, other people’s children for eight hours a day but I can’t get paid to take care of my own when I choose to have a child?
That, to me, goes to show that women may dominate the classrooms, but men still rule the upper echelons of educational systems. I can only imagine what some politicians (the same ones who espouse family values) would say about the cost to taxpayers if they had to grant all teachers paid maternity or paternity leave. To them, the whole system would collapse.
I love the United States, but I’ve come to the conclusion that we’re a gravely ailing society. We say we value one thing, but our actions show another. Our lack of maternity leave is just one of a host of other issues I’ve been reflecting on.
Maybe there will be a shift for the better if I decide to have kids. Even if that shift does occur, I’ll always remember the women pumping at work before returning to teach.