There are signs that this generation, our generation, will see a family-friendly America go from lip-service to lived reality

Elizabeth Tenety
Feb 12 · 8 min read

In a recent essay, I explored five causes of distress among new parents, from an abysmal maternal mortality rate, to a culture of “intensive parenting,” to too little support for working families.

This lack of support for the physical, mental and economic needs of new families is an American crisis. It’s drastically impacting our fertility rate. It’s keeping women out of the workforce. It’s affecting our mental health and our children’s wellness.

But the lack of support is not the whole story. Many millennial parents, and women in particular, are leading a movement forward by demanding a world in which paid leave is equitable and expected, where real gender equality occurs on the homefront and where workplace flexibility is extended to all working parents. There are signs that this generation, our generation, will see a family-friendly America go from lip-service to lived reality.

I say this with real optimism because, as the co-founder of Motherly and mother to three, I can sense the ripples of change that tell me we are on the verge of an era of major consciousness-raising that is poised to change our lives — and futures — for the better.

These changes will help us stop blaming ourselves for “failing” when we’re only really trying to survive. And they will prepare us to pass along the family-friendly world we all deserve to our children.

Here are current signs of progress, and how we can harness them to keep moving forward.

1. This generation is rebranding motherhood: Through voicing our needs, leaning into the workplaces and, yes, offering authentic glimpses into our lives through social media, we are helping rewrite the traditional narratives of what motherhood “should” look like. Yes, motherhood is all-consuming, but the transformation of motherhood is far from all bad. It’s getting in touch with your deepest strength. It’s experiencing the greatest love in your life. It’s making you more efficient at work. It’s taking your children along for the ride with you, rather than just getting taken on a ride because of them.

As Sophia Brock, PhD, President of The Australian Motherhood Initiative for Research & Community Involvement, previously said for Motherly, societal expectations of mothers in recent history have ranged from them “performing a service for the community” in the Victorian era to blaming them for social ills through “a type of anti-maternalism” that arose in the 20th century.

But every day at Motherly, we see women leading a new conversation about the beautiful dynamism of this experience. It’s a story that will have generational impact. Motherhood is just like the rest of life — it’s complex, full of meaning, mundane and beautiful all at once. Motherhood needs to be reclaimed for the woman-empowering experience it is. Motherhood is tenderness and strength. Motherhood is purpose and power.

2. There are new policies to help laboring women be safer — but they need to go further: As we stand today, racial and sexual discrimination shown toward mothers is truly a crisis — with black women three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women and all women at risk for diagnostic discrimination when compared to men. A series of new policies and initiatives, including the Preventing Maternal Death Act, signed by President Trump in December 2018, aim to better study and report on maternal health in the United States by funding maternal health research at unprecedented levels with the aim of reversing the maternal death rate, particular among women of color.

In other cases, some states, including New York, have launched their own initiatives, including a program to cover doula services for low-income women during their births, which is correlated to increases in healthy outcomes for mothers and babies. These represent small steps in the right direction — but they are crucial ones.

3. More institutionalized breastfeeding support: In recent years, the rate of breastfeeding has continued to rise, with most recent data indicating that 83% of newborns in the United States are now breastfed for some period of time. Given the many benefits (from immune health for baby to help with pregnancy weight loss for mom), the trend is a good sign. Though it shouldn’t have taken this long, all 50 states now have laws on the books protecting public breastfeeding.

While access to lactation services in hospitals is still hit-or-miss, the Affordable Care Act made it a lot easier for mothers to afford breastfeeding support once they settle in at home: The bill requires that all new health plans cover “comprehensive prenatal and postnatal lactation support [and] counseling,” a huge relief for new parents when these services before easily cost several hundred dollars. Add in the bill’s coverage of no-cost breast pumps, another product that previously cost hundreds of dollars out-of-pocket, and breastfeeding mamas have two big causes of worry lifted off their shoulders.

4. States are leading the family leave charge: While abysmal on the national level, paid family leave has made major strides in some key states. New York state has begun phasing in 12 weeks of paid family leave to help mom and dad bond with a newborn or newly adopted or fostered child. Washington state just followed suit with a paid 12 week plan of their own. And California governor Gavin Newsom just proposed the most comprehensive plan of all, calling for 6 months of paid leave that are able to divided between both parents.

Paid leave is good for babies, parents, society and even the long-term economic flourishing of American workers — and businesses. With a groundswell of new mothers taking to the 2019 Congress, and unprecedented support for paid leave emerging among some Republicans, experts expect movement on the federal level to follow. It’s time.

5. New guidance helps women get the postpartum care they need: In an overdue but welcome change, the American College of Obstetricians updated its recommendations in 2018 to call “for a first meeting between a new mother and her obstetric care provider three weeks postpartum rather than six,” Motherly’s Emily Glover reports.

