Last week we took a trip to the Immigration Office since I had just been approved for my Working Visa. While we were there David said this to me: “Don’t be afraid to fight for your rights”. What rights was he talking about? The rights that mothers have in this country to preferential treatment. After reflecting on his statement for a few moments, I responded: ”I didn’t know I had those rights”.
What does it mean to be a mother in Chile? What does it mean to be a mother in the US?
Of course this all depends on some important factors: race, age, location, socio-economic standing.So after David made this statement, I started to think about my personal experiences in motherhood and which country has treated me better for it.
I decided to make list of all the things I see (big emphasis on I, as in ME an individual with my own set of preferences) as benefits to being a mother in each country.
1. Preferential treatment in public places.
In supermarkets, in government buildings and countless other public places pregnant women and mothers with young children have access to shorter, faster lines. I felt the difference immediately. On our way here, in the airport in Atlanta, they did not call passengers with children to board first and so we were stuck in line with our bulky stroller and our 1 year old in these tiny cramped aisles with people on both sides of us. Upon arriving to Chile we were immediately directed to a special line for families with small kids. Instead of waiting in a line for 20 or 30 minutes to get through international police, we waited for approx. 30 seconds. It was fantastic. And smart!
Who wants to be stuck in line with a screaming 1 month old or a pooping toddler, or a 3 year old who can’t stop whining and making weird sounds??! Seriously, WHO? This is what KIDS do. I’ve heard so many people in the U.S. complaining about how they had to wait in a line, etc. with some loud, annoying kids. Solution: let them go first.
(Let’s not even talk about how pregnant women often can’t find a seat on public transportation in the U.S….you have young, able-bodied people sitting in their seats, averting eye contact while an 8 month pregnant woman with cankles and a sore back is swaying back and forth, trying not to fall down. New York, Philadelphia, I’m looking at you.)
2. Kid-Friendly People
While Mia sometimes receives TOO much extra attention from people, I have noticed that in general, Chileans seem to be kinder and warmer towards children. As a mother, this makes me feel supported and it improves the way I feel when I leave the house with Mia.
Both men and women will smile and talk to children they don’t know and seem to be more willing to help you with your stroller/bags, etc. if they see you are struggling.
And many people we barely know (next door neighbors, friends of friends), have also given us toys and clothes and small gifts for Mia!
3. Family and Friends in the Same City
This is HUGE. In the United States my parents lived 3 hours away, as did my brother and sisters. Here, David’s mother and his sisters and nieces all live within 10 minutes of us–walking. Not to mention all of his friends and other relatives that live in the same city. Mia spends several hours with her grandmother every single day on the weekdays and sees her other relatives several times a week. Everyone is always encouraging us to go out so that they can babysit. Being physically close to family is a way of life that many people in Latin America (as well as Africa…and Asia) are accustomed to. And I like it. “It takes a village to raise a child” right?
4. Maternity Leave
A few months ago I remember asking what a particular woman did for a living. I was told “She doesn’t work right now” and wondered how she survived. She is a single mother with a 2 year old and a 4 month old. Then I was told, “she’s on maternity leave”. My mind was blown.
Women can receive up to 6 months of maternity leave here in Chile. That’s double what it is in the United States, plus they receive more benefits. While I obviously haven’t benefited from this yet, and probably never will, just knowing this makes me feel good!
5. Breastfeeding in Public, Breastfeeding in General
Breastfeeding in public in the United States is possible, and mothers–including myself, have done it in restaurants and parks and malls with no problem. But I always felt like I had to rush and/or that I was making a political statement and/or mentally preparing myself for a rude look or comment considering all the problems breastfeeding mothers come across in the U.S.
I have seen many more Chilean women breastfeeding in public and I personally feel much more comfortable doing so here.
Also, I feel less judged. Mia is 19 months old and still breastfed. If I mention that to someone in the U.S. I am also thinking to myself, “Say something. I dare you.” I have my World Health Organization statistics and recommendations ready to go. I have the perfect, pre-planned responses to make. Not to say that there isn’t any judgment here, but I haven’t really felt it. I have this feeling that everyone in the United States has an opinion about how to raise your child. That’s an exaggeration and I haven’t quite reflected upon that idea yet, but there’s something about the public conversations around children that leads me to believe that.
6. Public Health Care
Hello?! My mind was blown again when I found out how much people receive from the public health care system here. Obviously it’s not without its problems, and I hear complaints about the long lines, etc. etc. but the kind of care people can receive for their children, regardless of their inability to pay, is awesome. I’ve seen some of the literature they give to parents with toddlers and it’s amazing!
1. Organic foods, products, etc.
I miss this! In the United States, at least in the places I used to live, it is so easy to pick up organic milk or goat milk and tons of organic food as well as pre-packaged organic food for kids. Also, natural organic, chemical-free skin and hair products. It is possible to buy organic products here but way more difficult and expensive.
I also miss not having to explain why we don’t feel comfortable giving Mia cow’s milk or getting crazy looks when we question the ingredients in a bottle of store-bought juice. I am happy that there is so much available and delicious fresh fruit and vegetables here in Santiago, but from my limited observation since living here for only 5 months, it seems like people (in our socio-economic circle) are more willing to give their kids processed foods and soda, and are less likely to question what is in it.
Also, part of Chileans friendliness towards children has a negative side. I can’t tell you how many times strangers and acquaintances have given Mia candy/chocolate. Especially “Super 8″, a chocolate wafer candy bar very similar to a Kit Kat (but tastier!). A few months ago we were in a gas station and all of a sudden the cashier is tearing open a Super 8 and handing it to Mia, telling her to eat it! And of course she did!
2. Car Seat Safety
I’m pretty sure safety requirements/laws in the United States are much more rigid. As a mother this puts me at ease.
Since being in Chile I’ve seen mothers breastfeeding their children in moving cars, many little kids lying down in the backseat of cars without a seatbelt, little kids sitting on adults laps in moving cars, etc. etc. In the United States people are almost too passionate about safety, to the point where “ERF” or Extended-Rear-Facing is now a common acronym amongst many US mothers.
3. Top Children’s Hospitals
In Philadelphia we used to live only 10 minutes away from CHOP, one of the best children’s hospitals in the nation and world.! And the U.S. is filled with quality hospitals and speciality doctors which is great. Of course it will cost you an arm and a leg, but at least we know they’re there…
So the winner is…?
Chile. Especially at this stage in motherhood!
There’s something to be said about a country that values mothers and children. Maybe a country that values mothers and children also values the lives and well-being of it’s citizens? Maybe a country that values mothers and children produces more compassionate, less-selfish people? I wish it were that simple.
I want to say that a country that values mothers, values women, but I know that isn’t necessarily true. In fact, according to the most recent Global Gender Gap Report released by the World Economic Forum Chile ranks #87 for a nation that provides the following for women:
1. Economic participation and opportunity, which includes female labor force participation, wage equality and the percentage of women in high-ranking jobs.
2. Educational attainment, which looks at female literacy and how frequently women are enrolled in higher education.
3. Health and survival, which is measured by comparing female and male life expectancy and mortality rates.
4. Political empowerment, which examines the number of women holding political office as well as the number of female heads of state over the last 50 years.
(from the Huffington Post article)
Whereas the United States ranks #22.
Still, there IS something to be said about a country that votes for a female president who is an agnostic, single mother of 3! (Yay Michele Bachelet)
For now, I’ll be enjoying all the perks that come with motherhood in Chile. And best believe, I will be taking advantage of all the preferential treatment. I know my rights!