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Why America’s policies toward mothers need to be fixed

When she went back to work one day after having her second child, author Amy Westervelt realized America’s policies towards mothers need to be fixed. In "Forget Having It All: How America Messed Up Motherhood - and How to Fix It," Westervelt explores the history of American beliefs about motherhood and offers policy remedies. She recently spoke with NewsHour Weekend's Megan Thompson.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    A record number of women were elected to Congress last November, and a handful of them are mothers of young children. Getting more moms into government is just one of the ways to start improving policies for American mothers, says Amy Westervelt, in her new book, "Forget Having It All: How America Messed Up Motherhood – And How To Fix It." Westervelt is a journalist, podcaster and author, and she recently spoke with NewsHour Weekend's Megan Thompson.

  • Megan Thompson:

    So I feel like I have to just first start out by saying that I too am a mom, I have a two-year-old son, and so your book really struck a chord with me. The first chapter is called "Being a Mother Shouldn't Suck." I mean where did that come from what led you to write this book?

  • Amy Westervelt:

    Yeah. I caught myself about two weeks after I had my second son and I sort of joke about it but it's true it took an afternoon off to have a kid and was right back at work the next day. And you know a couple of weeks later it was a walk in get a check and feeling kind of proud of myself and then sort of realized that that was not really something to be so proud of. So I started thinking about you know why did I feel like I had to work so hard right after giving birth. And also you know why. What was the system in place that made me both have to do that and then also feel like that was an accomplishment.

  • Megan Thompson:

    Your book is fascinating because you really take this deep dive into the history of why it is that we have this system that you that you talk about. Tell us what are some of the historical explanations for how we view and value mothers today.

  • Amy Westervelt:

    One of the things they found was that there is sort of a kind of a practical reason for why American moms feel like and are expected to do sort of everything on their own. You know the initial sort of settlers of the United States were Puritans, mostly of the Calvinist tradition, and they had a particular religious belief around each family sort of being responsible for themselves and for their eventual path to heaven. And you know logistically they were far away from family. They were doing things on their own. And we haven't really moved that far away from that in the last 200 years.

  • Megan Thompson:

    And the responsibility for taking care of kids really does still fall on moms. I see it in my house I see at my son's preschool. I mean it's like 100 percent the moms who are the volunteers and who bring in the snacks and all that stuff. I'm not trying to be down on dads I don't want to insult me and I mean things are way more. You know they're way better than they used to be. But it is still a big issue in this country. And I mean in your book you talk about a lot of ways to address this. And one of the things I found really interesting was a lot of people often point to Scandinavia and they say hey let's do what Sweden does. But you say actually no we should look at other countries you went to Japan. Why and what did you learn?

  • Amy Westervelt:

    Yeah, I think I think Sweden is amazing Scandinavian policies sound great. My. Kind of problem with them is just that. We don't live in a socialist democracy. So it's hard to imagine those policies on top of the current U.S. system working immediately in the way that we kind of sometimes talk about that. And so I wanted to look at you know has any other country that's a little more similar to the U.S. tried to do this and what I found was that yes in fact Japan has tried to do this. And they've found exactly the problem that I kind of expect us to have here if we try to do the same thing which is that they have a policy and culture mismatch in particular. Men are not taking advantage of a lot of paternity leave and flexible hours that were implemented and so they realized Oh we have we have some cultural work to do. So they started about 10 years ago a certain amount of propaganda essentially around how cool it was to be an involved dad and then now about a year or two ago they started this thing focused at executives in the workplace because they realize that their bosses were mostly men. Who had not grown up in that culture and for whom those things were still kind of aberrant. You know this idea that if you're going to leave work early you're a lazy worker. It's slowly moving the needle but it takes a lot to get there.

  • Megan Thompson:

    You hear similar stories here you know tech companies that implement know generous paternity leave but then nobody or you know people don't take advantage of it because of what you just described. How do we raise our boys to think differently about these things and to think of themselves more as caregivers?

  • Amy Westervelt:

    You know in my case I talk about this in the book I Want My older son when he hit about three years old started asking for baby dolls and when he would say that around adults other than myself and his dad would almost always get this sort of like oh like you don't want bad. Those are for girls babies or for girls was like really kind of the message. So if we're starting with that message as early as 3 years old of course there's going to be this Greene that men play a certain role as parents women play another role. And I think that you know encouraging boys to be nurturing and to you know babysit as an initial job which is something that most women I know did pretty early on in their working life but very few men I know did all of those kinds of things are or work that still really needs to be done

  • Megan Thompson:

    Aright, Amy, I think we could probably keep talking about this all day but we're going to have to leave it there. Thank you so much for joining me.

  • Amy Westervelt:

    Thank you. Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.

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