I saw an article shared on Facebook the other day comparing the parents in France to those in the United States. The author went on to describe how well behaved the children of the French parents were and how they had the right idea to allow free time and setting boundaries on expectations and adult time. I don’t disagree ~ in the U.S. we often overbook ourselves and our children, have too high expectations that don’t match an individual child’s needs or their developmental stage and expose (even inadvertently, you can’t see a commercial or billboard that’s G rated anymore) our children to far more than what’s healthy. However, the author basically dismisses the benefits that France offers its parents as a major variable in the seemingly effortless way that the French children are raised ~ free universal public nursery school (generally three hours in the morning, with a two hour lunch break for the parent and their children and three hours in the afternoon), universal medical insurance, mandatory paid maternity leave (minimum 16 weeks) and family allowances offered to all with no stigmatizing of a population that doesn’t have the same advantages of others (no, I haven’t been to France – found this information on one of their governmental websites and several other written sources).
Clearly, children and families are valued in France. There are other countries that offer even more generous benefits to their parents of young children. In the U.S., we view assistance as though it should only be offered to the “deserving”, offer very little in the way of providing enough to actually move ahead and fear that some families have no incentive to get off “welfare” (because $176 a month with a couple hundred in food stamps certainly indicates taxpayers are providing a lap of luxury for those folks stuck in the system). Our country fights between political factions about what people should be provided. But if we could move beyond the politics and consider what’s right in terms of behaving humanely and consider this country’s crime rates, its dismal score on the UN report card of child well-being and explore the fact that we are only one of FOUR countries that do not mandate PAID maternity and/or paternity leave, perhaps we could find it in ourselves to remember the roots of this country. Not the roots that were built on oppression and unspeakable acts against others, but the roots that believed that all should be equal (yes, I intentionally use the word ALL and not white men…and I mean no disrespect to white men) with an unalienable right to pursuit of happiness. And one can not achieve the higher echelons of Maslow’s pyramid without a secure base. Does it not behoove us to have healthy parents raising secure healthy families?
Let’s dig a little deeper. When you consider that the primary brain development, the most intense time of development which interrupted can have lifelong devastating impacts is from in utero to age three (and no it doesn’t stop after this point), why would we not, as a nation, want our families of the young to be fully supported in their most important task – that of raising healthy, regulated, creative children that will one day be responsible for the leadership and care of our citizens. This is not a topic for those parents of only young children. This is not even a topic just for parents. This is an issue for all of us. And to add one more layer ~ more and more research is demonstrating the absolutely toxic effect of cortisol, the stress hormone, both in utero and during the prime development stage. Children can not only experience stress but are impacted by the parents’ stress as well.
A life without any stressors is unreasonable and probably only happens to those without a pulse. But a life overloaded with stressors is not only detrimental to brain development but also exacerbates, and sometimes even causes, mental health and/or medical issues. As the alleged greatest nation on earth, we can do better.
What can you do? Educate yourself, make this a topic of focus for the politicians, and practice mindfulness. Do what you can to create your own world outside the media and the expectations of others. And journal about how stress impacts you and those you love. Use springboards in your journal writing about what your stressors are and where can you let go. I’ve also included a link to Jon Kabat Zinn’s website and some ideas on mindful parenting – learning to be in the moment without a hundred other distractions. This will give you the opportunity to enjoy and LIVE your moments, model this for others and engage in deeper, more meaningful relationships…including with your children. Children who feel worthy of your time and undivided attention gain valuable skills in their own sense of self.
If our American way of life fails the child, it fails us all. ~Pearl S. Buck