You might not have seen a link between the news this week that Toys "R" Us would close its doors (where will teenagers ride on teeny tricycles now??), and the general lack of support that mothers experience postpartum, but it's allllll connected. The implosion of Toys "R" Us has been tied to falling birth rates, which cut deeply into revenue, as The Washington Post explained. That is, women (and men) are having fewer babies later, at least in part because we make it f*cking hard to do so, financially speaking, and also in part because of the workplace Siberia that is Time Off After Kids. In the U.S., we are hostile to families.
I gave birth just days apart from a childhood friend who still lives in my hometown in Australia. When our babies passed the 12-week mark, I returned to work. One year later, my friend did the same, having worked through 16 weeks of paid leave available to all new mothers, and 16 weeks of paid leave available to public servants, and with the option to take unpaid leave for up to two years and then return to her job. In the U.S., I received six weeks of "paid disability" through my employer's insurance, and six weeks of the unpaid "we definitely won't fire you yet" grace period known as the Family Medical Leave Act. By U.S. standards, this was a generous maternity leave package. By the standards of any other developed country, it was absolute rubbish. But the argument you will hear any time paid family leave is brought up in the U.S. is some version of "why should I have to pay for you to breed?"
It's hard to convince someone who thinks that having babies is a weird hobby you shouldn't get "paid" for to think otherwise, but if you have a baby, you deserve to have this mentality debunked. The term "breeders" needs to be shipped off to wherever we sent all the crib bumpers and walkers and polyester baby clothing of yore. For one thing, rather than draining the penny tray, having a baby is the original economic stimulus. In ancient Sumeria, more kids meant more people to lug around stones (I'm generalizing). Today, more babies means greater economic growth, as The Week, and probably every other economist on the planet, points out. It's why governments incentivize families to have more babies.
Russia is spending $8.6 billion in baby bonuses over the next few years to boost its birth rate, per Bloomberg, while Canada's child benefit is at about $6,400 per year for children under 6, according to GlobalNews. Australia's baby bonus used to be $5,000, but was dropped in 2014 to better address inequality, per the parliamentary budget review of that year. France has considered a monthly payment of $1,200 for women to have a third child, as the Guardian has reported.
Economies need babies so that they don't ossify into a realm of retired people tootling about on golf carts, with no one to pay social security or income tax.
These countries also all have much, much more supportive maternity and paternity leave programs to allow families to bond, women to recover, and infants to thrive. Economies need babies so that they don't ossify into a realm of retired people tootling about on golf carts, with no one to pay social security or income tax. That is the issue in Japan right now, which has been mired in economic recession and stagnation for years, and seems powerless to stop the population decline. It's why countries ~do~ immigration. Bringing talented workers in is a great way to fuel the economy if you can't make them yourself.
So your baby might have cost your company a whopping $2,640 (if you make the minimum wage and get six weeks at full pay), but your child is worth a quarter-of-a-million-dollars injection into the economy until age 18. As my favorite invisible Republican Paul Ryan put it in 2017, "People... I did my part, but we need to have higher birth rates in this country... We have something like a 90 percent increase in the retirement population of America but only a 19 percent increase in the working population in America. So what do we have to do? [we are] ... still going to need more people.”
And yet, taking a sad six weeks to sit on a hemorrhoid cushion and knead your boobs around the clock in service of a tiny human who cannot properly regulate their temperature or roll off their face or do basically anything is considered an inconvenience to the coworkers you leave behind. They bitch that they are left to pick up the slack and "pay" for your leave, proving once again that many Americans do not understand how insurance works. The U.S. currently has no paid maternity leave. The issue isn't the "breeders" who are devoting themselves to bringing up good humans who will contribute to society and also, you know, love others. It's that the U.S. is through-and-through not looking after anyone.
It boggles the mind that we can put a price tag on surrogacy ($130,000), egg donation ($14,000), and plasma donation ($50), but we think that women who simply want time to recover, a livable wage, and paid time off are somehow rorting the system.
In Australia — and yes I know we all hate comparing the U.S. to other smug colonies with lesser basketball programs — maternity-leave contracts are common, because women are out of the workforce for much longer. This means that no one has to step in to fill the gap at work, and also offers talented workers a great way to get in the door. But it makes a lot less sense when women are only out for half the season of Game of Thrones. When we fail to support young families, everyone feels the squeeze.
Moms in the U.S. are having a really f*cking hard time of it right now, and I urge you not to chalk it up to their own selfish desire to print out their DNA again and again and pop tiny striped hats onto the result. Having children is a choice, yes — but it is also a wild sacrifice. It boggles the mind that we can put a price tag on surrogacy ($130,000), egg donation ($14,000), and plasma donation ($50), but we think that women who simply want time to recover, a livable wage, and paid time off are somehow rorting the system.
It's worth considering the effect of yet another big box store shuttering in neighborhoods around the nation. Toys "R" Us, like Barnes & Noble and Borders, acted as a default public space in places where public parks or free facilities are few and far between. A lack of babies hurt Toys "R" Us, but the dissolution of one of the remaining places parents can go and let their kids run around, play, and pee for free will hurt those who do have children. The U.S. is falling behind. But if we learn our lesson from Geoffrey's demise, maybe there is still time to pedal our way to a world that respects and supports parents.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.