America Make Up Your Mind: Do You Want Kids or Not?

Republicans are doing everything in their power to make sure more babies are born, but, frankly, no one seems to want them around.

For the last eighteen months, Republican legislators have been proposing dozens of laws to restrict access to abortion and birth control and defund Planned Parenthood with the aim to stamp out abortion so more babies will be born. Yet, once they’re here, our country doesn’t have many programs in place to support families and there is a wave of public sentiment that wants children to not be seen or heard.

U.S. Maternity Policies Are Ridiculously Inadequate

America calls itself family friendly, yet in our current climate, that hardly seems true. A 2011 report by the Human Rights Watch, Failing its Families, shows that 178 countries guarantee national paid maternity leave for mothers and 50 countries have it for fathers, and the U.S. is not among them. The U.S. does have a national policy in place for unpaid leave for up to 12 weeks, but it only applies to companies with more than 50 employees, and with the increase in small business growth and freelance work, it helps fewer and fewer workers. Janet Walsh, deputy director of the women’s rights division of Human Rights Watch told David Crary of Huffington Post:

“Despite its enthusiasm about ‘family values,’ the U.S. is decades behind other countries in ensuring the well-being of working families. Being an outlier is nothing to be proud of in a case like this.”

The report found that other countries’ maternity leaves were much more generous, even though they were paid. Malta gives 14 weeks, while Sweden gives mothers 16 months and allocates at least two months exclusively for fathers. In the U.S., only California and New Jersey have paid leave programs (Washington state does as well, but it was never implemented because there is no funding), and although both states have severe budget problems, the leave programs are thriving. They are financed wholly by small payroll tax contributions by workers and offer six weeks of paid leave for parents to bond with a new child or workers to care for a seriously ill child, spouse or parent.

On the other hand, the report, compiled after interviews with dozens of parents, stated that lack of paid leave has many harmful consequences, including exacerbating postpartum depression, early breastfeeding cessation, and causing some families to incur debt or go on welfare.

A 2012 report, the 13th annual State of the World’s Mothers report by the Save the Children foundation, agrees with the Human Rights Watch in its assessment of U.S. maternity policies, ranking our nation near the bottom of developed countries and last in breastfeeding support. This report also found that mothers in the U.S. faced the highest risk of maternal death of any industrialized nation at one-in- 2,100. The U.S. mortality rate for children under 5 is eight per 1,000 births, comparable to Bosnia and Herzegovina. An American child is four times more likely to die before age five than a child in Iceland. The U.S. ranked below 40 other countries on that score. In addition, USA Today reported that U.S. birthrates have fallen along with the economy, to a 25-year low (from 2.12 in 2007 to an expected 1.87 this year), and is not expected to recover for at least a couple of years.

No Children Allowed

There has also been an enormous backlash against parents and their children in public places, with businesses quick to show them the door and the general public disdainful of their presence. #youngchildrenshouldbebannedfrom was even trending on Twitter.

Restaurants, movie theaters and airplanes seem to be the main venues of discontent. JetBlue ejected a family from a flight home from vacation when the pilot decided that their two-year-old’s crying was too disruptive, and airlines claim that passengers have asked for adults-only designated flights and “family areas” of the plane, citing crying and ill-behaved children as their number one complaint.

Restaurants in Atlanta, Pennsylvania and North Carolina have enacted various limits and bans on small children. The Olde Salty restaurant in Carolina Beach and Grant Central Pizza in Atlanta have both posted signs warning parents to take their crying children outside. Olde Salty’s sign shouts, “Screaming children will NOT be tolerated!” and the restaurant told its local NBC affiliate that not only has it not hurt business, patronage has increased. McDain’s Restaurant, in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, recently banned children altogether.

These policies by the restaurants have generated a lot of attention with the majority of the comments negatively against children and what people consider to be their rude, clueless, and entitled parents. In hundreds, even thousands of comments (the airline story has over 10,000), the majority of them were anti-children by not only baby boomer and childless adults, but other parents as well, who claim that they aren’t part of the problem since their children are always perfectly well-behaved, but it must be those OTHER bad parents with the out-of-control children who are the problem. Many expressed vitriolic comments about the children themselves and were roundly applauded.

The recent shooting in Aurora, Colorado at the Batman premiere even turned into a criticism of parenting once it was reported that some small children were injured and one was killed. The judgments were fairly evenly split between those who thought it was poor parenting to a) bring a small child to the midnight showing of anything, much less a violent PG-13 action film, and b) those who didn’t care what time or content was playing, but just thought they shouldn’t have brought the kids at all because it was disruptive to other viewers.

The outcry has swelled such that the few let’s-all-learn-to-get-along comments like this one that appeared were shouted down.

So America, with its politicians who preach about family values, is inhospitable to children financially, professionally and socially, and doesn’t really like kids much at all, unless they stay home with their too-big strollers, sticky fingers, germs and tantrums.

image: telmah.hamlet, Mari Rose Moretti 

Andrea Newell

Andrea Newell is a Michigan-based writer specializing in corporate social responsibility, women’s issues, and the environment.