No matter how hard you may be hating on Donald Trump these days (assuming you are), you have to throw him this one bone: The Republican presidential candidate spoke softly at a recent rally in Pennsylvania and carried a mammoth stick that has been lying idle by the road for far too long in America. Trump unveiled a child care policy that he says was inspired by his daughter Ivanka, a wildly successful working mom who is raising three young children with insanely successful husband Jared Kushner.
Cheers to Trump for making parental leave a priority. Only, scratch that, because he makes maternal leave a priority, further perpetuating the outdated notion that moms crave and deserve time with their newborns, while dads must continue to work their sleep-deprived fingers to the bone because someone has to keep the lights on.
Before introducing her dad, Ivanka did the right thing and reminded Americans that she knows damn well she is a unicorn who has been afforded the privilege of maintaining her career while raising three little ones with lots of outside help from who we can only imagine are the best caretakers in the business. She acknowledges that change is necessary and that “as a society we need to create policies that champion all parents, enabling the American family to thrive.”
Unfortunately Trump’s proposal to ensure mothers receive six weeks of paid maternity leave (assuming they aren’t already entitled to this benefit by their employer) leaves out a very important member of the “family” Ivanka touched upon: Dad.
Trump’s speech focused on the importance of providing working mothers with affordable child care and compensation for their work — with no mention of Dad, though Trump’s plan is not transferable to fathers, so that tells you all you need to know. But the most misguided statement at his rally didn’t come from Trump himself — Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn delivered this slice of wisdom that sounds as if it was pulled from a 1954 issue of Woman’s Own: “This is a family issue. We know men always want more money. What do women want? More time. And we are thrilled to finally have a president of the United States who is going to put the focus on working with women to make certain you can achieve your American dream.”
The women and moms I know want more time and more money. In part because of policies like this one that continue to exclude fathers and put the onus of child-rearing on women, they’re also frightened out of their minds after giving birth that they won’t be able to advance in their careers the way they have been dreaming about doing since they were teenagers. And if it’s time that Blackburn insists we really only want, six weeks is a paltry offering. A 6-week-old baby is still waking up a few times each night. She requires breast milk (if a mom is nursing) and is only starting to recognize her parents’ faces and distinguish them from strangers. Mom’s stitches may still be in, and her uterus is probably still in the process of contracting. When studies show that moms who return to work prior to 12 weeks after giving birth are more likely to suffer from depression and politicians continue to ignore them, you have to wonder what gives.
And let’s talk about men for a second, because Trump’s policy does zilch for them. The fathers I know also want to earn money, but suggesting they don’t crave bonding time with their newborns is antiquated and harmful, for men and women both. Men aren’t sperm and a salary. Many want to (and should be expected to) handle a night feeding, cook, clean and, because they are capable of giving and receiving love and aren’t mercenary robots, bond with their babies during those first weeks.
New moms are overwhelmed with the responsibilities suddenly thrown their way after giving birth. While attempting to recuperate from one of the most stressful events their bodies will ever experience, many women are simultaneously learning how to breastfeed while sleeping a few hours a night, trying to ignore the wacky effects of hormonal changes on their mood and (in far too many cases) working at home or checking into the office because they’re terrified their employers will equate parenthood with ineffectiveness. In their employers’ defense, why wouldn’t they when the expectation is that everyone should be back in the office before their babies are 2 months old?
Is it reasonable, in this day and age, to still assume babies and parents benefit from only one parent home during those stressful and intense weeks? No. Does Trump’s plan take gay and lesbian parents into account? Of course not. Maybe you could argue that his policy is better than the nothing parents in the U.S. have been getting all along (on that note, here’s your daily reminder that the U.S. is still last in developed countries when it comes to paid maternity leave). But throwing us a centimeter today when we deserved the whole foot yesterday doesn’t make a plan good.
Contrast Trump’s plan with Hillary Clinton’s proposal to offer 12 weeks of paid family leave, and you might see where the GOP candidate gets it wrong. Good effort, especially given the fact that the Republican party hasn’t traditionally focused on maternity leave, but we — men and women — deserve more.