Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mother's Day!

In honor of Mother's Day yesterday, pappa and Simon prepared a little scavenger hunt around the house with a prize at the end. I was very surprised and excited, running around trying to figure out the clues - and get to the end of course. Nearly every clue included a picture of Simon. At the end - my long lost shoe! I had been missing one of my shoes but knew it was somewhere in the house, but Simon (pappa) found it! It was perfect - I was so happy!

Then we went out and watched the Ddorf marathon (always inspiring!), Simon took a nap, and we went to Auermühle for cake and a Krakauer (brat). A fabulous Mother's Day in the 11th best country to be a mother.

Save the Children put out its 12th Annual Mothers Index, which analyzes health, economic and educational conditions for women and children in 164 countries. Scandavia is a mother's haven, with all countries ranking in the top 10 - Norway (#1), Iceland (#3), Sweden (#4), Denmark (#5), and Finland (#7). And where is my good old motherland? Down there at #31, consistently coming in as one of the worst ranked developed countries. High infant and maternal mortality rates, poor early childhood education, and a maternity policy known as "the least generous of all wealthy nations" are major contributing factors to this low ranking.

And to be honest, it's something I have been thinking about since moving to Germany. Not where the US ranked on the Mothers Index (although let's be honest - no surprises there), but how these more generous maternity policies shape the experience of being a mother.

When I gave birth to Simon, the choice was easy for me. I was moving to a new country and didn't have a job - so I would stay at home. I was so happy and realized what a gift it was. But of course I am not getting paid, so it requires an adjustment of our expenses. And I don't have a job to go back to, so it does leave a gap in my resume and an uncertainty about my professional future.

On the other hand, for those in Europe that have one year of paid maternity, the stakes are quite different. Often they begin maternity leave 6 weeks before the due date, and stay at home until the baby turns one. All this time they are getting paid (not full salary - a percentage with a cap), but it's something. And then, when your baby turns one, your job is still there - you get to go back to work. And often times, now your hubby gets a chance to stay home with your kiddo for a while - maybe 2 months, or another year.

For me, that's the best of both worlds! You get to be a stay-at-home mom for a year, and then you have the opportunity to go back to work if you want. Not ready to go back to work? Many countries will hold your position for up to 3 years (unpaid after one) to give you more time at home. They also often have flexible hours upon return so that you are not thrown into full-time work right away.

Now, I am not advocating that the U.S. can simply adopt these same policies. They operate under entirely different systems and for different political reasons (low birth-rates among them). I just want people to see how different the experiences are, and understand that American women are not being bad mothers or making bad choices for their babies when they go back to work after 12 weeks. Most American women have to choose between staying at home and going back to work - they can't do both. Therein lies the difference....

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