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Chelsea Clinton On Why We Need To Talk About Motherhood & Time

In advance of Mother’s Day, Romper partnered with the Clinton Foundation’s early childhood initiative, Too Small to Fail, to ask millennial women about the time they spend with their kids—how they find it, how they use it, and how they think it benefits their children. Over 40 percent of the women we surveyed said home and school are barriers to spending time with their kids, indicating that there is still a lot of work to be done to make it easier for women to lay the foundation for their children’s futures while supporting their families and realizing their own dreams. (Check out the full survey results here.)

Romper spoke to Chelsea Clinton, Vice Chair of the Clinton Foundation, about the structural impediments to millennial moms having more time, how young mothers with limited spare time can still have a huge positive impact on their kids’ development, and what quality family time looks like in her life.

Romper: The majority of millennial moms cite school and work as the biggest barriers to spending quality time with their kids. How do you think we can address this issue?

Chelsea Clinton: This is a complicated issue because it sits at the intersection of policy, personal preference and the finite amount of time each of us has in any given day.

First there are very real, structural challenges that women face to spending time with their kids right from the time they are born. For starters, the United States is one of only nine countries across the world that doesn’t mandate maternity leave – and the only developed country. This is outrageous, and it means that from the very beginning women are struggling to carve out the time they both need and want with their children—and make ends meet. In 2014, more than 25 percent of new moms went back to work less than two weeks after giving birth. We know that’s not good for the mom or the baby.

According to the Pew Research Center, nearly half of two-parent households in the United States have both mothers and fathers working, and in 40 percent of all families with children, the mother is the “sole or primary breadwinner.” We need policies that ensure all parents—moms and dads—are afforded the time to be the parents they hope to be. To achieve that, we need to keep pressing our elected officials to make paid family leave the rule full stop.

Romper: And parents who work on shift face even greater challenges, right?

Chelsea Clinton: Many workers—some 17 percent according to a 2015 Economic Policy Institute study—suffer from “on call” scheduling, which means that they can be asked by employers to add shifts on short notice, and similarly, may have them switched or cancelled just as quickly. Needless to say, this makes planning child care or time with children difficult, and stressful. While some cities, like San Francisco, have put in place policies that help workers gain greater control over their schedules, we need to advocate for fairer, more predictable workplace practices that will help parents succeed both on the job and at home.

This is important for kids too—kids shouldn’t have to wonder when or if they will see their parents. They should have the security of knowing when their parents are there, knowing when they’re not there, and when they’ll be home.

These challenges sit alongside others like the importance of providing all Americans with a living wage, high-quality, affordable child care and universal pre-kindergarten, all of which would go a long way toward supporting working parents, children and our country’s future. We know that investing in early childhood education, for example, is one of the smartest investments a country can make.

Being privileged shouldn’t determine the attention, support and nurture that our children receive and yet, far too often, even in 2017, it does. I think that’s wrong.

Romper: Are there ways women can help each other while we work toward structural change at the local, state, and national level?

Chelsea Clinton: We can all be better about supporting each other, supporting our friends, our colleagues, and strangers alike. If we can lend an ear, or a hand to each other—and do our best to support each other’s choices—we can share challenges and solutions, and hopefully help one another feel just a little better about the job we are doing as parents. As my mom always says, “It takes a village,” and now that I am a mom myself, I know exactly what she means. That means maternity leave and paid family leave more broadly should look like what parents know are the right choices for themselves and their families. It means supporting lactating and non-lactating moms alike. It means helping to open doors for people pushing strollers and listening to and sharing the joys and challenges of parenthood and more.

The United States is one of only nine countries across the world that doesn’t mandate maternity leave – and the only developed country. This is outrageous.

Romper: Is quality time still a luxury only affluent parents are afforded? As you’ve acknowledged with a lot of gratitude, you have tremendous resources that most parents don’t have.

Chelsea Clinton: Like so many moms, I don’t think I will ever feel there are enough hours in the day to do all the things with my kids I wish I could do—even on the days when I’m home. But I know I am lucky to have control over my schedule so I can be home most weekends and in the mornings or evenings and hopefully both. Being lucky or privileged shouldn’t determine the attention, support and nurture that our children receive and yet, far too often, even in 2017, it does. I think that’s wrong. I’ve long felt that way and feel that even more strongly now as a mom. I will keep advocating for and supporting the policy changes I think we need and also strive to be the best friend and colleague I can be to my fellow parents (and non-parents). I hope you will too.

Romper: Given the slow pace of policy change, is there anything parents strapped for time and resources can do right now to help their kids succeed?

Chelsea Clinton: We have lots of research through the Clinton Foundation’s Too Small to Fail initiative about how important it is that children are connected to their parents, and one of the best ways to connect is by talking, reading, and singing with our infants and toddlers. Studies show that even 15 minutes of talking, singing, or reading each day stimulates critical brain development in babies and young children, and the good news is that they can be done as part of the time parents are already spending with their children. Narrating what you are buying at the grocery store, singing to your child while fixing dinner, or reading on the bus on the way to daycare or school: these activities are simple, but their impact is profound. These are things I know my parents did and they are all things I do with my young children.

Charlotte, our two-and-a-half-year-old, has told us we don’t have great voices so I think that is definitely karma!

Romper: How do you put these tools to use in your own life?

Chelsea Clinton: I talk throughout the time of getting them up, changing diapers, giving breakfast and again at dinner, bath time, and then we read stories before bedtime. I hope that moms, parents or caregivers visit www.talkingisteaching.org for tips and resources on how to talk, sing, and read to children during everyday moments.

Romper: Your mom tells a sweet story about singing to you when you were a baby until you told her not to sing anymore. Do you sing to your kids?

Chelsea Clinton: Charlotte, our two-and-a-half-year-old, is now the main singer in our house! She loves singing her ABCs, Pharrell’s Happy, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and more. We love that she loves to sing and we love to sing with her. She has told us we don’t have great voices so I think that is definitely karma! Aidan, our 10-month-old, will probably tell us the same once he’s talking. Still, we will keep singing along with reading and talking to both our kids.

Romper: How does singing help brain development, and what has Too Small to Fail done to encourage parents to engage with their children in this way?

Chelsea Clinton: Some people don’t realize that singing with your baby has benefits for brain and language development similar to talking and reading, and sometimes it can be the most memorable and fun. Last year, we partnered with Spotify to curate playlists for moms, dads, and caregivers to sing together and prompt conversation with their babies during everyday moments—turning car time, bath time, and laundry time into valuable moments of connection. A new playlist was recently added that features Martina McBride’s favorite songs and some prompts for parents to make the most out of their singalong. I hope you’ll check out the playlists and enjoy them as much as our family does!

For the full survey results, click here.