Their updates go much further than the basic, one-time care provided once at six weeks postpartum: “Beyond a simple pelvic exam, ACOG recommends the comprehensive appointment should ‘include a full assessment of physical, social, and psychological well-being, including the following domains: mood and emotional well-being; infant care and feeding; sexuality, contraception, and birth spacing; sleep and fatigue; physical recovery from birth; chronic disease management; and health maintenance.”

And progress is coming from pediatrician groups, too. Recognizing that the health of the mother is crucial to the child’s success, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently began recommending that all physicians screen new mothers for postpartum depression — a condition that afflicts as many as 20% of women. This screening won’t just come at a single appointment, but is suggested for baby’s check up at months one, two, four and six — a critical postpartum period when women are too often left behind.

With as many as 50% of cases of postpartum depression undiagnosed, this new process will help to guide millions of women to services they might not otherwise access. This evolution finally begins to recognize the major physical, mental and sociological transformation of motherhood, and better aligns women’s needs with care providers expertise.

A growth in the demand for midwives is also a positive sign. In recent years, the demand for the woman-centered services provided by the certified nurse midwives (CNM) has meant that women have access to lower-intervention approaches, which helps to decrease the rates of unnecessary C-sections and episiotomies, ProPublica reports.

6. Creative states + businesses are helping to make childcare more affordable: The desperate need for affordable childcare has become a rallying cry for a generation of millennial parents saddled with student loan debt, deflated post-recession incomes and unprecedentedly high housing costs.

Although the federal government has done little to address this national crisis, tech companies and some cities and states are leading the way: Vermont, Florida, Oklahoma, New York City and the District of Columbia all offer free public preschool for 4 year olds, regardless of income, Chalkbeat reports. Plus, New York City is expanding its free preschool program to include 3-year-olds by 2021. Startups and tech companies like SnapChat, Vice and Facebook all offer subsidies or benefits to help parents offset the cost of childcare. Patagonia is another example of a company that goes even further — providing free, on site childcare to all of its employees.

These cities and companies make the case that investing in families is a long-term benefit drawing people to live and work in these places. Other examples from America’s international peers show countries that offer subsidized child care keep women in the workforce, narrow the gender pay gap and have a direct impact on GDP.

7. Mothers are working on their own terms: According to the World Economic Forum, it may well still be another 200 or more years at this rate before the gender pay gap is erased — and longer for mothers and especially mothers of color.

But we aren’t just accepting it as a win for generations in the distant future. We’re taking matters into our own hands: A 2017 report from the National Women’s Business Council found women entrepreneurs are more likely than non-entrepreneurs to have children — and that trend is the most pronounced for the millennial generation. That is a sign that this most highly educated generation of women is coming to motherhood with the confidence to make work work on their own terms.

Beyond starting their own businesses, a host of startups has emerged to help women find flexible and high-quality employment opportunities during the motherhood season of life. From Power To Fly, which helps source women into remote tech jobs, to Après, which helps women return to work after taking time off, to Werk, a flex work platform, a new generation of entrepreneurs is helping their fellow millennial moms to find opportunity where in the past, none existed.

8. This generation is embracing ‘lazy parenting’: Despite “intensive parenting” being the latest buzzword with The Atlantic recently deeming it “now the norm in America,” there is a growing surge of parents intentionally counteracting that by embracing a form of hands-off parenting that both reduces the pressure on parents and empowers children. In fact, at Motherly, some of our most popular content is centered around helping children be independent and giving mothers permission to not “do it all.”

This loving, but laid-back approach goes by many names, like “lazy parenting,” which actually describes intentionally providing your child with opportunities to develop a sense of self-efficacy, and “positive parenting,” a philosophy that focuses on simple, positive interactions between parent and child.

Both approaches emphasize a need for simple routines, empathy and focusing on the long-term outcomes, rather than hovering, perfectionism or micromanaging. Letting kids do things like dress themselves and make their own breakfasts not only helps them develop pride in their ability to care for themselves, it takes the pressure off parents to provide for every single need.

This move towards child-led, low-key parenting is a slow-but-steady generational trend that is helping improve the daily lives of parents and their kids.

New parents, and mothers in particular, deserve more support, and less judgment. It’s time for our generation of parents to rise up and demand that society is family friendly instead of one that just claims to be. It’s time for our structures to reflect our reality, to empower moms to do more than survive motherhood.

It’s time for us to thrive.

Motherly

A lifestyle parenting brand redefining motherhood on behalf of a new generation of mothers. www.mother.ly

Elizabeth Tenety

Written by

Co-founder of Motherly, a digital lifestyle brand redefining motherhood. https://www.mother.ly/

Motherly

Motherly

A lifestyle parenting brand redefining motherhood on behalf of a new generation of mothers. www.mother.ly

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