PARENTING: Things I Wish My Boss Knew About Maternity Leave

PARENTING: Things I Wish My Boss Knew About Maternity Leave

To-Wen Tseng

Former TV reporter turned freelance journalist, children's book writer in wee hours, nursing mom by passion. To-wen blogs at I'd rather be breastfeeding. She can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

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BELGIUM: The Adopted Little Sailor

BELGIUM: The Adopted Little Sailor

3777834366_869456969b_zIn preparation for our adoption, we had to take an intensive course, dealing with the many dynamics involved. A while later, our gained knowledge, but also our personal history, relationship, parenting skills and social network were scrutinized by a social worker and a psychologist.

During those months and months of preparation, there are two statements that came up several times and which I will always remember:

1)      Having children is NOT a universal human right. Having a parent – or a dedicated caregiver – IS.

In other words: We were not entitled to a child. It’s the child’s benefit that comes first at all times. A hard lesson to learn for some, and next to impossible to swallow when the judge doesn’t give you the much hoped for green light. But true nonetheless.

2)      We were NOT judged for our parenting skills. We were judged for our ADOPTIVE-parenting skills.

Especially to couples that were already parents, the course and social exams could be seen as an affront. And yes, it could be quite provoking and private at times. But in our case is was also very respectful at all times, and educating as well. And it was necessary.

Why? Because adopted children come with a backpack filled with their history. Because, as an adoptive parent, you might need to help carry that backpack.

A central topic to both the course and the exam was: attachment, and with that, basic trust. It was explained to us beautifully by ‘The parable of the little sailor’, in which a child is at first safely on a boat. All of a sudden, she finds herself in a storm. The boat sinks and she struggles to survive. When next she is picked up by a new boat, full of small children like her, and a new captain, it takes a while before she believes that the captain will keep them safe. And she proved right to be hesitant, because a new storm comes up and eventually, that boat also sinks. The child is alone again. From that point on, the child decides to not trust any captains any more. So when a new boat arrives, she goes in hesitantly, because she has no other choice. But she will keep her guards up for a long time now. She will test the captain’s sailing skills over and over again, and whenever a storm comes, she will be ready to take over control.

Some adopted children will have experienced more boats, more caregivers, than others. Some will have had worse storms than others. In quite some cases, gaining the trust of that little sailor will be a tremendous task for the final captains of its journey, the adoptive parents.

Attachment disorder can be an overwhelming Damocles’ sword that hangs above an adoptive family.

We were told the best way to avoid attachment disorder, was to make sure we were going to be the only captains during our precious sailor’s first months on our boat. A minimum of six months of semi-isolation, they recommended. Ideally not letting anyone else take care of her, not even hand her gifts. After that, the time she would need to safely attach to us and rely on us to steer the boat, was estimated as her age upon adoption, multiplied by two.

Our daughter was 2.5 years old when she came to live with us, and she’s been with us for three years now. That means we still have at least 2 years to go for her to let go of her anxieties and mistrust.

At least 2 years. Probably longer, if we look at where she is today on her journey towards trust and attachment. I personally believe attachment, at least for our daughter, will be a constantly evolving process for many years to come.

We’ve also had our share of storms. For one, we broke her trust those first, crucial months. You see, in Belgium, maternity leave is fairly short, only 15 weeks. When adopting, it’s even less. We were ‘lucky’ to adopt when our girl hadn’t reached the age of 3 yet, so I got to stay at home with her for 6 weeks. When your child is older, you only get 4 weeks. Or zero weeks, when the child has reached the age of 8, or when you’re a foster parent… So, a maximum of 6 weeks to complete this huge task of gaining trust. It’s extremely frustrating to have been pressed repeatedly on the importance of a strong basis for attachment and then being forced to send that little sailor off to another captain, one in the boat of day care or kindergarten, after a mere 6 weeks or less.

There have been quite some voices and petitions these lasts months, to once and for all equalize maternity leave rules for all sorts of parenthood, including adoption and foster care.  The old statement of ‘You don’t need physical recovery from adoption like you do from giving birth, so you don’t need the same amount of time’ has lost its validity the moment regular maternity leave was extended with an additional (unpaid) month, for the sake of ‘bonding of mother and child’.

