Can babies end The Achievement Plateau?
Maybe. But they can definitely keep you awake at night.
On Friday, my wife and I welcomed our second son, Sam, into the world. To be sure, she did all the hard work. I just snipped the umbilical cord and fetched ice. Pennsylvania Hospital has great ice (and great staff).
Raising a newborn is hard work, especially when a woman is breastfeeding. My wife is feeding our son every 2-3 hours, meaning she’s getting very little sleep.
I’m also supporting with a few evening shifts, meaning I have extra time to read the articles about needing a solid 8 hours of sleep per night that get pushed through my newsfeed.
The extra hours awake also have me wondering, again, at how we might better support students before they show up for kindergarten. Specifically, how different outcomes for all students, and especially our most marginalized populations, would be if we provided new parents, especially those less financially secure, with adequate pay and childcare so they can focus on parenting their infants and toddlers.
There’s ample research on the importance of early childhood cognitive development. In particular, we know that toxic stress adversely impacts brain development. And how might infants experience toxic levels of stress? When their parents are toxically stressed about finances and childcare.
My wife’s work affords her just 8 weeks of time to fully focus on our son. Her maternity leave, which entitles her to 75% of her pay, will stop after that and she’ll be forced to return to work to keep earning. She can take four additional weeks of unpaid leave. Beyond that, she’d likely forfeit her job.
In the United Kingdom, parents get up to 39 weeks of maternity leave pay: 90% of one’s average weekly earnings (before tax) for the first 6 weeks, and about $190 or 90% of one’s average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks.
Sweden, often revered as the golden child of education policy, offers parents 480 days — more than a year — which can be split evenly among them. Parents are paid at 80 percent of their normal pay during that time.
It’s well documented that the United States has some of the worst supports for new parents. McGill University studied 173 countries and found only 5 that don’t guarantee paid maternity leave for new mothers: Papau New Guinea, Lesotho, Liberia, Swaziland, and the United States.
Beyond just pay, many countries offer other critical benefits to new parents, like nurses that visit the home to care for new moms and monthly allowances for childcare, which is a massive burden for many US families.
Even in London, one of the most expensive cities in the world, the average cost of full-time childcare is $385 per week. That’s far less than what we’ll pay for childcare in Boston (yes, we’re moving to Boston in a few weeks — more on that soon!).
We’re fortunate to have the help of family, financial stability, and the little bit of maternity leave. Not everyone is so lucky. My job — in public education, ironically — doesn’t offer paternity benefits.
I think we can do much better in support of new parents. And while I’m certainly biased (and sleepless) right now, I think an investment in parents and early childcare might help our public education system produce even better results.
Thanks for reading. Have a great week. I’m gonna get some sleep.