No need to say the adoptive community was outraged, or at least strongly disappointed at that time. We still are. The adversaries of our request don’t seem to understand that we don’t ask longer maternity leave for ourselves, although I must admit that some time for emotional recovery would have been very welcome in those first, stormy months.

But essentially, we request it for the benefit of the little sailors to come. They deserve more time to explore, defy and scrutinize their new captains.

How long is maternity leave in your country? Is the same for all kinds of parenthood? And how long do you believe it should be?

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by K10K from The Penguin and The Panther.

Photo by Alejandro Groenewold under Creative Common license

Katinka

If you ask her about her daytime job, Katinka will tell you all about the challenge of studying the fate of radioactive substances in the deep subsurface. Her most demanding and rewarding job however is raising four kids together with five other parents, each with their own quirks, wishes and (dis)abilities. As parenting and especially co-parenting involves a lot of letting go, she finds herself singing the theme song to Frozen over and over again, even when the kids are not even there...

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BRAZIL:  Patience, Acceptance and the Symbolic Mother

BRAZIL: Patience, Acceptance and the Symbolic Mother

patienceMy maternity leave is now coming to an end, but throughout it a typical week day has meant about 12-14 hours alone with the kids.

I usually wake up at 5:20 a.m. and my husband leaves with our eldest around six. I spend my mornings with our 2 ½ year old girl and our six month old baby boy. Our son returns from school approximately 1:30 p.m. Sometimes my husband returns early, but he usually gets home between 6 and 8 p.m. depending on traffic, his schedule, etc.

I love my kids dearly. Yet any mother knows that such a routine is not easy. On the typical day, by 6 p.m. my patience starts to wane. By nature I have a calm personality, but if there is screaming on my side, 90% of the time it will be after 6 p.m.

I once heard that 6 p.m. is one of the most difficult times of the day. On an individual level it is the time when stress peaks and on a collective level it is the time when most crime, car accidents and other such things happen. I don’t know if there is data backing that, but in a way it does make sense.

In my case, it is around 6 p.m. that the less-than-noble feelings will start to take over my mind, such as resentment, self-pity and repetitive worrying about pending work (although I have been legally on leave and have not been teaching, I did choose to maintain some activities from home). Other days I wish I could just stop working and truly be a full-time mother.

One thing that has helped is practicing acceptance and gratitude: A student sent me her research project two weeks ago and I haven’t even managed to open the file. Sorry, I am doing the best I can. My daughter has been screaming for 15 minutes in a temper tantrum. How great that she is healthy and her lungs are working! The kitchen sink is piled with dishes and the whole house is a mess. Things will get better as the kids grow older.

Of course it is easier said than done and one thing I try to do every day is to pray that my patience lasts past the kids’ bedtime.

I recently thought about how in the past it was a custom here in Brazil – a mostly catholic country – for the radios to play the Ave Maria in Latin at 6 p.m. In the small town I lived in when I was little, the Catholic church’s bells also tolled at six.

I haven’t been much of a radio listener for the past few years so I went on the web to check if the custom was still present. I learned it is a practice that has been carried out here in Brazil for the last 54 years. It comes from an old Portuguese tradition that in turn derives from the Angelus [*] – a Christian devotion recited at 6 a.m., midday and 6 p.m., which refers to Mary and the Annunciation. In simple terms, it is a time of prayer and meditation.

While reading about the 6 p.m. devotion and thinking about the emotional condition of mothers who spend the whole day alone with their children, I realized that it was the kind of practice that makes sense in the context of motherhood. After all, regardless of religion or debates on the specifics of Mary’s story, in a greater context she can be seen as a symbol of an inspiring and caring mother.

With that in mind, this week I am experimenting with short “Mary meditations” around 6 p.m. to see if it helps extend and deepen my patience and acceptance.

And you? What strategies do you use to help you face the challenges of the day-to-day motherhood routine?

[*] If there are any Catholics out there reading this and I am explaining this wrong please correct me! I was sort of raised Catholic in a Catholic country but I’m not actually Catholic, so I don’t have in-depth knowledge of the Angelus.

This is an original post to World Moms Blog from our devoted writer and mother of three in Brazil, EcoZiva.

The photo used in this post was taken by the author.

Ecoziva (Brazil)

Eco, from the greek oikos means home; Ziva has many meanings and roots, including Hebrew (brilliance, light), Slovenian (goddess of life) and Sanskrit (blessing). In Brazil, where EcoZiva has lived for most of her life, giving birth is often termed “giving the light”; thus, she thought, a mother is “home to light” during the nine months of pregnancy, and so the penname EcoZiva came to be for World Moms Blog. Born in the USA in a multi-ethnic extended family, EcoZiva is married and the mother of two boys (aged 12 and three) and a five-year-old girl and a three yearboy. She is trained as a biologist and presently an university researcher/professor, but also a volunteer at the local environmental movement.

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CANADA: The Dark Side of Maternity Benefit

CANADA: The Dark Side of Maternity Benefit

In 2001, the federal Parental Benefits Program in Canada increased the length of sharable paid parental leave benefits from 10 to 35 weeks, combined with 15 weeks of maternity leave.

My children were born in 1997 and 1999; I did not plan to have anymore children. I figured words like “parental leave” and “maternity benefits” were not a part of my future, or so, I thought.

In the September edition of Canadian Business magazine Jasmine Budak wrote an interesting article about the ”dark side” of maternity leave, here, in Canada. In it, Budak highlights some of the difficulties that (more…)

Salma (Canada)

An Imperfect Stepford Wife is what Salma describes herself as because she simply cannot get it right. She loves decorating, travelling, parenting,learning, writing, reading and cooking, She also delights in all things mischievous, simply because it drives her hubby crazy. Salma has 2 daughters and a baby boy. The death of her first son in 2009 was very difficult, however, after the birth of her Rainbow baby in 2010 (one day after her birthday) she has made a commitment to laugh more and channel the innocence of youth through her children. She has blogged about her loss, her pregnancy with Rainbow, and Islamic life. After relocating to Alberta with her husband in 2011 she has found new challenges and rewards- like buying their first house, and finding a rewarding career. Her roots are tied to Jamaica, while her hubby is from Yemen. Their routes, however, have led them to Egypt and Canada, which is most interesting because their lives are filled with cultural and language barriers. Even though she earned a degree in Criminology, Salma's true passion is Social Work. She truly appreciates the beauty of the human race. She writes critical essays on topics such as feminism and the law, cultural relativity and the role of women in Islam and "the veil". Salma works full-time, however, she believes that unless the imagination of a child is nourished, it will go to waste. She follows the philosophy of un-schooling and always finds time to teach and explore with her children. From this stance, she pushes her children to be passionate about every aspect of life, and to strive to be life-long learners and teachers. You can read about her at Chasing Rainbow.

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Canada: Interview with Salma (Chasing Rainbow)

Canada: Interview with Salma (Chasing Rainbow)

Where in the world do you live? And, are you from there?
We live in Canada right now but Egypt is a second home for us as well. I was born in Jamaica.

What language(s) do you speak?
I’m a passive bilingual. I speak English & some French…I’ve been learning Arabic since  “forever”.

When did you first become a mother?
My oldest daughter is 13 years old…I have been a mommy for a very long time. (more…)

Salma (Canada)

An Imperfect Stepford Wife is what Salma describes herself as because she simply cannot get it right. She loves decorating, travelling, parenting,learning, writing, reading and cooking, She also delights in all things mischievous, simply because it drives her hubby crazy. Salma has 2 daughters and a baby boy. The death of her first son in 2009 was very difficult, however, after the birth of her Rainbow baby in 2010 (one day after her birthday) she has made a commitment to laugh more and channel the innocence of youth through her children. She has blogged about her loss, her pregnancy with Rainbow, and Islamic life. After relocating to Alberta with her husband in 2011 she has found new challenges and rewards- like buying their first house, and finding a rewarding career. Her roots are tied to Jamaica, while her hubby is from Yemen. Their routes, however, have led them to Egypt and Canada, which is most interesting because their lives are filled with cultural and language barriers. Even though she earned a degree in Criminology, Salma's true passion is Social Work. She truly appreciates the beauty of the human race. She writes critical essays on topics such as feminism and the law, cultural relativity and the role of women in Islam and "the veil". Salma works full-time, however, she believes that unless the imagination of a child is nourished, it will go to waste. She follows the philosophy of un-schooling and always finds time to teach and explore with her children. From this stance, she pushes her children to be passionate about every aspect of life, and to strive to be life-long learners and teachers. You can read about her at Chasing Rainbow.

More Posts - Website